So the year 12 Results are out

As expected, there is the usual back slapping and congratulating students on their results. I understand that. A year or so ago we had Yesodei HaTorah listing the names of the Yeshivas their students were admitted to  (not that I know any of them) and then a nondescript line about their results void of statistics. Not exactly “Torah Im Derech Eretz”, but some modern Litvak way of saying what’s important and what is not.

As usual, the Jewish News were more interested in the advertising dollar, and simply published the carefully crafted statistics each school put out.

It’s a pity the Jewish News couldn’t give guidelines as to which bands and statistics were to be supplied. Even things like Class sizes are never mentioned, making it nigh on impossible to make one to one comparisons for those who like to do so.

I don’t know what sorts of projects our “Roof Bodies” do, but one which I think I’d like to see each year is the “6 years hence” statistics. Each Orthodox Shule, or Reform/Conservative Temple, or Shira Chadasha? would have a record of marriages. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see under each School’s name, the percentage of those who are known to be married within the faith? I’d be fascinated.

Imagine getting 50 for text and tradition and then marrying out. Would today’s parent accept that? No names, of course, but the trends would also become visible and we would see for the first? time what it means to be a JEWISH School and pay the fees. Yes, I know the home is critical, but the home has assigned the school this aspect in the main.

Are we impressed that someone gets 50 for Ivrit or Yiddish and marries out?

Yes, marrying out is the end game. Schools are halachically the agents of parents for these critical years. The students need to build an identity that can confidently answer and resist the many isms, they will confront in life.

We correctly pull up a School if they have been involved in something not right. Let’s see our “Roof Bodies” … the great unelected, hire demographers to follow these statistics.

Yes, I am aware that an argument can be put forward that some students in some schools are not technically Jewish in the first place. Let’s see if they marry such untechnically Jews later as well. Those are the statistics I’d like to see.

With this type of malaise, no wonder American assimilation is at 70% amongst non Orthodox

There are lots I don’t understand. One of the things I could never understand was the Jewish connection to Chanukah by those who otherwise have diminishing Judaism in their lives. The answer isn’t the massive Chanukah Menorah’s put up by Chabad, but they certainly are needed and help enormously. The assimilated Jew has his Pintele Yid, his Jewish Soul, so overcome by the goings on in a multicultural or Xtian dominated society, that they make the same types of rationalisations that they do with their diminishing Jewish identity. Let’s be clear. Identifying with Israel, which was such a positive force post holocaust, won’t wash with our tree-hugging, tikkun olam, social justice types. We now have the abhorrent New Israel Fund which is a direct outcome of this type of feeling. They hold onto the hope of a “two state solution” when one side (Abbas and Co) will simply never recognise Israel as a Jewish State, a home for Jews.

That being said, we must hang on and enhance those elements of truth, which emanate from the truly Jewish soul, and provide meaningful alternatives to counteract the cultural pressure so many seem to feel.

I was rather radical. For over 20 years, when they put up all the Xmas decorations in our University Department office, I refused to step in. I didn’t feel comfortable. I didn’t feel comfortable because they were Xtian symbols, but I felt uncomfortable that the money funding these things were the public purse, and that other days, from other religions weren’t able to acquire equal opportunity.

If someone wants to have a picture of Yoshke or a cross next to their desk, that’s none of my business. I avert my eyes and concentrate on the reason I came to speak with them.

Do we really believe that Chanukah means what it does to the almost assimilated? The miracle of Chanukah is debated among our Rabbis, and there are places where the WAR is the main miracle. There is even conjecture whether they lit Chanukah candles after Chanukah for some time, and whether that was a later custom which became incumbent on us all.

Ironically, Chanukah represents the triumph of those who want to INFILTRATE our culture (perhaps without intention these days unless they are missionaries). Can you imagine if Chanukah didn’t involve lights? It’s almost as if the almost assimilated, are relieved that they can find some link between the pagan Xmas tree lights and their religion, and luckily for them it turns out around the same time.

Nothing is by coincidence. Chanukah represents the challenge of not letting go of what gives us our own identity. Yet, like many challenges God gives us, he dresses them with an outer shell, and if we want to we can break that shell, and find the Jewish element, which represents the truth, as aligned with our heritage.

It took years of quiet diplomatic action, when I used to wish people a happy holiday break, or joked they shouldn’t eat too much at their parties, that they eventually realised I wasn’t joining them in their Pagan-cum-Xtian festival.

I greatly appreciate it when someone recognises this now, and doesn’t say “Merry Xmas”, and engages their brain. I notice that Muslims are less touchy are about this because they consider Yoshke some prophet (but of course lower than Mohammed) so they don’t have a problem saying that (at least in Melbourne). In Egypt, of course the Coptic Xtians are persecuted mercilessly and the world just stands by, as they do to Syrian atrocities. We live in a world of lies and fake feel good emotions.

One can feel good, and even better, simply by being a Mentch, and not being offensive, but religiously embracing Chanukah and Chanukah only.

Does anyone thing that those don’t South in the USA would even remotely contemplate adding Chanukah to their Xmas. Forget it. It is only the Schmaltz belts where people have compromised their values and heritage and succumbed to the gods of Mamon and Acceptability, that such morals outrageous posts, from the Times of Israel, even get published. By publishing this, I struggle with understanding what they achieve. Do they tell us a new reality or perhaps would they be better off encouraging Xtian friends to come to a latke and Ponchke night with candle lighting, but with ABSOLUTELY no hint of capitulation to either religious or capitalist opportunism afforded by the “necessary gifts” and the stress these seem to cause people.

Read the blog post below. Am I over reacting?

Imagine running an education evening entitled “the intersection between Chanukah and Xmas is that your kids are less likely to be Jewish” and having that run by Rabbinic orators and educationists of standing. I’d rather see articles from fellow bloggers like Rabbi Nathan Lopez Cardozo on these topics then some of the more esoteric ones he chooses.

This isn’t a case of mixing solid מין במינו … this is a דבר המעביד within two different מינים and is Treyf, לכל הדעות.

Oh, and PLEASE don’t forget, we give Chanuka Gelt and not presents.

As to “Sylvester” and “New Years Eve”, are we meant to celebrate two days because of Sfeka DeYoma? Yuck.

They say in the name of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, that a little light dispels darkness. I heard Mori V’Rabbi say that this is true, but often you need lots of light to get rid of the rampant thick darkness, and you can’t see to far ahead with minimal light. So to all wishing to reveal the light of the Neshoma, I wish you only success.

I will do my part at this year’s Chanukah celebration with my band Schnapps, as I have for many years. Everyone should try to be at the annual big celebration, sans any reference to Pagan rituals.

PS. We do not say Chag Sameach on Purim or Chanukah. We only say that when there was a Korban Musaf. Try Freilichen Purim, or Purim Sameach, or Chanuka Sameach or some other phrase.

I celebrate Hanukkah, but I love Christmas
Dilute that most wonderful time of the year into a Jewish minor holiday? No thanks, he’d rather enjoy the real thing

I grew up in suburban Chicago surrounded by my fellow Jews — at school, at camp, on the weekends, at my parents’ friends’ houses, in the streets and parks of my neighborhood.

Even then, I knew that Jews made up less than 2 percent of America’s population — but in my childhood world, we were the 99%. If you had stopped 11-year-old me on the street and asked, I could have recited lengthy Hebrew prayers by heart, or told you about the codifying of Jewish law in 200 CE. But when it came to Christianity, I had a basic idea of what Easter was, and could probably have provided a brief bio of Jesus, culled mostly from popular culture. That was about it.

Until December rolled around, that is. Christmas was inescapable — and I loved it. I still do.

Christmas is everywhere. It’s at the malls, in the candy aisle of the grocery store, on the radio and TV, and in the movie theater. And I get how it can all be overwhelming. I understand how it’s a bit much for people to be bombarded starting from Thanksgiving — make that Halloween — with carols and candy canes and Santa and reindeer and manger scenes and ornaments and mistletoe and trees. And I know that for lots of people, it’s bit much how everything is red and green, especially if it’s not even your holiday. Plus — on an intellectual level, at least — I object to the commercialism, the conspicuous consumption and the tackiness of it all.

But if I’m being honest: I love the tackiness. I love the manufactured happiness. I love feeling snow on my shoulders, walking into a heated cafe, sipping hot cider and hearing a Christmas song — probably written by a Jewish composer — on the speakers. I love the contrast between the terrible weather and the enveloping cheer, however artificial it is. I love being able to enjoy the Christmas spirit without having to worry about how it affects the way I celebrate Christmas.

Because I don’t celebrate Christmas. See, we Jews have our own winter festival — it’s called Hanukkah.

Don’t get me wrong: I like Hanukkah. But in America, it’s kind of weak sauce. If Christmas is a thick, juicy hamburger on a sesame bun, American Jews have tried to make Hanukkah into a black-bean burger — something that’s perfectly edible but, really, nothing like the real deal. Hanukkah, like black beans, would be fine as its own separate thing. But instead we’ve flattened it into a cheap imitation of something else.

I’m Jewish, so of course I celebrate Hanukkah. I’m down with the story, the victory of the weak over the strong, the faith fulfilled when a small flask of oil lasted eight days. I’ve even nerded out over the two alternate Hebrew spellings of “Maccabee” and how they correspond to today’s religious-secular divide in Israel.

But I’ve never liked how American Hanukkah in certain ways becomes a diluted, Jewish version of Christmas. So the Christians give presents for Christmas? Sure, we’ll give Hanukkah presents, too. They have tinsel? Sure, we’ll have tinsel, too. They have holiday sweaters? Sure, we’ll have those, too.

Just as I can enjoy the Christmas spirit because I don’t feel personally invested in the holiday, I feel disappointed in Hanukkah precisely because I am invested in it. And in any case, Hanukkah is a minor holiday. I don’t begrudge its significance for anyone, but in Jewish tradition, it’s treated as less important than Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, and a couple others.

That’s why in Israel, where I lived for five years, Hanukkah is certainly celebrated, but doesn’t receive top billing. There are decorations, menorahs in the windows and sufganiyot — doughnuts filled with jelly or cream — on bakery shelves. Kids get a few days off to sing and play. Giving Hanukkah presents isn’t really a thing there.

Contrast that with the season that runs from Rosh Hashanah through Sukkot and Simchat Torah, a series of festivals and holidays that ended several weeks ago. In Israel, before Rosh Hashanah, supermarkets are stocked with apples, honey and pomegranates, and temporary stands sell greeting cards on the sidewalks. On Yom Kippur, the streets and shops are all closed. Religious people wear white and gravitate en masse to synagogue, while those who aren’t fasting crowd the empty streets with bikes. On Sukkot, there are temporary huts seemingly everywhere, from people’s porches to public squares.

For close to a month, little business gets done. Need to schedule a meeting or start a work project? “After the holidays” is the common refrain. The Jewish holidays there are celebrated on their own merits, not judged against the overwhelming dominance of another religion’s season.

So spare me your Chrismukkah and your Hanukkah bush, and let me culturally enjoy the most wonderful time of the year the way America clearly wants me to.

After all, if Bob Dylan can rock out to an album’s worth of Christmas music, so can I.

Parshas Toldos-Rav Mordechai Greenberg, Rosh Yeshivah, Kerem B’Yavneh

In an essay in the book “Orot” about the disputes on opinions and faith, Rav Kook explains his approach to the issues of fanaticism and tolerance. On one hand there is fanaticism, which believes that its approach and its religion are absolute and immutable truth, and which denies that any other movement has any truth to it at all.

As opposed to this, there is a more tolerant viewpoint which believes that all of the movements have some basis of truth, and that by gathering together the items of truth in all the different movements we will be able to achieve absolute truth and there will be peace in the world.

Rav Kook claims that both of these approaches are erroneous. We, in Judaism, do not merely have part of the truth, which would mean that we are in need of additional information from an external source to complete our knowledge.

Moron Rosh Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh, HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Moron Rosh Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, HaRav Mordechai Greenberg

At the same time, we do not subscribe to the infectious fanaticism which claims that we exclusively possess absolute truth and there is nothing left to learn from others.

“It is a bad sign for a party if it thinks that it alone is in possession of a living source of all wisdom and honesty – and that everything else is empty and void of any meaning.” [Igrot Re’iyah volume 1, page 17].

Here is the correct way of looking at things: Judaism does indeed include everything, but it does not deny that others also have parts of this whole. Even more than this, the power of every movement and every ideology stems from its specific point of truth. If it did not have at least one absolute truth it would not exist at all.

The sages taught us that “falsehood cannot continue to exist.” [Shabbat 104a]. Falsehood has no way to stand up. All the letters of “sheker” stand on a single leg, as opposed to truth, “emet,” all of whose letters stand on a solid base of two legs.

The main Beis Medrash of Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh
The main Beis Medrash of Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh

It is therefore important to reveal the elements of truth in every movement in order to know how to struggle against the movement. Only something that is totally false must be eradicated from the world. But if it has at least one element of truth there must not be any attempt to destroy it, because if you do so you are fighting against truth, and any such action is doomed to failure.

And for this reason Rav Kook felt that it was wrong to struggle against secular Zionism in a bitter fight to the end, as others did, since it is based on some true ideas.

Some people said: If they move to Eretz Yisrael we will not do so. If they speak Hebrew, we will speak Yiddish.

Rav Kook disagreed with these ideas. He insisted that the issues supported by Zionism are words of Torah which also obligate us. Therefore we must show our appreciation for the positive elements of truth in their approach and only afterwards argue against the falsehoods.

Rav Kook gave similar advice to parents in Russia whose children were caught up in the Communist movement. He said we should tell them that we appreciate their demands for social justice, because this is based on the Torah and on Judaism, and that there is no need to move away from Judaism in order to embrace the concept of socialism.

This can also help us understand Rav Kook’s analysis with respect to Eisav:

“Let me tell you my opinion regarding foreign beliefs. The light of Yisrael should not try to destroy them, just as we do not intend to cause general destruction of the world and of all its nations, but rather to mend their ways and raise them up

The words of the GRA are enlightening: ‘I had hatred for Eisav’ [Malachi 1:3]. The hatred was for the things that had been added on. But the main thing, his head, was buried together with the great people of the world.’”

Even Eisav had a point of truth which was put to rest near the Patriarchs.

For those of you who don’t know about Jewish Gen

This is a very great service. They digitise the records of Jews in all the shtetlach before the war etc and mainly rely on volunteers. You can look up their website and I have found records of relatives etc. They need about 2K to continue their work. Every $18 dollars helps.

I fully support their appeal, and believe it to be very worthwhile.

Quick Update: we are now just over $2k away from our goal. Please help us achieve our goal today, so that we can complete our Spring Appeal a day early!
As mentioned, our average gift is just $79. We need 25 people to step forward and donate $79 or more to reach our goal. (If you are in a position to do so, all gifts of $100 ore more will qualify for Value Added Services). 
Please click here to donate online via our secure website, or here to contribute via PayPal.
 
Thank you in advance. If you have any questions, please reply to this email and we will do our best to help.
 
Sincerely yours,
Susana Leistner Bloch
VP for KehilaLinks
JewishGen.org
Here is the link to donate.
Please pass onto those can help out in any way.

Rabbi Danny Mirvis confirmed. Mazel Tov

Picture from Kinus Torah at Chabad’s Yeshiva Gedola
A bold move by Mizrachi. Thank God he isn’t ‘a pseudo card carrying member of Open (sic) Orthodoxy’ or Maverick ARK. 

Hopefully this will see ‘Beit HaRoeh’ move en masse into the main Shule!
From Danny Lamm, the president of Mizrachi in Melbourne.

Dear Members,I was informed earlier today by Mizrachi’s auditors that members had voted overwhelmingly (97%) in support of the Mizrachi Committee’s decision to offer the position of Senior Rabbi of the Mizrachi Organisation to Rabbi Danny Mirvis for a term of 4 years with such appointment to take effect from Rosh Chodesh Ellul 5776 (4 September 2016). 

I have, of course, informed Rav Danny and Althea of the outcome which reflect’s the extraordinary support they have already received following the announcement of their proposed appointment. 

I am delighted to inform you that a formal induction ceremony will take place in late August and that Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Rebbetzin Valerie Mirvis will make a special visit to Melbourne to participate in this auspicious event.

What exactly is the problem?

The Jerusalem Post, a middle to right wing paper, commented on some recent statistics in Israel. One that drew my attention was (emphasis is mine)

This year’s report also revealed a trend reversal in that transfers between educational streams show a move away from religiosity.

Among the Jewish population, the report noted, recent years have seen net migration from more religious to less religious school systems.

As such, more students have moved from haredi schools to state-religious and state- secular schools, and from state-religious schools to state-secular schools than in the opposite direction.

The largest number of transfers was from state-religious schools to state-secular schools, where in 2014/15, 14,700 pupils transferred.

The researchers called this “remarkable” since the national-religious population constitutes the smallest sector at 14-15% of the population.

We first note that the Jerusalem Post as opposed to any study that I am aware of concludes that this is a move away from religiosity. While that may be true, it is by no means a foregone conclusion.

  1. Have they measured, for example, whether the hours saved (presumably) at the State School, are being used “more productively” through daily shiurim at yeshivas and the like?
  2. Have they looked at the reasons given for the school moves?
    • A Charedi person may be just as frum, but may simply not be able to be burden costs
    • They have not discussed National Religious Charedi. There are many in this category and different approaches.
    • Have they defined religiosity
    • Is full observance in a State School a move away? Perhaps the longer term trend is that many of these students will influence more students to move toward “religiosity”?
  3. Looking at it with a pessimistic slant, one may wish to consider whether
    • Parents being left of center in religious observance are more likely to have children who move further to the left  than parents who have one or more “off the derech” children (I dislike the terminology and I do not know why we give it a classification category. Such categories can slur, and may become entrenched as something to feel more comfortable with. Let us not forget that the Torah itself did not like using negative language: animals that may not be consumed are called “not pure” as opposed to “trayf “.
    • How many teachers who practice orthodoxy are there in the State School system
    • How good is teacher training, especially in respect of pastoral care among State Religious teachers? Do they understand their pupils? It is far easier to simply teach in a State School in respect of the qualitative aspects of religion given a purely cultural/historical approach is most likely.
  4. The Rambam preached the middle ground. Life has taught me that very few start and stay on the middle ground. Indeed moving further in observance and understanding of Yahadus when younger, is not a negative trait. It would seem that as people age, and I do not remove myself from any such consideration, their level of Jewish observance moves left. To lead a life in the middle ground may well mean an early foundational right of middle experience. I specifically do not include those who learn for a living, do not publish, are not gifted intellectually, and are a burden to those who work for a living.
  5. Having not seen the statistical study and only read the Jerusalem Posts reporting on it, some of my comments may portray ignorance.

 

Whatever the case, what I took out of this, ostensibly, is that we need to increase in Torah Observance and Learning. In terms of observance, we must seek to minimise any negative proclivities. Those who have habituated a Chilul Hashem seen by the eyes of their children, are the greatest destroyers of  Yahadus, and the continued promoters of a perverted Judaism of the worst shameful order.

Challenges

There are a number in Melbourne. I won’t elaborate but 

חיה ביילא בת לאה בתיה 

Is one which hits home personally and she should get back to full health quickly.

I was at a Simcha tonight, and all I heard was ‘it’s terrible what’s going on in Melbourne lately’

Then somebody sent me THIS CHILLUL HASHEM

If I was there I would take the parents and teachers and air drop them into Gaza. That’s obviously their home. Disgraceful low lives.

Rabbi Dr Nathan Lopes-Cardozo on the Hagodo

I’m amazed at Dr Cardozo’s  latest piece. You can read it. I found it facile. I will summarise my reaction

  1. We are the people of the book. It is called the Torah. It can’t be “read” away. It is immutable.
  2. There purposely has always been an oral component, handed down at Sinai. We don’t need Plato for the insight of reading and understanding.
  3. The text is called HAGODO which means “telling/saying”. In other words, the point is dialogue. The text is the starting point. Not having a locus to commence from leads to the neo style evenings which turn Pesach into yet another commemoration of the Holocaust, something Rav Soloveitchik railed against vociferously. The left will of course humanise the story of Jews and turn it into “the evening of social justice” where we commemorate Darfur, Slavery, and what have you. Sorry. This is about Yetzias Mitzrayim which is indelibly woven both rationally and Kabbalistically  with Matan Torah. Matan Torah is what it’s all about. The former, Pesach, is the journey.
  4. Reading doesn’t require verbalising. The Hagodo does as he notes, but doesn’t amplify
  5. Rebbi Yehuda Hanosi wasn’t concerned with pharmakon! He was concerned that the oral discussions not be lost. Learning Gemora is the quintessential exercise in trying to piece together any contradictory mesoras that were transmitted
  6. I’m not at all clear what Dr Cardozo’s message means in the context of an audience that doesn’t understand the basics of what was written, and to expand that into dialogue. As I alluded to above, this is not ab nihilo. The Baal Hagodo gave us a starting point. If one isn’t even at the level of the starting point, then the starting point becomes exactly what should be taught this year, so that new insights are introduced in the following year. The beginning is most definitely reading and more reading and more reading. We most definitely do start from a point. It is called Mesora.
So much for Plato

 

Methodologies to attract members: ARK — revised

Over the weekend, I was strongly encouraged  to repost my article. I had one comment which was valid in retrospect, and I am taking that fully into account in this revision. I was not aware, but a number of people have mentioned that R’ Shneur Zalman Waks is involved in conversions, including one involving the marriage of a Cohen. I was informed he has his own Beth Din and does not involve the Melbourne Beth Din. That’s not to say his conversions are invalid. I can’t give an opinion without knowing details. If anyone knows, do tell. We have RMG Rabi’s Beth Din which does conversions, R Schneur Zalman’s ARK Beth Din for conversion, Adass which has always been separatist, in addition to the standard and fully internationally accepted Melbourne Beth Din. In my opinion, a community should only have one Beth Din and it should be modelled on the Melbourne Beth Din, with its checks and balances from a lay committee, including a separation from money issues.

The original reason for this post, however, was that someone sent me emails that Shneur Zalman sends to his ARK community (of which I know little) and I’m commenting on the last one that I received.

Shneur Zalman of ARK, is someone who is different and seemingly diverse. That, in of itself, isn’t a problem provided he is sincere and maintains a fidelity to strict Halacha. I’ve decided to intersperse commentary on his most recent article because I found it vexing. The quotes below are verbatim from what was sent to me.

Growing up in a strictly Chabad home in the days before internet meant that my information sources were rather limited. We weren’t allowed to listen to radio, watch television, or read ‘secular’ books, so I became a Jewish History buff.

This is a questionable representation. There are plenty, including Rabbis, who were and stay intimately involved in many issues and who have strongly different views than Shneur Zalman. The statement that bothers me is that it is crafted to convince ARK congregants that Shneur was born into a prison-like idyllic “crown heights” or “kfar chabad” standard Chabad home of a most orthodox type. This has been a matter of discussion by members of that family itself. I do not know if ARK members have been exposed to counter claims. This is contextually important.

Shneur Waks and wife Lisa

The issue of Chabad in particular is profoundly misplaced. All ultra orthodox groups encourage minimisation of interaction with the outside world unless necessary.  Of all the ultra groups who have a higher percentage who are exposed to the outside world, Chabad is clearly the one most exposed and experienced (and pilloried as a result). That being said, it might be that Shneur Zalman’s  parents had no hidden TV or other devices, and a computer was locked for use for “business” purposes. I do not know. Perhaps he was denied access to the world.

It is ironic though that Shneur Zalman’s claimed TV and Radio-avoiding family chose to agree many years ago and feature in full length documentaries for SBS about how they get on with life!  I assume these were motivated primarily for the benefit of the non Orthodox and gentiles who do watch TV and whom the family they wished to influence to adopt their “idyllic Amish-like lifestyle?  I’m sure the parents felt this was prototypical Chabad Chasidism encouraging others to have double-digit children while demonstrating how it could be done with dynamic results. My band members (non Jewish, watched it with incredulity). Maybe this was a form of outreach, though, using the very medium Shneur Zalman claims was discouraged to engage with. I assume Shneur Zalman was part of that documentary. Based on his description, he might appeared like a rabbit in bright lights not knowing anything about the outside world, save his claim to be a self-made “Jewish History buff”, appearing bewildered by the brouhaha.  I have not seen the video, as the topic per se had never been of interest to me.

From my religious study I already knew about the suffering of the Jews as they were enslaved by the Egyptians, nearly annihilated by the Persians, and oppressed by the Greeks and Romans. But added to that I discovered the long history of Christian antisemitism; peaking during the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, Pogroms, and of course culminating in the devastating Holocaust.

Shneur Zalman has been selective. He implies that his “History buff” knowledge informed him of Xtian antisemitism, the inquisition, pogroms and the holocaust, but these were denied by his education. I find this derisorious. All these events save the last, are covered in formal long lamentations  on Tisha B’Av, and spoken about on Pesach. Either Kinos wasn’t said, or understood, or Shneur Zalman met teachers throughout his entire Jewish education who always put a full stop at the Roman Conquest.

Everyone is aware of the Holocaust, including the ultra orthodox  and the survivors who occupied the pews. Does Shneur Zalman not know what happened because of his religious upbringing at home?. Even Satmar knows!

Shneur Zalman is disingenuous about modern-day events. He most definitely would have heard how his namesake was persecuted by the Communists and dreaded NKVD. Strangely, Shneur Zalman doesn’t seem to mention the systematic attempts at destroying Torah Judaism to eradicate the Jewish people in the Soviet Union. The Nazis attempted it physically, the Soviets were happy if one abandoned Judaism spiritually and adopted a (ironically Jewish sourced) Stalinism or Marxism, that considered a Jewish text, to be poison and to be eradicated.

Shneur Zalman tells us that

I read every book I could get my hands on which told the story of the darkest years in human history and heard the story from the mouths of many survivors. When we then sang the Vehi Sheamda on Seder night, which basically translates that in every generation there are those who want to kill us, it was felt in a most immediate fashion.

Shneur Zalman’s  own Chabad School has a very good free lending library almost next door to his house. Are we to assume that his parents forbade him to borrow books from that library (let alone his excellent School library) or perhaps they they vetted the books lest they would corrupt their son with hatred to those hell-bent on killing Jews at any time or place? I think not. Is Shneur Zalman being purposefully disingenuous here or just tardy? I’m not sure.

I surmise that Shneur Zalman is  naïve  if he considers himself a “Jewish history buff” and yet could write

At some point I came to question the point of this message. Granted, we should never be complacent about antisemitism. We have suffered too deeply to be so naïve. But I personally never experienced antisemitism. Sure there were Saturday morning drunks who could scream out “bloody Jew”, but to rate that at all would be to belittle the traumas inflicted on our people. So what relevance does the story of antisemitism have to me, my generation, and the ones younger?

How did Shneur Zalman know that only drunks screamed this message from their fast-moving car? Is he superman with X-ray vision?

It is incredulous that anyone could emerge as a self-proclaimed ” Jewish History buff” and yet feel that because in the short cloistered walk of 1 minute from his house to his School (remember, he claims he was forbidden to be exposed to the real world) he concluded that people who called out “bloody jew” in that moment, were not hard-core anti-Semites. What a strange intuition. It in fact contradicts the beginning of each and every blood bath the Jews faced. Does Shneur Zalman not realise that they all started with small voices of “bloody Jew” and then grew into a society unfettered by morals and ethics proceeding to death and destruction. Does Shneur Zalman not realise that if he took a number plate and reported it to the police that those who said those things would be prosecuted for hate crime? Was Shneur Zalman blind and deaf  to a prominent incident, next door to his home, where one of his chassidic colleagues was beaten by off-duty police. It was all over the papers and the talk of the centre. Did Shneur Zalman miss the articles or was he forbidden to read them.

I contrast that with my experience which is philosophically diametrically opposed

Walking with my father to Elwood Shule, we stood in the middle of Brighton Road on the tram tracks. A car load of “young and restless” passed us, rolled down their window, and called out “Bloody Jews”. To me, standing next to my elderly father, a holocaust survivor, this was simply not on. I took off on a fast run down the tram tracks of Brighton Road in my suit, hoping that their car would be stopped by a red light. Luckily, it was. I reached their car, thumped hard on their window and bonnet. Startled, they turned their heads and heard me yell at the top of my voice.

If you filthy scumbag anti Semites ever say that again, I will smash your bones and report you to the police. Don’t ever take a Jew lightly. I will break every bone in your body if you dare say that again

I went to the same school as Shneur Zalman. I don’t attribute my then reaction to the school in totality, let alone should Shneur Zalman be insinuating that his lack of understanding of the beginnings of anti-Semitism had anything to do with his home or his school. This was Shneur Zalman’s  reaction, and his alone. His sad misunderstanding of anti-Semitism, is there for all to I see in that paragraph.

By the way, my father later asked me why I reacted with such crazed venom. I explained that precisely because of the message of Pesach and his place as a survivor, I for one was not ever going to be a  Jew who minimised such vituperation in the way that Shneur Zalman seemingly professed to his ARK community in tame words and wonderful sculptures.

A wedding at ARK. (I’m not sure who the second witness is, based on this picture)

Jumping back to where Shneur Zalman was heading, he informs us

The most prominent response I came across when I was younger was that we should never trust the Goy. We were even taught in the first chapter of the Tanya, the seminal work of Chabad philosophy written by my namesake, that non-Jews are inherently incapable of good deeds, that whatever seemingly kind acts they perform are for their own selfish gain.

I see this as sloganeering. The lack of definition and intentional misrepresentation is breathtaking. Firstly, he claims this was the most “prominent” response. Response to what? Response to anti-Semitism? What is the context of trust here? Was it trust in business? Trust in Tae Kwan do? Even a young Shneur Zalman would know that this is not manifestly practiced by any ultra orthodox people (who may have more tangles in business with many Jews than they do with non Jews.)

What was he getting at, I thought? Was he saying that he was taught that a non-Jew was more likely to thrust a knife in his back than a Jew? If so, statistics would say that this is entirely correct whether one is ultra orthodox or not. Does Shneur Zalman not know of a gentile reporter who recently donned a Yarmulka and found that this immediately made him a magnet of hate, violence, and derision. Heck, the reporter was featured everywhere.

Does Shneur Zalman still not read the popular press? Perhaps he subscribes to the doctrine that it’s all because of the “settlements”. I guess the prime settlement of Tel Aviv, which is still claimed by Hamas and their ilk as the problem as well as the mere existence of Jews? Or perhaps Shneur Zalman sides with Neturei Karta or Mahmoud Abbas, that a Jewish homeland, should never exist? Alternatively, he might be one of the mixed up clerics who think that sharing bread and holding hands with clerics of other religions espousing “social justice” will solve the latent hate blatantly expressed in the texts of their religions, while clasping hands for photo ops. Will Shneur Zalman change that? It has never solved anything. I don’t see a “Jewish history buff”.

Now, I do not profess to have more than a simple passing knowledge of Chabad metaphysics as described in Tanya, but I do know that it is not a Shulchan Aruch as Shneur Zalman had his ARK members misunderstand. One of its tenets, which isn’t universally held (I hope Shneur Zalman is able to transmit authentic  other Orthodox approaches and that he isn’t still in the “imprisoned cloistered” youth that he painted, Tanya is a collection of older texts rewritten coherently and beautifully. Jews do have an element of Neshama that non-Jews do not. The oldies used to call it the “pintlele yid”. This has ramifications to understanding conversion, and whilst it most certainly is a valid understanding of Judaism, I’d hope Shneur Zalman isn’t on some populist anti-Chabad rant  presenting it as the only  Orthodox approach to understanding the metaphysics of the soul. It seems that Shneur Zalman either forgot, or chose not to mention many Talmudic statements which, if understood in a simple way are far more contentious. More importantly, projecting other Orthodox approaches would be a great idea if he didn’t “like” the Tanya’s sources.

What I can say without any doubt is that his namesake was an absolute giant of an intellect on par with the Gaon of Vilna, and was possessed with a love of Jews and the future of Judaism that was legendary. That he chose sides in the Russian/French non-Jewish conflict is remarkable. Perhaps Shneur Zalman should tell his ARKers about how his name sake  made the right choice and that almost single-handedly saved Soviet Jewry from obliteration. To this day, moderate Rabbis such as Rabbi Riskin make kiddush on Vodka on Shabbos because of the incredible legacy that Shneur Zalman’s  name sake left in Russia. Shneur Zalman will readily admit he isn’t a boot lace compared to his name sake: either in matters of standard Jewish Law, or in matters of Jewish Metaphysics or as a Jewish History buff. Is there anybody today?

Next Shneur Zalman makes what seems to be a leap of logic from his earlier statement, that confounds understanding.

But that is a very depressing message. Moreover, it contradicts our experience. And most importantly, that message is precisely the message propounded by the most evil of people. I mean isn’t that precisely what Hitler was saying in the inverse? Surely that can’t be the moral of the story.

Shneur Zalman, it would be profoundly incorrect to assume that every non-Jew is an anti Semite. It would also be wrong to assume that many non Jews are indeed anti semitic but it’s definitely on the rise. I have personally experienced it in today’s age of the culturally sophisticated.

Hitler? Has Shneur missed out ? Has he taught ARK about Amalek? We read it today in Shule. I know of no Jewish gangs who take baseball bats to Lakemba or Coburg with the aim of obliterating Lebanese Muslim anti-Semites who openly say Jews should all die (as does Hamas). Again, perhaps Shneur Zalman has not caught up with current events? He seems to live in a utopian but unrealistic world.

Over the last two weeks, ARK Centre has been hosting an incredible exhibition put on by Courage to Care that provides an answer to this question most profoundly and resolutely. We must remember the suffering of our people not in order to perpetuate trauma but to learn the evils of bigotry and what happens when good people stand by and allow it to happen. We must learn to be up-standers, not by-standers!

The exhibition contained a number of evocative pieces. The one that affected me most deeply was a piece by an incredibly inspiring, youthful, and optimistic, 89 Year old Sarah Saaroni. It is a sculpture of Dr Janusz Korczak, a paediatrician and head of an orphanage, who had an opportunity to save himself but decided to stay with the children as they were gassed to death. In the sculpture he is holding, embracing, and comforting a dozen children or so as they are standing in the gas chamber. The image really is heart wrenching and now, as a father of two beautiful children I love so dearly, it really is difficult to process.

But the sculpture is more than a statement about the unbelievable depravity of the Nazis who could do this to pure children. It is a tribute to the spiritual depth of the doctor who, in the midst of absolute darkness, was able to radiate a beam of holiness, of love. His facial expression left me, and I dare say anyone who sees it, with a sense of warmth and serenity.

I’m not sure how Shneur Zalman’s  religious education seems to have forgotten the concept of the other Chassidim. Yes, the חסידי אומות העולם.  The righteous gentiles. Note: they are called Chassidim, Shneur Zalman.

I do hope Shneur Zalman exposes ARK to that concept. It was there well before the cultured sculptures, and has a history as long as the history of anti-Semitism. Furthermore, his namesake writes about them and their reward in the world to come. Is Shneur Zalman trying to turn  his congregation into populist left-wing tree huggers? Let Shneur Zalman break bread and condemn Senator Lee Rhiannon of the loony greens to ARK. Would he? Perhaps he should remind ARK about German Jewry who were more German than the Germans, and that it did not help them in the “advanced” socialist democracy of Germany.

Don’t misread me. I interacted with 400+ non Jewish alumni on my Facebook. I didn’t have family or friends on facebook. I recently lent a significant amount of money to a non-Jewish colleague who had to fly back from overseas because her father and uncle dropped dead. The message I give Shneur Zalman is, rather than the seemingly post-modern one he is giving ARK, one can be centrist orthodox with an absolute fidelity to Halacha and live in this world peacefully, especially with tolerant non Jews. I can tell Shneur Zalman, that if I ever meet an intolerant or anti semitic type who threatens me overtly or covertly, I turn into a different persona. I don’t sit down to “break bread” with them. I know exactly with what I am dealing, and any “Jewish history buff” will affirm this.

Shneur Zalman writes:

This is a message that is so relevant and extremely positive. This is, in fact, what the Jewish tradition is all about. We are not the Chosen People of a superior race as I was taught. Rather we are a people who have, unfortunately, experienced immense suffering as a result of bigotry and the absence of enough up-standers in our midst. This experience of being a stranger in a strange land endlessly persecuted compels us to be the preachers of light; to declare that all human beings are created in the image of God and, therefore, all equally deserve to be treated with compassion, dignity, and humanity.

To the whole team at Courage to Care, thank you for your vision and dedication to fulfil it.

With hope and prayer that we internalise this message and turn our horrible history into a reservoir of inspiration to become more sensitive and caring human beings especially to those who are very different to us.

I couldn’t disagree more with this contorted configuration of childhood and this message. My own family was saved by righteous gentiles who were honoured in Yad Vashem. I have visited them. For close to 70 years, the extended Balbin family still sends all our surplus clothes to their extended family. A number of their family are anti Semites. They hid the fact that they saved Jews. When the husband of the girl found out, he beat his wife constantly. She held it a secret for some 30 years because she knew he was a depraved anti-Semite. We send them money and medicine too. (One of the family couldn’t even stand being in the room with me and my father, and left). This, despite the heroic efforts of his mother and her father). Some morality!

In short Shneur Zalman, I find this newsletter message rather populist, misleading, and simple. I’d rather if it was more learned and candid and more informed and realistic. The simple reading of history today, actually matches the claimed simple education Shneur Zalman claims to have received!

He didn’t receive a simple education.

He sounds populist.

Is he a member of the Rabbinic Council of Victoria?

If not, why not?

Why doesn’t he  break bread with them and convince them of his views and how they conform with Halacha. This is the Rabbinic way.

I take that back if he does not consider himself or ARK Orthodox.

Jewish LGBTI Youth! – Jews All Diverse & Equal

[hat tip magyar]

I am very reluctant to write this blog post in case I am misunderstood, or if I haven’t understood. We can all be educated, and I would welcome readers to help me understand.

The JCCV considers itself as the roof body of the Jewish Community in Victoria. At the moment, it would seem that one of the biggest issues on its agenda is that there are Jews, undoubtedly good people, who have sexual proclivities which are different to the majority of people. Now, if those people are being discriminated against in the sense that they are excluded from events, activities, meetings involving Jews, or if they are not admitted to Shiurim or lectures, then that would be outrageous. Personally, I have never seen it. Maybe my world is cloistered, however as a University Professor for 3 decades I would say that I have been exposed to all manner of different types of people.

There is a radicalism however that has crept in which is hiding behind the mantra of “sexism”, “equality”, “social justice” and I find it misapplied. Let me give an example which shook me up terribly.

I was giving a lecture about programming colours. One of the algorithms (recipes) I was talking about was how to make a red redder or less red. I like to involve the class (even if there are 200+). So, I looked around the room for people wearing red. I picked out two people and they happily stood up. I asked the class how they would describe the difference between the reds that were being worn by the two students. I noticed that the men, in general, seemed to say “oh, that one is a darker red” or words to that effect. Women on the other hand would say “that is crimson”, “that is wine” etc. In other words, they used a single word, a colour. They seemed to be able to hone in on the colour and give it a name whereas the males in the class would be more adjectival; they would describe things without honing in on a specific colour for a different shade of red.

I made a passing comment, that this was the third time I had noticed this difference in my class between males and females. At that point, one lady near the back stood up and yelled “you are sexist”. I was shocked. She stood up and started to leave the lecture theatre. I asked her to stop and explain, but she went on a rave and left.

When she left the lecture theatre, I have to admit I was very shaken. I don’t like being accused of being sexist especially if it was true. So I asked the  class. The majority of the students said “she’s a weirdo, you aren’t sexist, and neither was your comment”. In fact, as she left the lecture theatre many students booed her.

The student had a “look to her” but I’m not going to describe it as it is not the issue.

When I finished the lecture, I sat in my office, and was so upset, I actually went home and cancelled a lecture I had in the afternoon. I asked many of my colleagues, and they said “she’s just a radical, ignore her”.

This is the reality though that I face, and I therefore claim that I am well aware of current issues as I’m in touch with the young 1st year generation regularly.

Which brings me to a video apparently funded? or sponsored by the JCCV from “minus 18”.

After watching it twice, I was baffled. The messages I got from it were

  • come out and don’t be ashamed to say you are LGBTI
  • if you are LGBTI you can find a connection to some form of Judaism
  • there is a “space” for LGBTI to exist
  • You can be LGBTI and Jewish at the same time. Where there is a will there is a way.
  • You can bat for both sides, and be ex-Chabad

I asked myself what problem was the JCCV aiming to solve? Was it to encourage more people to “come out”? Was it to encourage people to group themselves according to sexual proclivity and then feel that this was a “movement”.

Is this one of the fundamental JCCV problems facing Jews and Judaism?

Compare this with those who assimilate and have gentile children, undergo fake conversions and keep nothing Jewish except Matzah Balls on Pesach. Is the Isla Fisher/Sasha Baron Cohen phenomenon of greater concern than someones sexual proclivities to the JCCV? If so, what are they doing about that.

I asked myself, are we going to have rainbow coloured pews in Shules or Reform Temples and therefore feel wanted and better? Is this akin to the apology to Aborigines which as we all know was a symbolic act that achieved nothing to improve their health and life style challenges.

Maybe more LGBTI folk are now  going to attend synagogue, eat kosher, light shabbos candles, attend shiurim, go to Zionist forums etc?. But who is persecuting (actively or passively) people with variant sexual preferences?

On an Orthodox level. clearly one can’t change Torah, so even Keren-Black of the Reform can’t expect lines of the Torah to be excised or thrown. Traditional Judaism can never give a green light to acts of homosexuality or lesbianism. If reform can, that’s their business. Maybe that’s the answer. LGBTI should go to the Alma Road Temple where all can be re-interpreted.  They seem to be able to accommodate anything with the possible exception of Pork? and say it’s got “new Jewish meaning today”. Come to think of it, why single out Pork? What did Pigs do wrong? Equality demands they be treated like cows in Reform Judaism? They aren’t dirty. Do Reform eat Pork? I don’t know. If not, why not? Happy to try and understand.

Equality and “Social Justice” (the new buzzword) seem to be a religious movement.  It’s a desire. Is there any sense in

  • LGBTI Vegans, or
  • LGBTI Vegetarians, or
  • an LGBTI choolent club, or
  • an LGBTI Swimming Team or
  • an LGBTI Mindfulness group or
  • ….

Someone help me here. I seem to not understand why we shouldn’t also have

  • “Vegans for Judaism,
  • or “Judaism for the Vertically challenged”,
  • or “Judaism for the drug addicted”,
  • ….

with “equal standing” and “no discrimination”.

What am I missing?

And this is a big project from the JCCV?

More people go to the football than identify with their religion (or if you are uncomfortable with that term “Jewish Culture”)!

Maybe set up pop up “religious” services at half time of a Carlton/Collingwood Match at the MCG. Will that bring Jews “back” to their religion, their culture, their history?

I looked up the JCCV web site, and saw Jenny Huppert quoted as follows:

JCCV President Jennifer Huppert stated, “The aim is for a fully welcoming and respectful Jewish community, where Jews of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity participate actively in the community. Everyone must be treated with respect, dignity and equity.”

Who has stopped someone from participating actively because of a sexual proclivity? Where has the wider Jewish community not shown respect? What is the dignity Jenny speaks of? What is equity? Can they not buy seats at Yom Haatzmaut, or in their Shule or Reform Temple?

I’m flummoxed.

Maybe I’m just plain ignorant or too old-fashioned. Whatever the case, someone enlighten me please?

The moral decay that is anti semitism 

Dennis Prager made his name when I was a youngster with Joseph Telushkin (who more recently wrote a marvellous book about the Lubavitcher Rebbe זי׳ע

Denis has been involved in some Oxford Debates of late.

[hat tip Md]

Here he is in a stinging and compelling snippet.

 

 

The Fallacy, Delusion and Myth of Tikkun Olam

Everyone wants to (or should aspire to) improve the world. The words “Tikkun Olam” (fixing (sic) the world) though have been exchanged as the task of a Jew. The problem is that Tikkun is not defined, ill-defined, or defined in a virtual partial vacuum of traditional Orthodox Judaism. It has become a catch cry of tree huggers, New Israel Fund supporters, Reform, Ameinu, Conservative, Shira Chadasha and Conservadox. Ironically, none of these groups recite it in the Aleinu Prayer thrice daily. Eating in a “vegetarian restaurant” or sharing “interfaith hands” and more, have become the new flag of a newly defined version of Judaism. Judaism is not defined by Jews. There are halachic formulae distributed at Sinai. These are applied. They are not created. The further we are from Sinai the more careful we must be to check innovations and new decisions with recognised leaders in the application of the formulae. It’s almost laughable that these Tikkun Olamniks will enter into a Buddhist temple (with its blatant idolatry) barefooted to show their respect for Buddhists, but they will (occasionally) visit a JEWISH Shule, without wearing the customary hat for women, sleeves, longer dress or skirt, or iPhone in pocket, discussing football or other things ad nauseam. I would like a dollar for the number of speeches at Bar and Bat Mitzvas where the “themes” have nothing whatsoever to do with Judaism or Jewish truths. Enough from me. Here is a nice article on the topic from the Algemeiner Journal [Hat tip Magyaro] which is worth reading.

It is so very difficult, indeed utterly unbearable, to sit silently by while Jews, and now the general religious and secular communities, completely misuse and distort the term Tikkun Olam– certainly not intentionally or out of any malice, but rather out of ignorance in the pursuit of virtuous goals and principles which may be applicable to general society and civilization but which have tragically become a poor substitute for authentic religious observance.

This repair rhetoric has become an obsession, a catch-all credo. Everything today is Tikkun Olam. Enough with the Tikkun Olam. It is a senseless and meaningless misconception, its true meaning nothing like it is commonly used and purported to be.

It is not at all a centuries-old tradition, it is not a call to action, and it is not a commandment. And to be clear, Tikkun Olam does not even mean repairing the world in the sense of social justice. Nor in traditional sources is Tikkun Olam in any way even a direct human imperative or action, but rather one that is left in G-d’s hands.

We cannot, and are not instructed to, save the world, or even to repair it. Judaism teaches no such thing. Rather, we are instructed to conduct ourselves properly, to observe the Mitzvos, the Commandments (which are not good deeds, but rather commandments, required imperatives), and in that way to contribute to society and civilization both by example and through practice and action.

For Jews those Mitzvos include not simply socially or politically correct precepts such as giving charity and engaging in political action, but also observance of the Sabbath, dietary restrictions (Kashrus), daily prayer, and other commandments which seem to have fallen out of favor and are ignored, if not openly denigrated and violated, in some segments of the community, as they substitute the false panacea of something they call Tikkun Olam for the authenticity of true Judaism, clinging desperately to Tikkun Olam to avoid their actual responsibilities as Jews to observe the Torah and the commandments.

The term and concept Tikkun Olam appears nowhere in the Torah itself, but first appears only in the Mishna and Talmud in the context of the courts and halakhic (legal) regulations involving disputes and legal rights.

Subsequently in Kabbalah the term was used to refer to the upper worlds or to the repair of the individual soul damaged by the sin of violating or neglecting Jewish law. Following that, the only mention of Tikkun Olam in prayer is in the Aleinu prayer recited at the conclusion of every service, but even in that context it means either that G-d, not man, will ultimately repair the world, or, as others interpret, it does not mean repair of the world at all but rather is a prayer for the uprooting of idolatry, the rebuilding of the Temple and establishing G-d’s kingdom on earth, through the observance of the commandments and not through any separate social imperative.

Indeed, scholars from across the spectrum and diversity of the Jewish community have acknowledged and bemoan the misuse and distortion of the term Tikkun Olam by the community.

Thus Rabbi Jill Jacobs observed years ago (Zeek, July 2007) that, “In its current incarnation, Tikkun Olam can refer to anything from a direct service project such as working in a soup kitchen or shelter, to political action, to philanthropy. While once regarded as the property of the left, the term is now widely used by mainstream groups such as synagogues, camps, schools, and federations, as well as by more rightwing groups wishing to cast their own political agendas within the framework of Tikkun Olam.”

After quoting Arnold Jacob Wolf (“Repairing Tikkun Olam,” Judaism 50:4), who writes, “All this begins, I believe, with distorting tikkun olam. A teaching about compromise, sharpening, trimming and humanizing rabbinic law, a mystical doctrine about putting God’s world back together again, this strange and half-understood notion becomes a huge umbrella under which our petty moral concerns and political panaceas can come in out of the rain,” Jacobs points out that one of the key figures in the Kabbalistic school of thought which developed the concept of Tikkun Olam was the same person who codified Jewish law, since it is individual observance of halakha, Jewish law, which is the way to repair the world.

Professor Steven Plaut of Haifa University wrote about “The Rise of Tikun Olam Paganism” (The Jewish Press, January 23, 2003), calling it a “pseudo-religion,” “social action fetishism” (The Jewish Press, November 19, 2008) and a “vulgar misuse and distortion by assimilationists.” He concludes that Tikkun Olam is quite clearly “a theological notion and not a trendy socioeconomic or political one,” observing that, “It would be an exaggeration, but only a small one, to say that nothing in Judaism directs us to the pursuit of social (as opposed to judicial) justice.”

Most recently there was the publication earlier this year by Oxford University Press of the scholarly book Faith Finding Meaning: A Theology of Judaism by Rabbi Byron L. Sherwin, which also highlights the current fallacy (pages 33-35). Calling it “a blatant distortion of the meaning of the term,” a “substitute faith” and a “shibboleth,” he writes that “the current [promiscuous] usage of this term represents a category mistake, is a blatant example of conversion by redefinition, and constitutes a paradigmatic example of the reductionist fallacy” which is merely “liberation theology without the theology.” He concludes, “Tikkun Olam means ‘for the proper order of the Jewish community.’ It is a long way from that definition to ‘build a better world.’”

Please. Everyone. Enough with the Tikkun Olam. For Jews who truly do want to engage in Tikkun Olam, the only honest and authentic Jewish way to do that is to encourage observance of the Torah across the entire spectrum of the Jewish Community. That in fact is actually what our responsibility is, nothing more and nothing less, and the rest is up to G-d—if we do our part, so will G-d.

Grand Rabbi Y. A. Korff, the Zvhil-Mezbuz Rebbe of Boston, is Chaplain of The City of Boston and spiritual leader of the Zvhil-Mezbuz Beis Medrash in downtown Boston and Newton. This column first appeared in The Jewish Advocate of Boston.

The covenantal community

I would highly recommend that Open “Orthodoxy” supporters of proffering new titles to learned women, as well as hard left members of the RCV (re) read Abraham’s Journey by Rav Soloveitchik. One is thunderstruck again by his open understanding that the Avos, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov were a team with their wives and through many verses he makes it obvious that without their wives, the covenantal leadership was significantly reduced.

In last week’s Parsha the Rav concentrates on the lack of any description in the Torah, save the burial of Sarah, about the last 38 years of his life. This is a long time. What was going on? Abraham without Sarah, was a “cappuccino without coffee”. There was little to report on or to talk about. If you find that “Abraham’s Journey” is too long and involved, I would also highly recommend the OU’s Soloveitchik Chumash which is a masterpiece in understanding the human side of Orthodoxy, existential reality, and the prime importance of Mesorah.

I can’t recommend these publications highly enough. Far from women being seenas secondary figures, they were masoretically part of a duo, to the extent that if that was broken up, so was the purpose.

Whilst the Mahari Bei Rav unsuccessfully tried to re-institute formal Semicha, I find it very hard to consider any female, religiously sincere, if the term Yoetzet Halacha is not enough for her.

It is also my view that no Yoetzet Halacha should ever address gatherings of Jewish (Religious or otherwise) Feminists. Feminism is a western ideology. It is viewed with extreme derision ranging from (the cousins)  Rav Moshe Feinstein through to Rav Soloveitchik himself. There is no doubts about this. It is in black and white in their own words. Those words are prophetic and just as relevant.

It’s time we focussed less on titles and more on the actual Jewish Education of our youth. Therein is the challenge. The best teachers and expositors go out to the professional world and their skills are not used. This is the tragedy of our society.

(c) Shabsaiart, Top left Rav Soltoveitchik, Top Right, Rav Moshe Feinstein

Sydney Adass is miles away from Melbourne’s Adass … check on THEIR attitude to Moshe Feiglin

[Hat tip BA]

Davening at Tzemach Tzedek this forthcoming Shabbos, Parshas Noach – Adass and Tzemach Tzedek will be welcoming Moshe Feiglin.
Moshe Feiglin is the past deputy speaker of the Knesset and founder of the Zehut party.
After davening, our members, with Tzemach Tzedek and Bet Yosef members are invited to a combined Kiddush to listen to and welcome him.
Moshe Feiglin has a unique insight into the problems facing Israel and their solutions.
For further details regarding his Sydney visit contact Sreuvi Lazarus Ph: 0415850245
Biography
Moshe Feiglin is the head of the Zehut political movement, dedicated to providing Israel with authentic Jewish leadership based on Jewish identity and liberty and imbuing every facet of Israeli life with the meaning of Jewish destiny.

In 1993, Moshe Feiglin co-founded the Zo Artzeinu (“This [is] our Land/Country”) movement with Shmuel Sackett to protest the Oslo Accords. In 1996, he established the Manhigut Yehudit movement to foster Jewish leadership for Israel. In 2000, the movement joined Israel’s Likud party as a faction dedicated to the same goal. Mr. Feiglin declared that he would be a candidate for chairmanship of the party as a springboard for premiership of the State of Israel. Mr. Feiglin was Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Likud MK from 2013 – 2015.

Moshe Feiglin advocates human rights and liberty, family values, free market economy tempered with the Jewish values of kindness, Israeli sovereignty over all the land in its hands, Jewish rights on the Temple Mount and much more. He is determined to provide Israel with the authentic Jewish leadership that it so desperately needs. His goal is to be prime minister of Israel and to lead the nation to its Jewish destiny with authentic Jewish values.

More on Same Gender issues

There is an interesting piece in Tablet Magazine where Rabbi Benny Lau, considered a moderate by many, makes a powerful speech.

Like many, I am horrified that anyone should seek to murder another over this (or indeed any other reason except for self-defence). I wonder, though, what his speech would have been had nobody been murdered. He would have needed to “tip toe through the tulips”. Indeed, one wonders whether he would directly answer the question of whether such marches are appropriate in the Holiest City of Jerusalem? Would he approve of these at the Kotel or Har Habayis? Would he speak at a March there?

Make no mistake. I do not conjure hatred or invoke enmity against those with disposition towards the same gender. At the same time, I am completely bound to the Torah prohibition regarding the actualisation of such a disposition. That is inescapable for any Orthodox Jew. Though Rabbi Benny Lau certainly agrees with that, I think he would choose not to mention it. He would have halachic precedent to not mention it. The command to admonish is not in effect:

  1. Where one will definitely not be listened to; and
  2. Unless someone knows “the way” to admonish.

On the second point, many Acharonim say that we do not know the way to admonish any longer. That should not be equated with silence. This post is not silence. In any democracy, the only way to foster love of Torah is to teach authentic Torah according to one’s audience’s level. This is inescapable.

Ironically, Religious Zionists in Israel as opposed to Centrist/Modern Zionists around the world, are far less equipped to deal with the new generation. I have witnessed a profound lack of sophistication in their educational approach. The preponderance of attention to land over people is only partially to blame. The other part is the feeling that they need to strive to be “like” Charedim. There is no need to do so and there never has. One ought not be concerned by what cloistered enclaves choose to do or not do. That is their approach.

One does as the Torah commands, and speaks בדרכי נועם.

As Chacham Ovadya Yosef taught:

אין טעם כלל לזעוק בקריאות כל שהן כלפי מחללי שבת בפרהסיא, הנוסעים במכוניתם בשבת, שהרי בקריאות “שבת! שבת!” כנגדם לא מתקיימת מצות תוכחה, אם מפני שאינם מבינים כלל את דברי הזועק, ואם מפני שחונכו בדרך לא טובה, ועל כן לא השכילו להבין את חומרת הדבר של חילול שבת. וכל שכן אם הם אנשים יודעי תורה, ואף על פי כן הם מרשיעים ונוסעים בשבת, שבודאי אין חיוב כלל להוכיחם

The internet and the streets simply must open up the world to Charedim

Here is a fascinating story of the grandson of the Satmar Rebbe who joined the Israeli army. Yes, it’s true, that there is no family that is immune from a child taking a different direction. This is a fact of life.

I don’t like the word blame in the context. I prefer to think that the concept where ‘one size fits all’ and clueless teachers and/or parents cause much of this reality. חנוך על פי דרכו teach according to their acuities, is something harder to achieve in a “my way or the highway” approach.

You should read the article HERE [hat time CMW]

Another article, of interest, describes what appears to be a growing phenomenon is from the Huffington Post, and reproduced here [Hat tip Krakower]

I Escaped Hasidic Judaism and Went From Living on the Streets to Being a Hollywood Actor

In June 2008, exactly three years after I got married, I decided to get a divorce. I didn’t fall out of love with my wife. In fact, I never fell in love with her in the first place. I simply no longer wanted to have the life I had with her and everyone surrounding her.

My wife was a Hasidic Jew, and when I married her, so was I. But that was no longer the case. I was a 22-year-old man with a long beard and side curls (payes) and all the other markings of a Hasid, but I was an atheist. An atheist surrounded by Orthodox Hasidic Jews. Surrounded by their certainty, their food, their self-righteousness and their minivans.

I hated all of it, so I left and entered a world full of uncertainty and a broad spectrum of ideas about right and wrong.

I had no idea what I was going to do. I had no education beyond Jewish Talmudic studies. I had no friends outside of the Hasidic world beyond a few I met at Footsteps, an organization that supports Orthodox Jews attempting to escape. I had no marketable skill beyond being able to charm your pants off. I had never been on a date. I had never heard of The Beatles. And I thought, “May the Force be with you” meant “May God be with you.”

“For most of my life, I believed that all non-Jews hate us and want to kill us.”

After leaving the Hasidic world, I spent seven years in various stages of decay. I slept in a tent in Bushwick for several months, lived in a rented Volkswagen Jetta for as long as my credit card limit allowed and crashed with friends. I starved in the harsh street of New York City. When I used my last subway fare to make my way to my sister’s (one of eleven siblings) house for leftovers from Shabbat meals, she wouldn’t let me in the house because I was wearing jeans.

When I went on dates, I had nothing in common with the women. I knew nothing about their culture, and they knew nothing about mine. I thought all shiksas were prostitutes, and they thought all Hasidim were landlords and diamond dealers.

Let me answer some revealing questions about Hasidic Judaism. Does it withhold a broad education from their children in order to keep the children narrow-minded and uneducated? Yes. Does it vilify the outside world in order to keep its members from joining it? Definitely. Does it have a fear and/or doomsday element to it? Of course. Is there ex-communication for those who dare to leave? Oh yeah.

I still have not received anything past a 5th grade education. In fact, since I never attended a regular school, I don’t actually know what a 5th grade education is — I just picked a grade that seemed right. I don’t know what algebra is; I know I can Google it but I wasn’t made to care enough to do so.

“After leaving the Hasidic world, I spent seven years in various stages of decay.”

For most of my life, I believed that all non-Jews hate us and want to kill us. I believed that all goyim are murderers, rapists, degenerates and dirty second-class citizens. Of course, they/we aren’t but I was taught that in order to make the secular lifestyle less appealing. I was told horrible things would happen to me in this world and the “next world” if I leave. I was told I would end up a criminal or drug addict. Many members of my family refuse to speak to me to this day.

I have had to transition both out of Hasidism and transition into mainstream culture. I have had to find a replacement for the void left by the lack of community and warmth. I had to replace my family, my friends and my moral compass. It was hard leaving everything behind but it was even harder to find something to replace it all with.

Thankfully, as an actor, my professional community is very friendly and inclusive (albeit competitive). I’ve replaced my biological family with actors and Footsteps members. I have managed to date, to have my heart broken, to have broken some hearts and to grow because of all of it.

I get asked all the time: “Are you happy now?” The answer is an unequivocal, “Yes!” I have friends who love me for who I am, for who I was and for who I am trying to become.

“I had to replace my family, my friends and my moral compass.”

Career-wise, it seems I have sought the path of most resistance, deciding to work in a field full of multi-talented human specimens with high cheekbones and jaguar physiques. I’m five foot seven inches, unathletic and have a heavy Yiddish accent. And yet, I’ve been getting work. My latest film, “Felix and Meira,” just beat David Cronenberg at the Toronto International Film Festival for “Best Canadian Feature Film,” and I won “Best Actor” at the Torino Film Festival. Next, I will appear in a recurring role in the upcoming season of “Transparent” on Amazon Prime.

But those achievements pale in comparison to the responses I get from people within the Hasidic community who have snuck out to go see the film. They have been yearning to break away but have been told that if they do, they will end up in jail or in rehab, and they believed it. But now, they can counter that with success stories like mine and those of others like me.

The Hasidic community isn’t what it used to be even five years ago. With the Internet, every person has access to every flavor of every forbidden fruit his or her heart desires, including my story. It won’t be long before the Empire falls. It might not fall completely, but it certainly will be forced to adapt to the 21st century.

The Empire won’t go down easy. The Empire will strike back. For evidence, watch the comments section below.

Follow Luzer Twersky on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@twersky

In my opinion unless subtle changes are introduced into Charedi education this will become more prevalent. It is nigh on impossible to live in a Cocoon these days. I know of schools that redact every book with pen or gluing pages together. The effect is that the students are more certain to find the original text and be exposed. I’m not sure that approach works. Kids are far more connected than they ever were.

Indeed, there has been a new (undesirable) ban now on whatsapp [Hat tip BA]. I surmise this is because the kosher filters cannot filter such messages. whatsapp is wonderful, it keeps families closer and informed, especially when they are spread around the world. Anything can be used for bad or for good. That is the central tenet in my understanding.

More on the Rav Riskin Conversion issue

Rav Riskin has suggestions about making it easier for giyur because of the problem with the volumes of non Jewish Russians in Israel.

He has written these in a book. This is the way of Torah.

He has conditioned his suggestions on the agreement of other major poskim.
The information that I have is that he has not actually acted on any of his proposals with respect to Giyur, although, as I mentioned in a previous post, there are a myriad of instances where Charedi Batei Din do quicky conversions which are quite obviously based on marriage considerations!

One of the issues with Rabbi Gil Student’s post is that he doesn’t deal with the suggestions that Rav Riskin puts forward.
Instead of arguing with his suggestions some rabbis prefer to just silence him.

I’m aware that Rabbi Yoram Ullman of the Sydney Beth Din, did deal with some of the proposals, however, I was not in a state to be at his talk. If he has published a Tshuva, or anyone can encourage him to do so and pass it onto me, then I’d be obliged.

If I was Rav Riskin, I’d take my arguments to Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg and Rav Hershel Schachter (but that’s just me). If they both gave approbation to one of his suggestions, I’d accept it with 100% confidence. If they don’t then I would not. Neither of these Gedolim have an agenda (although Rav Hershel may adopt the approach of his teacher Rav Soloveitchik and be unwilling to Pasken for Israel specifically)

  

Belzer chassidim cave in to secular pressure

Make no mistake, this was not about Judaism. It wasn’t about דינא דמלכותה it was about keeping their school open. I had blogged about the issue here. They have caved in and shown less guts than the days of yore when the Gedolim of Europe had to deal with the issue of introducing secular studies into Yeshivos. If they really followed their Rebbe, then they should have gone on Aliya to Kiryas Belz or something and followed his ruling. Instead, they decided Golus in Stamford Hill under מלכות של חסד was preferable.

From the Jerusalem Post

Plans by leaders of the Belz hassidic community in north London’s Stamford Hill to expel pupils if they were driven to school by their mothers have been countermanded by the school governors, after a strong warning Education Secretary Nicky Morgan that it was “completely unacceptable” and her instigation of an inquiry into the controversial policy.

The issue arose after the head of two junior schools – Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass, for boys, and Beis Malka, for girls – sent out a note threatening to institute the new policy from the beginning of the new school year in August. The note stated that the edict conformed with the ruling of the leader of the Belz Hassidim, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, that women adherents must not drive.

Headlines about bans on women driving led to close attention on the Belz community in particular and hassidic Jews in general, with parallels being drawn with Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive. Jewish communal leaders – including Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Rabbi Joseph Dwek, the head of the Spanish and Portuguese community – distanced themselves from the ruling.

Morgan, who also serves as women’s and equalities minister, said the government would take any necessary action to “address the situation.”

Faced with negative reaction, Ahron Klein, chief executive of the boys school, issued a statement at the end of last week in which he stated that the head teacher had “sent out the letter on behalf of the spiritual heads of the community, who had not taken into account the implications of such a policy.”

He added that Neshei Belz, the community’s women’s organization, had also issued a statement saying that Belz women’s values may be compromised in driving a vehicle, although they added that they respect individual choices made in this matter.

Klein pointed out that the message that children would be excluded had not come from the school’s board of governors, “who did not approve the letter in advance.” And he clarified that the schools believe that women have a choice about whether they want to drive, “and our policy is to accept all children who are members of our community, which we have been doing for the last 40 years.”

Klein confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that, indeed, women driving their children to school would not be faced with their children being turned away, though he emphasized it was generally accepted by hassidic Jews – and not just by the 700 families of the Belz community in the UK – that for reasons based on their form of Judaism, women do not drive.

While welcoming the clarification, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, which declared the policy “unlawful and discriminatory,” announced it had written to the schools demanding further clarification that they were complying with UK law and seeking confirmation no pupils driven by their mothers to school would be subjected to sanctions.

I wonder which היתר they used and whether it was sanctioned by their Rebbe? Whatever, they have come out of this looking quite silly.

Support for Rabbi Riskin

I had blogged on this Here

(hat tip nb) Rav Melamed is considered one of the leading Poskim for the Chareidi Leumi group (right wing religious zionists)

 

I’m writing to update you on events surrounding the Israeli Chief Rabbinical Council’s refusal to automatically renew Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s tenure as Chief Rabbi of Efrat. As I wrote last week, Rabbi Riskin has instead been summoned for a hearing, at which the Council will examine his qualifications and credentials for continuing the work to which he has devoted his life since the very establishment of the city.

I am delighted to report that Rabbi Riskin has been blessed with an incredible groundswell of support, which testifies to the meaningful, lasting impact he has had on world Jewry. 

He has been especially touched by the solidarity and encouragement expressed in letters, emails, phone calls, tweets and facebook posts from individuals spanning the globe. 

In addition, prominent members of Knesset and Israeli government ministers, communal and spiritual leaders in Israel and the Diaspora and countless organizations have spoken and written eloquently on his behalf, demonstrating the highest levels of respect he has earned from a broad cross-section of the Jewish world. 

Below is one such article, authored by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, spiritual leader of the community of Har Bracha and a leading figure in the “Chardal” (ultra-Orthodox Zionist) community. In addition to beautifully encapsulating so much of what has been written and said over the past week, the poignancy of his heartfelt advocacy stems precisely from the fact that he holds fundamentally differing views from Rabbi Riskin on many issues. 

I invite you to read and be inspired by Rabbi Melamed’s expression of steadfast support on behalf of our beloved rabbi.

With warmest regards and Shabbat Shalom

David Katz

International Director, Ohr Torah Stone

 Op-Ed: On the Rabbi Riskin Saga:

Don’t Disqualify the Torah Scroll (from Arutz Sheva)

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed 

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is a man who raised himself from poverty to dedicate his life to Torah and more – differences in philosophical or even halakhic approaches should not be used to disqualify one rabbi or another. 

It was recently reported that the Council of the Chief Rabbinate has expressed doubt as to whether to permit Rabbi Shlomo Riskin from staying on as chief municipal rabbi of Efrat despite recently turning 75.

The hearing ordinarily would have been nothing more than a procedural matter. But several members of the council evidently aimed to prevent Rabbi Riskin from continuing in his capacity as a result of their objections.

This, then, is the appropriate time to take a stand and praise Rabbi Riskin, a righteous, wise leader who has done extraordinary things.

Rabbi Riskin was born into a non-religious, poverty-stricken family. But from a young age, of his own free will and with the help of his grandmother, he began making his way toward the Torah and religious observance. Being a prodigy and an outstanding student, he was accepted to Harvard, the most prestigious university in the world, with a full scholarship. By choosing to study there, he would have guaranteed his professional and financial future: no door is closed to Harvard graduates.

It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, a temptation that few could resist. Yet Rabbi Riskin declined the scholarship and instead made his way to Yeshiva University, which also took notice of his abilities and granted him a full scholarship.

Since then, he has dedicated his life to Torah.

As a young, gifted, and charismatic rabbi, a captivating speaker with the ability to lift up the souls of his audience and draw them near to Torah and religious observance, Rabbi Riskin earned special esteem in the United States. Successful, educated individuals also found meaning in his words of Torah and were privileged to become acquainted with Jewish tradition under his guidance. “There was truthful Torah in his mouth, and he brought many back from sin.” The future that awaited him was that of a leader of the American-Jewish community.

Yet before even turning 40, inspired by pure faith in God and His Torah, he gave up his position in the United States and made a decision to immigrate to Israel.

In so doing, he gave up what had been his main skill in his work: his command of the English language, which had brought him the success he enjoyed in the United States. True, he learned to speak Hebrew excellently. but they say that in English few can parallel his rhetorical skills. Thanks to his vision, abilities, and leadership, he was able to bring many members of his community to Israel in his wake. He established an Israeli city at the heart of whose cultural life are the study of Torah and religious observance, whose residents enjoy a high standard of living and contribute to the economic, scientific, and social development of the State of Israel.

His ‘aliyah’ to Israel was felt by hundreds, even thousands, who followed in his footsteps to new homes in Efrat and throughout Israel, while also benefiting from the enhanced religious life implicit in such a change. Never slowing, Rabbi Riskin successfully established yeshivot and educational institutions for boys and girls in Gush Etzion and Jerusalem. Drawing on incredible sources of energy, he still makes his way to all of these institutions, where he teaches, speaks, illuminates, and imparts to his students the excitement of a life centered on Torah and Judaism.

Yet when he arrived in Israel, he was guaranteed nothing. He came with little more than the shirt on his back.

Western Aliyah to Israel

Unfortunately, though we are not always aware of it, the vast majority of those who have immigrated to Israel in modern times have come from countries where Jews were subject to persecution and poverty. Immigration from Western countries, particularly the United States, is perhaps the most impressive of all.

I therefore have a deep appreciation of Rabbi Riskin as well as all other immigrants from the United States.

A Difference of Approach

There are most definitely different approaches to various issues in Jewish law. This always has been the case in Jewish discourse, whether between the sages of the Mishnah, those of the Gemara, the luminaries of Geonic Babylonia, the scholars of the medieval era, or those of the modern period. Sometimes the differences stem from people’s different characters, as with Shammai and Hillel. Other times they stem from differences in background or intellectual method. Concerning these issues, our sages said (Ḥagigah 3b), “‘Masters of assemblies’ are those scholars who sit, some in this faction and some in that, and occupy themselves with the Torah. Some say it is impure; others say it is pure. Some forbid; others permit. Some declare it invalid; others declare it valid.

Lest a person say, ‘Then how can I study the Torah?’ the verse states that all were ‘given by a single shepherd’: a single God gave them, a single leader said them, from the mouth of the Lord of all creatures, blessed is He, as is stated, ‘God stated all of these things.’ So you, too, make your ears a funnel and develop a discerning heart so that you can hear the words of those who say it is impure and the words of those who say it is pure, the words of those who forbid and the words of those who permit, the words of those who declare it invalid and the words of those who declare it valid.

American Jewry

Rabbi Riskin’s American background plays an important part in his pursuits: American Jews and immigrants from the United States stand at the forefront of the struggle with Western culture and its principles of liberalism and equality, including feminism.

Out of their faithfulness to the Torah, Rabbi Riskin and his colleagues have forged a path to contend with these major and important questions. Among American rabbis, too, there are different approaches: how much to open up and how much to close, what to bring near and what to keep distant.

Sometimes, other rabbis, including myself, prefer other solutions. Sometimes this preference stems from habits of observance to which we are devoted, sometimes from the fact that we believe a certain way is more appropriate. For the most part, these differences of opinion and practice pertain to questions of education and society, rather than to questions of practice per se. Time will tell what advantages and disadvantages each path contains. In any event, we must not seek to delegitimize Rabbi Riskin’s path, which is one of the most important approaches to religious observance in our day. 

A Whole Torah Scroll

If a single letter is missing from a Torah scroll, it is unfit for use, and the same holds true for the pan-Jewish religious world: every true Jewish scholar has a letter in the Torah, and any person who excludes one of these scholars makes his own Torah scroll unfit for use. Any offense against Rabbi Riskin’s service in the rabbinate is equivalent to the obliteration of whole sections of the Torah.

I imagine that it was only out of ignorance that the Council of the Chief Rabbinate entertained doubts with regard to Rabbi Riskin. I am confident that once they have heard a bit of his reverence, erudition, and rectitude, the majority of the members of the rabbinical council will take his side.

If, heaven forbid, they reach a contrary decision, Rabbi Riskin’s dignity will not be harmed. His standing in his community and his institutions will keep rising, and his influence will become even greater. However, the public standing of the Chief Rabbinate as the public representative of the Torah of all Jews will be weakened when it becomes known that the Torah scroll it represents is deficient and unfit.

Policy of the Chief Rabbinate

Some have argued that the Chief Rabbinate should draw a line that all rabbis must follow, and Rabbi Riskin is not following the line that was drawn concerning such issues as conversion.

True, it is desirable that the Rabbinate take a position in pressing matters of public importance-but in order to do so, it must engage in a deep, serious discussion of each of these issues, a discussion of Talmudic, medieval, and modern literature that analyzes the reality of the matter at hand in all its dimensions. In order to expedite such a discussion, rabbis who are active in the given area would have to study various books and articles ahead of time, and then the discussion of every issue would continue for at least a few whole days.

Unfortunately, today no serious discussion is held concerning any important matter, whether in the Rabbinate or in any other religious entity. For instance, when it comes to conversion, Rabbi Ḥaim Amsalem wrote a very respectable book that is deserving of discussion. True, I draw different conclusions from his, but in objecting to what he wrote most of his opponents offer worthless arguments that rely on violence such as is accepted in Haredi circles.

I must add that despite the great value of arriving at a consensual position on every issue, such a position must not come at the expense of rabbinic discretion. Even when the Great Sanhedrin held session, local courts enjoyed a certain degree of authority, because fundamentally this position is not a thin line, but a divinely sanctioned field, a field in whose scope there are different practices and approaches thanks to which the Oral Torah becomes richer and greater.

All the more so today, when there is no Great Sanhedrin that traces its authority directly to Moses, must the Rabbinate not set a rigid line that seeks to disqualify religious perspectives of substance. The lesser the standing and authority of the Chief Rabbinate, the more it must take the various perspectives into consideration in arriving at its position. This is how the rabbis of the Jewish people carried themselves in previous generations.

“One Law Shall There Be for You All”

Aside from anything else, a single law must apply to all. When the Council of the Chief Rabbinate declines to react to profound challenges to its views and its dignity on the part of rabbis belonging to the haredi stream, who violently reject its kashrut supervision and treat the chief rabbis and municipal and neighborhood rabbis with contempt, it must also act tolerantly and fondly toward rabbis such as Rabbi Riskin, who respect the Chief Rabbinate but sometimes take a different track.

In today’s reality, the Rabbinate does not go out of its way immediately to dismiss rabbis who, contrary to the rules of Jewish law, disqualify conversions performed by representatives of the Rabbinate. It continues to recognize kosher supervision services, marriages, and conversions by “rabbis” who have the gall to publicly dismiss commandments of the Torah, such as the duty to settle the Land of Israel and defend the nation of Israel through military service, or deprecate the good that God bestowed on us with the establishment of the state and denigrate those who recite the Psalms of Praise on Independence Day.

In such with today’s reality, the Rabbinate must restrain itself from taking action against a rabbi whose reverence, deeds, and erudition are greater than those Haredi “rabbis” whom it is overly careful not to slight. 

Two Views on Rabbi Riskin

It was predictable, that the hard-hitting and often “on the money” Isi Leibler would come out in full support of Rabbi Riskin. Isi, if I’m not misquoting him, is also a supporter of Rabbi Benny Lau, who is a controversial figure.

What Isi fails to notice is that Rav Soltoveitchik was a Charedi in his outlook on Torah and Mitzvos. The difference was that Rav Soltoveitchik could make a Psak (many were often contradictory for good reasons) and “take on” any Gadol BaTorah in the entire world and flatten him with his learning and brilliance. His use of the philosophical world was to broaden the understanding of Torah.

Rabbi Riskin is a very impressive man. I enjoyed his latest book immensely. One thing that was clear though that Rabbi Riskin, when in doubt, always went to seek advice from some mentors. He used to go to Rav Soltoveitchik and then to the Lubavitcher Rebbe (especially when the latter enfranchised him to work underground for Soviet Jewry).

Now, Rabbi Riskin is his own man. He is not young. He got one-off Hetterim from both Rav Soltoveitchik and the Lubavitcher Rebbe for certain activities. In his fantastic book he is clearly in awe of them, and if you asked him today whether he reached either of their ankles, he would tell you “No way in the world”. That being said, unlike another moderates like Rav Aharon Lichtenstein ז’ל, Rav Aharon actually also had a posek. That Posek was none other than Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ז’ל, a cousin of Isi’s wife, Naomi. The saintly Rav Avigdor Nevenzahl also went to discuss difficult matters with Rav Shlomo Zalman. Why? Because whilst being a Charedi, Rav Shlomo Zalman was not behoved to any politics or political machinations. He was an independent, a pure soul, who understood both Rav Aharon, and Rav Avigdor (and like Rav Elyashiv would get angry at anyone who remotely said anything negative about Rav Kook ז’ל)

I feel that Rabbi Riskin is now missing his mentors. Who isn’t? His last few more controversial steps are argued among the real students of Rav Soloveitchik, of whom I consider Rav Hershel Schachter שליט’’א, the carrier of Rav Soloveitchik’s Torah Mesora and דרך הלימוד ופסק par excellence.

Far be it from me to be one to proffer advice to Rabbi Riskin, (I don’t come to his ankles) but the one Rabbi I would go to discuss issues of grave halachic import in Israel with, is actually Rav Shlomo Zalman’s son in law, Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. He is very much attuned with the real world, as was Rav Shlomo Zalman himself. He is a wise man, very attuned to the real world, and void of politics.

I’ll close with Isi’s article, and that of Rabbi Gil Student. You decide. Regarding the Chief Rabbinate, I agree. The calibre of Rabbi is not what it should be. Rav Ovadya Yosef was recently described as מיוסף עד יוסף לא קם כיוסף where the first Yosef is R’ Yosef Caro the author of the Shulchan Aruch. I agree with this whole heartedly. Sadly, political appartchiks are now in the seat.

Indeed, reading what Rav Soltoveitchik wrote about the Chief Rabbinate, is as true now as it was 30 years ago. He was utterly opposed to the concept.

Here is Isi’s article, followed by R’ Gil Student.

The despicable effort by the haredi-controlled Chief Rabbinate to purge Rabbi Shlomo Riskin because he does not conform to their stringent halachic approach may prove to be a blessing in disguise. The anger this outrageous initiative generated could be the final straw needed to dissolve this corrupt institution, which is held in contempt by most Israelis — including, ironically most haredim.

Rabbi Riskin is one of the outstanding role models of the religious Zionist community. I am privileged to have known him for over 30 years and consider him one of the greatest and most beloved Modern Orthodox rabbis of our generation. He is also an extraordinary creator of Jewish institutions.

A student of the great Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, in 1964 Riskin became the rabbi of Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue, which he transformed into one of New York’s most successful Orthodox religious centers.

In 1984, at the peak of his career, he moved to Israel and became founding chief rabbi and a leading developer of Efrat, which is today a highly successful community.

In addition to acting as a communal rabbi, he launched the Ohr Torah Stone institutions, which include one of the best networks of Modern Orthodox schools in Israel, ranging from junior high school through to graduate programs. He also created a special program to inculcate young men with the knowledge and skills to be effective rabbis and educators throughout the Jewish world.

He displayed innovation by seeking to blend Halachah with the requirements of a modern industrial Jewish state.

He strove to upgrade the status of women and to this effect launched Midreshet Lindenbaum, a college designed to educate religious women. He also created a five-year program designed to train women to act as religious advisers paralleling rabbis. This and his efforts to address the issue of agunot (women in unwanted marriages whose husbands are unwilling or unable to grant them divorces) outraged the ultra-Orthodox.

Rabbi Riskin also had a major impact in the field of marriage, divorce and above all, conversion, where he established independent conversion courts that were bitterly challenged by the haredi establishment. Riskin considers the issue of conversion — especially related to immigrants from the former Soviet Union — as one of the greatest religious, national and societal challenges facing Israel.

He was at the forefront of efforts by the moderate Tzohar Rabbinical Council to decentralize the appointment of rabbis and provide Israelis with choices beyond the extremist ultra-Orthodox candidates appointed by the Chief Rabbinate.

When at the age of 75, Rabbi Riskin’s tenure came up for a five-year extension — an automatic procedural formality, the Chief Rabbinical Council took the unprecedented step of refusing to reappoint him. It was only due to a plea from the recently elected chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Aryeh Stern, that the council reluctantly agreed to interview him. He only learned about his provisional rejection from the media.

This was not merely an attempt to publicly humiliate one of the doyens of Modern Orthodoxy. It was a ploy by the ultra-Orthodox fanatics to assume unprecedented total centralized control of religious leadership and to marginalize those with different approaches.

But choosing to impose their agenda on Efrat, a bastion of national religious Zionism, is likely to backfire and the crude effort to oust Rabbi Riskin against the wishes of his community, exposes crude agenda of the Chief Rabbinate.

As far back as the Mishnah, there were robust debates in the interpretation of Halachah between the more liberal Beit Hillel and more stringent Beit Shamai schools. And this process of debating the “70 faces” of Torah ensured that a plurality of interpretations prevailed at all times. Now even the ultra-Orthodox compete among themselves to impose the most stringent interpretations of implementing Jewish laws.

This is being extended to the Diaspora with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate insisting that that conversions to Judaism by Orthodox rabbis lacking their endorsement should no longer be recognized as Jews by the government of Israel and thus ineligible for aliya.

This is outrageous and entirely beyond the jurisdiction of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Former chief rabbis like Rabbi Isaac Herzog, Rabbi Shlomo Goren and others were outstanding religious scholars, moderate and devoted religious Zionists in stark contrast to the mediocrities and corrupt individuals who succeeded them when the haredim hijacked the Chief Rabbinate.

It is significant that the current Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau ensured his election by giving an unqualified undertaking to haredi groups that he would resist any proposed reforms relating to conversions or rabbinical administration without their prior approval.

To make matters worse, the level of corruption and scandals associated with the Chief Rabbinate reached bedrock when the former chief rabbi (whose appointment was orchestrated by the haredim to block a national religious candidate of genuine stature) was arrested and charged with purloining millions of dollars from illegal activities and corrupt practices.

Not surprisingly, the attempts to humiliate Rabbi Riskin created enormous outrage. The Tzohar Rabbinical Association stated that “above any effort to depose Rabbi Riskin flies a clear red flag of revenge directed against his positions and halachic decisions” and accused the rabbinical council of initiating this solely “for political considerations and to enable them to appoint insiders in his place.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the religious Zionist Habayit Hayehudi party, stated that the Chief Rabbinate was behaving in an “unacceptable” manner and that he would not stand by and permit this.

Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky, described Riskin as “a Jewish leader and an Israeli patriot,” insisting that there can be “no questions about his qualifications for his continued service.”

The Efrat municipal council unanimously voted to extend the rabbi’s tenure and condemned the intervention. Rabbi Riskin made it clear that if necessary, he would appeal to the Supreme Court but that so long as the Efrat community wished to retain him, he would continue to serve them as rabbi without payment.

The abject silence of Diaspora Orthodox institutions was disappointing, encouraging Rabbi David Stav, the head of Tzohar, to call on Jewish communities in the U.S. to stop inviting Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef as their guests if the Riskin provocation is not withdrawn.

The Rabbinical Council of America, once a robust Modern Orthodox group, expressed the hope that the differences would be amicably settled. One of its executive officers, Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer, actually accused Rabbi Riskin “of violating the trust of his employer and contravening the rulings of the most pre-eminent halachic authorities of this and previous generations,” alleging that “the employer had more than ample reason to maintain that his employee was not adhering to the policies and values that he was hired to uphold.” This obscene depiction of Riskin as an employee of the Chief Rabbinate reflects the distorted mentality of those currently controlling the institution.

In view of the waves of protest, there is every probability that the Chief Rabbinate will back down. But now is the time for Israelis and Orthodox Jews throughout the world to raise their voices and say enough is enough. Despite the repercussions of a division, breaking away and setting up independent religious courts directed by moderate Zionists is the only means by which to terminate the exclusive control of the haredim.

Throughout the Exile, the rabbinate never imposed centralized religious control and there was always a plurality of differing halachic interpretations. The issue is not whether we should be more or less stringent in the application of Jewish law. Any Orthodox community should be entitled to select its choice of spiritual leader. Haredim are entitled to practice their religion as they see fit. Indeed, there are aspects of their spirituality and lifestyle that our hedonistic society could benefit by emulating. But that does not provide a license to enable the most extreme elements to impose their limited worldview on Israeli society.

The Chief Rabbinate is regarded with contempt and despair by the vast majority of Israelis, including most haredim, who merely exploit the institution for their own purposes. The greatest impediment to the current religious revival is the deplorable status of the rabbinical bureaucracy, which alienates rather than attracts Israelis to their Jewish heritage. The scandalous effort to degrade one of the most beloved and successful Orthodox rabbis of our generation should be a wake-up call to introducing highly overdue, radical changes in the rabbinate.

Here is Rabbi Gil Student’s take:

If you want to know why Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is apparently being forced into retirement by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, you have to read his recent book, The Living Tree: Studies in Modern Orthodoxy. I don’t claim any insight into the complex politics of Israel’s governmental organizations, of which the Chief Rabbinate is one. I don’t know enough to understand the power struggle that is occurring. However, in terms of ideology, I see why the Chief Rabbinate Council would express concern over R. Riskin. His book is more radical than many might expect. This is not the same Rabbi Riskin you may remember from the 60’s and 70’s.

The most surprising thing about the book is what is missing from it. On multiple occasions, R. Riskin wrote programmatic essays about what Modern Orthodoxy needs to do to succeed. These were essays full of passion, exhorting both faith in God and Torah as well as devoted observance of the commandments. While the book consists almost entirely of previously published articles, these programmatic essays were replaced with a new introduction titled “What is Modern Orthodoxy?” This introduction is a call for radical change in halakhic decision-making. For example (p. xiv):

The Modern Orthodox decisor must orchestrate the interplay between both of these directives, taking into account the guiding principles used by the sages of the Talmud in their religio-legal discussions, the meta-halakhic principles such as, “for the sake of the perfection of the world,” “in order to respect the integrity of the human being created in the divine image,” “for the sake of freeing a wife chained to an impossible marriage the sages found leniency,” “in order to provide spiritual satisfaction for women,” and “you must love the stranger and the proselyte.”

If you are familiar with rabbinic literature of the past century, you will immediately recognize that these are legitimate principles that can and have been (ab)used to overturn wide swaths of Jewish law. The essays in the book provide many examples of R. Riskin’s applications of these principles. There are two things going on here. First, R. Riskin is promoting his own fairly radical agenda, as would be expected. Second, he is setting the stage for future rabbis to make even more changes to Jewish practice according to their own understanding of what is needed, regardless of what traditional texts allow.

Another troubling trend I find in this book seems to be the result of an editorial oversight. Most of the essays were written over the course of decades, as R. Riskin’s experiences and outlook changed. While the essays were edited for consistency and maybe updated a little, the conclusions were largely left intact. Here we see a troubling difference in how R. Riskin reaches conclusions. Regarding changing the daily blessing “Who has not made me a woman,” R. Riskin writes: “I would not permit even so minor a change without the approval and approbation of several leading halakhic authorities” (p. 159). While R. Riskin advocates annulling marriages, he does not plan on doing so unilaterally. Rather, “this should be effectuated by a special Beit Din for agunot in Jerusalem with impeccable halakhic credentials who would render judgments, and rule on urgent issues of mesuravot get throughout the world” (p. 188). In his call for theological interfaith dialogue with Christians, R. Riskin repeatedly invokes Rav Soloveitchik, albeit in what I believe is a twisting of his words but at least as an appeal to an eminent authority.

However, in his essay on women halakhic scholars and judges, R. Riskin does not submit his proposal to leading authorities. The most he does is quote a responsum of Rav Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, who is alive and well and could be consulted. Instead, R. Riskin started a program for ordaining women on his own. (R. Riskin writes that his program’s first two graduates published a book of responsa that “has received much praise, and — at least to my knowledge — no negative reviews” (p. 132). We published a negative review by Rav Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer to which one of the authors responded.)

When it comes to women dancing with a Torah scroll on Simchas Torah–which I acknowledge lacks the gravity of some other issues under discussion–R. Riskin likewise does not mention consulting with other scholars. When discussing establishing a Hesder yeshiva for women–a matter of great communal importance–R. Riskin also omits discussion with great authorities.

What I see is a rabbi whose agenda has become increasingly radical. Realizing that he was engaging in activities for which he would not gain approval of his elders, he stopped asking. Instead, he moved forward on his own authority. A young R. Shlomo Riskin regularly consulted with Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Moshe Feinstein and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. When they passed away, he was no longer restrained.

In America, R. Riskin was a defender of Orthodoxy against the Conservative movement and a defender of Judaism against Christian missionaries. That is not the R. Riskin you will find in this book. Maybe in Israel he found himself in a different situation which has given him a new perspective. He now has Christian supporters in his role as a defender of modernity against Charedi Judaism. Maybe he simply underwent a personal evolution.

However, this is all speculation. Regardless of why, R. Riskin has taken some communally radical actions and created surprisingly unorthodox institutions entirely on his own initiative. Some people love him for it. We should not be surprised that others believe he has gone too far on too many issues. Whether that is cause for him to be forced into retirement I leave to his employers and constituents.

Disclaimer: Isi’s son is my brother-in-law.

On the Royal Commission

I had previously written that I was so upset by the thing that I couldn’t bring myself to watch proceedings. Yesterday, towards the end of the day, for some reason I can’t explain, I decided to see what was happening, and caught about an hour of Yossi Feldman’s testimony. Some aspects of that testimony made me feel ill, quite literally. It disturbed my sleep last night significantly and I awoke in a nightmarish state imagining I had spent the night in the Royal Commission watching proceedings. I missed Shacharis because I was affected by what I had heard and seen in that one hour and woke in an agitated state.

Many things struck me, but one was reverberating in my head as I drove in to work. When asked whether he had undertaken any specialised education since the issue became headlines, Yossi Feldman admitted had not but intended to do so in the near future. I could not understand why one, who by his own admission, had at best a very immature understanding of sexual crime involving minors (and I note that his answer of 13 years of age (Bar Mitzvah) was disingenuous even from a Jewish point of view because one is not a Bar Onshin (punishable) until they are 20 thereby making a person a “minor” in respect of punishment until they are 20 according to Jewish Law) had not undertaken any formal education in this area himself immediately. I recognise some live cloistered lives, but it is precisely those people who need that type of education more so than those who live in the real world. The world is a much crueller place than some imagine.

I then noticed the laudable statement from the Jewish Taskforce in Victoria this morning which stated

We have been following the Royal Commission into Child Abuse with concern as we hear the awful experiences people have gone through.
We feel deeply for all the victims and applaud their courage in coming forward to tell of the pain they suffered and continue to bear. We encourage all victims  and their families to reach out for support; whether that be in reporting to the police,
in seeking therapeutic assistance or for whatever else they require.

We would like to reiterate that all institutions must have appropriate policies in place to safeguard children so that there will be a clear understanding
of appropriate behaviors and the ramifications of not behaving in accordance with the law. We therefore encourage those organisations who have not yet put
policies in place to attend the JCCV training sessions, or similar appropriate ones. Child abuse is heinous and unacceptable. The responsibility lies with all of us as a community and society to ensure we take action to prevent it.

Debbie Wiener – Chair
Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence Inc.
Admin line: 03 9523 6850
Support line: 03 9523 2100
PO. Box 2439, Caulfield Junction, 3161
admin@jewishtaskforce.org.au
http://www.jewishtaskforce.com.au

and it dawned on me that perhaps there is no chapter of this organisation in New South Wales? If this is indeed the case, there is a strong argument simply based on one hour of what I watched, that all in positions where they educate the young or interact with the young etc undertake a series of courses as described by the Jewish Taskforce and often offered by them. Certainly, I would make it compulsory as part of Rabbinic Studies designed for communal leadership. If there is no such organisation in Sydney, then it’s time some from NSW came down and followed the processes used here to make such facilities available. It would be silly to assume that this problem only existed and will continue to manifest itself solely in Victoria and NSW. These types of education programs should be compulsory in every state, even those with fewer students. I extend this call to Bar/Bat Mitzvah teachers, those who give Shiurim in a Kollel or house of learning, and anyone in a position where they interact in a way that may be amenable to grooming or whether there is a power differential. Knowledge is power. People need to know and understand. Clearly some do not.

Farewell Rabbi Yaakov Sprung

Please note: there will be no comments on this post.

I am not a member of Mizrachi. I used to be, about three decades ago, and my Rav was the saintly Rav Boruch Abaranok ז’’ל. Rav Abaranok was a Tzadik Gamur. He wasn’t a Beinoni. He was the real thing. He received his Smicha from the Chafetz Chaim and was friendly with Rav Elchonon Wasserman הי’’ד. He didn’t wear a Kippa Sruga (knitted yarmulka) and wore a dark suit and homburg hat. He wasn’t a great orator, but his words in a one on one situation, penetrated the heart more than any orator could achieve. He was also a staunch zionist, and supported the State of Israel in a genuine fashion. I have written about him here. When he paskened, he would subsequently invite you to come the next day or that night, to his office or home, and have all the Seforim open and prepared, and would explain from inside how he had come to his Psak Din.

Our son, Tzvi Yehuda, now famous for his incredible and successful chasing kosher side venture, was fortunate to have Rav Abaranok as his Sandek. I remember being flabbergasted when he arrived at the door for both the Bris and subsequent Upsherin, each time carrying a gift of Seforim. Our younger son, Yosef Dov who is learning in Israel presently, was also lucky to get a set of Seforim from Rav Abaranok ז’ל.

On Shabbos he wore a black litvishe kapote much like the dress of the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbis of Israel.

I used to bring our children (two back then) to Rav Abaranok almost every Sunday morning. His children and grandchildren were all overseas, and his wife nebach, was with him but not 100% due to her horrid experience in the Holocaust.

Rav Abaranok became very sick after a fall (as I recall). I had a strange sense that he was about to leave this world. It was too difficult for me to absorb emotionally, so I started visiting less often. He would ask me, if he saw me, “Yitzchok, what did I do. Why don’t you come anymore?”. He never realised that I couldn’t cope with seeing him slip away.

On his first Yohr Tzeit, I went and stood outside his house (which is no longer there) and just cried.

While he was still at Mizrachi, the community decided to appoint a new Rabbi. I stopped going because my father ע’’ה asked me to (the reason for which is immaterial to this post)

That Rabbi was replaced by the recently deceased and well-known, Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen ז’ל. Many members of our family still daven at Mizrachi and my brother-in-law is now the President. I was fortunate to have occasions to interact with him. My interactions were always of a Torah/Halachic nature and I enjoyed speaking “in learning” with him. He had a pleasant disposition and was a professional American style Rabbi with lots of grandeur.

Rabbi Cohen eventually left (I believe of his own accord, but I can’t recall), and was replaced by Rabbi Sprung.

Rabbi Sprung will complete 10 years of Rabonus at Mizrachi in August. I went to his home every Purim (even though he stopped serving scotch after the first year :-), and we shared divrei torah and halachic discussions. On one occasion, when there was an  injustice in the community, he was the Rabbi who was prepared to stand up, by ringing overseas, properly ascertaining facts, when he could easily have avoided the issue. He made a difference.

My wife loved his Shabbos Shiurim, and went every Shabbos to hear these. She said that he put so much preparation into each Shiur. He seemed to always be giving Shiurim. He went from minyan to minyan at Mizrachi and gave droshos. He enjoyed good relationships with the Roshei Kollel of Mizrachi’s Kollel and other Rabbinic staff.

His pastoral support was incredible. He would visit the sick, comfort the mourner or the forlorn, and his door was open. Recently, one post was perhaps too revealing about my state of mind. He doesn’t read blogs, but someone had mentioned it to him. On the next morning, I got a phone call wherein he expressed concern for me, and stressed that whenever I needed or wanted to discuss anything with him, to do so, and that his door was always open. My father ע’’ה was in hospital several times. Rabbi Sprung always visited him amongst many others. I know my father greatly appreciated Rabbi Sprung’s visits. He was in fact the only Rabbi to visit him.

Rabbi Sprung on the far left. [picture from melbourne eruv website]
On Simchos (Smachot if you want to use Ivrit) he would meticulously prepare by interviewing everyone, and then weave a wonderful Drosha where he paid tribute to the attributes of the Ba’alei Simcha and their families. I heard such Droshas many a time. We invited him and his Rebbetzin to our own Simchos, as I considered him a Choshuve Rav with whom I had developed a relationship.

Mizrachi is not like other Kehillos. There are a lot of “leaders” of other organisations who are highly opinionated who daven there as well as many highly educated professionals and “machers”. Rabbi Sprung’s fidelity to Halacha was unquestionable. He wasn’t afraid to state his firm halachic view on a range of issues, including those who led services at the conservadox Shira Chadasha (an identical view with which Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter agrees). These types of issues may have made him be seen as too “right-wing”, but I can’t know that with certainty. I can only describe my interaction. Perhaps Mizrachi will now employ a hatless, Kipa Sruga type. Time will tell.

Towards the end of his Rabbonus contract in August, Mizrachi decided that it would only extend the contract after a democratic vote of all members. I can’t recall whether they had a democratic vote to appoint him, but I do recall there were a few candidates. One can surmise that after 10 years in the role, some no longer appreciated what he offered.

I am sad to see Rabbi Sprung’s tenure at Mizrachi Melbourne come to an end. Knowing him, he will see it as Hashgocho (divine providence) and depart as gracefully as when he arrived. I know he was widely respected by the Melbourne Rabbinate, and he avoided politics when  possible. I’m guessing Rebbetzin Naomi Sprung may feel somewhat blessed that she has an opportunity to relocate to an area closer to her children and grandchildren. Melbourne, isn’t exactly close by, and to be dislocated from family would be a strain for anyone.

I wish Rabbi and Rebbetzin Sprung immediate future success, together with lots of Nachas and joy.

We now wait to see who the (democratically elected?) new Rabbi will be.

ואפילו בהסתרה … even when he is hidden?

There is a moving Breslov melody which is very popular. The words are from R’ Nachman in לקוטי מוהרן although I haven’t ever read that ספר חסידות, but so I am told. The gist of it is that even when God is hidden, as in ואנכי הסתר אסתיר את פני he is still there albeit בהסתרה.

My davening was very agitated at Shule today. In fact, during davening, when I read certain things, tears welled up in my eyes, and for reasons which probably aren’t entirely normal, I didn’t want anyone to notice my distress. I raised my voice for pesukim which condemned רשעים.

I asked a few people, what is the meaning of this song after the tragedy the latest tragedy. Rav Moshe Twersky הי’’ד for example, Rosh Yeshiva, was named after R’ Chaim Brisker’s elder son Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik, the Rav’s father, whose Yohr Tzeit falls out on the same day as my father ע’’ה.

I asked others whether Breslav would be bopping in the streets of Beit Shemesh. How can anyone, even a Chossid bring שמחה to the table.

I noted to others, that in this case, they don’t do Tahara, and one is buried in their bloodied clothing. I don’t know what the din is, but my feeling was it would have been appropriate to bury the person in their Tefillin as well as their Tallis. אפילו בהסתרה was sounding so hollow to me. I couldn’t cope with it.

[Hat tip BA]

Here is a post from a lady close by

Some people wake up in the morning to the soft strains of the music on their alarm clock. This morning I woke up to the heart-stopping shrieks of multiple ambulances and police cars racing down my street on the way to Har Nof. Meanwhile my husband was in shule davening Shacharis. I hadn’t even said goodbye to him as he left while I was still asleep and was considerate enough not to wake me. Thank G-d my husband came home from shule. But my friends Chaya Levine and Breina Goldberg weren’t as fortunate. What do you say to a friend, the widow of a holy martyr, whose life has changed drastically in an instant? How can I smile at Salim, the friendly Arab worker at the grocery store across the road, without feeling suspicious? And how do I deal with the fact that for the first time in 24 years in Israel I no longer feel safe in my own backyard? May G-d comfort all of us in these trying times, and may we all appreciate every minute spent with our loved ones.

I just don’t want to hear God’s accountants telling us it is because of a) or b) or c). Do yourselves a favour and adopt וידום אהרון.

At times like these, I’m terribly reminded of horrible holocaust scenes . I’m left with extreme בהלה

What can one do? We can donate money to relevant organisations, but there are families that now comprise some 24 children without a father. What was the Aybishter doing hiding? Can we ask why? I say yes. I say we adopt Moshe Rabeinu’s attitude and say מחיני נא מספרך rub me out from your Torah if you have something against the Jews. This so soon after a Shabbos Kiddush Hashem, it defies logic, and yes, I know “that soul may have completed its purpose in this world” is often used, but I don’t know why that soul wasn’t allowed to complete more. Who does it harm?

Don’t anyone dare suggest it was because we didn’t follow Satmar’s incorrect views.

In Melbourne we have the wonderful CSG looking after Shules and Schools. Ironically, they don’t look after Chareidim who think that their negative attitude to Israel and Torah Learning etc will protect them. This is a reminder that אין סומכין על הנס and you have to protect yourself. Does someone really believe that two or three deranged chevra from this כת הרוצחים these ישמאלים ממזרים aren’t capable of a copy cat style operation. Both major political parties are supportive of improved security, but there is a limit to what can be done. And I hope nobody touches the latently anti-semitic, nevus socialist alliance party. Don’t give them one vote.

Parents, watch your kids. Watch yourselves.  I see kids in the Charedi area of Ripponlea walking at night alone or in two’s. They wouldn’t have a hope of protecting themselves from the type of attack that Zac Gomo endured. Zac was a חייל with training and that saved him. He spoke Arabic and knew how to close a wind pipe.

Maybe we need to introduce קרב מגע in every Jewish School. Obama isn’t going to help us, and neither is anyone else. We can’t be sanguine. We must act, speak up, and look after ourselves. At the same time, improving one’s own personal faults in עבודת השם and עבודת הזולת, which is a very personal thing, should be on everyone’s mind. The world is finely balanced, and as usual, we are on the עקידה and although it is commonly thought that Yitzchak didn’t die on the עקידה the Midrash/Peskikta explicitly says that פרחה נשמתו i.e. Yitzchok died before the knife cut, and when he was saved, a new Yitzchok was effectively born.

אני הקטן don’t have anything of real value to contribute in this blog post except an outpouring of = extreme angst and aggravation that MY God was אפילו בהסתרה and if so, I say, no I beseech, that this game of hide and seek needs to stop through full גילוי אלוקות במהרה בימינו.

In the meanwhile, I would, even though it’s against intrernational law, not only demolish the houses, but evict all members of the family on a one way passage to Gaza. Let them rot there. I would investigate and include any Imam/Sheik who had influenced them (if they did) and do the same to them. The Balad party and all parties should swear allegiance to a JEWISH State, and if they can’t, they should leave to an Arab state.

End of Story.

Is Shlomo Sand lacking the vision of Bilaam’s donkey?

Frankly, his job as a professor lends no credence to his views. They have demonstrably been shown to be false, if he opened his eyes and just looked at Israeli society. His is the sad wish of someone who wants to assimilate because then he won’t be from the “chosen people”.

His Zayda would disown him. The most telling comment was his use of the word “occupation”. That gave it all away for me. Globalisation, my foot. If anything, the internet has strengthened my knowledge of Judaism enormously.

His inane comment is as silly as the one I saw in Rabbi Donenbaum’s booklet over Succos where someone put in a dedication (anonymous! Why? Tzidkus, humility?) because his Chavrusa has turned the internet off on his iPhone. I have a better idea. Let his Chavrusa give me his iPhone and I’ll give him one of those old Nokias. The Yetzer Hora won’t even touch him that way. Anyway, here is the article reported about Shlomo Sand. I suggest he change his name to Steve Sand?

A controversial Israeli historian has declared his wish to cease considering himself a Jew, expressing disgust at the “ethnocentricity” which he feels is the prevailing worldview among many Israelis

In an opinion piece published in the Guardian on Friday – which is an extract from his new book, How I Stopped Being a Jew — Prof. Shlomo Sand of Tel Aviv University says he has been “assimilated by law into a fictitious ethnos of persecutors and their supporters.”

“I wish to resign and cease considering myself a Jew,” he writes.

Sand asserts that Israel is “one of the most racist societies in the western world” due to its strict characterization as a Jewish state. “Racism is present to some degree everywhere, but in Israel it exists deep within the spirit of the laws,” he says.

He expresses his disillusionment with Israel dues to its continued occupation of the Palestinian territories, which he says “is leading us on the road to hell.”

Despite his scathing critique of Israel, Sand acknowledges that he is also deeply tied to the nation. “The language in which I speak, write and dream is overwhelmingly Hebrew,” he says. “When I am far from Israel, I see my street corner in Tel Aviv and look forward to the moment I can return to it… when I visit the teeming Paris bookstores, what comes to my mind is the Hebrew book week organized each year in Israel.”

Sand states his belief that the ethnic differences which have divided the world for millennia will become insignificant as the world moves more and more towards globalization. “The cultural distance between my great grandson and me will be as great or greater than that separating me from my own great grandfather,” he hypothesizes.

The Tel Aviv lecturer has long been the subject of controversy. His 2008 book “The Invention of the Jewish People” claimed that the Jews were not a nation expelled from its homeland but a religion of converts spread throughout the world. The Jewish people as an ethnic group, he asserted, was a myth created by Jewish intellectuals in the 19th century. In a 2009 sequel, “The Invention of the Land of Israel,” Sand similarly deconstructs the Jews’ historical right to that land.

The future of UJEB?

The following is from the left leaning, often anti semitic, Age Newspaper.

Jewish group fears new religious instruction rules threaten diversity in schools

Michelle Morgan, with daughter Kayla, supports Jewish instruction in schools.

The Jewish instruction provider for state schools is seeking legal advice to ensure its lessons remain available amid concerns new conditions will undermine cultural diversity.

The United Jewish Education Board has told parents it is exploring ”all avenues, including legal options” so Jewish children can continue to receive special religious instruction.

The letter to parents comes after the Education Department issued a new ministerial directive in May that said schools could withdraw from religious instruction programs if there were insufficient resources. The directive also said religious instruction sessions must be ”clearly opt-in” for parents.

”We are monitoring these developments very closely as we are concerned that some schools may not be in a position to deliver special religious instruction under the new framework,” the United Jewish Education Board letter said.

Principals must offer religious instruction to parents if their school is approached by accredited instructors who indicate they are available to run the sessions.

The board’s president, Yossi Goldfarb, said he was seeking legal advice about whether the impact of the new conditions would contravene the Multicultural Victoria Act. The board is now awaiting the advice of lawyers

Mr Goldfarb said cultural and religious diversity in schools would be threatened if principals began withdrawing religious instruction for Jewish children. ”We see it as a cornerstone of multicultural Victoria,” he said.

Mr Goldfarb said the number of Jewish state school students joining religious instruction had increased by about 30 per cent during the past five years.

The United Jewish Education Board operates in 37 state schools, attracting about 1300 students. It offers instruction to schools with as few as three Jewish students whose parents elect for their children to join the sessions.

Mr Goldfarb estimated more than 90 per cent of Jewish families in state schools receive religious instruction.

He said the instructors had no interest in proselytising but sought to convey the ”cultural, historical and national” aspects of Judaism. ”It’s more about a narrative of being Jewish.”

Students who participate in religious instruction must now also be supervised by a teacher from the school. But Mr Goldfarb said many Jewish instructors were already qualified teachers so it made little sense to have them supervised by another teacher.

Bentleigh East mother Michelle Morgan said she supported Jewish instruction for her six-year-old daughter, Kayla, because it ensured there was a base level of education in Judaism for Jewish children. ”They’re getting something out of it,” she said. ”It covers the basics.”

Ms Morgan has also enrolled her daughter in after-school classes in Judaism and Hebrew, but said they could be expensive.

Religions for Peace Australia chair Des Cahill said he was concerned that children from faiths with small numbers at schools could miss out on instruction in their religion because of the new directive.

His organisation co-ordinates instruction in the Buddhist, Baha’i, Greek Orthodox, Hindu and Sikh traditions in schools.

Professor Cahill, an RMIT expert in intercultural studies, said education about the world’s religions should be included in the general school curriculum.

An Education Department spokesman said the rules for special religious instruction (SRI) were the same for all providers.

”The decision as to whether SRI will occur based on available resources, following parental consent being sought, rests with the principal,” he said. ”Resourcing constraints are the only basis on which principals can determine not to offer SRI.”

Fairness in Religions in School campaign member Scott Hedges said he had not received any complaints from Jewish families about the content of the Jewish education board’s sessions. However, he said a small number of Jewish families had expressed their opposition to religious instruction in state schools, which must not exceed 30 minutes a week.

b.preiss@theage.com.au

 

A sense of shame and חילול השם

It’s somewhat ironic that during the week of Parshas Pinchas, where the grandson of Aron HaKohen, failed to consult with the Manhig HaDor, Moshe Rabeinu, and murdered the two lust-filled people who were cavorting in a tent. I hear you say that Hashem gave Pinchas the Bris of שלום albeit with a shortened Vav and there are many explanations in this regard. I will leave it to readers to refresh their memories and check the myriad of diametrically opposed explanations of this act.

Fast forward. Three תנוקות של בית רבן, Yeshiva Students of the highest calibre were short and murdered because they were Jewish. Had they been Muslims, they would not have been shot or kidnapped. The perpetrators seem to be hiding in caves somewhere in the Chevron region. Time will tell. They will be caught and they will receive, hopefully, a life sentence behind bars, with no remission, and no luxuries.

It is now pretty clear that some,  overcome with the grief of this incident coupled with their sense of vengeance felt that they could take the law into their own hands and incinerate a Muslim boy in return. This is anathema. It is anathema not just in Jewish Law, but even B’nei Noach are meant to have proper courts of laws and systems. Society cannot exist while people are taking the law into their own hands. Did they even listen to the words of the parents of the slain קדושים’s parents? Did they think that the man hunt wasn’t on an enormous scale with the aim of catching the low lives who perpetrated this disgraceful act.

Yes, we can show that we didn’t demonstrate, burn tyres, cause all range of mass violence in reaction, but some, albeit a few, had been brought up and inculcated, no different to the murderer of Yitzchak Rabin, to take the law into their own hands.

This was an opportunity to demonstrate a Kiddush Hashem. The parents were inspiring. The world was watching, and then some wild ones קנאים decided that they owned the right to respond for the parents and for the State. They too must be brought to justice, and they too must be jailed for the rest of their lives, in an Israeli Jail, without the comforts of a good living. No “Glatt Kosher/Daf HaYomi” Jail for them. They should do physical labour and go to sleep each night exhausted. For they have defamed the name of Hashem Yisborach, and that in turn defames the name and kedusha of Am Yisrael.

From afar, I do not believe in territorial concessions. I believe one must be aggressive in expansion and only this will bring the Jordanian Palestinians to their senses. Either they want one state in Yehuda and Shomron, or they do not. Until they renounce violence and completely disarm, they cannot be partners for peace. Until that time, Jews have the same right to live in the previously declared Jordanian territory as anyone else. If they don’t like it, then they should negotiate. No Israeli Prime Minister from the left of the left to the right of the right has managed to find a partner for peace. Abbas is just a pretty western suit with a coiffured moustache. It’s only a matter of time before he dies of old age or sickness and then there is nobody else. He hasn’t got the guts to do anything because, unlike Sadat, he is afraid. He is afraid that someone will blow his head off. Let him go to his grave afraid. In the meantime, there is nobody with authority or credibility to talk to.

Then there is the enemy in our midst. If a Palestinian State was to be established, then Jews should be permitted to live there. If they are not, then all Palestinians within Israel should be asked to politely leave before they are forcibly removed. We live under the façade of a holy democracy. It is an incredible democracy but it has allowed people who are not genuine citizens to pretend that they are part of Israel. Anyone not ready to sing Hatikva, fight in the IDF, and do their civic duty is not a Citizen of the State. I don’t care who they are. It’s a free world. They can go to Jordan or Yehuda VeShomron or Williamsburg and live a free life over there if they hate Israel. Let’s face it, most loathe Israel.

Ironically, the words of Aharon of Satmer are but a pimple compared the acts of these Jewish young adults.

Extremists on both sides need to be sidelined. The Meretz Morons whose philosophies are astronomically in the realm of cosmology cause as much trouble as the right wing automatons who have grown out of the ill-fated Gush Emunim movement. Rav Amital would be turning in his grave.

The Chief Rabbis should have (maybe they did) attended the funeral of the Muslim Boy, and sought out his Imam, to apologise for the extremists who decided that price tag was some sort of Hetter to commit חילול שם שמים. We don’t say ה׳ ינקום דמם for no reason. Yes, we must bring them to justice, but Hashem will ultimately deal with their future, and if he sees his people behaving with similar savagery, will he be happy? I don’t know.

What I do know, is that we cannot be Hashem’s accountants. There are all sorts of Rebbalach and more who think they know why Hashem oversees certain things. They would do better by simply following והלכת בדרכיו

We don’t need more accountancy from self-appointed accountants of Hashem’s Cheshbonos. We can only deal with the here and now. The here and now is ugly and we must not let these חיות רעות invade the HOLINESS of our religion. Theirs is a profanation that cannot be countenanced.

They aren’t Pinchas. They have no Moshe. They certainly didn’t make בריתי שלום

On one of the murdered boy’s הי’’ד mothers

This is from Ha’aretz [Hat tip anonymous]
(My cousin’s wife is also a Nishmat alumnus. She isn’t a feminist, and can learn lots better than most, certainly including me. Nishmat is led by Rav Yehuda Herzl Henkin and his wife)
Not surprisingly, Rachel Fraenkel, who many men and women know as Rachel Sprecher Fraenkel, has foundational shares in that movement. She is the director of the Advanced Halakha Program at Matan, a high-level women’s institute of Jewish studies in Jerusalem, which despite its pioneering feminist nature has remained within the social conventions of Orthodox society. Sprecher Fraenkel also teaches Jewish law at Nishmat, another women’s institution of high-level Jewish learning in Jerusalem. In both places she is called “Rabbanit,” a title usually reserved for rabbis’ wives, but in her case it stands on its own, given to her by virtue of her learning.
For years, both women and men have contacted her and other women, known as halakhic advisers (yo’atzot halakha in Hebrew,) for guidance on matters of Jewish law. But now, for the first time, in the tragic circumstances of her son’s murder, tens of thousands of people responded to her prayer with “Amen.”

A tribute night for the Lubavitcher Rebbe זי’’ע

Today was the יום הילולא of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe (LR). I’m presently ensconced in three books describing him and will offer my thoughts on these when I have finished.

They are certainly impressive pieces of work, each in their own way. In a recent private email exchange I had with Rabbi Yossi Jacobson in reference to this post, I mentioned that one of the things that attracted me to the Rav, Rav Y.D. Soloveitchik ז’ל was the refreshing ease with which he was able to write about his personal feelings on various matters, some of which were the result of his private life and the emotional struggles surrounding these. Rabbi Jacobson, if I’m not misquoting him, was of the opinion that the LR also expressed his personal feelings. I felt that the LR wasn’t expressing his own private issues, but was always focussed on what the movement and it’s Chassidim needed to achieve.

The Rav, however was not, and never saw himself, or his task in life, as that of a Manhig Yisrael. In his own words he was a מלמד. Certainly that was a self-deprecating description of someone, often described by others as the למדן הדור. We should all aspire to be such a “מלמד”! In other words, the Rav dedicated his life to interacting with the challenging American reality and transmitted the Brisker method of Lomdus and Mesora that he had digested from his illustrious  grandfather, R’ Chaim Brisker, father, R’ Moshe, and Uncle R’ Velvel, to a challenged generation for whom such sophisticated analysis of Torah, enmeshed in the vernacular of the day, was intellectually challenging and advanced in its conceptualism and oratory. The Rav ordained more Rabbonim than any other Rav in the history of Judaism (it would seem).

As time goes by, his greatness, like many who pass away, is amplified, and the fact that I “discovered” him relatively late in my life, is a source of sorrow. How I would have loved to have participated in a Shiur, or listened live to his majestic droshas.

Enter his famed University colleague from Berlin the LR. I couldn’t put my finger on it, until I (partly) read the books about the LR, but I now have a fuller appreciation of the LR’s role and personality. In many ways, they were both became fully equipped educationally and culturally to interact with the needs of American Youth in a so-called modern society. They had both studied at University level, and were aware of the so-called European/Western Culture and thought. I do not think either of them saw that culture as some sort of enlightening factor, but it enabled them to interact at the highest levels using the modern vernacular and conceptualisation of our times, within the context of acutely high levels of grey matter.

דברה תורה כלשון בני אדם

found a new home among these giants.

Whilst I was not brought up with a deep understanding of the “Torah Im Maddah” approach or YU, I found it easier,unsurprisingly, to speak and digest that language. A more universalistic approach to different paths has always appealed to me.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, however, was an enigma. Here was this powerful genius with a photographic memory and acute ability to link and understand the seemingly disparate thoughts at his disposal, through the prism of the metaphysics of Chassidus, with brilliant insights and a paucity of notes. Yet, I guess I felt remote from him because there seemed to be no outward human frailty that he ever allowed to be shown, except when he was afflicted by that terrible stroke which ultimately led to his departure from our world and when his beloved wife passed away. Furthermore, while the elder Chassidim stressed the Chabad Chassidic approach, the younger Chassidim seemed more pre-occupied with his personage. To be sure, Chassidim would say “you must have a Yechidus”, “you have to immerse yourself in Chassidus to appreciate him” but that didn’t prick me into action. I never felt that I had anything meaningful to say or ask, and I wasn’t the type of tourist to invade an important Gadol’s time just because it was the done thing.

I have only been to the USA once, and I never went to 770. I simply didn’t know or comprehend what I might get out of it. These days, I’d be most apprehensive to go there given that it is controlled largely by the more radical Meshichist types, whose philosophy I do not consider to be Masoretic, but rather a backwards-pointing justification for an already concluded premise.

People will read what I have written and say, stop saying “I” … it’s not about you. One has to be בטל,  somewhat constricted within their personal ego to appreciate what was being effected in a Yechidus. Perhaps I was too ego-driven or cock-sure of where I stood in life vis-a-vis my Avodas Hashem and perspective on Torah. I may have even been wrong. It is what it was, and remains that way.

After reading most of these books, I have discovered through the über romantic, carefully chosen words of Rav Steinsaltz, and the meticulously researched tome of Rabbi Telushkin (Chaim Miller is next), that I have a better appreciation of this extraordinary leader. I didn’t learn much from earlier books, including those of academics and more. I felt that they started their books with a (negative) premise, and then sought to prove this premise, and not undertake a clean, academic unadulterated look at the facts.

Now, a leader can only try and do his best to make sure that his Chassidim conduct themselves in the way which he approves and/or legislates. The LR was no different. At times his exasperation was palpable.

One can certainly find a bevy of Shluchim who are seemingly pre-programmed automatons lacking the very gift that the LR had—the ability to connect individually with the person talking to them. There isn’t and wasn’t a magic formula. It was an action/reaction experience. Some have this gift; many, I dare say, do not.

Even last Shabbos, when I spoke to stranger who was wearing a Yechi Yarmulke, and asked why he wore that outward advertisement, he accused me of hating him simply for asking. I suggested that concluding that I hated someone because I asked a question was shallow, and when I referred to the classical work of R’ Yechezkel Sofer on the topic (which he described as “garbage”) this represented a problem with his own eyes, and not mine.

After reading the books I felt real sadness for the LR. He was clearly a very reluctant leader initially, almost a recluse whose favourite times were with his wife, father in law, parents or his seforim. His personal life was zealously guarded from the masses or even to the few in constant contact. He was a truly selfless man who pushed himself to extraordinary limits. He did not compromise on an iota, and mission, as summarised by Rabbi Sacks, was to ignite the soul of every person who the Nazis had attempted to extinguish and towards whom society was threatening with their often depraved value systems. He was as singularly minded in his pursuit of re-igniting souls to hasten the redemption as anyone we have seen.

As such, I find myself asking the question: what would he have said about a “tribute night” in his memory. Based on what I’ve read, I posit that he would be embarrassed by the word “tribute” to describe such a night. He would not want anyone to focus on him per se. He appeared to vehemently dislike cultish worship. Rather, the essential task was all about the missions and initiatives that he worked tirelessly to introduce and strengthen, all with the aim of bringing the redemption quicker.

It’s a paradox. On the one hand he was reaching out, and yet at the same time, he was enigmatically private.

So, why do his Chassidim engage in tribute nights? Certainly there is the practice that one should remember and talk about the deceased on the day of their Yohr Tzeit. One fasts, and learns Mishnayos. I don’t know how many Chassidim today do that today. But, it is more than that. In the absence of a leader to actively direct a movement in 2014, I feel he would only approve of such a gathering if it was about people taking strength and renewal and redoubling their efforts to carry out (genuinely) the tasks and processes that he had inaugurated.

In that vein, I will agree that a tribute evening potentially can invigorate. At the same time, it can also fail to do so—if people concentrate on the person and not the task to be achieved.

Yizkor—is it dead and buried?

The saying of Yizkor, apart from Yom Kippur (which is mentioned in the Medrash Tanchuma), is a more recent custom. It became part of the Ashkenazi liturgy probably during the time of the crusades in the 1400’s. The Rabbis specifically instituted it to be (outside of Israel) on the second day of Yom Tov. Why not the first day of Yom Tov? Clearly it was felt that by setting it the second day, this would encourage those who were vacillating about whether to attend the service on the second day to do so. Of course, Reform (who like to consider themselves and call themselves) progressive, just dismiss the second day of Yom Tov and banish it to an ordinary day no different in “holiness” to a non-Jewish ordinary day.

There is no requirement to say Yizkor with a minyan of ten males (or females I guess if you are Reformed). We don’t say Kaddish at Yizkor. It is a moment of vocal and silent contemplation during which one lists those who are to be remembered in one’s family and give charity in their merit.

There has always been a disagreement as to whether someone whose parents are alive leaves the Shule during Yizkor. Our family Minhag (like many) is to never stay inside during Yizkor if one’s parent(s) are alive.

During the first year of mourning after a parent, there are also divergent customs. Some say that the mourner stays inside for Yizkor but remains silent, whilst others leave the Shule until Yizkor has concluded and then re-enter (our Minhag)

Over time, special extra Yizkor prayers were added for those who were murdered during tragedies such as the Holocaust.

Jews of Sephardi origin never had the custom to say Yizkor, except on Yom Kippur. They were less influenced by their neighbours and I surmise their Rabbis didn’t need to insert Yizkor in order to cajole them to come to a Jewish service. They came anyway.

In truth, the first Yizkor (after my father ע’’ה) was on Pesach this year. I was planning to attend Elwood Shule, however, I was asked to make up a minyan (and be the sole Cohen for the priestly blessings) for someone who was too ill to attend Shule, and I said Yizkor in his house. My second Yizkor, the first in a formal Shule, was to be Shavuos, and I was planning on attending Elwood Shule again (my father’s Shule). However, I have bouts of plantar fasciitis which occasionally flair up, and had been at the Orthotist on Erev Shavuos because it had caused me pain. I went to Yeshivah Shule, which is closer, as a result. I stood there, while the Shule was engulfed in silence, each person uttering their personal Yizkors. My father used to daven there in the evenings, and had a seat there as well as Elwood.

Strangely, I was not moved. I had been more engrossed in refamiliarising myself with Megillas  Ruth!

I (over) think about my father regularly, either with tears, memories or laughter. For some reason, I could not focus at that ordained moment to make it especially meaningful.

One of my sisters undertook the very long walk to Elwood Shule specifically for this reason and came away quite sad. She mentioned that the Shule was morgue-like, with barely anyone in the women’s gallery and the same few familiar faces in the men’s gallery. She commented that Rabbi Gutnick had spoken well, but that looking at the Shule, she couldn’t get over a feeling of gross cavernous emptiness. It suited her mood though, and her Yizkor wasn’t mine. There is a custom to say Yizkor at the Shule where a parent used to pray.

These days most Jews don’t come to Shule on the first day of Yom Tov. You’d be lucky if they even said Kaddish on the day of the Yohr Tzeit. Perhaps they light a candle at home, I don’t know. Ironically, they went to Jewish Schools, and know what’s required. They aren’t complete ignoramuses. They are caught up in new-age Hedonism or “Tikun Olam”.

Even Yizkor seems to have lost its attraction to a generation that had and has no trouble accepting a financial inheritance, but plenty of trouble making time in a day to attend Shule and say a prayer like their parents, for their parent(s). Perhaps I’m over-harsh. It’s not the first time my blatant honesty has been interpreted as harshness and even offence. That’s just too bad. I call it as I see it. Word games are for U.N. Diplomats. They achieve nothing. Oslo accords anyone?

It’s so very sad but remembering is part of a much bigger picture. That picture has now been dumbed down and recreated in the image of modern fun events. Kids seem to come to Shule on the first day when you offer them ice cream. Great. Perhaps the second day should be “Whisky day” for the adults? It’s all very nice, but it isn’t Jewish Identity unless it leads somewhere. There can be no Jewish Identity without solid authentic Jewish Education, and I do not include the University style study of History, Poetry or the Arts in that category. Yep, you heard me right.

If you dumb Judaism down, reduce it to clichés or the spiritual, and over focus on the experiential and don’t achieve follow-up there is nothing to hold the house up in the future. That’s my view. Take it or leave it. If you are offended by my observation, do try to focus on the fact that my intention is always to call a spade a spade; and yes, some are offended by that. מה אפשר לעשות.

The extremism is out of hand?

Check out this post from the Litvishe leader Rav Steinman inter alia (hat tip hr)

A gross CHILLUL HaShem

We need Rabbis to speak out against this arrant dangerous nonsense. WE created the problems through our false sense of entitlement.

On the Mizrachi Side we have the disgraceful hill top youth. How many more Chilulei HaShem do we have to witness?

This isn’t Torah. It isn’t a Torah State. It’s what HaShem paskened we should have. As such we should seek to make it holier through darchei noam.

I have to commend Rabbi Rosen. I reproduce his forthright criticism of the hill-top youth below.

So, this is nothing for Rabonim in Melbourne to speak about? I beg to differ. When the Sabra and Shatilla massacres occurred the NRP was against an enquiry until the Rav, rang them up from the USA and berated them for their loss of basic Torah values. They were kafuf to the Rav, and they listened thank God.

Halacha clearly states that a Yid can’t be seen to be less ‘moral’ than the normal world even if you bring 100 proofs that an enquiry is not necessary. There were times when unmarried girls wore hats to shule because the Xtian girls wore them to Church lehavdil. I recall a Tshuva in Yabia Omer on this.

People who resort to a Chilul HaShem when there are clearly other ways, will need to deal with the Aybishter after 120 years; not a pleasant thought.

Someone lurking behind a fake name sent me a comment that I should take down the picture of Moshe Beck in my earlier post because the Rabbi of Adass isn’t responsible for his brothers actions. That is 100% true. I know about this phenomenon unfortunately. It has always been true. But if that lurker with the fake Hungarian name lotzi123 had any guts, he’d name himself AND he’d tell us if it’s true that the Moro D’Asra actually visited his brother and attended Simchos. Is that also untrue and just made up stories ‘Lotzi’

I vehemently disagree with the extremists at Adass. They created their own School. Are they tolerated with sniggles and not open condemnation or Cherem? There are many great and kind and good people at Adass. I speak with them and like them. They ALSO privately bemoan the lurch to Satmar and Skverer extremism. We are brothers, but as Holocaust survivors dwindle the voices of the extremists take over. Is this the Chutzpa Yasge of the Gemora in Sanhedrin portending the Geula? If so bring on the Geula now please. It hurts to see people openly flouting clear Halacha because they think Israel is not from God but from the Sitra Achra. Mimo Nifshach: if it’s Sitra Achra get OUT … why do they stay?

In the least, if you loathe the not yet frum Yidden in Israel (unless you can make a buck off them) keep your thoughts to yourself and stop poisoning the kids with a menu of Sinah and Nekoma and now violence. I heard it with my own ears recently when I listened in to a Melamed teaching children. The Melamed is a Dayan! He was fire and brimstone in his delivery. The next generation has no chance.

How nice it was for once to see Charedim stand silently in the Park on Yom HaZikaron and recite Tehillim while doing so. THAT was a simply executed Kiddush HaShem.

Where are the voices of Rav Kahaneman, Rav Shlomo Zalman and their ilk. They seem to be hiding.

Who are we kidding, the extremists didn’t approve of Rav Elyashiv because he was in Heichal Shlomo paskening Shaylos. Heaven forbid! what a horrible thing he must have done when he freed an Aguna

Here is what Rav Rosen wrote:

The “Tag” of Kayin / Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute
“‘And every man will stumble over his brother’ [Vayikra 26:37] – All the people are responsible for each other, they would have been able to protest but they did not” [Sanhedrin 27b].

“Those Ruffians”

Among other things, the destruction of the Second Temple can be “credited” to “those ruffians” – who wore the badge of the Sikarikim (see Gittin 56). They took swords into their hands, convincing themselves that they were taking the law and justice into their hands. And they set up a reign of terror over all that surrounded them, enemies and brothers alike.

What are we talking about? You have probably already guessed from the title of this article: the “Price Tag” ruffians who “fight” the Palestinians and the commanders of the IDF, in the mosques and on the tires of the jeeps – using fire, sharp spikes, and (mainly) graffiti. These thugs have taken on the role of “national irritants” against our enemies, against our lawful governm ent, and (mainly) against the security forces. I do not believe the claim that what we see is a provocation by the Palestinians, by leftist Jews, by the security forces, or by other dark forces. I strongly suspect that we are talking about irresponsible youths who are certain that we will win using an approach of thugs!

I know very well the story of the fanatical attack by Shimon and Levi in Shechem, but in this case I am in complete agreement with the pointed scolding by Yaacov, our father and theirs: “You have made me ugly and spoiled my odor among the inhabitants of the land… I am few in number, and they will gather around me and strike me, and I and my house will be destroyed” [Bereishit 34:30]. Yaacov’s complaint is not only a matter of dissatisfaction (“you have made me ugly”), it literally leads to a curse – “Let their anger be cursed” [49:7], which is accompanied by a punishment of exile, divisiveness and separation from each other – “I wil l divide them among Yaacov and I will disperse them among Yisrael” [ibid]. The best thing for fanatics and for the world is to keep them apart from each other!

“They Stabbed their Rabbi”

I am also well aware that the people bursting with fanaticism will not listen to ethical scolding, do not pay attention to rabbis, and certainly do not weigh their actions in terms of “profit and loss.” They are operating “from a gut feeling” or in response to messianic mysticism, and as far as they are concerned “let the world be consumed!” The proof of how much damage can be caused by such individual acts is provided by a fanatic who has been somewhat forgotten, a man who had a personal very noble record and was not an anonymous “hilltop youth.” I am talking about Dr. Baruch Goldstein from Kiryat Arba, who killed dozens of Arabs in the Machpeila Cave on Purim of 5754 (1994), thereby causing tremendo us damage “and making us ugly.” With what he did, he gave a double-edged sword to our Moslem enemies and to the world. Foolish fanaticism, hallucinatory and murderous, also contributed to the spoiling of the vision of expanded settlements among broad groups of our nation. And this is exactly what is happening before our very eyes as we watch the “Price Tag” events, shaking our heads and shedding tears out of pity: It is a pity that you should waste your youth for no good reason in prison, and it is a pity that you corrupt the righteousness of our path.

And this explains why the cries that are heard from every corner are futile: “Where are the rabbis who can calm them down? Why don’t the rabbis stop them?” We are told that “those ruffians” from the Second Temple era “stabbed their own rabbi!” [Gittin ibid]. They will not be deterred by having us turn our backs on them. In any case, if for no other reason than to reject the claim that we do not scold them, I hereby object loudly and without any limit to their actions. The need to voice an objection is also clear from the quote at the beginning of this article, in the commentary on a verse in this week’s Torah portion – that we are all responsible for each other, especially those who “were able to protest and did not.”

Fanaticism Cannot be Planned

We mentioned Shimon and Levi, the fanatics of Shechem, as providing an inspiration for the “Price Tag” fanatics. It is appropriate to repeat here some relevant points from our sources about the proper attitude towards fanaticism.

“Shimon and Levi were greatly upset by illicit sex, and they each took their swords and killed” [Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer 38]. And for this they were scolded by Yaacov. But they “took their swords” spontaneously, without any advance planning, without establishing an organization of fanatics, and w ithout declaring any public policy and designing a “tag” as a symbol of their activity. This is what the sages taught us: “They did not ask Yaacov for advice… and they did not take advice from each other” [Bereishit Rabba 80:9].

The same two brothers meet again in the arena of fanaticism, but in the second case they are on opposite sides. Pinchas the priest (from the tribe of Levi) kills Zimri, a family leader (in the tribe of Shimon) for the sin of immoral behavior with a daughter of Moav. “Pinchas acted against the will of the wise men. Rabbi Yuda said: They would have put a ban on him, if not for the fact that the Holy Spirit came out and said, ‘I hereby give him my covenant of peace, because of his fanaticism'” [Talmud Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 9:11]. The act of Pinchas was accepted because it was spontaneous and not the result of planning. The laws of fanaticism read as follows: “One who has sexual relations with an Aramite woman should be struck by fa natics” [Sandhedrin 81b]. But in the same breath, it is also written there, “One who comes to take advice is not told to do so.”

That is, fanaticism is by definition a spontaneous act, and at times it can be accepted, depending on the circumstances. Fanaticism is always the act of an individual, and establishing any organization or “taking advice from each other” is not fanaticism but the act of a “ruffian.”

Stories can inspire but they can also be a downfall

One of the differences between Chassidim and Misnagdim is that the former’s Rebbes were B’aal Mofsim. They were able to “perform wonders”. The Rav used to chuckle at far fetched stories and call them “Chassidishe Mayses”. Most of us will have heard of the person who didn’t catch a flight on Shabbos and managed to avoid the tragedy. We need to see Yad Hashem in both the good AND the bad. When my father a”h passed away, I had to say a Brocha of Dayan HoEmes, and as unfathomable as that might be, that’s the correct thing to do.

I know of stories where the greatest Rebbes and/or Rabonim were unable to effect a Mofes/Yeshuah even though they promised such. Those stories tend not to be printed. They should be, in the very same book that prints the times when they were successful.

צדיק גוזר והקב’’ה מקיים

does not seem as absolute as some perceive.

[Hat tip to Benseon]

This article perhaps puts the danger of emphasising too much. Finding the balance is the trick.

A Jewish lesson from the Malaysia flight tragedy

It would be a dangerous mistake to say that a Jew was saved from disaster after deciding not to fly on Sabbath – no matter how the story goes.

By  | Mar. 12, 2014 | 2:08 PM |  12

While the world anxiously awaits information regarding the mysteriousdisappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a perplexing Jewish angle to the story has emerged.

In short, a Jewish traveler who is not Sabbath observant was booking a flight through a Jewish travel agent. The traveler planned on flying on Flight 370 on the Sabbath, but the travel agent was uncomfortable booking travel for a Jewish passenger that would violate the prohibition against flying on the Sabbath. The traveler agreed to take a different flightand was spared whatever horrors the passengers of Flight 370 are experiencing or have already experienced.

The story is being cheerfully passed around the Internet and its lesson is ostensibly that Sabbath observance saved the traveler’s life. This is a terrible lesson. While it is true that the observance of the Sabbath has the practical effect of sparing this traveler’s life, it is extremely dangerous to attribute salvation to a particular religious observance.

Every religion has stories of miraculous salvation. The hubris of Jewish people pointing to this miracle as some sort of support for Jewish religious beliefs faces an unanswerable question when confronted by stories of similar salvation from other religions. One Christian published a book about how Jesus saved him and U.S. Airways Flight 1549 because of his faith in God. Muslims often point to Mosques that survive natural disasters as proof that God saves Muslims.

There is nothing unique about a story of someone who did not travel on the Sabbath and was spared from a disaster. It is a common and fallacious claim to say that not being present or being spared from any particular harm is the hand of God saving the saved for religious reasons. If, as believers in Judaism, we reject the claims that Jesus or Allah spared their followers how do we blindly accept that our God saves adherents to Judaism? What are we to say about Sabbath observant people who die in plane crashes? Or non-observant people who survive because they missed their flight? The application of miraculous salvations to one person of one religion out of millions of counter examples is disingenuous and incredibly arrogant.

Even worse is the implication of such a claim. If God saved one person from the plane for observing the Sabbath, we are also saying that God caused the other people on the plane to suffer whatever harm has befallen them. This is a disturbing worldview that even if we believe to be true, is quite offensive to the family and friends of the passengers of Flight 370. In our zeal to proclaim that our beliefs save lives, we are in effect condemning others to death for their religious beliefs. This is not a message that we should feel comfortable projecting.

Further, the religious arithmetic is incorrect. Boarding an airplane on the Sabbath is forbidden according to Jewish law. However, the prohibition is almost certainly Rabbinic. It might even be permissible according to some rabbinic opinions posited by the great Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg in his Halakhic work Tzitz Eliezer. Rabbinic prohibitions on the Sabbath are common and it’s safe to say that almost anyone who is not consciously trying to avoid violating a rabbinic decree on the Sabbath will inevitably violate the Sabbath. In fact, it’s likely that the traveler who stayed home violated Torah prohibitions on that particular Sabbath. If he cooked a meal, or drove a car, or signed his name in ink he violated the much more severe Torah level prohibition of not breaking the Sabbath.

So while it is indeed laudable that the traveler did not violate the possible rabbinic prohibition of boarding a plane on the Sabbath, it is extremely unlikely that he actually kept the Sabbath according to Jewish law. It just doesn’t seem to compute that even assuming that God saves Sabbath observers, but not others, from peril, that our traveler would be spared for not breaking the Sabbath in one way but breaking it in another way that likely involved greater violations of Jewish law.

Finally, I am afraid that stories like this give people the impression we should keep the Sabbath so that we are saved from incidents like Flight 370. This is entirely false. God commands the Jewish people to keep the Sabbath. Several reasons are given in the Bible and the rabbis of the Talmud and their successors provide other lessons and meaning to Sabbath observance. None of our sources teach that the Sabbath is to be observed so that God will save you. Sabbath observance is not a charm or talisman. Making the Sabbath into an amulet is religious malpractice that detracts from its innate beauty and vibrancy. It is downright offensive. It’s akin to saying the Mona Lisa is beautiful because it wards off the evil eye or that Niagara Falls is awe-inspiring because its waters can heal the sick.

What are we to make of this story? Nothing really. Things happen. It was noble of the travel agent to suggest keeping the Sabbath in a pleasant way and it was nice that the traveler valued the Sabbath enough not to travel. The traveler should feel grateful that his choice to connect with his Jewish roots might have spared his life. But we who hear the story dare not conclude with any certainty that God saved this one traveler for this or any particular reason. Most importantly, we must not turn the Sabbath into a magic trick. The Sabbath its own eternal meaning. Let’s explore the rich tradition of the Sabbath and soar to the heights of one of the great spiritual gifts of Judaism, the Sabbath.

“Modern” Orthodoxy faces an internal schism

Rav Schachter, Shilita, doesn’t like the term Modern Orthodox. Many don’t. If the term is to be used, it means the type of Orthodoxy that is ready to deal with modern issues using modern knowledge. Rav Schachter believes this is nothing new in the sense that dealing with modern issues is something most groups with Orthodoxy undertake. They have to. When a question comes before a Rav, he needs to either answer it, or send the questioner to a different Rav who may be more qualified to answer that type of question.

Whilst Rav Schachter is also a Rosh Kollel, and in general a Rosh Yeshivah or Rosh Kollel doesn’t make the “best” Posek for a Ba’al Habayis, because they often live in a surreal world which is cut off, at best from the vicissitudes facing the man and woman who are immersed in Olam HaZeh, and not looking at Daled Chelkei Shulchan Aruch for most of their day. Rav Schachter is different. His interaction with an ordinary Ba’al HaBayis is palpable when he speaks, although stylistically and on occasion his oratory is more Yeshivish. He has a modest and respectful charm, which I can testify is very much real and uplifting.

Like his own teacher, the renowned Rav, Rav Soloveitchik ז’ל, Rav Schachter has an enormous and unshakeable attachment to Mesora/tradition. Mesora isn’t always that clear, of course. For example, simply looking at last week’s Parsha, when discussing how the Jews had access to Shitim wood in a dessert, Rashi quotes a Tanchuma and Yerushalmi (from memory) that Ya’akov Avinu foresaw that the Jews would need Shitim to build the Mishkan and ensured that these were planted in Egypt and then transported. Yet, Ibn Ezra says words that

If these thoughts of the Amoraim and Geonim are a Kabolo (Mesora) in learning that they received, then we must accept it. If they are not, but rather constitute a more homlitic interpretation by Chazal, then we (he, the Ibn Ezra) has another suggestion. His view is that there was an Oasis near Har Sinai, and it was from there that they took Shitim Wood

What’s obvious to the Ibn Ezra is that he is completely respectful to the Mesora. He just doesn’t have (from his own teachers) a definite teaching that Rashi’s sources constitute a definite truth, as opposed to a possibility. He does not dismiss this view as “far-fetched” and not to be accepted. Rather, he qualifies his comments with an “If then else”.

In terms of dealing with new questions, or indeed old ones, in a “modern” framework, what makes Modern or Centrist Orthodoxy different is really two things

  1. A rejection of the Hungarian view espoused by the Chasam Sofer, that “all that is new is forbidden”. In other words, if you don’t know about a new proposal or approach, then in a void of Mesorah, it is safest to always pronounce that the answer is “NO”
  2. The use of modern knowledge to aid us in understanding and further bringing Kavod LaTorah.

The latter is scary for the Aguda and those to the right of the Aguda. It represents a precipice. There is no question, that when, ironically, it comes to questions of Kashrus, all agencies rely on modern science. Science is respected, and the knowledge of the food chemist is critical. When it comes to questions of electricity and Shabbos, the Posek again must understand the physics. The Posek of a certain generation will indeed Pasken according to the modern understanding of the Science of their time. However, the modern orthodox Posek will not be afraid to also PERMIT something which was once forbidden because of a faulty model that was understood in yesteryear.

Another divide can be seen in issues involving the types of items identified in the Sefer, Hilchos Shmiras HaGuf VeHaNefesh. This has a list of many things that should be avoided because they may be injurious to health. Some are from the Gemora, others are more Kaballistic.

Rav Schachter contends that on matters of health, for example, THE MESORA itself, was to use the best knowledge of doctors of the time. In reality, when we are sick we all do that. However, when it comes to some “dangerous” things, Rav Schachter will often say that we don’t need to worry about it, as it only represented the best medical/scientific knowledge at the time. Now, we know better. We, however, must according to the Torah, use the best knowledge available in coming to a cogent and relevant (read modern Psak) as opposed to taking the Hungarian/Chassidic line of forbidding more and not less.

That being said, there are lines, and there always have been lines. Some of these lines can be argued with on the basis of “modern NEEDS” as opposed to modern knowledge or science. This constitutes the basis of articles involving  R’ Haskel Lookstein.

It is ironic, that the vast majority of ladies who want to include male mitzvos, do not routinely keep female mitzvos. One only has to look at the practices of those in Shira Chadasha style prayer organisations (I can only speak somewhat about the Melbourne manifestation). If only, if only, egalitarianism wasn’t the petrol in their Jewish Car, and comprehensive attempts at all Torah and Mitzvos, especially those already germane to women and men, were adhered to scrupulously. Alas, they appear not to. The emphasis is on egalitarianism, the catch cry of the conservative, and the idea that people like the Rav, R’ Moshe warned about. These cannot and must not change the existing Mesora.

Yes, if there is a particularly enriched and scrupulous woman, who is like the women of yore, with Tehillim on their lips, Torah in their hands, and Yiras Shomayim in spades, who objects to such exceptions fulfilling a natural progression. Ashreichem, if you reach such a Madreyga. Men don’t need to. We are enjoined to do these things, even if we haven’t reached such heights. Woman, however, are enjoined to focus on their important orthogonal role, and if they are special, so be it.

Rav Schachter, and his colleagues, are debating these issues behind closed doors, and doing so in a spirit of Torah and not through the press with hot loaded statements, that really don’t constititute adequate Tshuvos on the topic(s) (especially when they have erroneous sources, but let’s not go there).

I pray that Rav Schachter and his Chaverim are able to peacefully negotiate the issues with Ramaz and the like, and keep true to the firm and unshakeable weltanshauung of Rav Soloveitchik when it comes to “ceremony” and Shule. Shule was never about a mode of ceremony for the Rav. It was all about Hilchos Tfilla, and the Lonely Man of Faith, never lost sought of this.

I see no renaissance in female Jewish observance surging through the modern orthodox world. On the contrary, they seem to struggle with “why is sending sms’s on shabbos forbidden”.

Enough. I don’t want to cast aspersions on many good people.

Powerful speech by Rabbi Riskin on kiruv

This is well worth WATCHING

[hat tip DM]

Has the Kollel apogee been reached?

A few nights ago after Ma’ariv, a young and enthusiastic collector asked me for a few bucks. When I asked what for, he responded that he established a new Kollel for Ba’alei Tshuva who had learned there for 9 or so years, and that times were tough. Of course, that was the truth.

I asked him why they were still in Kollel? He said, because their Torah protects Am Yisrael?

I asked him whether there were any exemplary students therein or were they “run of the mill”.

He asked me “why? what does it matter”. I replied because in my view, if those of us who work for a living extend ourselves to support mediocrity then it’s highly questionable. I noted that at (lehavdil) University level, we were tested for entry most vigorously, and all our outputs are scrutinised. I asked  what level of scrutiny was applied given that there was a crisis, limited money, etc

He  re-iterated that my point wasn’t important because their Torah was protecting Am Yisrael. There is ample precedent in Kosvei Kodesh of that. I asked him what he thought of Nachal Charedi. It’s a litmus test for me, because I feel it offers so many of the more mediocre types the chance to gain a profession and make a living which has more self-esteem. I asked him whether he thought Israeli Soldiers (e.g. Nachal Charedi) were protecting his Kollel when they were policing borders and the surrounds.

He became agitated, and told me that Torah protects.

I then quoted an Aderes Eliyahu from the Vila Gaon (he being a Litvak) where the Gaon explained the Gemora in Brachos לה ע”ב that when הרבה (many) do like R’ Shimon Bar Yochai (devoted themselves solely to Torah Learning) לא עלתה בידם (it wasn’t successful). I argued that the problem is that we are not following the Gemora which makes it clear that as a general rule people should work (and then be Kovea Itim LaTorah) and not be poor in Kollel to the extent that there are myriads begging terribly for money simply to put bread on their empty tables. I feel very sad when people are in poverty because of this choice.

I fully understand that post Holocaust, there was an urgent need to rebuild, but we have rebuilt, and Torah is flourishing in the Holy Land like never before. I know of Tshuvos e.g. from R’ Moshe Shternbuch on the topic. He chuffed off and asked me to text him the Aderes Eliyahu מקור

I kept forgetting to look it up (I had seen it 30+ years ago) but unsurprising, when I was looking into the Nefesh Hachaim of the Saintly R’ Chaim Volozhiner, the Gaon’s prime pupil and yoresh, two nights ago, the Nefesh Hachaim says the exact same words.

Sure you can twist any which way with Girsaos in the Gemora, and I’ve seen lots of that, but you can see my line of thought in R’ Chaim’s classic Nefesh Hachaim from Shaar 1, No 8.

ואמרו הרבה עשו כרבי ישמעאל ועלתה בידם, והרבה עשו כרשב”י ולא עלתה בידם. היינו רבים דוקא, כי ודאי שלכלל ההמון כמעט בלתי אפשר שיתמידו כל ימיהם רק בעסק התורה, שלא לפנות אף שעה מֻעטת לשום עסק פרנסת מזונות כלל ועל זה אמרו באבות כל תורה שאין עמה מלאכה וכו’. אבל יחיד לעצמו שאפשר לו להיות אך עסוק כל ימיו בתורתו ועבודתו יתברך שמו ודאי שחובה מוטלת עליו שלא לפרוש אף זמן מועט מתורה ועבודה לעסק פרנסה חס ושלום וכדעת רבי שמעון בן יוחי…

The Maharsho on the spot is even stronger. Check it out.

Of course, it’s also in Shulchan Aruch, אורך חיים קנ’’ו

Your thoughts appreciated?

Ex-Kollel students training to be policemen (Jerusalem Post)

This is how an honourable leader bows out

Rabbi Dr Norman Lamm has been a powerhouse. A true intellectual giant, whose books, learned articles,  shiurim and leadership at Yeshivah University will stand the test of time, Rabbi Lamm has now retired as Chancellor of YU. Amongst his words of farewell, this section stood out. It shows tremendous honesty and courage. It is a commentary of what was, but is also a statement of what needs to be.

Jacob’s blessing to his son Judah, Yehudah, attah yodukha achekha (Gen. 49:8) literally means “Judah, your brothers will recognize you (as their leader).” However, the word yodukha, they will recognize you, is etymologically related to the word vidui, confession and therefore teaches us that only those who can, like Judah, confess, are those who can be acknowledged as real leaders.

And it is to this I turn as I contemplate my response to allegations of abuse in the Yeshiva community. At the time that inappropriate actions by individuals at Yeshiva were brought to my attention, I acted in a way that I thought was correct, but which now seems ill conceived. I understand better today than I did then that sometimes, when you think you are doing good, your actions do not measure up. You think you are helping, but you are not. You submit to momentary compassion in according individuals the benefit of the doubt by not fully recognizing what is before you, and in the process you lose the Promised Land. I recognize now that when we make decisions we risk, however inadvertently, the tragedy of receiving that calamitous report: tarof toraf Yosef, “Joseph is devoured,” all our work is in vain, all we have put into our children has the risk of being undone because of a few well intentioned, but incorrect moves. And when that happens—one must do teshuvah. So, I too must do teshuvah.

True character requires of me the courage to admit that, despite my best intentions then, I now recognize that I was wrong. I am not perfect; none of us is perfect. Each of us has failed, in one way or another, in greater or lesser measure, to live by the highest standards and ideals of our tradition — ethically, morally, halakhically. We must never be so committed to justifying our past that we thereby threaten to destroy our future. It is not an easy task. On the contrary, it is one of the greatest trials of all, for it means sacrificing our very egos, our reputations, even our identities. But we can and must do it. I must do it, and having done so, contribute to the creation of a future that is safer for innocents, and more ethically and halakhically correct.