Thursday, November 30, 2006

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch and Austritt

Evanston Jew has a fascinating article today on the subject of Austritt. It is an analysis of the consequences of Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch’s decision to leave the established Jewish community in Germany which had become dominated by the Reform movement. From the essay:

“Torah im Derech Eretz developed, in my opinion, in an eccentric way leaving a legacy of major disagreements as to what it was all about”

and later:

“(Chasidim) didn’t much care for the yekkes’ snobbism and condescension either. Why the chassidic Jews were not invited to join the Orthodox yekkes is anyone’s guess. In this regard it is interesting to note that because of the way Orthodoxy was reestablished there was a serious disconnect with the glorious history of the Frankfort rabbinate. I am being a bit mean here, but I believe it is fair to say that a typical Orthodox German yekke had a far greater knowledge and appreciation of Goethe and Heine than he had of the Hafla’ah or the Pene Yehoshua and Rav Nasan Adler. Torah im Derech Eretz produced few if any great lomdim, mekubalim or poskim. I believe Austritt was responsible.”

I am a big fan of Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE). Even though it isn’t my Hashkafa (of Torah U’Madda) it is a “kissing cousin” to it. I do not agree with Evanston Jew’s assessment that TIDE developed in an eccentric way. It is a very well thought out, clearly defined Hashkafa. And RSRH’s development of it was not eccentric at all. But I do agree that its “legacy” is one “of major disagreements as to what it was all about” But I blame the current mindset (generally speaking) of the Charedi leadership for that. They wish to redefine TIDE in their own image so as to de-legitimize (or at least minimize) what they don’t like about it and thereby minimize the differences between the Yekke and the Charedi..

One thing Evanston Jew points out is that Yekkes were a bit snobbish. I think that’s true. Their knowledge of “Goethe and Heine” gave them a sense of superiority vis-à-vis other Jews. I believe, however that the responsibility ofr this attitude had more to do with the German culture itself than with anything RSRH did. It wasn’t Austirtt that caused this snobbishness (though it may have contributed to it) It was the German attitude about their own superiority permeating German Jewry that was responsible for this.

And the less secular a Jew was the more superior a German Jew felt towards him. This explains why the animosity that existed between German Jews and Chasidim was so great. Chasidim were viewed as being on the lowest rung on the Totem pole because they were the least educated in the works of people like “Goethe and Heine”. All Germans really looked at civilization as containing or perhaps even requiring a social class structure... with themselves being the highest ones on the totem pole. The Nazi racial theories, with Germans being Aryans, the master race, certainly reflected the importance to Germans of the belief in a social class system. Nazism was an expression in the extreme of their social caste ideas. And before Germans separated out the Jews as the inferior race, many Jews looked at themselves as Germans first and Jews second. I think that is in part why Reform took hold so readily there.

So is Austritt responsible for any of this? I tend to think not. But I will concede the possibility of that being a factor. But you are right about one thing. Austritt has become the dominant force in Charedi Judaism. But the Austritt there is not from Reform. It is from Orthodoxy itself. They do not view any Orthodox Hashkafos other than their own as valid and have rejected any attempts to integrate with them. (This may be changing a bit. See the previous post.)

Once More... With Feeling!

I wasn’t really going to write about it anymore but after reading the Internet Yated report of the Agudah convention, I must comment one more time.

This article details far more than anything I’ve seen on what was said that evening and by whom.

From the Yated::

"Rabbi Salomon took pains to declare that we have no complaint against anyone asking questions about our convictions, or even disagreeing — agreeably — with stances we have seen fit to take."

As I said I’m not so naïve to say that Rav Salomon has given my blog a Haskama. Of course he didn’t. But his words are quite clear in the sense of what he deems permissible. If the commentary is respectful, one can ask questions about the “convictions” of rabbinic leadership. One can even disagree with them! So to anyone who says that one cannot disagree with a Gadol, please direct your challenge to Rav Salomon.

But that isn’t all that was said that evening. In fact, as the leading rabbinic figure there, Rav Salomon was quite subdued in his comments. I don’t really think I disagree with anything he said vis-à-vis blogs.

Rabbi Zweibel’s take was rather interesting as well. In what I consider quite a conciliatory statement (perhaps reacting to my article in the Jewish Press) he actually acknowledged that there are Gedolim outside of the Moetzes:

"Citing Chazal's dictum, "Asei lecho rav — Establish a rabbinic authority for yourself," Rabbi Zwiebel declared that even those who do not look specifically to the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah as the ultimate arbiter of daas Torah must nonetheless defer to their own rabbonim."

That is an astounding statement. While he still has a far broader definition of Daas Torah then I do, to recognize that it exists outside of Agudah is quite remarkable and is, I believe, a first for Agudah. At least that I am aware of.

As for Rabbi Wachsman, that’s another story. As I said in my first post on the subject, I am not surprised at his words at all. They were as divisive as ever. And he managed to sneak in commentary about the impermissibility of relying on the Rishonim if current Gedolim say otherwise. This, it seems was an oblique “slam” against Rabbi Slifkin.

From the Yated:

"Rabbi Wachsman began by noting that attacks on daas Torah have been with us since the time of Moshe Rabbenu, and that present-day scoffers are but actors in the tradition of Korach, the Tziddukim and the Maskilim."

It isn’t that I disagree with that statement. I don’t. But there is a context missing. There is no delineation between one blogger and the next. No “upside”. Only a “downside”. Rabbi Wachsman could have done what I did in my article, spelled out differences between blogs and those who comment in them who are respectful and those who are not. He could have even said that some blogs provide a valuable service in disseminating information, Torah content, public awareness of wrongdoing, and as an outlet for serious issues which can be discussed, debated and clarified by a wide variety of Torah perspectives. He may in fact agree with all that... or not, he didn’t say. He thus leaves the impression that all bloggers fall into the category of “Korach, the Tziddukim and the Maskilim.”.

But the bottom line consensus it seems (in spite of the harsh tones in Rabbi Wachsman's words) is that there was no outright ban on blogs. As long as respectful tones are used and Kavod HaTorah is maintained, then the Agudah’s Rabbinic leaders apparently hold that blogging is at least not harmful (...and perhaps even praiseworthy. I’m not sure).

One thing they did not do is spell out guidlenes as to what they consider respectful criticism and what is not. Perhaps that was on purpose. Except for the patently obvious extreme disrespect, "respectful tones" in many ways it is subjective. Perspectives about what is and what isn't varies greatly between one individual and the next. As men of wisdom, these rabbinic figures know that, and do not want to criticize people who never had any real intention of denigrating Talmidei Chachamim. Even if some may interpret a blogger’s words as doing so. Put another way, it’s what they didn’t say that’s as important as what they did say.

So in the final analysis this is what I take away from the Agudah's convention: Responsible blogging is permissible. And I would add that it is often even praiseworthy.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Moral Idiocy

Is it possible to be a sincerely religious, God fearing individual who has strong moral values and yet be a moral idiot? I wouldn’t have thought so except for the fact that there is one such very prominent individual: Former President Jimmy Carter.

I watched this interview on PBS yesterday in total disbelief and utter disgust! I can’t believe I voted for this man. Once. Which was one time too many. He will go down as perhaps the absolute worst President in American history. And that’s saying a lot because there were some real bad ones.

This President is a “born again” Christian, in effect a Baal Teshuva. He is a true believer, a man of God, who taught Sunday school while he was President, if I recall correctly. He is a man guided by religious values and as such has led an exemplary life, never having strayed from the straight and narrow. Yet his postion on the State of Israel is a lesson in complete idiocy. It is reprehensible, morally bankrupt and completely one sided when it comes to the State of Israel. He in effect blames Israel for all that’s wrong in the Middle East. Yet, he virtually praises Hamas in the same breath. He considers Israel to be an oppressive occupier of the Palestinian people and actually believes that if Israel just withdraws from all the territiory it captured during the six day war, all will be well with the world. Peace on earth… good will towards men!

As I said, President Carter is not an immoral person. He is not evil. He actually believes all of this stuff. How(!) … can a intelligent an moral individual be so blind? How can he just wave off daily and indiscrimate rocket attacks that can hit any civilian? How can he not talk of the devastating history of suicide bombers most of which, have historically come from Hamas? How can he not acknowledge all the Islamist rhetoric that calls for the annihilation of the Jewish people (no more distinctions are being made between Zionists and Jews. Muslim clerics just preach directly against “The Jews”) that has been preached continuously for over a century…since the Balfour declaration?

There’s more. Here are some other nuggets: His new book title: Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." Meaning Israel practices institutional racism (protestations to the contrary by Mr. Carter not withstanding). Israel wishes to “acquire, to occupy, to confiscate, and then to colonize Palestinian land.” “…the whole system is designed to separate through a ferocious system by Israelis who live on Palestine territory.”

And this one really gets to me:

“The fact is that, when the Palestinians dug under the Israeli wall from Gaza and captured the Israeli soldier, one soldier, at that time, Israel was holding 9,200 Palestinians prisoner, including 300 children, almost 300, 293 children, some of them 12 years old, and holding almost 100 women prisoner.” Israel arrests criminals who have endangered innocent lives (yes, some were women and children) and he compares that to the kidnapping of a soldier doing his duty and not harming anyone. This kind of moral equivalency is ridiculous.

More from the former President on Hamas: “Hamas did win a victory. They won 42 percent of the vote. It was an open, free, fair, safe election, as certified by the Carter Center. And so, as a result of that, all financial aid to the entire population of Palestine was cut off just because they expressed their will in a free vote. And as a matter of fact, Hamas, whom everyone criticizes -- the fact is that Hamas, since August of 2004, has not committed a single act of terrorism that cost an Israeli life, not a single one.”

And what about Hamas's refusal to recognize Israel? Mr. Carter totally ignores the question and starts talking about the PLO. Here are more pearls of wisdom:

“The day after the election, I went and met with Mahmoud Abbas, who is the leader of the Palestinians. He's their president. He's the head of the PLO, which is the only organization, by the way, that the United States or Israel recognizes, the PLO, in which there's not a single Hamas member. Hamas has nothing to do with the PLO.”

President Carter: “And after I met with Abbas to talk about a unity government, which he rejected, then I met with a Hamas leader. He's a medical doctor who was elected. He's now in prison, by the way.”

Nebech. Poor baby! He has more sympathy for an individual who would slaughter any number of innocent people than he does for the innocent victims, murdered, crippled, blinded, widowed, and orphaned by this doctor’s organization.

So there you have it. A man who sincerely holds these views and has a sense of moral outrage about it. …and has no clue about the real source of the problerm: a rabid Islamist hatred for Jews preached for over a century which has bred many generations of Arab Jew hatred.

What a fool. What an idiot!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Secularism and Religious Fanaticism

There was an article in a recent the Wall Street Journal on Pope Benedict XVI. The reporters interviewed Robert Spaemann, a conservative German Catholic philosopher who has known Benedict for years, to discuss Benedict’s vision. Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer asked the question "Where do we fit in?" I addressed his question there but it is an important one so I will address it here too.

For me the one thing that stood out in that article is the following:

“For Benedict, the modern age is defined by growing secularism in the West and the rise of religious fanaticism most everywhere else. In order to fulfill its mission, he believes, the Church needs to shun both forces.”

This is the key statement. I couldn’t agree more with Benedict that... just as he says the Church has to shun both religious fanaticism and secularism, so to do we. Because it is both that have created many of the problems we face macrocosmically and microcosmically.

On a macro scale the entire world has experienced the results of those philosophies taken to its ultimate conclusions. The holocaust is the result of secularism gone haywire. This was greatest crime against humanity and to the Jewish people since the Churban Bayis Sheni. And its perpetrators were secularists, a civilized people who valued science and technology. They were the people of Bach and Bethooven, Shiller and Goethe. When there is no God it is easy to take an evolutionary concept like “the struggle for existence, rename it “the survival of the fittest” and apply it to a master race being the most fit to decide who gets to live in their new world order.

The “holocaust” of our own time, the suicide bomber who kills innocent people in the name of God is the result of religious fanaticism.

On a micro scale we see it in our own backyards. Clearly it is our own religious fanatics that are responsible for acts of violence, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

The secularist extremists are those who would cause the spiritual destruction of the Jewish people. They are represented by the extreme left in Israel who spit on Torah observance. It isn’t that they are totally evil people. They are not. Even if they have some good ideas and programs in non religious areas, their secularist ideology leads them to focus and promote ideas that are completely anti Torah. They are the Tommy Lapids of the world who extol the virtues of counter-culturalism even when it impinges on the rights of others was the case of with the Gay Pride activists. They consider the rights of those activists to march in the holy city of Jerusalem superior to the rights of the religious, irrespective of sensibilities that consider that parade in the holy city a blasphemy.

To a secularist, the word “holy” has no meaning. It does not exist in their vocabulary except to mock those who believe in things holy. They are the ones who agitate for gay marriage and consider all manner of debauchery perfecytly fine as long as there are consenting adults. They have no sense of sexual morality. Of course there are exceptions but the resons for those exceptions are beyond the scope of this post. They see religion as impinging on human rights. They want to destroy any real semblance of sexual morality and regard such attitudes as archaic... belonging to the dark ages and not to an enlightened age, as is our own.

But I am told that historically such attitudes have caused great civilizations to disappear from the face of the earth. I assume that at least in part the reason this has caused civilizations their demise is that when societies begin to indulge themselves in the pursuit of pleasure and all manner of self satisfaction their appetites increase; the time consumed on these activities increases, and important issues get put on the back burner or get entirely ignored. And the society decays.

On the religious side, the only difference between a suicide bomber and a religious fanatic in Jerusalem who burns dumpsters and throws rocks at busses is the degree with which one takes the violence. The motivation of the suicide bomber and the religious rioter in Meah Shearim both stem from the same sense of “serving God”. Both serve God and feel they need to do whatever it takes to achieve God’s goal. If people get hurt in the process,’s God’s will.

And this applies to both people from both Charedi society and the Religious Zionist camp. As I recently pointed out, it was people who idenitifed as Charedim that have been in the forefront of violent behavior. And as I have also pointed out in the past, the right wing element in the Religious Zionist camp certainly have their share of violent people the worst of which were Baruch Goldstien and Yigal Amir. It is the religious Zionist camp that spawned these violent people. It is this camp that agitates the most for use of violent tactics against Arabs regardless of innocence or guilt. (Yes... they do exist.)

And as Benedict said, both secularism and religious fanaticism need to be rejected. Wise man… (at least on this issue).

Monday, November 27, 2006

Agudah Postscript: Blogs and Daas Torah

The Agudah convention is over. I have yet to hear from my sources on the inside but Hirhurim’s Rabbi Gil Student was there and has reported on it. There were apparently three speakers who addressed the subject of blogs, Rabbis Zweibel, Wachsman, and Salomon. It was Rabbi Salomon’s comment that struck a chord: From Hirhurim:

“R. Matisyahu Salomon (said) that questions and critiques that are respectful are acceptable”

If indeed this is the case, I take comfort in the fact that Rav Salomon, whether he knows it or not, has virtually endorsed my blog. My “questions and critiques” are always done in a respectful manner, despite protestations to the contrary by some. True my critiques are sometime strong, but I never do so with disrespect to any rabbinic leader.

However, not all is rosy. In going over comments section of R. Gil’s post, I learned more about what was said that evening.

Apparently Rav Salomon did use the words "plague" and an "insidious...poison" in reference to blogs that are “entering our homes”. But even there… it was followed by an apparent recognition of the public service rendered even by blogs like UOJ (which seems to have been the real target of the evening). That was implicit in the following remark, “Criticize some rabbis, he said, not all of us”. He acknowledged that some cases “have slipped through our fingers”. But he also said that some cases should be swept under the rug, when the Torah tells us to sweep it under the rug.

Who would disagree with that? If the Torah dictates it there is no room to dispute it. The only question is, “Which cases”? Without going into an elaborate discourse here, suffice it to say that if there is a valid purpose like saving even one child from abuse, then it must be exposed, if not, for example if an individual has been rehabilitated (assuming that’s possible), there are then other considerations like Lashon Hara, and protecting the victims who prefer to not be in the public eye.

Then there was Rabbi Wachsman. He was apparently his usual zealous self. Apparently he is unconditionally against blogs and used some very strong language to make this point.

As one would expect from Agudah, Daas Torah was the subtext of the entire evening. And Agudah does little to diminish the aura of inffalibilty it confers to its rabbinic leaders. As R. Gil put it: “R. Wachsman's description of Gedolim and Da'as Torah… makes these great leaders into superhuman figures.” Even if he didn’t mean it literally, he certainly meant it figuratively. In my view, he errs and Agudah errs in constantly putting it this way and not tempering it with the reality that they are not superhuman. Yes, it is important to give proper Kavod to Torah and Torah figures. But by constantly comparing them to supermen he perpetuates the myth that they are infallible, at least in practice if not in reality.

As I have said many times, this message intended is not the one received. Gedolim are not superhuman. They are… human. They are great… absolutely. And the greatest amongst them throughout the millennia are unquestionably some of the greatest human beings who ever lived. But they were human beings. They made mistakes, including people as great as the Rambam. This was said by no less a figure than the Netziv. Even the well established principle that we cannot argue argue with Rishonim is itself not completely accurate… in that two short centuries ago, the great Rabbi and mathematician, Eliyahu Kramer did just that. And he is accepted. The reasons we do not dispute Rishonim have to do with their being closer to Sinai in the Masoretic chain. But as Rabbi Kramer demonstrates it isn’t a hard and fast rule.

The point is that as great as past figures wer, they were indeed human. And subject to error. Fast forward to today. Our leaders too are human. For Rabbi Wachsman to imply otherwise is in part what is so harmful to so large a segment of Klal Yisroel. It fosters a lack of independent thought upon far too many Bnei Torah who have abdicated the decision making process on the most trivial of issues. And it creates a false sense of granting infallibility to rabbinic figures which in some cases opens them up to ridicule rather than respect.

I like Rav Salomon’s take better. He agrees that legitimate but respectful critique is OK.

You hear that, people?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Drop Outs

I have been forwarded a wonderfully insightful article by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz. For those who may not recognize the name… they should. He is the founder and Menahel of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey. He is a founder and director of "Project Yes" for Agudath Israel. And he is a columnist in the Jewish Press.

Most recently he has been asked by The Chicago Community Kollel (Lakewood) to write weekly column on parenting. It is done in a question and answer style: A letter is sent by a parent, he publishes it, and then answers it in his column. This issue of “at risk teens” who “drop out” has been discussed here before. They leave their Yeshivos, their homes, the Frum community, and often drop all Torah observance sliding into drug use, sex, and God knows what else! To the credit of organizations like Agudah this issue has been addressed several times in their periodical The Jewish Observer. And actions have been taken. But we have a long way to go.

I believe Rabbi Horowitz is right on the money on this issue. The aricle (linked above) should be read by anyone who cares about the future of Klal Yisroel. Here is an excerpt:

“I would think that the wisest thing for community leaders to do would be to take the approach that a success oriented business owner would take in response to slipping market share. Commission a professional study, conduct exit interviews with customers who have taken their business elsewhere, and then sit down with the leadership team of the business and develop effective strategies to reverse the trend."

"Over the past twenty years, I conducted hundreds of terribly painful ‘exit interviews’ with children and adults who have abandoned Yiddishkeit. I can tell you in no uncertain terms what it is that they wanted – and why they took their business elsewhere. They were looking for respect and understanding. Acceptance. Safe and nurturing home lives. Hands-on parents who offer unconditional love along with their guidance. Caring educators who dealt with their admitted misdeeds gently and privately (firmly was OK). The ability to be a bit different without being labeled or judged. More time for hobbies and more recreational opportunities."

More time for recreational activities. Reduced pressure. This would go a long way to releiving the proiblem. But our rabbinic leadership does not seem to feel that this is in any way responsible for the dropouts. As such most schools are increasing the presure and the workload and decreasing recreational time and extra-curricular activities... disparaging them in the procces as at best, a watse of preciious time.

With all the violence being perpetrated by members of the Charedi world (as shown in my last post) and with many people commenting that at least part of the reason has to do with Charedi dropouts with "too much time on thir hands", it is well worth one's time to read the words of Rabbi Horowitz.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Charedi Violence

A Rabbinic leader has sent me list of websites with a number of articles. Here some of the URLs and a excerpts:

“Three students were lightly injured when a stun grenade was thrown at the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak …The incident is believed to be the latest flare-up between warring rabbis and their followers in an ongoing power struggle for control of Ponevezh, a training ground for the intellectual elite of the Lithuanian yeshiva world.”

And I’ve already blogged about this:

"Two makeshift pipe bombs were found at the entrance to the home of yeshiva head Rabbi Haim Shlomo Leibowitz..."

And this:

" sexual abuse at a Jerusalem mikva, where, apparently homosexual acts between adult males is also common."

But, what about this?:

"Five Orthodox Jewish teens have been slammed with hate-crime charges in the brutal beating of a Pakistani immigrant in Brooklyn.
"They hit me in the face with brass knuckles four or five times while somebody held my hands," said the victim, Shahid Amber, 24, a gas station attendant. "Then they all beat and kicked me. They were screaming 'Muslim… (very stong expletive deleted).(Deleted) Muslim terrorists. Go back to your country.' "…Amber said the attack began after one of the group asked if he were Muslim and he answered yes. Amber's father, Umbar Islam, 56, described a brutal assault by boys in long black jackets, black pants and black hats.

And this?:

"After kinus many shluchim went to the main shul of Lubavitch and had a farbreingen - chassidic gathering. Some 25 Israeli students from tsfas felt that the shluchim have no right to be in the shul. So they tried shutting the lights and singing their theme song. This of course did not stop the gathering which had in attendance more than 2000 people. Finally these students decided to copy what their arab brothers do in israel and decided to throw benches chairs siddurim and the like at the gathering. Once they were being attacked many bochrim started fighting back and the 'outdated signs' were taken down from the wall. The Israeli students decided to launch a rocket at them so they launched a 500lb bench at some shluchim breaking ones leg. At that point the chabad central org. stepped in and called in for help from the shomrim and NYPD, after some time they managed to clear the entire building and control was handed to the central org."

And let's not forget the Gay Pride Charedi riots.

There is much to say about each one of these occurrences individually. There’s not enough time to write about each one. But they do all have one thing in common. It is so obvious that anyone with a half a brain can see it. All the perpetrators were is some way Charedi. Now before anyone goes about saying “I Told you this blog was all about bashing Charedim, I want to make it clear one more time (even though I know it won’t help) that I do not bash Charedim as a group. The vast majority do not do these kinds of things and are probably just as upset by it as I am. But what no one can do, is ignore the common features of: 1)violence and 2)Charedim. I really tired to find an article about violent MOs but I could not. And please don’t say I didn’t try hard enough or that the violence in some Religious Zionist circles is just as bad or worse. RZ does not equal MO.

The point to be made here (as I have in the past) is that if there is a common feature amongst these hooligans to be found it is they identify as Charedim of one sort or another. So why do I bring it up if not to bash them? One reason is because the fact that they have in common this one feature begs the question, “Why?” “Why is it always Charedim that utilize a gang or mob mentality?” Another reason is because many of these incidents happened recently.

I have suggested that it is a flaw in that portion of the Charedi educational system that is common to all of these factions, whether it is Charedim, Chasidim, or Lubavitch. I still think that is the case. I just want to re-iterate that the vast majority of Charedim do not learn to be violent in their schools and are not violent at all. Quite the contrary. But there is a problem and it is a Charedi one.

I’m not sure exactly what that flaw is but it must be there, since such violence seems to come… if not exclusively from these circles, at least it does come from Charedi circles the vast majority of the time.

I have suggested in the past a lack of emphasis on the Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chavero as a possible reason. But the problem is probably a lot more complex than that.

As I said, for the most part Charedi education does not preach violence. On the contrary. Charedi leadership is just a abhorred by it as I am. Perhaps even more so. But that does not absolve them of taking at least some of the responsibility far it. It would behoove them to have a major conference on this issue, analyze the problem, re-think their curricula and adjust it accordingly.

And they do have conferences which include the major rabbinic leaders. In fact they just had one recently in Israel on the subject of Tznius dress for Charedi women.

That’s really wonderful. I’m glad that subject was tackled with the full force of the Israeli rabbinic leadership. I guess we can all rest easy now. No more long Shaitels. Whew! All is well. Shalom Al Yisroel.

Shalom?! Really?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Yes, I said Tachanun today. It isn’t a significant day in the Torah world. But it ought to be... at least for those of us who live in America... even if we say Tachanun on that day. We have much to be thankful to this country for. But, in fact many educational institutions (though not all) either completely ignore it or actively disparage it. And of course they actively discourage any participation in this holiday!

They liken eating a Turkey with family and friends on Thanksgiving to Chukas HaGoy. But it isn’t. I know there are Teshuvos about this by various Poskim, but Rav Moshe did not Assur it, although he did say it was a Minhag Garua. My Rebbe, Rav Aaron, did not agree. If I am not mistaken he actually had turkey on Thanksgiving. Or, at least he did not oppose it in any way. I never did ask him about it, nor did I ever observe him eating dinner on that day, but it was widely known and talked about back in my Yeshiva days... that he had a positive attitude toward Thanksgiving.

For many years my family had always participated in a big family meal on this day which included turkey. (...not my personal favorite and thankfully there was usually other main courses available.) We all appreciated what this great country offers and what it has done for us in so many ways. What better way to show appreciation than to participate in this custom.

Although I haven’t had a big turkey dinner on this day in many years, I always encourage those who want to do that, to go ahead and enjoy the day and to certainly not feel guilty about it in any way.

There was in fact no religious origin to the holiday except that the early pilgrims being very “old testament” oriented chose to emulate the Yom Tov of Sukkos and celebrate their final harvest with a seudah expressing hakaras hatov. But it was never a religious ritual. There is nothing Christian about it. There is no ritual associated with it. It was nothing more than a "seudas hoda’ah" based on an aspect of Sukkos (Shmini Atzeres) to thank God for the bounty of their harvest.

One of the brightest minds in the world of Orthodoxy today is Rabbi Michael Broyde, a law professor at Emory University and a dayan for the RCA Bet Din (The Beth Din of America)

He has written a lengthy treatise on this subject which was excerpted here. I wish to just post his conclusions with which I whole-heartedly agree:

1) Thanksgiving is a secular holiday with secular origins;

2) While some people celebrate Thanksgiving with religious rituals, the vast majority of Americans do not;

3) Halakhah permits one to celebrate secular holidays, so long as one avoids doing so with people who celebrate them through religious worship; and

4) So long as one avoids giving the celebration of Thanksgiving the appearance of a religious rite (either by occasionally missing a year or in some other manner making it clear that this is not a religious duty) the technical problems raised by Rabbi Feinstein and others are inapplicable.

"Thus, Halakhah permits one to have a private Thanksgiving celebration with one's Jewish or secular friends and family. For reasons related to citizenship and the gratitude we feel towards the United States government, I would even suggest that such conduct is wise and proper."

Happy Belated Birthday to Emes Ve-Emunah

I just realized something. It actually just slipped by me and I missed it! This last Tuesday, November 21st is the first anniversary of Emes Ve-Emunah. I can’t believe it’s been a year already. Even more unbelievable is the fact that I haven’t run out of things to write about. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad one. But in any case...

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of my readers and commentors, both pro and con, who have helped to make this blog as successful as it has become. My goal was to create a forum for discussion on issues affecting the Torah world. It has allowed me to comment from my own particular perspective on these issues and generated a vigorous dialogue and debate.

And if the feedback I get privately from many readers is true, this blog has had a positive impact on them personally. And in some cases I have been told that there has been an impact on a much larger scale in the public arena.

And that makes it all worthwhile.

Ken Yirbu, and once again, thank you all.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Gay Pride Protests - A Post Mortem

[The following was written by a kindred spirit. It is a post mortem on the events that took place during the week that the Gay Pride was scheduled a couple of weeks ago. I post it here without attribution because I do not want anyone to get hung up on who said this "true" motives were. One should instead focus on what he says. His words are exactly right. - HM]

I'm delighted to have been out of Eretz Yisrael during the prelude to last week's scheduled Gay March of Pride. The closest I came to the action was the morning I could not get through to my office because the phone lines were down as a consequence of the previous night's fires.

The rioting revealed our community at its weakest. The mark of a Jew shaped by the Torah is the extent to which his sechel rules over his emotions and desires. That quality was notable primarily by its absence last week.

Using one's sechel requires matching means to goals, and recognizing that improper means can damage, sometimes irreparably, the best of causes. Even when the goal is achieved the damage caused by poorly chosen means can sometimes outweigh any possible gain.

An extreme response, for instance, almost inevitably ensures that one's message will be lost and the focus of public attention shift to the messenger and the impropriety of his actions. Prior to the onset of the rioting, many secular Jews viewed this particular march in this particular place as a deliberate affront to the sensibilities of Jerusalem 's residents.

But as soon as the garbage cans started going up in flames, all public discussion switched from the propriety of the parade to that of the response, and the chareidi community found itself on public trial. Many of the relevant governmental bodies opposed the parade for their own reasons, but they could not appear to be intimidated by threats of violence.

A massive demonstration, such as that against the Supreme Court's trampling on all religious values, would have made clear that the kedushah of Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael are not matters of indifference to the Torah community. And it would have enjoyed a great deal of public sympathy. But that sympathy was wantonly squandered.

Another aspect of sechel is the recognition that almost any course in life involves balancing competing values. In the case of the parade, for instance, the necessity of protesting the parade had to be weighed against the impact on the image of Torah in the world from the means chosen to make that protest. In addition, there is almost always a balance between short-term goals and long-range consequences. The capacity to keep both in mind is the hallmark of a person guided by his sechel.

All the gedolei Yisrael about whom I have written thought constantly about the image of Torah and Torah Jews in the world. It is hard to imagine that last week's rioters gave a moment's thought to such concerns. I'm old enough to remember the urban riots that swept across America in the early '60s. At the time, the most frequently asked question was: What kind of people burn down their own neighborhoods? Now, that question is being asked about those garbed as Torah Jews.

If the rioters were motivated solely by righteous zeal, they might at least have commanded some respect. But it is all too clear that their motivations lack the purity required of a Pinchas. When youth in Ramat Beit Shemesh stone Egged buses carrying other chareidi passengers because Egged has failed to institute separate seating – as if a public company were obligated to impose chareidi standards of tznius for reasons other than its own economic gain – can secular Jews be blamed for thinking that rock-throwing is a form of chareidi sport for which any pretext will do?

Yair Erlanger in Ha'aretz last Friday quoted one foreign student at a major Jerusalem yeshiva, "Its not so bad for the young people to enjoy themselves a little. The main thing is that the parade is stopped." Another told him, "We all have a common goal: to stop the parade and to have some fun." Apparently it did not occur to either of these young men, who were clearly delighted with their good fortune to be in Jerusalem at such an exciting time, that their talk of "enjoyment" and "fun" discredits the cause they support.

Besides the image of Torah Jewry, there was another victim last week: Klal Yisrael. The failures of the war in Lebanon engendered a great deal of soul-searching on the part of many Israelis. Yair Sheleg, writing in Ha'aretz of all places, argued that a decadent society is ill-equipped to confront ongoing threats to its existence. And Ari Shavit railed against the country's elites for having made money the measure of all things, and imagining that Tel Aviv requires no more of its citizens to survive than does Manhattan .

The societal elites, in Shavit's view, have destroyed all sources of national will, all belief in the justice of Israel 's cause. And, he argues, precisely upon such national will does Israel 's long-term security depend.

These secular writers have diagnosed the disease. But they can offer no cure, for national will is not a commodity that can be ordered off the shelf. Nor can it be reduced to another line in the budget law. No amount of money can create national will.

Nothing less that an account of why it matters whether the Jewish people continue to exist -- a description of our national mission, and how and why it is linked to the small sliver of land that we inhabit -- is required. Absent that Israelis with the talents and wherewithal to do so will opt for a less threatening place to live.

The Torah offers what secular Israel so desperately needs. Last week's events, however, make it less likely that secular Jews will seek the answers to their admitted spiritual malaise from us and not is some ashram in India . And that is a tragedy for all of us.

And for the Torah community, it is no less a tragedy that concepts like Kiddush Hashem and Klal Yisrael never entered the minds of last week's rioters. They are not even on their radar screen.

For the rest of us, it is time to ask: Why not?

[Update: I was a bit too quick to post this. It is posted at another very popular blog. But the message is so good that I am going to leave it up anyway.]

The Courage of His Convictions

I do not own the Tzitz Eliezer. This is a Halacha Sefer. It is quite large containing many volumes. It written by Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg. It is his magnum opus. Rabbi Waldenberg passed away yesterday at age 89.

He was truly a giant: A Posek par excellence. How do I know this? It’s really quite simple. First of all he had the kind of encyclopedic knowledge that no longer seems to exist today. But more important than his knowledge is what he did with it. He Paskined. And he did not fear the consequences of unpopular Psak. He actually ruled against Rav Moshe Feinstein whom many considered the Posek HaDor. And it is no small psak. It was in the very sensitve area of abortions.

In fact it was a Psak L’Kula permitting a late term abortion where Rav Moshe cllearly forbade it. He permitted aborting a baby even as late as the seventh month in cases when the embryo suffered from Tay-Sachs, Rubella and even Down Syndrome. According to the article in the Jerusalem post, Rav Moshe was not too pleased with this Psak, to say the least. It caused Rav Moshe to have a “caustic response”. But that did not deter this giant of a man.

And that is what makes him such a giant. He had the courage of his convictions. He understood the principle of “Lo BaShamayim He”. It didn’t matter that the psak was strongly rejected by the "Posek HaDor" and probably all other Poskim. His knowledge of Torah informed him that he was right. And he did not back down.

And that makes his passing much more significant than simply losing a Gadol, which is indeed a great loss in and of itself. The loss is so much more magnified by the fact that there is no one alive today that has that kind of courage. I doubt that any Posek today would permit abortions based on their own conclusions, if Rav Moshe had paskin’d that it was Assur.

Of course I realize that there are probably Poskim who have disagreed with Rav Moshe. But never on something of such great import as abortion. At least not L'Kula that I am aware of. So, in this sense, the loss is a tragedy of immense proportion. Because today it seems that there is no one on a level to disagree Rav Moshe L’Kula on these kinds of isues. No one would dare challenge his psak, except L’Chumra. That would take courage. And knowledge on a level that very few Poskim, if any have today.

So there you have it. Another giant of the pre-holocaust generation has died. And with both Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rav Ovadia Yosef in their nineties... well, who is like… unto them? No one!

This is yet another indication for me that history will record the holocaust era as "the big divide" ...similar to the divide between the Rishonim and Achronim.

I know the counter argument: We are now in the period of the Achronim. And all Achronim have a righ to argue with previous generations of Achronim. And that has always been the case. Did not the Chazan Ish Argue with the Chafetz Chaim? And in truth it is true that we may argue on any Achron. But in practice, I fear it is no longer the case.

What once was… is no more. Goodbye, Rav Waldenberg, ZTL. Klal Yisroel has lost a true Gadol. I will truly miss him. Baruch Dayan Ha-Emes.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Unlearning a Bias

There has been an important observation about the Baal Teshuva community made by Avakesh, a welcome newcomer to the world of blogging:

"Not everyone who wears a black hat here is a ben Torah". I found this warning to be very true. I encountered video rentals, childrearing habits that I couldn't believe, uninformed kashrus violations (a well meaning man, a tsaddik in many ways who did not recognize that there is an issue in using the same oven for milchigs and fleishigs) and other surprising deviation. There was an otherwise black hat family, for example, that induced their teenage yeshiva bochur son to volunteer for the summer in a non-Jewish camp in which a family member worked and also in a local public library. The thought of a teenage boy in the summer in that environement turns my stomach but these well meaning people saw not even a glimmer of a problem with it.

“Under the surface, there fester serious problems. They range from underground survival of secular attitudes to shallow understanding of the Torah, to serious psychological imperfections that are exacerbated by the wrenching effects of adjustments to the Torah lifestyle and abandonment of family and friends.”

Two of the most prominent Orthodox blogs blogs have posts about it. Hirhurim, and cross-currents. And I don’t think either of them has totally nailed the problem or the solution.

Hirhurim's Rabbi Gil Student said that he is basically unsure about it.

Cross-currents' Rabbi Yaakov Menken asks, “(W)hy spend the rest of the post accentuating the natural results of welcoming newcomers, and treating them like a problem instead of signs of success?” The answer is quite clear. There is a problem. And it needs to be addressed. Here is my perspective.

Yes, there are imperfections in the world of the Baal Teshuva (BT). And yes, as both Avakesh and cross-currents said, we should happy about the tremendous number of Jews who have returned to their roots. But there is a problem and ignoring it won’t make it go away.

I was born into a Frum family (FFB) I do not have the benefit of knowing what goes on in the deepest recesses of a BT’s mind. I suppose that there are common attributes that are shared by many BTs. But those attributes are not the cause of the problem. Part of the responsibility rests with those who were Mekarev them.

The individual perspective of the Kiruv organization or individual impacts on all of what one has learned in life up to that point. And there is wide divergence of Hashkafos between all the Kiruv organizations and individuals who work with potential BTs. They all emphasize different things. A BT learns behavior that often reflects the specifics of the Kiruv organization or worker. That’s why for example in certain Kiruv circles, a black hat is put on before a sufficient knowledge of Shabbos and Kashrus is learned. The Kiruv worker will often emphasize the “bells and whistles” of his own Hashkafos as much as the important Halachos. And in some cases, the bells and whistles have been emphasized more than Halacha. It would behoove these Kiruv organizations to re-think the priorities of what they teach.

Another facet of the problem has to do with individual abilities by various BTs to learn about Torah Judaism. This will often depend on which point in life a BT begins the learning process. Also, (with rare exception) the later one comes to Torah Judaism the more one has to unlearn behavior and attitudes that have been learned and accumulated from environment from which they came. Mistakes are easily made by those newly learning how to observe Halacha. The practice of Judaism is a very difficult thing to learn.

But it isn’t only Baalei Teshuva who make mistakes. There is much Halacha that can be misinterpreted even by the most learned FFB among us, let alone someone new to the enterprise. No one is immune from making an error in Halacha, even in the relatively universally observed areas of Kashrus and Shabbos, the two most significant “tags” of Orthodox observance. Yet the FFB is far more concerned about the error of a BT then he is about his own error or that of his FFB neighbor. This is something the FFB should really think about before casting aspersions on a BT's level of observance.

I think this might be related to a factor which though it exists, is exaggerated by the FFB community. And it is a serious problem. Some people come to the observance for other than altruistic reasons. Those reasons are so varied that it would probably take a book to describe them all. Just to cite a few:

There are people with emotional problems, people from abusive backgrounds, and people with personality problems. We accept all comers, as we should. But one who works in Kiruv must be careful. In some cases there are people with problems so severe that they need psychiatric help and should never be handled by a Kiruv worker alone. This is very important. And if one encounters such a BT, it adds to the myth. And it is often generalized to the entire BT population. But it is a myth. The social misfit is the exception not the rule. This cannot be emphasized enough.

Fears that the origins ot the typical BT is rooted in social dysfunction lead many an FFB to distance himself from a BT. Shuiduchim are a good example of where such attitudes have an impact. It is rare for an FFB parent to encourage a child to date and eventually marry a BT. Shadchanim usually try and avoid making Shiduchim between FFBs and BTs. This is no doubt due to some of the stereotypical views that Shadchnim and FFB parents have about BTs coming from dysfunctional life situations.

The biggest “pitfall” is not them.. It is… ‘us’. Can the FFB truly accept the BT as one of their own? Indeed, many a BT has told me that they never feel fully accepted. In part it is because they feel a lack of knowledge. But more importantly, it is because of the above mentioned commonly held misperceptions. That is the real problem. Some of those perceptions are accurate, some only partially accurate, but mostly they are totally false! But the image is, never-the-less perpetuated by the unfair but common stereotype. The thinking by the FFB who is averse to a child dating an FFB is that something terrible will happen if a Shiddach with a BT goes through. The differences in background are too great. The negative background will at some point rear its ugly head. And as long as there is this level of “standoffishness” there can be no real improvement in the situation Avakesh describes.

This attitude that must change. While some of these fears are legitimate, an individual’s character is far more important. I will take the character of a sincere BT who came to Torah searching for Emes anytime(!) over that of a FFB who operates out of rote behavior. That is my role model. The BT may be missing some of the “perks” of the FFB but those perks are not important, in my view. Halacha can be learned. It is sincerity that matters more then where one comes from.

And this is one thing that far too many of the FFB world has yet to understand. One of my closest friends is a BT. In fact I know quite a few BTs that are good friends. And I am in awe of all of them. They came to Torah through a search for Emes.

Torah Jewry needs to unlearn their biases and learn to love his fellow Jew for what he is, not for what he was... and to recognize Baalei Teshuva for the role models they are. The BT who is a social misfit is the exception not the rule. If we can achieve complete integration into the Torah world of all Baalei Teshuva, the problems described by Avakesh will disappear.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Reuven is in Recovery

The surgery was deemed a success by all doctors in involved. To put it the way one of them did, things went even better than expected. Reuven should be conscious but groggy very soon. The tumor is OUT! …Thank God!

Now the healing begins. And in about 2 weeks the chemo-therapy resumes. Barring any unexpected complications, God forbid,. I will not be posting an update for awhile. I will update when there is news, which hopefully will be all good.

But I do want to take this opportunity again to thank the hard working, kind and dedicated doctors, both oncologists and surgeons... as well as the nurses who have literally put their heart into this case.

I would also like to thank once again all those who have been praying for Reuven and keeping him and my family in your hearts. Words alone are not enough to express the gratitude my family and I have for all that you have done. God listens to our prayers.

“Blessed is HaShem Who listens to our prayers.” This phrase is repeated three times a day in the Shmoneh Esreh. I have never had more Kavanah than I have right now when I say those words. The same is true for the three times a day I say the words from Refoenu which for me, now include the “Yehi Ratzon” with Reuven’s name.

One cannot know how God will answer one’s prayers, but we know he listens and we pray that he answers our prayers in the positive way we desire. So far this has been the case for us. And my family and I cannot be more thankful to God and to all whose efforts in deed and in prayer have made it happen thus far. So whatever everyone has been doing… if you can, please keep doing it. IT’S WORKING!

And it ain’t over yet.

Seperating the Sexes in the Classroom

There is within Modern Orthodoxy a tendency to prefer mixed sex classes for the education of their children. I have written about this before. I am against it in principle. As I’ve said many times, the benefit to be had by the socialization process, which admittedly is a real benefit, is far outweighed by the downside that is almost a certain result of such classes in far too many instances.

In the younger grades, I think it should be mandatory to have mixed classes, at least through first grade and perhaps second. The calming influence that girls have on the boys is a very strong positive that is outweighed by any possible Tznius learning considerations at age 6 or 7 and under.

But in the upper grades of elementary school and more importantly in high school, the possibility of inappropriate behavior between boys and girls is very great. The lack of maturity and the onset of newly gained hormonal activity is a “deadly” combination, which young teenagers often don’t know how to handle when confronted with feelings often developed at this age.

And it isn’t as though all possibility for learning how to interact with members of the opposite sex is lost by separating the sexes in the classroom. There is ample other opportunity for learning how to socialize. It can be done outside the classroom such as in Bnei Akiva. Although Bnei Akiva might also foster a bit too much contact at this age. Learning how to interact with theopposaite sex can also be done at a Kiddush in Shul on Shabbos... or in the context of the home and family setting when parents invite their friends with similar age children of the opposite sex to a Shabbos or Yom Tov meal. This is how my own children learned it. It also helps if one has opposite sex siblings... but of course there is no way to gaurantee that. In short it is prudent to minimize daily contact. But occasional contact should be allowed in that it does help one attain the proper social graces that are necessary when one begins dating, and in general it teaches one how to behave in the culture in which we live.

So, I am opposed to total separation of the sexes. Unless you are a Chasid. Chasidic lives are so strictly formatted that Shidduchim are rarely based on how well a young couple know how to act with each other. (Although I’ll bet that some minimal contact even by Chasidim would be beneficial. But that’s not my call, just my advice.) But in Non Chasidic circles, total separation is counter productive. If a young male teen has no sisters or vice versa then extreme separation means that there is virtually no appropriate socializing learned. Such young people are at a great disadvantage. They have no clue how to behave with the opposite sex. And I don’t think the social graces should be treated as lightly as they are in some circles.

But I digress. The point I wanted to make here is that the mixed classroom is not only detrimental to matters of Erva and Tznius. It is also detrimental to learning. When I last wrote about it, I was disputed by studies that showed this to be only partially true. But here is yet another study that shows this to be true. From an editorial in the Chicago Tribune last Shabbos:

“Three years ago, administrators at Woodward Avenue Elementary School in DeLand, Fla., noticed that the boys were lagging behind the girls on academic achievement tests. Hoping to stop the slide, Woodward gave parents the choice of enrolling their youngsters in single-gender classrooms.”

“Test results from the first year of Woodward's experiment showed significant gains for pupils in the single-gender classes. In some grades, those pupils continue to outperform their counterparts in traditional classrooms.”

“Woodward's decision was based on research that suggests the brains of girls and boys develop differently. Girls tend to learn better in environments that are more quiet and orderly. Boys tend to learn better when they're freer to roam about.”

Anyone seen Lawrence Summers?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Dek Tichel

There has been a discussion on The Areivim E-mail List about the value of something called a Dek Tichel. A Dek Tichel is the Yiddish phrase for an opaque bridal veil. It is used mostly by Chasidic brides. The purpose, I assume is to make the Kalla more Tznius. Since everyone looks at the Kalla as she walks down the aisle I suppose Chasidim feel that an extra measure Tznius is called for.

The problem is that it is becoming more common in non-Chasidic weddings. I attend a great number of wedding during the year and the more Yeshivish the wedding, the more one will see an opaque, or near opaque veil.

This is just one more example of the “Chasidization” of Torah Judaism. And nowhere is that more apparent than at weddings. The increasingly wide spread use of Dek Tichlels goes right along with other such Chumros adopted from Chasidim. Like the Kalla not going into the men’s dance for Keitzad Merakidim. This too is now almost gone from the Yeshivishe world.

This was once an automatic occurrence in the Yeshiva world. Now it is the rarest of occurrences. And that’s too bad because the best dancing by the men usually occurs when the Kalla comes over to see the men dance. Telzer Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller is an exceptional dancer who’s dancing really perks up when the Kala comes over. But this is now rare. It is reserved mostly for the “less Yeshivish” and the modern Orthodox. This new “Chumra” also comes from Chasidim.

Chasidim never allow the Kalla into the men’s side. In fact the Sheva Brachos at Bentching are very awkward at such weddings since the Kalla has to sort of come over to the Mechitza and sort of hang out there so she can hear the Sheva Brachos. Satmar… Lubavitch… it doesn’t matter. Women are forbidden on the men’s side even for bentching,.including the Kalla. And at the weddings of children of Chasidic Rebbes… well if the wedding is large enough, the women, including the Kalla are in an entirely different building!

And these aren’t the only Chasidic Minhagim that the Yeshiva world has adopted. I have written about this before. Mixed seating is another such custom dropped by the Yeshiva world in favor of sepearte seating. Mixed seating was the norm in pre- holocaust Lithuania. It is now non-existent in the Yeshiva world of today. All these Minhagim and probably a few others that I can’t think of at the moment stem from Chasidim. I have discussed mixed seating at length and will not do so here.

This brings me back to the Dek Tichel. What exactly is accomplished by wearing it? If indeed it is Tznius that Chasidim are concerned with, how do they explain the Mitzvah Tanz? (This is one Chasidic Minhag I am sure that the Yeshiva world will not adopt.) The Kalla does not wear a Dek Tichel while she stands in front of hundreds (and in the case of Chasidic Rebbes, thousands) of men while her uncles, brothers, father in law, father, and Chasan dances with her. Where is the Tznius concern there? She is the focus of attention more at a Mitzvah Tanz than she is under the Chupah or walking down the aisle with her parents!

I have heard that some women actually prefer that they be covered because it affords them more privacy at that moment. Some Kallas get very emotional and prefer that no one sees them. The problem is that she has to be seen… by the Eidim (witnesses). Without their witnessing the moment of Kedushin, the marriage is not valid! I have seen Lithuanian Roshei Yeshiva fore the Kalla to lift the opaque veil so the Eidm can see the Kalla. If that isn’t awkward, I don’t know what is. But in Chasidic weddings, the Eidim do not even see the Kalla’s face. When asked about that, Chasidim say, “the Eidim know that she is the Kalla… who else is it wearing that white gown?” But the fact remains that her face remains hidden from the witnesses. Shouln’t one be more Macmir with respect to the Hlachic requirement of witnesses than one is with respect to such an “over-the-top” chumra of Tznius?

And what about the fact that she is walking almost completely blinded by that opaque veil? I have often seen a Kalla trip because she can’ see where she is going. If it were not for the parents “catching” her fall, she would be flat on her face… or worse! And shouldn’t the Kalla have a right to see what’s happening at the most important part of the wedding, the Chupah? At should at least be up to her whether she should have to wear a Dek Tichel or a sheer one. It really pains me to see some Kallos indoctrinated to believe that the Dek Tichel is a preferred veil. But that’s the trend. And it is to no good purpose that I can see.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Reuven’s Next Milestone: The Miracle of Modern Day Surgery

No, this is not the recruitment poster for the Ku Klux Klan. The “K” is for Kirshner, their last name. The KKK stands for the Kirshner Kleeining Krew. It was part of the Purim fun they had last year. I wanted to post a picture of what Reuven's entire family looked like in calmer times. The truth is that my daughter and her family are handling this quite well and if a similar picture were taken today, they would be smiling just as brightly.

This coming Monday morning, November 20th, Reuven will embark on the most traumatic portion of his treatment: major surgery. A cancerous growth like the one Reuven has requires surgical removal. And this is not a simple matter in Reuven’s case. The tumor is embedded in the left humerous, the bone of the left upper arm. Excising the tumor means removal of the bone it is attached to. In the past this has meant amputation.

But this, God willing will not be Reuven’s fate. In order to retain his arm and the full use thereof, he will require an extraordinarily complex surgery that is so rare, it has never been performed in the entire Midwest. In fact one of the surgeons who will perform it, Dr. Boyer, has traveled to Italy in to consult with a doctor there who has performed a handful of surgeries like this on children and to observe the procedure there. Dr. Boyer has performed this procedure on adults but never on a child.

It will be an eight hour procedure. There will be two surgeons in effect performing two surgeries on Reuven. One surgeon, Dr. McDonald, will work on the arm and Dr. Boyer on the leg. The arm will have the entire portion of the bone that has the tumor attached… sectioned out. Dr Boyer, will remove the fibula (one of the two leg bones… the thinner one) from one of Reuven’s legs. It will be cut to size and grafted to the arm in the two places it was cut.

This surgery, made all the more delicate because of Reuven’s age and size, entails carefully reattaching blood vessels and nerves if normal use is to be achieved. There is also the matter of the growth gradient of the bone in the arm versus the leg. Doctors will have to insure that the growth plate remain intact when they cut the fibula down to size. We have been told that the growth gradient of the fibula will convert to the growth gradient of the arm achieving a normal rate of growth to a normal arm size. This truly shows both the wonder of God’s creation and the wonder of modern medicine. The leg bone should actually become the arm bone if the surgery is done right. The arm should be fully functional achieving normal usage. Simply amazing!

The arm should require no permanent cast. The leg will require a cast for a six to eight week period. Reuven should be able to start walking in about two weeks. The leg, too, should achieve full and normal usage.

Reuven will require a three to four day stay in the hospital. Two weeks later the chemotherapy should resume.

This is a lot for Reuven to handle. He has been handling his illness quite well up to this point. This one will be a real hurdle… for him, for his parents, brothers, and grandparents. He still needs our teffilos. Please continue to keep him your prayers and in your hearts this Monday.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Arrogance of Daas T.O.R.A.H.

I do not know the gentleman who goes by the pseudonym of T.O.R.A.H. Nor do I know any of the other people who comment on my blog who use pseudonyms. And although I would prefer that people use their real names because that would entail a bit more civility, I understand the desire for anonymity. There is a benefit to it. There are consequences for their words. Controversial thoughts and questions would not be expressed. Anonymity gives one the courage to state their convictions and allows for a full expression thereof.

But it also shows one’s true character. There is no holding back. If one is of unrefined character or has no sense of Kavod HaBriyos, they can truly speak their mind and be disparaging in the process. And if an individual pseudonym gets pegged too negatively, well… just change the name and start over. No consequences for controversial opinions. No consequences for arrogance. I would call it the “Walter Mitty” effect. An individual can become something he normally is not. Depending on one's character, a shy and reticent personality can become a clever and engaging one or a boisterous and obnoxious one. Ad hominems? No problem.

On the negative side, since there are no consequences for what one says no matter how outrageous, one can use any manner of expression no matter how derogatory or degrading. Such individuals, by showing their true character lose nothing. Normal inhibitions are completely shed and the true person comes out. In fact I could argue that anonymity in the blog world is better at revealing true character than through the B’Kiso, B’Kaso, uV’Koso that the Gemarah in Brachos tells us about revealing true character.

This brings me back to Mr. T.O.R.A.H. There are some people that are so arrogant that they choose names like T.O.R.A.H. or Meishiv K’Halacha. As if to say that only they represent Torah and Halacha. They have the inside track. It is their view and no one else’s that count.

It is interesting to note that both these gentleman are very much in the Charedi camp. I don’t know how either of them would describe themselves, but it is obvious from their comments that they reflect the most right wing of Charedi viewpoints. They can deny that they are Charedi in their Hashkafa all they wish but their words speak louder than any protest they may make. But I suspect that they consider themselves Charedi anyway. The arrogance of their comments is often quite evident. It is they and those with like views whom they claim represent Torah and Halacha, and no one else. By using a names like T.O.R.A.H. or Meishiv K'Halacha the implication is that those who disagree with them are arguing against the Torah itself. Of course that is not true at all. In fact, for the record, I know many Charedim that agree more with me than they do with either of these gentlemen. And some of the names would be quite recognizable and perhaps even surprising to many who read this blog.

Now I have no problem with these people continuing to comment on my blog. In fact I welcome them and encourage them to continue. Debate brings clarity. But the arrogance is clear and must be noted. And it should further be noted that their views are not the exclusive views of Torah and Halacha, even though they have claimed it to be so in some of their comments. (More arrogance). They are only one very narrow right wing point of view.

I don’t recall any Centrist using a pseudonym like that. I think that is probably because we Centrists know that our Hashkafos are but one perspective. We know that we have no monopoly of Torah and Halacha. We know that there are other legitimate perspectives, even if the are Charedi. Do I think my views are superior? Of course I do. I wouldn’t have those views if I didn’t.

But I respect the views of the right even though I sometimes disagree and question those views. And when I note that sometimes bad behavior is found to be exclusively by Charedi participants as was the case in the recent anti gay parade riots, I point that out. But I have equally criticized my share of bad behavior on the part of Religious Zionists and the Modern Orthodox as well. Criticism is not bashing. It is criticism. It would be nice if people like T.O.R.A.H. knew the difference. It is meant to improve our behavior as Jews, not as any subset of Jews. In the end there is no real subset. We are all one people trying to do the will of God the best way we know how.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Lonely Man of Faith: The Movie

Let me join R. Gil in plugging this new documentary. This one really looks worthwhile. As the review in the Boston Jewish Advocte says:

“Lonely Man of Faith,” directed and co-written with impressive balance and clarity by Ethan Isenberg, is a rich testament to the amazing achievements of the unique Torah and Talmud scholar known as the Rav."

As of yet, it is not scheduled for Chicago. I hope it will be. I'd be very interested in seeing it.

Maybe they can show it at the Agudah convention?

Time for Agudah To Widen The Tent

One of the many goals that I have is to achieve true Achdus in Klal Yisroel. To that end I have written an article addressing this issue as a message to Agudah.

It is published in this week's "Jewish Press" and timed to precede the upcoming Agudah convention. And it contains many of the thoughts and ideas I have written about here in the past. Those who read this blog regularly will recognize that. It can be found here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Manipulating Gedolim

I’m not exactly sure what happened here. But once again I find myself questioning the pronouncements of Gedolim and the circumstances surrounding them. I say this knowing full well that the Gedolim in question here are of the highest integrity. And in the case of the Gadol involved in this issue, Rav Elyashiv, I know few other Rabbanim alive today that come anywhere near him in Gadlus. Perhaps Rav Ovadia Yosef. Rav Elyashiv is one of the last remaining Gedolim of what I like to call the “last generation” of Gedolim whom I believe belong to another era… an era that I think history will record as distinct and separate from ours as was the era of Rishonim from Achronim.

And this makes it very difficult for me to question the pronouncement he made. But, I have no choice. The issue involved is so difficult …and so demanding of finding a solution that it pains me every time I hear about someone thwarting attempts to do so.

For those not familiar with it, there was a conference organized by a group calling themselves “The International Council of Jewish Women”. They represent 52 women's organizations in 47 countries. The purpose of the conference was to deal with the problems of Agunos. It was a long time in the making and was to take place last week. I’m not sure whether it did or didn’t. But is was going to be a landmark occasion because Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar had agreed to participate in the conference.

As I understand it, this is the first time a major rabbinic figure of international stature had agreed to do so. It is also my understanding that his participation entailed no commitment on his part except to try and find new Halachic means for solving these problems. The purpose was exploratory. It was intended to be a kind of brainstorming about how to solve one of the most serious problems affecting the Torah world today.

But in a last minute decision (it seems) Rav Elayshiv asked Rabbi Amar to cancel his participation.

Why? What possible reason could there be for doing that? As I understand it, Rav Elayshiv gave his blessing to the event up until the last minute at which time he was persuaded to withdraw his support. What happened? I don’t know and can only speculate. But if history is any teacher, and considering that he changed his mind in the last minute, I am fairly certain that he was manipulated into to doing so by his Askanim.

This is very sad development. I’m not sure where this falls on the scale of importance in Torah Judaism. Nor do I know whether this cancellation is of the same significance as the ban on Rabbi Slifkin’s books on the science and Torah, or the ban on Rabbi Kaminetsky’s book on Gedolim. But the issue of Agunos is huge. The impact of their situation upon Agunos and their families can be devastating and last a lifetime. And there is the obvious problems of creating Mamzerim in cases where Rabbanim Paskin improperly in these cases.

I’m not exactly sure why these Asakanim do it. Perhaps they are L’shma. I don’t know. But the damage being done to Klal Yisroel in this instance as well as the others I mentioned cannot be glossed over. Nor can the damage being done to Kavod HaTorah by these kinds of edicts, especially when they are last minute. Whatever the motives of those who persuaded Rav Elyashiv to rescind his support was… the damage done probably far outweighs their reasons.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Results Are In

I just received a call from my Daughter Tova moments ago that I want to share. The CT scan on Reuven’s lung showed no recurrence of the tumor there. The MRI on his arm showed significant shrinkage of that tumor. This is really very good news. The Chemo-therapy seems to be working. We are truly grateful to HaShem Yisborach for all His kindness to our family. And we are truly grateful to all those whose Teffilos helped make these results possible. God truly does listen to our prayers.

Although the news is very good, obviously Reuven is not out of the woods yet. He will still need a very complex surgery and a great deal more chemo-therapy lasting well into the summer. So any and all Teffilos are truly appreciated.

Next up: Surgery. More about this later in the week.

The Only Thing Missing...

Avodah Zara is the only one of the three Yehoreg v’Al Yaavors missing. It seems that the other two are alive and well in the Olam Ha Yeshivos and Charedim.

What in the world is going on?

I just saw this at “Yeshiva World” which I believe is one of the more responsible blogs. If their theories about this being an escalation in the Machlokes in Ponevezh are correct, then all hope is lost. I will of course reserve final judgment on this until all the facts are known. But if there is even a hint of truth to this, what is there to say? Is this just an extension of the Kanaus amongst some of those involved in that Machlokes? Are Yeshiva Bachurim no longer beneath murder?

And Charedim are worried about how their daughters wear their hair?!

I whole heartedly agree with "Yeshiva World": “Why aren’t there any Hafganos to be Moicha for Kavod Hatorah?! Where are all the “Hafganah goers” now?”

And as if that wasn’t enough, I now read about a gay Mikva in the Jeruslaem district of Geula?! It seems that a trustworthy witness saw it in action, quite by accident. He needed a Mikva and went to the one in Geula. Imagine his surprise and outrage.

Apparently this happened about a year ago and he wrote a letter to the Edah HaCharedis at the time protesting it:

"(Amongst other things, he wrote) in his letter about how the Gabai of Skver was raping young boys, and the rebbe knew about it, but he did nothing to stop it, because the gabai knew all of their secrets ETC…."

The writer of that letter received an unbelievably tepid response:

“The (response) …from the Bedatz, simply states, they will apoint a gaurd (Only on erev shabbos and yom tov) to make sure it doesn't happen again.”

Is this how some of our rabbinic leaders operate? They refuse to give specific Brachos to the IDF because it would imply support fot the Medina. But a deviant bath-house operating in Geula? … Nisht Geferlach.

How true is this accusation? Read on.

I spoke to Rav Rosenberg. He told me the letter is 100% accurate. He was thwarted by the Edah who refused to shut down this "Mikvah of Molesation". It grosses $500,000 dollars annually for the Edah HaCharedis. He also told me that he was thwarted in his efforts to do anything about it by …one Rav Davidovich… who is head of something called the Vaad Mishmeres Tznius.

When this Vaad was at first approached by Rav Rosenberg, he was told they had no authority since the Mikvah was under the jurisdiction of the Edah. He also told me that this Vaad whose mission it is to prevent boys and girls from eating a Pizza together in a restaurant, thwarted his efforts to close down this “Mikvah of molestation” with 18 people confronting him.

But, Rav Rosenberg has photographic evidence taken with his cell phone of this behavior. He saw a seventy year old man and a 6 year old boy. All the acts he described in the published letter to the Edah are accurate.

Many different types of people use this Mikvah and have been victimized there. Many of the victims are currently under psychiatric care. The Edah’s response was to put a Shomer there on Fridays and on Erev Yom Tovim. They refuse to close down the place.

God help us. Murder by Yeshiva students and child molestation by Charedi Mikva users cannot be tolerated. What will it take for this stuff to stop?

Updated: 10:52 CST

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Shaitel

One of the first subjects I wrote about when I began this blog was about women covering their hair. I am not going to rehash the points I made there. What I will say now is that hair covering is one of those Halachos I find most difficult to understand. And the way it is practiced in the Charedi community seems to be completely counter to the intent of Halacha. This became very apparent to me during my recent stay in the Charedi community of Ramat Bet Shemesh.

But before I get to that, let me explain a bit about what I believe to be the intent of the Halacha of hair covering for women and the way it is practiced by various segments of Orthodox Jewry.

For single women, there is no Halacha to cover hair. The Halacha is strictly for married women. An unmarried woman of any age may walk around in public with her hair completely uncovered. This is true even amongst the most Charedi of Jews. But when a woman gets married, she is required to cover her hair. And there are various differing types of Psak as to how one must do this.

One of the most common ways of doing this is by wearing a Peah Nachris, commonly called by its Yiddish name, Shaitel (wig). Most Poskim hold that Shaitels are permissible. Indeed Shaitels are not a new phenomenon. The Gemarah actually discusses them as a method of covering hair.

There are some Poskim, however, who say that this is not a permissible way of hair covering for a woman. They see it as defeating or undermining the purpose. But they also hold that as long as most of the hair is covered, that is sufficient. Married women may therefore leave a small portion of their hair uncovered. As I understand it this is the Psak of Religious Zionist Poskim. Hair coverings in this community are often of the scarf variety, (Tichels, snoods, hats, etc.)

On the other end of the spectrum, certain Chasidim are so concerned about exposing even a single strand of hair that the married women are encouraged or even required to shave their heads. Some of those communities only allow Shaitels when worn together with a hat, as is the Satmar custom. I assume this is for Maaras Ayin purposes… just in case someone mistakes the wig for real hair.. Some extreme Chasidic communities do not allow Shaitels at all but insist the married women wear specially designed hats to cover their shaved heads.

Lubavitch holds that no hair at all may be exposed and frowns on most hair coverings that are commonly used since there is always a bit of real hair showing. For this reason they prefer wigs since that covers all of the hair. They are not worried about Maras Ayin.

But even though most Poskim allow Shaitels, there are differences between them about the parameters of what is kind of Shaitel is permissible. On the most Mekil end of the spectrum, there are Poskim who allow a few strands of woman’s hair to be pulled out and combined with the Shaitel to make it look as natural as possible. On the Machmir side, one Posek that I am aware of (…and I’m sure there are others) says that if the wig looks too much like real hair, then it is forbidden because it is counterproductive to the intent of the Halacha.

As such he insists that women not be allowed to “cover up” the tell-tale signs that show the Shaitel to be a wig. For example, the most tell-tale sign that one is wearing a wig is the front of the wig. If one looks at it, one can see that there is no hairline but a “wig” line on the forehead. This Posek says that a woman is not allowed to wear a scarf over that wig-line to cover it up.

Another problem for these Poskim is the custom Shaitel. There are some very expensive wigs out there that are so good, even an expert would have a hard time detecting whether a woman is wearing a Shaitel or not. These Poskim would Assur custom wigs.

But I think most Poskim permit them because it is within the letter of the law and forcing such stringencies upon women would be counter-productive. Many women would then find it too difficult to keep this Mitzvah. These amazing custom wigs are a great incentive for women who have difficulty covering their hair after they get married.

Which brings me back to the observation I made on my rcent trip to Israel.

The married women in this very Charedi portion of Ramat Bet Shemesh were wearing custom wigs that looked like actual hair. I’m pretty good at spotting wigs. I could not tell. I believe that only the most sophisticated of experts could tell these women were wearing Shaitels. Couple with the beautiful Shabbos and Yom Tov clothing they were wearing, and many of these young wives were actually stunningly beautiful!

But in this same community, the young unmarried girls, starting at about the age of 11 or 12, are not allowed to wear… or at least strongly discouraged from wearing… their hair in any other style except a pony-tail. The hair is all pulled back and tied up in the back of the head. This has the effect of making them all look very plain. Starting from about 6th or 7th grades all the way through high school, these young girls not only all pull their hair into a pony-tail, they wear very unflattering uniforms. And after high school they continue to have that very plain, I would say, almost unattractive look. I suppose the point of all that is Tznius. Parents do not want their daughters to look provocative and wearing a hairstyle that is fashionable and flattering combined with fashionable clothing would cross some kind of Tznius line.

So what we end up having is something quite the opposite of what the Halacha intended. I presume one of the reasons that single girls are not required to cover their hair is because they need to get married and have to look more attractive to potential Shiduchim. Married women, on he other hand, are discouraged from being attracting in their look.

But the Charedi world has gone so askew in this regard that the exact opposite is happening. Married women end up looking like real knockouts while single women look dowdy.

And everybody seems just fine with that, in the Charedi world, at least as constitued in Ramat Bet Shemesh. And I don’t get that!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Next Up: An MRI and CT Scan

This coming Monday is an important one in Reuven’s treatment. For the first time since his chemotherapy began, he will be tested to see if it has had any positive effect. He will be undergoing an MRI and a CT scan on the area of his lung where a small growth was found and removed and on his upper left arm where a larger growth on his bone was found and not yet removed. The hope is that this tumor has been reduced on the bone and that there has been no recurrence of it on the lung. Doctors tell us that it will be a good sign if at least there has been no recurrence on the lung and there has not been an increase in the size of tumor on the bone. Of course if there is a reduction in the size of the tumor that will give us even more hope. The greater the reduction the more hopeful we can be.

Since I last posted about my grandson, Reuven ben Tova Chaya, we have been in touch with Dr. Leonard H. Wexler of Sloan Kettering. He is a pediatric oncologist specializing in treating children with bone and soft tissue sarcomas. He is considered to be one of the top professionals in his field. And he also happens to be an Orthodox Jew. He assured us that Reuven is in good hands and the treatment he is getting in St. Louis is exactly the same he would be getting at Sloan Kettering. We are encouraged by that.

The MRI and CT scan results are a source of tremendous anxiety to us. We are praying for good results. And we know that Teffilos are heard by God. This Monday is a big day and we ask that all those who are praying for Reuven, also keep in mind what is happening on that day and what Reuven needs. We continue to be grateful to all the many people who have been Davening for Reuven and keeping him in your hearts.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Police Brutality

It looks like the parade has been called off …or at least moved to another location. And the Charedi protests that had been planned have been called off as well. The new venue will be the Hebrew University stadium at Givat Ram. This is a positive development. Obviously.

But it should be noted that all the violence perpetrated by so many Charedi hooligans had little if anything to do with it. It was the parade organizers themselves who suggested the change in light of a high security alert declared by the government due to military action in Gaza which killed 19 Palestinians.

It is now prudent to reflect upon what all this violence has wrought. I don’t think I need to rehash my last post on this subject. But one thing that has happened has not yet been touched upon: Police brutality.

Normally I am the first to defend the police who are simply trying to do their jobs. But in the highly charged atmosphere of Jerusalem of the past few days, there has certainly been more than one occasion where police went too far.

I have been told about one such incident by a reliable source. Apparently one Charedi Yeshiva student, who was sitting quietly in his apartment looking into a Sefer, suddenly had the police burst into his room, grabbed, slammed against the wall, and virtually beaten to a pulp. He was then arrested and taken to jail.

A holocaust survivor (I believe it was his aunt) who witnessed the whole thing said that in her worst days in a concentration camp, she did not see this level of brutality. The bruises this innocent young man received will take months to heal, according to his doctors.

This young man was not involved in any way in any of the demonstrations. He is a non-violent individual. But he was treated worse than a sexually deviant serial killer about to commit another rape and murder!

There is no excuse for such treatment. This kind of brutality cannot be allowed to go unpunished. There has to be an independent investigation into acts like this. And it is my understanding that there were many other incidents similar to this one. I have received numerous emails with stories very similar to this one. As bad as such a parade would have been, and as bad as was the violence that erupted because of it making it even worse, the police brutality makes that horrible situation an even worse one.

But I cannot simply say that the police decided to just start attacking Charedi Jews. That isn’t what happened. The case I cited above cannot be looked at in a vacuum. There is a context here. Charedim were committing violent acts and endangering lives. They were probably taunting police in the process. The police are human beings… trained to respond in kind to violence. And they did so. So what ever blame is to be placed on the police for such violent, and even sadistic brutality, one cannot ignore those who were responsible for bringing the police into it in the first place. It was the violent protestors… throwing rocks at innocent bystanders, setting dumpsters and police cars ablaze, blocking streets… that forced a police response. No doubt the police in the event I cited were chasing down some hooligan who went into that apartment building. It is also likely they thought that the fellow had ducked into that apartment, sat down and feigned having been there the whole time. They didn’t buy that and proceeded to brutalize what turned out to be an innocent young man.

I don’t know if this is actually what happened. I am speculating. But it is not an unlikely scenario. Nor does it excuse what the police did. And they have to answer for it. This must never be allowed to happen in a Jewish state again. It is beyond outrage.

But it is the Charedi rioters themselves who must share some of the responsibility for this brutality. They have brought shame upon themselves and the Torah community from which they come. Innocent people have gotten hurt …some directly and some indirectly as was the case here. And they should be taken to task for it.

But I doubt that they will. Because as part of the agreement to call off the protests, the delegation of Charedi leaders asked that all anti-parade protesters who have been arrested in recent days be released. While I think that there are probably a lot of innocent people arrested, like this fellow in this incident, there are probably a lot more who deserve being locked up. Unfortunately it looks like the guilty will go free with the innocent.

If I were in a position to do anything about it, I would make sure that those who were responsible for the violence were prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. No blanket amnesty. I would throw the book at them. But Charedi leadership has instead decided to just let it pass. And that means that no lessons will be learned. And the rioters will end up believing that their actions were just.

And they will end up doing it again.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Democratic Landslide: Is it good for the Jews?

Well it looks like President Bush took a real drubbing in yesterday’s election. In the House of Representatives the Democrats will regain power for the first time in over a decade and will now host the first woman as the Speaker of the House. The Senate looks like it will be a 50/50 split but that means the Republicans win that one since in a tied vote the Vice President gets to break the tie. He, of course is a Republican and a very conservative one at that.

But many questions no arise. How did this happen? What does it mean for the country, for Israel, for Jews, the war in Iraq, and conservative values?

It is a fact that the conservative principles are generally more in line with Orthodox Judaism than are liberal principles. Although that isn’t 100% the case, I think it is true most of the time. But I do not think that conservative principles have necessarily lost out. Many of the Democrats who won have conservative values. For example there is Joseph Lieberman. And there is James Webb, a conservative Democrat who apparently beat George Allen. I think that conservative values are still part and parcel of the American fabric. And the issue of stem cell funding will now have a better chance of being advanced with this congress.

As an aside, even though Allen supported the President on the war in Iraq, as I do, and Webb does not, Allen deserved to be defeated. His reaction to being “outed” as a Jew was so repugnant that he does not deserve the honor and privilege of being a public servant.

Support for Israel should be as strong as ever. The only difference is how each party approaches the subject. But the President still determines foreign policy and has thus far had a hands off approach with respect to that. I think his policy on Israel will continue to be in effect.

As for how Jews in this country will fare with this new congress… that’s almost a non issue. Jews in this country are so accepted as equals that it doesn’t matter which party is in power. In fact we now have a record number of Jews in both the House and Senate. Most non-Jews probably don’t know that, or even care to know it. Thye voted for people who represented their views irrespective of whether they were Jewish or not.

The big question is Iraq. The worry is that policy might change. That seems to be what the electorate wanted. But I am not convinced that the electorate wants the US to cut and run. Yes there is some of that, but a lot of the problem voters were having is that we weren’t winning. And it is imperative that we win. I do not think that is even arguable to any thinking person. Losing in Iraq will give he enemies of Israel and the United states an unprecedented base for terror. With Iran holding that position now, a new Islamic republic with a radical Islamist agenda right next door to it will produce an axis of evil whose number one goal will be to wipe Israel off the map. And the threat of having another 9/11 right here in the US will increase tenfold, if not more. I think most Americans realize that. And I think most members of congress do as well.

So, bottom line, there will probably be some kind of shift in policy there. But I do not see “cut and run”.

So over all, looked at this way, the results were not all that bad. Yes, the liberal type thinking that has its home in the Democratic party will have more influence in social policy that it has in the recent past, but it will not cast the deciding vote. It wasn’t liberal Democrats who were elected, for the most part. It was a more centrist Democrat that was. So in areas like gay marriage, I do not see congressional attitudes changing to much.

It’s the Democrats turn now. Let’s see what they do with it.