The Gay Pride March in Jerusalem

If one is Orthodox and as a matter of belief, the Torah is the word of God, then one cannot escape that certain acts of sexual relations are forbidden, including some of those being exposed through a march.

In Halacha, there are several categories of people who perform acts which constitute sin, many unrelated to sexual acts, where their capacity to act as Torah ordained witnesses is diminished. There are some who do this out of want, and others who do this out of rebellion against the Torah.

I have no doubt that there are many people who struggle with the fact that their desires, sexually, are considered a matter of shame to the extent that they don’t wish to disclose this information, except in trusted (safe) environments. Berating someone for having such desires, or call it a disposition (research on this will emerge over the next ten years, have no doubt), is not of value in this day. Indeed, it could cause someone to feel that they are so hopeless, that they make take their own life in the worst case, or become so depressed that they cannot function as a human being.

It is known that many contemporary sages have said that we no longer have the skill of “telling someone off” for straying from Torah. I believe this is true. The best way to influence someone is to be a living and shining example of what a Jew with unconditional belief, and intellectual submission to the Torah means, and that such a person can be pleasant and sensitive, as can the Judaism they practice.

Intellectual submission to Torah in the form of Emunah is something that is axiomatic for the practicing Orthodox Jewish person. Belief, by its nature transcends intellect. Reasons for commands are there primarily to explore the “what can be derived” from Judaism, as Rav Soloveitchik explained, however, reasons, do not have a place in the “why must I do this command”. The why question exists only when there isn’t submission. In Chassidic terminology this may be termed Bitul.

I understand, and I am happy to be corrected that there may be two motives for a parade of this sort:

  1. To promote the life style as being acceptable
  2. To express the view that nobody should live in fear, or be cut off, as a result of their orientation.

Promotion of such a life style is not compatible with Torah. To put it crudely, one would also be against a march which said “It’s okay to do away with Shabbat”. The common element is that they are immutable Torah imperatives, and the quest to seek adherents to such views is anathema to a Torah observant Jew. Indeed, we find great Halachic difference in the Jew who breaks the Sabbath in private versus the one who honks the horn when passing the Rabbi walking to Shule, with the aim of showing that “I don’t care about Sabbath”, or the person who eats prawns because they “just love the taste”.

In terms of the Gay Pride march, if the aim is point 2 above, then I think its existence transcends religion. There are various types of people who don’t accept this reality for other reasons. It is important to make sure that all those who have predilections and quandaries, are not made to feel that they are “outside the tent”. They are in the tent. A more sophisticated approach would be how to engage them, should they personally wish to be engaged on the topic, and make them feel that there are hundreds of Mitzvos that are applicable to them, as much as anyone else. On this point, it would be useful if Rabbis of skill got together and devised some guidelines.

With that in mind, I felt the statements of some 300 Religious Zionist Rabbis achieved nothing positive in respect of the marchers, except for Nir Barkat choosing to remain Pareve and not attend for what he called “sensitivity” reasons. If those Rabbis thought that there was a lack of knowledge about various sins and how they are treated in Judaism, then there are other ways to interact with the various groups. The religious group need a different approach than the one of the non practicing variety. Those approaches need to be advanced and not simple. Quoting a verse, for which the irreligious marchers have no regard, is a waste of time. Do they not know this already?

Point 1 though is something that I do not think should happen from a Halachic viewpoint. I do not see a reason to seek recruits to swell the numbers engaging in such a life style.

The gay pride movement is not without blame here, either. They have much to answer for. Jerusalem is the Holiest City, as such, sensitivity, indeed the same sort of sensitivity they demand when respecting their sexual orientation, should imply that this is definitely not the City where one chooses to march. In the process, they are trampling on sensitivities that they do not understand and in some cases are antagonistic towards. Why do this? It only creates antipathy and division. Of course, this does not mean that there are people in Jerusalem who are confronted with the issue of being gay (or GBLTIQ). They are in Rishon LeTzion, Haifa, and not confined to some geographic point in Israel.

If they have had an Israel march in Tel Aviv, then it’s happened. It can be marketed as such: the location of the march doesn’t signify that it is only for those who live in Tel Aviv. There is no need to offend the Torah based sensibilities in Jerusalem, the Holy City, when sensible alternatives which achieve the same aim are possible. Some of the responsibility for the rhetoric that has occurred, rests with those who also wish to remove the notion that Jerusalem is any holier a place, in Israel. Ironically, that’s what the Arabs do. It is not what Jews do: be they practicing orthodox or otherwise. If they throw a spark into flammable material, then expect a raging fire.

I would have liked to have seen two outcomes from the march:

  1. Jerusalem is considered a no go zone for such marches as the outcome is to cause more antipathy, and that’s precisely what they are trying to overcome. It will actually heighten the problem for GBLTIQ people who will feel minimised.
  2. The Rabbis, need to be more sophisticated in the statements that they put out in response to such events. There should have been meetings beforehand between the organisers and Rabbinic leaders and I expect that a better outcome would have occurred. Of course any Orthodox Rabbi will quote the Torah here if asked. The Torah’s views are not hidden, nor are they unknown. However, I do not know what is achieved by calling such people names as a method to reduce the occurrence of people performing forbidden acts of the Torah.

It is a democracy. That also implies that the Jews of Jerusalem should have a say about the compatibility of the event occurring also in Jerusalem. If the motive is to preach secularism, then it is secularism, not being Gay, that is the issue here. Silent peaceful marches against creeping secularism where Israelis are identifying as nothing different to a non-Jew who lives in Israel (and sees Israel as their secular home country). This may even come to resemble the French Republican model.

It is at times like this, that we need the wise counsel of the lover of all Jews in Israel, Rav Kook. He knew how to ignite the spark of Judaism in Jews who were adopting other isms in Israel and he did so through positive acts. It is time the Rabbis examined their methods of protest and became more advanced in their way of expounding the real basis and foundation for which Jews live in Israel in the first place.

Some will sophomorically claim that this is just the Charedi Leumi section of Religious Zionism, and that they are no different to other Charedim in 90% of their outlook. Rav Kook was a Charedi; there is no doubt about that. One does not have to become a wishy-washy, left-wing, tree-hugging, apologetic Rabbi with a community of people who are lax in increasing numbers, to be qualified to respond to these events.

Unfortunately, our generation doesn’t have a Rav Kook. It doesn’t have a Lubavitcher Rebbe or a Rav Soloveitchik. Apart from Rabbi Sacks who is wonderfully adept at expressing Torah views without causing others to become anti-Torah, we are lacking Rabbinic leaders who understand people, and not only the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch.

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.

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.

Rabbonim when the Bride is flashing Erva D’Orayso?

I have seen pictures even official Shule pictures in their magazines of Rabbonim officiating at weddings where the Bride is rather “fully out there” in respect of lack of Tzniyus. What gives?

Rav Soloveitchik refused to officiate at such weddings. Once when he found himself caught out, he kept asking others to get him a bigger and bigger Siddur (he also refused to do Chuppas in a Shule). When he had a really big Siddur he then officiated in a way that he could not see the bride (rather than embarrass her) and looked into his Siddur and said the Brachos etc. The Rav didn’t compromise his Judaism or our holy Mesora. The word fidelity to Judaism comes to mind.

I do not know why Kallah teachers, and every Rabbi don’t insist that each bride go to a proper inspiring Kallah teacher, where they are all told that they must wear some sort of fancy scarf covering up the parts that should be covered under the Chuppa. What are they afraid of, that they go to a Reform ceremony instead? Reform are empty. Everyone knows that. The RCV should adopt this stance as a matter of policy and no Rabbi should break the rule.

I bumped into a “Jewish” celebrant at the chemist. I looked at her and her face rang a bell. I asked her “where do I know you from?”. She then told me what she did. I then remembered. It was one wedding I did at the last minute, where they had the “ceremony” on the dance floor just before we started playing. The bride was marrying a gentile unbeknown to me and it was one of the very few times I was caught out. I told the celebrant that for the entire week after that wedding I was literally ill. She asked me why. I said

“because you are a great pretender, and you have zero to do with any authenticity, you are a blender of bull, who makes up things as you go along. That couple were never married Jewishly and all you facilitated was an impending assimilation. Your little Tallis and your blowing a Shofar were as authentic as Michael Jackson’s skin colour.”

She looked at me like I was from Mars and scowled. I told her to have a nice day, and to discover real Judaism rather than the concocted monstrosity she was selling for a fee.

It’s time some Rabbonim in  our community who are so concerned about populist interfaith dialogue, LGBT, aboriginal rights, and social justice, actually bothered to also be concerned about Mesora and implement proper Jewish Laws and customs at a Chuppa and were not “afraid” of putting Yiddishkeit first.

I remember the days when Rabbonim specified there was to be no mixed dancing until Benching and no female singers until then. Yes, you can definitely bench before dessert and have the “King Street Disco” until midnight. Why are we so bashful to make our weddings JEWISH in flavour? I know gentiles who come home from such weddings wondering why Jews were imitating them, except that for them a wedding is big with 70 people and for us it’s at least 300 כן ירבו.

I’ve watched standards drop alarmingly over the years. Holocaust survivors had MORE questions about God than our modern Gen kids, but they didn’t abandon Mesora. Our young Gen call their children by any name that sounds more gentile than a gentile, and need to be shaken up. Sometimes you don’t even see the Jewish name in the Jewish News. Did they ever get one or is it   טיפני בריטני׳ (Tiffany Brittania)

If they are having a Jewish Wedding, then make them do it properly. No “Kosher Style”, no weak compromises. Strength begets strength. It’s not the Orthodox who are assimilating, it is the Reform that assimilate in alarming levels, and the Conservative who become Reform.

It’s time Rabbonim realised that whilst it’s great to be “cool” and “friendly” and “populist” there are strict lines and they should insist on them. Frankly, it used to be unthinkable not to have the Rabbi at a Simcha in the days of old. Today, even the friendly Rabbi often isn’t invited so they don’t see the “shrimp” and pritzus.

Rav Schachter told me that it is preferable to have a Bar Mitzvah call up on a Monday or Thursday than cause חילול שבת … Maybe the father will even put on Tefillin and they can video the entire event. Is there something holy about Maftir on Shabbos? It’s not even from the main Aliyos.

PS. I don’t attend weddings that are Treyf and they offer to order me a Kosher Meal double wrapped while I sit at a table struggling with the silver foil, tape, and glad wrap, as everything spills on me, and others think I’m a Charedi weirdo. I’d rather give a present and say enjoy your party, but don’t call it a Jewish Wedding Simcha. It’s a wedding populated by Jews.

Carlebach, R’ Moshe Feinstein and Chabad

I know there are many people who feel uplifted by his tunes. However, the Halachic perspective on this controversial figure, needs to be known.  I am aware that Vicki Polin had been accused of many things including hyperbole, but it cannot be argued by anyone who has a fidelity to historical fact, that as years progressed he became more “progressive” and there were serious accusations.

Reb Moshe Feinstein wrote an opinion in among a section of his writings one would not normally read Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer Vol. 1, No 96. In that, my reading is that until he became more progressive, his songs were fine. After that, they were to be avoided.

One Shabbos Shachris, without much forethought, I chose a Carlebach tune for Kel Adon. (Let me say that it is Halachically very problematic to sing Kel Adon in any tune, unless one does this in a form of Aniya (answering). The Chazan says a stanza and the Kahal repeat it. The same is true of Lecha Dodi. There is a special Kedusha and Mesora to this form of Answering which is an endangered species and I urge Ba’alei Tefilla and Chazonim to re-introduce it, even with song. This was the very strong opinion of the Rav).

I finished davening, and Rabbi Groner ז’ל as was his custom, thanked me for the שחרית and then asked me to sit down. He relayed a story between he, the LR and R’ Shlomo Carlebach. Rabbi Groner had been a friend of Carlebach, and had learned with him. After Shlomo went down certain paths, Rabbi Groner wondered what approach he should take vis a vis his relationship with Shlomo and inter alia his music/influence.

Rabbi Groner told me that the LR was very firm. Although the LR always stressed Kiruv (bringing people closer to God), he did do so again in respect of Shlomo. The LR instructed Rabbi Groner that all efforts should be made to be warm to Shlomo, however, and this was a big however, this was never to be done within the Mosdos (institutions) of Chabad. One should find other ways.

Rabbi Groner then regaled me with stories of Shlomo and his brother’s brilliance in learning, but he asked me not to do this again. Suffice it to say, that within a Lubavitch Mosad, I never sang a Carlebach song during Tefilla. I admit, I was also influenced by R’ Moshe Feinstein’s Tshuvah, which although is kind, and doesn’t mention Shlomo by name, is known by his Talmidim, to have Shlomo in mind.

I’m not here to judge Shlomo. However, I do think that anyone with a fidelity to Chabad absolutely must follow the LR’s instructions. Some will not know, others I know ignore these instructions. I mentioned my conversation with Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner, and he affirmed that he had heard it from his father himself as well. R’ Chaim Tzvi will quietly discourage Shlomo’s tunes in his Chabad House.

Make up your own mind about those who choose to not follow the LR’s very clear dictum. Do they know better?

Inviting Jewish Politicians to speak on Shabbos

I noticed an advertisement by a Shule in Melbourne, where a Jewish Federal Member of Parliament (from the Liberal party) was invited to speak as follows:

Cholent n’ Chat Kiddush after Shabbat
Tefillah

With the dynamic and resourceful Federal Resources Minister Josh
Frydenberg

“Brave New Year: Economic and Strategic Challenges facing Australia”

Firstly let me say that this particular Shule does a great job creating interesting programs to attract people to Shule. They are to be commended for that. They are professionally run, and have full pews on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Now, I do not know Josh Frydenberg. I am hoping that he or a relative lives close to the Shule. In the least the Rabbi or a board member should have invited him for Shabbos. If this is not the case, then the creation of such an event serves to potentiate a Halachic abuse of Shabbos. I will assume Josh or his family live within walking distance or some other arrangement has been made. It is the responsibility of the Rabbi of the Shule to make sure that the Halacha is followed here. If Josh were not to be within walking distance, Rav Soloveitchik was very clear that it would be forbidden to invite a person when they “knew” such an invitation would induce Shabbos desecration.

The last issue is that of the topic. The Navi Yeshayahu 58:13 tells us:

אִם תָּשִׁיב מִשַּׁבָּת רַגְלֶךָ עֲשׂוֹת חֲפָצֶיךָ בְּיוֹם קָדְשִׁי, וְקָרָאתָ לַשַּׁבָּת עֹנֶג לִקְדוֹשׁ ה’ מְכֻבָּד, וְכִבַּדְתּוֹ מֵעֲשׂוֹת דְּרָכֶיךָ, מִמְּצוֹא חֶפְצְךָ וְדַבֵּר דָּבָר

from which the Talmud (Shabbos 113B) and Codifiers conclude that one’s topics of speaking, should be “Shabbosdik”. A clear explanation of this can be found in (‘שולחן ערוך הרב’ או”ח סי’ שז ס”א), What I have written is short of an exact definition. At the same time, unless the organisers know exactly what Josh will be talking about, they may be causing an infraction for Josh. The speaker is the one who is enjoined not to speak about matters which involve or may come to involve acts forbidden on Shabbos. On the other hand, those who attend, also take part in this activity. If they were not in attendance, then there would be no talk. To be clear, if Josh was to speak about the Government’s attitude to Israel or Jewish multiculturalism or security that would be quite pareve. If, however, he were to speak about the likelihood of, say, changes to death duties or superannuation, then this would induce people to consider acting on their investment portfolios, and that may be forbidden. As I mention, I am not a Rabbi, so do take every thing I say with a grain of salt, and make sure you speak with your own learned Posek/Halachic Decisor.

The purpose of this post isn’t to seek out and unearth things that might be wrong in an Orthodox setting. For all I know, Josh may in fact be a member of Caulfield Shule and attend every now and again, in the same way that Michael Danby attends Elwood Shule regularly. I am simply noting that the planning of topics and events needs careful halachic attention.

Another aspect of  וְדַבֵּר דָּבָר is to make sure that people are not brought to צער (feeling bad) by the speech. As such, I would suggest that any Labor voters (I hope there is no such thing as a tree hugging anti semitic Greens voter among our people) would probably not be permitted to attend the talk as they would get annoyed by the Conservative platform that will be espoused. Causing yourself צער on Shabbos is contraindicated halachically as well.

Perhaps I am being over pedantic. Note though that I tend to look at things through the prism of Halacha especially when I had learned these laws only one week ago!

I repeat what I said at the beginning of this article: the particular Shule in question does a great job in bringing innovative new ideas to entice people to enfranchise with Judaism. I wish them only success.

Righteous Gentiles: Frum Noahides – Gentiles who act like Jews?

It is well-known that the Lubavitcher Rebbe זי’’ע mounted a major campaign to encourage gentiles to engage in the seven Noahide Laws. The Rambam states that they  receive their reward when they do so because they believe in God and perform these as their task. The ultimate question is that Jews have 620 Laws (not all of which can be done anyway). Does this mean that Jews reap a higher reward i.e. 613 Torah + 7 Rabbinic versus 7 Noahide for Gentiles? Alternatively, do we say that there is a peak of a mountain. We are all enjoined to reach the peak of the mountain. Jews have a more demanding path that they must traverse to reach that peak, whereas Gentiles have seven laws that they must keep to reach the same peak?

There are also differing opinions about converts. Jews do not proseletise. The Baal Hatanya contends that all converts to Judaism are actually Jewish souls at the time of Sinai which are being returned. Other Orthodox Philosophers do not agree. With this in the back of your mind, read the following from Tablet Magazine. [Hat tip Shochet assistant]

The Gentiles Who Act Like Jews

A man with a brambly salt-and-pepper beard, a kippah on his head, and circular glasses balanced on his nose stood behind a podium, lecturing on the parasha, the weekly Torah reading, in a southern twang. He was not a rabbi. He wasn’t even Jewish.

In front of him, an audience of about 20 sat in rows, listening attentively. Some wore head wraps and dresses suitable for a wedding, and others looked like they came in off the street. One man boasted neck tattoos and a gauge earring.

I was the only Jew in the room, but everyone else was here to study Torah. I was here to study them.

They call themselves Righteous Noahides: non-Jews who believe in Orthodox Judaism. According to Jewish theology, there are laws that Jews must obey, the 613 mitzvot, but then there are seven laws for children of Noah—everyone else in the world. They are: Do not deny God; do not blaspheme; do not murder; do not engage in incest, adultery, pederasty, or bestiality; do not steal; do not eat of a live animal; and establish courts.

The Noahide laws, which are derived from passages in the Torah, were enumerated in the Talmud. In the Middle Ages, Maimonides urged their observance on non-Jews, writing, “Anyone who accepts upon himself and carefully observes the Seven Commandments is of the Righteous of the Nations of the World and has a portion in the World to Come.” But the idea never really caught on among non-Jews.

But about 40 years ago, Chabad grand Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson launched a global “Noahide Campaign,” writing and speaking about the need for Righteous Noahide communities, believing Noahide laws would bring about peace and understanding and would hasten the coming of the Messiah. Some non-Jews listened. For example, in 1987, President Reagan signed a proclamation glorifying “the historical tradition of ethical values and principles, which have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization when they were known as the Seven Noahide Laws, transmitted through God to Moses on Mount Sinai.”

Noahidism now encompasses communities around the world, especially in Great Britain, the Philippines, Latin America, Nigeria, Russia, and the United States. According to Rabbi Michael Schulman, who runs Noahide website AskNoah.org, the Philippines may have the most developed community, with well over 1,000 adults and their children living in a collection of agricultural towns. They run Hebrew schools, community meetings, and even a national summit.

The group I visited, called Netiv, is a bustling 40-person community located in Humble, Texas—in the United States, Texas is the center of Noahide life. Some members travel over two hours each way, two or three times a week, for classes. They obey the Noahide laws, but they also take the concept further, endeavoring to obey other mitzvot and learn more from Judaism.

Adults set out a potluck in the kitchen while children ran around. The man with neck tattoos showed everyone the Kabbalistic painting he made and auctioned it to the crowd.

But the main event was Rod Bryant’s lecture on the parasha, in which Moshe—Bryant used Moses’ Hebrew name—strikes down an Egyptian for beating a Jew. It’s a familiar story, but Bryant put a Noahide spin on it. He emphasized how Moshe stood up for what he knew was right, despite the masses around him just following the status quo.

Like Moshe, Bryant said, Noahides struggle to stand up for their beliefs, despite being surrounded by Christian families and friends. Unlike those around them, Noahides do not identify as Christian. Their feelings on Christianity and Jesus range from respect of the “all religions have something to offer” variety to palpable disdain. They’ve given up what they consider idol worship to follow Jewish theology.

Bryant didn’t always teach Torah; he was a Pentecostal chaplain in the Army during the first Gulf War. He started a small study group in his house that got so large that it moved to a church. Around that time, Bryant began finding inconsistencies in Christian scripture, so he started digging into historical records.

“It was like archeology,” Bryant recalled.

The larger his group grew, the more uncomfortable he felt: He was responsible for the spiritual lives of all these people, and here he was teaching things he didn’t believe. When people asked him to lecture on passages about Jesus, he started making excuses.

“He was like, ‘It’s too long,’ ” remembered one former Christian group member. “I was like, ‘I’ll bring food.’ ”

He started teaching Torah from a Jewish perspective to a small group. Arilio Navarro, who had been having similar doubts about Christianity, came in to learn at one point. Navarro pulled Bryant aside and told him quietly, “I don’t think Jesus is God.” He was pretty sure he’d be thrown out.

To his surprise, Bryant replied, “Oh, you don’t? Me neither.”

It eventually became obvious that Bryant couldn’t be part of the church anymore, and he left, or was kicked out, depending on whom you ask. Probably a bit of both. Either way, he found himself without a job.

“OK, Hashem, funny sense of humor,” he remembered thinking. “Now I really have to trust you.”

He started communicating with rabbis who had been inspired by Rabbi Schneerson’s teachings about Noahides, and he learned about Righteous Gentiles and the seven laws of Noah. Eventually, in 2010, he founded Netiv, which has been growing ever since.

***

Like Bryant, others who have discovered Noahidism, while not identifying as Jews, seem to love Judaism: the emphasis on asking questions rather than just taking a priest’s word for things, the traditions, the intellectual rigor, the in-depth instructions it provides for maintaining family relations. But above all, they say Judaism gives them a newfound sense of peace.

“It gives me a new way to breathe before God,” said Irene Griffin, a Netiv regular.

The typical story goes like this: A person starts out Christian. (I’ve yet to meet someone who came to Noahidism from anything else. Bryant said one Muslim girl used to stop by, but her family found out and put a stop to it.) These seekers then find inconsistencies between the scripture and the priest’s or minister’s teachings. They start asking questions their religious leaders can’t answer to their satisfaction, questions like: “Why don’t we keep the Sabbath?” “Why do babies need to be baptized?” “If the Bible says God is one, why do we have a Trinity?”

And so on.

Thus begins a journey into different kinds of Christianity. Some searchers become Seventh Day Adventists, who obey Old Testament commandments. Many, interestingly enough, join Messianic Judaism, which becomes a stepping-stone toward more traditional Judaism—apparently, Jews for Jesus can occasionally bring Christians to Judaism rather than the other way around.

At some point, many give up Christianity altogether, which puts them in a boat that seems to be taking on water.

“We’re not Christian. So, what are we?” Dianna Navarro, Arilio’s wife, remembered thinking. She recalled when she discovered that God was one in Genesis while in her old Christian church, while she was starting to doubt the Trinity. She jumped up, excited, crying, “God is one!” The lady next to her muttered, “I know.”

Tina Sachs was already part of Bryant’s group while she was questioning, resulting in a fairly smooth transition from Christianity to Noahidism. But for others, like the Navarros, there was no easy way to land safely: They gave up Christianity and found themselves like Looney Tunes characters who had walked off a cliff with nowhere to stand.

***

Though he and his wife Jackie are currently Noahides, Richard Waer didn’t used to be religious at all.

“He wouldn’t let me baptize my babies!” pouted Jackie Waer, who had been raising their children Catholic up until a few years ago. It must have been a big source of marital stress at the time; I marveled at how irrelevant it is now.

Richard’s friend Arilio Navarro brought him to a Netiv class, and Richard was hooked. “I felt like I’d been taken out of the Matrix,” he said. “And I felt a little lost.”

Jackie came on board immediately. Something about Judaism attracted her. But even more important was seeing how much her husband began to change. He’d struggled with alcoholism before, but Noahide theology set him free—paradoxically, by calling him to account. “Seeing alcoholism not as the devil, and not as me, but as something in me was what did it,” Richard said. Judaism didn’t demonize alcohol but set forth a way of thinking about the yetzer hara—evil inclination—that made sense to him.

“God speaks to people how they listen,” he said. “I just had to get out of my own way.”

Jackie covers her hair with colorful wraps that she finds on Wrapunzel.com, an online community of Orthodox Jews. A foodie at heart, she zealously tries to make her Netive Mexican cooking kosher, although cholent remains a challenge.

“A lot of us are just fumbling in the dark,” she said.

People around the Waers didn’t really know what was going on when they became Noahides, and many confuse them for Muslim. Even the Waers’ three daughters were perplexed by the sudden “Guess what, kids! We’re not Catholic anymore!” nature of their family’s change, but they noticed that their parents seemed happier.

Ryan Smith’s journey to Noahidism was considerably different. While incarcerated in 2009, he dreamed he was watching the news, and the weatherman said there would be a solar flare causing temperatures to hit about 800 degrees.

In the dream, Smith waited for everything to start burning. Then he saw some sort of figure coming out of the sky, saying, “Don’t be afraid, I’ve come to take my people home.” Smith started crying in his sleep and woke up.

Despite growing up Catholic, Smith had never seriously read a Bible before, but the moment after waking up from an apocalyptic dream seemed like a good time to start. He went on to research religion obsessively and even taught himself to read Hebrew, he said, so he could read the Torah. He contacted Schulman, the rabbi who runs AskNoah.org, from whom he learned about Noahidism, and began teaching Noahidism to other inmates, turning it into a small prison religion.

For Smith, who has since been released and is now volunteering with Schulman, Noahidism changed everything; he wouldn’t take back being incarcerated.

“It was the highlight of my existence,” he said. “I’m glad I went there.”

Just as paths to Noahidism are different, so are individual practices. Tina Sachs is a Noahide, and her husband is a secular Jew. For her, Noahidism mainly means attending classes at Netiv and lighting candles on Shabbat. On the other hand, others at Netiv are “Noahide Hasidim,” as Bryant, the Netiv leader, jokingly calls them.

The Navarros for instance, keep kosher and observe Shabbat, and Arilio studies with a rabbi online. When we met, Dianna was wearing a necklace with a Kabbalah tree of life symbol on it and a red string around her wrist.

“It reminds me never to speak badly of anyone,” she said.

Noahides elicit mixed responses from religious Jews. When I first began researching Noahidism, one rabbi emailed me, telling me to avoid a particular Noahide leader, saying the leader was “throwing teachings like pasta at the wall to see what sticks.”

Some rabbis emphasize that Noahides should not perform any mitzvot designated specifically for Jews; they point to interpretations of Genesis 8:22 that argue it is forbidden for non-Jews to keep Shabbat. According to Maimonides:

The general principle governing these matters is: [Non-Jews] are not to be allowed to originate a new religion or create mitzvot for themselves based on their own decisions. They may either become righteous converts and accept all the mitzvot, or retain their statutes [in the Noahide Code] without adding or detracting from them.

Arilio Navarro understands these concerns, but he doesn’t abide by them.

“There are a lot of blessings that come with Shabbat, and I don’t want to leave them on the table,” he said. “I spent most of my life doing that; I don’t want to do that anymore. I have a Jewish soul.”

All the rabbis and Noahides I talked to agreed that Noahides don’t have an obligation to keep more than the seven laws. But the sort of people who go on a spiritual quest that leads them out of Christianity aren’t the sort who are typically satisfied with that. They want to do more.

“We left Egypt and can feel the warmth of Judaism,” said Bryant. “We don’t want to just keep wandering through the desert.”

The Navarros, like several others at Netiv, want to convert to Judaism. What holds them back is not conviction, but logistics: It’s hard to maintain an Orthodox lifestyle alone. There are no shuls within walking distance, and the closest Orthodox Jews live in downtown Houston. Moving would be expensive; houses cost twice as much in the city. That’s why many at Netiv want to start an Orthodox Jewish community of their own, one intimately connected with Noahides.

But most Noahides don’t express a need to convert. They like the flexibility of not being obligated to take on the laws.

***

When Gallup took a poll of 3,789 Texans in 2004, only 0.7 percent identified as Jewish. So, why has Noahidism taken root here, albeit on a small scale? I heard a variety of theories, involving, variously: Texan independence, superior leadership, or a surplus of shekhina—divine feminine presence—in the Lone Star State.

Considering the large number of Noahides in Latin America and Africa, Schulman theorized that countries that had had Christianity forced upon them might be pulling off the yoke of their oppressors. And it’s true that Noahidism seems to spring up mostly in Christian countries. But imperialism is pretty much everywhere—what place hasn’t been taken over by Christianity or Islam or nationalism or something else?

The best explanation for Noahidism’s spread lies not in space, but in time. A few decades ago, Noahides were usually lone individuals, or perhaps groups of four or five, who had come to the Noahide commandments on their own.

“No one knew each other existed,” explained Bryant.

But thanks to the Internet, Noahides realized they weren’t alone. Religious seekers were suddenly able to get their hands on all kinds of information on Judaism (many talk about Aish.com and Chabad.org like family friends), and Noahide-specific websites appeared. The true headquarters of Noahidism isn’t in Texas or the Philippines; it’s in the web servers. Bryant regularly gets emails saying, “I’m so happy I found your video. I thought I was the only person in the world who lived this way.”

Because Noahides are so spread out, dating can be a problem; it’s not that easy to find non-Jews who practice Judaism. So, Noahides having started dating sites, such as Soulmate Connections. Cherrie Lacrosse, another Texan, met her husband through one such site.

“It was like we’d known each other forever,” she remembered.

***

Of course, many are already married before becoming Noahides, such as Peter and Val Loth, a couple that frequents Netiv.

They both grew up Christian, but as an adult Peter found out he was actually a Jewish Holocaust survivor who’d been adopted by a Polish family as a baby. Already married, Peter and Val started looking into Judaism, and they discovered that many did not consider their marriage valid. All of a sudden, religious Jews were telling them that they might need to get divorced. “It was scary,” said Val. Peter met Bryant at a church speaking engagement, and the Loths joined his study group, which eventually became Netiv.

They decided to remain married—“God brought us together for this purpose,” said Val—but life got complicated in other ways. Peter had from time to time spoken on forgiveness to church groups, but once he announced that he was religiously Jewish, speaking engagements dried up. Upon finding out he was Jewish before one speech, a pastor dropped Peter off at a McDonald’s, leaving him to find his own way back to his hotel.

Peter and Val aren’t alone in experiencing these problems; Netiv is a kind of support group for Noahides. “We stick together because we have to,” said Jackie Waer. Extended families rarely understand what’s going on, and that’s created rifts. Val Loth simply hasn’t told her elderly Christian mother, knowing it would break her heart. “Honoring her is leaving her in her little Catholic world,” she said.

Most people simply don’t know Noahides exist. Bryant remembers one time a Noahide group from Waco, Texas, took a trip to Israel for Sukkot and, for some reason, decided it would be a great idea to show up on the Temple Mount. A Muslim man approached them.

“Are you Jewish?” he asked.

“No,” replied one of the Noahides, who looked like a Hasid. “I’m a Noahide.”

“Are you an American?”

“No, I’m a Texan.”

“… OK, then.”

And when Noahides show up at Chabad houses or synagogues, saying they want to learn Torah, they’re frequently turned away at the door.

“What about being a light to the nations?” asked Bryant, the Netiv leader. “Where else are they going to learn Torah? At church?”

One thing about Noahides: They really, really want to be accepted by Jews.

“We all came from Adam and Chava,” Smith pointed out. “We’re all related, just with very big branches.”

***

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Ilana E. Strauss is a writer and filmmaker living in New York. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Heeb, GOOD Magazine, The Washington Post, Reader’s Digest, and The Toast.

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

Rabbi Genende’s Drasha on Rosh Hashono

I must admit not hearing about it, but it flew across my desk, and I feel it requires some comments. I reproduce it below, adding my comments.

And every day the world grabs you by the hand and says: “This is important” and “this is important.” “This is where you should be putting your energy” and “This is where you should be directing your priorities.”
No it is the Torah that yanks you by the hand and gives direction to your heart and your hands about what you prioritise and how

And every day you’ve got to yank your hand back and put it up against your heart and say – “No this is important, this is what really counts! I will be guided by my heart, directed by my principles, driven by my faith.”
Actually, it is Shulchan Aruch which does that. In the rare cases, where one doesn’t see how the Shulchan Aruch should direct him, man does not go to his heart, he goes to his Rav Hamuvhak, which in my case is Rav Schachter, Head Posek of the RCA, Rosh Kollel of YU, and Head Posek of the OU. Who is Rabbi Ginende’s Rav Hamuvhak? I am interested to know. I assume it’s not his heart.
Life isn’t just about getting the logic right although clarity of mind and clear thinking are of course critical. It’s about getting your heart and mind in synch.
Is this a Pasuk or a Seif in Shulchan Aruch? What came first, the chicken or the egg. I don’t get it. My heart sometimes tells me A, but Shulchan Aruch says B. The latter is based on logic and clear thinking. Which should I follow?
At the beginning of recorded history Noah stood up, built an ark despite the cynics and sceptics. He was a righteous man, (ish tzadik bedorotav – איש צדיק בדרתיו) a Tzadik for his time and generation.
The Rabbi has seemed to not mention that it took Noah hundreds of years to convince people of the impending flood. The people were depraved. They didn’t listen. Noah Miktanei Amono Hoyo Ma’amin. He believed in even those of little faith. His generation, though, was depraved and if not for this Hero, there would have been no Avraham or Sarah!
Ten generations later the first Jew, Abraham, burst onto the world scene. He too dared to be different.
Yet we are told he used his logic, not his heart. He considered the Buddha’s and idols and inane entities so ridiculous that he SMASHED them in his father’s house. Would Rabbi Genende’s heart allow him to SMASH these today?
He was called an עברי a Hebrew, someone who chose to live on the other side, the word עברי comes from עובר as in מעבר לים on the other bank; He wasn’t transgender but he was a trans-Jew!
Call him a Chabadnik. He went to any corner and opened every door to every Jew and indeed tried to convince the non believer to believe. Guess what? We don’t hear any more of those converted by Avraham and Sarah except that they might have been the Erev Rav? Why is that?
Both were heroes, but it’s Abraham that we are named after, that we remember today in our Torah reading.
We actually descend from Noah’s son Shem. His one depraved son Cham was condemned as a violent animal and the other one Yefes, was the man of political correctness
It’s Abraham not Noah who was the first Jew.
And without Noah, Abraham wouldn’t have existed. Why is that, Rabbi?
He is our founding father, our hero. Abraham isn’t remembered for an ark but for his tent, a flimsy fragile temporary structure open with entries in all directions like a Chuppah.
Source please: Where do we know it was flimsy and fragile? What is this allegory to the Chuppa? Is this poetic license being employed?
There are two ways, two approaches to the world – the way of Noah, the ark-method, building yourself a secure and sealed structure to protect yourself from the wild waves and violent storms out there: It’s a sensible path but one based more on logic of the mind than language of the heart.
There are two approaches that must be taken according to generation and circumstance. Sometimes we must be firm as per God’s command to Noah, and other times we need to enfranchise, but Avraham only did so according to the Sheva Mitzvos B’Nei Noach. Dear Rabbi, did you ever wonder why they aren’t called Sheva Mitzvos B’Nei Avraham? Avraham wasn’t teaching them about Eiruvin. He was teaching them about monotheism
Then there is the way of Abraham, the tent open to and welcoming the winds of change but firmly planted on the ground with a strong tent pole and pegs like a steady moral compass.
So you have gone from a flimsy tent to a strong one with a moral compass. Avraham was certainly known as Midas HaChesed. Are you going to condemn Yitzchak because he was Midas HaYirah? What is your poetic meaning to gentle openly orthodox Abraham ready to Shecht his only son?
An open tent, an open heart and an open mind. Abraham is the model of compassion, he pulls his hands back to his heart. He is a massive intellect but in the end we remember him not for his magnificent mind but his exquisite heart, his creative chesed. 
Open Mind? Are you calling someone who goes into his Dad’s shop and elsewhere, and smashes every modern idol “an open mind with compassion”. Indeed he was. But, when it came to fundamentals, he didn’t dangle his toes in political correctness.
You can insulate yourself in an ark, oblivious to the world and its problems, protective of your own family and the property or you can open yourself to the world out there, embrace it, let it change you as you change it.
The kind of Judaism I believe in has always understood that you can’t stop the winds of change, but as Bob Dylan put it in Forever Young, you can ensure that you have a strong foundation, a firm tent, when the winds of change shift
Pray tell, who was the Rabbinic influence in your life that told you not to withstand the winds of change through the loving Mesora of our generations?
An open Orthodoxy as opposed to a closed one knows what it is to be a global Jew that the world’s problems are our problems that we can’t go on using our planets’ resources as if they were infinite.
Here Rabbi Genende needs to come clean. Is he a member of the Open Orthodoxy movement that embraces various unmasoretic principles and is rejected by the Rabbinic Council of America whose Posek was Rav Soloveitchik and whose Talmid Muvhak is without any doubt whatsoever Rav Hershel Schachter? The RCA has ruled that Open Orthodoxy are not to be admitted in the RCA. Tell us Rabbi Genende where are you in this equation?
We Aussies are almost as wasteful, reckless and feckless in our consumption of natural resources as the Americans. Our footprint is clumsy and large.
Our ingenuity and ability to correct the correctable is also famous.
Oscar Wilde’s acerbic retort could be applied to us – America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilisation between…
You see that as acerbic. Perhaps you should point to the current “infallible” Pope and his communist method of converting to Xtianity. His people slashed our chests with the cross in no less a barbaric way than D’aesh does with its opponents (or friends). That’s far more to the point than Oscar Wilde
We were given this earth לעבדה ולשמרה to work it
Interesting. Who was given that command? Abraham? Nope. His forebears, who you have placed as irrelevant to our times.
and protect and safeguard it for future generations (Genesis 2:15). So remember: Reduce, reuse, recycle and eat less red meat – it’s good for you and your planet.
What is a Rabbi doing telling us to eat less Red Meat? He knows he should eat Red Meat on Yom Tov, and wash it down with fine wine. He also knows that Korbanos were full of red meat. The jury is out on various diets and fads. Rabbis do have a duty to tell us what is not good for us.  חמירא סכנתא מאיסורא but if one’s motive is to modernise, become a vegan?
And open Orthodoxy knows you can’t close the ark against the world’s most pressing global challenge today: The mass displacement of people, the greatest number of refugees since War World 2. All these dreadful images etched on to our collective minds, seared into our consciousness from the lifeless pitiful body of the 4 year old Syrian Kurdish boy Aylan Kurdi washed up on the beach in Turkey, to the chaotic scenes at the at the railway station in Hungary.
This is the only way? Closing the Ark? Rabbi Genende is often pictured with Muftis and Priests. I’d like to know whether he has asked them to take in their people. They have the space, the money and the resources to do so very quickly. Has he? Would he go on the public record as being critical of them for not advocating such? Perhaps he’s not aware of this
I would be taking that message to the tree huggers. I’d also point out this 
They have sparked an intense, important and long overdue debate in Australia about our responsibility to respond to the cargoes of hapless people and to rethink our policies on asylum seekers.
I don’t know, the last I saw Labor was claiming that they stopped the boats, so is the Rabbi advocating for “Israel hating” Greens?
In Australia as across the world the people led the way and our government responded positively. I am heartened by the wave of compassion that has swept the world but the issues are complex, the problem growing and it’s going to take resilience and determination to sustain goodwill and not to suffer compassion fatigue. And to apply the same kind of compassion to those now stranded on Nauru or Manus Island. People of all faiths and ethnicities have to continue to make space for one another, to honour our shared humanity. Fail this and we will have failed one of the fundamental tests of humanity. Fail this and we have failed the command, “Love the stranger because you were once strangers” something close to Jewish hearts.
This is an incorrect translation and I will take it as poetic license to further Rabbi Genende’s political bent
Of course part of the complexity is that a large part of these refuges will be Muslim and while I’m afraid of and oppose a Muslim caliphate fear of all Muslims isn’t a defence. If we are not part of the solution in reaching out to moderate Muslims, of helping integrate Muslim refugees and migrants into our lifestyle and helping find a way to reach young disaffected Muslims, then we are part of the problem. Stereotyping Muslims is as bad as stereotyping Jews. We are after all the “People of the Book”, nuanced readers of reality.
Which part of Sharia is unclear? What percentage is required for you to give them credence. Try this 
I draw strength from the leadership of the ICV, I draw strength from the young thoughtful Muslims I meet, from the young American Muslim leaders leading regular visits to the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem to learn about Zionism and Israel. They assure us it’s not too late; we can still stem the tide of Islamic anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism. I pray they are correct because it’s going to take all the positive good-will and ingenuity we can muster.
You take their assurances. Just like Neville Chamberlain. 
It’s easy to resort to black and white responses but that’s the way of Noah – you are in the Ark or you are outside.
Again the Rabbi seems to have missed the point. Noah was OUTSIDE his ark for hundreds of years more than he was in the ark. I dare say, he was more involved in ICV than the good Rabbi and for far longer. His generation, like ours, the Holocaust generation isn’t ready to have the wool pulled over our eyes by tree hugging political correctness manifestos.
That’s not the way of Abraham who from the beginning of his mission reached out to the world around him, converting and accepting his neighbours while remaining resolute in his pursuit of justice, compassion and righteousness.
Judaism since Avraham has always resisted the easy way – Just as we prefer a twisty Shofar, a כפוף to a straight one. Gimme a twisty curly shofar any time! Give me the long and winding road – a straight line may be the shortest path between two paths but it isn’t necessarily the best way between two moral poles.
Some more poetic esoterica? What has this to do with a Shofar. The best Bris Milah, which Avraham was the first to perform, was short and sharp, in the straightest line. Could you have used that line?
And being straight may be easy and comfortable but it doesn’t mean we reject Jews who aren’t straight but GLBTI.
Kindly define your terms. What does rejection mean? I’ve seen homosexuals getting Aliyos in plenty of Shules. They don’t walk in wearing a rainbow coloured Tallis nor should they need to advertise their proclivity. Do you want your congregants to come in with “I drove to Shule on Shabbos but my Rabbi still loves me” on their tee shirts or should they wear “I ate pork yesterday, but it’s okay, it was before Yom Kippur”. What the heck? What’s wrong with being like everyone else. I don’t ask people about their sexual proclivities especially in Shule. The only people I’ve heard talk about this are raucous ones, none of whom I actually know.
One of the fundamental challenges today is that of the inclusion of GLBTI individuals in the Jewish tent. 
Really. A much BIGGER problem is People going off the Derech, Shabbos and Modern Orthodoxy, and the Shidduch Crisis and the need for Gimmicks in Shule to get people to come because their Jewish Education is vacuous and synagogue based. While I’m at it. Which authority allowed a Shule, your Shule Rabbi Genende to be transformed into a concert hall. Rav Soltoveitchik wouldn’t allow a Chuppa in a Shule because it was unbecoming to Kedushas Beis Haknesses!
Orthodox Judaism has always embraced the traditional and Biblically-based definition of marriage as that between a man and woman; and that homosexuality is forbidden. Does this mean that there is no place for the gay person in Jewish life or for the Orthodox gay couple in the Orthodox community? Is it only Adam and Eve? Is there any place for Adam and Steve?
It’s easy to say – “It’s against the Bible and Judaism, that’s it.”
But you’re comfortable with public shabbos desecration about which the concept of Tinok Shenishba has been well and truly debunked by Rav Asher Weiss in Minchas Asher, quite honestly and convincingly. Do you honestly think people haven’t learned or been denied the lessons of Shabbos. That doesn’t worry you, but Adam and Steve sitting together in Shule? What do I care. There is nothing forbidding it. However, there is al pi Shulchan Aruch, and I challenge you to debate this with me, an absolute prohibition of Yichud between Adam and Steve, as there is for Adam and Eve before they perform Kiddushin. And, as a matter of fact, there is no existential Kiddushin according to either Noah’s laws or Abraham’s laws in respect of Adam and Steve, or Jill and Gill.
It’s a lot harder to say that to a sincere gay individual, to your son who has come out or to your sister who is living in a gay relationship. It’s a fearsome challenge, because if homosexuality is genetically wired as overwhelming evidence suggests how can a caring God demand they go against their nature?
I’m sorry to point out to you that you will not understand God’s way, irrespective of which morality your heart adopts. Furthermore, Rabbi Genende, what would you say if there was some Gene Therapy developed in 10 years time which obviated this “carelessness” of God? God put it there. Would you advocate it’s use to repair the אנוסים?
Indeed it has been suggested that the verse may only apply if the individual is acting out of free choice not compulsion ( אונס).
And that’s not a gun at his head? Please quote your sources?
And we need to recognise the vulnerability of young gay individuals, to affirm their right not to be alone לא טוב היות אדם לבדו , not to be driven to despair and suicide, but to establish loving relationships even as we ask of them and their heterosexual peers to show restraint in the public expression of their sexuality.
Rabbi Soloveitchik understood that Pasuk very differently to you, and he had plenty of cases, just as “cruel” like the Cohen who wanted to marry the convert etc. But, Halachic Man is bound by the Meסorah, and I dare say, Rabbi Genende, so are you. This is what makes the flimsy tent not fly away.
I don’t know why God created us differently and why the Torah decreed homosexuality forbidden. But I do know that the reality of the 21st century is that there are GLBTI Jews, that there are practising Orthodox Jews living in same-sex relationships.
Oh boy, it’s only the 21st century that has publicised this effectively. It’s always been there. If it wasn’t why is one of the Sheva Mitzvos B’nei NOACH
I do know that Orthodox Jews don’t stone sinners today even if they are desecrating Shabbat or committing adultery. In our shule we don’t ask people if they ate the abominable (to’evah) shrimp cocktail or had their name on the Ashley Madison site before we give them an Aliyah.
There are very good reasons for that, and it has NOTHING to do with your Shule. But what are your reasons? Are they halachically based on הוכיח תוכיח את עמיתך or is it a matter of “heart or constitution”.
So who knows what the future holds? Being flippant I could remind you that in the certain states in the USA gay marriage and marijuana were legalised on the same day. After all, Leviticus 20:13: If a man lies with another man he should be stoned. We have just been interpreting it incorrectly all these years…
Fair enough, old joke but a good one
Being serious I would rather err on the side of compassion than be a religious warrior without compunction. I will leave it to God to judge who is right.
Why are you a Rabbi? What morality do you impart to the masses. Are you limited to those parts of Shulchan Aruch that “fit your heart?” I haven’t seen anyone beat up a gay person in any Orthodox Shule by words or even invocation. Why would they? I had a great moral dilemma, but I dare say, I went about it in a different way to you, Rabbi Genende. We had a pedophile on bail in our Shule. I was troubled by his presence, which should have been quiet in a corner awaiting his trial (personally, in his position I wouldn’t have been able to go to Shule, but I digress). I discussed it with the Rabbi and I sensed he found this a “too hard issue” like the one you are grappling with. I rang Rav Schachter, and he said to me immediately, that I had no right to even imply that the eventually convicted pedophile should not come to Shule. He had a CHIYUV to daven like any body else, however, he should be quietly spoken to and asked to come and leave quickly and make himself unobtrusive. Is he also someone you consider an אנוס Rabbi Genende, the DNA may even indicate it. What then?
There is a fascinating Talmudic discussion about whether women can blow the shofar. While the Halachik debate focuses on obligation and responsibility there is another debate going on in Orthodoxy today about inclusion, leadership and spiritual role models.
The debate is within Avi Weiss’s break away group. The RCA aren’t debating the role of Rabats, or whatever you want to call them. They are very clear and their statements freely available.
While the ultra-Orthodox’ s position is generally that Noah steers the ark and Mrs Noah doesn’t even have a name, the Open Orthodox position is look to Sarah. When Sarah fearlessly challenges Avraham and he appeals to God (like many a Jewish husband may be tempted to), God’s response is simple and unequivocal: כל האמר לך שרה תשמע בקולה – Whatever your wife says – goes! (Genesis 21:12)Listen to her voice!
And today across the Jewish world – especially in Israel and USA we are doing just that today. We are paying attention to the learned and thoughtful voices of religious women who are achieving the same and even superior levels of Jewish knowledge to their male counterparts.
And pray tell how you extend this Drush to a Siman in Shulchan Aruch, and which commentators? NON Ultra Orthodox (and here I do mean RCA) couples listen to their wives and Na’ama as the wife of Noach is known.
While the title these women deserve may be debatable – rabbi, rabbah, Maharat – they are taking on positions of religious leadership in shules across Israel, Canada and the USA.
Do me a favour. I have a cousin who is a Yoetzet Halacha. She knows Shas and Poskim very well. She is anti feminist, as was Rav Moshe Feinstein. When she needs she consults with Rav Henkin, who by the way doesn’t approve of Shira Chadasha. Do you approve of Shira Chadasha as Orthodox Rabbi Genende? Would you advocate it being a member of the RCV or whatever new group forms?
There is still a way to go; even YU (Yeshiva University) the bastion of Modern Orthdoxy is opposed to women being ordained in any form.
Really? YU are against Yoatzot? Where did you get that from?
In my mind the debate is not about Jewish law but the power to define and control the franchise of Orthodox Judaism, about women sharing the right to decide on our collective future! I look forward to welcoming these women into Australia and in our Shule, into positions of spiritual leadership.
Well, you’d be well aware of the Rambam on this issue, wouldn’t you. He was very forward thinking. Do you know his wife’s name? I’m sure you are aware that a (male) King can’t give testimony. Let’s seek equality here too?
They are our “Women of Gold” and a women’s reading of Torah and Halacha can surely only enrich and enliven Judaism for all of us.
We have had women Prime Ministers in Australia and Israel, women running for President of the USA, women occupying highest positions in society, from COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg to CEO of Yahoo Marissa Mayer and Susan Wojcicki of YouTube. Surely the time has come for us to embrace women leaders in our Orthodox shules and institutions…after all they will still remain safely behind the mechitza.
The challenge Orthodoxy faces today is will it focus on the small (and laudably) totally committed 10% of the Chareidi ultra Orthodox or will it reach out to the fractured, bleeding majority, the Jews who are marrying out and walking away. It will be judged in the 21 century by how it responds to these challenges. This is not just a challenge for the religiously committed but for you and me – do you want your grandchildren to be and stay Jewish? How and what kind of Jewish?
We’ve also had our Madonna’s and Bar Rafaeli’s and young Ms Clinton and all those who do no service to Jews or Israel. I guess you forgot them, and forgot that Tel Aviv is the capital of the LGBTI World Mardi gras. Can you tell us in plain language whether you are opposed to the holy city of Jerusalem featuring a “Pork eating rights March” or are you governed more by Western Sensibilities than Modern Orthodoxy.
When you open the doors like Abraham and Sarah you let in all kinds of influences, some sweet breezes and some toxic winds. It’s a dangerous path because you don’t always know who you are welcoming in and Lionel Trilling has warned if you become too open-minded your brains can fall out…
But I would take the tent of Abraham any day over the ark of Noah hermetically sealed and separated by high walls from the rest of society, from my fellow human beings.
So when the world comes pulling at me and says: “This is important and this is important” I will definitely and unequivocally pull back my hand, turn it to my heart and say: “No this is important, the kind of heart I have, the soul I am growing is one that is guided by the way of positive passion wider inclusion and recognition, driven by my unerring belief in the God and the truth of Torah of Israel and the rich values we continue to share with the world.”
So I will sow the winds driving through my tent with seeds of love and scatter on them our values of dignity and equality, freedom and family, community and connectedness.
I expect you meant sew. I said enough about this above, but I will remind you that the Torah doesn’t tell us what happened to all those people Abraham and Sarah converted. Did you ever wonder why?

Rabbi Telsner resigns

He has made a few mistakes, and it makes interesting reading seeing the different reports from the Age Newspaper versus the Sun. They obviously have different sources whispering in their ears. The anti-Jewish News will have the story just in time to splash on the front page and triumphantly blow its horn as the harbinger of morality (sic).

The Yeshivah Centre is undergoing change, no doubt. However, I’m not going to say any thing on the Rabbi Telsner issue because if I do, some will certainly misunderstand my words and it will make no different how I state them.

I am sure Rabbi Telsner has learned from this, and will contribute in a way using the gifts God gave him.

Rabbi Telsner is a card carrying Meshichist, as is his brother in law, R’ Chaim Tzvi Groner. There is no place in a Shule for screaming signs that no longer belong. There is no Mesora for placards in Shules, and it’s also a failure of Maimonides 13 principles of faith which clearly imply that we believe in Mashiach coming. Mashiach is a term for someone God chooses, it is not a euphemism for one and only one holy person in the Garden of Eden. Denying God this choice is in my opinion Kefirah. Meshichisten will not, cannot, and do not believe it is remotely possible for God to decide whomsoever He chooses from the physically living. That is pretty close to Kefirah. It is also a pseudo Kefirah for them to even entertain that there may well be someone else chosen because they won’t appear as a loyal Lubavitcher.

As for me, as I have said many times I couldn’t care less who it is. Eliyahu HaNavi will tell us.

Yeshivah has lurched to the right. It needs to bounce back to the centre and concentrate on quality education. It cannot afford to be a front for a Mesivta. There is obviously a need for a Mesivta. Let them find premises and build themselves on certain backers finances. The School itself needs to stress the qualities unique in Chabad, and there are many. Let the students be known for being fine examples of the Midos that are imparted by this philosophy. By all means it needs to stay a Chabad school, but one grounded in the realities of Melbourne. Failing that it should stop marketing itself as a community school.

Ironically, the School failed dismally to effectively educate Russian immigrants, years ago, and no longer does it serve many who are not religious. That’s their raison detre!

Too many New Yorkers have infiltrated and married in and tried to turn it into a fancier version of Oholei Torah in Brooklyn. Bad mistake. This is not New York.

I think it’s also time to pull down the rather pointless Yechi sign at the back of the Shule. Those who feel the need to scream this message to the world can bounce on the corner of the street, or wear a yarmulka (which they can’t then wear in a bathroom) wave yellow flags, wear cheap badges and all manner of paraphernalia not mentioned in Shulchan Aruch.

It does turn people off, and I include people from outside the Yeshivah centre. Those who really want to experience that type of experience can just go down the road to Dudu Leider’s Israeli Chabad house. They will love it. I’m told they chant Yechi more times than Shma Yisroel, over there, by a factor of 100.

 

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

Same gender group in the Jewish Community Council of Victoria

I am implacably against anyone hurling vitriol or discriminating against someone because of sexual proclivity/preference, but my take on such a council as the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is that groups with sub-philosophies within Judaism are members representing a given approach within a broader philosophic cum cultural definition of Judaism. For example, Bund, Orthodox, Sephardim, Conservative, Reform, Secular Zionist etc

I don’t know how sexual preference defines a sub culture or philosophy of Jews or Judaism per se given it crosses all groups anyway.

They should be afforded full support by the JCCV and indeed the Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria (COSV) in the face of issues which they face, and pastoral/other assistance but their membership extends across the existing sub groups, I would have thought. Services to assist I fully understand and support, but I don’t understand a grouping that defines itself by its sexual preference.

For this reason I don’t understand why they need or want a formal membership separate from existing groups.

As far as Orthodox Shules are concerned, I’ve personally not encountered anyone being called out or excluded or insulted because of a sexual preference. Of course, I stand to be corrected if that has occurred especially in the last ten years.

It comes therefore as a surprise to me that apparently  Caulfield, Brighton, Blake Street, North Eastern, East Melbourne and Kew Shules will all be voting in favor. I imagine the others will either not be present or abstain or go on ‘walk about’. The COSV is pretty much a toothless tiger, and on a matter such as this, they should consult the Rabbinic Council of Victoria as well.

For an Orthodox group(s) I would express disdain for acts which highlight someone’s sexuality and/or take action verbally or otherwise against such people. I think that’s a given in our society. Is it not?

That being said same gender KIDDUSHIN cannot and will not ever be supported by Orthodoxy. That also needs to be made clear, and certainly by Sam Tatarka, Danny Lamm and other orthodox members of the JCCV. There can be no hiding or diplomatic sweeping under the carpet of this axiom  by simply not mentioning it.

Rav Yuval Cherlo on the Rabbi Riskin controversy

[the following is an edited, summary of a talk by Rav Cherlo, from Rabbi Dr Eli Turkel and is printed here with permission]

Who is Rav Yuval Cherlo?

He speaks English. He is a Posek of note from the centrist camp, who writes Tshuvos. He is a Rosh Yeshivah in Petach Tikvah. He was a founder of the moderate Tzohar. He served in the army and attended Har Etzyon. He is considered a sound moderate religious Zionist who sits in the centre and is widely respected. He is inclusive but maintains strict fidelity to authentic Halacha.

Rav Yuval Cherlow שליט’’א

During the controversy between the politically puppeteered Chief Rabbinate about extending the tenure of Rabbi Riskin of Efrat (see here and here) Rav Cherlo made the following comments. These need to be considered seriously considering the source.

Rav Cherlow gave a 1 1/2 hour talk last night on the chief rabbinate and R Riskin.
Rav Cherlow is the head of a hesder yeshiva and very active in medical ethics on several government committees.
Enclosed is a brief (from 90 min) summary.

 

There are 2 main purposes to the Rabbinate in Israel:

1) represent the Jewish Religion to the nation; and

2) halachic decisions – involving mainly kashrut and marriage & divorce (conversion is not officially listed as being done by the rabbinic courts)
The beginning of the end of the chief rabbinate began with the fight between Rav Goren and Rav Ovadya Yosef,  which brought the chief rabbinate to an effective stand still and more of a titular position.

Today the majority of non-religious Jews have little interest in the rabbinate. The Charedim mainly want to weaken and control the rabbinate but don’t respect it. That leaves only the Dati Leumi (Religious Zionists) who potentially care.
The low point was the election of Rabbi Meltzer over Rav Ariel in the previous election. The two are not in the same ballfield with Rav Ariel a far superior candidate on all fronts, but Rabbi Meltzer won on political grounds [me: he had a deal with his old friend from Kerem B’Yavneh, Rav Yossi Efrati who was the right hand man of Rav Elyashiv, to follow the views of Rav Elyashiv ז’ל. Rabbi Meltzer used to sit not far away from me in the Beis Midrash, but he was older and in 5th year as I recall when I arrived.]
I don’t really want to talk about chief rabbis that are being prosecuted.

Rabbi David Lau the current Ashkenazi chief rabbi is extremely capable, but won’t take any controversial stand. When asked about pushing for organ transplants he says Rabbi X objects to it. In terms of influence in the country his cousin, Rabbi Benny Lau has a greater presence. Rabbi Riskin is also an inspiration to others (when the radio wants a spokeman or there is a public debate Rabbi Benny Lau or Rav Cherlow are usually chosen).

To my surprise Rav Cherlow claims that the largest public religious events in Israel are the various programs on Shavuot night!
The chief rabbinate is slowly losing all of its power. Today some 100,000 Non-Jews are Israeli citizens recognised by the Law of Return (chok hashvut) with no hope or interest in converting.

In Cyprus the wedding places are all set up for those Israelis who can’t or don’t wish to marry through the rabbinate. This is in addition to all the couples living together without formal marriage. Soon, a minority of couples living together will have been married through the Rabbinate. This obviously means that they also will not be divorced through the rabbinical courts when they separate.
Hence, conversion causes less of a problem as they marry elsewhere and being Jewish isn’t important to them. Rav Cherlow brought a story that a brother of the Rav from Ponovezh was intending to marry a non Jewess. A conversion was arranged for the woman within 3 days!

According to Israeli law only the rabbinate can give a certificate of kashrut. Presently the various badatzim (Charedi Batei Din) only claim supervision without actually stating that it is kosher. There is a movement of other local groups that will start their own kashrut supervision. There is currently a case in front of the court requesting that any Rabbi be able to give a kashrut certificate.

In general many functions of the rabbinate are being taken over by Tzohar which not only performs marriages but also organizes many events for the public.
Many of the Dati Leumi Knesset members are in parties other than bayit hayehudi (the Religious Zionist party). Many of them are willing to dissolve the rabbinate as they feel it does more harm than good. An example is Rabbi Shai Piron who is a leading member of Yesh Atid. Others are in the Likud.

What about the future: There are two options:

1) dissolve the rabbinate and have a situation similar to the US [of separation of religion and state] (however the government will still fund religious events). This will happen by law or informally over time

2) make the current Rabbinate more inclusive and serving larger elements of the population.

Rav Cherlow personally is in favor of the second option. Now, much of Israeli society is traditional. They go through the Rabbinate because it is the accepted way and they have no problems. Once the rabbinate loses its monopoly many of these will choose other options.
The rabbinate claims to have problems with R Riskin because he criticises the Rabbinate and doesn’t always follow the rules. However, many town rabbis from the charedi side do the same thing but are never criticised for their actions. In fact two sets of religious courts have recently released agunot on very controverisal and contradictory reasons.

Town rabbis officially have no retirement age – the only government workers with that rule. Recently a law was passed requiring town rabbis to prove they are healthy at the age of 75 to continue. Until now that law was a formality. Rabbi Riskin is the first town rabbi to be called in for a formal hearing!

R Cherlow says that he has many disagreements with R. Riskin. However, should the chief rabbinate decide that they have the power to say that an orthodox rule is illegitimate (not just wrong on certain issues) then that is the straw that would force Rav Cherlow to object to the entire establishment. Many town rabbis just collect a salary and don’t do anything. To take a rabbi who is an inspiration to many and throw him out because he is too liberal, is simply too much for Rav Cherlow.

Interestingly the chief rabbinate announced that they will not be swayed by public opinion. That itself is a symbol of their problem. What the people of Efrat feel is irrelevant. In the end the Dati Leumi population will vote with the feet and already the other groups have no respect for the rabbinate. That institution will be left with zero support.

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. 

Sir Martin Gilbert ע’’ה

Sir Martin’s wikipedia entry states:

Gilbert was born in London to Peter and Miriam Gilbert; all four of his grandparents had been born in Tsarist Russia. Nine months after the outbreak of the Second World War, he was evacuated to Canada as part of the British efforts to safeguard children. Vivid memories of the transatlantic crossing from Liverpool to Quebec sparked his curiosity about the war in later years.

After the war he attended Highgate School, and then completed two years of National Service in the Intelligence Corps before going on to study at Magdalen College, Oxford, graduating in 1960 with a first-class BA in modern history. One of his tutors at Oxford was A.J.P. Taylor. After his graduation, Gilbert undertook postgraduate research at St Antony’s College, Oxford.

Career
Historian and academic
After two years of postgraduate work, Gilbert was approached by Randolph Churchill to assist his work on a biography of his father, Sir Winston Churchill. That same year, 1962, Gilbert was made a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and he spent the next few years combining his own research projects in Oxford with being part of Randolph’s research team in Suffolk, working on the first two volumes of the Churchill biography. When Randolph died in 1968, Gilbert was commissioned to take over the task, completing the remaining six main volumes of the biography.

Gilbert spent the next 20 years on the Churchill project, publishing a number of other books throughout the time. Each main volume of the biography is accompanied by two or three volumes of documents, and so the biography currently runs to 24 volumes (over 25,000 pages), with another 7 document volumes still planned. In the 1960s, Gilbert compiled some of the first historical atlases. Michael Foot, reviewing a volume of Gilbert’s biography of Churchill in the New Statesman in 1971 praised his meticulous scholarship and wrote: “Whoever made the decision to make Martin Gilbert Churchill’s biographer deserves a vote of thanks from the nation. Nothing less would suffice.”

His other major works include a definitive single-volume history on the Holocaust, as well as single-volume histories of The First World War and The Second World War. He also wrote a three-volume series called A History of the Twentieth century. Gilbert described himself as an “archival historian” who made extensive use of primary sources in his work. Interviewed by the BBC on the subject of Holocaust research, Gilbert said he believes that the “tireless gathering of facts will ultimately consign Holocaust deniers to history.” He wrote the foreword to Denis Avey’s The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz which he described as “a most important book’ and stated that Avey’s “description of Buna-Monowitz is stark, and true.” The accuracy of certain aspects of Avey’s account have subsequently been challenged

In 1995, he retired as a Fellow of Merton College, but was made an Honorary Fellow. In 1999 he was awarded a Doctorate by Oxford University, “for the totality of his published work”. From 2002, he was a Distinguished Fellow of Hillsdale College, Michigan, and between 2006 and 2007 he was a professor in the history department at the University of Western Ontario. In October 2008, he was elected to an Honorary Fellowship at Churchill College.

Public service
Gilbert was appointed in June 2009 as a member of the British government’s inquiry into the Iraq War (headed by Sir John Chilcot). His appointment to this inquiry was criticised in parliament by William Hague, Clare Short, and George Galloway on the basis of neutrality, Gilbert having written in 2004 that George W. Bush and Tony Blair may in future be esteemed to the same degree as Roosevelt and Churchill.[8][9] In an article for The Independent on Sunday published in November 2009, Oliver Miles, the former British ambassador to Libya, objected to the presence of Gilbert and Sir Lawrence Freedman on the committee partly because of their Jewish background and Gilbert’s Zionist sympathies. In a later interview, Gilbert saw Miles attack as being motivated by antisemitism.

As the Iraq inquiry was to be conducted on Privy Council terms, Gilbert (who was not previously a Privy Counsellor) was appointed to the Council in order to take part in it.

Praise and criticism
Many laud Gilbert’s books and atlases for their meticulous scholarship, and his clear and objective presentation of complex events. His book on World War I is described as a majestic, single-volume work incorporating all major fronts — domestic, diplomatic, military — for “a stunning achievement of research and storytelling.” Catholic sources describe him as a “fair-minded, conscientious collector of facts.”

Gilbert’s portrayal of Churchill’s supportive attitudes to Jews (in his book Churchill and the Jews) has been criticised, for example by Piers Brendon. Also, Tom Segev writes that, although Gilbert’s book The Story of Israel is written with “encyclopedic clarity,” it suffers by the absence of figures from Arab sources.

Honours and awards
In 1990, Gilbert was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). In 1995, he was awarded a Knighthood “for services to British history and international relations”.

In 2003 Gilbert was awarded the Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize by the University of Tübingen. The Sir Martin Gilbert Library at Highgate School, where he was a pupil, was opened on 6 May 2014 by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. “I know he helped Lady Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, but he also helped me a great deal with his insights into history,” said Mr Brown.“I know he advised Harold Wilson even before them, but at every point Martin was available and he wanted to believe that the best outcomes were possible. A genuine humanitarian, someone whose writing of history taught him we could always do better in the future if we are able to learn the lessons of history.”

Personal life
In 1963, he married Helen Constance Robinson, with whom he had a daughter. He had two sons with his second wife, Susan Sacher, whom he married in 1974. From 2005, he was married to the Holocaust historian Esther Gilbert, née Goldberg. Gilbert described himself [sic]as a proud practising Jew and a Zionist.

One Friday evening, I found myself sitting on the roof of the old Chabad House in Bombay prior to 2008. I wasn’t in a talkative mood, being really tired, and wanting to get back to the Taj Mahal Hotel to sleep. I was very tired from travelling the depth and breadth of India, being in an airplane each night, interviewing students in a different city from morning until evening, then travelling to the next city either late evening or very early morning.

There is a formula used in most Chabad Houses. This one was no different. There were  about 20-30 of us on the roof, in stifling humidity. We were asked by Rav Gavriel Holtzberg הי’’ד to introduce ourselves and then either tell a story, sing a song, or say a Dvar Torah. I was used to it, and always chose the Dvar Torah.

The person opposite me declined to say anything other than what his name was. I distinctly recall him saying “My name is Mordechai, and I come from England”. Mordechai had a thick English accent and persisted in making conversation with me, even though I must have looked disinterested and tired. Eventually after talking about various topics he told me that he was Martin Gilbert. Startled, I then introduced myself. Turning to him I said “you are not Sir Martin Gilbert, are you?” to which he answered, “I’m afraid so”.

For the next hour I found myself in private conversation with Sir Martin and his wife Esther (nee) Sacher. She was writing a set of books that served to record stories of Holocaust survivors. She described how she visited holocaust survivors and was writing volumes of their history based on their testimony. I do not know where she is up to, but I will send her a condolence message.

I asked Sir Martin what brought him to a Chabad House on a Friday evening in Mumbai, of all places. He mentioned that when he was in China he had also visited a Chabad House, and liked the informal and friendly atmosphere. He commented that unlike China, where he felt he was being watched by the authorities at every turn, Mumbai was gloriously emancipated. Neither of us was to expect that we might have been watched watched by the Pakistani terrorists who eventually gunned down Rav Gavriel, Rivki and those who were in the newer Nariman house, Chabad house.

I asked Sir Martin what brought him to India.

Sir Martin related that he had travelled through India as a young student and became very ill. His mother advised him that if he was ever to become ill, that he must visit an “Auntie Fori”. Auntie Fori’s husband, Mr B.K. Nehru was a famous and distinguished civil servant of India, also serving as Ambassador to the US and UK. He was a cousin of Prime Minister Nehru. This Auntie Fori had curiously avoided shaking the hand of the German Foreign Minister when she met him, and it transpired that she was in fact a Hungarian Jewess related to Sir Martin’s mother. After months of nursing Sir Martin back to health, Auntie Fori mentioned to Sir Martin that she knew nothing of her Jewish heritage but something told her not to touch the German Foreign Minister’s hand. Before he left, she begged Sir Martin to give her a history lesson about the Jews. He responded that he would write a series of letters to this effect, from England. These letters were later published as a book entitled Letters to Auntie Fori: the 5,000 Year History of the Jewish People and their faith.

I mentioned that I’d love to read the book and Sir Martin promised to send me a signed copy. It’s somewhere in the house or someone has borrowed it. I spoke to his wife Susan who told me that she came from Stoliner Chassidim. In return, I promised to send the music to some famous Stoliner Nigunim. Sir Martin and Susan left before everyone. I had surreptitiously revealed Sir Martin’s identity to Reb Gavriel during the meal, but he and Rivki were otherwise involved. Their focus was usually on the younger Israeli tourists. I know that if they had realised who he was, there would have been some fanfare, but I realised that Sir Martin preferred to be incognito, and I didn’t have the right to disclose his true identity.

After they left, I disclosed to Reb Gavriel who his guest was, and being a Yeshivah Bochur from Israel and then 770, he hadn’t heard of him. He believed me, of course, and for a number of years, Reb Gavriel would ask me to “tell the story about Sir Martin” to his guests. He was always proud of his visitors.

Everything is Hashgocho Protis. I wondered why I had met Sir Martin. I discovered this later. I received a phone call in Melbourne from an anguished Israeli mother who mentioned that her daughter was in prison in India awaiting a trial for alleged drug possession and asked me to do what I could to put pressure to facilitate her freedom. Indian prisons are not fun, and it can take two years or more until a trial is held. She was apparently pregnant, and they had one bucket of (horrid) water to share for drinking and washing amongst the female inmates in a cell. I knew a consul general in Melbourne representing India, as I had admitted his daughter to our course. That was one avenue.

It then dawned on me that perhaps this was a reason I had met Sir Martin. I knew he was far better connected than me! I sent him an email and described the situation and asked for his advice and help. I noted that perhaps this was the reason he and I had met that Friday night, and so it was now incumbent on both of us to get this girl out of the hell hole before she died prior to her ttrial. Sir Martin responded immediately and gave me the name of an international lawyer in Jerusalem who would work on the case at no cost. She told me that the system in India was riddled with corruption and delay and she didn’t know whether she could be effective but would try.

I couldn’t write this in email, so I rang Rav Gavriel and in Yiddish told him what I was trying to do. On a subsequent visit, I asked Rav Gavriel how the girl was doing. He told me with a glimmer in his eye, that she was in Israel. Incredulously, I asked how that happened. He took me aside and whispered a few things. Apparently, since she had escaped from prison, the Indian police had stalked the Chabad house daily, until one day Rivki הי’’ד came out with a broom, and told the plain clothes police officer that the girl was not in their house and they had no information to relay, and if he didn’t disappear she would use the broom on him.

With a smile, Rav Gavriel told me they didn’t come back.

I would describe Sir Martin as someone who towards the last 10-15 years of his life moved more and more towards traditional Judaism. I emailed him (in code) that the girl was now safe. Alas, he is is now with Rivki and Reb Gavriel in a higher plane.

יהי זכרם ברוך

On the Taskforce against family violence

I was interested to read it was over 20 years old and people with a bee up their bonnet should remember that and support their activities. They should not be trying to beat up frum women who have joined the taskforce with the excuse that their husbands are or were associated with organisations which had not dealt with problems properly especially at a time when people really didn’t appreciate the gravity of illness some perpetrators have.

I call on MORE women to join, and here I include women from Adass too. Anyone who thinks that there is no familial violence in the frum or ultra frum sector is a horse with blinkers. There is. Period.

Shmuley Boteach’s confused understanding of the Jewish World

The (I’m advised sincere) but confused article by Shmuley Boteach should not remain without counter-comment.

I will copy his article below and intersperse my comments.

The magnetism of Chabad messianism

Messianism is the world’s most powerful idea, humanity’s most compelling vision.

Messianism, which presumably is a word used because it over-focuses on WHO may be the Messiah, as opposed to the condition of the world at such a time, is not the world’s most powerful idea nor humanity’s most compelling vision.

The redemption itself, but more nuanced than that, the condition extant at the time of the redemption are a vision which we pray for three times a day. The days when the wolf will live with the lion, and the temple and it’s influence of unity and concentration and holiness are the reality, not vision, which Jews pray for every day. I do know that there are multifarious views of other religions now. I am not terribly interested in these, except in as much as דע משתשיב

Not only is it the underpinning of the world’s most populous religion, Christianity, it is also the engine for human progress itself.

If Jesus is the underpinning of the world’s most populous religion, that person (as opposed to the euphemistic messianism) then that is what it is. It is no more than that. If it means that people act in a certain way, which can be considered moral and ethical, and most importantly not missionary, then that is good. There is no evidence in Boteach’s statement that it is the engine for human progress. This is a statement without a presentation of any illustrative proof.

Only through a belief that history is not cyclical but linear, that positive steps in human advancement are cumulative rather than short-lived, that as a race we can step together out of the shadows and into the light, can there hope for collective human progress.

There are some mixed metaphors here. History is indeed cyclical. Boteach’s mistake is that if one proceeds in a circle, one cannot increase energy. This is of course demonstrably wrong. It is as wrong as assuming that one who travels in a line, is “growing”. They may in fact be dying, and reaching their end point.

Boteach again uses the term progress. He calls it “collective human progress.” He has not, however, seemingly made any effort to define what he means.

It is therefore fascinating to witness – once a year – the tremendous energy unleashed by the Chabad messianic movement as it congregates and detonates at world Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn.

Having never been there, I have heard that it certainly used to detonate a special extended holiness, however, anyone who has been in the State of Israel, and experienced Succos in Jerusalem, Hevron and the surrounds cannot help but know that they are actually on holy ground, enveloped by a sweeping holiness. that is unleashed and detonated. The same can be said for the “second hakafos” in Israel. That being said, I would posit that even Boteach acknowledges that Brooklyn now, is not the Brooklyn of 25 years ago, and the shining star that illuminated that section of the world, is sadly in another place. There is now much binge drinking where people either drown their sorrows or try to reach moments of detached ecstasy as a substitute. In Melbourne, I haven’t heard a good farbrengen, for example, since Rabbi Groner and those before him departed. Let me know where one is, and I’d love to be enthused by an outpouring of the Torah of Simcha.

The Jewish festival of Sukkot brings together two very different strands of the global Chabad movement. On the one hand, there is mainstream Chabad comprised of residents of Crown Heights – the global hub – together with the worldwide network of Chabad emissaries. Their strength is their professionalism, dedication, and impact.

On the other hand there are the Chabad messianists, a minority to be sure, but vocal, visible, determined, and brimming with life.

Here I assume Boteach defines a Chabad Messianist as either a chanter of one line mantras, or one who imagines he is receiving wine from nobody, or perhaps one who refuses to believe there is a filled grave. It would be helpful if Boteach defined his terms. There are many silent ones who pine for redemption. Some will internally hope that by some Divine rule it will be their Rebbe. Others (a very very small minority) will think this issue of identifying the Messiah, is actually a thorough and useless waste of time. I assume he speaks not about the elohisten.

Mainstream Chabad is uncomfortable with the messianists, believing they give both the movement and the Rebbe himself a bad name. The messianists are millennial, apocalyptic, and, to many minds, irrational. They want to push both Chabad and Judaism into the end of days.

I don’t see them as irrational (but note, I don’t know which category Boteach refers to). I see many of them as post-justifiers. They will cut and dismember Jewish tradition as espoused by the Rambam and acknowledged by the rest of Jewry. Those who think there is nothing in the grave, need psychiatric help.

But there can be no denying that they have tapped into an energy source that appears near infinite.

I do not know what “near infinite” means, let alone in this context.

When I was a young Chabad student in Crown Heights what I remember most was the limitless energy we all experienced in the Rebbe’s court. On Sukkot we could dance nine days running without tiring. We could go for a week with barely any sleep. The Rebbe – then in his eighties – set the pace with superhuman strength and inexplicable vigor.

Although I was not and am not a Chabadnik, I agree, based on the books I have recently read and some videos that I have watched, that it would have been an experience to remember.

That was more than twenty years ago.

Since then, Chabad has conquered the world and gone mainstream, sprouting educational centers in every point of the globe. My wife and I recently spent Shabbat with Chabad of Korea right after I spoke at Seoul’s Olympic Stadium at a global peace summit. A few weeks earlier I had spoken at Chabad of Aspen, Colorado. The local Chabad centers in these two very different places had in common the outstanding young Chabad rabbis, true soldiers of the Jewish people. Watching their impact on their respective communities was inspiring.

I think that Chabad has sprouted and grown, but I don’t know about conquered the world. If there was one word that I was left with after reading the three recent books about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, it was either the word dedication or positivity. I think Chabad has influenced many in that direction.

But for all that, Chabad today – as a movement that has now gone mainstream – has learned to eschew controversy. Gone are the days when Chabad agitated for the territorial integrity of the State of Israel and public stands against trading land for a fraudulent peace.

Those days aren’t gone!?! I hear this message constantly and unwaveringly today.

Gone too are the Chabad emphasis on messianism as being central to Judaism and the Jewish future.

This depends on the Shaliach. Some have adapted to their clientele while others will unwaveringly soldier on with the original message in all it’s vigour and yellow paraphernalia.

Chabad today is effective if not conventional, essential if not somewhat predictable.

It is predictable because it is a continuation of a message. There is no more central figure to initiate new ideas that are to be brought to the world. That is sad; but true. At the same time, there is an enormous corpus that may be applied to today’s world, without change.

Its focus: opening nurseries and day schools, synagogues and mikvehs, looking after special needs children (Friendship Circle) and the elderly, running Sunday schools and day camps. And to quote Carly Simon, nobody does it better.

This is also necessary for the mainstream. Jews are abandoning Shules. The latter can’t survive. They must generate income from nurseries etc simply to survive financially!

It is to this side of Chabad that I adhere and this vision for the building of Jewish life that I am dedicated. Chabad justly evokes in every Jew on earth a feeling of both awe and gratitude.

Which side exactly does Boteach not adhere to? Those that yell Yechi, or those that think it, or someone else?

Without Chabad the Jewish world would be up a creek without a paddle.

I don’t second guess God, nor do I know what he would have done, but there can be no doubt Chabad’s influence has been very significant.

But even as someone who prides himself on his rationality,

I do not know how a Chabad Chossid prides himself on rationality. My understanding is that there is higher level, called Bittul.

I cannot help but be somewhat jealous of the go-for-broke mentality of the other side of the movement, the messianists. The belief that humankind can attain an age of perfection, a belief that Judaism has a global, universal vision that is not limited to Jews, a dismissal of money and materialism in favor of a purely spiritual calling, and placing faith in a great leader who prompts us to embrace that era.

I am not jealous of them. Those that think that they have a minyan with two people and eight pictures, or eat on Tisha B’Av have broken with Jewish Mesorah. If Boteach is saying that he admires their perspicacity, ok.

To be sure, I follow the ruling of Maimonides that the Messiah must be a living man who fulfills the Messianic prophecies which rules out anyone – however great – that has passed from this world without ushering in an age of universal peace, rebuilt the Temple, and gathered in all Jewish exiles. That would exclude my Rebbe as it would exclude all the other great leaders of the Jewish people through the ages however much they have devoted their lives to our people.

It does, but that same Maimonides said, we don’t really know how things will unfold exactly. Which means I agree with Boteach, but I think he may be selective as a Chabadnik.

But that does not change my clear memory of the Rebbe’s incessant and unyielding public calls for Jews to work toward a messianic future, to dedicate every positive deed toward his coming, and to never fear controversy in the pursuit of every aspect of Jewish belief.

I once wanted to visit him for a Yechidus when I was younger. However, I felt that I was not worthy of saying anything of substance nor did I have a particular issue that I wanted to raise. As a Cohen, I also knew that if I blessed Jews with love, God himself would bless me. Not withstanding that fact, after reading the three books, I probably would have gone in if I had my chance again, and simply asked for “an appropriate brocho” Those three words. No more, and no less.

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.”

Nice article by Shmully Hecht

See the original from the Times of Israel (which I reproduce) here. [hat tip MT]

I have no issue with Shmully’s thoughts except that

  1. R’ Chaim Volozhiner was not an opponent of R’ Schneur Zalman of Liadi. He in fact, while being the prime disciple of the Vilna Gaon, and the person who hand wrote the condemnation of Chassidim (Cherem) did not sign the Cherem!
  2. Rav Chaim Kanievsky is not a political person. He sits and learns and does little else. That this boor said “come and I will take you to Rav Chaim Kanievsky” does not mean that Rav Chaim was aware of agreed with the way he spoke or what he said. Rav Chaim is also a Mekubal who knows Kol HaTorah and if you look at what he signs, you will find dear Shmully, that he rarely if ever gives his own opinion. He is a humble man, who mostly says “if such a great person said X, then I (Rav Chaim, who he considers to be a “nothing” in his self-effacing way) join in. This is because he does not see himself as a leader.
  3. The one that you should be addressing is, in my opinion Rav Shmuel Auerbach, whose incredibly great father R’ Shlomo Zalman had more knowledge, feeling, sensitivity and greatness than his son by a country mile.
  4. As to the rest of them, and by “them” I mean ANYONE who can’t see the Godly soul of a Jew at all times (yes, this is something from Chabad that I am ingrained with) they will not change, not by your article or by our comments. The best thing that can be done is to work now with the Nachal Charedi and make sure it is the holiest battalion in the entire Army, and one which is a Kiddush Shem Shomayim BoRabbim. That, to me, is where ALL the effort should now go.
  5. The so-called “distaste” for those who aren’t yet frum (I loathe the word chilonim) is amongst the Religious Zionists as well. They too have much to answer for over the years in their preponderance with land over people. The two should have never been separated. Rav Froman ז’ל is an example of a Gush Emunimnik who was searing with love for others, just like Rav Kook. It seems though that hate is a catchy illness and love for others is an acquired and elusive taste.
  6. This has nothing to do with Brisk, save that R’ Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik espouses similar views to that bigot on the plane, ironically his grandfather R’ Chaim Brisker was an even bigger Ba’al Chesed for a Jew than he was the Gaonic Genius of that generation. Check out his tombstone in the Warsaw Cemetery.

I write to you in your capacity as one of the leaders of the ultra-orthodox Jewish community of Israel, often referred to as the haredi movement.

On a flight last week from Israel to New York, I had a rather disturbing conversation with one of your of disciples. The individual was an ultra orthodox Jew and a successful Swiss real estate developer who resides in Jerusalem with his wife and seven children. He was on his way to New York for the wedding of a relative. I was returning home from Israel where I had spent the day attending the funeral of the father of a dear Israeli friend of mine from Yale, where I am the campus rabbi. I had met the deceased last year at his son’s wedding in Caesarea, where I was honored to officiate. On a subsequent trip to Israel I had put Tefillin on with this 77 year old man, preceded by an in-depth theological conversation about his Judaism and beliefs. On this return trip to Israel it was at the Shiva house where, upon meeting many of the members of my friend’s F16 squadron, a troubling conversation began. This was a conversation that crystallized on the flight back to New York while talking with your disciple.

Israeli air force pilots are in their mid-20s and 30s, a ripe time for young people to be seriously dating and in many instances newlyweds. It was ironic yet promising that despite being in the shiva house of my friend, we found ourselves discussing weddings and choices of rabbis. Here I was, surrounded by Israel’s bravest military officers, who held the most coveted spots reserved for only the brightest and best, that I began to hear about one particular pilot’s wedding. He had just returned from a trip to the US where he got married in a civil marriage ceremony in City Hall of NYC. He explained that he, like many of his friends, had done so because they had nothing in common nor any dialogue with the rabbis of Israel. I reminded him that on that particular morning we had witnessed three Israeli rabbis bury our friend’s father, a total stranger. I continued to point out some of the many great things rabbis were doing in Israel. In vain, I tried to shed some light on the rabbinate and build a bridge to this rather secular group of Israel’s elite.

Listening to him describe the gap that sadly divides the secular “chiloni“ and ultra-orthodox “haredi“ leaderships of Israel, I was dismayed and saddened by how far this split has actually wedged a division among our people. Could we have reached such a low point in our history that Jews living in our ancient homeland were flying across the world to avoid having to engage with our very own rabbis? How ironic I thought it was that I, an American rabbi, had flown to Israel first to marry and now bury a son and father of the most secular type of Israelis. Would this young pilot’s first encounter with an Israeli rabbi be at his own funeral?

Harav Kanievsky, I am convinced that the fault lies largely with us, the “religious,” and less so with them, the “secular. “ In fact I don’t believe there is an “us” and “them.” I was born a Chabadnik, where we are taught that there is only one Jew in the world. Yes, one Jew. But it wasn’t until the conversation with your disciple on my return flight that I began to comprehend the mindset that actually fuels this terrible divide. It is for this reason, and with hope of healing this terrible National wound, that I write you this letter.

“You look like a Chabadnik,” he started off, as he leaned across the aisle of our ElAL plane, “so tell me a story of your great Rebbe.” Not sure if I was sensing sarcasm or sincerity in his tone, I told him about my experience of once praying with the man I had just buried and how this person carried a photo of The Rebbe in his wallet for 20 years, despite claiming to be an agnostic. The truth is that “Rebbe miracle stories” were never really my forte, so I figured I would challenge him to a more serious theological debate in this final hour of our cross Atlantic flight. After all, I don’t get to meet many “haredis“ on the sprawling campus of Yale University. “What will you do about the pending proposed military draft?” I curiously asked my flight mate. “Well if it actually passes,” he said, “they will have to put a million of us in prison, for how can a pork eater, the son of a pork eater, tell us G-d fearing Jews to close the yeshivas and serve in the army? These Jews need to be despised and excommunicated for the way they treat the religious community.”

I was so shocked by the venom he was espousing in front of his wife and 16 year old son that I felt like stopping the conversation right there just to avoid embarrassing him. This verbal assault on the majority of Jews alive and the Jews who I consider my dearest constituents was not going to pass without a fatal blow. One, of course, I would have to deliver with love.

This man was by no means a Torah ignoramus, nor lacking in any level of sophistication. He was clearly a successful businessman, philanthropist, and learned Torah scholar. “I’m not sure you can blame a Jew for eating pork if that is what he was brought up eating,” I replied. It was an elementary response to such a loaded attack.

“After all,” I continued, “doesn’t your son [who was sitting next to him on the plane] eat what you eat?”

“How can you preach such hatred of a Jew,” I asked, “when the Torah explicitly says, ‘Thou shall not hate your brother in your heart’? Is that verse any less a part of the Torah you embrace?”

He replied, “well Esau, despite being the son of Isaac the patriarch, was the enemy of the Jews,” as if to suggest that any secular Jew had the status of an enemy. I explained that the Torah explicitly tells us that Esau and Ishmael had abandoned the ways of their parents’ home and clearly attained the status of another nation early in our history. To suggest that every non-observant Jew in Tel Aviv born to non-observant parents, or simply brought up in a non religious home, was now the enemy, was ludicrous.

His self-righteousness and arrogance was so revolting that I knew I needed to win this debate before we landed. I reminded him that the Jewish people were a family first and called over the flight attendant who was not wearing a kipa, and clearly the type of Jew he was critiquing. I asked the man if he believed we were all part of one family, to which he replied, “of course.” “If the plane went down at this moment,” I continued, “do you think your prayers would be any different than this gentleman? Do you really think your cry of Shema Yisroel would sound any different than his? Have you ever considered the probability of living parallel lifestyles should you have been born into his family, and he into yours?”

He would not concede. “The Finance Minister of Israel [he refused to mention him by name] is a pork eater, the son of a pork eater, and will suffer for the terrible anguish he is causing our community. He is no different than Jesus whom, though born to Jewish parents, is responsible for the murder of so many Jews through European history.” I reminded him that according to one account in the Talmud, Jesus left the seminary because of the lack of sensitivity of his Rabbi and perhaps that was why Christianity started to begin with. I reminded him of the commandment to love thy neighbor as you love yourself–to no avail. As I sat there I started to comprehend why my new friend from the squadron had flown to NY to have his wedding. How could he have any respect for Jewish leaders that did not officially declare this type of talk absolute heresy? Who could stomach this unapologetic self hatred by a “religious” Jew. All in the name of Torah and G-d!

But then I digressed and mentioned one of the greatest Rabbis in our collective history. Reb Chaim of Volozhin. He is, after all, the icon and example of Torah Judaism, who embodied the ultimate divine manifestation of Torah in a human being. In addition to being the crown disciple of the Gaon of Vilna and the author of Nefesh Hachaim, he was also the patriarch of the great Saloveitchik Talmudic family dynasty. So in a final attempt at reconciliation I asked:

What if I told you that the current President of Yale is named Peter Salovey, short for Saloveitchik? Though he is not particularly observant by your standards, he is a direct descendant of Reb Chaim. He is a dear friend of mine and despite being of the more secular type, he is extremely proud of his Judaism. In fact, he proudly quoted the great Mishnaic authors in his inaugural address as President of Yale. Do you know that he often engages in Talmudic discussions with me and others of the Yale community? Would you dismiss, excommunicate, and forsake the grandchild of the holy Reb Chaim of Volozhin in your self-righteous pursuit of an Israel that excommunicates the non-orthodox Jew?

It was at this moment that he got out of his seat and approached mine with an urgency. He finally realized what we were actually talking about. We were talking about that one Jew, the Jew that he could never forsake for it would mean forsaking Reb Chaim Volozhin. And so I got up and together we stood near the emergency exit door as he softly whispered these words into my ear, but more so into my heart and into my soul:

I envy you so much my dear Shmully, because in the merit of showing unconditional love to his grandson, I assure you that when you die, the great Reb Chaim of Volozhin will be waiting for you in heaven, and he will single-handedly open the gates of Gan Eden for you to enter.

These final moments of my flight were an absolute affirmation that there is hope for our people. I could not hold back my tears and replied, “how ironic, that upon my death, at the moment I would have to face my Maker, I would not be greeted, escorted, and defended by my Rebbe, Reb Schneur Zalman of Liaidi, the founder of Chabad, but rather by his opponent, the prize student of the Gaon of Vilna, Reb Chaim of Volozhin.”

And then he said, “You know, when you return to Israel, I’m going to take you to visit our leader the great Reb Chaim Kanievsky. I want you to tell him what we talked about.”

Rav Kanievsky, I don’t want to wait until my next trip to Israel. I will simply ask you what I asked him:

What would Israel look like this Pesach if you asked each and every one of your followers today to invite one non religious friend for Pesach? How amazing would it be if 1 million non orthodox Jews came home tonight and told their spouse that their religious friend or acquaintance invited them to their Seder? What if we reinterpreted, “all who are hungry may they come and eat, all who are needy may they come and enjoy Pesach,“ to mean, “not only the physically or materially poor but those less observant than us”?

Just as I’ve been assured that Chaim of Volozhin will be waiting for me in heaven, I sincerely hope Schneur Zalman of Lyadi is waiting for you. Let us hope there will be no need to imprison 1 million Jews but rather have 1 million more guests this year at the Seder.

I look forward to embracing you on my next trip to Israel.

Shmully Hecht is the Rabbinical advisor of Eliezer: the Jewish Society at Yale and can be reached at shmully@279crown.org

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.

And now the “oh so frum” condemn a Purim skit

Not to be outdone, the holy tzaddikim who shouldn’t be reading the internet condemn this video, which was clearly done in the spirit of Purim to “connect” to the Oilom who aren’t connected, and the types of comments you read are reproduced below. They are so out of touch with how to reconnect with Yidden, it’s plainly embarrassing. The Dati Leumi community were also out of touch. At least they are now recognising that their absence created a vacuüm.

  1. geula says:

    scary! this is exactly what are grandkids can turn out to be chas vesholom. This is a result of embracing a bit of the amalek; there’s such a kaltkeit and zilzul in this video and the whole DL community. There are no gedarim or bounds. it’s selective judaism. and what they do do that is based on something is so twisted and made to fit. Complete complete busha.

Egalitarianism is Treyf and can’t be cooked

The following is a Dvar Torah from Mori V’Rabbi, R’ Hershel Schachter שליט’’א via Torah Web. Rav Hershel is not an Agudist, and is clear thinking Posek par excellence who importantly follows the methodology of Psak that he inherited from his teacher, the Rav, R’ Soloveitchik זצ’’ל and who is the Doyen Posek for the Poskim at YU, and co-chief Posek for the OU. He has been outspoken on a number of issues (and I have written about them in the past). For example:

  • He unambiguously says that suspected pedophiles be reported to the police and there is no Din of Mesira
  • He supports pressuring recalcitrant husbands who don’t want to give a Get, using Rabbeinu Tam’s method, and does so on a case by case basis

He is not an academic. He doesn’t need to look up Bar Ilan CDs or Otzar Hachochmo. He has Kol HaTorah Kulah at his finger tips. When one actually speaks to him, one is struck by his incredible humility and ehrlichkeit. He is softly spoken, and isn’t afraid to say “I don’t know”.

About fifty years ago the Yiddish press carried a news item that the Vaad Halacha of the conservative movement issued a “psak halacha” that one may drink Welch’s Grape Juice. Their reasoning was that Talmud states that there is no prohibition of stam yainom on yayin mevushal and the grape juice was cooked.

Rav Soloveitchick came into his class the next day, related to the students what he had read, and asked if anyone knows what was incorrect with the statement. The only one among the students who knew anything about the topic at the time was Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein who had a smile on his face. The Rov asked him to explain to the other students where the error was. So R’ Aharon explained:

The main reason Chazal prohibited stam yainom was out of fear that it could possibly lead to intermarriage; the concern that perhaps the nochri may have been menasech the wine and then later allow someone to drink it was very farfetched. However, once Chazalinstituted the prohibition out of concern of chasnus, they extended the issur to include even kosher wine handled by a nochri lest the nochri was menasech it for avodah zora. In the event that the wine had previously been cooked, it would be even more unlikely that thenochri would be menasech it, and therefore in that case magah ha’nochri would not make the wine prohibited. But since in the case of Welch’s Grape Juice the wine was processed by nochrim before being cooked, the fact that they cooked it afterwards was irrelevant. The wine was forbidden because the concern of b’noseihem (intermarriage), which is the primary reason for the issur of stam yainom to begin with, still applied even though the farfetched concern of nissuch no longer applied.

The fatty parts of the sacrifices that have to be burnt on the mizbeach must to be raw; if they are first cooked, the kohein does not fulfill his mitzvah of haktorah. This haktorah lacks the element of raiach nichoach because the smell will simply not be the same. Similarly, the blood of a korban may not be cooked before being sprinkled upon the mizbeach; if it is cooked first, it’s not considered dam (blood) but merely the “juice of the meat”. It is for this reason we assume in Shulchan Aruch that eating dam shebishlo is only forbiddenm’dirabbonon – such blood would not be acceptable in a korban, and that is the entire basis for the biblical prohibition forbidding dam.

The same is true regarding wine. Yayin mevushal is considered inferior and would not be accepted for nisuch on the mizbeach. Since it would not be accepted on the mizbeach in the Beis Hamikdash, we assume that the nochrim would probably also not use it for their avodah zora. For that reason, if a nochri handled kosher wine where there is no issue of “binoseihem” but only the concern of nissuch, if the kosher wine had already been mevushal the chachomim never prohibited it.

One must remember that in the old days, the Conservative movement had a number of people who were Talmidei Chachomim. There were also a number of Orthodox Rabonim who worked in their JTA because it was a job, and it paid. Of course, their method of Psak via democratic vote doesn’t turn them into some quasi Sanhedrin.

In our day, we have the academic Professor, Rabbi Sperber who is cited as the authority to permit partnership minyanim. Tradition magazine recently featured a destruction of Sperber’s permissive ruling for places like Shira Chadasha, and their neo-modern egalitarian inspired mode of service by the famous erudite academic brothers, Professors Frimer, who have written on many of these topics over decades.

As far as I know, the Melbourne Shira Chadasha don’t have minyanim three times a day. Why? I guess one only has to be egalitarian on Friday Night and Shabbos? Whilst there are some misguided and ernest people who attend there, they stay outside the pale of normative Psak and Mesora and Orthodoxy. The majority from what I can tell, struggle with many of the normal non-egalitarian Mitzvos, that  Prof Sperber would say are non negotiable and would consider completely forbidden.

What is striking about the articles over the years on various egalitarian topics involving the “rights of women” in Judaism by the Professors Frimer, is that they undertake a painstaking analysis of topics, and then discuss these with Gedolei HaPoskim. They will quote R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and his famed son-in-law R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg et al. These are not “immovable right-wing poskim” but innovators who call a spade a spade when it comes to Halacha, but who maintain adherence to Mesora that has been the link between generations since Moshe Rabbenu (whose Yohr Tzeit is tonight if you follow the opinion that you also commemorate the second Adar).

Like the Grape Juice, the issue of these partnership minyanim was Treyf Lechatchila. As R’ Moshe noted, it was born not from Judaism, but the modern feminist movements. It cannot and should never be decided by the Sperbers and Kaplans of this world. The former is famous for his erudite academic work on Minhagei Yisrael, but that does not catapult him into the position of a Posek, let alone one who is qualified to make far-reaching changes to the definition of Kvod HaTzibbur. His opinion has been negated by R’ Yehuda Herz Henkin as well, and Rav Henkin is not exactly a Posek who remains beholden to a dormant lack of momentum. He and his wife head Nishmas. My cousin, is a Yoetzet Halacha and knows a heck of a lot more than I do. Speaking to her many times, I find a woman who is not driven remotely by feminism or egalitarianism. She is a Torah Scholar who doesn’t need the Avi Weiss Maharat denomination, and is most effective helping and answering and referring questions for women, as need be.

Rabbis are torn on how to deal with Shira Chadasha. They all agree that this is not an Orthodox prayer service. It could be classed as a right-wing mode of Conservative prayer service. If the membership are attacked, this may strengthen their resolve. If they are ignored, they may grow unfettered. They latch onto anything “modern” and are happy to adopt Carlebach style sing-song (Davening is much more than a sing-song. Chazal mandated strict rules) or Eastern influenced forays into Parks to daven/meditate in concert with nature.

The correct mantra is חדש ימינו כקדם

On Kennard, Shochet, Chabad and Modern Orthodoxy

The community in Melbourne, and abroad, has been buzzing about a series of articles/indirect interchanges between Rabbi James Kennard, principal of Mount Scopus College and Rabbi Yitzchok Shochet of the UK. I caught the tail end as we were heavily involved in planning and enjoying the wedding of our daughter! I had a moment after the Shabbos Sheva Brachos to quickly read Rabbi Kennard’s second article (I haven’t seen the first) in the Australian Jewish News, and formed some thoughts which I now have a moment to put down.

Firstly, the usual disclaimers and context:

  • Three of our children married into Chabad families. Our fourth will also do so in a month or so.
  • I attended a Chabad school, Yeshivah College in Melbourne
  • I did not attend a Chabad Yeshivah after year 12, I went to Kerem B’Yavneh, a religious zionist yeshivah (call it Chardal if you like)
  • I was Rosh Chinuch at B’nei Akiva for a few years, and my wife was a Meracezet in Sydney
  • None of our children attended a Chabad Yeshivah or Seminary after their Schooling.
  1. There is little doubt that a follower of Chabad, who considers themselves a Chosid, needs to effect the wishes and approach of the late and great Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Ramash נ’ע
  2. There is little doubt that the philosophy of Chabad is that the Geula (Moshiach) will be effected when Yidden will augment their Torah with Chassidus Chabad. אימתי קאתי מר
  3. There is little doubt that where a person has no known minhag because their family practices have lapsed, that Chabad will only introduce Chabad minhagim to that person, and will in general not make an effort to find out what a family practice might have been. This is because Chabad philosophy considers their approach as one which subsumes other approaches, and is superior at this time. שער הכולל
  4. There is little doubt that Chabad has indeed changed its approach to Zionism, in practice. Whereas the Rashab spoke with vitriol in a manner not too different to Satmar, the Ramash’s language became far more sanguine and displayed an acceptance? of historical reality (to use the words of the Rav, “History has paskened that the Aguda was wrong”)
  5. Chabad never saw the establishment of the State as the moment of the beginning of Geula. On the other hand, the establishment of the State certainly occurred during the time when the Geula was imminent, according to Chabad philosophy.
  6. In general, unlike many groups, Chabadniks do not spend their lives in Kollel. They either go out and get a job/study, or they become Shluchim. That’s not to say they embrace Torah Im Derech Eretz as a particular philosophy. Rather, it’s how one survives and lives.
  7. Chabad was and still is a leader in Jewish outreach, and this stems from extreme! Ahavas Yisroel, as stressed in Chassidus Chabad, where the Neshomo Elokis of a Yid is what counts, at the cost of all other considerations. This is a good thing!
  8. The Rav himself stated that Chabad taught the world how to bring Yiddishkeit into Reshus HoRabbim as opposed to Reshus HaYochid.
  9. The Rav noted that the differences between the Tanya and Nefesh Hachaim were semantic nuances that most did not and could not understand. The Rav did, of course. Indeed, Rabbi Brander mentioned that the Rav wrote a Pirush on Tanya which is still בכתב יד!

Until now, I have written about Chabad. Of course, like every group, there will always be a mismatch between the philosophy and some of the implementors (call them Chassidim) of that particular philosophy. Some Chassidei Chabad are what one might call “more tolerant” of difference, whereas others (often these are newer chassidim) range from less tolerant to downright intolerant of anything which isn’t in immediate accord with the Chabad approach to life. In this, one could argue that Chabad are no different to others. I would argue, however, that Chabad are different. Their difference lies in the fact that they absolutely revere and adhere to their approach to Yiddishkeit and do so with Mesiras Nefesh. Any student of history or sociology will have noticed that elements of this reverence have rubbed off on so called Misnagdim, who now have Rebbes in everything but name. “Gadol HaDor” anyone?

I agree with Rabbi Kennard that there isn’t only one way. I have always felt that way. Indeed, when I was a student and introduced to Tanya, I had a “stand up” with my teacher who said that Moshe Rabbeinu was a Lubavitcher. I said this was absurd and he called me a “Moshchas”. I think that’s where I started going down hill🙂

It is a well-known Gemora (I think in Taanis) that says that Hashem will, in the future, create a circle of Tzaddikim (in plural) who will dance around him and point to the epicentre of truth, which IS Hashem, בעצמותו. Many have repeated the interpretation (two which readily come to mind are Rabbi Akiva Eiger (whose grandchildren were Chassidim) and Rav Kook (whose mother came from Chabad)) that a circle was chosen rather than a square or indeed a line (dance) because each Tzaddik represented a different but equal approach to Avodas Hashem: call it a different perspective.  The  point of this Gemora (I think it might even be a Mishna, but I’m writing without looking as I have little time at the minute) is that each approach is equidistant to Hashem. Each is valid. Each is correct.

How can they all be correct? Simply because it’s a matter of perspective. Two people can be in the same room and the same spot, and witness or observe the same thing from two perspectives. Both are right. Both see truth. One of my sons is very talented in design. I have zero talent in the area in which he excels. I will not see what he sees. At the same time, I’m perhaps extra-logical. My PhD intersected with formal logic. My son won’t see or be bothered by what I see or am influenced by. Undoubtedly, this also extends to the concept of education, where we are enjoined to teach each child according to that particular child’s needs and expectations, approach and ability. חנוך על פי דרכו

No doubt, the Chabad perspective on the Tzaddikim in the circle will be that they consist of the line starting from the Baal Shem Tov through to the Ramash, and the reason they are equidistant is that they represent the same spark of Moshe Rabeinu, and that is a super soul which incorporates the souls of all of us. (This is not entirely correct though because the Ramash inherited the greatness of the Rayatz who inherited the greatness of the Rashab etc)

Personally, despite my background, I have not developed an understanding or appreciation of Chassidus Chabad or any other Chassidus. When I was introduced to Mussar, I disliked the  almost “abusive” approach of reproach. I learned Kuzari (which Rabbi Kennard might be interested to know was originally something that Chabadniks had to know together with Moreh Nevuchim!) but found it outdated.

I was attracted to the Rav, and elements of Rav Kook, in the main. That’s just me. That being said, I don’t know if so-called “modern orthodoxy”, which is a term the Rav did not like, is what is “needed” by the congregants of the Great Synagogue. I do not know how Rabbi Kennard knows that either. If he does know it, then I would hope that he flew to Sydney and addressed the board and congregation of the Great Synagogue and explained to them why that style of philosophy was the correct one for the Great Synagogue.

Perhaps I am spoilt. I saw a Chabad at Elwood Shule in the frame of Rabbi Chaim Gutnick. The Shule davened Ashkenaz, and still does. In fact, I inserted that expectation into the constitution of the Shule! Rabbi Gutnick was a master orator and a Chabad Chossid, however, I never witnessed him pushing Chabad down the throats of his congregation. Occasionally, he would refer to his master and teacher, the Ramash, but in the end, he related to people כמות שהם, “as they were”. His son, R’ Mottel follows in exactly the same footsteps as his father, although he does mention the Ramash more often than his father. Some may call this “Chabad Light”, but I beg to differ. It’s what you achieve that matters. I know that Rabbi Chaim Gutnick discussed his approach and issues with the Ramash on several occasions, and the latter called him הכהן הגדול מאחיו

At the other end of the spectrum was the late and great Rabbi Groner. He wasn’t the Rabbi of a non Chabad Shule. He was the Rabbi of a Chabad Shule. He was the head Shaliach of the Rayatz and then the Ramash. He certainly projected Chabad through a more defined prism, however, at the end of the day, he too never shoved Chabad down my throat, and I was known to be vocal on issues  I might have. I often heard him give a drasha based on a vort he read from someone other than the Ramash (not that it contradicted Chabad philosophy).

I attend a great shiur by R’ Yehoshua Hecht. He has no problem with saying “the Rebbe Nishmoso Eden“. He is as strong a Chosid as anyone else, and speaks without fear or favour.

I am aware, though, of some who are “not as well read” or “not as exposed” to the different Jewish world views and people who exist. As such, they are certainly less tolerant, more narrow-minded, and frankly, less likely to succeed! (in my opinion).

The point I am making, of course, is that it is more about the Chosid him or herself, than the Chassidus itself.

I recall coming back from learning in Israel, and R’ Arel Serebryanski asked me at a Farbrengen (yes, I do enjoy a good farbrengen, but sadly there aren’t many good ones these days) to learn Tanya with him. I responded that I would do so if he agreed to learn Chazon HaGeula from Rav Kook with me in return. He promptly averred. That’s fine. R’ Arel has his Chassidim and his circle of influence, but I’m obviously some type of “Klipa” that is in the too hard basket🙂

So, while I don’t learn Chabad Chassidus per se, I have to say that their approach of love and being non judgemental as a primary mode of returning Jews to their roots, is something that is inspiring and we all can learn from. Clearly, places like Aish HaTorah have adopted this approach. It’s the only approach that can work in my opinion. The days of chastisement  and admonition have long passed their expiry.

I did not like Rabbi Kennard introducing the issue of child abuse in the context of his article. I felt that this was completely out of context and in boxing terms a hit below the belt. Rabbi Kennard is not a fool, and he knows full well, as we all do, that actions speak louder than words, and words unfortunately seem to fall in the domain of lawyers and those who are litigious by nature. When the Labor Government came into power they promised an apology to the indigenous population of Australia. Speak to any indigenous person. They will tell you that an apology is meaningless in the context of a void of action. Action is the key, and like Rabbi Kennard, I have no doubt that action has and continues to be taken to make sure that world’s best practice of prevention is implemented in the School in question.

I think it was unwise for Rabbi Shochet to debate Rabbi Kennard on this matter. Did he really think that he could argue cogently with the points that Kennard had made?

I also think it was unwise for Rabbi Kennard to make a call on the Great Synagogue’s needs in the Australian Jewish News, when in my opinion there are much more important issues threatening all Orthodox approaches in the circle I mentioned above. The Jewish world is buzzing about “egalitarianism” and the actions arising out of that fever. There is a growing Shira Chadasha, a private Hechsher that is causing waves of discontent, Ramaz’s issues with Tefillin in the women’s gallery (will Rabbi Kennard allow that at Scopus?), the Maharat debate and more.

Yes, I agree with Rabbi Kennard that there is more than one way. Yes, I agree with Rabbi Kennard that Chabad (like others) think that their way is the best way, but I am interested to know where the issue of Chabad and the Great Synagogue’s choice of Rabbi sits in terms of importance to the Jewish world, vis-a-vis the issues I outlined above (and more).

Johannesburg and Melbourne

I have never been to South Africa. If you would have asked me 3 months ago whether I would have two future sons-in-law both born and bred in South Africa, I would have looked strangely at you.

My connection to South Africa commenced over 30 years ago when I was learning at Kerem B’Yavneh. Naturally, I found them “closer” to Australians, followed by the English, and the non New York, Americans: New Yorkers were another species altogether, as removed as Israelis. One of my Chavrusas back then was a young earnest Masmid (always learning) named Stanley Moffson, now known and loved throughout South Africa as Rabbi Shmuel Moffson of Ohr Someach fame. There were other South Africans, but I don’t even remember their names.

We could share cricket with the South Africans and Poms, but that was it. On Thursday nights we had Mishmar, where traditionally one would endeavour to learn all night. We didn’t learn all night, in general. By about 1am our brains were mush, and the words really just spun on the page (at least that’s true of me). We had a tradition of going to the basketball court, and playing 5 a side soccer for the rest of the night. Here again, the Poms and South Africans, Aussies, and Europeans studying at KBY would “go for it” as if we were representing our country. I still remember one mature English guy who used to play as sweeper and he had me on a string. I couldn’t ever get passed him: the memory still frustrates.

By the time my older son went to learn at KBY, they had a gym. This was a great idea. You need to have outlets, especially for the kids of our day, but I digress.

So, here I was an Avel no longer saying Kaddish, and our youngest daughter is engaged to a nice young man from J’Burg. We try to organise dates, but my wife is in New York for the engagement of our middle daughter, also to a J’Burger who has been in the States for a while. It was nigh on impossible to re-route and change things for my wife so she could also make the J’Burg engagement. I offered to try to book a flight which would take me to NY and then to J’Burg so I could be at both, but my wife insisted that if I’m at both, then she has to be at both. Fair enough too.

It was high season. I managed to get a flight on a full plane via Perth. On the way back I travelled on Kratzmech, and that was a Mechaye because there was plenty of room (and it was Qantas).

Arriving just after 5am in the morning, I was picked up by my daughter and the future Chosson. We dropped my daughter off, and I went to Shule on the Thursday. I didn’t realise it but I had sat (as I usually do) in the back of the Shule (the Chabad house in Sandton under Rabbi Yossi Hecht who was overseas), and the regulars thought that I was a Schnorrer. Now, if they had only had given me some Tzedoko!

I was called up to the Torah as Cohen, and although I’m uncomfortable saying HaGomel (according to the view of the Rav, Rav Soloveitchik given how relatively safe flying is), I did so and not become controversial. The Mechutan was also sitting in a back corner, and I didn’t notice him and hadn’t approached.

Davening ended and everyone shook my hand and said Sholom Aleichem and that was that. They remarked later that they were expecting me to pull out a few sheets of paper testifying that I was a genuine collector.

The thing that struck me was that apart from two dressed in dark suits, the rest of the Minyan looked “ordinary”. They weren’t bearded, were casually dressed, etc. I wondered what the attraction was to coming so early to Shule so early during the holidays. I know that mainstream Shules in Melbourne struggle to get a Minyan each day. The Mispallelim come three times a year and if you are lucky to a Yohr Tzeit. These guys, as I saw came for Shacharis and Mincha/Ma’ariv and I was to learn that this was not unusual.

As I was still technically an Avel, I did not allow myself to go touring and made do with the gym/jacuzzi/shvitz facilities at my hotel. That was therapeutic, and was a Menuchas HaNefesh and Guf which I really needed. My wife needed it as well, but she was in the snow of New York, wearing out the American Express card.

In my travels, I noticed that there seemed to be one and one only Kashrus organisation. There were no maverick entrepreneurial Rabbis who went off on their own for “utopian interests” which were really for “our” benefit. The result was that I could go into Woolworths and pick out items and find a stamp, a single stamp, in much the same way as the OU operates. What a Mechaye. Why was it happening here and in Melbourne we seem to have two Kashrus organisations: Kosher Australia and Adass, as well as the more recent  smaller maverick operation run by R’ Rabi. I won’t even start writing about the mess in Sydney where they simply can’t get their act together and separate Kashrus from Money, and agree on a single operation for all, without even a smell of self-interest.

I then asked where the so-called Charedi community “hung out”. I was to learn that J’Burg was pretty much void of (Hungarian) Chassidim. There was no “highest standard” Hechsher run by a separate Beis Din, where OO is EE, and separatism is a way of life. No, here, the Rabbinic institutions were set up by Litvaks. Even the Chief Rabbi claimed to be a Telzer, even though he apparently had learned only in South Africa.

What of Chabad? They certainly existed and were everywhere with really professional Chabad Houses augmenting the large choir-style Shules. I bumped into the charismatic R’ Sholom Ber Groner, who I knew in Melbourne. In fact, he gave me goose bumps each time I spoke with him in learning because so many of his mannerisms reminded me of his saintly father. He told me that the Ramash נ’’ע had written a letter to the Rabbonim many years ago that they should always work within the existing Rabbinical organisations and not separate themselves into another group. The Ramash was of course quite brilliant, and it came as no surprise that such sage advice was given. The result was that the Litvaks and Lubavitchers had mutual respect and genuine Chavivus. They worked together. The Beis Din is Litvak heavy but universally respected. There was a time when Chalav Yisrael was difficult to obtain, but they managed. They have “Mehadrin” Shechita which effectively means Chassidishe Shechitah. You can find that on menus in fleishig restaurants.

I guess the overall feeling had been of peace and fraternity between Rabonim, and I would argue that this is South Africa’s secret. There are no fifth columnists and private hashgochas and certainly no aspersions being cast around that “I’m frumer than you”.

The “Yavneh College” style school also impressed me. The primary school is mixed, but the high school is separate between males and females, and the males who want, have a Mesivta program where they can come back at 7pm for more learning. I was gob smacked. If something like this existed in Melbourne, with non Charedi teachers, I think Yavneh would really differentiate itself and move to a higher level of Chinuch. Again, I digress.

Yet, despite all this, many Jews from SA left. The apartheid was horrible and I detected racist feelings amongst Afrikaaners. When I suggested that it would take a generation or two of education and opportunity for reform (on the criminal level) to materialise, I was told “No, it will never change”. I loved watching the B’Nei Cham, with their ultra thick hair and perfect teeth walking around the Mandela mall. As someone who came from a persecuted people, I felt a natural affinity. I spoke with anyone who would talk to me. I could have done this for weeks. I loved them, I just felt that I had a duty to lift their morale and make them feel entirely comfortable. I tipped them too much, but what the heck. Their names were just wonderful. Names like Romeo, Delicious, Precious, etc were common place. The ones who worked in the Chabad houses were very well looked after and respected as human beings and I just loved being in that type of morality. The pejorative “Shvartzer” never passed my lips. What was Tzippora? What about Batsheva? What about our Sephardi brothers and sisters. Who are we to comment about any such things.

IMG_3058

Where was the Reform and Conservative movements, let alone the neo conservadox style movements? They barely existed. Why? In a place where Orthodoxy exudes peace, friendship and a typically Chabad and Ohr Sameach non judgemental approach to human relations, this is the most powerful antidote to counter these inaccurate and inauthentic branch offs from authentic traditional Judaism.

I came away with a great feeling. Yes, there are some security issues. Yes, you need to not go on your own without advice etc. There are challenges. As a community, though, I have to say that in general, although we might have more Kollels, their institutions achieve so much more and are more outward looking and manage to enfranchise individuals.

Disclaimer: I was only there for a week, and no doubt I was on a high, and perhaps ignorant and oblivious to various issues. This is my overall impression, however. In Melbourne, if you pass someone from a different “caste” you’d be lucky if they acknowledged you with a Good Shabbos when passing them. We have much to learn, not the least of which is learning to mind our own business and not whispering about every “bad” thing that happens in someone else’s family.

The Shule/Beis Medrash/Shteibel vs the outdoors

[Apologies as this may seem like a repost for some readers. WordPress seemed to get confused, so I have re-published as a new article]

There is seemingly a trend that has taken hold in the last 12 months or more. We’ve seen it employed by Orthodox Jews, some Orthodox Shules, and the Conservadox Shira Chadasha. The trend is to move out of the Shule and into the outdoors, presumably for a heightened, perhaps more “spiritual” davening. To be sure, it’s not (yet) regular, and is something that is utilised at chosen times. Many of these services revolve around music, and “nature”.

I am a musician. I’m not a “mathematical” musician in the sense of analysing a score and declaring it a piece of genius. Rather, I was blessed (I guess) to have a special חוש/sense for music to the extent that I can play a piece after I have listened to it.

I am inspired by music. I find that it touches my Neshama. It’s something that can uplift me, or just as importantly it can solemnise my feelings to the extent that I’m “at one” with those ambient feelings. Feeling melancholy I may choose Rachmaninov, for example; I love Russian classical music as it seems to accurately reflect the oeuvre of the tragedy of much of Jewish history. On Yom HaShoah, when I hear the ‘Partisan Song’, it never fails to stir and uplift.

Halacha discusses what type of music is acceptable. Obviously, love songs, as mentioned by the Rambam, aren’t in the frame. Some, such as R’ Moshe Feinstein based on the fact that he felt the Pshat in a Gemora was more in tune with the R’ Yosef Karo, the Mechaber, than the Ramo) went as far as prohibiting pleasurable music all year around as an expression of זכר לחורבן. This view is not widely accepted.

As I always reiterate, my pitputim are just that. Ask your own Rov if you have any questions or concerns. Rav Ovadya also had interesting Teshuvos on this (I can’t recall whether it was in Yabia Omer or Yechave Daas). If my memory serves me correctly, he even permitted muslim prayer tunes to be set to Jewish words and used as part of Tefilla!

I’m a traditionalist, especially when it comes to authentic Jewish expressions of connection with Hashem and preserving the Mesora via modes of accepted expression, additions and location.

I’m lucky enough to also feel exhilaration when learning, and I prefer delving than more surface-oriented coverage. The latter is instructive and important, in the sense of המעשה אשר יעשון but it doesn’t perhaps titillate me when compared to the combination of intellect/neshama as elicited by חכמת התורה. That for me, provides a tangible connection to אלוקות. Your mileage will vary, of course, and that’s perfectly fine. There have always been at least two approaches. הרבה דרכים למקום

Many of our current youth seek tangible and immediately perceived connection through their senses. Some are limited in their ידיעת התורה armoury, and the soul-like, metaphysical connection through song, works effectively as a catalyst. A catalyst towards what, one might ask? Is it a means or an end? Effectively in my Weltanschauung, is when this leads one to the level that they can meditate on Shmoneh Esreh in the very least, and through that seek to “connect”. Shmoneh Esreh is Tefilla.

As Rav Soloveitchik always pointed out, Judaism has never been reactive or temporally focussed on modes of pomp and ceremony and new forms of worship: these cross the line of Mesora. We are bound, happily, through our Mesora. To Chazal, Mesora is Halacha, and it regulates accepted methods and modes of Tefilla and delineates the unacceptable.

We don’t make up new integral prayers (as opposed to תחנות and בקשות) or modes of prayer. We follow the Nusach of our Mesorah, and we do not deviate. It is, of course, well-known, that when faced with the rising influence of conservative temples in the USA, the Rav stood steadfast, and would only allow “innovation” that didn’t step beyond Mesora and Halacha. Sometimes, protective mechanisms were needed to entrench a barrier against a temporal but threatening breach. These need to be approved by an expert Posek. One does not innovate on the basis of a more academically inclined analysis of sections culled from the Bar Ilan responsa DVD. That does not a Psak make.

There is the story recorded by Mori V’Rabbi, Rav Schachter, of a Baal Teshuva who would have offended his family by not attending the Bar Mitzvah of his brother. The Bar Mitzvah was to be held in a conservative temple. The Rav, whose Psokim one may not generally extend to their own situation, ruled that the Baal Teshuva should attend so as not to cause Agmas Nefesh and Machlokes on the strict proviso that in respect of the conservative service he:

  1. Daven in a proper Orthodox Minyan beforehand
  2. Sit when they stood
  3. Stand when they sat
  4. Not answer Amen

In no way, should he give the impression that he was participating in davening per se at a conservative temple. Each situation is different, of course, and a Posek needs to be appraised of the complete circumstance before issuing their Psak Din.

R’ Shlomo Carlebach, a controversial figure, is in vogue, especially in sing/song style prayer. Allegations, about him, abound. Some are most concerning and sinister. Yet he was also proffered love by the Amshinover Rebbe שליט’’א, widely considered as one of the “holiest Rebbes” of our generation.

A young Amshinover Rebbe with R’ Shlomo Carlebach

At the same time, in Igros Moshe, Even HoEzer (in the middle of a Tshuva), Reb Moshe Feinstein intimated that nigunnim performed before a certain period in Reb Shlomo’s life were acceptable, but those after that date were not to be played or sung.

Rabbi Groner ז’ל personally told me that he was a chavrusa/learning partner of R’ Shlomo. He asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe, after Reb Shlomo diverted to a more controversial path, how to interact with him. The Lubavitcher Rebbe answered that Rabbi Groner should be Mekarev R’ Shlomo, but never under the umbrella or Mosdos of Chabad per se.

I once used a Carlebach melody at Yeshivah Shule in Melbourne, and Rabbi Groner advised me not to do it again, for these reasons. He, of course, told me this privately and quietly after Shule, as I walked out after ravening. I know that Rabbi Groner’s son, Rabbi Chaim Tzvi also adheres to this approach in the Chabad House where he is Rabbi.

Many of our youth seem to seek spirituality. Authentic Jewish spirituality can be achieved in a number of Masoretic ways. I’m not sure, though, whether home-grown techniques of spirituality lead towards מעשה בפועל or if they are all permitted anyway. One would hope so, even if contraindicated, as per Reb Moshe or others. We should assume that seekers are earnest in their quest for interaction with אלוקות. The method of T’filla and the place of T’filla however, must remain the mainstream Chazal-mandated approach. Yes, there is a place for התבוננות, reflection and meditation. The Breslaver Chassidim require it once a day, the Baal Shem Tov himself did it—each to their own.

Lately, I’ve noticed various Orthodox groups (I consider Shira Chadasha conservadox in my nomenclature despite spirited sound-bites on a Melbourne TV show attempting to convince us that they are Orthodox) seek to leave the sanctuary of Shules and Shteiblach, or even house-minyanim and seek the outdoors through the aegis of an open area/park or similar setting.

I am not enamoured halachically by house minyanim on a regular basis during, say, summer months. There are shules close by.

ברוב עם הדרת מלך

is not a platitude. It is a halachic requirement.

Sometimes, perhaps mostly, so-called alternate services are accompanied by a Carlebachian inspired sing-song. As a musician, I know this can stir the heart. The effect is amplified when there is a knowledge of Pirush Hamilos. [ I cringe if the wrong style of tune is used for a passage or chapter. I even cringe when commas are placed at the wrong places: a sure indication that a basic understanding of the structure of Tefilla and Pirush Hamilos needs serious attention. ]

But what does Halacha say about davening in an outdoor setting? I’m assuming that Dina D’Malchusa is followed and council permits are obtained. Parks are not normally designated as places of worship. Imagine if Muslims, Xtians and Buddhists also decided to utilise parks for their places of worship. I, for one, do not think it is appropriate.

The encounter with Hashem is a private one (in the sense of occurring in a house of God), that should be constructed through the agency of a quorum of ten males and a suitable separation of males and females. Dogs, children playing, plain schmutz and the like, do not appear environmentally appropriate. As summarised in Shulchan Aruch Siman 90 S

לא יתפלל במקום פרוץ כמן בשדה

Shulchan Aruch (‘סע’ ה) rules that one should not daven in an open area, for example, a field. The rationale he gives for this halacha is that when one davens in a place that is closed one will have more awe for the King and will have a broken heart which is advantageous for davening. Mishnah Berurah writes that if a place is surrounded by walls it is an acceptable place (ס”ק י”ב מובא דבריו בחיי משה) to daven even if there is no roof.

Shulchan Tahor maintains that l’chatchila, ideallyone should daven in a place that has a roof in addition to walls. However, if the walls extend ten tefachim higher than the average person’s height, one could daven there in a pressing circumstance.

Eshel Avrohom adopts a more lenient approach and contends that it is sufficient if there is a wall in front of the person davening even if there are no walls on his sides. He also adds that this requirement is only for shemone esrei but for pesukei d’zimra one may even daven in an open area.

Sefer Toras Chaim (סק”ז) asserts that this halacha applies when someone davens by himself but it is acceptable for a tzibbur to daven in an open place since the experience of davening with a tzibbur will cause him to have a broken heart and awe of the King. Kaf HaChaim (אות ל”א) cites Ritva who rules that if a minyan is davening together this issue does not apply.

Sha’arei Teshuvah (סק”א) implies, however, that this issue applies to a tzibbbur the same way it applies to an individual.

So, while there is room to be lenient I would think, and this is borne out by opinion, that praying in a park/field is perhaps a stepping stone to the ideal, which is to pray in an ascribed place, viz, a Shule with all its concomitant Kedusha (ironically) and regulation. At the end of the day, it is the iconic Mikdash M’at, a miniature of the Beis Hamikdash itself. See especially the Kitzur Minyan HaMitzvos from the Rambam where he clearly describes this as a D’Orayso, a Torah imperative. We are enjoined to simulate the Beis Hamikdash through both the prayer, the behaviour and the building structure!

A certain man rushed to daven Maariv but missed borchu. Naturally, he wished to daven with a minyan that was just beginning so that he could answer borchu in the beginning of the tefillah. There actually was another Maariv which began a few minutes later but the minyan was outside the sanctuary, in a place without walls. This man wondered what he should do. On the one hand, he knew that it is preferable to daven in a place with walls as we find on today’s amud. On the other hand, he was loath to miss borchu. When this question reached Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, shlit”a, he ruled that davening in the shul with walls is preferable. “Even if you will miss borchu it is still better to daven with the minyan inside. Even though the davening outside is complete with borchu, davening without mechitzos is less than ideal.” אבני ישפה, תפילה, פי”א, ס”ו, ובהערה ז

In another place they would pray Minchah in a largish stairwell. Although a minyan always stayed inside, some of the people would wind up joining them outside the building. Since there were no functional walls out of doors, one of the group protested. ”The Shulchan Aruch rules that it is forbidden to daven in a place without mechitzos. It is therefore b’dieved to daven outside.” But those who stood outside disagreed. “As long as you are part of a minyan which davens inside it shouldn’t matter what you yourself do. It is not as though I have less kavanah, so why assume that inside is superior for every individ- ual?” When this question reached Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, he ruled that they should indeed pray with the minyan inside. “Those who daven in a stairwell should remain together inside, and not have some people davening inside the building while others are outside.” תפילה כהלכתה, פ”ב, הערה פ”ה

Pardon the pun, but we need to see the wood from the trees. If it is desirable in our age to enfranchise those who would otherwise not seek to daven, through Carlebachian/Breslav, outdoor or “spirit grow style” techniques, then that is an intermediate level, and an expert Posek must be consulted. However, it should always be understood that this level is a stepping stone to the ideal. The ideal is to daven in a Shule or Beis Medrash and to be become a Doogma Chaya, a living example, of how one should comport oneself in a Mikdash Me’at, a miniature version of the Beis Hamikdash. The laws of a Beis Knesses and Beis Medrash are directly derived, according to many, such as R’ Chaim Brisker, from the Beis Hamikdash itself. The Rav gave many examples of this in his Torah.

In a tangential way, even though there is leeway to innovate in respect of melodies during the Nusach HaTefilla, one must remember that some elements are inviolate. Can anyone imagine singing Kol Nidrei to another tune? Cantor Be’er from YU’s Belz School of Music has written a wonderful article where he delineates the Tefillos and categorizes those which one may innovate, tune-wise.

I remember as a boy that both L’cha Dodi and Kel Adon were sung, but this took place in the Masoretic mode of the Chazan and congregation pausing between stanza in the form of “saying and answering” (Davar Shebikdusha, as expounded by the Rav)

Mesora must be protected and cherished.

שמע בני מוסר אביך ואל תטוש תורת אמך

Mesora must be protected and cherished. It alone provides the protective borders within which we can serve through an authentic Jewish service.

Carlebach in prayerful bliss: From Ha’aretz

I have lost faith in Rav Druckman

I waited. I was hoping to be enlightened. R’ Moti Elon, who is likely to appeal charges against him, and for all anyone knows may not be found guilty, was condemned by Takana, a highly respected group of Modern Orthodox Rabbis and learned women. The court re-affirmed their findings.

In a case like this, one must be careful. Elon does have rights, and one must write alleged. At the same time, there is absolutely no Chiyuv that I know of, which would make it necessary to invite him specifically to give a Torah lecture while this very real cloud hangs over Elon.

Rav Druckman had invited him, and whilst nobody can be anything but impressed by his achievements as a human being and as an educator par excellence, one must question his judgement in this case. I waited for an explanation, but either I’ve missed it, or there is none.

Accordingly, I have suspended my faith in his judgement. It’s a pity we don’t have a body like Takana here in Melbourne. There are some dubious individuals, about which there is a raft of evidence that hasn’t yet seen the courts, circulating with clear ramifications that call for an enquiry. I see no need to INVITE such people to  speak on topics given the very dark cloud that surrounds their past. Yes, they are innocent until proven guilty, but we can do better than choosing people who seem to be moral and upright and don’t have such clouds accompanying them. If and when they clear their name, בבקשה.

It reminds me of the sad story re-told by Rabbi Riskin:

“Let me tell you a true incident which for me is a metaphor of our times. A young man attended a yeshiva in Safed.

“The first morning, he arrived a bit late for breakfast and there was no milk left for his coffee. He went to the grocery, purchased a container of milk and placed the container in the yeshiva refrigerator with a sign, ‘Private property.’

“The next morning, the container was gone.

“He bought another container, on which he added to the previous sign, ‘Do not steal.’

“The next morning, that container, too, was missing.

“He purchased a new container, adding to the sign, ‘Questionable gentile milk’ (halav akum). This time no one took his container; he left the yeshiva.”

At the risk of sounding like an Orthodox basher, let me say that far too little is written about the lack of leadership on morality and ethics on the left side of our divide. I did notice criticism of Macabbi in the 2000’s for allegedly not doing enough to separate someone wth a grey cloud over their head, from Macabbi kids. In general, the left leadership is moribund except when it sees an Orthodox target. They includes the reform and the conservatives and the “unaligned” (Shira Chadasha, who for some reason market themselves as Orthodox but are not considered as such by 99% of the Orthodox community).

Jews are a strange group. That’s why we have the crazy notion of people who want to “celebrate” Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur without God. They advertised in the paper. I would imagine they sit around in Yoga type trances and moments of thought, and make “new year resolutions” while consuming apples dipped in honey. Ultimately, they are celebrating with God, for He ordained the concepts and their meaning. They just have a pintele yid, which is clouded by secularist, do good, and tikkun olam (the modern socialist mantra). They are good concepts in the main, but whether they like it or not, God is part of our tradition! Rosh Hashana isn’t “Happy New Year”. Why not run it on December 31st with the others? Isn’t that more inclusive and likely to break down the “barriers”.

It’s actually God’s coronation. It’s not about making “commitments” per se, although one should use these times to improve.

Anyway, I digress, as usual, given this is (as always) an unedited conscious stream …

Rav Druckman (courtesy jewish community watch)

What did they achieve?

Matzav.com reports

The chief rabbis of Tzfas shlita, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and Rabbi Mordechai Bistritzky are working to close a pool operating in the holy city on Shabbos, “Tzfas Country”. As a result of the efforts of the rabbonim, calling on the tzibur not to use the pool because of its chilul Shabbos, more than a few members of the pool have cancelled their membership in protest.

In a local Tzfas newspaper the pool operator writes “I am alone, all alone in this battle. The few chilonim who remain in Tzfas are not taking part nor is the mayor. The chareidim are canceling their planned pool rental for groups. This has resulted in significant loss and the need to lay off workers. At moments of despair I ask myself why bother – who needs this when you can just close on Shabbos. However, when I return to clarity of mind I tell myself that I must continue and I mustn’t give them a victory. They won’t dictate to us how to live here”.

Pashkavilim are appearing on the streets informing residents that anyone supporting the pool is working against efforts to close it down on Shabbos. (The pashkavilim are not from the local rabbonim). “A bit more and we will succeed in closing the pool on Shabbos” reads the pashkavilim.

City Hall has released a statement regarding the effort to close the pool. “It is unfortunate that of late extremist chareidim are doing their utmost so that the upcoming local elections will surround a confrontation between the religious and secular”, BaKehilla reports.

Let’s analyse. Those who want to swim, will find an alternative. Swimming on Shabbos, isn’t the worst aveyrah in the world. It can be mitigated. Maybe it would be better to organise a Seudas Shabbos with Torah at a particular time knowing that the swimmer will attend? Recognise what you can achieve and what you can’t. Closing down their pool will make it much more likely that they won’t attend your Seudas Shabbos. You achive ZERO. Wake up Yidden!

The Mesorah Of Chesed

[Hat tip to Marek]

Article by Barry Jacobsen

A beautifully arranged presentation, graciously hosted by the Wolfson family, was held this past Motzaei Shabbos regarding the upcoming plan in Eretz Yisrael to conscript yeshiva bachurim into the IDF. Sadly, at the conclusion, I left with a feeling of disappointment.

No questions were permitted from the floor. I had the opportunity to speak with one of the speakers afterwards, who generously listened to me. But that was not the same as a full discussion of a difficult issue.

I am grateful to Rabbi Bender for his infinite chassadim to my family in numerous areas. Any comments I make are in no way intended to minimize the tremendous feelings of respect I have for him. Similarly, I had the opportunity to know the father of Rabbi Ginzberg from my days in yeshiva.

He was a paragon of seiver panim yafos, friendship, kindness, and concern about the welfare of all the bachurim. Any points I raise here are only intended as an exchange of ideas and an expression of deep pain for what I and many others see in the current state of affairs.

I was inspired to devote a number of years to learning in my early youth.

The warm feelings towards Torah, Yiddishkeit, and a Shabbos table filled with ruach will never be dimmed. The desire to maximize that path motivated me to send my kids to chareidi yeshivos where they were given a warm and meaningful Torah education. However, I am deeply disturbed at what has been happening on a wider level in the klal as a whole. I believe I speak for many others, and I know my chaverim have discussed these issues with me, as well.

After introductions by Rabbi Kobre, Rabbi Bender opened with a discussion of the importance of Torah in protecting the klal. He quoted the Gemara in Cheilek that one who says “Mai ahanu lan rabbanan, ldidhu karu ldidhu tanu,” is an apikorus. (One who says, ‘What do the rabbis help us? They only learn for themselves.’ He is considered an apostate.) Rabbi Bender discussed how there were a certain number of yeshiva bachurim learning, while the soldiers fought, during the times of Tanach. He also mentioned how the chareidim have a much lower rate of incarceration in Israeli jails than the general population, thus demonstrating that the Torah teaches good behavior. Finally, he mentioned that there are a number of chareidi organizations which do much chesed for the klal as a whole in Israel, not just for the frum segment, such as supporting the poor and providing assistance with medical issues.

Rabbi Ginzberg focused on why even people who had respect for gedolim in the past, such as those of the stature of Reb Moshe Feinstein, now seem to have wavered, and why questioning daas Torah has become more widespread, particularly on blogs.

Rabbi Eli Paley focused on some of the technical issues, such as how many soldiers the army really needs, and some of his own experiences in the army which seemed to be difficult for a chareidi lifestyle. He seemed to imply that the army is used in some ways as a form of indoctrination and acculturation with the secular viewpoint, rather than as an absolute necessity for security.

Rabbi Kobre mentioned some of the problems chareidi soldiers have recently faced, including medical exams which intruded upon their sense of privacy, and that even in the newer chareidi programs, 25% of the alumni come out non-frum. He took umbrage with a statement from a high level army chief that the chareidim are a worse problem than Ahmadinejad. Rabbi Kobre concluded that this is a state of emergency, and we all need to cry out for salvation.

All of this is true. But it is totally beside the point. The main problem that needed to be addressed, but was totally ignored, is why the chiloni sector has turned on the chareidim at this point in time. It is my belief that we are largely to blame. If it were only a matter of logistics, with the enrollment of more chareidim, suitable infrastructure would be set up so as to better serve them. But that is not at all the point of this article.

For the past 100 years, the chareidi world has been fighting Zionism like it is some kind of poison. They coined fiery slogans such as the Zionists didn’t become frei in order to build a state; they built a state in order to become frei. Aside from being totally foolish, as one can become frei by going to the McDonalds down the block without going through the backbreaking effort of building a state, it is an insult to the downtrodden Jewish people. After suffering 2,000 years of persecution, poverty, plagues, and pogroms at the hands of their host countries, which caused the spirits of many to break, is there no understanding why the status quo was unbearable? Many were converting and leaving Judaism in droves because they couldn’t take the anti-Semitism, discrimination, and misery. Many fled to America or wherever else they could get into.

Theodore Herzl warned that things would only get worse, and his prophecy was 100% correct, as we saw in the Holocaust. He knew the answer was for the Jews to get a place of their own, and he tried his best to help his suffering brethren, despite whatever personal failings he may have had. He did magnificent work. Think about how hard it is to organize a shul dinner, and then imagine how hard it is to organize a country. He had to rally the Jews, raise funds, meet with countless heads of state. The chareidim totally vilified Herzl and forbade any hazkarah in his honor within the city of Brisk after he passed away. The rav of the main shul in town locked the doors to prevent it. But the population was undeterred and broke the lock and held a massive service with thousands of people in attendance. To this day the vilification continues.

In 1923, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah passed a resolution condemning the efforts of the Zionists and vowed to fight any attempt to set up a state with all means at their disposal. This was 25 years before the saga of the Yemenite children whose peyos were allegedly cut off. This fighting and denigration of the medinah continues until this day. Chareidim refuse to say the tefillah for the medinah or for the chayalim in their shuls, citing all kinds of Kaballistic reasons, or because we don’t have power to write new tefillos (despite that we say new kinnos on Tishah B’Av for the

Shoah) or other creative points. However, in the old siddur Otzar HaTefilos, written about 100 years ago, there is a tefillah for Czar Nikolai, his wife, his parents, and children, mentioning them all by name, with effusive praise for each. We are allowed to say a tefillah for this individual who was no friend of the Jews, but for our brethren in the Israeli government, it would somehow ruin the davening.

The average Jew is tired of this stuff already. When a Jew goes to Israel and is greeted at the airport by the sign, Bruchim Habaim L’eretz Yisrael, his heart soars. When he enters Yerushalayim and sees the beautiful floral arrangement spelling out Bruchim Habaim LiYerushalayim, and sees the Old City and the Kotel, his heart is torn with emotion. When he sees young soldiers guarding the streets with dangerous weapons, the same age as our kids, who are often roaming the pizza shops, he is amazed at the level of responsibility and maturity they have achieved at such a young age. When he sees how advanced the country has become technologically, such that it exports its know-how all over the world, in areas such as military technology, water management, agriculture, medicine, electronics, software, and nanotechnology, his heart bursts with pride. When he realizes that there is freedom to set up as many shuls and yeshivos as he pleases, without any fear of pogroms or anti-Semitism, he is overjoyed and dumbfounded that for the first time in 2,000 years, this is possible.

Medinas Yisrael is the biggest berachah the Jews have received since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.

Now we run into a problem. When somebody tells us that daas Torah is opposed to this, or that the founders of the state were wrong, or bad people, or that we should not say the tefillah for the Medinah, should not celebrate Yom HaAtzamaut, should not sing Hatikvah, should not stand for the memorial sirens on Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaShoah, the average Jew becomes rather confused and torn, with his heart telling him one thing, and all kinds of yeshivishe propaganda that has been drummed into his head telling him another thing.

A little while ago, there was a picture on the front page of the 5TJT of a young child hugging his father’s grave at the military cemetery. The father died so we can enjoy the freedom and the shuls, yeshivos, and mekomos hakedoshim of Eretz Yisrael that we now have. Can chareidim not give this poor child respect for two minutes and stand still while he cries? How dare any leader not emphasize basic decency in his yeshiva.

When a frum IDF soldier is stoned and rained with trash when he enters Meah Shearim, the rest of the country is sickened. We often hear that it is one meshugeneh. Totally wrong. When verbal violence is preached at the top levels, physical violence results at the lower levels.

All the chesed that the chareidim do, while certainly well appreciated (as it is here in the Five Towns, as well), it doesn’t come to a drop in the ocean of the chesed that the Medinah does. The chareidim may provide transportation, food, or advice to people in need of medical treatment.

But who provides the hospitals, medical training, medicines, instruments, research, universities where training and innovation is carried out, and roads to transport the patients and medicines, etc. They also pay for the care, to begin with.

The chareidim give generously to the poor, but how many mouths does the government of Israel feed? Who ensures that the economy runs smoothly, that there is electricity, and engineering training to design a power grid, and water, and chemists who know how to test its safety? Who protects this vast infrastructure, and provides army personnel to stand watch day and night? The Medinah dwarfs all chesed organizations put together. Where is the hakaras hatov?

The klal craves achdus and warmth. The constant anti-Zionist propaganda spewed forth by chareidim is causing giyul nefesh (utter disgust) in me and many of my chaveirim who learned in chareidi yeshivos, not to mention the chilonim themselves.

Rabbi Ginzberg asks why there is a reduction in respect for gedolim. Well, Sunday following parashas Korach there was a massive demonstration where two warring brothers found that they don’t hate each other more than anything else in the world, as previously believed. It turned out that they hate the State of Israel even more. And the entire ideology is based on some obscure aggadeta (Shalosh Shevuos) not brought down in any of the classic codifiers, which is itself based on a verse in Tanach, from which we don’t generally derive halacha, anyway. Incidentally, a possible message of the Shalosh Shevuos is not to rebel against one’s hosts, out of derech eretz. Would that, perhaps, be applicable as well to Jewish hosts, or are they less deserving than King Henry VIII or Queen Isabella? This movement often resorts to outright lies, such as that the Zionists colluded with the Nazis, when letters have recently become available that Ben Gurion begged the British government to allow Jewish fighters to go to Europe to fight the Nazis. They also claim that enormous numbers of Jews have died as a result of the Medinah, when the number is 25,000 in 150 years, far less than in many other similar eras in Jewish history.

Another rav Rabbi Ginzberg is fond of quoting spewed forth the same type of anti-Zionist vitriol for years. One can open up a book of his transcribed speeches in English. This same rav also founded new political parties. One would think some important ideology was at stake. But it was his dislike of a certain rebbe. For some unknown reason, despite this rebbe’s incredible erudition, breadth, and kindness to all segments, this rav considered the rebbe to be inferior to himself. He disliked that rebbe so much that when that rebbe’s wife passed away, he told other rabbanim not to pay a shivah call. The klal is mortified and tired of this. These types of things have led to a weakening of faith in daas Torah.

Is it telling that the preceding two-brother chassidic movement, and the preceding rav’s yeshiva are now both torn asunder by internal machlokes?

Walls have had to be built and smoke bombs have been thrown in the beis medrash of one of the world’s most prestigious yeshivas in Israel. Midah kneged midah? Perhaps. But maybe just the natural progression of things.

When multiple generations have been raised on hatred and sinas chinam, the imbibed hatred is then used on each other, as well.

A few years ago, there was a major chinuch protest demonstration, with all chareidim in Israel urging their followers to attend. What was the issue?

The Israeli government was upset that a certain school was separating the Sephardic girls from the Ashkenazic girls by means of a fence in the middle of the school building, and down the middle of the playground.

Personally, even if a thousand gedolim held a demonstration with a million followers urging people to be cruel to young Sephardic girls, I would follow my heart and simply ignore it, and instead welcome them with open arms. The hamon am is disgusted.

Torah has become an exercise in mental gymnastics, with the primary message being ignored. When Rebbe Akiva said that v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha is klal gadol baTorah, he meant it. It supersedes all other considerations. Am I ignoring or denigrating daas Torah? I hope not. Rabbi Ginzberg has mentioned on more than one occasion the importance of keeping mesorah. There is one mesorah we have which is even older than the mesorah of learning—by about 500 years. It is the mesorah of chesed. It was taught by Avraham Avinu. When three individuals who he actually thought were idol worshippers (see Rashi) showed up at his door, he did not spit, as some chareidim now do, at priests of other religions. Rather, he served them a delicious meal and gave them a place to rest, before sending them on their way. Chesed comes before ideology.

When Avraham was told that anshei Sdom were going to be punished, he didn’t smirk that they deserved it, but he screamed to the Ribbono Shel Olam, “Hashofet kol ha’aretz lo ya’aseh mishpat!?” Will the judge of the entire world not do justice!? He was our father, and the father of all peoples of the world. Av hamon goyim.

One of the speakers mentioned that we are experiencing a war against Torah Judaism, an oft-heard refrain of the last hundred years, that the chilonim and Zionists are aiming to destroy Torah and see the chareidim as its symbol. This is needlessly inflammatory (but admittedly effective as a way to rally the troops) and simply false. Reb Aryeh Levine dressed chareidi.

Yet the Knesset dedicated a special day in his honor and made a special plaque which was awarded to him in a major presentation. He worked with all his might to help the fighters in the early days before the state.

After davening, he walked tens of miles on Shabbos to the prisoners in jail to tell the families how their loved ones were doing. He cried out on Rosh Hashanah, mentioning each by name, when they were sentenced to the gallows. The chilonim recognized that he loved them with all of his pure heart. The chilonim, in turn, loved him with all of theirs. If we acted like Reb Aryeh, and gave the chilonim the slightest bit of hakaras hatov and warmth and appreciation for the amazing achievement they accomplished (bsiyata deshmaya), not just as a condescending ruse to be mekarev them, but with a sincere and full understanding of the miracle they created and the intense effort they put in; and if we offered to move our yeshivos to the army bases to keep them company in times of war and be mechazek them with kindness; and if we stopped our foolish and angry (and baseless) rhetoric, they would never think of drafting a single yeshiva bachur. We have only ourselves to blame for this miserable situation. Let us try to rectify it before things get worse.

For now we need to know that there is nothing more to Yiddishkeit than simple kindness and mutual love and respect. In the words of Hillel, idach perusha hi—all else is just commentary. Perhaps it is not the chilonim who have gone off the derech. Perhaps it is us. I am not rejecting daas Torah, rather I am relying on the daas Torah of Reb Aryeh Levine which goes straight back to Avraham Avinu.

The author may be reached at bdj@alum.mit.edu.

Chacham Ovadya, Efshar Livrurei!

I read some disturbing words allegedly by Chacham Ovadya in his weekly sermon. His sermons have been controversial, however, when he makes statements based on hearsay, statements of a serious nature which seem to allege that Rav Stav, one of the candidates for Chief Rabbi, is evil, then I look to try to understand.

Unfortunately, I have failed to understand, even in the context of a politically charged atmosphere influencing these words.

  1. If you really care, and you are worried about the future leadership of the State from a Rabbinic perspective, and you hear that a candidate is God forbid “Not God-fearing“, then find out for yourself. Before you go off demonising such a person further, why not invite Rav Stav over for an hour’s shmuess. See what you can discern with your own very learned brain.
  2. If the criteria for a Rabbi being unacceptable is that “even” the “seculars” like him, then I’m afraid this is nothing more than that incredible Chillul Hashem that those who were opposed to Rav Kook ז’ל are guilty of. Au contraire, if the not yet frum, like a proposed Chief Rabbi, and he is (which he is) a Yorei Shomayim who has respect for Mesora etc this is the biggest positive that one can imagine in our Rabbi-spited society, where websites (such as Scott Rosenberg’s horrid site) specialise in minutely extracting every single foible or worse committed by a frum person and highlighting them in bold to besmirch Yahadus as a primary aim.

A symptom of one of the things very wrong with our society is the speed with which we condemn without checking further; public comments that should be carefully considered by a Manhig of the status as Chacham Ovadya; and the dreaded power of Askanim—the political appartchiks—both Ashkenazi and Sefardi, who relish feeding exaggerated fodder to enrage Manhigim and mislead them. The latter are quite literally infracting “Lo Siten Michshol” …. don’t put a stumbling block before the blind.

All that aside, an authentic Manhig, will not allow themselves to be swayed by politically charged, second-hand, exaggerated information.

Invite him over for a cup of tea!

פוק חזי

Israel’s Next Chief Rabbi Has Illustrious Shoes To Fill—From Long Ago

The author, Elliott Horowitz, sent me this link. It’s definitely worth reading.

The good work of Rabbis is often invisible

The reality is that newspapers and reporters are seemingly more likely to report and aggrandise horror stories and mistakes than they are to report excellent outcomes and outstanding effort, especially when it comes to Orthodox Rabbinic work. Sure, if a philanthropist donates money, they will report that as a big story with a nice picture spread. You won’t, however, find the headline on the front cover

“Reform rabbi speaks in favour of the anti-zionist BDS-supporting AJDS”

The “passionate” support of the Reform rabbi happened. It was mentioned in an article about the meeting of the ECAJ. I’d suggest such a view and display of passion has bigger ramifications for the reform movement and the opinion of many Jews than a Zablo that was screwed up and set aside by a NSW court. We should have had a transcript of what she had said.

As Rabbis Ullman and Moshe Gutnick noted in their letters to the Australian Jewish News, the focus on positive work and outcomes of Orthodox Rabbis seems to occupy no space in the AJN.

I wonder how the left-wing, and Limmud Oz supporters would react if it was suggested that they invite the following Neturei Karta people to speak about why we should be appeasing Ahmadinajad and dismantle the State in favour of Palestinian Arabs. After all, it’s all about tolerance, diversity and giving everyone a fair go to express their views?

No, Limmud Oz wouldn’t ever invite Neturei Karta, even remotely by video conference. Why not? I wonder if the AJDS would support them being invited? I imagine they would. After all, democracy is their religion. And yet, Limmud Oz invited Slezak! I don’t see much difference. In retrospect, there is a significant difference. Slezak is taken more seriously, especially by the young and green, and the young and green are mainly behind Limmud Oz.

People like Jeremy Stowe-Lindner, principal of Bialik College in Melbourne, writing in an article in the Australian Jewish News that amounts to a whitewash of a serious error by Limmud Oz in inviting Slezak, should now support Neturei Karta using his own arguments. Would Stowe-Lindner also use an error of inviting Neturei Karta to promote his agenda of sidelining denominational issues to the category of personally baked pareve cheese cake?

I know of recent cases where the Victorian Rabbinate, through the Beth Din, have solved very serious and long running cases of recalcitrant husbands not giving a Get. Was that a front page story? Heck, no.

It’s also the Rabbinate’s fault. They need a PR person in this day and age. In addition, they should have supplied statistics about the number of mediations they have overseen over the last few years which have been successful and not been challenged and compare those with  secular mediations and arbitrations that have been challenged.

No, you won’t see any of this in our Australian Jewish News. They are in the business of selling papers, and horror stories especially about Orthodoxy are better.

[AJDS really should rename themselves ADJS because I struggle to find Judaism in their politics. Left-wing democracy would seem to be their religion.]

The new Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel?

Based on what is reported in this article, I’d be pleased with Rabbi Stav. We had a Rav Stav at KBY when I was learning there. Was that his father or uncle? Does anyone know? I don’t mean Rav Moshe Stav. Actually, I take that back, it was Rav David Kav who I remembered. Kav, Stav🙂

 

Rav Stav (from cjnews.com)

Frum and the not yet frum: Separate or Join?

A powerful set of questions are raised in an article titled “Maybe the Secular Are Right?” that was published this winter in the Haredi Kikar Hashabbat, Rabbi Bloch (who is the Head of Nachal Charedi, and a Ram and Rosh Kollel) asks: “Why is it so common for Haredi pundits and public figures to pin the motives for secular hatred against Haredim only on the formers’ bad qualities, their emptiness, anti-Semitism and the ignorant man’s hatred for the scholar? And another question we should ask ourselves is whether, sometimes, the value benefits from this conduct or another are worth the consequent heavy price of hilul Hashem (desecration of the Holy Name).

1. We’ve chosen, for understandable educational reasons, to withdraw and live in exclusively Haredi cities and neighborhoods, avoiding as much as possible any social contact with the secular.

This is legitimate and understandable, but as a result they don’t really know us, amd so they naturally view us as bizarre, in our manner of dress, our behavior, and our language. This creates aversion and alienation. Why, then, we are angry at them for treating us this way?

2. We chose, for educational reasons—although some of us really believe it—to teach our children that all secular Israelis are sinners, vacuous, with no values, and corrupt.

This could possibly be a legitimate view, but, then, why are we shocked when the secular, in return, teach their own children that the Haredim are all primitive, with outdated and despicable values?

3. We have chosen, for the sake of the preservation of Torah in Israel, to prevent our sons from participating in carrying the heavy burden of security, and instead tasked them with learning Torah.

Of course we could not give that up, but why are we outraged and offended when the secular, who do not recognize nor understand this need—or rather most of them are familiar with the issue, but argue that there should be quotas—see us as immoral, and some despise us as a result?

4. We chose for our sons who do not belong, by their personal inclination or learning skills to the group of Torah scholars (Yeshiva bums and worse), to also evade enlistment—including into perfectly kosher army units. And when it comes to the individuals who have joined the Haredi Nahal, we do not praise them, but despise them instead, and we certainly show them no gratitude, while the Haredi press ignores them—in the best case.

Why, then, are we outraged when the secular don’t believe our argument, that the purpose of keeping yeshiva students from enlisting, is to maintain Torah study and not simply the Haredim’s unwillingness to bear the burden?

5. We chose to teach our children not to work for a living, and to devote all their time to Torah study. Clear enough, but, then, why are we shocked when the secular—who do not consider Torah study an all encompassing value—feel that we are an economic burden on their necks, as a mere 38% of us take part in the labor force, and they hate us for it.

6. We chose not to teach our children any labor skills, and we condemn those who do pursue a profession. As a result our kolelim include all of those who do not belong among the scholars and still prefer not to work for a living.

Why, then, do we complain when the secular feel, and say so with an increasing volume, that we are parasites, living off of their efforts?

7. We chose (for educational considerations?) not to educate our children to show gratitude to the soldiers who risked their lives and were killed or injured for our sake, too. So we do not mention them in any way by any special day or prayer or special Mishna learning that’s dedicated to their memory. Moreover, not a single Mashgiach or Rosh Yeshiva ever talks about it in a Mussar Schmooze, and you’ll find no mention of it in the Haredi press.

Why, then, are we surprised that the secular feel that we are ungrateful and despicable, and that the reason for our not enlisting is simply because we are parasites, living off the sacrifices of others in society?

8. When extremist, delusional groups behave in ways that besmirch the name of God—e.g. the spitting in Beit Shemesh, dancing during the memorial siren, burning the national flag—our rabbis chose not to condemn them, clearly and consistently ( except for a few faint statements here and there). Why, then, are we explaining away the fact that the secular believe we all support those terrible acts? Why do we insist that their hostility stems from their hatred of the scholars?

9. We’ve opted to allow our public officials and pundits to curse out all the secular all the time. Why, then, when the secular media treat us the same way, are we offended and cry out that they’re persecuting us?

10. The Haredi press will never offer any praise of or express support for secular Israelis who perform good deeds. Why, then, do we jump up and down when we are rewarded equally? And, in fact, while Haredi spokespersons rarely point anything positive about secular society, the secular media often gives positive coverage to Haredi organizations like Yad Sara, Hatzala, Zaka, etc.

11. We would not agree, under any condition, that secular Israelis turn up in our schools to teach our children heresy, and we would have kept them from putting up stands with books of heresy in our areas. Why, then, do we not understand when the secular do not agree that we seduce her children into denying their parents’ heresy?

12. We do not agree—in my view, rightfully so—that secular people move into Haredi neighborhoods. So where do we get the arrogance and audacity to call anti-Semites those secular who don’t agree that Haredim move near their homes, in secular neighborhoods?

Where Rabbi Manis Friedman got it wrong

There is a controversy regarding comments over the Rabbinic role in helping a victim of molestation, made in a lecture by Rabbi Manis.

I disagree with Rabbi Harry Maryles’s take as described in the above link. If you watch the video alone, without knowing what he said in the first audio recording linked there, I don’t think there is anything objectionable in the video per se (viewed alone). The audio of the first lecture is another thing, however.

It is true that the “role” of the Rabbi must be different to a psychologist. It is true that Rabbis should not assume the role of police or psychologist. The Rabbi (here I assume Friedman means the pulpit or town Rabbi, as opposed to the Rabbinic member of a Beis Din or a Rosh Yeshivah both of whom generally don’t deal with a particular community or its membership in this way) needs to deal with the victim vis-a-vis stressing and fortifying their status as a valued member of Klal Yisrael. The victim’s membership, under such circumstances is inviolate and axiologically grounded. The central issue to me is how you communicate this fact and serve to intercept the sense of possible alienation a victim may feel.

Rabbi Manis’s audio presentation does this in a crass and unrealistic manner. It assumes that a person will feel alienated more by the fact that they have been the victim of a crime whose perpetrator’s punishment is Kores as opposed to say Malkus. In my opinion, this is a nonsense and is a most unsophisticated metric for measuring such factors. The Chacham, wise person, has eyes in his head. He observes, tailors, and reacts according to what he sees. Surprisingly to me, Rabbi Manis is a Chabadnik. Of all people, they are expert in stressing the inherent holiness of the soul, asserting that it can be found in every Jew, and are experienced in helping remove the “layers” of baggage of many varieties which may cloud the vision and experiential manifestation of this soul. Instead, Rabbi Manis, in the audio version, sounds like an old-fashioned, fire and brimstone, B’aal Mussar. Sure, there was a time where you could scare or influence someone to repent based on the technical halachic severity of the sin. Sure, there may have been a time where you could convince a certain type of victim in a certain era that the technico/halachic punishment of what had been perpetrated wasn’t as “severe”, say, as a crime deserving of the death penalty.

No, the approach, ironically, ought to be to give strength by stressing the positive contribution that even continued orthopraxic practice can serve. Importantly, it may well also be beyond the Rabbi. A given community (Kehila) can quickly undo even the appropriate response and support of a Rabbi.

If I was Rabbi Manis, I would apologise, and stress that his words and argument were not formulated in an acceptable manner, and stick to the thoughts that he expressed in the video. Even if he isn’t an official spokesman for Chabad, he’s considered important enough to be ascribed such attention. If he apologised, he’d be no less a person. In fact, he’d come across as more human and thereby more equipped to help people using his undeniable God-given gifts.

We all make mistakes and express ourselves poorly. It seems it’s harder though to admit when we do.