Sunday, June 23, 2024

Of Kleinbaums and Bricks

On left - Reconstructionist Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum (Forward)
I stand second to no one when it comes to respecting the dignity of the human spirit. The idea that man was created in the image of God means something to me. It is for that reasons that I do not judge people who are LGBTQ. I do not look down at them. They cannot help who they are attracted to or how they feel about the gender of the body they inhabit. My heart goes out to the suffering they must go through from people who persecute them. They do not deserve that. We are a people of kindness and mercy. It is in our genes. And it is immoral to in any way attack them even verbally.

This is not the first time I have expressed these views. Which I firmly believe are core values of the Torah. But as I have also said many times, understanding and expressing empathy for their gender identity or their same sex attraction does not mean endorsing a lifestyle that caters to their issues. Nor does it permit changing one’s sex in order to become the sex one identifies with. How they can function and lead happy lives is beyond the scope of this post. But they are certainly entitled to lead happy lives no less that those of us that do not have to face those issues.

To the extent that some of them may succumb to their desires does not mean they should be rejected. Not anymore than any non LGBTQ people that may succumb to other sinful desires should be. It is how we treat the sinful behavior that matters.

The Torah is my unalterable guideline for life. To the best of my ability. I try to follow its dictates. Although I sometimes fail, I realize I am failing. and do not try and whitewash behavior that is explicitly forbidden by the Torah.

This is where LGBTQ activism comes in. If it were only about understanding, compassion, and treating them with the human dignity thy deserve, I would be with them. But what has happened in this country (an in the entire civilized world) is LGBTQ lifestyles are being normalized with a passion by the newly progressively enlightened. 

To be LGBTQ today is to be completely normal. And as American as apple pie. When a man says he has a husband, no one blinks. When someone who was once a a man presents as a woman they are  celebrated  for their courage to live who they are.

The biblical values upon which American culture has was developed has been trashed in favor of a new morality of ‘if it feels good, do it. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Whether it damages the fabric of society as a whole is never given a thought. Why would it be? So what is the population decline is accelerated because of an increase in sex changes and gay marriages. So what it it bothers religious people? It’s none of their business anyway. 

As an observant Jew the most egregious aspect of this societal phenomenon is when there are Jewish clergy that promote normalizing LGBTQ lifestyles as a Jewish ideal. 

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum is a case in point. Although she became Orthodox while attending the Frisch, a Modern Orthodox high school she hardly absorbed all the values they taught. She is progressive (no surprise there), gay, and was ordained by the Reconstructionist movement. And became the rabbi of a synagogue that caters to Jewish LGBTQ people of all denomination. What shocked me, however, is the following as reported in the Forward: 

After meeting him in the back of a police van in Washington, when both were arrested in 2018 at a demonstration to support young immigrants, Kleinbaum hired a straight Haredi rabbi as the synagogue’s scholar in residence.

Rabbi Mike Moskowitz, who earned three Orthodox rabbinic ordinations at Jerusalem’s Mir yeshiva and at Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey, has focused much of his writing and work on trans rights. At CBST, he counsels LGBTQ+ people coming from Orthodox homes and their families, who often struggle to embrace openly gay relatives. 

That a Charedi Rabbi with those kind of credentials is involved with a woman whose life work was to normalize LGBTQ lifestyles needs to be explained to me. I just don’t get it.

But it does show just how far askew America has gone form the biblical values upon which it was founded. As well as how far this mentality has infiltrated the Orthodox community. 

Orthodox Rabbi Shua Brick (Forward)
On the other hand there is Rabbi Shua Brick. He is a Musmach (ordainee) of Yeshiva University and the first openly gay rabbi of an Orthodox Shul. And he is someone that ought to be celebrated. 

Why, would I celebrate an openly gay Orthodox rabbi. Because as reported in another article in the Forward, he exemplifies the correct approach to this issue and is a role model for other LGBTQ Jews. Here is what I mean: 

Brick does not officiate at weddings or witness conversions, for fear their validity could be challenged in other Orthodox spaces. He said he has made those sacrifices to keep the peace.

He is also single, and declined to say whether he plans to date — or whether he thinks people can pursue same-sex relationships within the bounds of halacha. That silence may be helping him win — for now — tolerance among his colleagues.

After all, a 2022 white paper on welcoming queer Orthodox Jews begins its second paragraph, “Our starting point as Orthodox Jews is clear: Sexual relations between people of the same sex is forbidden.” 

We need more Jews with courage like his to come out and tell the truth about himself and what Judaism really says about LGBTQ issues. I have been trying to do that for years. But I am not gay and my voice in relatively tiny in comparison to the current progressive discourse on the subject dominating American culture. But when a gay person says it, it means a lot more.

Right now the Sharon Kleinabums of the world are winning the day. My hope is that somehow the Shua Bricks of the world will arise and impress upon our culture that the values of old are not to be discarded. 

Hats off to Rabbi Brick.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Louisiana's Ten Commandments Requirement

This one’s a real head scratcher. I don’t know whether to be happy, sad, or neutral, about it. I guess I’m a little of each of those. 

Jeff Landry, the Republican Governor of Louisiana  just signed into law a bill  requiring that the Aseres HaDibros (Ten Commandments) be displayed in every classroom in public schools and colleges. Louisiana is currently the only state required to do so.

To say I am disappointed at the idea of promoting the values of the Torah to the American people would be a gross misunderstanding of my feelings about it. Many of those commandments are basic laws of humanity, ethics, and morality. Who could possibly be upset with laws that say do not murder, do not steal, or do not covet. And who would argue with the requirement to honor one’s parents?

Where things get a bit dicey is in the theological realm. If one is an atheist They would obviously object to indoctrinating their youth with the existence of a deity.

As an aside - the one thing that I have always wondered about is how Christians like Landry have dealt with the following commandment - loosely translated as follows: 

Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. Six days you should work. And the 7th day – Sabbath is for the Lord your God. Do not do any work on that day.  Not your son, your daughter, your servant, your maidservant, your animals, your converts… all that live within your gates. 

They ignore the direct commandment by God about the seventh day and chose Sunday, the first day as their day of rest. I don’t understand how they can change a direct command by God. No matter how noble their human reasoning about a switch to Sunday being a better way of honoring God. 

Not that a non Jew has to live by that particular commandment anyway. The laws of the Torah were directed to the Jewish people. Non Jews are required to live by another set of laws that basically reflect ethics and morality. Observing the Sabbath is not one of them. But I digress

As a nation founded by Christian believers who focused a great deal on the Torah (their Old Testament) it should not be surprising that there are a lot of shared values between Christians and Jews. Often referred to as the Judeo-Christian ethic. 

Those who dismiss that term ignore the very real connection that both religions have to the values of the Torah. That there is an obvious and important unbridgeable theological difference between us does not detract from that fact.

That being said, I can’t say that I am disappointed that believing Christians value the laws of the Torah and wish to pass on those values on to their children. The world in which we live today has just about forgotten those values and has made up new ones. Some of which are in  direct contradiction to those values.

And yet. the idea of mandating biblical passages on the walls of every school seems to violate the separation clause of the first amendment. I don’t see how it doesn’t. No matter how important the message of the passages are, they are clearly religious since they are the exact words of the bible. Can’t get too much more religious than that.

Much as I think it would be a net gain for America to return to the biblical ethics upon which this country was founded, I’m not sure this is the right way to do it. First because I don’t see how it could possibly be constitutionally allowed. But perhaps more importantly there is the slippery slope argument. It opens the door to placing biblical quotes from the New Testament that are not part of the Judeo-Christain ethic. Although I don’t see that happening now. It certainly well within the realm of possibility that some zealous Christian fundamentalist might try it

And then there is the Muslim community. They might share many of the values of the 10 commandments. But to the best of my knowledge the 10 commandments is not part of the Koran. Why should Muslim children be subjected to passages from a bible that are not part of their religion?

Governor Landry expects this new law to be challenged. He says he can’t wait. In fact the ACLU has already said they will challenge it.

I don’t know, Maybe Landry thinks the conservative makeup of the court which has been far more favorable to religion will see things differently than has past courts that knocked down as unconstitutional - similar laws by other states that tried to do the same thing. I don’t know

But I don’t see how even the conservative Justices would not consider this a violation of the First Amendment. It is one thing to allow a private citizen to recite prayer or passage from the bible on school property. It is another for a state to require posting verses from the bible and pretend they are not violating the separation clause.

I have to believe the Supreme Court will be unanimous and will strike this law down As it should. The above-mentioned slippery slope argument is a real concern. But as I also noted. I can’t say that I will be entirely happy about it.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Time to End the War?

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari (Matzav)
Unlike many of his detractors. I am not quick to blame all that’s wrong in the world on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His detractors increasingly consider him a self serving megalomaniac whose sole interest is preserving power and staying out of prison. That he could not care less about the welfare of his people, the hostages or his country. They believe in earnest that with Netanyahu, it’s all smoke and mirrors. He is the consummate politician that says one thing and then does another. He is corrupt, a liar and a cheat. Always and forever!

Even if there is an element of truth to those accusations, I do not for a moment believe that the  longest serving democratically elected prime minister of Israel is solely out for himself. I sincerely believe he is a patriot who believes he is doing what is best for his country. But I also believe that his decisions might be colored to some degree by the abovementioned self interests

It is with these mixed feelings in mind that I am reluctant to criticize him while at the same time I feel it might be warranted at this time. 

I am not in his shoes. I am not privy to the necessary military/intelligence that would give my views any legitimacy. That said, I have to take into consideration a number of troubling things that are not based on the animosity directed toward him by any of his avowed political enemies or the media.

His recent public criticism in English of the Biden Administration for slowing down weapons shipments was ill advised. The Biden administration has  responded angrily saying that they don’t know what he is talking about. Only one shipment of 2000 pound bombs has been delayed. Everything else has been sent on schedule. 

And then there is what seems to be a growing consensus of his own military people who say the following as reported by Matzav: 

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari acknowledged on Wednesday that eradicating Hamas entirely is unfeasible. “Hamas is an idea,” he elaborated in an interview with Channel 13, adding, “Whoever thinks that it’s possible to make it disappear is mistaken. 

And this from the Jerusalem Post:

"The operation in Rafah is progressing above and below ground. The forces are fighting with great determination and destroying the lifeline connecting the Gaza Strip to Egypt," he declared. 

The IDF confirmed that at the end of three weeks of operations by the 162nd Division, about 20 tunnels were discovered adjacent to the Philadelphi corridor. IDF officials have estimated that most of the tunnels cross into Egyptian territory and were used to smuggle ammunition and materials for the production of weapons. 

About 82 shafts were located near them, and it is estimated that they were connected to smuggling tunnels that could be controlled from afar.

"These two actions – on the one hand, a military operation, and on the other, the ability to change governance – will achieve two of the goals of this war: The collapse of Hamas' rule and military power, and the return of the hostages," Gallant resolutely concluded. 

Maybe it is time to consider ending this war. Maybe Israel has gone as far as it can to diminish the Hamas capacity to commit terrorist attacks like the one that started this war. They are now a guerilla terrorist group which is almost impossible to completely destroy. Maybe now Israel will be better able to secure themselves against this much smaller and much weaker group. Maybe now is the time to focus entirely on getting the hostages back. The US could surely prove to be an invaluable resource for that.. 

Maybe Netanyahu should stop worrying about a revolt in his governing coalition since the Charedi parties and the extremist right wing parties know they will never achieve this kind of power in the next government. It is highly unlikely they will  give up whatever power they currently have as members of the current coalition.

I think the time is right. Netanyahu cannot afford to gamble on a Republican victory in November that would be more sympathetic to him.

Netanyahu will be addressing both Houses of Congress in a few weeks. What a wonderful thing it would be if he were to announce an end to the war, a deal to get the hostages out, and his support for a terrorist free governing body in Gaza after the war.

Is that last point even possible? I don't know. It never has been. But it would be the right thing for the prime minister to support in principle even if it isn’t possible. And insist  that it be implemented as advertised with ironclad international guarantees. How those guarantees would work is the devil in the detail. Will it cost him the prime ministership? Maybe. Maybe not. But it would still be the right thing to do.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

A Black Pot of Editors

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt (JTA)
Several years ago a cousin of mine who also happened to be an associate professor of biochemistry at the University of Chicago - lamented the  fact that some of her students used Wikipedia as source material for their research papers. She told me that those papers were rejected because Wikipedia is not a reliable source. 

That was the first thing I thought of when I read what I can only describe as an outrageous example of the pot calling the kettle black.  I had to smile when I saw the following in JTA

Wikipedia’s editors have voted to declare the Anti-Defamation League “generally unreliable” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, adding it to a list of banned and partially banned sources. 

An overwhelming majority of editors involved in the debate about the ADL also voted to deem the organization unreliable on the topic of antisemitism, its core focus. A formal declaration on that count is expected next…

Moreover, in a near consensus, dozens of Wikipedia editors involved in the discussion said they believe the ADL should not be cited for factual information on antisemitism as well because it acts primarily as a pro-Israel organization and tends to label legitimate criticism of Israel as antisemitism…

The two sides lingered on a controversial definition of antisemitism that the ADL embraces. Authored by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the so-called IHRA definition has been endorsed by hundreds of universities, companies, and local governments, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives. But the definition has also proven contentious with critics who say the definition is too broad and could be used to stifle pro-Palestinian speech. 

The problem with pro Palestinians speech is that it almost always delegitimizes the Jewish state. And often promotes the goals of Hamas whose charter includes the destruction of the Jewish state which is to be replaced with a Palestinian state. A goal to be sought by any and all means available. Which – as October 7th has proven - includes mass murder, rape, dismemberment, torture and kidnapping. 

If I didn’t know better I would have said that these Wikipedia editors were actually the ones protesting Israel on campuses all over the country disguised as students. 

I have in the past also been critical of the Jonathan Greenblatt and by inference, the ADL. I felt that he focused way too much on right wing antisemitism and practically ignored left wing antisemitism. Although it didn’t surprise me since he was a member of the left leaning Obama Administration before he became ADL director. But he has done Teshuva and a pretty good job identifying actual antisetism where ever it is found.

And by advocating that the IHRA definition of antisemitism be adopted he helped convince the above referenced  hundreds of universities, companies, and local governments, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives – to do the same.

Normally I would just shrug this off. But Wikipedia is to big to shrug off. They are probably the most widely used website for information regarding just abut everything. In truth I have used them my self as a source of information. Many times. Wikipedia  has thus achieved a degree of reliability .that is truly undeserved. 

Jonathan Greenblatt has defended the ADL against Wikipedia's absurd accusation of bias by backing up all of its statements with facts. Which he correctly accuses Wikipedia editors of ignoring. Wikipedia responded by saying that using facts to back up contentions about antisemitism does not mean there is no bias. 

This is the world I which we all live these days. A world where political correctness requires giving hate speech a voice under the guise of balance and fair play. Wikipedia editors are clearly a bunch of progressive left wingers who have no clue what antisemitism is all about. 

That they have an enormous impact on the e-universe is a tragedy of immense proportion about which I have no clue what if anything can be done. Other than to keep talking about so that biases like this are fully exposed and registers with as much of the American people as possible.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

May God (not us) Avenge Their Blood

3 IDF soldiers KIA - On far right - Charedi Captain Yisrael Yudkin, (Arutz Sheva)
Every time a Jewish soldier in the IDF gets killed, my heart sinks. These soldiers are the diamonds of the Jewish people. The go into battle knowing full well that they may not come out of it alive. They do it because they understand that fighting for one’s people is not merely a platitude. 

They mean it and do it! They don’t just talk the talk, They walk the walk. We have an obligation to express our most sincere and everlasting gratitude for what they do. A daily sacrifice that may come at the ultimate price. Which brings me to the following sad report from the Times of Israel:

Eight Israeli soldiers were killed in a blast in the southern Gaza Strip’s Rafah on Saturday morning, the military announced, in what marked the deadliest incident for the Israel Defense Forces in the enclave since January.. 

In a separate incident, a 9th IDF soldier was killed as well. That brings the total number of IDF soldier killed in action to 309.

Imagine what the parents of these brave young soldiers must be going through. They were surely expecting a bright future for their sons after the war. A future that probably included getting married and starting a family. Instead they are now sitting Shiva.  

There are no words.

Which brings me to the outrage expressed by a Charedi family at the IDF - as reported in Arutz Sheva   

The family of Yisrael Yudkin HY’D, a Charedi soldier who was tragically killed in Gaza, says that the government is refusing to allow the words “Hashem Yikom Damo” (‘Hashem shall avenge his blood’) to be placed on his tombstone.  

Hashem Yikom Damo is indeed a phrase that often follows the name of someone that was murdered.  One would think that allowing the family to place whatever words they wish on their son's tombstone is the least the IDF could do to honor one of their own who died serving their country - if that is what the family wants. Is that really too much to ask ?

On the other hand I think I understand why the IDF refuses to place any statement about vengeance on a tombstone. Even though it is meant only as a prayer to God that He should execute vengeance in His own way; in His own time.

Seeing these words on a Tombstone could easily lead to is human vengeance. That cannot be allowed. There are some people among the extreme right who could take matters into their own hands. That is one of the things ‘Price Taggers’ were known for. They would exact revenge from Palestinians who had nothing to do with the act they were avenging. The IDF wants to prevent that kind of thing from happening by not allowing words like that to appear by anyone with the penchant for violence against innocent people because of who they are instead of what they did..

 The family of that slain Charedi soldier are making another claim about the IDF reason for not allowing that phrase: 

                The Ministry of Defense does not approve the word “Hashem”

I suppose that’s possible. But I tend to doubt that this is the reason. That the IDF  now has Charedi battalions and has gone out of their way to accommodate them. This makes it seem highly unlikely that the use of the word HaShem on a tombstone would be against IDF policy.  

Is the family lashing out in frustration? I don’t know. Either way I don’t blame them. But I also understand the IDF. 

Who is right here? Not sure.

Monday, June 17, 2024

Fighting Injustices with an Injustice

Evil incarnate - Hamas leader, Yahya Sinwar
In case anyone had any doubt about who benefits the most from civilian casualties in Gaza, consider the following excerpt from The Jewish chronicle: 

According to messages sent to mediators by Yahya Sinwar and reported by The Wall Street Journal, the terror chief leader sees such civilian deaths deaths in Gaza as working “to his advantage”.

The Journal reviewed “dozens of messages” Sinwar sent to ceasefire negotiators and others in which “he’s shown a cold disregard for human life and made clear he believes Israel has more to lose from the war than Hamas.

“We have the Israelis right where we want them,” said Sinwar in a message sent recently to Hamas officials looking to make an agreement via Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

In one message to Hamas leaders in Doha, the Hamas leader, citing civilian deaths in national-liberation conflicts in Algeria, said, “these are necessary sacrifices”. 

There is nothing surprising here. It has long been known that Hamas uses their own civilians as human shields. And they probably prefer those civilian casualties to be women and children – because it ‘works to their advantage’.

It is also rather well known that the any humanitarian aid that gets though into Gaza is commandeered by Hamas for their consumption with any overflow  sold at exorbitant prices to starving Gazans.  

Unfortunately the media, UNRWA officials, and some anti Israel US congress people (who pretend not to be - like Chris Van Hollen) love to blame the Jews exclusively for all this. Using the Hamas narrative and their casualty figures to make their case for who is to blame.  

It should also be well known by now that Palestinians as a rule generally support Hamas – and even support what they did on October 7th.

 Hard to have mercy on a people like this. And yet...

Humanitarian aid dumped by settlers near Chevron (JTA)
And yet when a group of vigilante settlers types decide to sabotage trucks carrying humanitarian aid for starving human beings under siege, it is nothing short of a Chilul HaShem. The idea of denying any chance of food getting through to starving people because it might get into the wrong hands is an exercise in inhumanity uncharacteristic of the Jewish soul. Even if the majority of Israelis think it should be denied for that reason, that does not make it right.

First of all there actually are innocent Palestinians that do not deserve to be starving. Such as the very young who are not old enough yet to be indoctrinated to hate us. Even if some - or even most of that food ends up in Hamas hands some of it will get to those that need it and who may at the same time actually be innocent. 

The image of religious Jews destroying food meant for humanitarian purposes works to the advantage of Hamas, too. Why should we give that advantage to them?! Why must religious Jews be seen as starving innocent people?! That has resulted in the following as reported by JTA:

The Biden administration imposed sanctions Friday on an Israeli group for attacking humanitarian aid convoys destined for Palestinian civilians in Gaza, in the latest round of penalties against far-right Israelis accused by Washington of undermining efforts toward peace and stability. 

The group added to the U.S. sanctions list is Tsav 9, which says aid should be stopped because it ends up in the hands of Hamas — a view shared by a majority of Israelis

I only wish that Israeli government had dealt with these people themselves. It would have made a bad situation look a little better.  

Sunday, June 16, 2024

A Frum Rabbi

Friday’s post about Rabbi Zecharia Greenwald, (a Seminary head who unequivocally said that young men that go to work a year after graduating Yeshiva high school are not Yreis Shmayim or Bnei Torah) generated the following comment from someone who identifies as afrumrabbi: 

I am reading this discussion and comments and find it hard to believe that anyone can take themselves seriously.

Rabbi Greenwald is an educator who sincerely tries his best to motivate and inspire young American women. He is not expressing Haredi ideology, as anyone even remotely familiar with his approach and his school can attest. His comments can be understood only in that context. Those of you who apparently have an axe to grind, who scour Mishpacha Magazine - of all places - as the forum to highlight Haredi foibles, should really find better things to do with your time. 

I was going to respond in a comment to afrumrabbi. But I think both his comment and my response to it warrants broader exposure.

First, to clarify my commenting policy - I do not censor comments with which I disagree. Nor do I always respond to them. I allow a lot of latitude here the purpose of which is to allow the free flow of ideas and encourage discussion. The only things that are off limits here are profanity, personal attack, and matters challenging the fundamentals of our belief system. Anything else is acceptable. The rest of this post will address afrumrabbi directly. 

It's interesting to note how you identify yourself. Calling yourself afruimrabbi implies that you are some sort of legitimate authority on observant Judaism - whereas others here are not qualified. Including me. That is insulting. 

I am a Frum rabbi too. And although I do see it your way on many things, there are some things with which we do not agree - as is the case here, You expressed a meanness of spirit that has an aura of certainty about your views. Implying that mine are based on some kind of agenda and not to be taken seriously.

This is nothing more than a personal attack. I do not have an ‘axe to grind’ against Charedim. And please don’t try to say you weren’t talking about me.  You know you meant me as well as  some of the people that comment here.

You say I don’t know Rabbi Greenwald and imply that he is not some sort of card carrying Charedi. You’re right. I don’t know him and have never met him. But one would be hard pressed to buy that he isn't -  based on the comment excerpted from Mishpacha which I will repeat here. Which is about as hard core Charedi as one can get: 

A boy who finishes high school and a year later is in college and then the workplace — I will state this with conviction, from personal experience — he will invariably not be a yerei Shamayim or ben Torah. The occasional exceptions to this do not refute my statement. 

That you seem to believe that Mishpacha is not a legitimate source from which to comment on Rabbi Greenwald  ignores this very clear statement. He not only dismisses the 'working boy' but without saying so he dismisses the RIETS (YU) boy too. These are young man who study Torah diligently for many years post high school as well as preparing themselves for careers that will support their families. 

Doubling down strictly on the Kollel Yungerman as the only acceptable Shidduch prospect that pretty much tells us all we need to know about who is a Ben Torah and who isn’t. A YU boy isn’t. Making him just as damaged goods as are those who go directly to work - even if they are Koveah Itim (set aside regular times to study Torah).  

Had he made an exception and allowed that young YU students too were Bnei Torah, I might have been a bit kinder to him. But he didn't do that. He unapologetically doubled down on the classic dismissal the hard core Charedi world has toward the Yiremim U’Shlemimn that is the RIETS student. Thus eliminating them from the pool of acceptable Shiduch prospects. Which leaves acceptable only those Shidduch prospects that choose to become a Kollel Yungerman.

You say that Rabbi Greenwald is an educator who sincerely tries his best to motivate and inspire young American women.. Inspire them to what? To look down at the working boy? To look down at the YU boy?  

If I have an axe to grind, it is against the brave new world in which there has been a distortion of the concept of V'Hagisa Bo Yomim VaLayla. A version that does great damage to the Klal and serves to perpetuate a climate of Sinas Chinam.

For for the record I am not opposed being Choreid L'Dvar HaShem. I believe we should all have Yiras Shamayim. Nor do I oppose a lifetime dedicated to learning Torah full time if one is intellectually, emotionally, and temperamentally suited for that. What I am opposed to is pushing everyone to do it. and looking down on anyone that doesn’t. 

You, Mr afrumrabbi, have apparently bought into this radicalized new philosophy. My guess is that your daughters (-if you have any of marriageable age) would never consider a YU boy no matter what kind of Masmid he is. And your daughters would not be alone 

This Hashkafa is being planted into the minds of every Charedi from the moment they are old enough to understand Aleph Beis until they get married - and beyond. And they will surely transmit this Hashkafa to their children. 

This is a sad commentary on the direction of observant Judaism. I can't predict the future. But if we continue on this path we we are headed for an elitist Judaism based not on what one contributes to the world of Torah knowledge and Yahdus, or  based on their contributions to the welfare of mankind. But in how long one can sit in a Kollel.

 Mr. afrumrabbi: if you read this and wish to respond, I will give you the space to do so.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Learners or Earners?

Rabbi Zecharia Greenwald (Mishpacha)
One might wonder why I so often comment on articles or columns I’ve read in the Charedi print media.  I am not Charedi and perhaps I shouldn’t concern myself with what goes on there. But as I so often point our, they are too big to ignore and are growing exponentially.  I think its fair to say (as I always do) that with the shrinking population of non Orthodox Jews combined with the explosive growth of the Charedi world - they are the wave of the future. 

Rabbi Zecharia Greenwald is the head of a women's seminary in Israel and a Mishpacha columnist. In last week’s column  he addressed readers’ strong concerns about an earlier column addressing the type of husband a young woman should be seeking for marriage. The question was, assuming all else being equal in terms of their religious observances and Hashkafa - should she also accept recommendations to date an ‘Earner’ - someone that opts to support his family from the start. Or should she only accept recommendations to date a ‘Learner’ who will be learning in a Kollel fulltime and relying on other means for support? (Like a monthly check or a credit card from his in-laws.). 

To be fair, I did not read that first article. But the second article made very clear what his position is. Which was something along the lines of ‘If you want to start your married life out the right way, you must seek a ‘Learner’. In essence relegating those who decide to support their families to  2nd class citizenship as Jews. If not a lot worse.

One of the letters expressing deep concern over his views was a lengthy one written by a 33 year old married (with children) physician. Whose value system and lifestyle is clearly Charedi. He argued eloquently that ‘Earners’ like himself should not automatically be cast aside as ‘damaged goods’ that should be avoided for Shidduch purposes.  

The short version of Rabbi Greenawald’s response was to basically double down on his original view that “Earners’ are indeed damaged goods. Of course he didn’t use those words. But he may as well have. Here is the ‘money quote’: 

A boy who finishes high school and a year later is in college and then the workplace — I will state this with conviction, from personal experience — he will invariably not be a yerei Shamayim or ben Torah. The occasional exceptions to this do not refute my statement. 

Is there any wonder why there is a Shidduch crisis when an authority figure like Rabbi Greenwald has just condemned anyone who chooses to support their families instead of choosing to learn full time in a Kollel?

What he has done is condemned the entire generation of the late 60s and early 70s where after graduating Yeshiva high school the vast majority of us would continue studying in the Yeshiva during the day time hours and attend college at night. 

It wasn’t just YU whose Rosh Yeshiva was peerless in Torah knowledge and had a PhD in philosophy from the University if Berlin. Nor was it only HTC whose Rosh Yeshiva was a Gadol in his own right and had a Law degree from NYU. It was also Ner Israel, Chaim Berlin, and Torah Vodaath. Whose Roshei Yeshiva were respectively Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, and Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky - all acknowledged Gedolei HaDor: . 

Back then. young men seeking to support a family were actually considered Bnei Torah and Yorei Shomayim. Doing the same now should not be considered any differently. Unfortunately Mechanchim like Rabbi Greenwald are strongly preaching against it. And by far he is not alone.

A young woman I know that is struggling to find the right Shidduch need not be suffering from this malady. But she - like many of her contemporaries - is. . 

She attended a seminary like the one Rabbi Greenwald runs. After returning from seminary a few years ago she has been dating young men from BMG (Lakewood) type Yeshivos exclusively ever since. With no success. 

When I suggested a young man from Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan (YU) whose Hasmada (diligence) rivals that of any BMG student - she flatly rejected him. Claiming that it’s impossible for someone that attends college at night to know as much Torah as someone that spends their entire day and night learning Torah. And she will not settle for second best.

Rabbi Greenwald is not some kind of renegade Mechanech that has stepped away from the mainstream He IS the mainstream. In this brave new world of ours, there is no such thing as a first class Jew who chooses to support his family. They may be fine people but they are not quite fine enough. They have no fear of heaven and are not Bnei Torah

Judaism has evolved into something unrecognizable from what it was just a few short decades ago.. What was then considered the rarified atmosphere of full time Torah study that few Gedolei Yisroel inhabited is now considered the norm that everyone must seek. Anyone that does not seek it - is considered damaged goods.  That makes me angry And yet I’m not sure there is anything we can do about it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Are We Living in Messianic Times?

Screenshot of a scene from the trailer for Finding Mashiach 
On this day, the eve of Shavuos, my thoughts this year turn to Sefer Rus - the Book of Ruth which we read annually on this day.  

One of the questions dealt with by Chazal is how Boaz, a devout Jew and leader in Israel could have married Ruth -  a Moabite women? The Torah tells us that we are forbidden to accept Moabite or Ammonite converts. Thus making it impossible to marry any of them. The Gemarah (Kesuvos 7a) explains that only a male Moabite or Ammonite cannot join the Congregation of Hashem. Females are permitted to join. Thereby allowing the already converted Ruth to marry Boaz.  

Another intriguing thing about Ruth (at least for me) is that Moab was the son of Lot (Our patriarch Abraham’s nephew) He was the product of an incestuous relationship (Lot and his daughter) - and the progenitor of the entire nation of Moab. 

The book of Ruth informs us at its very end that Ruth was King David’s great-grandmother. And as we know the Messiah is called Moshiach Ben Dovid – King David’s direct descendant. That means that Moshiach himself will have descended from an incestuous relationship. 

Just an observation whose significance – if any - I have always wondered about.

My thoughts turned to Ruth because there seems to be a lot of talk these days that we are living in messianic times and are on the precipice of the coming of Moshiach. The reason given is that there there are a lot of things happening currently that are signs discussed in the classic sources about what it would be like at that time. What happened on October 7th - before and since has been pointed to as such signs.

This is not the first time in history Jews thought they were living in Messianic times. It is thinking like that which can lead to false Messiahs like Shabsai Tzvi. He was quite good at convincing even some prominent rabbinic leaders that he was in fact Moshiach.

But he was not. This became obvious when he converted to Islam  - although there were already telltale sign before that - which resulted in those leaders abandoning him.

One of the most propitious times for Moshiach to have come was in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust. The signs were all there then too. The tribulations  Jews will suffer during the war between Gog and Magog that is supposed to precede Moshiach’s coming surely happened during the Holocaust. The war between the Axis and the Allies could easily have been interpreted to be the war between Gog and Magog.

But  Moshiach did not come then either. 

Now Jews are suffering again. And similar predictions are being made. One of which is coming soon to a theater near you. There is a documentary film trailer about it on X presented by its star and producer, a Chabad Chasid. If there was ever a red flag - that would be it. And yet there are some people that seem to be jumping on his bandwagon as does Hillel Fuld on whose X account I watched this trailer. And who suffers from his own personal tragedy ever since his brother was ambushed and killed by a Palestinian terrorist.

But the skeptic in me is not buying any of it. We cannot predict when Moshiach will come. We have to wait and see.. At least until his messenger, Eliyahu HaNavi comes and tells us he’s coming. Until then I would urge people not to trust anyone who predicts Moshaich’s arrival is imminent. We can hope and pray that he comes soon - speedily and in our days. But to say anything more is nothing more than mere speculation. We should instead wait for the real thing to happen and not speculate based on perceptions and interpretations of current events. No matter how tempting it might be to do so. 

With this, I would like to wish the entire Jewish community a wonderful Yom Tov - and pray that all the hostages are soon reunited with their families.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Too Little, Too Late

HUC graduates displayed during the 2020 COVID lockdown (JNS)
If it wasn’t so tragic, it might have brought a wry smile to my face. What was once the great (un)Jewish hope of saving Judaism by abandoning it’s rituals has proven to be one of the biggest failures  to have ever landed on the platform of the Jewish future.

The idea behind Reform Judaism is that in the assimilationist world of American culture, the only way Jews could thrive as a people – was to essentially abandon their Judaism. Of course their founding fathers didn’t put it that way. They just asserted that the essence of the Torah and its commandments was to live moral and ethical lives. And that in our day in western culture we did not need those ancient rituals to accomplish that. 

Observing Mitzvos like Shabbos and Kashrus were near impossible in a world where succeeding meant looking like - and living the same way as your neighbor. The American way of life was therefore  made possible by this new religious philosophy and given a blessing by its rabbis.  

I may be oversimplifying. But I think that is essentially the original philosophy of  Reform Judaism. One could be a Jew in the heart and a man in the street. A very attractive option to an American Jew looking to succeed in the melting pot American culture of the early 20th century . 

The Hebrew Union College (HUC) in Cincinnati was established to produce rabbis that would promote this new assimilationist way of life ‘Kashering’ it for a Jewish public looking to do succeed without the encumbrances of Jewish restrictions.  

They were pretty successful at it and became a huge movement having ‘ordained’ many Reform rabbis that encouraged their members to abandon the no longer relevant ancient rituals of their forefathers. Which those early members were all too eager to do. 

But as has always been the case with wayward Jewish movements their popularity had more than waned by the late 20th century. Today Jews that might have once been attracted to this non obligational form of Judaism have come to realize that there is no need at all to identify as a Jew since there is no real difference between Jew and gentile. Why bother? Thus was born the secular Jew of today who could not care less about their Judaism and intermarrying freely at an over 70% rate! So that in about half of those cases their children will not even be Jewish - and they couldn’t care less about that either.

On the other hand, there have always been Reform Jews that do care about their Judaism and realized that they needed to have concrete ways of expressing it. 

That realization on the part of many Reform leaders caused a dramatic change in their philosophy. Instead of discouraging the practice of any and all ritual, many Reform leaders were increasingly advising their members to perform as many rituals as they could. Not that it was mandatory. But that it was a good way of expressing their Judaism in the changed America of multiculturalism that promotes diversity. Reform rabbis that once considered wearing a Kipa to be a violation of their assimilationist philosophy, can now be seen wearing one themselves.

Encouraging Mitzvah observance was a good sign. But I think it added up to being too little too late. Especially now with that astoundingly high intermarriage rate. 

The bitter fruit for Reform Judaism came when HUC closed down their rabbinic ordination program for a lack of enough applicants. This of course means  they will not be producing anymore  rabbis. Perpetuating a religious movement without religious leaders is nigh impossible. It is a prescription for extinction. I think it is this realization that prompted the following - as reported by JNS

“It’s not a challenge. It’s a crisis,” Micah Greenstein, senior rabbi at Temple Israel in Memphis, Tenn., said of the struggle to replace retiring rabbis.

Attorney Andy Berger serves as chair for College for Contemporary Judaism, a nonprofit that has spent $89,000 investigating if it can open a new university for training and ordaining rabbis.

It will seek to “promote the academically rigorous study of the Jewish religion, history, texts and literature” and “train persons for the Jewish ministry, research and community service,”  

I don’t know what this new seminary would do differently from what HUC did in the past - that will change its trajectory towards extinction. But it’s good to know that they care about the future of Judaism and interesting to see them try - even if they are going about it the wrong way. 

Here is a  radical idea. If Reform leaders like Rabbi Micah Greenstein really do care about the future of Judaism they might consider turning to their Orthodox brethren.  There are rabbis among them that are involved in outreach and have been pretty successful at it. 

They should take a page from the soul searching of the not too distant past that caused them to reverse course from abandoning ritual to embracing it... and take the next step.  A deeper dive into the study of what has kept Judaism alive throughout history will reveal that it was our Torah based differences that kept us going. Not assimilation. The more loyal we were to tradition the more likely we would transmit it to our children. Thus perpetuating Judaism into the future.  

That is what has sustained us as a people for over 2000 years. If there is a lesson to be learned in the study of Jewish history, it is that outlier movements thought to be best suited to perpetuate Judaism of their time have failed every time they were tried. . 

I am not trying to sound triumphant. That is not my intent. I am just reading the cards. Cards that are all too easy to read considering the rush out of Judaism by so many Jews these days. 

It is my personal opinion that by collaborating with Orthodox outreach groups that have proven track records these Reform rabbis would be a lot more successful in perpetuating Judaism than anything their new rabbinical seminary could produce.