by Yaakov Rosenblatt
One year ago, on June 14, 2013 daredevil Nik Wallenda crossed the Little Colorado River Gorge, in Rocky Mountain, CO, walking high above the span on a two inch cable. The canyon below was 1500 feet deep. The length of the rope was over a quarter mile. The shoes he wore were leather moccasins, hand stitched by his mother. The soft skin let him feel the cable with the bottom of his feet, heel to toe, as he rose and fell with its gentle flow. He carried a balancing rod across his back, weighing 45 lbs. and spanning 12 feet. He shifted the bar from side to side, slightly at first, more and more as the winds picked up. He walked steadily and deliberately and prayed as he walked. A number of times, the strong winds forced him to stop and crouch close to the wire. Gusts, during his journey, were up to 30 MPH.
The remarkable event was sponsored by National Geographic. Shortly after he crossed the span I watched a bit of his feat online. Recently, I watched the entire episode again, slowly. I saw Nik’s father, an experienced ropewalker himself, reassuring his … Read More >>
It isn’t every year that news reports about Agudath Israel of America’s annual dinner make the pages of media like the Forward or The New York Times. This, however, was one such year.
The reason for the attention was the heartfelt and stirring speech delivered by the Novominsker Rebbe, shlit”a, the Rosh Agudas Yisroel, at the gathering. And the fact that New York City mayor Bill de Blasio chose not to contest the Rebbe’s words.
Rav Perlow spoke to the issue of organized deviations from the Jewish mesorah, a topic that is timely because of the insistence of the latest such movement on calling itself “Open Orthodoxy,” rather than summoning the courage to find an independent adjective for itself, as did the Conservative and Reform movements of the past.
Over the past century or two, the term “Orthodox” in the Jewish world has been synonymous with full affirmation of the mesorah – including most prominently the historicity of Yetzias Mitzrayim; the fact that the Torah, both Written and Oral, was bequeathed to our ancestors at Har Sinai; and that Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov actually existed – concepts that prominent products or leaders of the “Open Orthodoxy” movement are … Read More >>
There are better ways for the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) to express unity with Jews in Israel than to join them in short-sighted and counterproductive actions. That, apparently, is exactly what they are about to do if they accept the iREP proposal to limit the Rabbanut’s historic oversight of halachic matters of personal status. By applying a band-aid to a wounded patient in Israel, JFNA may leave Jewish intergroup cooperation here in the US in a comatose state.
JFNA’s board of trustees is slated to vote on June 9th on a proposal by a coalition of non-Orthodox groups to address their dissatisfaction with the Rabbanut’s use of halachic standards in areas of conversion, marriage, and divorce. The iREP proposal (Israel Religious Expressions Platform) reportedly will not call for the undoing of the Rabbanut, but will advocate affirmative steps. It will embrace personal liberties and choice , and as a first step, get behind calling for civil marriage.
There is no question that many Israelis are unhappy with either the Rabbanut’s halachic guidelines or its style of doing business. They bypass the system by a quick trip to Cyprus for a civil ceremony. They will … Read More >>
On Shavuos, many of us will stay awake throughout the night, learning until we daven k’vasikin (pray at dawn). But as we finish our final cup of coffee and pat ourselves on the back, we should acknowledge for a moment that for many this is a weekly practice. And we should ponder, further, how unique this makes our nation.
During my first year in college, a lighthearted op-ed in the town newspaper complained that it was difficult to hire a student babysitter due to frequent breaks and vacations: mid-semester break, Thanksgiving weekend, winter vacation, reading period, post-exam break, and the list goes on. I responded with a letter to the editor, co-signed by my roommates, arguing the importance of independent research and our other efforts outside the classroom.
All of that was true, of course. But as I continued my college career, I slowly learned things covered neither in class nor the student handbook. Rules such as “9 am classes are for freshmen,” “the weekend begins on Thursday evening,” and “you need to be on the field by 4:30″ were as important as any published by the school. Our schedules were augmented by sports, theater, music, the school newspaper, … Read More >>
“Nahoul” is a giant bee, or, better, a man in a furry bee costume. He is one of the intended-to-be-lovable characters on “Pioneers of Tomorrow,” a children’s television program produced in Gaza.
In a recent episode, Nahoul encourages a boy from Jenin to attack his Jewish neighbors. “Punch them,” he advises. “Turn their faces into tomatoes.”
“If his neighbors are Jewish or Zionist,” Rawan, the little girl host of the show adds helpfully, “that goes without saying.” Nahoul then advises throwing stones at “the Jews.”
A bit later in the program, another little girl shares her hope to become a policewoman, so that she can “shoot the Jews.”
“All of them?” the host asks with a smile.
“Yes,” the other girl replies.
Nahoul is likely to meet the fate of other cuddly animals – like Farfour the Mouse, a rabbit and a bear – that were previously featured on the program only to suddenly disappear, the show’s little viewers being informed that each character had been “martyred” by Israelis.
The airwaves in Gaza are tightly controlled by Hamas, the de facto government, and “Pioneers of Tomorrow” is part of that violent and hateful group’s effort to educate … Read More >>
After some initial hesitation, I am ready to declare the much-lamented “Monsey Summit” a complete success. Definitely much-lamented. Some lament the bombastic name; others lament the fact that it took place altogether. But much lament and hand-wringing.
For me, it was a bee trap. Ever hang one of those low-tech bee traps outside the sukkah? I have nothing against bees. I respect their industry and utility. I just don’t like them flying kamikaze runs against my guests. So occasionally I hang one of those traps, put in the bait, and wait with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’d rather that all the neighborhood bees flew south for the winter. On the other, I feel pretty useless until one or more takes a wrong turn and flies into the trap, its last stop on the way to Bee Heaven. A trapped bee is evidence of a successful campaign to upgrade the comfort level of the sukkah.
Monsey Summits work the same way. As I wrote previously in what has become a topic of controversy, I walked into the meeting with minimum expectations and two intentions. I believed that people who claim that they are in pain and … Read More >>
The results of recent Jewish community surveys are alternately delightful and dismal, exciting and excruciating. The growth of Torah-observant households is a stunning phenomenon, while Jewish sociologist Steven Cohen observed, “the sky is falling for the rest of the population.”
Given this dichotomy and the urgency of the problem, we might imagine that everyone would want to know what it is that we, the Orthodox, are doing right. But apparently we would be wrong. Despite multiple surveys detailing the divergent trajectories of young traditional versus liberal Jews today, we have seen no studies dedicated to understanding our successful formula. Instead, Federations and well-meaning philanthropic foundations continue to invest great sums of money on projects whose claim to promote Jewish continuity is nothing more than conjecture — with predictable results.
As we all know, the Torah community is thriving. In less than a decade, the number of Orthodox Jews grew by over 100,000 in the New York area alone, according to the UJA/Federation survey — over 20%. In Baltimore, a similar survey showed an increase of 50%. Last year’s Pew Survey reported more modest growth nationally, but noted that while 11% of adults 18-29 are Orthodox, the … Read More >>
transcribed and edited by Yaacov Dovid Shulman
A Few Introductory Words
The import of the following essay is that throughout Jewish history Torah learning has always been of preeminent important: “and you shall study it day and night.” Yet at the same time, the normative role of the man has been to earn a living to support his family, and only a small elite of scholars has studied full-time. The purpose of this piece is not political. It supports full-time learning when appropriate and takes no position on issues such as government aid to chareidi families and the like. Its purpose is simply to provide a Torah-based and historically informed perspective on a Jewish man’s obligations to learn Torah and to support his family, and on the interplay between these obligations. The essay is based primarily on a shiur by Rabbi Mordechai Zilber, the Stutchiner Rebbe. Rabbi Zilber has been delivering a series of shiurim delineating the path of Hasidism. These have been transcribed, and Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, mara d’asra of Congregation Aish Kodesh, Woodmere, NY, has been giving shiurim based on those transcriptions. The essay below is a rendering of such a shiur combination. The transcription of … Read More >>
There exists a mentality, even among some who should know better, like the respected popular historian Rabbi Berel Wein, that any one of us can, and even should, second-guess the attitudes and decisions of Torah luminaries of the past.
In that thinking, for instance, the opposition of many Gedolim in the 1930s and 1940s to the establishment of a Jewish state was a regrettable mistake. After all, the cavalier thinking goes, a state was in the end established, and in many ways it flourishes; so the Gedolim who opposed it must have been wrong. And we should acknowledge their error and impress it upon our children with a nationalistic commemoration of the day on which Israel declared her independence.
None of us, however, can possibly know what the world would be like today had Israel not come into being. What would have happened to the European survivors of the Holocaust who moved to Israel? Would they have languished in the ruins of Europe and eventually disappeared instead? Rebuilt their communities? Emigrated to the West? Would Eretz Yisrael have remained a British mandate, become a part of Jordan, morphed into a new Arab state? Would Jews have been barred from … Read More >>
Last week we catalogued the assault on free speech on campus in the form of speech codes and pervasive political correctness. The most common reason given for the speech codes by college administrators is to protect members of the university community from a hostile environment. The other reason more often offered by professors and students for preventing anyone with whom they disagree from speaking – from Condoleeza Rice to Ayaan Hirsi Ali to Ambassador Michael Oren – is that they are advocates of policies or regimes which the commissars have determined in Marcusian fashion to be “objectively” unjust.
The justification offered by the administrators is more understandable. After all, few parents would want to send their children to live in dorms in which they were constantly subjected to racial or religious epithets, especially at a cost of $60,000 a year or more. But, it should be noted, that the notion that no one should ever be offended is a slippery slope and very much at odds with the values underlying the First Amendment. What happens when one student claims to be offended by another’s citation of Biblical verses condemning his lifestyle? How far are we from having the … Read More >>
by Jeremy Rosen
In my schooldays one of the favorite punishments of our teachers was to get the whole school, when it got too noisy or out of hand, to remain on silence, sitting or standing, for five minutes. Those five minutes seemed to last for hours but in fact they had the effect of quietening us down, of dampening our rowdiness. But I cannot say that that silence had any positive impact on me.
The next kinds of silence I experienced came when I was a teenager sent off to study in Israel. Prayer time in the Mussar Yeshiva of Beer Yaakov was an amazing experience unlike anything else I had encountered in formal religious settings. There was a complete air of concentration, of commitment to words and ideas in which everything was savored and dwelt on with intention and expectation of encountering God. In that part of the morning and evening prayers just before we recited the “Shema” (Deuteronomy 6.4) there was complete silence, a tense, expectant silence and then miraculously every one of the hundred or so voices broke out simultaneously in powerful unison, loudly,”Shema Yisrael.” That silence before the explosion of sound, was not the … Read More >>
I had not intended to write about the meeting a week ago Sunday between a group of Jews who left observance, and another group taken from the traditional community. Originally, the participants had all agreed to keep the meeting under wraps. Noise, self-congratulation in the press, grandstanding – these are proven ways of deep-sixing a new, delicate and complex venture. Somehow, the rules got changed, and the word is out. By now, there have been so many varied reports about the “summit” that I must add my voice to those who have already spoken.
It was the non-traditional group that requested the meeting, and it did not prove difficult to find traditional counterparts who were more than willing to participate. Rabbi Eliyahu Fink ably presided over putting the two groups together. The traditional delegates did not volunteer (nor could they, since no one knew about such a meeting), but were asked to join. The meeting was going to be small, confidential (so people could speak openly), and focused.
I agreed to participate, even thought it meant hopping on a red-eye from the West Coast right after Shabbos. Two objectives stood before me. Firstly, the OTD delegates were Jews … Read More >>
by Doron Beckerman
The year 1977 witnessed a watershed event in the history of Modern Israel. Chaim Yavin, famed Israeli news anchor, announced the mahapach – the transformation of the political map; the right wing, led by Menachem Begin, had taken hold of government’s reins. A traditionalist, philo-Sephardic attitude permeated the halls of power. A firm commitment to dramatic expansion of settlements in Judea and Samaria created facts on the ground. The Charedi parties basked in new-found sunshine and glory days. Money was showered on Yeshivos and limits on draft exemption numbers were abolished. Happy days were here for ideologues of non-Labor Zionist persuasion.
If colossal failures experienced during the Lebanon War (along with the passing of Aliza Begin) spelled the end of PM Begin’s political career, 1990 marked the point at which the bearers of Jabotinsky’s ideology essentially conceded the game. The Gulf War saw Israel subcontract its defense to a world alliance, and Yitzhak Shamir got dragged to the Madrid Conference, setting up the current reality where massive territorial concessions to the Palestinians are the only real show in town. Concomitantly, the traditional hawk-dove dividing began to blur, as every ostensibly conservative Prime Minister gave up progressively … Read More >>
The term “botched execution,” much in the news of late because of the case of convicted murderer Clayton Darrell Lockett, might seem to imply that the condemned prisoner has remained alive. Mr. Lockett, however, died, at least indirectly as a result of the lethal three-drug cocktail administered to him on April 29. His death was technically due to a heart attack, after he showed signs of life and even tried to speak at a point when the drugs should have conclusively dispatched him and the official execution was halted.
It turns out that the intravenous line sending the drugs into his body might at some point simply have slipped out (his body was covered during the procedure) but his protracted death has brought the subject of lethal injection as a means of execution – and the death penalty itself – into the global spotlight.
Considering that the crime for which Mr. Lockett was sentenced to death was the shooting and burying alive of an acquaintance, it’s hard to argue that, even if Mr. Lockett had an unnecessarily protracted painful death, it was devoid of some measure of justice – to the degree justice can be attained in this world.
… Read More >>