Death of an Icon

I grew up watching Mork. I’ve seen Aladdin. I even, during college, watched him perform live. But I never knew Robin Williams.

He was the consummate entertainer. He just knew how to make us laugh. His improvisation, his off-the-cuff remarks, were brilliantly funny. But we never understood who he really was.

And that was, perhaps, the problem, that which made him so depressed as to bring him to a tragic end.

With his passing, journalists and commentators are talking about mental illness and depression, recognizing the challenges he faced. [UPDATE: And let me make it clear that I am not commenting about most cases, or even necessarily his case, of mental illness or depression. A person with either must seek professional treatment and it is a Mitzvah to do so.]

But I don’t believe that Williams simply had a mental illness. Few are discussing how common depression seems to be among the leading entertainers — or why this is so. While I could of course be wrong in this one case, it is hard to imagine that so many entertainers, upon finding success, coincidentally develop depression.

Someone challenged me, asking whether it is true that so many entertainers are … Read More >>

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Max Steinberg, zt”l, as Rorschach Test

The death of lone soldier Max Steinberg in combat in Gaza served as a Rorschach Test for Jews around the world. In Israel, 30,000 Jews, across the spectrum of Israeli society, took time off to go to Mt. Herzl for his levaya to express their admiration and gratitude to a young man who came to Israel to risk his life to protect theirs.

In the opposite corner, Slate editor Allison Benedikt could barely wait until the last shoveful of dirt had been placed on Max’s grave before portraying his as a dupe of Birthright, which spends “hundreds of millions of dollars to convince young Jews that they are deeply connected to a country that desperately needs their support.” Benedikt’s lament over Max’s death picks up where a 2011 reminiscence of her misspent Zionist youth left off. There she describes how her non-Jewish boyfriend, now husband, opened her eyes to evils of modern Israel.

Benedikt is emblematic of disappearing American Jewry. In her adult persona, she can no longer imagine any natural affinity between American Jews and the state of Israel, even though the latter is the only majority Jewish nation and home to the majority, or soon to be … Read More >>

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Ugly Times

It could well be, as some have charged, that the New York Times’ choice of photographs to accompany its reportage from Israel and Gaza has been skewed to emphasize Hamas’ grievances; or it could be that the imbalance of photos is merely a manifestation of the old journalistic adage “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Despite my general satisfaction with the paper’s actual reportage on the conflict, I lean to the former judgment. And I have similar misgivings about headlines that are created for dispatches. It’s not widely known that media have “headline writers” over whom reporters have no control. There have been several examples of headlines that didn’t truly reflect the articles beneath them, and in ways that led readers (of the headlines alone, at least – and that’s a lot of readers) to regard Israel negatively.

A recent Times report began with the following sentences: “Militant rockets can be seen launching from crowded neighborhoods, near apartment buildings, schools and hotels. Hamas fighters have set traps for Israeli soldiers in civilian homes and stored weapons in mosques and schools. Tunnels have been dug beneath private property.” Its headline? “Israel Says That Hamas Uses Civilian Shields, Reviving Debate,” as if … Read More >>

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Victory is OURS!

The Nation of Israel and Operation Protective Edge Uri Shachter – Deputy Brigade Commander Nachal (Res.)

After almost a month of fighting in the Gaza Strip, with all the reactions, I find it important to clarify to the Nation of Israel that we won, decisively. Both from a military and civilian point of view, we have been victorious. From a military perspective we can begin the victory parades. Hamas is on the ropes, the most they are able to do is poke their heads out of their hidey-holes for a second to declare victory (until it gets struck by the next missile). They are unable to rearm from Egypt (something they were able to do with a free hand during the reign of the Muslim Brotherhood). For years Hamas has been building tunnels beneath our towns to use to attack them and we have been able to destroy all the tunnels. Every military goal Hamas set for itself has failed, on land, in the air and by sea.

So why are we giving them the idea that they won?!

Every contact with the enemy resulted in our overwhelming victory.

Every town we wanted to conquer, we conquered within a … Read More >>

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Pain and Gain

Living lives of comfort and ease, it’s difficult for many of us to fulfill the direction of the first siman in the Shulchan Aruch to “be pained and distressed over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh.” Do we experience agony at the fact that the holiest spot in the universe lies in picturesque ruin, trampled daily by the feet of deluded masses? Do we feel sick over the reality that, no matter how nice the weather and the house and the bungalow and the cars, we are in golus?

It’s easier these days, unfortunately. We’re reminded.

It will be less of a challenge, too, to access the sadness of Eicha and our kinos this Tisha B’Av, when (unless we’re wonderfully surprised first by Moshiach’s arrival) we will focus entirely on the churban Beis Hamikdosh and its appalling offspring, the subsequent tragedies of Jewish history.

Because, no matter how one chooses to regard past weeks’ events in Eretz Yisrael, and no matter what may have been accomplished or might yet be, the situation is in fact dire and seemingly hopeless.

Some may take heart in the elimination of terrorists who, in their happiest dreams, and all too often in … Read More >>

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A View From the Citizen Trenches

by Harvey Tannenbaum

Shavua Tov to the world.

I looked back at my clock which flashed back to 2002. We drove to Kiryat Arba for the PTA meeting at the Ulpana where our oldest daughter was a high school student. The drive from Efrat was always an extra careful one due to the risks of a terrorist in his car waiting for the Jews on highway 60 during those years. We made our rounds with the teachers to hear the reports of how our daughter was doing in the school year.

We sat with Michal Sar El, one of her teachers, who smiled and had such warmth and excitement to share the ‘status’ of our daughter’s learning in the Ulpana of Kiryat Arba. Michal was Orit’s ‘Israeli literature’ teacher.

On Friday afternoon, we received the news that Benaya Sar El, 26, an officer of Givati brigade was killed during the Kerry/Obama/Dim Son Moon UN/ Bibi cease fire on Friday morning in Gaza. The name rang a bell in our heads, and it was not until our oldest daughter called to confirm that Benaya was her teacher’s son from Kiryat Arba. Benaya was killed by the suicide bomber terrorist who … Read More >>

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Acts of Kindness, Great and Small

Over the past month and a half, the unity of the Jews of Israel has been overwhelming. No one would ever hope for the tragic events that have aroused feelings of closeness – the kidnapping of three yeshiva students and Operation Preventive Edge in Gaza – but the tangible desire of Jews to draw closer to one another cannot be denied.

Tens of thousands of Jews, from across the Israeli spectrum, attended the funerals of two “lone” soldiers from America – Sean Carmeli and Max Steinberg – whom they did not know personally. And in communities across Israel, Jews are reaching out to one another with acts of chesed, both great and small.

Beit Shemesh, the scene of bitter intra-religious confrontation over the past two years and of a highly divisive mayoral election and subsequent re-run, has proven fertile grounds for various campaigns for unity. All sides of the religious and political divide in Beit Shemesh were eager to put the bitter feelings of the two mayoral campaigns behind. Two “unity” tefillah gatherings for Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrach, H”yd, were the first steps towards doing so. The gatherings drew chareidi, national religious, Yerushalmi/chassidiche, and secular women. … Read More >>

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Who Believes in Mermaids?

According to the latest CNN poll, 57% of Americans think that Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip are fully justified, while 39% think that Israel’s actions are “too much.” One might interpret those figures optimistically: It is doubtful support for Israel is higher in any other Western country. On the other hand, I would be more than a little dismayed to learn that 39% of Americans believe in mermaids or the tooth fairy, and I fail to see any plausible distinction between that belief and the claim that Israel has been employing excessive force.

But it gets worse. Over half of Democrats are within that 39%. And to judge by their recent statements and actions, it appears that the president and secretary of state are among the believers in mermaids. Fox News caught Secretary of State Kerry in an unguarded moment sarcastically speaking of Palestinian civilian casualties in heavy fighting in Gaza’s Shejaiya neighborhood, “It’s a hell of a pinpoint action, a hell of a pinpoint action.” Once he knew he was back on camera, Kerry quickly reverted to message; Israel has a right to defend itself; he was just reacting to the tragedy of innocent lives lost; … Read More >>

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Kerry Opens a Second Front

The two constants of the Obama administration’s foreign policy have both been on ample display in the efforts to force upon Israel a premature ceasefire to the fighting in Gaza. The first constant has been the consistent betrayal of allies – originally Poland and Czechoslovakia – to curry favor with enemies – i.e., Russia. Bernard Lewis long ago described the United States under Obama as “neither trusted by its friends nor feared by its enemies.”

The second constant has been an inexplicable affection for the Muslim Brotherhood, its supporters – Turkey and Qatar, and its offshoots – Hamas. Had the Obama administration had its way there would still be a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. Instead of the current Egyptian government closing down Hamas’s smuggling tunnels across the Philadelphi Corridor and fighting Islamic jihadists in the Sinai, Hamas would still be smuggling in rockets and concrete for its offensive tunnels and the Islamic jihadists would be extending their control over the Sinai.

With respect to the betrayal of allies, it would be nearly impossible to overstate the shock in Israel at the proposed ceasefire agreement Kerry put before the Israeli cabinet last Friday. The normally fractious cabinet rejected the … Read More >>

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A Different Minority Report on Israel

I get lots of correspondence, but a few paragraphs of something in my inbox today struck me as incisive and worthwhile sharing. It is doubly valuable in light of the opinion poll at the beginning of Operation Protective Edge that showed both black- and Latino-American support for Israel about twice that for the Palestinians.

Sorry to keep drawing parallels of the conflict to the historic experience of my ethnicity, but when I go through this exercise, it really helps me to see how absurd the claims and actions are of the anti-Israel contingent. Bear with me. There are persons of other ethnic minorities who have also turned to their respective historical experiences to come to the same conclusions as I. I read a good one today from “an angry black woman.” There is also this account from someone who is Metis.

For me as a Mexican who descends from people who saw their land truly stolen—not bought as the Zionists did—by people who had no historic, social, genetic or cultural connection to the American Southwest —again, completely unlike the Zionists—I can still stand behind supporting the government of the usurpers enough to embrace it as my … Read More >>

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Worth a Read

Below are remarks by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice to the National Jewish Leaders Assembly today (July 28) at the National Press Club in Washington.

I thought they might be of interest to Cross-Currents readers.

Good afternoon everyone. Thank you so much Bob for that incredibly generous introduction. I also want to thank my friend Malcolm and express my personal gratitude for this invitation. And it’s good to be back at the Conference of Presidents and seeing so many friends and familiar faces. Many of you have come from Jewish communities across this country in a strong show of support for Israel.

These are indeed difficult days. Today, together, all of us who care about the State of Israel are again confronted with the challenges of a dangerous and imperfect world: Of sirens and shelters. Young people called yet again to war. (Audience interruption). Of a land where, in the haunting phrase of Yitzhak Rabin, “parents bury their children.”

Today is the first day of Av, the month when Jews commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples. It’s a reminder that the Jewish people have endured much worse than rockets and survived much … Read More >>

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The Berditchiver in Gaza

I cannot reveal my source. All I can say is that it happened as he patrolled late at night in a Beit Hanoun street abandoned by its residents, walking a few paces ahead of the rest of his unit. He saw a figure, standing to the side, shrouded in light. “Sholom alechah, my son,” he said. His voice was redolent with peace and tranquility. My friend instantly realized that this figure was not of this world, and responded, “Sholom alechah, rabi u-mori. I presume that you are Eliyahu ha-Navi?” The figure smiled. “Not quite. They used to call me Levi Yitzchok, and I have been watching the events here with keen interest. I had to come back to revise one of my more famous songs – A Din Toyre Mit G-tt.” He handed my friend a handwritten scrap of paper, and vanished into the night.

Good morning to You, Ribbono shel Olam.

I, Levi Yitzchak, son of Sarah Sosho of Berditchev,

I come to you with a Din Torah from Your people, Yisrael.

What do you want of Your people Yisrael?

For everywhere I look it says, “Say to the People of Israel.”

And every other verse says, … Read More >>

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Open Orthodoxy and the Rebirth of the Conservative Movement

by Avrohom Gordimer

Cross-Currents readership is all too familiar with discussion about Open Orthodoxy; every nook and cranny of Open Orthodoxy could be explored with a critical eye through Cross-Currents’ numerous articles on the subject, spanning a lengthy period of time. Once the major issues of Open Orthodoxy had been fully brought to the table, it was decided that our focus and energy should be directed elsewhere, as the Orthodox public assumedly had been presented with enough information about Open Orthodoxy to be well-informed, if not saturated. More discussion about Open Orthodoxy seemed moot, and it was hoped and supposed that Open Orthodox leadership would constructively utilize the criticisms to recalibrate the movement’s trajectory onto a more normative path.

However, we were dead wrong, for as we turned our attention away, the nature and magnitude of the challenges presented by Open Orthodoxy increased beyond imagination. Over the past several months, the intellectual leadership of Open Orthodoxy openly embraced highly problematic positions regarding the origins of Torah She-b’al Peh; Open Orthodox rabbis around the United States engaged in new, more radical types of interfaith and interdenominational endeavors that could make one’s hair stand on end; and much more.

… Read More >>

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Something is Wrong With Gazans

The solution to the long and ongoing war between Hamas and Israel is an obvious one, and it consists of two words: Gazan Spring.

Everyone knows the facts. Hamas, pledged to Israel’s destruction, is the de facto government in Gaza. In the Palestinian parliamentary elections of January, 2006, it won 74 out of 132 seats. Even though the United States and the European Union refused to recognize Hamas’ right to govern any area of the Palestinian Authority, it took control of Gaza and, began to fight with Fatah, its Palestinian rival. Over subsequent years, clashes and truces between the two groups became the recurrent reality. Many hundreds of Palestinians have been killed there by their fellow Palestinians.

Just before the recent spate of violence between Hamas and Israel, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas entered into an agreement with Hamas to form a unity government. That latest attempt to heal the rift between the Palestinian faction that aims to eradicate Israel and the one that professes to back a two-state solution was widely expected to eventually meet the fate of previous, similar Fatah-Hamas pacts, which fell apart as a result of the two groups’ inherently diametric stances.

Now, with Israel’s … Read More >>

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Miracles All Around

As I write on Thursday afternoon [July 17] more than 1300 Hamas rockets have been fired at Israel without causing a single fatality. (An Israeli volunteer assisting troops in the South was killed by mortar fire from the Gaza Strip.)

Of course, many of us remember miracles of an even greater magnitude during the first Gulf War when 39 Iraqi Scud missiles – with vastly larger payloads than the Hamas rockets – hit Israel. Yehuda Barkan, at that time one of Israel’s most popular screen stars, had, like Yisro, an “ear” to hear. Though he describes his life at that time as totally involved in the pleasures of the flesh, he could not shake the feeling that something miraculous had occurred.

Thirty-nine Scuds hit Israel, in many cases causing huge damage, and no one was killed directly by the missiles. (That’s how Barkan tells the story today, though I remember that one person was killed – someone who enjoyed riding his motorcycle through the streets of Bnei Brak on Shabbos.) Yet Saddam Hussein fired only one Scud at Saudi Arabia, and killed 25 American servicemen on their base.

Soon after he began to mull over the contrast, Barkan stopped … Read More >>

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Glad Not to Be Prime Minister Netanyahu

I am convinced that Israel had no choice but to undertake a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip, and that the time has never been so propitious in terms of what can be achieved by such an operation. “Mowing the grass” for the third time in five and a half years is not sufficient, and will only result in a higher cost later.

That said, I am relieved not to be the one charged with actually making that decision. In the natural order, a ground invasion of Gaza will certainly cost many Jewish lives, perhaps hundreds. Anyone who does not feel the weight of such a decision should not be prime minister of Israel. On the other hand, anyone who cannot make such a decision should not be prime minister of Israel.

No national leader in the world faces as many such decisions weighing the costs of lives now versus those likely to be lost at a future date due to inaction as the prime minister of Israel . Such balancing, which in the nature of things must always be made in a state of uncertainty, is implicated in every prisoner exchange and it is at the heart … Read More >>

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An Inversion of Morality

From day one of its existence, the sole raison d’etre of the Hamas quasi-state in Gaza has been to kill Jews, the more the merrier.

Since taking over the Gaza Strip in 2007, Hamas has siphoned off billions of dollars of foreign aid money to build a vast labyrinth of underground tunnels, whose only purpose is to hide rockets to be launched at Israel’s civilian population and to facilitate mass terror attacks in the form of cross border raids on kibbutzim, moshavim and towns close to the border.

All the human energy of the Gaza Strip has gone into the digging of the tunnels, often by hand. The very magnitude of the effort both impresses and depresses, for it is a measure of the hatred of Jews of Hamas and its followers.

Hamas proudly proclaims its goal of reclaiming the entirety of Palestine and killing all the Jews in its Charter. Article VI of the Charter announces that the Islamic Resistance Movement exists to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine. Article VII states that the final resurrection will not come until Muslims fight the Jews and the very trees call out, “There is a Jew … Read More >>

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What Max Did For Us

by Asher Brander

As of last Friday, no soldiers had fallen. Now we have 32 korbanos. Hashem Yerachem

In a trip that started out for us with chasunos, we and the whole country are busy with shivas and levayas – even as one can not fail to acknowledge the revealed miracles of this war, B’chasdei Hashem.

There are almost no words of machlokes to be heard. People are packing anything (energy bars, tissues and t-shirts) and everything to send to the soldiers. Tehillim is said across the spectrum. Chassidishe Rebbes are “holding tish” in Gaza.

By now, most have heard the story of Max Steinberg – a free-spirited young man who hesitatingly came to Israel in 2012 on Birthright with his siblings, was touched in a profoundly personal and deep way, decided that this was the country of his calling, fought to get into Golani and fought and died in Gaza on that bloody Sunday this past week where we lost 13 beautiful young men. On Wednesday, among tens of thousands, we attended his funeral.

One wonders: How does a secular young man with almost no Jewish education, who barely knew hebrew, merit to have a funeral with aza … Read More >>

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How Not To Deal With Allegations of Impropriety

by Shaya Karlinsky

We have been witness to an increasing number of depressing revelations about Rabbis acting inappropriately towards women they have been counseling or educating. I have no intention of discussing any specific case. I would like to discuss a pattern that is all too common in these cases.

In response to accusations of improper behavior by Rabbis with female students or congregants, lots of well-meaning people come to the defense of the accused. These people will vouch for his tremendous integrity, meticulous observance of all appropriate boundaries in every interaction they ever experienced or witnessed, and the life-changing advice and counseling they or their friends received from the accused. Since, if and when breaches of ethical and Halachic behavior happen, they happen “behind closed doors,” the only way to verify the accusations is for victims to provide detailed testimony of what they claim happened. Frequently, the victims themselves are troubled individuals, or were having some specific emotional crisis which can make them vulnerable to advances from the predator, while compromising their credibility as plaintiffs or witnesses. People can become easily swayed and confused when weighing claims of somewhat unreliable plaintiffs/witnesses against the claims and testimony of obviously … Read More >>

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Agudath Israel Statement on Recent Global Anti-Semitism

As Israel applies itself to the task of rooting out terrorists in Gaza, and destroying their tunnels and rocket launchers, there have been, as always when Israel acts to defend herself, condemnations of her effort to protect her citizens from an enemy bent on murdering them.

Seizing on the tragic consequences of even as just a war as the one Israel is conducting against Hamas, the condemners vehemently protest Israel’s actions – and, in the time-honored tradition of Jew-hatred, wax violent against Jews, wherever they may be.

And so, we have come to witness over recent weeks hatred and violence directed toward Jewish communities in France and other countries. Such incidents are reminiscent of an earlier, darker time in our history when hatred of Jews was openly and unabashedly expressed both verbally and physically. Witnessing these attacks today is a stark and chilling reminder that the scourge of anti-Semitism remains a malignant reality in the modern world.

Without questioning the sentiments or actions of the French government, or of the other governments involved, the fact that these incidents have primarily taken place in Europe, where just decades ago many “ordinary citizens” were complicit in the persecution and extermination … Read More >>

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In Brief:

The Big Bang Contradicts Physics, not Religion

-- 7:12 pm

Pope Francis is in the news today, for having “sided with science” and against creationists — by endorsing the Big Bang Theory. According to these articles, his statement was “revolutionary” and “embraces modern science.”

As far as saying that the universe is billions of years old, or that creatures evolved, this could be true — though even there, he said that it could not have happened without Divine Intervention. When it comes to the Big Bang, however, these articles neatly turn the truth on its head.

Put simply, the Big Bang Theory violates the known laws of physics. This “Big Bang,” a point of energy that formed the universe — from where did it come? How was it formed? How did this energy and matter form, to then explode outwards? There are various conjectures and speculations to explain what might have happened, but what we know about astrophysics and thermodynamics doesn’t involve nothingness exploding into energy and matter.

In fact, the term “Big Bang” was placed upon the theory by a prominent astronomer who, like most of his colleagues, believed in a “steady state” universe with no known beginning. The majority belief in steady state persisted until detection of the cosmic microwave background radiation, a remnant of the Big Bang, proved in 1964 that the universe was expanding from a beginning point.

If anything, Pope Francis merely recognized that physicists have come to agree with the Biblical account. The Big Bang theory was proposed by Monseigneur Georges LeMaitre, a Catholic priest, and in 1951 Pope Pius XII declared it entirely consistent with Catholic belief.

But in actuality, the theory doesn’t belong to Monseigneur LeMaitre, either. The Ramba”n [Nachmanides] on Genesis 1:1 states that the universe began as a single point of pure energy, having the power to form all matter. If one reads it without knowing it’s the Ramba”n, it sounds like a clear lay description of the Big Bang.

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0 Comments

Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg – CNN Hero, and Mine

-- 2:28 am

In a large mosque in Detroit hangs a plaque honoring Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg. That will give you just an inkling of the Kiddush Hashem that Rabbi G (as he is affectionately called) has created for decades in cities, hospitals, universities, and corporate installations throughout the US and abroad. He has now made the final cut in the annual CNN Heroes competition. Making it to the top ten contenders will itself bolster the image of the frum Jew as people read his amazing accomplishments while viewing his bearded visage crowned with a large black yarmulke.

Like Avraham Avinu whom the Torah describes as “vayakam…me’al pnei meiso,” R Goldberg took the loss of his infant Soro Basya to leukemia as a signal to move on to even greater accomplishment. Coupling his background in the martial arts with his huge reservoir of compassion and empathy, R Goldberg developed a program that teaches children to manage their pain, while giving them a sense of meaning and purpose as they then teach these techniques to others – including corporate executives. He has been featured in dozens of stories on network television and magazines like People. (The most recent coverage was in The Forward, where you can get more details.) He has managed to build up his chesed project while also serving as the camp rabbi at Camp Simcha for many years, rabbi emeritus of Young Israel of Southfield, Daf Yomi magid shiur, and clinical professor at a Detroit medical school.

With all the tarnishing of the image of the frum Jew in the last years, R Goldberg’s candidacy affords us a wonderful opportunity to burnish it in the eyes of millions. Which is why I intend, B”N, to vote for him twice a day (once by email; once by Facebook; this is both allowed and encouraged by the rules) at the official site. I encourage you to do the same – for the sake of all the kids that he will reach with the prize money, and for the purpose of providing a glimpse of the deracheha darchei noam that a Torah Jew can bring to our troubled world.

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4 Comments

“Personal Torah”

-- 10:25 pm

A recent announcement by a respected Conservative rabbi has been trumpeted widely as evidence of his heroism. My take is somewhat different, and was published, to the periodical’s credit, by the Forward. You can read it here

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Yom Kippur Shiur Available For Download

-- 11:27 pm

My annual Yom Kippur shiur is available for download. It was given earlier today to a gathering of women in Los Angeles, and comes in three sections, for reasons explained, within the shuir. The first is a large part of the Nesivos Shalom’s section Avodas Hashem, reduced to a list of bullet points. The middle section is a hodgepodge of shorter vertlach on Yom Kippur and teshuva. The last part is a maamar of Pachad Yitzchok.

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1 Comment

Letter in NYT

-- 9:03 pm

To the Editor:

Dr. Barron H. Lerner concedes that it was proper for medicine to abandon the medical paternalism that had doctors make “life-and-death decisions for patients by themselves,” but he asserts that doctors should be “bolder and more courageous,” seeing “their duty not simply as providing options” but as ensuring “the most appropriate care,” even if that means “saying no to specific demands.”

To be sure, patients and their families need to be well informed about treatments and prognoses. But it is not a doctor’s role to make ultimate decisions for his patients.

Dr. Lerner doesn’t like interventions that have “little or no chance of succeeding.” No one, though, has yet succeeded in surviving life indefinitely. And decisions about when, if ever, to give up on it are the province of patients and their religious advisers, not graduates of medical schools.

(Rabbi) AVI SHAFRAN
Director of Public Affairs
Agudath Israel of America
New York, Sept. 19, 2014

Other letters on the topic can be read here.

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Jewish Action – Fall Issue

-- 3:30 am

Ask six frum Jews (of various genders) what they recommend as Elul reading, and you should get about 57 opinions, right? Jewish Action tried this, and the results are published in the Fall issue.

As one of the respondants, I was delighted to see that half of us went with recognized works of major baalei machshavah, which was the route that I described as working best for me. Within that group, only two seforim were chosen by more than one respondant: Sifsei Chaim, and Nesivos Shalom.

This provides a great opportunity for unvarnished self-promotion of my own adaptation of Nesivos Shalom (for those who are just not going to use the Hebrew original, which is the best way to go). Just in case anyone has forgotten.

You can order easily online here or on Amazon. It comes with a great cover.

Nesivos-Shalom-cover

 

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Burdened By The Times?

-- 2:45 pm

by Lawrence Reisman

I must confess that I read The New York Times regularly. Outside of the Middle East, I find the coverage to be fairly complete, in line with my biases, and even willing to contradict my preconceived notions now and then. More often than its detractors give it credit for, it will report when the liberal platitudes are simply not working. But enough of defending The Times. When it comes to Israel and the Mideast, I find its biases annoying. Mostly though, I live with them. I can see through what they’re saying, and I have no trouble finding alternative sources of information. So, most of the time, I live with it.

There comes a time when the biases of The Times are too much, even for me. In a recent review of Lawrence Wright’s Thirteen Days in September (about the 1979 Camp David accords), the reviewer started off with the following:

On March 11, 1978, 11 Palestinian militants came ashore in Zodiac boats north of Tel Aviv and set about murdering as many Israelis as they could with guns and grenades. They hijacked a taxi and two buses; 38 were killed, including 13 children. The massacre was intended as a provocation; a disproportionate Israeli response was assumed.

Please notice how those who “set about murdering as many Israelis as they could,” are referred to as “militants.” All right, it’s not politically correct to use the word “terrorist” anymore, or maybe it is? Further on in the article, praising the author for showing Menachem Begin in a less negative light than he would like, the reviewer refers to Begin as a “former terrorist.” So an Israeli leader, about to abandon his vow never to give up the Sinai and make peace with Egypt is a “former terrorist,” while those who massacred (The Times’s word) 38 Israelis are only militants? The obvious and unabashed double standard is too much for even me.

I have written The New York Times Book Review calling attention to this linguistic imbalance. I would appreciate it if others would as well.

Lawrence M. Reisman is a certified public accountant and attorney working in New York City. His articles on Jewish subjects have been published in the New York Jewish Week, the Long Island Jewish World, The Jerusalem Report, and The Jewish Observer.

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How Technological Machers Limit Consumption To Their Kids

-- 12:17 am

This article in the New York Times is not to be missed. Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids have iPads.

The money quote from Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired regarding his five children, aged 6 to 17:

My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules. That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.

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Two For Elul

-- 11:23 pm

Two poetic images from Cross-Currents’ resident poet, Rabbi Yossi Huttler

Yemei Ratzon(Elul) – Tefilin, Mezuzos, Neshomos

Casings and bodies
opened up
S/scribe scrutinizing
sacred letters within
for imperfections and omissions
judging the living
parchment whether so flawed
to be consigned genizah
or repairable enough
to merit longer life

Altarnate

running to You
ensnared by thickets
of my own gnarling
still deem me worthy
even a mere substitute
offering

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The Israeli Seminary Scandal

-- 4:28 am

We’ve stayed out of it, because we had nothing particularly insightful to add. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, who has been a fearless crusader against abuse in general, does have some special insight, and has been very much involved in the unfolding of the story. A few paragraphs taken from his recent blog post are so critical that they must be spread far and wide:

1) As nashim tzidkaniyos (righteous women) who, at great personal risk, did the right thing to protect others from what had happened to them?

2) As troublemakers and m’saprei lashon ha’ra (gossip-mongers), who ruined the career of Rabbi Meisels and jeopardized the very existence of the seminaries?

3) Or they are not mentioned at all – basically, “Let’s-Not-Spoil-the-Party-by-discussing-sordid-things-like-this.” (In the month of Elul, no less)

My dear friends, we at Project YES feel very strongly that the only responsible position for the leadership and faculty of these seminaries (and all seminaries) is to take option #1.

We propose that option #2 and even #3 are unacceptable as they send a very dangerous message — should current or future students have their boundaries violated, the wisest and safest route for them, would be to remain silent.

This is the quintessential “teachable moment” to educate our innocent and sheltered young ladies about hilchos yichud and their right to personal space. They also need to be taught that it is not a violation of hilchoslashon ha’ra to speak up, if these boundaries are violated in any way. Quite to the contrary, they should be informed that they are obligated to do so – and assured that they will be supported unconditionally when they do so.

Giving the young ladies messages contrary to these — either by commission or omission — after such a public scandal occurred, will create a toxic and unsafe environment for them both physically and spiritually.

We write these lines to encourage the current leadership of these seminaries, and to the educators in all high schools and seminaries, to convey these critical messages to their students, and to empower the parents of the students to insist that they do.

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Nothing Like a Compliment

-- 5:30 pm

As part of my recovery from the removal of a polyp from one of my vocal chords, I’ve been doing a course of voice training to prevent any recurrences. Much of the training in proper speech habits involves reciting a series of nonsense syllables – e.g., boom, bom, bam, bem, beem.

In a recent session, after reciting the above series, my therapist expressed his approval of the manner in which I had avoided straining my vocal chords. I found myself smiling in response to the compliment.

That smile gave me pause. I’m 63 years old, not an infant forming his first syllables. I’ve been regularly engaged in some form of public speaking since my bar mitzvah drashah. And I have not led a life bereft of all forms of positive feedback or felt a desperate craving for such.

Yet here I was smiling to myself at the smallest compliment for properly mouthing five nonsense syllables. My reaction brought home once again the incredible power that lies in even the smallest compliment and how much we should make use of that power.

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Responses to the Shidduch Proposal

-- 4:03 am

Besides abandoning CC for two weeks while running the Tikvah Program for Yeshiva Men (reaction coming later) and a few days of decompression at Mammoth, I waited to see if readers of Mishpacha would pick up on the flaws I spotted in the original piece. They didn’t – at least the ones that the magazine agreed to publish. So here are my own quibbles:

1) No one is to blame, but the accolades to Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz understated just how much good he does. It could be that Angelenos, closer to the action, have a better understanding of just how generous he is, how hard he (and his wife) try to help other Jews, and how unassuming he is in the terrific work he does. Readers should know that the description in Mishpacha was not exaggerated.
2) I think that the proposed solution runs the risk of ameliorating one crisis by adding to a different one – one that Mishpacha is less likely to write about. As it is, those encouraged to defer even thinking about parnasah plans during their years of learning often wake up to the cruel realization that they have positioned themselves out of range to do anything in life that is suitable to their personalities and interests. By the time they begin to explore parnasah, the education many need is beyond achieving, because it requires time and money, and they have several children to support. This has led to desperation, friction with spouses, and general unhappiness for too many people waking up to realize that they just cannot make ends meet.

If yeshiva men marry at younger ages as proposed, they will likely have even larger families by the time they consider employment, and even fewer of them will have the flexibility to seek academic or vocational training while someone else is supporting the family. More of them will be trapped as permanently undereducated and underemployed.

I have my doubts about the marriage readiness of twenty-year old men, but even if I can be pleasantly surprised, I can’t see how it can work without allowing and encouraging them to at least think of hatching a game plan for future employment, and understanding what will be necessary to enter the market.

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38 Comments