Sunday, April 26, 2015

When Will They Ever Learn?

Car of Givati commander attacked in Meah Shearim (Arutz 7)
I  wish I didn’t have to write yet another negative post about the Charedi world. But what choice do I have when I encounter a story like this in the media?

It is a story which seems to be becoming the norm in Meah Shearim. An article in Arutz Sheva reports that once again a religious soldier was attacked by Charedi extremists as he was passing through their neighborhood. It was a vicious attack by a group of people that had all the markings of a lynch mob: 
Following an in-home visit with one of his soldiers, the platoon commander was surrounded by a group of dozens of ultra-Orthodox individuals who began threatening him and pelting him and his car with eggs, stones, bags of water and soiled diapers. His car sustained significant damage…
The officer also said that several female residents threatened to kill him if he did not leave immediately…
The commander’s mother, a resident of the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba near Hebron, claimed her son barely made it out of the neighborhood alive: “[He told me] they had murder in their eyes, just like the terrorists of the [Gazan city] Khan Younis in the last war. Nobody in the crowd tried to protect him… He escaped by the skin of his teeth.” 
No matter how many times an incident like this happens, it still shocks me. That the people who did this are extremist hooligans that do not represesnt the Charedi world is a given. No responsible human being, no matter what his Hashkafa would condone it. They would probably condemn it in no uncertain terms. Indeed the outrage expressed by Arey Deri, the Charedi  Sephardi Head of Shas party did exactly that. And he demanded these people be brought to justice. I think he speaks for all people of conscience with any sense of justice.

And yet it is incorrect to say that these hooligans stand completely apart from the rest of their community… even as they certainly would not do anything remotely like that themselves.  It is pretty clear from this story (and many others just like it) that there were people there who just stood by and let it happen. No one there lifted a finger as a religious Jew wearing a military uniform was practically lynched.

What kind of person stands idly by doing nothing while a fellow human beings is attacked? Why instead were there angry threats by some Meah Shearim women that said they would kill this man if he didn’t leave? Why was there not a word of protest by those who witnessed this event?

The Charedi world in Israel cannot just dismiss this and say, “It isn’t us.” “These are criminal elements no different than any other criminal element in society at large.” “They ought to be treated as such.” While that is true.  There is a certain degree of responsibility they have that they have yet to acknowledge.

Let’s be clear. These things do not happen in a vacuum.  These hooligans didn’t just see an innocent man passing through and then for fun beat him up for no reason at all. This happened in a context of hatred. A hatred of a government that the very same people that condemn things like this have been contributing to. People known to call the government (and by implication anything associated with it - like the police or the army) Amalek. or Nazis. The people that attacked this innocent religious solider have been taught all of their lives how evil and illegitimate the government is. That these few individuals turned out to be little better than gang members in the inner coty of New York or Chicago does not explain why they choose these particular targets.

They chose them because they have been vilified by their very leadership. Both political and rabbinic. They are constantly told that it isn’the army that protects them. It is the Torah study in Yeshivos that does. They survive despite the evil army.  It is an army of Satan. They are taught the sole purpose of mandatory army service is is to destroy the Yiddishkeit of their young recruits. So that anyone who joins the army has by definition joined them in that cause.

These hooligans did not make this attitude up. They get it from their leaders. And they believe it. That they go too far by any standard of decency - is seen by them as simply backing up their views with action! That others condemn them is seen by them as noting more than fodder for public consumption – believing that underneath that condemnation rests tacit approval.

And why shouldn’t they believe it, if they are never penalized for what they do? Once they are finished with their deed, they go home and get on with their lives as though nothing happened. Walking the streets of Meah Shearim with impunity.

Who is really at fault here? True – the perpetrators are the ones primarily at fault. One must take responsibility for one’s actions. It behooves the government to pull out all the stops to see justice done. They should be captured, arrested, and tried for their crimes. If convicted, thrown in prison with maximum sentences.  But condemning  them as Aryeh Deri did (as have other Charedi leaders and politicians) is not enough. If it isn’t followed by serious consequences it is tantamount to encouraging them to continue.

The Charedi leadership must own up to their responsibility in this. They have to accept blame for creating a climate where hooligans like this can take advantage of it and claim some sort of moral justification. And then walk away with impunity. Verbal condemnations such as the one Aryeh Deri came out with are not enough. It is worthless unless it is flowed up with action. 

As long as these miscreants can do as they please while bystanders do nothing and religious leaders do little more than pay lip service condemnation… and as long as religious leaders and their politicians in the Kenesset continue to speak in  such negative terms about the government and the army referring to it as a place where Jews are routinely disabused of their Yiddishkeit, nothing will change.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Two Videos

Lucy Aharish - A Muslim proud to be an Israeli citizen
As an Orthodox Jew, I am extremely proud of my Judaism. When properly observed, it is not only rewarded in the world to come, it is rewarded in this world. It is also the model for human behavior. Although there are some parts of it that are difficult to understand… and might be seen as negative components, if one looks at it in its entirety it can be an inspiration to all people. Jew and non Jew alike. Which is why we are mandated to be a light unto the nations.

I should add that even those few elements that are difficult for us to understand as observed through the prism of the 21st century that does not mean that they are wrong or immoral. It just means that we are unable to understand them through our 21st century eyes. They have explanations that an open mind would understand even in our day. But that is beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that God’s law as expressed in the Torah and interpreted by the sages is there for our spiritual and material benefit as it ultimately is for the entire world. When – as I said – it is observed properly.

With that in mind, one might say that the more religious one looks, the more they exemplify the will of God. But that would be a mistake. Because ‘Clothes do not make the Man’. Nor do they make the Jew. It is not how you look that is important. It is how you act. It is the content of an individual’s character that makes the man. For a Jew that character is largely based on following Halacha.

One might ask, ‘In what way does (for example) taking a Lulav and Esrog on Sukkos build character?’ The answer is, it doesn’t. But that’s because that act is sourced in only one side of the Halachos required of us. Which is called Bein Adam L’Makom – laws pertaining directly to God. Often referred to as ritual law. But there is another side called Bein Adam L’Chavero - laws pertaining to man’s interaction with his fellow man. A law that is in some cases observed more frequently in the breach. And when that happens it adds darkness to the world. Not light.

So how could people that are so careful with ritual behave so badly towards their fellow Jew? Well the truth is that they don’t always behave badly. Within their own community they can be, and often are very generous with their time and money. But to the outside world they feel no obligation towards their fellow Jew. That’s because they are so certain of their views - that anyone that gets in the way of how they want to practice Judaism, gets treated like a Rasha…  an evil person. Even if they are observant - it doesn’t matter to them. If they see something they don’t like – something that does not fit with their Hashkafa – which they believe is the only correct one, they will fight it with everything at their disposal.

Which brings me to a video that can be seen in a Jerusalem Post article. It taken in an area where two worlds collide. One of them sees the State of Israel as an illegal entity that must ultimately be destroyed and protested at every opportunity. The other sees it as the fulfillment of a 2000 year old dream. The former are not Palestinians. They are the extremist Charedim of suburban Ramat Bet Shemesh B which borders on the Religious Zionist neighborhood of ‘Sheinfeld’.

One of the members of municipality of Bet Shemesh which has jurisdiction over all of its suburbs decided to hold a ceremony on Yom Zikaron - the annual ‘Day of Remembrance’  honoring the fallen of Israel. Most of whom were soldiers that died protecting their country and its people. 

Interestingly, former MK Dov Lipman strongly opposed to having it there because he thought it wasn’t worth exacerbating tensions between those two communities.Said Rabbi Lipman of event organizer and opposition member of the Charedi dominated city council, Richard Peres, "His goal is a provocation and I am against it!" 

He was right. The video in the Jerusalem Post shows in part what happened and describes more.

To say I am disgusted by it is an understatement. Unfortunately it doesn’t surprise me any more than what happened earlier on Yom HaShoah in that same city where a Charedi soldier was called a Nazi.

I sometimes wish the State of Israel would build the same barrier to Ramat Bet Shemesh B that they did to the West Bank. A high wall with guarded barricades at the exists that will require each member of that town to be detained and questioned before entering the rest of the country. Because my disdain for these people isn’t much less than it is for the Palestinians that hate us. True, it is only a small minority of them that do things like this. But they are tolerated by the rest of the community. And most of the residents agree with their motives if not their methods.

Which leads me to another video (below). One that features an Israeli for whom I have much respect. Certainly more than I do for the hooligans of Ramat Bet Shemesh B. A young Arab Israeli woman that is Muslim was given the honor of lighting one of 12 torches (each representing one of the 12 tribes of Israel) on Yom Ha’atzmaut. It is an honor usually given to Israeli citizens chosen especially for this occasion. She accepted the honor and spoke about the loyalty she has for her country, the State of Israel. And how much it has done for her.

It almost brought me to tears. It gives me so much pride to see what Israel could be if only her enemies would stop hating it. I only wish that the entire world would watch this. They would once and for all realize that Israel truly is a democracy that – given the chance – would treat all of its citizens this way. If Muslim extremists in Hamas, Hezbollah, and other Jihadist groups would stop trying to annihilate us and accept a Jewish State in their midst  - they could have their state. And I am 100% certain that if the killing and animosity stopped - Israel would do everything it could to see it succeed. Why can’t the rest of the world see that?

Update
I have just added the video of Ms. Aharish at the actual torch lighting ceremony. Truly inspiring. If only her attitude would spread. If only...


Thursday, April 23, 2015

The New York Minute

A real 'selfie': The Picture of Dorian Gray
One may ask, ‘What is a New York minute?’ Isn’t a minute a measure of time that is universal in all lands among all people and cultures? A minute is 60 seconds. And yet there it is - the New York minute. A very popular expression that says a lot about the culture of America’s most populous city… a city that is known as much for its Jewish population as it is for anything else.

The idea being that there is something about New York that is very fast… that is impatient.  That has no time for anyone else but one’s own self interests.  A minute that says, ‘Leave me alone.’ ‘Don’t bother me .‘ ‘I’m busy.’ It is a minute that in New York seems to go by faster than a minute does anywhere else on earth.  If you want to describe how fast something happened, you might say that it was faster than a New York minute!

Now before all of my friends on the East Coast pummel me with virtual rotten tomatoes, I realize that this behavior is not exclusive to New Yorkers. And I also realize that there are many fine people in New York that have tremendous levels of patience and are as altruistic as anyone. They are not into themselves at all.

The point I’m trying to make here is a larger one. The truth is that to many of us that live in the modern world - we are to one extent or another guilty of ‘New York minutes’. We live in a world of self expression. We live in the time of ‘What’s in it for me?’ The time of the ‘selfie’!

While it’s true that we must be diligent in pursuit of life’s needs, that doesn’t mean we ignore our fellow man. And yet when it comes to raising children, this is the message many of us send. And I’m not sure that we even realize it. Most people will say that their behavior is just fine as models their children. But is it?

Rabbi Avrohom Birnbaum addresses this issue in an article in the Yated. For the record, this is not the first time I have discussed articles by Rabbi Birnbaum. The last time I did so - it was about a very critical piece he wrote against Gil Student and me. An article that so unfairly attacked us that Agudah spokesman, Rabbi Avi Shafran was moved to defend us publicly with an article of his own (by coincidence published exactly 2 yeas ago today). But this time I agree with Rabbi Birnbaum. He has pointed out a terrible trend of behavior among our young people. (And I include all Hashkafos). A trend I have often noticed myself. Here are some examples he cites: 
It was Chol Hamoed Pesach in the local grocery. A distinguished member of the community was in the aisle, when a young man in his twenties barreled through with his cart, banging into the elder man’s foot. The young man pulled back his cart and went around - without saying a word! No apology. Nothing.
That same young man proceeded further, brushing past another shopper and pushing him off balance. There, too, not a word of apology. The first person he had hit observed this and mustered up the courage to approach the rushed young man and, with a smile, said, “The word is ‘excuse me,’ or ‘I am sorry.’” To his credit, the young man seemed a bit embarrassed and sheepishly said, “I thought I said ‘Anshuldikt.’”
A few days later, while waiting on line in a large supermarket in a large city, a young man who looked like he was in a rush pushed his way into an existing line, cutting ahead of others. I think he assumed that those waiting before him wouldn’t mind, because he only had a few items and they had fuller carts, but could he have been polite and asked? Actually, he should have been polite and asked.
Pulling out from the supermarket and waiting to turn left, a shopper who was turning left from the left lane notices, out of the corner of his eye, a car zooming from behind him at top speed, jumping past him into the right lane and then suddenly veering to the left, jumping in front of him and cutting into the left lane to get in front. It was illegal, it was dangerous, and it didn’t even save him time, because they were both stopped at the next red light together. 
Clearly these young people see only the self as important. They have no patience and no humility. No sense of ‘the other’. It’s all about themselves and the ability to have as many New York minutes as possible. No matter who they inconvenience.

Of course it isn’t only Orthodox Jews that behave this way. This kind of behavior crosses all cultural lines, Jews and gentiles; religious and not religious.  But that should not make any of us in Orthodoxy happy. Because we are supposed to be better than that. We Jews ought to be role models of behavior for all of society to emulate. As the chosen people of God, this is one of our mandates. So behaving badly - just like everyone else - ought not to be an option.

Which brings me to New York Times columnist David Brooks, He has written a book on exactly this subject entitled The Road to Character. It was reviewed by Forward editor, Jane Eisner. Here is a man that is not Orthodox (although he sends his children to religious schools) but who can teach us all a lesson. A lesson that he learned from one of Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveotchik’s masterpieces, Lonely Man of Faith.

Brooks talks about the very kind of thing that Rabbi Birnbaum addresses – the kind of behavior that that is so prevalent in today’ world. Beahvior that lacks character. He uses Rav Soloveitchik’s models of Man 1 and Man 2.

Man 1 wants to conquer the world and sees his own personal achievements as paramount. This is the Me-ism of todays world. Man 2 wants to cling to God and sees only moral concerns, completely divesiting from the self. Each of us has these to ‘men’ struggling within us. Mankind’s great achievements happen within the turmoil of conflict between Man 1 and Man 2. Brooks goes on to give historical examples of people who had this inner conflict and had achieved great things.

In our world today, it seems as though many of us are just Man 1. And we thus fail in achieving the character necessary to do great things. We ignore Man 2 and therefore lack the necessary modesty and humility of Man 2.

If we want our children to stop the kind of behavior described by Rabbi Birnbaum - which seems to be increasingly common these days, we have to first look at ourselves. There has to be some real introspection about our New York minutes. If we behave with modesty and humility in our lives as we pursue our personal needs our children will learn to do the same. But if we act with the kind of impatience that centers mostly on oneself, our children too will be self centered. And there will be a lot more of the kind of troubling behavior Rabbi Birnbaum saw.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

When Worlds Collide

There is  much in the news these days about how some of the more extreme segments of the Charedi world deal with the relationship between men and women. Relationships between men and women is a subject upon which many tomes have been written. Both Halachic and hashkafic.  And for good reason. All human beings have in common something  called the sex drive (…or the libido, as Freud labeled it.)

As such Halacha realizes that men often see women as sex objects. Not that Halacha God forbid endorses that view. But that it realizes that it is often the case that men are visual and see women in sexual ways much more so then women see men.  I think Hollywood substantiates this view. No where are women more sexualized than in the vast majority of stuff coming out of Hollywood.

Civilized society has tended to regulate how to deal with the sex drive. Either by law, by custom or by both. So that we do not act immediately upon impulse.   For Jews, these laws are contained in the Torah, the Talmud and its commentaries. All of which have been redacted into Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries.

Although there are areas of sexual conduct upon which there is universal Halachic agreement, there are disputes about it in other areas.  Such as whether platonic physical contact between a man and a woman is permitted or not.  The commentaries in the Shulchan Aruch disagree about it. One commentator says that as long as the contact is platonic, it is permitted and the other that any contact at all is forbidden and to be avoided at all cost.

This is where a schism has developed between various Orthodox segments. The more right wing segments among us take on the stringent view. The more left wing among us take on the lenient view.

The Yeshiva world for the most part has the view that even platonic contact is to be avoided, but not at all cost. If it will embarrass others or cause undue problems, then it is permissible to have platonic contact.

In my view, the Yeshiva world approach is an appropriate compromise. It is one that 20th century Gedolim like Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky advocates. Which allows us all to avoid uncomfortable situations that inevitably inconvenience others and make us look a bit foolish in the modern world.

That the more right wing among us take the stringent view and avoid all contact between the sexes is to be avoided at all cost is because they see it at the core as always being sexual. No matter how platonic it is at the surface. And from this follows other stringencies – all in service to the idea of avoiding any possibility of being sexually aroused.

This is exacerbated by the fact that in many cases the  stringent among us tend to live in isolation from the rest of even Orthodox Jewry. Seeing themselves as exemplars of God’s will, they have developed a sense of entitlement about their stringent views. No matter how much it inconveniences others or how it makes them look. And that’s what has led to conflict. Which seems to be getting worse by the day.

Here is how J.E. Reich put it in the Forward
In recent years, both mainstream and Jewish media have reported on other misogyny-fueled instances of male dominance in fringe communities, from the terrorizing and policing of women’s clothing (and bodies, and sexuality) in ultra-Orthodox Beit Shemesh to Yiddish signs posted in the Satmar area of Williamsburg ordering women to cross the street in the presence of an approaching Jewish male
Since this demographic is the fastest growing one, their influences are quickly spreading outside of their own community: 
The issue of airplane seating arrangements reaches a whole new level: While most publicized instances injury of fringe Orthodox misogyny are insular in nature, only affecting Jewish women in these occupied areas, the latest wave affects secular women, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. 
This phenomenon is happening in Ramat Bet Shemesh as described by Shoshanna Jaskoll  in Life in Israel:
Female speakers are prohibited from publicizing their pictures, newspapers alter photographs and history by erasing women, phonebooks list only the husband’s name, families are honored but only the men accept the awards, etc. This causes the women to feel increasingly marginalized.
Those that are pushing their stringencies on others (or those that sympathize with them) have retorted with the following:
*If it bothers you, just don’t buy them, its really that simple.
*Women are so sexualized in the world that we must do the opposite:
*A woman’s worth, her beauty is internal.
*Achdus! Why must you start up?
*Its always been this way.
*We are telling our daughters that their externals are not important.
*Preserving women’s privacy does not prevent them from having a major influence in our lives.
*It’s our right.
*If it bothers you, just don’t buy them, its really that simple.
Mrs. Jaskoll has an excellent response to all of these points which can be read in Life in Israel. But for me it is as plain as day that even if one is to respect the stringent sensitivities of these people and not attribute them to misogyny, they nevertheless have no right to place the burden on others so that they can live their lives so easily.

The Gemarah relates a story about how 2 sages who were stringent about these matters reacted to a situation where women were not appropriately dressed because of the nature of what they were doing - washing clothes in a river. The sages did not tell them to leave. They did not yell at them or worse  beat them up. They did not put up posters the next day telling these women to stay home. They took a detour so that they would not encounter the women in a state of dress that was not Tzanua.

That is what this group should be doing. They want to be stringent? Fine. But not at the expense of those of us that rely on Gedolim like Rav Yaakov who is lenient in these matters.

The problem of course what can be done about it? Telling  them that they must compromise is whistling in the wind. I don’t know. But I’m happy to see that residents of Ramat Bet Shemesh - among them members of the Charedi community - are fighting back. May God give them the strength to prevail.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Not a Tzadik

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, (Arutz Sheva)
Once again I am thoroughly disgusted by the way a man that was clearly a Gadol in Torah by any standard has been treated in a right wing newspaper. That Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, ZTL was a Gadol in Torah can easily be gleaned in the obituary written in Hamodia.* It was in fact a fairly nice obituary as these things go.

Far better than the one written by another right wing publication, the now defunct Jewish Observer (JO),who wrote about his father in law and mentor, Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, ZTL when he died. An obituary that has never been retracted by the JO’s publishers, Agudath Israel of America. But as nice as Hamodia’s obituary was, they did do one thing that the JO did. They left out the letter T from the honorific, ZTL usually given to great rabbinic figures posthumously. (ZTL is the acronym for the Hebrew ‘Zecher Tzadik L’Vracha – loosely translated to mean ‘may the memory of this righteous man be blessed’)

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (YU Torah)
It might not seem like much of a slight considering the actual words they published. But as was the case with Rav Soloveitchik, there is a very strong message of disapproval in leaving out the letter T in ZTL. This was no accidental slight. This was deliberate. They knew what they were doing.  It implies that Rav Lichtenstein did not rise to the level of greatness that people with far less accomplishment in Torah get.

Right wing publications grant this honorific to every rabbinic figure on the face of the earth when they pass. No matter how great or how small. Whether prominent or obscure. They were Tzadikim when they died.

But not Rav Soloveitchik. And not Rav Lichtenstein. They were not Tzadikim at all. Not righteous enough to be granted that appellation. No letter T for you guys. You may have known a lot of Torah. You may have inspired tens of thousands of Jews with your, brilliance, your Torah knowledge; your secular knowledge; your ability to seamlessly integrate them both – each shedding light on the other; your erudition; your kindness and humility… Yes, you may have had all those qualities, but a Tzadik you are not!

Why did Hamodia treat these two giants of Torah this way? Because they did not follow the party line. If one does not follow the ‘Torah Only’ approach, one cannot possibly be a Tzadik.  After all God doesn’t like people who are not Charedi. He doesn’t like people who support religious Zionism. Or people that believe that serving in the IDF is a Mitzvah. Or people that advocate praying for the safety of the soldier protecting his people.  God’s people.

God does not view with favor anyone that studies or advocates studying secular subjects either. At best God tolerates them as Jews that are Krum… Jews that veered off the Charedi path having known better.  There is no way God would be pleased with the corruption of the Torah true values we Charedim hold dear.  How in good conscience could we ever call such a person a Tzadik?

Satmar Rebbe, (JAZ)
God prefers we call Tzadikim those that curse the State Israel and call for its dismantling  . People who have referred to Gedolei Olam like Rav Avraham Yitzchok HaKohen Kook, ZTL with words reserved for Haman HaRasha (the Hitler of his era). You know… people like the Satmar Rebbe. He was a Tzadik. I am sure they never omit the letter T when they write about him!

What makes this particular omission particularly egregious for me is that Hamodia is generally a lot more moderate than those I call extremist Charedim. As in those who recently harassed a Charedi solider calling him a Nazi. They are usually on the right side of these kinds of issues. So that when moderate Charedim read an article like this, they see it as the moderate viewpoint.  

Now I don’t know how many of them will even notice this omission. But for those that do, the message is clear: Remember - even thought the obituary is a relatively decent one, he is still not one of us. And certainly not a Tzadik. 

 This is disgusting and I strongly protest it! 

*Update
It appears that the link no longer works. It worked before. They must have taken down the obit. I hope they correct it and put it back up.

** I guess not.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, ZTL – a Torah U’Mada Giant

R' Lichtenstein in 2014 meeting with R' Rabinoiwitz, the Kotel Rav (VIN)
I never met him. But for me he was a giant. As he was for myriad other Jews in Orthodoxy and beyond. He had no peers. I Am saddened to report that Rav Aharon Lichtenstein passed away today at age 81.

He was a Torah giant unlike any other. He was unique in the sense that he exemplified the Hashkafa of Torah U’Mada (TuM). While there are many religious leaders that oppose this Hashkafa, some of it based on the belief that study of Mada should never be studied in place of Torah - I believe some of it is largely based on error. That’s because in truth Torah U’Mada is a very broad category that encompasses many approaches. No one made that case better than Dr. Norman Lamm in his book of the same title. 

Torah U’Mada is simply the idea that Mada – or worldly knowledge although secondary to Torah knowledge is a worthy study that ought not be ignored for a variety of reasons. This is why I include R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE) as a subcategory of TuM. Even though adherents of TIDE are quick to deny any connection to TuM they too are mistaken. They associate it with Dr. Lamm’s personal approach which they reject. Other definitions of TuM can be found in R’ Ahron Soloveichik’s book, Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind.

R’ Lichtensetin' Petirah (passing) is being reported by many news websites such as VIN and even the secular Ha'aretz. And he is being hailed as a Torah giant even by Charedi websites like Matzav and YWN where some of his many achievements are mentioned. But Charedi praise was not always the case when he was alive. Quite the contrary. It was in fact his very embrace of secular studies that brought scorn upon him for some right wing circles.

Rav Lichtenstein had once said that his study of English literature at Harvard University (where he received his PhD) helped him to better understand certain sections of Tanach. He did not claim that such study was necessary for others. Surely many Torah giants that never studied English literature did not necessarily lose out. But for himself he said it was a necessary component that aided him. This belief on the part of Rav Lichtenstein is an actual demonstration of one of the primary reasons to study Mada – as an aid to Torah study. A reason stated by no less a Torah giant than the Vilna Gaon!

When an Israeli Rosh HaYeshiva (of American background) had heard that he had said this, he called together his entire Yeshiva and lectured his students about it. He was angered that a Rosh Yeshiva in any way said that Mada had positive value with respect to Torah study… and virtually condemned him. Without naming him he said  that this Rosh Yeshiva does not only not know Torah he doesn’t even know Shakespeare! (…having misheard what R’ Lichtenstein actually had said. He never mentioned Shakespeare.)

That Rosh Yeshiva could not countenance placing value on anything other than Torah study itself. This is the Charedi Hashkafa of Torah Only. One may only study Torah until he studies it all (...all of the Talmud and all the Halacha Seforim with all the commentaries ever written on them) and masters it. Only then is one - permitted - to study Mada. Which is of course a virtual impossibility.

And thus was R’ Lichtenstein denigrated. But he never flinched… never retracted his views and stood by them until his dying day.

He and I had one thing in common besides our Hashkafos. We saw Rav Aharon Soloveichik as our primary mentor. I had other influences as well (which I listed in my bio located in the right margin). And of course so too did Rav Lichtenstein. He considered Rav Hutner, his Rosh HaYeshiva when he studied at Yeshivas Chaim Berlin to be among the more important influences in his life. And of course his father in law, Rav Joseph Dov (Yoshe Ber) Soloveitchik when he studied at Yeshiva University (YU).

It makes sense that these three figures influenced his Hashkafos. All 3 of them advocated the study of Mada. Both Rav Ahron and R’ Yoshe Ber had advanced degrees in Mada. And R’ Hutner (along with Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz) famously tried to create a college level secular studies program at Yeshivas Chaim Berlin. They actually got to a point where the New York Board of Regents had accredited it. The only reason it never happened is because Lakewood founder and Rosh Hayeshiva, Rav Aharon Kotler said no. He was considered the Gadol HaDor in the Yeshiva world at the time and when he made a public policy decision that was the end of it.

Woe is to us. Who will replace this great man? Is there another Rav Lichtenstein whose genius in both Torah and Mada was so great? Is there another Torah giant that is also renowned for his expertise in any subject of Mada? If there is, I haven’t heard about him yet. There are some names… but I don’t think they quite measure up to him. At least not yet. There are Torah greats whose Mada is lacking. And there are Mada greats whose Torah is lacking.

I believe that the reason for this is that the move to the right has become so strong that Mada has been at best marginalized if not outright abandoned as a discipline for a Torah student to study. Gone are the days when a Rosh HaYeshiva at Chaim Berlin advises his students which subject to take in college – as did Rav Hutner.

Yeshiva University has not produced anyone of that caliber yet. A lot of students have attended YU over the years and decades since Rav Lichtenstein was there. But I don’t know of anyone they have produced like him. I suppose that’s because of the nature of a YU that steers most of its students into career paths other that Torah study. Those in YU that do tend to achieve great heights in Torah study have generally bought into the arguments of the right and do not seek great achievements in Mada as a goal – seeing it more as distraction rather than an important area of study.

I realize there are exceptions. More than a few students at YU do seek excellence in both. But I don’t think there is a critical mass that will produce another Rav Aharon Lichtenstein.

Today we lost more than a Gadol. We lost a man that was the role model for Torah U’Mada in our time… with no apparent heir to follow. Baruch Dayan Emes.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

An Unexpected Development

UTJ Keneset member Moshe Gafni
It appears that the last Kenesset in Israel may have actually changed the Charedi world for the better more permanently than was once imagined.

It was widely held among Charedi leaders that all the changes affecting them passed by the last Kenesset was at most temporary. That God would surely not allow the ‘evil edicts’ to stand. Of course to me the edicts were not evil. They were not only - not evil - they were beneficial. It would improve their lives without forcing them to change their values (despite their protestations to the contrary).  At the same time it would raise their stature with their fellow secular Jews. The new laws would also enable them to better support their families; contribute to the economy;  and serve their country along with the rest of their Jewish countrymen.

But it seems that the original  Charedi expectations that the elections would change things back to the way they were before were grossly exaggerated.  Politicians are realists. The Charedi politicians of Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) actually understood that they were not going to get everything they wanted. They went into negotiations with Prime Minister Netanyahu knowing that they were not going to change most of the new laws affecting them. But the one thing they thought they would change is the way Charedi draft resisters would be treated. They believed that those resisting the draft who study Torah should be exempt them from the same consequences (jail) that those that do not study Torah get. 

They called that ‘jailing people for studying Torah’. Skipping the step of dodging the draft. With that, they cast the Israeli government right up there  with the worst villains in Jewish history… like the Romans of Talmudic times who banned Torah study under penalty of torture and death. 

Of course that is the furthest thing from the truth. This law is not about punishing those who study Torah. It was about applying the law evenly… and not giving one segment special treatment.

Nonetheless, armed with what they thought was a legitimate grievance they went ahead  with negotiations. It is a grievance that actually had support even among some of the secular leadership and much of the population according to some reports. They therefore believed their goal of changing the penalty for resisting the draft from jail to a fine was realistic - and one they could live with.

It appears that this too will not happen. Arutz Sheva reports that the Prime Minister did not give in. Apparently the belief that he would help them in this respect has not materialized. For the Charedi parties this was a non negotiable item.  Without which they would not join the governing coalition. The Prime Minister’s refusal to remove that sanction caused the Charedi parties to walk!  The Prime Minister has therefore asked President Rivlin for an extension of 2 weeks to form a coalition. With or without them.

This is an unexpected development. The results of the last election seemed to make it a foregone conclusion that the Charedi parties would return to power via joining the ruling coalition. But it seems that as of now, the new government will not include them.

It is too early to know how all this will end up. Will the Charedi parties blink, and join the government after they contemplate the effects of staying out of power? Or will Neatnyahu blink and give in to the Charedi demand if he cannot form a coalition without them?

I don’t know. But one thing that I do know is that most if not all of the changes implemented by the last Kenesset will hold. The laws will remain in place.

Will they be fully implemented? Or will they  be honored mostly in the breach? Will the government ‘look the other way’ and not implement sanctions if the laws are flouted? I don’t know.

But on a practical level on the most contentious issue –  Charedim in the military, it seems that the government is winning. Which to me means that Charedim are winning too. It has been reported that Charedi recruitment into the army is increasing dramatically to the point of meeting government quotas.

So it could very well be that all this posturing is just that – posturing. More than ever the  Charedi mainstream is finally begining to take advantage of opportunities to materially improve their lives.They want more for their families than living at the poverty levels of the Kollel lifestyle. They are taking advantage of Israel’s efforts to accommodate Charedi needs in the armed service and are joining in unprecedented numbers.

After all is said and done, it might serve the Charedi leadership better to just go with the flow instead of crying bloody murder. There will still be Yeshivos. And their numbers will probably continue to grow. But what there won’t be is the universal requirement that all Charedim learn full time indefinitely no matter what. And thereby unable to get a job for lack of army service. Which has kept so many of them in poverty while living the Kollel lifestyle.

My hope is that  eventually only those that are fully committed and capable of learning Torah at the highest levels will remain in a Kollel for more than a few years. The rest will hopefully serve their country in some capacity  after a few years in Kollel. And then join the workforce. And as a corollary, my hope is that they are enabled to better prepare for the workforce than they are now. Which is the goal of some of the other legislation passed by the previous Keneset.

It was Yesh Atid that was most responsible for changing the law in this way. For this, their leaders were cast as Amalek by the Charedi world.  But it now appears that their policies are not just the will of Yesh Atid.  Bayit HaYehudi (whom many consider to be the heir to the Religious Zionist party) supports maintaining the draft law as is. It is apparently the will of the majority of the Israeli people. And now - the will of the Prime Minister too.   They can’t all be Amalek.

It is apparently the will of God that these laws remain in place. May it continue to be.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Time to Remove the Evil from our Midst

Screenshot of the YWN video
Comment 1: How would anyone feel if one of their’s became a turncoat and joined the other side? During a time of war or shmad, when the enemies of the Torah are trying to force you to join them you must resist.
Comment 2: I am a jewish charedi yeshivish woman and all I can say is that I’m absolutely disgusted. If you don’t want to join the army then get a petur and don’t join how dare you call someone a nazi for being in the army. Where are these chuldrens mothers and fathers. I hope they are very ashamed of the chilul Hashem they made. There children have no middos at all. Have you ever taught your children who nazis are???? If you wanna call an boy in the idf and nazi then you should not live in Israel and be protected by them day and night. In fact they should be receiving so much respect from all of yisroel. 
These 2 comments were made in reference to a YWN video (below) showing yet another disgusting display of human behavior by extremists in the Charedi world. They represent the polarization taking place within the Charedi world itself.

The video shows a Charedi soldier walking through a neighborhood in Ramat Bet Shemesh B and being treated like a Nazi. Ramat Bet Shemesh B is populated by what can only be called extremist Charedim. And their extremist behavior is not getting any better. 

Most extremist Charedim are Jews that live in virtual isolation from the rest of civilization. To the extent that they have any contact at all with the outside world is to the extent that they need them. For example if they need a doctor, they will see one. (They cannot produce their own doctors.) But they will never have any social interaction with them. For fear of being influenced by their values.

This community has absolutely no clue how to interact socially with anyone outside of their world. They consider non Jews to automatically be Jew haters. They consider the Israeli government and their police force to be the equivalent of Nazis. They consider non religious Jews to be hopelessly anti Charedi. And even other religious Jews don’t fare much better in their eyes – if they are in the slightest way Zionistic.

They therefore have no problem committing what most people would consider a public Chilul HaShem. Like spittng on reporters covering public demonstrations.  Or calling  a little girl a whore if she does not dress by their extremist standards of modesty. And many other types of such behavior

These people are a world apart. They are Porshim  Min HaTzibur – separating themselves from the rest of world Jewry or even the rest of religious Jewry.  Increasingly the moderate Charedi world is beginning to see them that way too. Which I believe to be the vast majority of Charedim.

It used to be the case that these people were looked at with a certain degree of admiration by the Charedi moderates. I believe that is no longer the case. After so many events like this, moderate Charedim are beginning to see them for who they really are. Although there are still some Charedim that support what they did. Or at least understand and have sympathy for them – as the first comment above shows.

The fruit of such extremes produces behavior that is so bad that in my view it makes their piety worthless. I have seen them this way for some time. And now the moderate Charedi world seems to be coming around to the same view. That is reflected by the reaction of the second comment above to what they witnessed in that video.  

The truth is that I pity these extremists. In my view they are in the category of Tinokos SheNishba. When a Jewish child is captured by non Jewish thugs and raised by them – they are not aware of the Torah and Halacha. They therefore cannot be blamed if they are not religious. These extremists were raised the same way in terms of how to interact with the rest of the world. It’s not their fault.

Nonetheless as R’ Chaim Soloveichik said to someone who tried to judge favorably - an Apikores (heretic) that was raised that way:  Nebech an Apikores is still an Apikores’. You can feel sorry for them.  But it dosen’t change who they are.  They are a group of Jews that believe they are the epitome of a Torah Jew when in fact they are the exact opposite of that. They are better role models for the Taliban than they are for Jews. Nebech.

Most people know that I am not a fan of the extreme religious left. I have strongly criticized some of their innovations and believe they have crossed some theological lines. When Agudah Moetzes leader, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow spoke out harshly against them at an Agudah convention a while back, I supported him and agreed with what he said. I took my lumps from a lot of my friends on the left. But I have yet to hear that kind of condemnation of the extreme right from the Charedi religious leaders. If there is any at all, it is usually accompanied with apologetics… and words like ‘Yes, they were wrong but you have to understand where they are coming from’.

I don’t understand how they can only see the extreme left in such harsh terms and yet never the extreme right.  They should be every bit as determined to expel the extreme right as they are the extreme left! Not only that but when it suits their purposed they cater to their every Chumra so that they will join together in a project. Like that internet gathering a few years ago. They wanted that type of Chasid to join them in order to be united of purpose. So they gave in to their every demand. Which ended up with an event that condemned Internet use well beyond what they intended. Something they had to fix with subsequent smaller meetings.

If the extreme left has gone off the reservation to the point of expulsion, so too has the extreme right. It is more than time to speak in the same harsh terms about them.

There may be little that anyone can do about changing the behavior of these extremists. But there is one thing we can do. And that is to excise them from Orthodoxy once and for all - and have nothing to do with them! Their behavior is as un-Jewish as the extreme left. It’s time to call a spade a spade and to stop looking at their externals as though that was the Ikkar (primary expression of Judaism). It is at best the Tafel (of secondary importance). Once that happens religious Jews can hopefully once again be seen as role models for the rest of the world instead of being seen like primitive savages.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Rising from Divorce

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OHEL’S New Groundbreaking Rising from Divorce Video Is a Community-Wide Call to Action 

Dr Hindie Klein, OHEL Director of Clinical Projects

Though ubiquitous for centuries, divorce today has increased significantly in the Orthodox community. In today’s times, almost everyone knows someone affected by divorce.

Given this new reality, OHEL believes there is an important need to better educate the wider community about the impact of divorce, and the specific roles that the wider community, Rabbis, community leaders, and educators can play to help ensure that both parents of divorce, and children of divorce can thrive.

Promoting Community Awareness

It is this belief that drew OHEL to make the groundbreaking new video, “Rising from Divorce” a film for all members of the community.

OHEL believed that a video could powerfully address the issue of divorce and its effects on divorced parents and children from a variety of perspectives: parents, professionals, educators, Rabbis, community leaders, and adult children of divorce.  We believed that it would resonate and be meaningful for everyone and very importantly, serve as a “Community Call to Action.”

What Question Did We Want To Address? 

Our focus was the “day after” after divorce. This would not be a video that addressed why couples get divorced.  Rather, we were interested in hearing about what it was like after the divorce.  What happens to the children and parents post-divorce?  How are parents treated—by their ex-spouses, by family, friends, children’s teachers, and the neighbor next door?  How are the children treated—by their parents, extended family, neighborhood or school friends, or teachers? We also wanted this to be a piece that would address not only what is happening, but also what should be happening; a video that would provide insight, help and practical guidance.

Who Should See This Video?

As more and more individuals and children are affected by divorce, the question arises as to the community’s role and responsibility to divorced parents and children in need. Rabbis, Educators, Community Leaders and the community at large are being faced with the challenging task of how best to sensitively respond to those affected by divorce.   What responsibility do we have to our future generation? 

The answer is in US—in all of us.

Everyone has a responsibility to reach out, guide, support and help parents and children of divorce. 

Brooklyn Screening and Panel Discussion Sunday April 19th

OHEL is launching the new video in screenings in Brooklyn, New York, Teaneck, New Jersey, and Long Island. The screenings will be accompanied by panel discussions including local Rabbis, clinicians and educators.

The Brooklyn screening is taking place this Sunday April 19th at The Young Israel of Midwood at 7pm. The screening of the 35 minute film will be accompanied by Divrei Brocha from Rav Moshe Tuvia Lieff, Morah D'Asra of Agudath Israel Bais Binyomin as well as words from Rabbi Eli Mansour, Rabbi of Bet Yaakob, who will be joining the panel discussion.

They say it takes a village.  Indeed, this is our mission: to engage ALL members of our community as comrades in arms, advocating for the welfare of our families. 



Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Emes Ve-Emunah Segulah Fund

The Segulah Pushka - Not needed here!
As someone that cares deeply about the welfare of Klal Yisroel and believes that one has to be Chas Al Mamon Yisroel (care about the money of my people) I have decided to offer my lucky readers the Emes Ve-Emunah Segulah Fund.

Yes friends if you are in the market for a Shidduch, a cure for a deadly disease, salvation from the Lord, not working and need a real job, or are simply seeking Nachos from your wayward children - you have come to the right place.

For the small price of a dollar-a-day your problems will be solved. The Emes Ve-Emunah Segulah Fund is now open for business. All you have to do is deposit a dollar-a-day for a 30 day period into my PayPal account (located in the upper right margin)… and all your dreams will come true.

This Segula is a proven method of help in the merit of R’ Chaim Yankel Wallowitz of Pidbish, the great, great, great grandfather of my paternal grandmother, Shprintza. Chaim Yankel was known to his followers as the Segula King. When you went to him for a Bracha, he was sure to give you one. I know this for a fact. As his descendant, I too have been granted this ability and I will give you a Bracha for the low, low price of a dollar-a-day. (Must be consecutive days totaling 30).

It is a simple and economical undertaking. Here’s how it works: Deposit one dollar-a-day into my PayPal account for the sick of Klal Yisroel and recite the phrases of Yeshaya in Nach: chapter one: phrases 13 through 16.

The miracles to those in need who have done this Segulah in the past, have been witnessed by thousands of Jews worldwide!

In today’s critical era when everyone is so desperate for Refuahs and Yeshuos of all kinds,  Emes Ve-Emunah has integrated the aforementioned $1―30 day Segulah into its website as a source of Yeshuos to all in need.

We have designated our popular PayPal account in lieu of a “Segulah Pushka” specifically for this purpose greasing your path to salvation.  PayPal accepts all credit cards. Deposit your dollar-a-day for 30 days and watch it work wonders!

In fairness I should note that this project is not original with me. I saw it first at YWN . They are featuring a Segulah of their own but at twice the price ( $2 a day for 30 days). And they require you to go to the trouble of ordering a Pushka, no less! True - they had the idea first. But it’s a good one so I went with it. Although I’m sure that their Segulah is just as worthy as mine – mine’s cheaper. It’s half the price! Why spend more?