Even now that the recent much-celebrated Limmud gathering in the historic cathedral town of Coventry, West Midlands, England has concluded, the celebration continues, at least in many Jewish media.
The popular Jewish event, which attracts people from all segments of the Jewish universe (and some, like the Reverend Patrick Morrow, who led a Limmud session at this year’s, from the non-Jewish one), is always loudly lauded as an opportunity to access a broad gamut of theologies and practices that have Jewish devotees.
But this year’s Limmud conference, at least to the media, was particularly exultation-worthy, as one of the attendees was Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the current chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, the first person holding that position to grace the proceedings with his presence.
Much, unsurprisingly, was made of that first. Rabbi Mirvis was warmly welcomed by those in attendance, and his speech was parsed by the press with the determination of high school teachers seeking puns in Shakespeare, in a quest to find hints of disdain on the rabbi’s part for the religious leaders of the more traditional Orthodox British community, who made clear that the rabbi’s attendance at Limmud was ill-advised.
Aside from celebrating and … Read More >>
by Rabbi Yair Hoffman
It is well known that the Gedolim of both Eretz Yisroel and America are rightly concerned about the devastating effects of exposure to pornographic images through rapidly developing technologies. And there is no question that even filtered access to the internet has no guarantees that a person may fall or stumble into the abyss. The internet and Smartphones are clearly a game-changer in terms of nisyonos, spiritual challenges to Klal Yisroel.
And as in many other venues in Judaism, organizations have arisen in order to assist in combating this new scourge. In Eretz Yisroel, these organizations are known as Amutahs, roughly equivalent the 501 C3 organization in the United States. Some organizations are of questionable legitimacy, but the vast majority of these organizations are genuine and justifiable.
Not everyone, however, will agree with the approach and mindset of those people who are involved in the day to day running of the organization. In order to gain a more universal legitimacy the people who run such organizations attempt to get letters of approbation and approval from leading Rabbis.
There may be another dynamic as well. Some of the people who run these organizations, well … Read More >>
At the United Reform Jewry’s recent biennial gathering in San Diego, the mood was gloomy. “Reform Judaism tries for a ‘reboot’ in face of daunting challenges,” read the Jewish Telegraph Agency report. “Reform Movement, Seeking to Stem Decline, Eyes Religious Pluralism in Israel,” proclaimed the Forward headline.
Only the even more astonishing hemorrhaging of the Conservative Movement has obscured the decline of Reform movement. Until recently, Jews asked about their religious affiliation tended to use “Reform” as a synonym for “minimal.” So the numbers of Reform Jews appeared to be holding steady or even growing. No more. In the recent Pew study, the fastest growing segment of American Jewry consisted of those responding “None” when asked their religious identity.
The median age of Reform members is 54 years old, and only 17% of members say that they attend religious services even once a month. President of UJR, Rich Jacobs, lamented at the bicentennial that 80% of the movement’s youth are gone by the time they graduate high school. Even at the Reform convention, the area of the hall marked for those in their 20s and 30s was, according to the Forward, notably compact. Those who did attend were primarily … Read More >>
For the want of a single word – like the nail of the horse’s shoe – kingdoms can be lost. Israel’s enemies look towards the French version of UN Security Council 242 for the definite article missing in the English version that would imply that Israel should withdraw from all territory occupied in the June 1967 war.
Sometimes, transmigrating a simple word or two can be just as crucial. How many people were enticed by the mistranslation of עלמה in Yeshaya 7:14 as “virgin,” while Mishlei 30:19 shows it to mean something quite different?
A recent mistranslation of a pair of words in an important passage in Rav Kook affords readers an opportunity to closely inspect one of the elements that sets Open Orthodoxy apart from the rest of the Orthodox community, and explains its defection from mesorah itself.
Several writers have responded to Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz’s “Five Reasons Being an Orthodox Rabbi Compelled Me to Support Gay Marriage.” (Rabbi Yanklowitz is a frequent poster boy for Yeshiva Chovevei Torah.) The best I have seen was penned by frequent Cross-Currents contributor Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer. No need to beat a dead horse, even if it is trying to … Read More >>
Several weeks ago, my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting Detroit (well, Oak Park, a suburb, and a solvent one), where two of our daughters and their husbands and their children live.
Oak Park, and Southfield, which abuts it, are home to a wonderful, vibrant and multifaceted Orthodox Jewish community. The two neighboring cities, within walking distance of each other, boast (figuratively speaking; the residents are a modest bunch) an abundance of shuls and shteiblach, a large and flourishing yeshiva and Bais Yaakov, a yeshiva gedola, a Kollel – and all the requisite kosher shopping and dining amenities to boot. And housing, to put nice icing on a scrumptious cake, is extremely affordable.
One of the cake’s delectable ingredients is a “Partners in Torah” night of study that takes place each Tuesday night at Beth Yehudah, the local yeshiva, where Jews of all stripes learn Torah for an hour with study-partners from the Orthodox community. Hundreds of pairs of men, on one side of a large room, and women on the other, delve into Jewish texts together. It’s an inspiring sight (and sound).
Our recent trip, though, didn’t include a Tuesday, so we missed that weekly event. … Read More >>
When the Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael, Rav Aharon Feldman shlit”a, called to offer me a review copy of the journal Dialogue, there could only be one answer, of course. But having read it, all I can say is — get it. All the rest is, as they say, commentary [no, no slight intended to the journal by that name]. Each article deserves to be called “required reading” in Jewish thought.
The introductory article is a speech given to Israeli generals by Rav Feldman, explaining in detail the Chareidi worldview, its view on Torah learning, and why the idea of a draft or other mandatory service outside yeshiva poses an existential threat. Then a section of five articles, entitled “A Call to Spiritual Arms,” discusses “the seeming dissonance between the external and internal manifestations of Yiddishkeit in our community and its members’ lives.” Rav Feldman discusses those who are “observant” without being truly religious on the inside, a phenomenon otherwise known as “Orthopraxy,” and how to escape it. Eytan Kobre, perhaps best known for his acerbic wit and dismantling of the heterodox in the pages of Mishpacha, here looks inwards at the trends towards Orthodox conspicuous consumption and otherwise … Read More >>
When I thanked Rabbi Dovid Bleich for the gift of his just-released new book, he remarked, “You’ve probably read everything in it already.” While his intent was self-deprecating, it was really a testimony to the power of his thought, and the utility of The Philosophical Quest: Of Philosophy, Ethics, Law and Halakhah (Maggid Books, 2013). Indeed, I had read most of the chapters, reprints from assorted texts, periodical, and law journals. I had read them not because they were there and I am a Rabbi Bleich groupie, but because I was slated to speak formally or informally on various topics, and Rabbi Bleich was the go-to person who had weighed in convincingly on all of them.
An article on different approaches to identity in both philosophy and halacha became a mini-unit in my spring course at Loyola Law School. A paper I delivered at Pepperdine on the seven Noachide laws and Natural Law drew heavily from a Rabbi Bleich article. Both are included in this new volume.
Many people believe that the issue of an independent moral sensibility outside of the dictates of halacha is one on the issues that divides the yeshivah world from the Modern Orthodox … Read More >>
A strong paranoid streak has been embedded in the American psyche from nearly the first arrival of Europeans on these shores. We need only think of the Salem Witch Trials and much else that followed in the past three-hundred years. The staying power of American paranoia was documented by Richard Hofstadter, one of the country’s leading historians, and by other writers. In fact, this phenomenon does not require scholarly detection, as there is evidence of its existence in our daily lives.
We encounter American paranoia at the airport, including the lunatic requirement that we take off our shoes and the equally inane requirement that we discard bottles of liquid before we board. On top of all of this, there are the machines that photograph our bodies and the excessive pat-downs that have become so routine that one wonders whether Transportation Security Administration employees are trained in sexual perversion.
Ever since 9/11, things have gotten much worse and in the same way that the paranoid streak is embedded in our collective psyche, gratuitous invasions of our privacy are also being tolerated. We seem to be sold on the notion that without invasive measures, the security of this country will be … Read More >>
At the Sheva Brachos festivities this past summer for the marriage of our youngest daughter, my wife and I heard many wonderful things about our newest son-in-law. Friends and relatives spoke about his impressive Torah scholarship, his modesty, his sterling character. We had already known all that, although it was good to hear all the same. One testimonial, though, particularly impressed me; it was offered by one of the new husband’s brothers-in-law, who, in a short speech, recounted a long-ago lively Shabbos table discussion at his in-laws’ home.
Each member of the family, it seems, had vociferously put forth his or her perspective on some now-forgotten topic. Except, the speaker recounted, for our new son-in-law. When asked by one of the others for his opinion on the matter, the reticent family member’s simple response was: “I don’t have enough information to have one.”
I smiled broadly inside (probably outside too). If only, I mused, more of us were so thoughtful. Instead, our times seem to foster a diametric approach, that all of us must have opinions, with or without the assistance of facts. Call it a Contemporary Commandment: Thou shalt leave no issue uncommented upon.
And so, opine we … Read More >>
The essay below appeared under a different title in Haaretz earlier this week. I share it here with that paper’s permission.
Those of us who believe that the Torah, both its written text and accompanying Oral Law, were bequeathed by G-d to our Jewish ancestors at Sinai, and that its commandments and prohibitions remain incumbent on Jews to this day, obviously hope that Jewish movements lacking those beliefs remain marginal forces in Israel.
But that’s a hope born of the perspective of a particular belief-system (albeit the conviction of all Jews’ ancestors until two centuries ago). Leaving such blatant subjectivity aside, though, would the growth of non-Orthodox Jewish theologies be a boon or a bane to Israeli society qua society?
The answer may lie in the example of the United States, where the Reform and Conservative movements, as well as less popular groups like Reconstructionism and Humanistic Judaism, had and have free rein to lay claim to Jewish authenticity. And here in the American diaspora, the results of the Jewish Pluralism experiment? Decidedly banal.
On the one hand, Jews who, for whatever reason, choose not to embrace the demands of a traditional (in this context, Orthodox) Jewish life have … Read More >>
Odd that the Torah-portion about the death of Yaakov Avinu is called “Vayechi.” After all, the word means “And he lived.” And, differently voweled, the word can mean “And he will live.” And especially odd, because Yaakov didn’t die.
At least that’s what Rabbi Yochanan (Taanis, 5b) asserts, although his listeners asked sarcastically, “Was it then for naught that the eulogizers eulogized him, the embalmers embalmed him and the gravediggers buried him?”
Unperturbed, Rabbi Yochanan responded with the prophet Yirmiyahu’s assurance, “And you, fear not, my servant Yaakov, says Hashem, and tremble not, Yisrael. For behold I am your savior from afar and [that of] your descendants from their land of captivity.” That verse, explained Rabbi Yochanan, juxtaposes Yaakov with his descendants. And so, the sage concluded, “just as those descendants are alive, so, too, must he be.”
As abstruse Talmudic passages go, this one would seem a good example. Rabbi Yochanan’s proof is as unconvincing as his contention was bewildering. And yet, the traditional word for dying (vayomos) is strangely absent from the account of Yaakov’s… whatever. Instead, an unusual and somewhat vague word (vayigva) is employed. And there are Midrashic narratives, too, that imply Yaakov’s life after … Read More >>
Is it merely a coincidence that so many of Women of the Wall’s leaders have numerous close associations with radical, anti-Israel groups? Or could it be that WoW is a useful vehicle for advancing an anti-Israel narrative that leaves Israel increasingly isolated internationally? Is concealing that agenda the reason why WoW tried to suppress the story of its leaders’ ties to fringe anti-Israel NGOs?
In early November, journalist Rachel Avraham posted a story at Jerusalem Online, the English-language website of Channel Two News, detailing the connections between WoW, vice-chairwoman, Batya Kallus and chairwoman Anat Hoffman and various anti-Israel groups.
As program director for the Moriah Fund, Kallus helps facilitate funding for such groups as Adallah, Ir Amin, Yesh Din, and Mossawa. Adallah rejects Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and has been active in promoting Israel Apartheid Week on North American campuses and in the dissemination of the Goldstone Report accusing Israel of war crimes in Operation Cast Lead. The Goldstone Report cited “evidence” provided by Adallah 38 times.
Yesh Din categorizes Israel as an apartheid state and supported Turkey’s position after the Mavi Marmara incident, in which Israel naval commandos attempting to interdict the Gaza Flotilla … Read More >>
The following is the concluding paragraph of an article in the current issue of Mishpacha:
“The failure of American Jewry during the Holocaust pales beside that of American Jewry today. By virtue of its unshakable adulation of Obama, American Jewry has watched calmly as he placed 6 million Jews in Israel under threat of extinction from an Iranian nuclear bomb.”
What precedes these lines is of a similar nature, including the comparison of the interim understanding regarding Iran to the 1938 Munich Agreement entered into by Hitler and Chamberlain. We are told, however, that “the comparison of Obama to Neville Chamberlain is unfair to the latter.” How charming.
If the article was written by an obscure figure in Jewish life, concern about its extremism would be ameliorated by the acknowledgement that the writer was speaking his own mind and few would pay heed. The author of the Mishpacha piece is Jonathan Rosenblum, deservedly a respected writer, and the sentiments that he expresses are shared by a great many in the Orthodox community. This adds both to the impact of the article and to the obligation to call the writer to task for his indulgence in paranoia and worse. … Read More >>
Do you know about the CD that is causing much grief to yeshiva-trained Americans? There is no mp3 version. It is not a message from Lipa, or Mattisyahu, or a Modern Orthodox subversive. CD here does not stand for compact disk, but for cognitive dissonance. The difference between reality the way we have been taught to accept it, and the way we personally encounter it. Cognitive dissonance is driving more and more of us to an uncomfortable psychic place. We dwell firmly in the charedi world in which we grew up, and in which we raised our children. We fully live the charedi life style, but our hearts are sometimes not so enthusiastic about it, and our minds are increasingly alienated from it. We are victims of repeating memes with which we were bombarded, and then discovering that they are not true.
Some of these memes have come into sharper focus with the legislation of the current Israeli government. One of those, repeated again and again in the charedi press both in Israel and the US, is that the government is composed of rasha’im who are intent on fighting a war to the finish to obliterate Torah.
I … Read More >>
Sometimes a first-person account is just so sad you could cry. And when the writer seems oblivious to the sadness, well, then it’s sadder still.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency recently offered a piece written by a Jewish woman explaining her and her husband’s decision to forgo having children.
“As a Conservative Jew raised in the Midwest,” she writes, “I always assumed I’d have kids…. In my mind, being a grown-up meant having children.”
During her college days, she stopped in at the Brown University Hillel House and met a young man. Eventually they began to date.
When marriage came up, they discussed how “religiously” to raise their children, and found that they had different opinions. Her partner wanted to observe the Sabbath but she did not. And, if they each did his or her own thing she feared the “inevitable” questions their children would have about their mother’s level of observance.
Then, she writes, “It occurred to me that our potential problems would vanish if we just skipped parenthood.” Problem – at least if she could get her boyfriend on board – solved.
As it happened, after the young man became her husband, he began “losing his religion.” … Read More >>
Many Jews are so scarred (rightfully so!) by stories of horrors perpetrated upon us in the name of Christianity, that those stories become a defining part of their reality. Christian hatred of Jews is a given, as real and permanent as gravity. They cannot imagine a world without it. If you are one of those, please stop reading. The rest is not for you.
If you have room in your world view for change in the way some people relate to us, and we to them, you might be interested in learning about salient points of the major document (officially called an apostolic exhortation) that Pope Francis released a short while ago.
Overall, the document is extremely warm and accommodating to Jews and Judaism. It speaks of friendship for a Jewish people that enjoys significance in an irrevocable covenantal relationship with G-d. It owns up to the debt owed to them, and apologizes for their past persecution when done by Christians.
The document includes language important to supporters of Israel looking to defeat the Palestinian and BDS wars against her legitimacy. As I generally eschew political commentary in these pages, I will not write here … Read More >>
The following essay was written for Haaretz and appeared on its website recently under a different title. I share it here with that paper’s permission.
There’s a striking irony in the fact that Chanukah is one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays among American Jews.
Cynics have contended that it’s Chanukah’s proximity to the Christian winter holiday, with all the latter’s ubiquitous glitz, baubles and musical offerings, that has elevated Chanukah – seen by some as a “minor” celebration, since it’s a post-Biblical commemoration – to the pantheon (if a Greek word is appropriate here) of popular Jewish observances.
In fact, though, Chanukah is not minor at all; a wealth of Jewish mystical literature enwraps it, and laws (albeit rabbinical in origin) govern the nightly lighting of the holiday’s candles and the recital of Al Hanisim (“For the miracles”) in our prayers over Chanukah’s eight days.
As to whether many American Jews are enamoured of Frosty the Snowman, well, it’s an open question. Me, I prefer my winter nights silent.
But onward to the irony, which is not only striking but significant.
I recall hearing a Reform rabbi on a public radio program a couple … Read More >>