Status (Quo) Update

ITEM: In the wake of the shooting in Jerusalem of political activist Yehuda Glick, allegedly by an Islamic Jihad member who was killed by police after he fired at them, and the subsequent closing of the mosque on Har HaBayis to Muslim worshippers for several hours, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to maintain the “status quo” at the site.

ITEM: Mr. Netanyahu insisted that Israel is indeed “determined to maintain the status quo” at the holy site.

Status Quo: A Latin phrase meaning the existing state of affairs. The related phrase often intended by “status quo” is status quo ante, or, “the state of affairs that existed previously.”

It is unfortunate, in fact tragic, that a mosque occupies the site where the Beis Hamikdash stood and will one day stand again. But the state of Israel respects the understandable 1967 decision of then Prime Minister Levi Eshkol after the Six Day War, when Yerushalayim was reunited, to cede control of access to Har HaBayis to Jerusalem’s Islamic Waqf, or religious trust. Even to the point of prohibiting Jewish prayer on the site, in seeming violation of at least the spirit … Read More >>

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Sanctity and Tradition – Where Are Things Heading, and Why Should We Care? A Response to R. Ysoscher Katz

by Avrohom Gordimer

I must have really hit a raw nerve:

Another peeping RCA rabbi. R. Gordimer, like his colleague R. Freundel, is peeping into people’s bedrooms (who sleeps with whom and who’s married to whom) and perversely sexualizes the important conversations in our community.

These abusive Rabbis need to be stopped from further corroding our communal fiber. We can’t allow them to continue trespassing boundaries and trample on our standards of tznius and kedusha.

–October 30, 2014 Facebook post by R. Ysoscher Katz, Chair of Department of Talmud at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), reacting to my recent Cross-Currents article. (I presume that “who’s married to whom” refers to data in my article about several YCT students and a YCT rebbe being married to non-Orthodox clergy – something I and others find to be very concerning.)

Needless to say, I will not sling back the mud. Aside from the totally ludicrous content of R. Katz’ post, it is eminently clear from the innumerable sources documented in my recent article and in previous articles (such as this) which people, movements and institutions are “perversely sexualizing” the sacred and “trespassing boundaries and trampling on our standards of tznius and … Read More >>

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Sefer Torah Abuse

We rend our garments if a sefer Torah is, chalilah, desecrated. If one should fall to the ground, it is customary for those present to undertake to fast that day. I don’t know what the proper reaction is to seeing a sefer Torah employed as a prop in the service of a social cause, but a recent such exploitation made my heart hurt.

The exploiters, for their part, were jubilant. Members of the feminist group “Women of the Wall,” they had obtained a sefer Torah small enough to smuggle into the Kosel Maaravi plaza, where they proceeded to hold a “bat-mitzvah” ceremony, complete with a woman reading from the Torah and the 12-year-old reciting birchas haTorah.

“Today we made history for women @ Kotel,” the group announced on social media. “We must recreate this victory each month with great opposition.”

The latter phrase may have been incoherent, but the sentiment was clear. By flouting the Jewish mesorah (and current Kosel regulations) and by evading the Israeli police, the intrepid women had, at least in their own minds, scored points for their team.

For more than three decades, the Kotel has been a place – perhaps the only … Read More >>

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An American Hero Named Elimelech

Have you ever heard of Elimelech Goldberg? Don’t worry, I hadn’t either. [Dr. Elimelech Goldstein, the volunteer medical director of Hatzalah of Baltimore, is a friend and former roommate, but that’s another story entirely.] But if you’re familiar with the Orthodox community, you’ve surely heard of the Chai Lifeline organization, and their incredible Camp Simcha for children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

Rabbi Goldberg was, for many years, the director of that camp; his first daughter, Sarah, passed away at age 2 after fighting leukemia, so he had a powerful bond with children fighting illness. And he is also a black belt in a style of martial arts… one that you’ve probably never heard of either. But that’s relevant, so bear with me please.

A South Korean man named Kwang Jo Choi was a leading instructor in Tae Kwon Do, which is probably more familiar (and if not, it’s the South Korean version of Karate). He moved to North America in order to find orthopedists to help with injuries suffered as a result, which, he learned, were caused by the way he was performing martial arts. So he created a new style, called Choi Kwang Do, … Read More >>

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TheThree Cardinal Sins of Singing

by Aron White – A Young Writer contribution

Singing is part of many areas of Avodas Hashem. The Gemara refers to a Shul as a “Makom Rina,” and place of singing. The Medrash says that there are 9 songs in Tanach, and a tenth will be sung at the time of Mashiach. At our most special Simchas, our summer camps, our Shabbos tables – music and songs accompany us.

However, sometimes this wonderful way of expressing our emotions is cheapened and misused. Here are the three sins that we currently commit in some of our songs.

Sin One – The totally inappropriate song

Sometimes, in the interest of a good tune, we sing words that are totally inappropriate to the current mood. A great example is a favourite wedding song, Mordechai Ben David`s “Zachreini Na”. As Shimshon sits in captivity of the Pelishtim, his eyes having been gouged out, he prays to Hashem to allow him to go down fighting, and avenge his killers as he dies – “Remember me, and give me strength this one time, and I will avenge (my death) from the Philistines.” (Hashem grants this request, and he brings down the building on top of … Read More >>

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High Holy Days with the Military

by Samantha Hauptman

Rosh Hashana – The head of the year, a time to reflect on the past year and resolve to be more tolerant, more compassionate, and more observant for the year ahead. The new-year offers hope and opportunity. So, when Rabbi David Becker, who is involved in military chaplaincy through Pirchei Shoshanim, asked if we wanted to join him at camp Pendleton for the High Holy Days, I was certainly intrigued.

Rosh Hashana also involves worry about menus and new ways to prepare symbolic foods such as leeks. I shop, cook and clean, and then try to enter the Holiday stress-free with a smile and blessing for each of my children. So, while the idea of Rosh Hashana at a Marine Base sounded highly unconventional, Rabbi Becker was offering the opportunity to leave behind the drudgery of preparing for the holiday and a chance to interact with Jewish Marines, who in all likelihood had never experienced a traditional Orthodox service. Through Pirchei Shoshanim, approximately 60 Orthodox Jews were invited to Camp Pendleton to express our gratitude to the men and women who guarantee our freedom of religion by serving in the United Stated Military.

Each family … Read More >>

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Moral Climate Change

My pre-Sukkos column about the furious, quasi-religious zeal of some environmental alarmists apparently generated some… well, furious, quasi-religious zeal.

In an editorial, the New Jersey Jewish Standard’s managing editor mocked my contention that the Creator is ultimately in charge of the universe He created; and the editor of the New Jersey Jewish News invoked the celebrated atheist Richard Dawkins to berate me for my skepticism about scientific predictions. (What’s with Jersey? Has climate change done a number on its journalists’ equanimity?)

In my column, just to recall, I described my unease with the rage I heard at a large climate change rally, noted that the climate has changed in the past and, yes, contended that, in the end, the Creator is in charge, and our own charge is, above all, to heed His Torah.

I did not, though, call into question the reality of climate change, or in any way disparage measures aimed at trying to curb it. I readily stated that “we do well to explore alternate energy sources and pollute less.” But my sin, alas, was too great to bear.

In addition to the two papers’ public proclamations of my heresy, several Jewish individuals wrote me privately. … Read More >>

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Why I Am Stepping Down From a GPS Beis Din

By Steven Pruzansky

After seven years as head of the Bet Din L’Giyur (the conversion court) in Bergen County, under the auspices of the Beth Din of America and the Gerus Protocol and Standards (GPS) adopted by the RCA in 2007, I have decided to resign from the Bet Din. I sent this missive to my supervisors:

“After much deliberation, I have decided to resign as Rosh Bet Din of the RCBC and step down from the Bet Din itself, effective immediately.

It has been spiritually rewarding to serve in this capacity for the last seven years. I am extremely proud of the professionalism, sensitivity, integrity and fidelity to Halacha of the RCBC Bet Din that I and my colleagues established, and that successfully brought more than 100 gerei Tzedek tachat kanfei hashechina.

In the current climate, with changes to GPS protocols contemplated, it is an appropriate time for new leadership.

I wish you all continued hatzlacha.”

In the current cynical climate, I must append the following. Lest anyone gets the wrong impression, and at the risk of sounding silly and self-serving, suffice it to say that I am not resigning because of any scandal. There … Read More >>

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Looting the Kodesh

by Avrohom Gordimer

Looters have invaded sacred space; the plane in crisis has been hijacked.

Obviously, the Orthodox community must act with extreme care, meticulousness and scrutiny pursuant to the recent startling allegations of highly immoral crimes involving mikveh and conversion on the part of a well-known Modern Orthodox rabbi. The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) took immediate action, and so have mikveh associations and synagogues. Undoubtedly, the entire scope of necessary responsive actions that may be needed remains to be seen and would have to be implemented comprehensively and with thorough deliberation.

All steps taken need to be done with the goal of securing the system, protecting all users, and restoring a sense of utmost safety and privacy, rather than with an eye toward dismantling the system and redefining it. Sadly, this has not fully been the case.

Moreover, and seldom discussed, is the need to fortify the atmosphere of sanctity that pertains to mikveh and conversion such that these two holy institutions are not associated with anything base or crass. When a reputation has been unjustifiably sullied, it needs to be restored; when a mitzvah has been publicly associated with lewdness, the import and sacred image … Read More >>

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Elon Musk Can Sleep Easier

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, was quoted yesterday comparing artificial intelligence (AI) to “summoning the demon.” “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I would guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that… With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. You know all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water and… he’s sure he can control the demon? Didn’t work out.” This is not a new sentiment for Musk, who called AI “more dangerous than nukes” earlier this summer.

Could AI truly be an “existential threat” – could computers, intended to help us, instead make us extinct? In theory, yes. Musk referred to HAL 9000, the sentient computer that murdered the crew in 2001: A Space Odyssey, as “a puppy dog” compared to what AI could produce. Colossus: The Forbin Project, the 1970 movie about two supercomputers that took over the world (and nuked a city when not obeyed), enslaving mankind for the “good” of mankind, seems more in line with his concerns.

If Musk has erred, it’s not because he has overestimated the power of consciousness. On … Read More >>

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Kiruv Goes On: the Models Change

Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler in his justly famous essay on Sukkos (“Bitul HaYesh”) brings a Midrash that compares our entry into the sukkah to a mini-galus. The Midrash explains why the mitzvah of sukkah follows Yom Kippur: Perhaps the Jewish people have been decreed for galus, exile, (or an extension of the current galus). And if so, perhaps HaKadosh Baruch Hu will accept our leaving our fixed abode to live in the sukkah for seven days in lieu of a full-scale exile.

Thus sukkah is, at some level, an antidote for exile. Rabbi Dessler explains how. Our current galus came about for the sin of sinas chinam, senseless hatred. From a materialistic perspective, which views the world as a limited pie, anyone else’s gain of a larger piece inevitably comes at everyone else’s expense. The primarily relationship between people is as competitors.

Leaving behind the security of our normal dwelling for an insecure, temporary dwelling, forces us to give up some of our reliance on the material and place our trust in Hashem. That move from a material to a spiritual perspective in turn allows us to see our fellow Jews as joined to us in a common spiritual … Read More >>

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Winter High

The wishes of “git vinter!” customary in some communities after Shemini Atzeres might put some people in mind of fall’s end weeks hence, and give them a chill. Not me.

I’m decidedly in the minority when it comes to the seasons of the year (as I am, as an aficionado of early morning, when it comes to the times of the day). While I’m thrilled with the onset of each new season, appreciating the changes that I didn’t fully experience during the several years I spent in California, winter is my favorite season.

Not that I like shoveling snow any more than anyone else. But there’s something about the rolling in of a massive cold front that – how can I say it? – warms my heart (if not my hands). To me, the frigid cold is exciting, inspiring. Besides, watching snow fall from a warm place through a window and running chilled hands under a warm stream of water are distinct pleasures of their own.

What’s more, winter is symbolic of childhood.

You didn’t know that? Neither did I, at least until I found the thought in the Maharal’s Gur Aryeh supercommentary on Rashi (Beraishis 26:34); it is … Read More >>

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Fixing The Damaging Messages We Are Teaching Women And Girls

by Leslie Ginsparg Klein

“Orthodox women should have a job, not a career.” That is the message that frum girls are hearing at home and throughout their education. I’ve heard it repeated by my students, graduates of Bais Yaakov high schools and seminaries, who use it as a guiding principle. Words are powerful and words have significance. These words, and their implicit meaning, are damaging to women and our community. I implore parents and educators to stop using them.

In Pirkei Avos (1:11), the Mishnah warns us of the importance of being meticulous in the language that we use, particularly when we are in a leadership role. “Chachamim hizharu bidvareichem,” (Scholars, be careful with your words.) Rav Hirsch explains that this warning is directed at teachers and those who are guiding others in life. They need to take care not to use language that is “inaccurate, vague or ambiguous and may inspire erroneous views.” I fear this is exactly what is happening today with regards to guiding girls and women in their professional choices.

Why does it matter whether we call work a job or a career? What do people mean when they make that differentiation? Within sections … Read More >>

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Viewing One Another with a Favorable Eye

Just before Rosh Hashanah, Rachel Fraenkel, the mother of Yaakov Naftali Fraenkel, one the three murdered yeshiva students, issued a video message through Aish.com to the entire Jewish people. She recounted very briefly the torture of the18 days of searching for her son and Eyal Yifrach and Gil-ad Shaer: The parents knew almost from the beginning that their sons had almost certainly been murdered, and yet they maintained stoic countenances, filled with faith, throughout. Their nobility awed the entire nation.

Her message, however, was not about what the parents suffered or about the irreparable hole in their hearts. Rather she focused on those “amazing hours” of which it was said, “We went out searching for the boys and we discovered ourselves.” She likened those days to a flash of lightning on a dark and gloomy night that illuminates the way forward: “We had days and days of lightning. . . . [W]e saw about ourselves that we are part of something huge, a people, a true family. That’s for real.”

Mrs. Fraenkel knows that it is not all kumbaya moments ahead of us, and that we will return to old patterns – indeed we already have. Yet, she insists, … Read More >>

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Misplaced Zeal

The powerful swell of voices on Broadway, thirteen stories below Agudath Israel’s offices, did more than disturb my concentration. A thousand people were blocking traffic and loudly chanting in unison, the roar less redolent of “Hashem hu ho’Elokim!” at Neila’s end than of what I imagine “Kill the Jews!” must have sounded like during pogroms. Which was ironic, considering that, in light of the cause and location, a large number of the shouters were likely Jewish.

The “Flood Wall Street” event was but a weak echo of what had taken place a day earlier, when an estimated 300,000 people (including members of close to 100 Jewish groups, parts of the “Jewish Climate Campaign”), participated in the “People’s Climate March” on the West Side of Manhattan. But the smaller demonstration was large enough and loud enough for me. I had to wonder what made the chanting seem so sinister.

It may have had to do with something the late writer Michael Crichton famously asserted, that people “have to believe in something that gives meaning” to their lives, and that “environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists.” (And, I’d add, even for some who may believe in … Read More >>

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The “Shabbos App” is a Farce

It is true that the “Shabbos App” has attracted a great deal of attention and discussion. Personally, I am waiting for the prankster to come forward and explain that this was all designed to make Orthodox Jews look bad by demonstrating their focus on … what, precisely, I’m not sure. Probably that we care about Shabbos at all, and are distressed by those teens in many communities who are unable to set aside their phones when required by Halacha. But we’ll get to that eventually. The simple fact of the matter is that this whole thing is a farce, and of course we have yet to see anyone pony up $49.95 to get their (non-working) copy and prove me right or wrong. And I’m pretty sure I’m right. Rabbosai, you’ve all been fooled.

Let’s look at the evidence, which falls into four basic categories: the announcement, the website, the video, and the backers.

The Announcement They claim they’ll release it in February. If it takes that long to build this (which it shouldn’t), there’s no need to start marketing it so far in advance. The promised final version will cost $49.95, which is extraordinarily high for an app, much … Read More >>

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Why I Love Rav Shmuel – And Will Advocate Vaccination Nonetheless

There is no contradiction. Anyone who finds one has targeted a straw man.

I have had the benefit of association with three generations of Kamenetskys. They have never, ever let me down when I have turned to them for guidance and insight.

The short but meaningful times I spent with both Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l and Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l provided the bases of a lifetime of confidence in the halachic system, and in the concept of emunas chachamim.

Making the transition from a fairly black yeshiva to teaching at a West Coast institution with the name YU just would not have happened without Rav Yaakov reassuring me that it was a good move. I am still in awe of the precision and focus of a man well into his eighties, late at night, as I drove him from Brooklyn to his home in Monsey. Watching and listening to him provided unshakeable evidence that mussar could work – that the visions of R Yisrael Salanter and the Alter of Slabodka were no pipe dream.

Lehavdil bein chaim le-chaim, Rav Shmuel continued the trademark smile of his father, as well as copious advice, to me and to all my … Read More >>

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What’s (Shabbos) App?

Yielding to the many who have asked for my take on the now-infamous Shabbos app, here is the quick and dirty version:

It does not do what its developers say it does – “The Shabbos App will give all Yidden a way to keep Shabbos with all the chumrahs.” Not only does it fail to address all or many chumros, it does not address many issues of ikkar ha-din. By that I mean real, normative issurim. We don’t even have to go to “spirit of Shabbos” halachos, which also happen to be binding.

For some people, using the app will be worse than texting without it.

The notion that a time-delay turns an action into a grama is wrong on two counts. Grama is still forbidden mi-derabbanan – not as a chumra. And there is little to support the notion that a delay in an action manifesting its desired consequence makes it a grama.

Without providing much detail, consider the melachah of tzeidah according to the Rambam (Shabbos 10:22), where temporarily causing a deer to freeze out of fright is chayav mi-dorayso when it delays a hunting dog (after a delay!) to seize it. Or removing oil from … Read More >>

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Malignancies

There’s nothing remotely funny, of course, about rabid Islamists beheading innocent Westerners they have kidnapped (or their fellow Muslims, for that matter).

Yet, there is something bizarrely droll about the characterization of such slaughter, and in particular its filming and the dissemination of the resultant videos, as a “recruitment tool.” According to experts like Peter Neumann, who directs a center for the study of political violence in London, that is the videos’ goal, based on past successes in attracting new recruits.

What I found almost humorous was the unthinkability (to put it mildly) of any group of normal human beings seeking adherents by murdering people on camera. Can you imagine the Mormon Church cutting off the heads of gentiles (its name for non-Mormons) in order to attract worshippers? The Republican party, to entice independents? The Rotary Club, to garner new members? The local Jewish Federation, to lure donors? You get the droll.

And then the all-too-serious question presents itself: What does it say about a cause that it attracts people by means of the gleeful shedding of innocent blood? And a corollary: What does it say about the people so attracted?

It is fashionable to seek to “understand” forces … Read More >>

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The Waning Strength and Influence of American Jewry – Including Orthodoxy

By Avrohom Gordimer

The Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project: A Portrait of Jewish Americans created shockwaves, as the shrinkage of (non-Orthodox) American Jewry and its impact and role were ominously documented and further forecast. Far fewer Jews, far less support for the State of Israel, far less religious affiliation and practice, and an overall disappearing American Jewish public presence are starkly indicated and are already occurring. Unless non-Orthodox Jewry returns to its traditional posture and makes a radical, sweeping commitment to intra-marriage and fortification of Jewish identity, its termination as a major religious-ethnic group is almost certain. This would obviously not only mean the effective end of American non-Orthodox Jewry, but it could also mean the end of significant American support for the State of Israel – a support that has been largely precipitated by elected officials seeking to secure the Jewish vote and responding to lobbying efforts on the part of large American Jewish organizations, representing sizeable Jewish political and financial support.

Despite the acutely negative predictions, non-Orthodox leadership has failed to take the necessary steps to attempt to salvage the situation. While a return to Torah observance, values and lifestyle would be the primary … Read More >>

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In Brief:

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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פרסומי ניסא – Publicizing the Miracle(s)

-- 9:40 pm

KAJ Chanuka

One of the highlights of Chanukah in Washington Heights is the candlelighting at K’hal Adath Jeshurun (KAJ/”Breuer’s”) and the singing of Maoz Tzur by the KAJ choir between Mincha and Maariv. (Please click here, here and here for videos.) This event, aside from being inherently inspiring, undoubtedly inspires various thoughts and feelings on the part of all who attend.

Here are a few of the things that come to mind each year at this time as I look across KAJ and reflect:

That there is probably no other congregation on earth whose history is so identified with Chanukah. An unswervingly devoted group of about a dozen Orthodox Jews who struggled to preserve Torah in Germany almost a century and a half ago in the face of unprecedented assimilation, hiring a dynamic, unapologetic rav and master spokesman (R. Samson Raphael Hirsch) as its leader and seceding from the religiously-compromised communal structure, to emerge as the primary and leading force of Torah in Western Europe, quickly developing into a major congregation of hundreds of families with an extensive chinuch system, igniting a glorious renewal and rededication of Avodas Hashem. The modern-day embodiment of the Chashmona’im and the story of Chanukah. Boundless thanks to Hashem that this congregation was uniquely spared from the Churban of European Jewry.

Preservation of minhagim. Every move and every note is performed precisely as was done in Frankfurt, where the congregation originated. In חזרת הש”ץ (Repetition of the Amidah), the chazzan carefully ascends an octave, slows down and raises his voice as he recites the words שובר איבים ומכניע זדים, as well as על הצדיקים and הטוב שמך ולך נאה להודות (references to the Chanukah victory, the Chashmona’im, and the requirement to offer special thanksgiving to Hashem for the deliverance and miracles of Chanukah). Likewise, the final phrases of על הנסים (“For the miracles”) are chanted with a special, celebratory musical motif. Commenting on the Torah’s presentation of the mitzvah of the Menorah, Chazal laud Aharon for not deviating one iota from that which he was commanded: ויעש כן אהרן – להגיד שבחו של אהרן שלא שינה (“And Aharon performed it accordingly [kindling the Menorah]” – Vayikra 8:3 – The Torah praises Aharon, for he did not veer from the command; he adhered to the mitzvah precisely.) The chazzan at KAJ, as he kindles the menorah with yiras shamayim, precision and care, manifests this same visage of Aharon. (Adherence to the exact Mesorah of the congregation was emphasized by Rav Soloveitchik zt”l, who explained that the traditional musical nusach (rendition) provides the proper interpretation for the words of tefillah. Concerning the Yomim Nora’im, Rav Soloveitchik stated: “The Mesorah of the Nefesh, of experiencing God, is expressed in halachic terms by the Remo, who rules (אורח חיים תריט:א) that one may not alter the liturgy and tunes used by one’s congregation on the High Holidays. The liturgy and tunes employed by each community affect one’s emotional response to the High Holidays and constitute the Mesorah of the Nefesh.“)

Personal inspiration. Although the Gordimer family hails from Telshe and Minsk, and my family’s minhagim are those of northeast Europe (Lita), one of my maternal great-grandfathers came from Germany, from a small town near Brandenburg. He, along with his parents and brothers, moved to Galicia (southeastern Poland-western Ukraine), where he married into a local family with deep Chassidic roots. Nonetheless, in the face of the Haskalah movement making its way east, this “Yekkishe” great-grandfather of mine remained the most religiously-committed of the clan. My great-grandfather brought his family to America in 1920, and as they did not have a menorah with them as they left Europe, my great-grandfather, insistent to light Chanukah candles, carved potato skins into makeshift candleholders and lit for the family en route. Although I never met this great-grandfather, his commitment serves as a personal inspiration. He is my family’s personal connection to the beautiful German-Jewish Chanukah observances that we are privileged to attend this and every year.

May the traditions of Chanukah continue to enlighten and inspire us all and compel us to commit further to our Mesorah.

א פרייליכען חנוכה/Happy Chanukah/חנוכה שמח

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Change in Order to Preserve

-- 11:04 am

“Shev v’al ta’aseh adif — [In a case of doubt] remaining stationary is preferable,” is a familiar Talmudic principle. But we learn in this week’s parashah Vayeishev that there are times in life where the inertia principle does not apply.

After all the travails of Lavan and Esav and Dina, Yaakov Avinu sought nothing more than a little peace and quiet, But, as Rashi, explains peace and quiet are not the natural state of a tzaddik in this world. And so Hashem immediately brought Yaakov’s most difficult test – the disappearance of his beloved son Yosef for 22 years.

For the tzaddik, the natural state is one of continual striving. There is no possibility of remaining stationary. If one is not ascending on the spiritual ladder, one is descending – just like the angels in Yaakov’s dream. In the tzaddik’s world – the world of ruchnios – there is no standing still.

At the communal level too, it is often impossible to remain standing or to continue to operate according to old battle plans. Often times, just to preserve what has been gained, it is necessary to change the course of action that made possible those gains in the first place.

Not long ago, the Belzer Rebbe observed the remarkable growth of Torah learning in Eretz Yisrael over the last six decades and commented, “It will take no less siyata d’Shmaya to preserve what was built than it took for the building itself.” I understood him to mean, inter alia, that building and preservation are separate stages, and the hanhaga of building may not be the hanhaga of preservation. After all, in the process of building a great deal changed from when the process began.

Today, the Bais Yaakov system is so embedded at the heart of the Torah community that it is hard for the current generation to begin to appreciate the revolutionary nature of Sarah Schenirer’s movement..Yet Rabbi Chaskel Sarna, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Chevron Yeshiva, once said to an audience of gedolei Torah and roshei yeshiva that the person who had done more for Am Yisrael than anyone else is the preceding hundred years was none of their ancestors, and had never even learned a single blatt Gemara. Everyone present laughed until he revealed the name of the person about whom he was speaking: Sarah Schenirer. At which point, all agreed.

True, she convinced the Chofetz Chaim and the Imrei Emes of Gerrer to join her revolution, but she was the one who saw the need that had escaped others: For the young women of her native Cracow, Yiddishkeit had become an empty shell that they were eager to abandon. Had matters been left to head in the same direction there would soon have been no Jewish women left eager, or even willing, to marry a Torah scholar.

A radical change in women’s learning was needed to preserve Torah itself.

And similarly when the Chazon Ish declared that Hebrew would henceforth be the language of instruction in Chinuch Atzmai. He knew very well that blood had been spilt in Jerusalem over the issue of Yiddish vs. Hebrew as the language of instruction in the chadorim.

Yet he also decided that those holding up the banner of Yiddish instruction were like the generals who are always said to be preparing for the last war. “Yiddish is not the battle front today,” the Chazon Ish said to those who came to question his decision. The battle of the hour, in his eyes, was the preservation of the ancient religious culture of Jews from Arab lands. Had Chinuch Atzmai remained Yiddish-speaking it could not have absorbed that population and they too would have been largely lost.

In business today, we see countless examples of the impossibility of just “playing it safe” and trying to protect one’s market share. Witness what happened to companies that once dominated their respective markets right up until the time those markets simply ceased to exist – Olivetti (typewriters); Eastman Kodak and Polaroid (film).

Just carrying on with what we have been doing until now is often not the best way to protect once past achievements. Standing pat is never a response with respect to preserving one’s level of ruchnios and often not in hanhagas of the Klal either.

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A Bit of Clarity on State Conversions

-- 1:55 pm

When R Avrohom Sherman issued a long psak in 2008 questioning the procedures of Israel’s “special beis din” for conversion, he set off a heated debate that has not gone away. Can a beis din undo a conversion years after it supposedly went into effect? If it could, would converts ever have closure, or would they live in fear that some new court would one day decide that they weren’t really Jewish? You can draw a straight line between the arguments of those days and recent attempts by Americans associated with Orthodox far-left/neo-Conservative groups to undo the Rabbanut’s control of giyur, even in the pages of the New York Times.

One victim of pitched debate is the truth. Just how good or how bad were the procedures of the special court? Eventually, some of the truth emerges. We now have a pithy, simple summary of the seriousness of the candidates of that court by someone who is no believer in halachic process, from a recent article in the Jerusalem Post:

Hiddush director and Reform rabbi Uri Regev said it would require “extreme detachment from reality not to know that the majority of converts from the immigrant community from the former Soviet Union do this [conversion] without true intent to accept Torah and commandments upon themselves and are forced to promise false promises that they will observe the religious commandments.”

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A Chanukah Message From the LAPD

-- 2:23 am

Letters from the LAPD that come personally addressed, rather than to “Occupant” will rarely precipitate shows of glee in the recipient. But every rule has its exception. The envelope I received just before Chanukah is too good not to share. We will excuse the spelling errors, and cherish the thought that went into this card. Yet another demonstration of what a bracha this country is to those of us still stuck in galus. (Michael Downing is just behind the Chief of Police in the LAPD hierarchy.)

Downing-Chanukah1

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Sometimes, We Get It Right

-- 11:08 pm

Kudos to the residents of Itamar. One of the most beautiful gestures I can remember in recent memory. Residents of Har Nof last week found this note and the accompanying gift of a chocolate bar left for them.

[Hat tip (figuratively speaking) to Dovi Adlerstein, Dallas]

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