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)

New meta-analysis checks the correlation between intelligence and faith

From Ars Technica.

More than 400 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, Greek playwright Euripides wrote in his play Bellerophon, “Doth some one say that there be gods above? There are not; no, there are not. Let no fool, led by the old false fable, thus deceive you.”

Euripides was not an atheist and only used the word “fool” to provoke his audience. But, if you look at the studies conducted over the past century, you will find that those with religious beliefs will, on the whole, score lower on tests of intelligence. That is the conclusion of psychologists Miron Zuckerman and Jordan Silberman of the University of Rochester and Judith Hall of Northeastern University who have published a meta-analysis in Personality and Social Psychology Review.

This is the first systematic meta-analysis of 63 studies conducted between 1928 and 2012. In such an analysis, the authors look at each study’s sample size, quality of data collection, and analysis methods and then account for biases that may have inadvertently crept into the work. This data is next refracted through the prism of statistical theory to draw an overarching conclusion of what scholars in this field find. “Our conclusion,” as Zuckerman puts it, “is not new.”

“If you count the number of studies which find a positive correlation against those that find a negative correlation, you can draw the same conclusion because most studies find a negative correlation,” added Zuckerman. But that conclusion would be qualitative, because the studies’ methods vary. “What we have done is to draw that conclusion more accurately through statistical analysis.”

Setting the boundaries

Out of 63 studies, 53 showed a negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity, while 10 showed a positive one. Significant negative correlations were seen in 35 studies, whereas only two studies showed significant positive correlations.

The three psychologists have defined intelligence as the “ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience.” In short this is analytic intelligence, not the newly identified forms of creative and emotional intelligence, which are still subjects of dispute. In the various studies being examined, analytic intelligence has been measured in many different ways, including GPA (grade point average), UEE (university entrance exams), Mensa membership, and Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests, among others.

Religiosity is defined as involvement in some (or all) facets of religion, which includes belief in the supernatural, offering gifts to this supernatural, and performing rituals affirming their beliefs. Other signs of religiosity were measured using surveys, church attendance, and membership in religious organizations.

Among the thousands of people involved in these studies, the authors found that gender or education made no difference to the correlation between religiosity and intelligence; however, age mattered. The negative correlation between religiosity and intelligence was found to be the weakest among the pre-college population. That may be because of the uniqueness of the college experience, where most teenagers leave home for the first time, get exposed to new ideas, and are given a higher degree of freedom to act on them. Instead, in pre-college years, religious beliefs may largely reflect those of the family.

The gifted, the atheists

Is there a chance that higher intelligence makes people less religious? Two sets of large-scale studies tried to answer this question.

The first are based on the Terman cohort of the gifted, started in 1921 by Lewis Terman, a psychologist at Stanford University. (The cohort is still being followed.) In the study, Terman recruited more than 1,500 children whose IQ exceeded 135 at the age of 10. Two studies used this data, one conducted by Robin Sears at Columbia University in 1995 and the other by Michael McCullough at the University of Miami in 2005, and they found that “Termites,” as the gifted are called, were less religious when compared to the general public.

What makes these results remarkable is not just that these gifted folks were less religious, something that is seen among elite scientists as well, but that 60 percent of the Termites reported receiving “very strict” or “considerable” religious training while 33 percent received little training. Thus, almost all of the gifted Termites grew up to be less religious.

The second set of studies is based on students of New York’s Hunter College Elementary School for the intellectually gifted. This school selects its students based on a test given at a young age. To study their religiosity, graduates of this school were queried when they were between the ages of 38 and 50. They all had IQs that exceeded 140, and the study found that only 16 percent of them derived personal satisfaction from religion (about the same number as the Termites).

So while the Hunter study did not control for factors such as socioeconomic status or occupation, it did find that high intelligence at a young age preceded lower belief in religion many years later.

Other studies on the topic have been ambiguous. A 2009 study, led by Richard Lynn of the University of Ulster, compared religious beliefs and average national IQs of 137 countries. In their sample, only 23 countries had more than 20 percent atheists, which constituted, according to Lynn, “virtually all higher IQ countries.” The positive correlation between intelligence and atheism was a strong one, but the study came under criticism from Gordon Lynch of Birkbeck College, because it did not account for complex social, economical, and historical factors.

Overall, Zuckerman, Silberman, and Hall conclude that, according to their meta-analysis, there is little doubt a significant negative correlation exists (i.e. people who are more religious score worse on varying measures of intelligence). The correlation is more negative when religiosity measures beliefs rather than behavior. That may be because religious behavior may be used to help someone appear to be part of a group even though they may not believe in the supernatural.

So why do more intelligent people appear to be less religious? There are three possible explanations. One possibility is that more intelligent people are less likely to conform and, thus, are more likely to resist religious dogma. A 1992 meta-analysis of seven studies found that intelligent people may be more likely to become atheists when they live in religious societies, because intelligent people tend to be nonconformists.

The most common explanation is that intelligent people don’t like to accept any beliefs that are not subject to empirical tests or logical reasoning. Zuckerman writes in the review that intelligent people may think more analytically, which is “controlled, systematic, and slow”, as opposed to intuitively, which is “heuristic-based, mostly non-conscious, and fast.” That analytical thinking leads to lower religiosity.

The final explanation is that intelligence provides whatever functions religion does for believers. There are four such functions as proposed by Zuckerman, Silberman, and Hall.

First, religion provides people a sense of control. This was demonstrated in a series of studies conducted between 2008 and 2010, which showed that threatening volunteers’ sense of personal control increased their belief in God. This may be because people believe that God makes the world more predictable and thus less threatening. Much like believing in God, higher intelligence has been shown to grant people more “self-efficacy,” which is the belief in one’s ability to achieve goals. So, if intelligent people have more control, then perhaps they don’t need religion in the same way that others do.

Second, religion provides self-regulation. In a 2009 study, it was shown that religion was associated with better well-being. This was interpreted as an indication that religious people were more disciplined in pursuing goals and deferring small rewards for large ones. Separately, a 2008 meta-analysis noted that intelligent people were less impulsive. Delayed gratification may require better working memory, which intelligent people have. So, just like before, intelligence is acting as a substitute for religion, helping people delay gratification without needing divine interventions.

Third, religion provides self-enhancement. A 1997 meta-analysis compared the intrinsically religious, who privately believe in the supernatural, to the extrinsically religious, where people are merely part of a religious group without believing in God. The intrinsically religious felt better about themselves than the general public. Similarly, intelligent people have been shown to have a sense of higher self-worth. Again, intelligence may be providing something that religion does.

Last, and possibly the most intriguing, is that religion provides attachment. Religious people often claim to have a personal relationship with God. They use God as an “anchor” when faced with the loss of a loved one or a broken relationship. Turns out intelligent people find their “anchor” in people by building relationships. Studies have found that those who score highly on measures of intelligence are more likely to be married and less likely to get divorced. Thus, intelligent people have less need to seek religion as a substitute for companionship.

Give me the caveats

This meta-analysis only targets analytic intelligence, which surely is not the full measure of human intelligence despite the ongoing debate about how to define the rest of it. Also, although the review encompasses all studies conducted from 1928 to 2012, it only does so for studies written in the English language (two foreign language studies were considered only because a translation was available). The authors believe there are similar studies conducted in Japan and Latin America, but they did not have the time or resources to include them.

Zuckerman also warns that, despite there being thousands of participants overall, ranging among all ages, almost all of them belong to Western society. More than 87 percent of the participants were from the US, the UK, and Canada. So after controlling for other factors, they can only confidently show strong negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity among American Protestants. For Catholicism and Judaism, the correlation may be less negative.

There are some complications to the explanations too. For example, the non-conformist theory of atheism cannot apply to societies where the majority are atheists, like Scandinavian countries. The possible explanations are also currently just that—possible. They need to be empirically studied.

Finally, not all studies reviewed are of equal quality, and some of them have been criticized by other researchers. But that is exactly why meta-analyses are performed. They help overcome limitations of sample size, poor data, and questionable analyses of individual studies.

As always, the word “correlation” is important. It hasn’t been shown that higher intelligence causes someone to be less religious. So, it wouldn’t be right to call someone a dimwit just because of their religious beliefs. Unless, of course, you are an ancient playwright looking to provoke your audience.

Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2013. DOI: 10.1177/1088868313497266 (About DOIs).

Israel and Soldiers

[Hat tip to DM]

Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yerucham Levovitz: “..regarding those who currently sacrifice their lives so we can be saved, no one in the entire world can stand in their presence…and our obligation to pray on their behalf is limitless…”

Nothing is to be achieved from the negative messages, prevalent in the hareidi/hassidic world about Israel. It is time for a change in approach so that new generations learn about what Israel is and not what it is not. Then the madim (uniform) and kelei ha’mikdash, the sanctified vessels and tools used daily to rebuild our Promised Land and safeguard all of its citizens, will be seen in a proper light..

The revered Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yerucham Levovitz, who commented in his Sichos Mussar regarding those who were killed in Lod in Talmudic times [ha’rugei Lod ein kol briya yechola la’amod be’mechitzatan]. “No mortal can be in their presence” because they have sacrificed their life on behalf of Israel. Likewise,“regarding those who currently sacrifice their lives so we can be saved, no one in the entire world can stand in their presence [no one can measure up to their level]. And our obligation to pray on their behalf is limitless…”

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, head of Har Etzion hesder yeshiva, related that once, when he returned to America and was visiting with his father in law, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, he posed a series of questions he had received from students serving in the IDF. One student worked in the tanks division and his job was cleaning out and maintaining the tanks. Often his uniform got covered in oil and grime and he wanted to know if he needed to change before afternoon prayer,davening Mincha, something that would be terribly inconvenient and difficult. The Rav looked at Rav Lichtenstein and wondered out loud, “why would he need to change? He is wearing bigdei kodesh, holy garments.

These sacred garments have restored Jewish pride, faith and fortitude… these bigdei kodesh safeguard and secure all that is holy and worthwhile in G-d’s Promised Land and throughout the world.

No lesser voice than HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Hacohen Kook shared the regard and reverence for Israel’s soldiers and the uniform they wear. In Sichot Rabbenu, Yom Ha’atzmaut 5727, he wrote:

“A student of our Yeshiva approached me. I said to him: ‘At first I did not recognize you.’ He was wearing the army uniform. You know that I relate to this uniform in holiness. A lovely and precious man, full of G-d-fearing and holiness was approaching, and he was wearing an army uniform. At that occurrence I mentioned what I said at one wedding [of Ha-Rav She’ar Yashuv Cohen, chief rabbi of Haifa], when the groom came dressed in an army uniform.

There were some who were pointing out that it is inappropriate for a groom to stand under the chuppah with an army uniform. In Yerushalayim, the Holy City, it was customary that they came with Shabbat clothing, holy clothing, like a streimel (fur hat worn by hassidim on the Sabbath, ed.).

” I will tell you the truth. The holiness of the streimel – I do not know if it is one-hundred percent clear. It was made holy after the fact. Many righteous and holy Geonim (great rabbis) certainly wore it. There is certainly so much trembling of holiness before them, and we are dirt under the souls of their feet, and on account of this fact, the streimel was made holy.

“Also Yiddish, the language of Exile, was made holy because of its great use in words of holiness. But from the outset – it is not so certain. In comparison, the holiness of the army uniform in Israel is fundamental, inherent holiness. This is the holiness of accessories of a mitzvah, from every perspective…”

Rabbi Yehoshua Zuckerman relates [inIturei Yerushalaim] about Rav Tzvi Yehuda “teaching a class and a student, who was on leave from the army, was standing next to him. During the entire time, our Rabbi rested his hand on the student’s arm. At the end of the shiur, another student asked about this. Our Rabbi explained,“It is simple. He was wearing a Tzahal uniform and I was touching holiness the entire time.”

Thankfully, there are also those in the hareidi community willing to speak out against the angry and misguided radicalism that would diminish the glory of the IDF. Writing on Behadrey Hareidim,Rabbi David Bloch, founder of Nahal Hareidi, expressed his resentment at Rabbi Tzaurger’s words.

“We have been told by our ancestors: ‘Anyone who opposes the good in his friend may end up opposing the good of Hashem’, anyone who is not grateful towards the soldier for his defense of the Jews in Israel, so he can live here in relative peace, is an ingrate.” Rabbi Bloch continues: “There is no connection between the Zionist ideology and gratitude to those who physically make it possible with God’s help so each resident can live here, and manage his life as he sees fit. Even if we were living in exile and there are enemies who want to destroy us – we must be grateful to those who are working to save lives. One could be anti-Zionist and still be grateful to those who risked saving lives. Such a call is a serious failure of values.”

The most basic Jewish value is that of expressing Hakarat ha’tov, gratitude, to anyone and everyone who does anything which is of benefit for me and certainly for society at large.

Every Orthodoxy has radical elements. To be radical in one’s love of Torah and of God is not a sin. However, when one’s embrace of Torah is expressed as hatefulness towards IDF soldiers and a damning of the bigdei kodesh that they wear, then it is a radicalism that has lost sight of true Torah.

RCA position on Chacham Ovadya’s statement

I had pitputted on this topic 2 weeks ago, when it arose, and I’m pleased that the RCA has adopted a similar view, as reported by Kobi Nachshoni in Yediot. [Hat tip DS]

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) is standing by Rabbi David Stav and slamming Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who called him “evil.”

In a letter published Monday night, the organization’s leaders, on behalf of more than 1,000 members, expressed their “encouragement and support” for the moderate chief rabbi candidate, while harshly criticizing Shas’ spiritual leader for lashing out at him during his weekly sermon on Saturday night.

“We trembled upon hearing the terrible things Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said in regards to his honor,” RCA President Shmuel Goldin and Vice President Leonard Matanky wrote in Hebrew to Rabbi Stav, “and also when we heard of the events in Bnei Brak at the wedding of the daughter of Rabbi Rabinowitz,” referring to a verbal and physical assault on Stav by ultra-Orthodox teens Sunday evening.

This is the most significant support Stav has received so far following the attacks against him, as the RCA is the largest organization of Orthodox rabbis in America.

‘Woe to his rabbi who taught him Torah’

The letter praised Rabbi Stav, quoting Chazal (our Sages of Blessed Memory): “Look at how pleasant his ways are, how proper his deeds are.”

Yet in regards to Rabbi Yosef, the US rabbis quoted contradicting statements: “Is this Torah and are these its scholars? Woe to so-and-so who learned Torah, woe to his father who taught him Torah, woe to his rabbi who taught him Torah. So-and-so who learned Torah—look at how destructive his deeds are, and how ugly his ways are.”

They concluded by telling Stav that they were grateful for everything he had done “for the good of all the people of Israel, the Land of Israel and the State of Israel.” They said they expected to work with him for many years “to expand and glorify the Torah, and to bring hearts closer to our Father in Heaven.”

During his weekly sermon on Saturday night, Rabbi Yosef said that Stav, chairman of the national-religious rabbinical association Tzohar, was “an evil man” and that appointing him to the Chief Rabbinate was like bringing idolatry into the Temple.

“I don’t know Stav, I don’t know this man, I haven’t seen him, but all his friends the National Religious Party leaders come to me and say: ‘Beware, this man is a danger to Judaism…’ People in his party testified that this man is a danger to Judaism, a danger to the Rabbinate, a danger to Torah – and I should keep silent? They want to make him a chief rabbi? This man unworthy of anything! Can they do such a thing?”

The Tzohar rabbinical association issued a statement a harsh statement in response, referring to Rabbi Yosef’s remarks as “incitement” and calling on him to “repent and ask for forgiveness after humiliating a person in public.”

Prominent religious-Zionist Rabbi Chaim Druckman told Ynet that Rabbi Yosef had gone too far and that he was “extremely shocked by the blatant remarks” against Rabbi Stav.

Attack during wedding

The battle against Rabbi Stav escalated on Sunday evening when he was attacked during the wedding of Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz’s daughter.

Rabbi Stav arrived at the wedding and was even seated on the dignitaries’ stage alongside other rabbis, but when he got up to join the dancing circle, several haredi teens tried to get him to trip and kept swearing at him, calling him “evil” and “abomination.”

When he turned to leave the banquet hall they continued to harass him, shoving him and splashing water.

Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman, whose faction announced its support for Rabbi Stav as chief rabbi, said in response to the attack: “We expect a spiritual leadership, regardless of its outlook, to condemn decisively – and certainly not encourage – harm caused to a another religious leader.”

According to Lieberman, “It’s a shame that as part of a political race, and certainly for the position of chief rabbi, there are those leading the public to such dark corners. The Torah has 70 faces, and not a single one of them is of violence and incitement by one rabbi against another rabbi.”

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.]

Remembering Rav Menachem Froman ז’ל

Recently, I learned of the tragic petirah of HaRav Menachem Froman. He was well-known in the press over many years. Ironically, a founder of Gush Emunim, and described with the pejorative title of “settler”, Rav Froman was the driving force behind the city of Tekoa.

Rav Froman was a thinker, who worked outside the box. He had his own controversial views on how to relate to the Palestinian Arabs (and even known terrorists ימח שמם וזכרם) and many if not most like-minded souls who also moved, with מסירות נפש to far-flung corners of our Holy land, disagreed with his approach.

In his own words:

“My premise is that for Jews to live in all of Eretz Yisrael, they have to create a network of life with the Arabs”, says Rav Froman. “In the Holy Land, you can’t make peace without attending to the issue of holiness”.

“Isn’t it only fitting that Jerusalem be the seat of the United Nations’ cultural bodies, human rights organizations, scholarly forums? Isn’t it only proper that Jerusalem be the place where members of all faiths convene to renounce their breeding of prejudice, hostility, and war?”

Rav Froman truly believed that conciliation and peace lay only through the spreading of Kedusha through faith-based meetings and respect for adherents of Islam. If I’m not mistaken, Tekoa doesn’t have one of those security fences surrounding it. He wanted Tekoa and its residents to feel comfortable with their neighbours. When some Jewish crazies attacked a mosque and set fire, he came to the village and brought replacement texts of the Koran as a gesture of regret and respect.

My cousin, Effrat (née Balbin) (that’s how she spells her first name) and her husband Rabbi David Fialkoff are idealists who live in a caravan in Tekoa. The caravan now houses their bevy of children. They are inspiring and selfless people. David is also a big chassid of Rav Steinsaltz and has impeccable midos tovos. On Shabbos, I used to sing Chabad Nigunim especially for David, who participated with Dveykus.

In 2006, I had the Zchus to attend their wedding. It was then that I first laid eyes on Rav Froman. He was one of those people whose eyes were alive, and who had this aura surrounding him. You could just feel his presence. He had such a peaceful and happy demeanour. I remember he sporadically began a dance before the Chuppa with my Uncle Hershel Balter. He personified Ahavas Yisroel and a love for others. I tried to talk to him and engage him on some of his views, and he simply wasn’t interested. He undoubtedly felt that I was attempting to cajole him into a controversial discussion. He wasn’t having a bar of it. We were at a wedding, and he probably sensed that I wasn’t really at the level of having a meaningful conversation on the topic. After all, I was from Melbourne, Australia. What business of mine was there in talking to someone who was an inspiration to the entire community of Tekoa.

You couldn’t help liking him. If he had worn a Rebbishe Spodik he would have fit the part of a  Jew who had this burning attraction to another Yid’s Neshoma Elokis, and who was attracted to them like a magnet.

I’m told that Tekoa is in severe grief and mourning. It is very difficult for the to cope with the loss of their inspirational leader. In the picture below, which I took back then, Rav Froman is reading the Kesuba while Rav Shteinsaltz looks on.

I liked the man, lots.

יהי זכרו ברוך

Rav Froman (on the right) and Rav Steinsaltz on the left.
Rav Froman (on the right) and Rav Steinsaltz on the left.

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?

Introductory words for the Shloshim of my father הכ’’מ

We had decided that in keeping with my father’s modest comportment and innate sense of unpretentiousness, that we’d keep his Shloshim, “low key” and a family affair. My mother had a few of her closest friends, but apart from that, it was a sombre and less public event. I know many people would have attended if it had been a different way; we hope you can appreciate the approach we took, however.

In truth, it is very difficult at a time of Aveylus to once more “confront the public gaze”. The Avel often craves solitude and is struggling with their sense of loss and grief. Indeed, Halacha encourages a detachment from the more public aspects of life during the year of Aveylus.

I had spoken at the Levaya, and was somewhat “grateful”, if I can use that word in context, that I was voicing introductions and context, as well as a Siyum Mishnayos.

The following is most of what I said to introduce the Shloshim.

Tonight we have gathered on the night of the Shloshim, the thirty-day period after the departure of our dear father, ר’ שאול זעליג הכהן הריני כפרת משכבו from the world as we know it, to the mysterious and exalted world of Souls. The Jewish people have a firm foundational framework which is rooted in Torah and through which we live and after which we depart this world. That framework does not evolve in the sense that it takes on new manifestations of populist modes of worship. Rather, like the foundations of a building that has been constructed to withstand an earthquake, Halacha is designed to move a given and acceptable number of degrees to the left or to the right, to remain intact, eventually returning to a proper and upright posture.

Following on from the Kevurah, where we tear our clothes, mourners observe seven days where there are major restrictions on the mourners and a responsibility for others to attempt to comfort the mourners.

Emerging from Shiva is a strange feeling. It is akin to letting go of certain practices; practices that directly and indirectly affect both the mourner and the comforter. It can sometimes be seen as an expression of “recovery”, and the notion of recovery is somewhat “offensive” to a mourner who is convinced that they will never recover, and perhaps should be sitting for two weeks and not one. Halacha is clear, however. A secondary period of mourning commences after the Shiva. Essentially, many of the restrictions are removed, providing a gentle but steady integration into society. It is far from a complete re-entry.

Some technical restrictions remain, and these represent visible signs that a person is very much still in a state of mourning. The aim of these restrictions is not to cause pain to the mourner. Rather, like all tenets of Judaism, there must be a tangible materialisation of the existential feeling of loneliness and aloneness that uniquely defines the state of mind of a mourner. Judaism has not ever been only a religion of the heart. One cannot reduce Judaism to “I am a Jew at heart”. Judaism is a religion of action emanating from feelings and belief.

From tomorrow morning, the Shloshim period ends and the mode of mourning is relaxed further, although there are still some clear strictures in place.

Jews have always had these three types of mourning: the Shiva, the Shloshim and the 12 months, and the customs and laws that go with each of these categories.

Each year, on Tisha B’Av, we mourn the fact that our true independence in the land of Israel, together with our Temple and all its accoutrements were removed from us. Even today, when we are blessed with our own country, we are far from independent, and find ourselves constantly bullied by our so-called friends and enemies. The commemoration of this loss follows three stages: the three weeks, the nine days, and then Tisha B’Av itself.

Unsurprisingly, Judaism is innately consistent. The customs surrounding the mourning of the three weeks are derived from those of the 12 month period of mourning after a parent. The customs of the nine days corresponds to the period of Shloshim. Finally, on Tisha B’Av, when we also sit on low chairs, the customs of mourning are based on the period of Shiva. Note though that the order is reversed. First it’s the 12 months, followed by the Shloshim and finally on Tisha B’Av it’s the Shiva. Rav Soloveitchik explained that this is an Aveilus Yeshana, and older event that we are mourning. We can’t simply start with the Shiva minhagim. Rather, there needs to be a gradual build up, culminating through Slichos and Kinnos to the Shiva, which is the last stage of mourning.

In the case of mourning after a human being, however, the wounds are red raw. The Aveilus is termed Chadasha, a new experience: both shocking and harrowing. The mourning commences from Shiva, the most intense period, and over time moves to Shloshim, and then finally onto the 12 months. Eventually, it becomes a Yohr Tzeit as well as special Rabinically enacted Yizkor prayers.

What then is the nature of the particular 12 month period that we are moving into?

Consider the following Halachic conundrum. A boy’s parent passed away when he was under Bar Mitzvah age. The boy became Bar Mitzvah during the Shiva period. He commences mourning. Does his choice of observing the remainder of the Shiva and Shloshim constitute the technical fulfilment חיוב of the Rabbinic enactment of the Customs of Shiva and Shloshim or do we say that since he was a minor at the time of the parent’s passing, he is doing a normal and good thing, but he couldn’t have been commanded to do this by the Rabbis because he was a minor at the time of death. Without argument, the Shulchan Aruch concludes that the unfortunate child is performing Minagim of mourning, but he cannot be considered as one who was commanded, or had to do so (בר חיובא).

I was learning the Chochmas Odom last Shabbos at Elwood Shule; the Shule where my father and his father davened, and where I have been leading the prayers each day in his honour. The Chochmas Adam (later cited by the Pischei Tshuva) made the following observation: in respect of the mourning after the Shloshim, that is, the mourning of the 12 months, the boy is actually doing what he was commanded even though he was a minor at the time. How so? The Chochmas Odom explains that the mourning after the Shloshim is essentially connected to the Mitzvah of Kibud Av V’Eim, honouring one’s parents. In this case, honouring a parent through acts that are undertaken which will bring them Nachas Ruach in another world, is something that he is now expected to do. This can commence as soon as the boy turns Bar Mitzvah.

It is this new period that we as children move into from tomorrow morning. It is also something that grandchildren may participate in, since the Gemara tells us that בני בנים הרי הם כבנים (grandchildren are like children). This insight might also explain why curiously, for our dear mother and aunt, the formal mourning laws and minhagim cease tomorrow morning. It is only children who are commanded in the Mitzvah of Kibud Av V’Eim.

The human process of grieving and missing someone, of course, is another thing entirely, and that is something that each person deals with in their own way, and their own time, and hopefully with well-meaning friends and family, especially those who have gathered here tonight and who have been so loyal and supportive to all of us.

ר' שאול זעליג הכהן בלבין הכ’מ
ר’ שאול זעליג הכהן בלבין הכ’מ

Hungarian Jews

There has long been conjecture about this group. Their cholent isn’t; it’s a legume soup (highly recommended if you are constipated)They speak Hungarian (Goyish) in Shule, whereas Poles and Russians speak Yiddish and considered it anathema to speak “Goyish” in Shule. Polacks often sneeringly (in jest) deride Hungarians. They drink this poisonous harsh on the palate drink called Slivovitz (which is now being considered as injurious to health as DDT) etc.

In response, once often hears that the person isn’t really Hungarian but they are Czhecoslovakian or born on the “border”. One startling fact, however, is that of the non Czech style Hungarians, the percentage of Cohanim is lower than among any other group. There have been many theories about this phenomenon. One that has gained traction over the years is that the Hungarian Jews are descended from the Khazars (Khuzarim) who converted to Judaism, as mentioned by R’ Yehuda HaLevi in his Sefer HaCuzari.

We’ve all read anecdotes such as:

“I recenly met a Jewish woman from Hungary. She is in her eighties. She told me that her family were descended from the Khazars who travelled with the Magyars into what is now the lovely land of Hungary. She said that they were part of the ten arrows. She said that her family converted to Judaism thousands of years ago after the Khazars met ancient Hebrews.”

While nobody questioned the Poles and Russian’s Jewish heritage, these two groups were considered the “peasant” class especially in respect of the “cultured” German jews. I fondly after my engagement to my wife, who is of half German origin, that they asked me what foods I liked. I answered that herring would be great. My wife’s grandmother, Ella Herzberg ע’’ה was seeped in Germanic traditions. She liked me despite my ‘Polish Peasant’ lineage. Herring just wasn’t served at a high-class Yekkishe meal, so she needed to come up with a good line in front of her friends. It went something like this:

“You know, when we were younger, Herring was for the poor people. Now there are almost no Herrings left, and it has become a delicacy”

This always brought a smile to my face 🙂

Back to the issue of Hungarian Jews, another intriguing addition to the jigsaw puzzle appeared in Yediot, which I produce below.

Jews of European origin are a mix of ancestries, with many hailing from tribes in the Caucasus who converted to Judaism and created an empire that lasted half a millennium, according to a gene study.

The investigation, its author says, should settle a debate that has been roiling for more than two centuries.

Further Research
Genetic map of Jewish Diasporas defined / Ynetnews
Findings of new study support historical record of Middle Eastern Jews settling in North Africa during Classical Antiquity, proselytizing and marrying local populations, forming distinct populations that stayed largely intact for more than 2,000 years
Full story
Jews of European descent, often called Ashkenazim, account for some 90% of the more than 13 million Jews in the world today.

According to the so-called Rhineland Hypothesis, Ashkenazim descended from Jews who progressively fled Palestine after the Muslim conquest of 638 AD.

They settled in southern Europe and then, in the late Middle Ages, about 50,000 of them moved from the Rhineland in Germany into eastern Europe, according to the hypothesis.

But detractors say this idea is implausible.

Barring a miracle – which some supporters of the Rhineland Hypothesis have in fact suggested – the scenario would have been demographically impossible.

It would mean that the population of Eastern European Jews leapt from 50,000 in the 15th century to around eight million at the start of the 20th century.

That birth rate would have been 10 times greater than that of the local non-Jewish population. And it would have occurred despite economic hardship, disease, wars and pogroms that ravaged Jewish communities.

Seeking new light in the argument, a study published in the British journal Genome Biology and Evolution, compares the genomes of 1,287 unrelated individuals who hail from eight Jewish and 74 non-Jewish populations.

Geneticist Eran Elhaik of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, trawled through this small mountain of data in search of single changes in the DNA code that are linked to a group’s geographical origins.

Such telltales have been used in past research to delve into the origins of the Basque people and the pygmy people of central Africa.

Among European Jews, Elhaik found ancestral signatures that pointed clearly to the Caucasus and also, but to a smaller degree, the Middle East.

The results, said Elhaik, give sound backing for the rival theory – the “Khazarian Hypothesis.”

Backed by archaeological findings

Under this concept, eastern European Jews descended from the Khazars, a hotchpotch of Turkic clans that settled the Caucasus in the early centuries AD and, influenced by Jews from Palestine, converted to Judaism in the 8th century.

The Judeo-Khazars built a flourishing empire, drawing in Jews from Mesopotamia and imperial Byzantium.

They became so successful that they sent offshoots into Hungary and Romania, planting the seeds of a great Diaspora.

But Khazaria collapsed in the 13th century when it was attacked by the Mongols and became weakened by outbreaks of the Black Death.

The Judeo-Khazars fled westwards, settling in the rising Polish Kingdom and in Hungary, where their skills in finance, economics and politics were in demand, and eventually spread to central and western Europe, according to the “Khazarian Hypothesis.”

“We conclude that the genome of European Jews is a tapestry of ancient populations including Judaised Khazars, Greco-Roman Jews, Mesopotamian Jews and Judeans,” says Elhaik.

“Their population structure was formed in the Caucasus and the banks of the Volga, with roots stretching to Canaan and the banks of the Jordan.”

Many things are unknown about the Khazars, whose tribal confederation gathered Slavs, Scythians, Hunnic-Bulgars, Iranians, Alans and Turks.

But, argues Elhaik, the tale sketched in the genes is backed by archaeological findings, by Jewish literature that describes the Khazars’ conversion to Judaism, and by language, too.

“Yiddish, the language of Central and Eastern European Jews, began as a Slavic language” before being reclassified as High German, he notes.

Another pointer is that European Jews and their ancestral groups in the Caucasus and Middle East share a relatively high risk of diseases such as cystic fibrosis.

The investigation should help fine-tune a fast-expanding branch of genomics, which looks at single-change DNA mutations that are linked with inherited disease, adds Elhaik.

Religious Hungarian Family

Why pursue the why?

When it comes to God, any answer to ‘why?’ is limited, by definition. Answers may approach the truth but The truth, is God Himself and only He knows and chooses when, how and what to transmit. This is an axiom. סוד ה’ ליראיו-the secret of God is [transmitted] to those who [truly] fear him-does not contradict this axiom.

Yet, it is part of the human condition to seek God, ולדבקה בו, and to attempt to approach him. We were created בצלם אלקים in the ‘image‘ of God. A similar transcendental urge that drives man to seek a wife, עצם מעצמי, because she is ‘derived’ from the rib of man himself, drives man’s pursuit of God. This pursuit takes place in spite of the axiom. It is no less than an irresistible magnetism sourced from spiritual connectedness. The pursuit defies logic and is materially translated into an axiology through Torah and Mitzvos.

Imagine training to run 100 meters in X seconds, where X was physically impossible, and you knew this to be the case. Would you train and improve and further train and improve with the ultimate aim of running in X seconds? Many would not. They would consider this a pursuit of folly. Even though we know we cannot reach Him, as Shlomo Hamelech said in Koheles 7:

אמרתי אחכמה והיא רחוקה ממני,

“I said that I am wise(r) and it is still remains distant from me”,

many of us still try. Trying isn’t defined by learning Torah and keeping Mitzvos. Trying also includes attempting to make sense of (rationalise, understand) the world around us and the sublime Heavenly purpose, through the prism of events that form our lives. For many, merely running the race in a time of X+Y, with Y>0, is worthwhile even if Y is somewhat large, because the exhilaration of approaching the time (essence) can itself constitute immense gratification. Using a different parlance, involvement with Kedusha is meaningful even if one cannot become completely Kadosh at the exalted Godly level.

Hurricane Sandy was a tragedy for many and represents a continuing challenge for those affected and those who assist in their rehabilitation. The pursuit of ‘Why’ in the context of the Hurricane is perhaps another expression of man trying to run the race in N seconds. Man seeks to reach a level of Godly truth and understanding. Man wants to know what he has done (wrong) to witness and experience such awful and awe filled ‘natural’ phenomena.

Recent medical research claim that during a time of trauma, MRI scans of the brain indicate significant interference with those components of the brain responsible for the transmission of speech. In one sense, this is the וידום אהרן phenomenon. When Aharon faced the untimely traumatic death of his sons, Aharon was silent. Perhaps current medical research argues that it was not simply a case of Aharon choosing not to speak; rather, Aharon was so traumatised, he simply could not speak.

In our world, there are professedly many self-styled experts who know via ‘Godly’ imbuement or a ‘conclusive’ deduction from textual sources, why Hurricane Sandy, or indeed any tragedy, was meant to be. Yet, these experts don’t seem to agree!

  • Rav Amnon Yitzchak is reported to think it is God huffing and puffing at America
  • Rabbi Noson Leiter is reported to think it is because of gay marriage proposals.
  • Rav Shteinman is reported to have advised the strengthening of keeping shabbos in order to protect against the effects of the Hurricane.
  • Mrs Katz notes that the Hurricane happened on the Chazon Ish’s Yohr Tzeit and cut out electricity. The Chazon Ish was known to be stringent on the indirect use of electricity on Shabbos.
  • Some organisations are reported to have sent emails that suggest it was because of Lashon Hara.
  • Some have been suing the Government over the Metzitza B’Feh issue. “Bright” sparks have attempted to linguistically connect the two issues in a distasteful manner והמבין יבין.

No doubt there are even more reasons, and new ones will emerge. At a time when people are suffering, and literally מעשה ידי טובעים בים drowning, is there really a need to engage in this attempt to run in less than those elusive X seconds? Is this the time to be spouting (sic) across the ether one’s “sure-fire” theory of why Hashem allows things to happen (הסתר) and/or causes them to happen.

I don’t think the trauma has really affected those who provide us with ‘here’s the reason for the hurricane’. If they had truly experienced trauma, their mouths may have been rendered silent, or in the least, speechless until recovery and renewal was in place.

As a lad, I remember seeing the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Goldvicht ז’ל attempting to say a few words during the Yamim Noraim. For 15 minutes, he couldn’t get a word out. He just cried. He was overcome with shock, awe, regret and repentance. I watched on with incredulity. My reaction was silence. I simply hadn’t seen anyone unable to speak because the days were איום ונורא.

So, you might be thinking, okay Mr Chacham, what’s your “answer” to the “why”. Well, I don’t have any answers. Instead, I’ll quote the Etz Yosef on Shemos Rabba 8:2 referring to the hurricane-like wind storm that carried Eliyahu HaNavi up to the heavens.

סוסו של הקדוש ברוך הוא סופה וסערה.  דבר זה הוא מסודות התורה.

The horse (chariot) of God is a whirlwind and storm. This is [one of] the secrets of the Torah.

Postscript: I, of course, recognise that victims of such trauma will need professional counselling and support and those conversations may touch on the “why”. I do not believe, however, that any of the reasons attributed to those mentioned above will offer the magical healing panacea.

Rabbinic abuse of power

[Hat tip to Benseon]

I agree mostly with the article, although, I reject the notion that it is about Kabbalists per se. They are but one category of people in a position of power/influence/mystique some of whom may be taken in by the God given gift and basically go off the Derech. Almost each time I am in Israel I go to a Mekubal (and no, please don’t ask me who, as he is not interested in seeing more people and keeps very much to himself) who frankly scares me out of my wits. He can literally “see” things in the future. He doesn’t ask for money. He sleeps on the floor and fasts. He works a Bank Clerk, if you can believe it. He has impeccable lineage from a Kabbalistic perspective, being a direct descendants of the Akeidas Yitzchak (R’ Yitzchak Arama). I don’t like to ask him too much, as I am by nature and training a rationalist and try to deal with life as it unfolds. On the occasions where I have succumbed, and especially when my dear wife has “instructed” me to call him, he has been scarily accurate.

Jerusalem – Opinion: Abuse Of Holy Power

News Source: Opinion Dr. Haim Shine, Israel Hayom
Jerusalem – There is nothing more embarrassing than revered rabbis and kabbalists being suspected of stealing Torah scrolls or bribing police officers. No amount of water can extinguish a fire that rages in God’s vineyard. What will naive, God-fearing Jews say when they see corrupt rabbis striving to retain their positions as leaders of communities, and when the homes of the grandchildren of the righteous become their prisons?
One of the greatest kabbalists of the past generations lived in the Shabazi neighborhood in Tel Aviv for decades. He was known as the “holy cobbler,” and he lived in a small apartment beside his shop. Each night, pious sages would gather there to learn, pray and offer formulas of “tikkun olam” meant to repair a fractured world. They were all poor Jews who supported themselves through menial labor. Each of them had a nickname that reflected his profession — the cobbler, the builder, the painter, the milkman and the street cleaner. They did not have titles of honor and their yards were always filled with hungry cats rather than important businessmen.
During those years, Rabbi Mordechai Sharabi, of blessed memory, lived in Jerusalem. Sharabi, a great kabbalist and founder of Yeshivat Nahar Shalom, a yeshiva for the study of kabbalah in the neighborhood of Nachlaot, was visited by many students eager to learn the secrets of Jewish mysticism. Hundreds paid him a visit each night, and the rabbi patiently blessed each of them. Every cent of the charity donations he received was transferred immediately to the needy, while he himself never took interest in monetary gain. Most of his life was spent in affliction, shunning worldly materials. He viewed the world as a narrow passageway to the world of the afterlife.
Years passed and the ever-growing material world took its toll on rabbis studying and teaching kabbalah, the holy crown of Jewish wisdom. Materialism began to affect rabbis who were viewed as role models — rabbis who were supposed to be modest, humble and devoid of material desires. Jewish mysticism, which transcends the mundane world, was gradually taken over by a few characters who proceeded to transform it into nothing more than a lucrative business venture. Those people purchased palaces, luxury cars and other envy-inspiring items with the money they obtained. A genuine sage told me years ago that a kabbalist has never emerged from a five-room apartment.
The unholy alliance between the tycoons looking for something to help them deal with their consciences, rabbis under the influence of material desire and media agents who constantly chase the ratings, created a difficult reality that tarred the image of religious Judaism and the kabbalah. God, as we know, is upright and loathes corruption, even when it is done in the name of heaven.
The common response to the charges of corruption is that it was perpetrated by rabbinical aides, without the knowledge of the rabbi himself. But if a rabbi is unaware of what his aides are doing right under his nose, how can he know what is being done by Jews who seek his advice?
Everyone has the right to approach his trusted rabbi and donate money to him, even if the money constitutes the person’s entire life savings or his or her accumulated pension funds. But the line is crossed when the act involves a desecration of God’s name, something for which there can never be any restitution.
It is important for rabbis, kabbalists and public servants to internalize the significance of being a personal example. It is unfortunate that the splendid image of Judaism is being held captive by a few unholy people who exploit the heritage of our forefathers and abuse their special God-given abilities.

Science only strengthens belief

The world is abuzz with the implications of supersymmetry and Physics. Scientists continually seek to model the observable so that they can predict the observed. The uneducated or challenged see Science and Physics as a big bad rodent that diminishes belief in God. It is to be avoided at all costs, and only Sifrei Kodesh are relevant to the Jew. If and when Science fails to predict or fails to model faithfully, then the triumphalists claim that this is proof that Hashem exists. I’ve never seen it this way. I’ve always viewed such proofs as dangerous because they raise the pedestal of man, by according man with an axiomatic ability to actually fathom such issues. Judaism teaches us that Man is limited. That is the axiom. Watching man struggle to understand Creation is not a cause célèbre.

Man has done a pretty good job to date. The world we live in has been advanced incredibly by the imperfect models put forward by Science. Religion has benefited, as has one’s ability to keep Torah and Mitzvos! Your roof didn’t fall on you last night, and the addition of a second to the time, only caused momentary chaos on the internet. Life goes on.

Those who were blessed with the type of mind that is suited to the Scientific pursuit, have been blessed by God himself. They should not abandon such a blessing anymore that R’ Chaim Brisker should have abandoned his delicious categorical modelling of Halachic concepts.

For the religious Jew, Science brings him or her closer to Hashem through a deeper understanding of His majesty and impenetrable divinity.

In January of 1936, a young girl named Phyllis wrote to Albert Einstein on behalf of her Sunday school class, and asked, “Do scientists pray?” Her letter, and Einstein’s reply, can be read below.  (Source: Dear Professor Einstein; via Letters of Note)

The Riverside Church
January 19, 1936

My Dear Dr. Einstein,
We have brought up the question: Do scientists pray? in our Sunday school class. It began by asking whether we could believe in both science and religion. We are writing to scientists and other important men, to try and have our own question answered. We will feel greatly honored if you will answer our question: Do scientists pray, and what do they pray for?
We are in the sixth grade, Miss Ellis’s class.
Respectfully yours, Phyllis

Einstein replied:

January 24, 1936
Dear Phyllis, I will attempt to reply to your question as simply as I can. Here is my answer: Scientists believe that every occurrence, including the affairs of human beings, is due to the laws of nature. Therefore a scientist cannot be inclined to believe that the course of events can be influenced by prayer, that is, by a supernaturally manifested wish.
However, we must concede that our actual knowledge of these forces is imperfect, so that in the end the belief in the existence of a final, ultimate spirit rests on a kind of faith. Such belief remains widespread even with the current achievements in science. But also, everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is surely quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.
With cordial greetings,
yours A. Einstein

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