Out of Borough Experience

Back in the fall, a candidate for the New York State Assembly made construction of major new housing in Borough Park the centerpiece of his campaign. A New York City councilman heartily endorsed that same goal. Currently, a developer is planning to build 13 six-story edifices in the neighborhood that will provide nearly 130 new apartments.

To those of us who don’t live in southern Brooklyn, efforts that will add to the population density and vehicular traffic there (an area some of us call Borough Double-Park) seem to border on irrationality. But of course, to residents who wish to see their married children settle in the neighborhoods where they were raised (and to those children who wish to live near their parents), new housing is an urgent priority.

No one lacking the requisite rebbishe credentials should arrogate to suggest to others how they should make decisions as important as where to live. But, having just spent a warm, memorable and inspiring Shabbos in Cincinnati, Ohio, I’d like to at least share a few impressions of that small but vibrant kehillah; and some others about some others.

Neither my wife nor I had ever been to Cincinnati before, and the … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

R Dovid Winiarz z’l

by Meir Goldberg

After the holocaust, the broken survivors of the Nazi concentration camps were gathered and provided for in DP (Displaced Persons) camps. The Klausenberger Rebbe Zt’l acted as both a father and a Rebbe to many of the Jews there, constantly providing them with material and spiritual chizuk.

There was a young man in the DP Camps, who grew up in a religious home who now refused to have anything to do with the Yeshiva that was set up or anyone in the frum community. In spite of all of the pleading and cajoling of his friends, the young man would not respond to them at all. The exasperated bochurim decided to speak to the Rebbe to see if he could impact this fellow. The Rebbe summoned the young man to his temporary residence. The Rebbe said to the man, “I know why you’re​ upset. It’s because they took the best ones and they just left us.” The Rebbe again said, “They took the best ones and they just left us.” The Rebbe held the young man in a tight embrace and together they sobbed and cried and repeated over and over, “They took the best ones … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Cross-Currents Enters World Politics

Which is the last thing I wanted or expected. I have avoided commenting on purely political issues, whether domestic or global. I’ve tried to be true to Cross-Current’s original self-imposed mandate of focusing on such issues only insofar as they illuminate Torah life, or where Torah thought can illuminate them. I do plenty of the pure politics and advocacy at my day job, and I try not to mix office and home.

So when I wrote a short while ago about Egyptian President Al-Sisi’s extraordinary remarks at Al-Azhar, my intention was only to draw a parallel between his concern for the image of his faith with what should be our parallel concern. And there I left it.

The message from David Benkof, a frum writer for The Daily Caller was therefore quite surprising to me. He had noticed the piece, and the editors were a bit miffed that Western press had ignored what to us seemed like an extremely important statement. Would I, they ask, tweak the piece for publication at The Daily Caller? And could I do it in about an hour or so?

My colleague and mentor Rabbi Abraham Cooper and I then scrambled to … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Private Matters

It comes as something of a revelation to many to confront the Rambam’s treatment of kiddush Hashem, or “sanctification of Hashem’s name” for the first time. One definition of the concept in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, 5:10 – perhaps its most essential one, has nothing to do with readiness to give up one’s life or to act in a way that presents a good image of a Jew to others.

To be sure, that the Torah commands us to be willing to perish rather than violate certain commandments (or any commandment – even custom – in certain circumstances) is well-known to most Jews with a modicum of Jewish knowledge. And the understanding that living an upstanding life, exemplifying honesty and sterling demeanor, is also a form of kiddush Hashem is likewise widely recognized. The Gemara in Yoma (86a) famously describes various amora’im’s examples of such projection of Jewish personal values, labeling them kiddushei Hashem.

What is surprising is the Rambam’s statement that kiddush Hashem is something that can be accomplished as well entirely in private. In fact, particularly in private.

“Anyone who violates, willingly, without any coercion, any of the precepts of the Torah…” reads the Rambam’s psak, “has … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

We Owe an Answer

President Reuven Rivlin made an important speech opening a conference on chareidi employment sponsored by the Joint Distribution Committee two weeks ago. He began by pointing out that the 20% of the school children in Israel between first and sixth grade are now in chareidi educational frameworks.

The chareidim are no longer a beleaguered minority, their very survival at stake, said the President, but this fact has not yet registered either with the chareidi community or its opponents. We have gone too long without “changing the tape,” as if nothing has changed from the early days of the state, said Rivlin. What is needed now, he argued, is a partnership of equals between chareidim and non-chareidim.

Much of what President Rivlin had to say will be music to chareidi ears. He strongly criticized the 19th Knesset for the discussion of chareidim. He pointed out that efforts at coercion had backfired miserably and only succeeded in triggering a backlash resulting in fewer chareidim in the IDF and lessened chareidi involvement in the economy. “When one group feels that their world and cultural existence is under threat, it will not lead to a breakthrough in the relations, but a withdrawal. I … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Remaining Bnei Torah after Kollel

Few issues are of greater significance for the future of the chareidi community in Eretz Yisrael than the status of those young (and not so young) men in transition between kollel and either the workplace or academic/vocational training in preparation for work. The numbers of such men increases from year to year..

The primary impetus for leaving kollel is economic, Low child benefits by Western standards, small kollel stipends, increased tuitions, skyrocketing housing prices for young couples, and the exhaustion of any accumulated wealth from previous generations combine to put most chareidi families under great financial strain, even when the mother works.

Yet even for a family struggling to put food on the table, the decision to leave kollel is often an extremely painful one. First and foremost, there is the dramatically reduced time for Torah learning. Then there is the loss of one’s carefully nurtured identity as a kollel yungerman. A man’s status in the eyes of his wife, his children, his wider family, and the community of Torah learners with which he identifies comes under threat.

There will inevitably be those who try to convince the former yungerman that his departure from kollel is a form of … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Interesting Dialogue in Dialogue

Sometimes, you just have to use strong words.

I imagine that was the intention of Rav Aharon Feldman, shlit”a, in a critical conversation that he had with someone described as “the president of one of the largest secular Jewish organizations in America, as he relates the encounter in the new issue of Dialogue. Some gvir told Rav Feldman that the poor bloke (whom we shall refer to as SF, for secular fellow) was in free-fall in the aftermath of Gaza, and needed “urgently to talk to a Rabbi.”

How could it be, asked SF, that a bunch of primitive terrorists could send thousands of rockets into Israel, thwart the full effectiveness of one of the most capable military machines in the world, and then get the world to label Israel as the aggressor for simply attempting to defend herself?

Rav Feldman’s answer must have been devastating to SF’s world view. He cited Devarim 32:21 הם קנאוני בלא אל כעסוני בהבליהם ואני אקניאם בלא עם / They angered Me by believing in a non-god; I will anger them through a non-nation. “Israel is founded on belief in a non-god,” Rav Feldman told him, by which he explains … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Greed Is Gross

The carnival of carnage that seems a constant in the Islamic world proceeded tragically apace last week, with a suicide bombing at a gathering in Ibb, Yemen to commemorate Islam’s founder’s birthday. At least 23 people were killed; an Al Qaeda affiliate is the suspected culprit.

Then, over in Afghanistan, at least 26 people attending a wedding party were killed, and 45 wounded, when a rocket struck a house during a firefight between government forces and Taliban insurgents.

But what might rank as the week’s most senseless loss of life took place in a non-Islamic land, China. At least 35 people were killed and 43 injured during a stampede in an area of Shanghai where tens of thousands had gathered to celebrate the advent of a new calendar year.

The cause of that disaster is unclear, but it was reported that shortly before the crowd had grown restless, people in a nearby building had dropped green pieces of paper that looked like American $100 bills.

Now, there’s an awful metaphor for our covetous times. The pursuit of money is nothing new, of course. It has been the engine powering many a civilization, and the rot destroying many a human … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Yesh Atid, Elazar Stern, and the religious status quo

About two weeks ago, Binyanei Haummah in Jerusalem hosted a Rabbinic conference regarding the aggressive legislative action taken during the reign of the recently fallen government in matters pertaining to State and religion.

The organization responsible for the gathering (called Libah Yehudit) put out this clip:

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/PMt5-G20hT0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

Prominently featured are Yesh Atid MKs Aliza Lavi, who states at a Conservative conference that she cannot go as far as she would like to make changes because she would otherwise lose her legitimacy within the Orthodox world and thus have no political clout; Yair Lapid, who proclaims at a Reform gathering that he will work toward granting the heterodox equal religious footing; and Shai Piron, who retracts his statement that a homosexual couple is not a family and lists his accomplishments on behalf of LGBT recognition in Israel.

Share It:

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

The Power of Personal Testimony

by David Mandel

[Editor’s note: This video is groundbreaking in its courage, impact, and ability to make us direct, rather than avert, our glance from yet another problem we have been silent about for too long. It requires no introduction, but David Mandel, one of the most important personalities our community is blessed with in attending to the needs of those who have nowhere else to turn, was kind enough to offer some introductory thoughts.]

Imagine you were mugged and robbed of your most precious jewels. The bodily injury you suffered will heal. The loss of your family’s ancestry represented in your mothers ring and necklace and your fathers watch is irreplaceable. It is causing you emotional torment. It has been in the family four generations.

The mugger is caught. The jewels are not found. He is convicted and sent to jail.

How should you react now? Are you a victim of a mugging? Are you a survivor of a mugging? How long do you remain angry or feel responsible for the loss of an important family history? Was it indeed your fault even if it was not?

Elisheva was the victim of a mugging and … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Sisi’s Remarkable Statement

We knew that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has it in for the Muslim Brotherhood, and has taken strong steps to suppress it. We did not expect the president of the most populous Arab country to call for a religious revolution against Muslim extremism, and back it up with specific programs through his religious ministry.

Western media ignored the statement in droves. We shouldn’t.

Speaking before Al-Azhar and the Awqaf Ministry on New Year’s Day, 2015, in connection with Mohamed’s upcoming birthday, Sisi said:

I am referring here to the religious clerics. We have to think hard about what we are facing—and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before. It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!

That thinking—I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!

Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Bricks for Bombs

A driver, reportedly shouting an Islamic slogan, rammed a vehicle into pedestrians in the French city of Dijon last Sunday, injuring twelve people.

Understandably, the attack (and several subsequent ones in France) brought back memories of this past autumn’s spate of vehicular terrorist attacks in Israel. Although they seem to have abated in Israel (despite much Palestinian social media encouragement that they continue), the devil’s brew of blood-lust and creativity in some Arab and Muslim hearts continues to boil apace.

Spewed from the cauldron recently was one Yasmin Sha’aban, who, according to the Shin Bet, was planning to carry out a suicide attack in Israel. She intended to receive a permit (“for medical reasons”) to travel from Jenin, where she lived, into Israel proper. There, she hoped to disguise herself as an expectant Jewish woman, with explosives hidden under her clothes, and create as much carnage as she possibly could.

That plot, baruch Hashem, was interrupted by Israeli security forces; Ms. Sha’aban and several compatriots were taken into custody. It turned out that her friends had also planned to bomb a bus carrying soldiers and to kidnap a soldier.

The perennial question returns: How to discourage such … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Leaf Bag Lesson

An aroma all but absent these days but deeply evocative of childhood to many of us who grew up before pollution laws is the bouquet of burning leaves. Back in the day, we would rake the dry debris of autumn into a pile or put it into a metal trash can (remember those?) and set the leaves aflame. The resultant smoke, at least at somewhat of a distance, was a seasonal perfume, an olfactory hint that the snow days weren’t far off.

Today we put what we’ve raked into very large double-reinforced paper “lawn bags” and leave them for the recycling pickup. (I don’t imagine they put the leaves back on trees, but surely something worthwhile is done with them.)

A few weeks ago, while I was doing the final leaf-raking of the year, the lawn bag I was filling provided me some timely spiritual direction.

I needed the chizuk, and for a reason not unrelated to how distant a memory the scent of burning leaves is, to how many years have elapsed since it would regularly waft through the autumn air.

Having several months ago passed the 60-year life-mark (the “new 40,” as I prefer to imagine … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Lessons in Emunah from…Professional Wrestling

UN Condemnations

We often get frustrated by the gross prevalence and utter, unfathomable irrationality of anti-Semitism (commonly also cloaked as anti-Zionism). The above chart says it all.

“If only we could more clearly remind the world of the good that the Jews have brought it; if only the world realized that Judaism is the source of Western moral values; if only the world would understand that Israel is fighting more humanely than any military known to man, defending itself against unprovoked attacks from its malicious neighbors who seek its annihilation…” We can’t understand why the world hates us and cannot see things with a modicum of objectivity. It can be so upsetting.

Rabbi Avi Shafran recently penned a beautiful and brilliant column, When I Drifted Off the Path, in which he described his very short-lived pre-adolescent flirtation with heresy. In order to briefly address the points about anti-Semitism raised in the above paragraphs, I would like to share and draw from one of my own juvenile, inelegant interests: professional wrestling. Tampa, Florida, where I grew up, was once the South’s capital of professional wrestling, and … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

What Can We Do for Them?

I suspect that most of us if asked, “What can we do for those murdered in Kehillat Bnei Torah?” would be hard pressed to answer. We might mention contributing to the families of those slain, but for the pure korbonos themselves, we would be stumped. After all, they are already in the Olam HaEmes far beyond our reach. If pressed, we might come up with learning mishnayos or some other good deed l’ilui nishmasam (for the elevation of their souls), but nothing more than we might do for anyone who passed away.

These various responses, however, fail to take account of the sudden, shocking manner of their deaths, and the worldwide attention that they garnered, first and foremost among Torah observant Jews. In a hesped for Rabbi Moshe Twersky, H”yd, at the end of shiva, his brother Rabbi Meir Twersky distinguished between different forms of dying al Kiddush Hashem. In some cases, an otherwise ordinary and incomplete life might be somehow redeemed by the manner of its ending. But with respect to his brother, he said, the death al Kiddush Hashem, was the natural culmination or fulfillment of a life lived al Kiddush Hashem.

Rabbi Moshe Twersky himself seems … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Candles and Candor

A non-Orthodox writer recently reached out to ask if I would participate in a panel discussion about Chanukah. The other panelists would be non-Orthodox clergy.

While I cherish every opportunity to interact with Jews who live different lives from my own, I had to decline the invitation, as I have had to do on other similar occasions. I explained that my policy with regard to such kind and appreciated invitations is a sort of passive “civil-disobedience” statement of principle, “intended as an alternative to shouting from the rooftops that we don’t accept any model of ‘multiple Judaisms.’ So, instead, [I] opt to not do anything that might send a subtle or subliminal message to the contrary.”

“Sorry,” I added, “Really. But I do deeply appreciate your reaching out on this.”

The extender of the invitation, Abby Pogrebin, was a guest in the Shafran sukkah this past Chol Hamoed. Both my wife and I were impressed with both her good will and her desire to learn more about traditional Jewish life and beliefs. In fact, she is currently writing a series of articles for the secular Jewish paper the Forward on her experiences observing (in both the word’s senses) all … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

In Brief:

Metzitza Bipeh

-- 12:06 pm

C-C readers are probably aware of the fact that a tentative agreement was reached yesterday between NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and an association of mohelim and Orthodox representatives with regard to the practice of metzitza bipeh.

An article of mine that appeared in Haaretz yesterday on the ostensible tie between the rite and the cold sore virus (which can be dangerous to babies) can be read here.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
0 Comments

Klal Perspectives – The Next Issue

-- 7:37 pm

Readers are always weighing in on ideas for future issues of KP. The editors take them very seriously. In the last few weeks in particular, a number of people contacted me offline with ideas that I thought had considerable merit. I encouraged them to put them in an email, and I would forward them to the full board. I have no recollection of who they were.

I don’t think anyone did! And here we are, ready to decide on our next issue. If you were one of those people, now is the time!

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
25 Comments

Thanks (I Think), NYT

-- 2:17 pm

I can’t say with any certitude that my repeatedly bugging of the New York Times’ public editor (who sent the criticism to a different department — which never responded to me) had anything to do with it. Or that my opinion piece last year (at http://hamodia.com/2014/08/06/ugly-times/ ) did.

But I’m happy to report that the “Times Journeys” offering of a tour to Israel with the theme “The Israeli-Palestinian Conundrum” seems to no longer feature Hanan Ashwari (who David Harris once said “is to truth what smoking is to health”) as one of its resident experts for the tourists. (The come-on is at http://www.nytimes.com/times-journeys/travel/israeli-palestinian-dialogue/ .)

But it never hurts to be a squeaky wheel (and to encourage others to squeak along); sometimes one may get the grease. One thing is certain: every proper hishtadlus is worth the time and trouble.

And thanks, New York Times, if you did, for taking the criticism seriously.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
0 Comments

Womens Lib Haredi-Style

-- 9:40 am

An article of mine on an often-ignored aspect of the high poverty/low employment rates of haredim in Israel was published by the Forward this week. The paper chose its own title for the piece, a somewhat misleading one, but, well, so it goes. You can read it here.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
0 Comments

Je Suis Juif

-- 9:43 am

Here’s a piece of rare double good news from Gaza. First, the Egyptian army is in the process of razing Rafah, the Egyptian border town,that borders Gaza, in order to create a security zone around the Gaza Strip. The Egyptians seek to prevent the smuggling of arms and terrorists between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai, where a number of deadly attacks have recently been launched at the Egyptian military. Over two thousand families have been displaced by the Egyptian action, though Egypt has promised to rebuild shelter for them elsewhere.

The second piece of good news is that few readers have likely heard of Rafah’s fate. Had Israel conducted the same operation, as has often been proposed and rejected, the hue and cry around the world would have been deafening. But since Egypt is doing the razing no one cares apart from the displaced families. Similarly, Israel is always described as maintaining an embargo on the Gaza Strip, which is both untrue and impossible. Israel controls only one point of entry to Gaza; the Egyptians control the other. And under Gen. Al-Sisi, Egypt has been every bit as zealous about regulating the flow of potential military material into Gaza as Israel.

For once, then, the double standard universally applied to Israel has worked out in Israel’s favor. For its own reasons, Egypt shares Israel’s interest in cutting off smuggling of arms and material with a military use into Gaza, and can act with impunity.

Elliott Abrams points out that the double standard applied to Jews (not just Israel) was also on display last week in Paris. Along with all the signs, “Je suis Charlie” on display, he would like to have seen a few more signs, “Je suis Juif.”

As horrific as the attack on Charlie Hebdo was, it was no more so than the slaying of four Jews (including a father and his two sons) in a Jewish school in Toulouse two years ago. The staff of Charlie Hebdo knew very well that they were courting danger by sticking their fingers deep into the eyes of Muslim fanatics. But the Jewish victims in Toulouse or the four Jews murdered in a kosher supermarket in Paris two days after the attack on Charlie Hebdo made no choices. Their only “sin” was to be Jewish.

As Mark Steyn wrote in his 2008 book America Alone, from the start of the new millennia, French Muslims “have been carrying on a low-level intifada against synagogues, kosher butchers and Jewish schools, etc. The concern of the political class has been to prevent the spread of these attacks to targets of more, ah, general interest. They’re losing that battle.”

Several million Frenchmen were right to march in protest against an attempt by radical French Muslims to prove at gunpoint that the French tradition of free speech, including a healthy dose of anti-clericalism, does not apply to speech that offends them. But, at the same time, no healthy democracy can allow a group of its citizens – in this case the third largest Jewish community in the world – to become sitting ducks in a shooting gallery. That too should have merited a huge protest.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
1 Comment

We’re Not Kidnappers

-- 9:17 am

A piece I wrote for a Forward blog, in reaction to a mother’s lament over her newly-Orthodox daughter’s described rejection of her parents can be read here.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
0 Comments

Growing Older, in Verse

-- 3:31 am

By Yossi Huttler

[Editor’s Note: By now, Rabbi Yossi Huttler has become the resident poet of Cross-Currents. Readers under 40 may not know what a poem is; those over 40 may find that it resonates.]

Graying

It only seems
silent and painless
how it happened
one overnight
like it did
to Rabbi Elazar ben Azaraya
but many hurts
unseen or unheard
have shaded me
silvery and gray hues
lunar scars
just how dark
depending on the night
and its mishmarot

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
1 Comment

Exodus Exegesis

-- 9:28 pm

Some interesting thoughts about Yetzias Mitzrayim that have been bouncing around in my head for a number of years can be read here.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
0 Comments

On Never Having to Mention Islam

-- 9:43 am

The Obama administration responded characteristically to the savage terrorist attack by gunmen shouting “Al-lahu Akbar” and “We have avenged the prophet” on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Press secretary Josh Earnest made the rounds of TV talk shows to repeat that “Islam is a religion of peace,” and to warn that the attack was still under investigation, and therefore it is “not clear who was responsible and what their motivations were.” If he really didn’t know their motivations, he was surely the last person on the planet in that position.

Secretary of State Kerry spoke of “extremists,” without mentioning what they represented the extreme version of, and insisted that the West does not face a war of civilizations – not with Islam or even a version of Islam.

No matter how many times the authors of savage deeds of barbarism proclaim that they are acting in the name of Al-lah, the “prophet,” or the “holy Koran;” no matter how many imams praise their actions and rejoice in their upholding the honor of Islam; no matter how many times they announce that their goal is imposition of sharia, Muslim religious law, on the entire world; no matter how many foundational Islamic texts calling for war on the infidel they cite – they can still count on Western apologists to deny their actions have anything to do with Islam. Why? Because everyone knows that “Islam is a religion of peace. Never mind that the three letter root for peace in Arabic is better translated as submission.

These flights of fancy have consequences: They endanger citizens of the West. Political correctness led the Obama administration to excise every reference to Islam from government anti-terrorist manuals, in contravention of Sun Tzu’s admonition in The Art of War: “Know your enemy.” New York City mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned against police surveillance of mosques, which are often terrorist recruitment and planning centers. That same slothful thinking leads to slack enforcement of airplane watch lists. Witness the “underwear bomber,” whose own father had informed authorities of his brainwashing by radical Islamists.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, new year’s day speech, thus came as a welcome refutation of so much nonsense about the lack of connection between Islam and terrorism. Speaking in the Al-Azhar University, a center of Islamic learning, al-Sisi lamented that “the corpus of [Islamic] texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years [are] antagonizing the entire world.” He asked whether it makes sense that “1.6 billion people [the world’s Islamic population] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants . . . so that they may live.”

Only a religious revolution, said al-Sisi, could keep Muslims from being seen as “a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world.”

At least one Muslim it would appear has eyes to see that the source of the problem lies in Islam itself.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
5 Comments

Another Nail in the Coffin

-- 11:05 am

The Conservative Movement has been hemorrhaging for a quarter century. In the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, the movement constituted 37.8% of American Jewry. That percentage was less than half in the 2013 Pew Study – 18%. The only growing segment of the non-Orthodox world are those who describe themselves as unaffiliated or having no religion.

The Conservative Movement always proclaimed itself a halachic movement. But that pretense has long since proven unsustainable. Marshall Sklare’s definitive study of the movement’s apparent flourishing in the ’50s and ’60s, already hinted at the seeds of its own destruction. Rabbis, wrote Sklare, enter into an unwritten compact with their congregations to never discuss halacha. And to the extent that halacha is discussed, it is in terms of polling the unlearned laity for their opinions.

In a December, 2005 address to 700 Conservative clergy and educators, the movement’s leading theologian, Neil Gilman, said that it was dishonest for Conservative movement to continue to describe itself as halachic. At most, halacha is to be consulted in light of “changing social and cultural norms.”

Last week, the movement took another step towards oblivion when United Synagogue Youth, its teenage division, voted to drop its previous ban on USY officers dating non-Jews. Now those officers are required only “to strive to model healthy Jewish dating choices,” while recognizing the importance of intra-dating for Jewish continuity. (Of course, the very concept of high-school “dating” is foreign to Mishpacha readers.)

The new language was designed, according to senior Conservative leaders, to offer a more welcoming face to USYers who come from intermarried homes and to recognize the reality of intermarriage.

Jack Wertheimer, former provost of the movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, has documented what that welcoming attitude to intermarried couples entails: a member of a synagogue ritual committee appearing on Ash Wednesday (a Catholic holiday) with ash on her forehead; a cogregant challenging a rabbi for not having given equal time to x-mas in his Chanukah sermon.

In it’s efforts to be up-to-date and adapt to changing social mores and realities – and thereby avoiding the alleged “fossilization” of the Orthodox – the only thing the movement has done is to join Reform in convincing its young that Judaism is trivial: It has no fixed standards; it demands no sacrifice. And every former red-line proves as flexible as President Obama’s threat to Syrian dictator Assad not to cross his red-line by employing chemical weapons.

A Judaism that accepts you what no matter what you do; one where there is no beyond the pale, only succeeds in conveys the message that Judaism is worthless. No wonder the 2013 PEW study found that young Jews are more likely to view a particular sense of humor and taste for certain ethnic foods – both qualities widely shared with non-Jews – as more central to their Jewish identity than any particularistic religious beliefs or practices.

Not without logic, do young Jews conclude: If Judaism validates my every opinion, and legitimizes my every action, why do I need Judaism? The more trivial Judaism becomes the less sense does it make to take one’s Judaism into consideration in dating and marriage compared to focusing on shared politics, attraction, even a taste for French films.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
20 Comments

Here We Go Again… (Yes, Yibaneh Ha-Mikdash)

-- 9:05 pm

It felt so good to write about different, constructive topics for a while: Chanukah, hashkafah, and a planned article on the Torah’s view of police conduct. It was refreshing. This, plus some new divrei Torah and several halachic articles in other venues, provided a welcome break from previous discussion about concerns within Orthodoxy.

It was thus with shock and regret that I read Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz’ new article, Please, God, Help me to understand why we must pray for a third Temple! It is not that I was so shocked by the article’s content, as Rabbi Yanklowitz has already published plenty of material that does not square with Orthodox thought and practice. The shock, rather, was due to the fact that someone who identifies as an Orthodox rabbi and who has exposed himself to harsh criticism for his previous controversial writings would again, without inhibition, publicly pen something so at odds with Torah theology.

The centrality in Judaism of the Beis Ha-Mikdash, perpetuating the role of the Mishkan as the locus of perceptible and palpably-sensed Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah (Manifestation of the Divine Presence), cannot be overstated. The notion of Hashem residing in our midst, as it were, and our ability to come close to Him in entreaty and sacrifice, are among the most fundamental elements of our theology. Sacrifice on Har Ha-Moriyah (Mount Moriah), where the Beis Ha-Mikdash is stationed, goes back to Adam Ha-Rishon (Adam, the first human), and communing with our Creator at that site, and offering of ourselves to Him as symbolically reflected through korbonos (sacrifices), is at the core of our tradition of Avodas Hashem (Divine Service). To reject these concepts is to reject the most intrinsic components of Judaism and the Jewish approach to communing with God.

Here is my response to Rabbi Yanklowitz’ new article. Let’s hope that there will eventually no longer be cause for more such responses.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
15 Comments

Letter in NYT Book Review

-- 6:38 pm

A slightly edited version of the letter below appears in the current New York Times Book Review:

Editor:

In reviewing “Living the Secular Life,” Susan Jacoby misunderstands the argument of those who maintain that the idea that there can be “good without God” is absurd.

The question isn’t whether an atheist can live an ethical life; of course she can. And believers can do profoundly unethical things. But an atheist has no reason to choose an ethical life. “Good deed” or “bad deed” can have no more true meaning for him than good weather and bad weather; right and wrong, no more import than right and left. If we are mere evolved apes, even if evolution has bequeathed us a gut feeling that an ethical life is preferred, we have no more compelling reason to embrace that evolutionary artifact than we are to capitulate to others, like overeating in times of plenty. If dieting isn’t immoral, neither is ignoring the small voice telling us that whacking our neighbor on the head and stealing his dog is wrong.

Only a psychopath, Ms. Jacoby contends, could disagree with the Golden Rule. The evidence presented by the large number of people convicted each year of thievery, assault, murder and rape (not to mention the even larger number of litigants in most civil lawsuits) would seem to argue otherwise. No, being willing to do unto others what one would not want done to himself isn’t a sign of psychopathy. It is a part of human nature. And only the conviction that there is an Ultimate Arbiter of right and wrong, and that we are created in the image of that God, can give us pause when we consider expressing the darker facets of our natures.

Rabbi Avi Shafran
New York, NY

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
0 Comments