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 >>
It’s easy for many of us Orthodox Jews to look down our noses on our fellow members of the tribe who express their Jewishness only on the “High Holidays” and yahrtzeits, to consider them to have missed the point of the Jewish mission. Judaism can’t, after all, be “compartmentalized.” It’s an all-encompassing way of life.
There are, though, even Orthodox Jews, living what seem to be observant Orthodox lives, doing, at least superficially, all the things expected of a religious Jew – eating only foods graced with the best hechsherim and wearing the de rigeuer head-covering of his or her community – who also seem to religiously compartmentalize, who seem to leave G-d behind in shul (if they even think of Him), who seem to not realize that the Creator is as manifest on a Tuesday in July as He is on Yom Kippur.
Which explains how it is that an Orthodox Jew can engage in unethical business practices or abuse a child or a spouse. Or, more mundanely but no less significantly, how one can cut others off in traffic, act rudely, or blog maliciously. Or, for that matter, how he can address his Maker in … Read More >>
The “us” are non-Asperger people. For those who live with Asperger Syndrome (AS), much of life is about navigating the strange rules that we “typicals” impose on them. Understanding how they do it might help and inspire some of us in the avodah of the coming days.
Imagine that you had been told for as long as you could remember that you suffered from something called Asperger Syndrome, and this is why people thought and treated you as somewhat – different. Then, one day, they told you that AS no longer existed. They couldn’t confidently tell you why, but they cautioned that the reclassification might – just might – affect the programs and services to which you had previously been entitled. Previously, they thought you were different for one reason. Now they still thought you were different, but for other reasons. Maybe.
This happened on May 22nd of this year, to be precise, when the American Psychiatric Association released the DSM-5, its latest revision of its manual of diagnoses. Previously, AS had been seen as related to, but distinct from, autism. The revision created a new cholent, putting both groups on the same continuum, now to be known … Read More >>
Even as Al Jazeera America – the new offshoot of the Qatar-based news organization – was making its broadcast debut recently on cable carriers in the United States, its parent organization back on the Arabian peninsula featured a commentary by former Muslim Brotherhood official Gamal Nassar, in which he claimed that the Egyptian military (and currently political) leader Abdel Fattah Al Sisi is a Jew. He didn’t mean it as a compliment.
Mr. Nassar cited an Algerian newspaper (“All the slander that’s fit to sling”?) to the effect that Mr. Al Sisi’s uncle was “a member of the Jewish Haganah organization” and that the nephew “is implementing a Zionist plan to divide Egypt.”
The Al Jazeera commentator helpfully added that “Whoever reads The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the writings of [the Jews], including those who were writing in the U.S., realizes that this plot was premeditated.”
Maybe it’s not fair to visit the sins of the father – Al Jazeera in Arabia – so to speak, onto the son – Al Jazeera America. The latter organization claims to be “a completely different channel from… all of the other channels in the Al Jazeera Media Network” … Read More >>
I hope every Mishpacha reader read and absorbed last week’s cover story about the public relations efforts of chassidic residents of Montreal’s Outremont district, which had implications for Torah Jews far from Montreal.
Outremont’s chassidic residents – a full quarter of the neighborhood – discovered that their neighbors, particularly a local city councilor, were not all enthusiastic about their presence. The traditional response would have been to do nothing, other than mutter about the anti-Semities and pray that matters did not degenerate further.
Nor would such a response have been entirely unjustified. Xenophobia has long been a prominent characteristic of Quebec’s francophone population, and it would be hard to think of a group more likely to arouse suspicions of outsiders faster than strangely garbed, generally non-French-speaking, chassidim.
Blaming the anti-Semitics also benefits one’s psychic health. For one thing, it means that one never has to examine one’s own actions to determine whether they could have in anyway contributed to the animosity displayed. And second, it means that one need not worry about doing anything to change the situation, which is just part of the natural order of things.
Outremont’s chassidim, however, rejected the quietist approach. Aided by an unlikely … Read More >>
The recent “news” story about a bar mitzvah boy in Dallas who celebrated the milestone of obligation to observe the Torah’s laws by entertaining family and guests by dancing on a stage with a bevy of Las Vegas-style showgirls reminded me of an article several years ago in The New York Times about such crass missing of the Jewish point.
It introduced something that has become de rigueur in some bar and bat mitzvah circles, something called “motivators.”
While perhaps not on the level of the Dallas debauchery, what the article described was sad enough. It highlighted the profession of a young non-Jewish gentleman from the Virgin Islands clad in a form-fitting black outfit, who “regularly spends his weekends dancing with 13-year-olds… at bar mitzvahs,” according to the report. His is a “lucrative and competitive” profession – he is a “party motivator.”
Such folks are paid to attend bar mitzvahs and other events to make sure “that young guests are swept up in dancing and games,” according to the article. The Caribbean crooner was described as smiling ecstatically at one bar mitzvah “as he danced to Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez songs with middle school students” … Read More >>
Stay for the concert; get pshat in a gemara. That’s not what I expected from the Itzhak Perlman / Yitzchok Meir Helfgot performance Tuesday evening at the Hollywood Bowl, but it was the way it turned out.
On to a stage reserved for one of the world’s premier orchestras as well as top contemporary performers, Chazan Helfgot strode out in bekeshe and white shirt without tie, exactly as he might have emerged from his home in Boro Park. The handful of support artists from the Los Angeles Philharmonic looked on with bemused admiration as the tenor’s voice (Perlman has compared him to Pavarotti and Placido Domingo) filled the famed shell of the Bowl and the mostly full amphitheater beyond. Where did he learn to sing like that? What was this other-worldly presence doing on a stage that usually serves the likes of Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn and Mahler?
(The program notes filled us in on Helfgot’s background, starting with his birth in Bnei Brak. It included many of his most important performances, including one at Madison Square Garden for something called “Siyum HaShas.”)
Perlman, the Israeli virtuoso violinist, had collaborated with Helfgot a few months ago at … Read More >>
A lengthy piece in the New Republic asserts – or, more accurately, hopes – that “an unlikely alliance between Orthodox and progressive women will save Israel from fundamentalism.” The latter word, of course, is intended to refer to traditional Orthodox Judaism.
Heavy on anecdotes about charedi crazies harassing sympathetic women, the piece, titled “The Feminists of Zion,” details how demographic changes in Israel have brought the decades-old peaceful co-existence of secular and charedi Jews to something of a head. The “once-tiny minority” of charedim “now comprises more than 10% of the population,” it informs. And it warns that “as their numbers have increased, so has their sway over political and civil life.”
That sway has resulted in things like “an increase in modesty signs on public boulevards and gender-segregated sidewalks in Haredi neighborhoods,” not to mention “gender-separated office hours in government-funded medical clinics and de facto gender segregation on publicly subsidized buses,” among other affronts.
In 19th century America, there was much anxiety about the “Yellow Peril,” the pernicious effect that Chinese immigrants were imagined to have on the culture of the union. During the Second World War, the phrase was applied to Japanese Americans (iceberg, Goldberg, what … Read More >>
A few months ago, Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark, one of the most veteran and respected educators in North America (as well as someone from whom I have gained much), published a Guestlines piece in Mishpacha Magazine entitled “Unconditional Love Has Its Limits,” which predictably generated a good deal of buzz. I return to that piece now in light of a pamphlet on the subject of parenting disenchanted teenagers by Rabbi Uri Zohar, Israel’s most famous ba’al teshuva and a highly respected talmid chacham.
Rabbi Aisenstark’s goal in writing seems to have been to empower parents to actually parent – to offer guidance and set limits – in an era in which many are so terrified of losing their children that they make that result more likely by giving in to every demand and succumbing to every pouty look.
The Mishpacha cover highlighting Rabbi Aisenstark’s piece read: “Do We Love Our Children More than We Hashem?” That eye-catching blurb was presumably based on the well-known story – cited by Rabbi Aisenstark — of the father of Rabbis Shimon, Mordechai, and Moshe Schwab, who banged his hand down at the Seder table at mention of the Evil Son and proclaimed, “I love … Read More >>
I must confess that I’m a hardened skeptic when it comes to most “inspirational” stories. Unless something has been attested to by unimpeachable witnesses or otherwise documented (and that doesn’t mean it appeared in an inspirational book), I tend to take such accounts with more salt than my doctor would likely approve of.
But that doesn’t mean there can’t be value, even great value, in a tale, whether or not it ever happened.
Take the story of the “Baal HaTanya,” Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady, the founder of what today is known as Chabad Chassidus, and his encounter with the miser.
A large sum of money, the story goes, was needed to redeem a groom being held for ransom. Along with two venerated Chassidic luminaries of the time, the young man who would become the Baal HaTanya undertook to raise the sum, and they went to the only man in town wealthy enough to underwrite the cause. Unfortunately, though, the fellow was known as a terrible miser.
True to his reputation, when he answered the knock on his door and was presented with the situation, the wealthy man responded by handing the rabbis a single penny. The Baal … Read More >>
Voltaire said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” Jews could easily offer a third option: judge the faith of a people by their ability to live with unanswered questions.
The Zev Farber debacle moved many people to comment: “So Rabbi Farber, YCT’s Yadin Yadin musmach, went far beyond asking questions. He came to conclusions, including some that put him well outside the boundaries of Orthodoxy. We ought to firmly reject his conclusions, and hold accountable those who still refuse to do so. But how do we respond to those questions? Where are the answers that genuine Torah Jews can live with?”
Those are good questions. Before we answer them, we might consider that we have been there before. We’ve been there so often, that living behind an intellectual eight ball might be described as the modal place of residence for Jews over our long history.
We didn’t just clash with our neighbors. They just knew we were wrong, and offered plenty of proof that we were intellectual pygmies and primitives. (No matter that today we consider their proofs silly. That is not the way those arguments were perceived at the time. If a … Read More >>
by Chaim Saiman
A Jewish boy¬— lets call him Tuvia Mendel— is walking home one night. Maybe he is a bit drunk, maybe not. Tuvia attracts the attention of a non-Jewish neighborhood watchman who describes him as wearing a dark suit, white shirt, black hat and white strings hanging out of his pants. The watchman calls the police, who advise him to hold back. Activities ensue and Tuvia is shot by the watchman. The watchman maintains that he was acting in self-defense and the jury so finds.
Other than changing Tuvia’s name and identity, lets try and hold all the other elements of the Trayvon Martin case constant, simply replicating the debates about the facts and the inferences to be drawn from them from the real case into our own. True, the trial brought out wildly different accounts of what happened, but if it was Tuvia rather than Trayvon, is there any doubt the Orthodox community would resolve these ambiguities differently?
The response would not be monolithic. Some would say the system is outright anti-semetic, drawing a straight line from the horrors of the European past to the American present. Others would hold that this serves as … Read More >>
The teaser e-mail alert from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency read: “Hasidim for Iran”; and the headline of the linked article, about a Neturei Karta member arrested for allegedly spying for Iran, was: “Haredi Israeli charged with spying for Iran.”
Well, yes. But one has to wonder if, say, a “progressive” anti-Zionist Reform Jew had allegedly offered his services to an enemy of Israel he would be similarly described by his religious affiliation. And we certainly (and thankfully) didn’t see headlines back in 2008 about Bernie Madoff reading: “Jew Accused of Bilking Thousands of their Savings.”
The accused spy, who reportedly visited the Iranian Embassy in Berlin in 2011 expressing his wish to replace the Israeli government with one controlled by gentiles and saying he was willing to murder a Zionist, did indeed wear the sort of clothing associated with charedim. And he’d probably call himself one. But just like a psychopath who happens to be a doctor is hardly a representative example of his profession, neither is a charedi who aids a murderous regime (assuming the fellow is guilty as charged) anything more than an outlying grotesquerie.
That seems to fly over some heads, like that of the … Read More >>
Chumros, or efforts to go beyond the letter of Jewish religious law’s requirements, have gotten a bad name over the years. And it is true, some stringencies can be unwise, even counterproductive. Some are even silly.
I recall a letter to the editor of a now-defunct Jewish magazine whose writer was deeply upset that an advertisement for a dairy product in an earlier issue had run face-to-face with one for a meat product. Many readers, I’m sure, like me, first thought it was meant as a joke. But it wasn’t Purim time and it didn’t carry any indication of wryness or satire. The writer was serious, and, of course, deeply misguided.
But when a stringency is adopted, either by a community or an individual, for a good reason, it should not be resented or mocked. Sometimes a person may feel a need to draw a broader circle than the next guy’s around something prohibited; sometimes a particular era or community will require the adoption of special stringencies. Generally, chumros present themselves in realms like kashrus or the Sabbath, in the form of refraining from eating or doing even something technically permitted. Other stringencies, though, consist of adopting as one’s … Read More >>
by Avrohom Gordimer
The beliefs of a rabbi are no small issue. They can impact the validity of geirus, gittin and kiddushin performed under the rabbi’s review or that hinge upon his testimony, and the halachic integrity of those institutions that affiliate with a rabbi whose beliefs are unacceptable becomes suspect. Our focus on the current topic is hence not in the realm of the theoretical or “merely hashkafic”, but relates to something that has ramifications for the most weighty of halachic matters.
Back to the Discussion
Cross-Currents recently addressed the fact that R. Zev Farber, YCT Yadin Yadin musmach, coordinator of the IRF Vaad Ha-Giyur, and IRF and Yeshivat Maharat board member, has publicly and in writing disseminated his views that the Torah is not the Word of God, that God did not give the Torah at Sinai, that God did not ever communicate with the Prophets, that He did not bring the Jewish People forth from Egypt, that He did not author the halachos of Torah She-b’al Peh, that the Torah is the flawed work of biased men, and that the narratives in the Torah, including the Exodus and the existence … Read More >>
by Yakov Horowitz
[Editor's Note: Once again, Rabbi Yakov dares to publish what others won't even say aloud. He reviews the harm caused by kane'im/zealots, and calls for help in ousting them from the community, any way possible. Those who wish to take advantage of the links in the original version can go to his website here.]
While the bulk of the ire and anger from the charedi community over the “Sharing the Burden” initiatives are directed at Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, many of us who work with the teens-at-risk population feel strongly that some of this resentment should be redirected toward the radical kanoim (zealots) who have been contributing to the charedi-secular divide in Eretz Yisroel for decades now. Why? Because over the years, they have employed tactics of intimidation and violence to antagonize our non-observant brothers and sisters, and to disrupt the efforts of our gedolim (sages) in Eretz Yisroel to make the type of changes that are now being forced upon the charedi community. –>
In the late 1990′s the leading gedolim of North America met to discuss the pressing need to find appropriate placements for the dozens of young men who were in … Read More >>
Heresy, to many Orthodox Jews, is what Trayvon Martin is to some black Americans: something that stirs up fears and concerns that they would rather not think about. The very mention of the word “heresy” unleashes torrents of unwelcome ideas and images. We think of witch-hunts, of confessions under torture, of the burning of Bruno, of the stifling of questions and inquiry. We would like to believe, like our black neighbors would like to think about racism, that heresy is a concern of a bygone era, an historical oddity we have left behind, but not something we need deal with today.
As the controversy surrounding Rabbi Zev Farber’s remarks about the authorship of Chumash heats up, it might be a good idea to examine a few points that commenters to Rabbi Gordimer’s essay have raised.
1) Is it really so important to take a stand about matters of belief? Isn’t what we do far more important?
Time does not permit anything but the briefest of responses. Readers might want to review the introduction of Chovos Halevavos, who makes the argument that if Hashem legislated the way we act for the purpose of instructing and elevating us, He … Read More >>
Could there possibly be anything else to say about the George Zimmerman trial that hasn’t already been said?
After all, the supporters of Mr. Zimmerman, who killed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida last year, have made clear all along their belief that Mr. Martin assaulted Mr. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, and that the latter shot his alleged assailant in self-defense. Of course, as everyone knows now, the jury found no reason to endorse a different scenario.
And defenders of Mr. Martin have, both before and after the verdict, made their own, different, version of the happening known – that the teenager was an innocent victim of a trigger-happy, racist cop-wannabe who targeted Mr. Martin because of the color of his skin.
Pundits have since tirelessly trumpeted their convictions, either that the verdict was a triumph of justice or a travesty thereof.
But there is indeed something else to say about the case, and it may well be the most important thing to say. And that is: No one alive but George Zimmerman actually knows what happened that night. And so “taking sides” on the subject is the height of ridiculousness.
Somehow, that self-evident fact seems to have … Read More >>