I read the new (and fabulous!) edition of Klal Perspectives with great intrigue. Grappling with the transition from ben yeshiva to baal habayis is a very sensitive topic in general, but for those personally undergoing this transition, it is often one of disorientation, frustration, and even trauma and despair.
The solutions presented to enabling a smooth (as possible) transition, and the resolutions for balancing Torah and avodah, are delicate and often pretty touchy, but they make a lot of sense and are welcome and quite necessary. Yet in the end, to an idealistic ben yeshiva, they can reflect a sense of abandonment of his idealism, for if one has been bred and cultivated to embrace Torah excellence and focus on limud ha-Torah as the apex, a prescription that includes an abandonment of his ascent to the peak is an exceedingly hard pill to swallow.
Obviously, one needs to be practical and fulfill his responsibility to provide for his family and himself; the challenge, rather, is the perceived need to basically throw in the towel, say goodbye to the beis medrash and radically change course. Giving up one’s life ambition in Torah is not easy, no matter how important … Read More >>
R. Yisroel Salanter, it is said, decried the fact that derush had turned the corpus of Chazal from an instructional form into a plaything for rhetoricians. Every rov found pesukim and midrashim to be infinitely pliable, capable of taking whatever shape he wanted. They became springboards ready to launch any thought that met his fancy. But if Torah texts could mean anything, R. Yisroel lamented, then they effectively meant nothing. If you didn’t like what a rov said about some passage, just saunter down the street and a different rov would likely assure you that the words meant the polar opposite. Whatever lesson – or lessons – HKBH and Chazal had in mind when they wrote what they did were lost to the surrounding static.
Perhaps the conservatism, the cautiousness we observe in new works on Chumash and Chazal are part of a corrective to R. Yisroel’s observation. Perhaps people reasoned that it was more important to showcase the words of the Sages themselves than their own verbal pyrotechnics. Maybe that is why we see lots of works citing lots of other, earlier works, but not very much genuine creativity.
Or so it seems. While studying Netziv, … Read More >>
A reference to a Shabbos seudah as “brainwashing.” An attempt by a flag-draped man to enter a Montreal Jewish day school. And a pre-school morah’s report. All took place recently and, together, helped me better understand something fundamental about life.
The cynical reference to Shabbos was from a woman quoted in a book. Sadly, she had left the Jewish observance of her childhood behind.
“My father was always tired and so was my mother,” she explained to the author. “They were fighting. We were fighting. And so there was not that kind of love and joy that makes the brainwashing really stick.”
On the very day that quote appeared in a book review, a man draped in a flag of Quebec tried to enter a chareidi Jewish day school, Yeshiva Gedola, in Montreal, claiming that he wanted to “liberate” its students.
Wisely, the school’s staff did not allow the fellow into the building. One staff member said “When I answered through the intercom, the man told me: ‘I want to talk to the children because they are imprisoned in this school… I want to liberate the children’.”
Liberate the children.
Two people with a similar … Read More >>
It wasn’t so long ago that when people spoke about the issues bnei Torah faced in the workplace, they meant how to deal with the power lunch at a treif restaurant, and the hand proffered by a female executive.
Things have changed, and not for the better. We had the vocabulary to deal with the old issues. Various positions emerged; none of them upset existing protocols or deeply-held beliefs.
Not so today. The angst faced by working bnei Torah has no easy antidote. Baalei batim struggle to keep afloat financially, attempting to satisfy the demands of an Orthodox household that far exceed the earning power of most couples. At the same time, the self-image of the ben Torah which had been so inextricably bound up in earlier years with the quantity and quality of learning takes a merciless beating as there just isn’t enough time to go around between responsibilities of earner, husband, father, and community member.
Nothing could work, short of changing the way we have been taught to think for many years. But we are suspicious of such change – rightfully so. We understand the human capacity for rationalization, for developing intellectual castles in … Read More >>
Lately, I have been haunted with the feeling that the moral stability of American society is quickly and quite substantially crumbling. Although moral norms have very arguably declined over time, such decline seems to be astonishingly accelerated at present. One of my clients recently commented the same to me, and my sense is that there is a broad awareness of acute change in the air, as the standards which have formed much of the base of American society are being rapidly chipped away.
As I read about states being required to recognize gay marriage, sodomy laws stricken down and bans on adultery repealed, and I see people all over New York City publicly smoking marijuana, I am confronted by the reality that principles are being replaced by permissiveness and moral norms are now subjective rather than objective. (Not to mention the many indictments of very public figures, including Orthodox Jews, for crimes of the worst types of unethical and immoral conduct. More on the Orthodox aspect of this discussion later…)
What does Jewish tradition have to say about such a society?
In a deep, brilliant shiur about Purim, Rav Soloveitchik addressed this issue:
The hedonic … Read More >>
In February, 2001, I penned a piece for Moment Magazine that caused quite a ruckus.
I had titled it “Time to Come Home,” and it was addressed to Jews who belonged to Conservative Jewish congregations. I made the case that the Conservative movement’s claim of fealty to halacha was hollow and that the movement essentially took its cues from whatever non-Jewish society felt was acceptable or proper.
The issue of same-sex relationships, I contended, would prove my point. At the time, the movement hadn’t yet rejected the Torah’s clear prohibitions in that area. I predicted that, as the larger societal milieu was coming to embrace such relationships as morally acceptable, the Conservative movement would follow suit in due time.
(It did, of course, rather quickly. In 2006, the movement’s “Committee on Jewish Law and Standards” endorsed a position permitting “commitment ceremonies” between people of the same gender and the ordination as Conservative rabbis of people living openly homosexual lives. But the accuracy of my prediction is not my topic here.)
I pleaded that Conservative Jews who truly respected the concept of halacha should join their Orthodox brothers and sisters, and “come home,” as per the piece’s title.
… Read More >>
By Shmuel Winiarz
It hurts. Deeply. The initial blinding shock has passed, but as the sheloshim approaches, my mind inevitably wanders to thinking about my brother Dovid. I internally reflect on his life story and the calamitous circumstances of his untimely passing. I try to envision the path forward, knowing that it will be without Dovid’s inimitable presence. It may be a trite expression, but life will simply not be the same.
Dovid was an extrovert’s extrovert and his joie de vivre lit up the day of every person whose path happened to intertwine with his. As a result, many people befriended Dovid and felt close to him. To me, Dovid was my big brother, not Orwellian style, but in the truest and best meaning of the term. His relationship with all five of his younger siblings would be aptly described by interpreting Hashomer Achi Anochi not as a rhetorical question but as a statement of sacred responsibility. Dovid always made it his business to be there for us. He lent an empathic ear when needed. He gave select advice and would always make a call or a connection or a take a trip out when a … Read More >>
Do the price of an engagement ring and cost of wedding have anything to do with how strong a marriage will prove to be? Two Emory University economists recently studied that question. They noted that the multibillion-dollar wedding industry sends the subliminal message that large amounts of money spent on getting married can help assure successful marriages. However, the researchers found, the evidence suggested that, if anything, relatively inexpensive weddings are associated with lower likelihood of divorce.
Correlation, it is famously and accurately said, does not necessarily imply causation. It has been noted, for instance, that per capita consumption of cheese in the U.S. correlates closely with the number of people who died by becoming entangled in their bedsheets. And mathematical proficiency generally correlates with shoe size (children’s feet, after all, being smaller than those of adults).
So it’s wise not to put too much emphasis on the recent research, which was based on a survey of nearly 3,400 people who answered 40 questions, much less to extrapolate from it to the observant Jewish community.
The researchers’ conclusion – “We find that marriage duration is either not associated or inversely associated with spending on the … Read More >>
In this season of playoffs and super bowl, the thoughts of red-blooded Americans center on the most vital topic of the day: football. Even if we normally consider less crucial matters such as relationship with others or with Gd, the media tells us what really matters: who defeated whom, with its heroes and winners. A look at some of the heroes:
— Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens running back, savagely battered his fiance in an elevator. Reinstated after a three- game suspension, he was given a standing ovation when he appeared on the field. (Had he fumbled a ball, of course, he would have been booed.)
— Adrian Peterson, mainstay of the Minnesota Vikings, was suspended for mercilessly beating his young child.
— Ray Lewis, former star of the Ravens, was exonerated from murder charges although the evidence clearly pointed to him as the murderer ( a la O.J. Simpson).
— Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons quarterback commanding a long term contract for 90 million, was jailed for two years for killing dogs in a gambling operation.
— Alex Hernandez, former tight end for Boston Patriots, is in prison awaiting trial for premeditated murder.
— New Orleans Saints players were … Read More >>
“Hillel will obligate the poor [to learn Torah]; Rabbi Elazar ben Charsum obligates the rich; and Yosef the evil ones” (Yoma 35b). After Rabbi Elazar ben Charsum, whose father left him one thousand cities and one thousand ships at sea, and nevertheless sat and learned day and night, no one will be able to say that they were so occupied managing their property that they had no time to learn. And after Hillel, no one will be able to say they were too poor to learn. And after Yosef, no one will be able to say they were too beautiful to resist all the blandishments placed before him.
Gil Tal, profiled in a recent issue of HaModia’s Inyan Magazine by Rhona Lewis, will obligate all the rest of us. Tal lives on a non-religious moshav near Nahariya, apparently never learned in a yeshiva at any level, and has a job as a manager in a high-tech company in Yokneam, which keeps him away from home eleven hours a day. Yet within less than five years of picking up masechta Berachos, he has finished Shas with the ArtScroll Schottenstein Gemara.
Tal relates that prior to a recent visit to New … Read More >>
Challenging “pre-owned” and “correctional institution” for first place in the delicate euphemism rankings is “sensitive urban zones.”
That phrase, having barged into the news cycle in recent weeks, is the translation of “Zones Urbaines Sensibles,” a designation long used in France to describe neighborhoods characterized by high unemployment, high rates of public housing and low educational attainment, many if not most of the areas populated for the most part by Muslim immigrants.
It was the characterization of such areas in Western Europe as “no-go zones,” first by Fox News and then by Louisiana governor and presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal, that propelled “sensitive urban zones” into the news.
After terrorism analyst Steve Emerson contended on Fox News that “There are actual cities [in Britain] like Birmingham that are totally Muslim, where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in,” British Prime Minister David Cameron waxed apoplectic, and the network apologized repeatedly. Similar claims about “no-go” neighborhoods in France prodded Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo to announce that the City of Light would be suing Fox. “The image of Paris,” she huffed, “has been prejudiced, and the honor of Paris has been prejudiced.”
A day after those apologies, Mr. Jindal told CNN that “In … Read More >>
Unless you are Yair Lapid, looking back at the failure of your overreach.
Many people, even inside the charedi world, secretly hoped that Yair Lapid’s insistence upon addressing the issue of charedi un- and under-employment would provide the impetus that was not coming from within. Those hopes quickly soured when he demonstrated too much naked hostility to the community, and too little understanding of what could and could not work (no pun intended).
Some apologists for Israeli charedim argued that change, albeit slow, was already upon the community, with more and more people looking for vocational and academic training to support their families. They pointed to the programs and institutions sprouting all over the charedi landscape. Those, they said, would flourish, unless the community would perceive an organized attack on its principles, in which case it would unite in resistance and backlash. While much of Lapid’s program was positive and provided positive and healthy impetus for change, he went too far by pushing for criminalization of draft offenses. He also made some statements that went beyond the goal of getting charedim into the work place, but spoke of integrating charedim within the rest of society by changing … Read More >>
How Jewish History teaches us to create a positive community for tomorrow Part I
by Leslie Ginsparg Klein
There is a story told about a Bais Yaakov girl in Poland in the 1930s. She met a local man in the community who criticized her for being Torah observant. You’re so old-fashioned, he said, you must be the only girl in the 20th century who is still so meticulous about religious observance. The Bais Yaakov student answered back to him, I may be the only one in the 20th century, but I won’t be the only one in the 21st century.
Indeed, she was correct. She is far from the only one. The Orthodox community today boasts thousands upon thousands of proud, successful, frum members. In some ways, our community is immensely successful. In other ways, we are struggling. Children are going off-the-derech. They feel removed from the community. There’s friction between different segments of the community. Our community continues to grapple with an age-old question: How do we build and create a positive, healthy, successful community for ourselves and for our children?—This remains our most burning question moving forward. And Jewish history, our past, suggests four answers. The first … Read More >>
Back in the fall, a candidate for the New York State Assembly made construction of major new housing in Borough Park the centerpiece of his campaign. A New York City councilman heartily endorsed that same goal. Currently, a developer is planning to build 13 six-story edifices in the neighborhood that will provide nearly 130 new apartments.
To those of us who don’t live in southern Brooklyn, efforts that will add to the population density and vehicular traffic there (an area some of us call Borough Double-Park) seem to border on irrationality. But of course, to residents who wish to see their married children settle in the neighborhoods where they were raised (and to those children who wish to live near their parents), new housing is an urgent priority.
No one lacking the requisite rebbishe credentials should arrogate to suggest to others how they should make decisions as important as where to live. But, having just spent a warm, memorable and inspiring Shabbos in Cincinnati, Ohio, I’d like to at least share a few impressions of that small but vibrant kehillah; and some others about some others.
Neither my wife nor I had ever been to Cincinnati before, and the … Read More >>
by Meir Goldberg
After the holocaust, the broken survivors of the Nazi concentration camps were gathered and provided for in DP (Displaced Persons) camps. The Klausenberger Rebbe Zt’l acted as both a father and a Rebbe to many of the Jews there, constantly providing them with material and spiritual chizuk.
There was a young man in the DP Camps, who grew up in a religious home who now refused to have anything to do with the Yeshiva that was set up or anyone in the frum community. In spite of all of the pleading and cajoling of his friends, the young man would not respond to them at all. The exasperated bochurim decided to speak to the Rebbe to see if he could impact this fellow. The Rebbe summoned the young man to his temporary residence. The Rebbe said to the man, “I know why you’re upset. It’s because they took the best ones and they just left us.” The Rebbe again said, “They took the best ones and they just left us.” The Rebbe held the young man in a tight embrace and together they sobbed and cried and repeated over and over, “They took the best ones … Read More >>
Which is the last thing I wanted or expected. I have avoided commenting on purely political issues, whether domestic or global. I’ve tried to be true to Cross-Current’s original self-imposed mandate of focusing on such issues only insofar as they illuminate Torah life, or where Torah thought can illuminate them. I do plenty of the pure politics and advocacy at my day job, and I try not to mix office and home.
So when I wrote a short while ago about Egyptian President Al-Sisi’s extraordinary remarks at Al-Azhar, my intention was only to draw a parallel between his concern for the image of his faith with what should be our parallel concern. And there I left it.
The message from David Benkof, a frum writer for The Daily Caller was therefore quite surprising to me. He had noticed the piece, and the editors were a bit miffed that Western press had ignored what to us seemed like an extremely important statement. Would I, they ask, tweak the piece for publication at The Daily Caller? And could I do it in about an hour or so?
My colleague and mentor Rabbi Abraham Cooper and I then scrambled to … Read More >>
It comes as something of a revelation to many to confront the Rambam’s treatment of kiddush Hashem, or “sanctification of Hashem’s name” for the first time. One definition of the concept in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, 5:10 – perhaps its most essential one, has nothing to do with readiness to give up one’s life or to act in a way that presents a good image of a Jew to others.
To be sure, that the Torah commands us to be willing to perish rather than violate certain commandments (or any commandment – even custom – in certain circumstances) is well-known to most Jews with a modicum of Jewish knowledge. And the understanding that living an upstanding life, exemplifying honesty and sterling demeanor, is also a form of kiddush Hashem is likewise widely recognized. The Gemara in Yoma (86a) famously describes various amora’im’s examples of such projection of Jewish personal values, labeling them kiddushei Hashem.
What is surprising is the Rambam’s statement that kiddush Hashem is something that can be accomplished as well entirely in private. In fact, particularly in private.
“Anyone who violates, willingly, without any coercion, any of the precepts of the Torah…” reads the Rambam’s psak, “has … Read More >>