Monday, February 28, 2005

Bang, Bang 

We haven't touched the Columbia Mideast Studies scandal - but from the likes of this conference on Sunday March 6, they are getting hammerred from the left and from the right. Speakers include Natan Sharansky, Martin Peretz, Nat Hentoff, Alan Dershowitz, Ephraim Karsh, Jerry Nadler and others.


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Israeli Banks, Victims and Survivors, continued 

I don't know the real truth, but the fact that Israeli banks themselves are not proactively trying to ascertain in they indeed have accounts of Shoah suvivors and vicitms is shameful.

"... On the other hand Yona Fogel, Bank Leumi executive vice president, says the report itself has two different versions of these accounts. On page 68 they are defined unequivocally as 'belonging to or associated with Holocaust victims,' while on page 91 they are described as 'likely to be the accounts of Holocaust victims.' Fogel sees this as proof that the examiners were not completely sure about the accounts. Barlev (the auditor) comments that the non-identical versions 'are indeed a regrettable error, but this does not change our clear finding that the accounts belong to the victims.' "

Read on.

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Orthodox Emergence 

Its not often I get to plug a book that is written by a good friend and is relevant to much of our discussions here. Although it is not coming out until June (and we will return to it then), you can get a sneak preview of Adam Ferziger's Exclusion And Hierarchy: Orthodoxy, Nonobservance, And The Emergence Of Modern Jewish Identity published by U of P Press.

From the publisher's site:

"By tracing the evolution of the approach of the Orthodox to their nonpracticing brethren, Adam Ferziger sheds new light on the emergence of Orthodoxy as a specific movement within modern Jewish society. In the course of this process, German Orthodoxy in particular articulated a new hierarchical vision of Jewish identity and the structure of modern Jewish society. Viewing Orthodox Judaism as no less a nineteenth-century phenomenon than Reform Judaism or Zionism, Ferziger looks at the ways it defined itself by its relationship to the nonobservant Jewish population. Ferziger argues that as the Orthodox movement emerged, it rejected the stance that the assimilated and nonobservers were deviant outcasts. Instead, they were accepted as legitimate members of a Jewish community, of which Orthodox Jews occupied the pinnacle, as the guardians of its tradition."

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Sunday, February 27, 2005

Saving Jews in WWI 

The Forward reviews the translation from Yiddish of S. Ansky's memior of his heroic attempt to chronicle and save the lives of eastern European Jews as they suffered through the ever changing borders and bloddy battles of WWI. The Shoah has forced us to focus on Jewish suffering of that period of the 20th century, but the horrors that the Jews of eastern Europe went through during WWI were horrible in their own right. Agnon and others have written stories about that period.

Ansky's The Enemy at His Pleasure: A Journey Through the Jewish Pale of Settlement During World War I documents his life as he "attached himself to a medical unit of the Russian army in order to deliver material relief to the Jews living on the front lines of battle in the Pale of Settlement and Galicia the region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire occupied by Russia. With armies advancing and withdrawing, the border jumped back and forth nervously, leaving the dead, injured and displaced in its wake. Ansky was not the only one to worry about the war's Jewish victims, but he was one of the only ones to write about his experience."

See Also: The Dybbuk and Other Writings by S. Ansky

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Not Maddona 

Micah Odenheimer reports on Yamima, an old/new craze in Israel's Kaballah industry:

"In the memorial book printed a year after her death, rabbis who knew her - Sephardi and Ashkenazi, Bratslav and Chabad, religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox - call her a tzaddeket: a righteous and holy woman, endowed with unique spiritual powers. By her own testimony, she was not a scholar of kabbala, Jewish mysticism. Yet some experts in this field spoke to her about kabbala, and were apparently amazed by her insights. I., a 'Yamima' instructor from Pardes Hannah who has studied kabbala for many years, recalls asking her about a passage in 'The Zohar,' and receiving a long, precise interpretation that filled him with wonder. 'Where do you know that from?' he asked. 'I suppose from the same place that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai [traditionally considered the author of the seminal, 13th-century mystical work - M.O.] knew it from,' she answered.

Yamima is not the first Jewish woman to have been recognized, even by rabbinic authorities, as a seer and as someone expert in spiritual matters without having undergone an apprenticeship in the requisite, demanding discipline of kabbala. She's just the first in a very long time. "

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Saturday, February 26, 2005

Yiddish Etymology 

Maybe I should have known this.

While sitting at seuda shlishit at my Shabbat "mincha shul" – a little shteibl and the oldest shul in Kfar Saba, called "Chasidim" – one of the men commented that the Yiddish word for kipah - yarmulkah – comes from the words "yareh me'elokim" – fearful of God. Makes sense, never even occurred to me, though.

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Friday, February 25, 2005

Carmy's Confrontation 

Rabbi Shalom Carmy of YU has an interesting look at the famous and often misunderstood essay by Rav Soloveitchik on Jewish-Christian dialogue, "Confrontation". Writing in the religion and society monthly First Things Carmy shows on the Rav both took Christian theology seriously and often used it in his own writings and considered that debate of issues of "such doctrines as the election of Israel, the eternal authority of the Torah, the Trinity, and the incarnation … ill-advised and futile."

Carmy says that the Rav considered these types of religious concepts and categories as almost private, family matters:

"The Rav vividly perceived and articulated the intimacy between God and the individual, and between God and His people. Most attempts to communicate to an outsider the secret life of Torah—its study and fulfillment—involve distortion and objectification. It is as difficult and as dangerous as trying to “dialogue” explicitly with friends and acquaintances about one’s most intimate family relations. The unique gestures and turns of phrase that an outsider is liable to dismiss as insignificant are often loaded with a meaning that defies paraphrase and explanation. Modesty is not only a matter of external garb. It is a reticence about exposing human and communal singularity. Though some may find it ironic that the Rav borrowed the language of Kierkegaard and Barth, his formulations are rooted in the traditional halakhic conception of Torah as part of a sacred covenant between God and Israel—a covenant for which the conjugal image is a suitable metaphor. The Rav would probably have liked Auden’s line: 'Orthodoxy is reticence.' "

Carmy confronts both those who claim that we now ought to "dialogue" with Christianity on all issues and those who claim that the Rav would not want us to study, let alone use Christian thought and theology to clarify our own religious and intellectual path. On the latter he writes:

"Some years ago, after a lecture I gave at an Ivy League university, an Orthodox student told me that she had wanted to major in philosophy but switched to psychology upon discovering that the philosophy department was populated by Christians. I asked her whether the psychology professors were aligned with Orthodox teachings on free will, sexuality, and other controversial matters. She fell silent and admitted that nobody had ever raised that question before. It was hard not to contrast this exchange with the conduct of my revered teacher Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, the Rav’s son-in-law and primary disciple, who chose to write his doctoral dissertation under a scholar who unabashedly upheld the ideals of Christian humanism. I also recall the story I heard from another of the Rav’s loyal students, Rabbi Walter Wurzburger. When officers of the Rabbinical Council of America balked at participating in a Catholic-sponsored conference on 'Man as the Image of God,' on the grounds that this was 'theology,' the Rav wryly remarked that a conference on 'Man as a Purely Naturalistic Being' would not have set off the same alarms."

I don't know if R. Carmy or the Rav would agree with me, but when I first read Fides et Ratio (look at this: Faith and Reason: The Notre Dame Symposium 1999) by Pope John Paul II, I thought that parts of it could have been written by a believing Jew. But what I also take from Carmy is that we can and should borrow, learn from encyclicals such as that without critiquing those theological points that are unique to, as the Rav refers to Christianity, the "community of the many". I would expect Christian thinkers to be able to read and gain from Lonely Man of Faith or Halakhic Man without critiquing those concepts that are unique to the "community of the few".

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In the Footsteps of Sa'adya Gaon 

"The daily endeavor of Prof. Aron Dotan, founder and head of Tel Aviv University's Cymbalista Jewish Heritage Center, involves plunging into the obscurities of the Hebrew language's history. He studies ancient manuscripts dating back to the time when Hebrew grammar was first taking shape. Last week, a committee under the auspices of the Education Ministry announced that Dotan would receive the Israel Prize for the study of the Hebrew language, on Independence Day.

Dotan's areas of research include the history of Hebrew grammar and the study of the mesorah - the system of rules for reading the Bible that has been passed down from generation to generation. 'In everything related to the study of mesorah,' the committee wrote in explaining Dotan's selection, 'his scientific work has become a classic.' "

Read on.

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La Bamba 

The JPost reports (sorry, too lazy to find it on the Internet edition) that 700 bags of Bamba are produced every minute!

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Hesder Unit Rerpieve 

Ha'aretz is reporting that the army is postponing implementation of the plan to disband hesder only units (hesder is the program that allows boys to serve 18 months of army along with about 3.5 years of yeshiva - most of the hesder soldiers currently serve in hesder only units) and to have them integrated into regular units during their army service.

Another chance to have a positive influence the secular public, blown away by our own leaders.

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Quick and Easy 

Miriam of Bloghead links to her own review of the Art Scroll Talmud in the Forward. Finally, instead of the fawning marketing style reviews that others have written, someone has brought some perspective to this massive undertaking. Although Miriam brings both sides of the story, I will only excerpt one:

" ...
Yet not everyone agrees it has led to an upsurge in actual knowledge.

'There are plenty of people who can't tell an Aleph from a Bet but still sit through a class of Gemara every day,' Levy said, invoking the traditional term for the ancient rabbinic commentary on the Mishnah, which, when printed together, are known as the Talmud. Good for them, he added, 'but I'm not sure anyone's really learning anything.'

Certainly, rabbis in some yeshivas and others resisted the Artscroll Talmud because they believed it discouraged students from grappling with the original text and undermined their learning skills. In addition, according to Heilman, a wide perception has developed that studying Talmud is quick and easy.

'It sounds impressive that a world has been created of people who can say they've been through Talmud three times,' he said. 'But the ability to distinguish between a layperson and a great scholar has been lost.' "

Quick and easy doesn't always (in fact almost never) lead to knowledge and understanding.

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Welfare Mentality 

Was Tommy Lapid of Shinui right?

YNET is reporting (Hebrew only) that PM Sharon is proposing to increase money given to full time haredi yeshiva students by 40% - eliminating a cut in the 2003 budget. The haredi community's politicians are continuing doing what they can to keep their constituents in poverty.

The welfare mentality is dead! Long live the welfare mentality!

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Take Back the Torah 

Gary Rosenblatt of the Jewish Week reports on a talk at this past Sunday's Edah Conference by the demographer Jacob Ukeles whose recent survey of the NY are Orthodox community found that "[O]f the approximately 100,000 Orthodox Jewish households in the New York area, 74,000 are likely Modern Orthodox" – a surprising result for those who assume that the haredi world is ascendant and that modern-Orthodoxy is in decline.

"[Sociologist] Heilman said that if the Modern Orthodox community hopes to reclaim its hold on its youth, parents need to play a greater and more direct role in teaching their children, the community needs to train its own rabbis and 'take responsibility' for its own 'spiritual experience,' in part by creating yeshivas, here and in Israel, that reflect values that embrace both Jewish culture and those of tolerance, diversity and intellectual inquiry. Rabbi Saul Berman, the director and primary force behind Edah, discussed where the Modern Orthodox community is headed and where it is not. Gone are the days of Modern Orthodoxy of the 1940s and ‘50s, he said, when mixed dancing and more casual attitudes toward kashrut and women’s head coverings were the norm. Modern Orthodoxy will not be 'haredi lite,' the rabbi said, asserting that the amount and quality of serious Torah inquiry in 'striving for truth' and rejecting authoritarianism is impressive."

The utter lack of confidence in our ways and our inferiority complex regarding Halakhah and our intellecutal abilities is truly pitiful. What is true about the modern-Orthodox community in the US goes double here in Israel.

Time to take back the Torah.

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Now there are two ... 

... religious-Zionist parties I don't vote for.

From the JPost:

"Former National Religious Party chairmen Effi Eitam and MK Yitzhak Levy formally broke off from the NRP on Wednesday and formed a new party and two-man Knesset faction, which they called the Religious Zionist Party. "

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Jews? Not Jews 

"The Jewish rabbi took the stage Wednesday surrounded by some of Israel's fiercest Arab foes.

But rather than being shouted down, Orthodox Rabbi Ahron Cohen's message was greeted by officials from Hamas and Lebanon's Hizbullah - both of whom are on a U.S. terrorism list.

Cohen, from Manchester, England, and three U.S. rabbis are members of the tiny Natorei Karta group, which opposes Israel's right to exist and Zionism. "

Read on.

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Walking Seperately 

The trials and tribulations of building a haredi park in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Braita's Challenge 

On of the more interesting and well written Jewish religion blogs out there and probably also the first is Braita (recently engaged, mazel tov), written by a young professor of Jewish history (we think) at a university out in the sticks – or Boondoggle as she puts it. We have dueled in the past over intermarriage (here and here) and now she interestingly attacks what she calls "Orthoclasis" – or the tending toward Orthodoxy and the assumption that all authentic Judaism is Orthodox.

I don't want to get into that discussion, but she does, unknowingly (I think) bring up an interesting dilemma or challenge to the Orthodox Jewish community.

Now, Braita, or Naomi Channa as she refers to herself is someone that I think I know. She davens on a regular basis in a shul that she has dubbed Beth Boondoggle. Now, my father was the rabbi for nearly 40 years at various Beth Boondoggles and her religious grandparents were definitely my father's congregants. Her mother, who intermarried was one of my father's "problems". But Naomi Channa … I never met.

She is unique, or so I think. A granddaughter of observant Jews, the daughter of an intermarried couple, a scholar of Judaism and an observant Jew herself about to be married to a similarly observant Jew. The little girl brought up in an intermarried home sits at Bubbe's table and soaks in the Judaism only to return to the fold, learn Torah, keep mitzot: This is the stuff of midrashim.

But … there is always a but.

She (I think) keeps kosher and is shomeret Shabbat. She davens every day, LOVES to say birkat hamazon, learns Torah on a regular basis, is marrying a Jew, and will (I assume) bring up her children as similarly observant Jews.

But …

I will quote Braita here, a bit out of context, but you will forgive me, I hope.

" … I'm tending towards considering myself obligated in the same mitzvot as my future husband (with a few biological exceptions) and attracted to a halakhic vision that occasionally disagrees with the Shulchan Aruch. And I've chosen those positions, and the movements which support them, consciously and with a great deal of thought, not because I couldn't be bothered to be Orthodox. See, I could be the frummest Jew in the world when it comes to clothing, food, davening practice, and so forth, but there is simply no way to reconcile those two positions (and they're fundamental to my Judaism) with what I take to be the core philosophies of contemporary Orthodoxy. This is fine; some of my readers are undoubtedly thinking at the moment that contemporary Orthodoxy wouldn't have me if I came with bonus airline miles and no annual fee. But these are important differences, unless of course you don't care about mitzvot or halakhah. (In that case, I must point out that all the nifty hats can be ordered online.)"

Let us for the time being put aside theological differences between Orthodoxy, and the "rest" of denominational Judaism. I say this, not to belittle them but with the knowledge that there are Orthodox Jews who are theologically Conservative and vice versa. What counts when we call someone "religious" is their practice.

Growing up in the pre-eqalitarian Conservative era - for you youngsters, eaglitarianism in the Conservative movement is barely 30 years old - the difference between Conservative and Orthodox shuls had to do with the presence or not of a mechitza and for some of the shuls of a slightly different siddur. Amongst the congregants, we considered those people who kept Shabbat and kashrut as religious and those that didn't … as not-religious.


But now, as we see from Naomi Channa, there are entirely religious people whose main practical difference with Orthodoxy regards the place of women in the shul. No longer a "family that prays together stays together" Conservative Judaism, but a fully halakhic, shomer shabbat and kashrut (taharat hamishpacha? a good chance). davens every day Judaism where women are expected to keep halacha, for the most part, as Orthodox men do.

No longer so simple.

The real challenge that Naomi Channa poses to the Orthodox community is in finding a place for such Jews in our community. Not in accomodating our synagogues to them by tearing down the mechitza and reinturpreting halakhah to fit her practice. But in the simple, human way of accepting her into our broader halakhic community. That means inviting her to our homes for Shabbat meals, not to "make them religious" – but in recognizing that they already are. In accepting invitations to their homes for Shabbat meals because we know that they would only invite us if they kept Shabbat and kashrut. In not constantly putting down their shuls and their ways but in encouraging a general increase in halakhic observance no matter what shul they pray in.

Naomi Channa doesn't like this "Orthoclasis" ostensibly because of the issue of women. On so many other practices though she is clearly Orthoclasic. And on some of the women's issues maybe we should tend towards "Conservaclassis".

We don't have to share our shuls in order to share our company. Contrary to the impression of those who live in orthodox ghettos, be they in Brooklyn, Teaneck, Bnei Brak or Efrat we are in no danger of taking over the world – we can use all the religious Jews we can get.

And Naomi Channa – if you honeymoon in Israel, you are invited to Kfar Saba.

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Divestment, Inc. continued 

In continuing the tradition of antisemitism the World Council of Churches is recomending divestment from Israel.

"... the Central Committee, in a document approved at a week-long meeting at WCC headquarters that ended on Tuesday, highlighted the divestment push and encouraged other member churches to consider doing the same."

A dissident web site, UCC Truths reports on the WCC action:

"This action should come as no surprise to those that bother to follow the World Council of Churches activities. The largely ineffective ecumenical organization has a history of being anti-semitic and hosting speakers that ignorantly link South African apartheid to Israel. The UCC's own Bernice Powell Jackson is also a World Council of Churches President from North America."

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Haredim, religious-Zionists and Conservtives sit together to try to get money out of the Ministry of Education

Politicians present included the head of the religious lobby, Shmuel Halpert ... and Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Yaakov Litzman, also of Agudat Yisrael. Sitting across from them were leaders of ultra-Orthodox and nationalist-religious organizations and the president of the Conservative movement in Israel, Rabbi Ehud Bandel.

Read on.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Proving David and Solomon? 

From the JPost:

"Just-published evidence from a US-directed archeological dig in Jordan further authenticates the Bible's descriptions of the existence of the ancient nation of Edom during the eras of King David and his son, King Solomon.

The new study, headed by archeology Prof. Thomas Levy of University of California, San Diego, contradicts much contemporary scholarship claiming – on the basis of no physical evidence – that no Edomite state existed before the 8th Century BCE. Until the new discovery, many scholars said the Bible's numerous references to ancient Israel's interactions with Edom could not be valid. "

Read on.

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Agnon's Daughter 

In light of the publication of her autobiography, "Prakim Mihayai" (Chapers from My Life), a wonderful interview with Emunah Yron, S.Y. Agnon's 83 year old daughter and literary executer.

"Yaron relates how her parents met in Berlin, how she was born in 5681 (1921) in Konigsberg (now part of Russia). She writes about the big fire that swept through their home in Bad-Homburg, Germany, about her father's relationship with Martin Buber, with Haim Nachman Bialik (whom she always saw as a beloved uncle), Yosef Haim Brenner, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook. "

Some English translations of Agnon:

A Book that Was Lost

A Simple Story


Days of Awe

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With Trepidation 

From Ha'aretz:

"A quartet of musicians from the 'Old' Beit Yaakov seminar in Jerusalem, their cheeks blushing, played sad tunes. There wasn't a single dry eye in the room as the emcee read, in a tone reserved for pathos-filled events, a poem in Yiddish. The audience, made up almost entirely of teachers from the Beit Yaakov school network, seemed to have all forgotten their obvious discomfort because of the overcrowding and were attentively viewing photos of children from the ghetto that were slowly flashing before them on a large screen. The participants, who came from all over the country after a day of work, filled the lecture halls and even stood lined up along the walls. "

In an interesting turnaround, the haredi community is starting to develop curricula aimed at teaching about the Shoah beyond the folktales and hasidic stories that formed the center of the haredi discussion. Using archival materials from Yad VaShem as well as original research, Esther Farbstein the author of "B'Seter Ra'am" (Hidden in Thunder: Perspectives on Faith, Theology and Leadership during the Holocaust) is leading the effort in the community.

Has it been harder for the haredi community to come to grips with the awful truths of the Shoah? I don't think so. All of us continue to be plagued by questions and nightmares that shake us to our core. The main problems for the haredi world seem to have been two: The coming to grips with the fact that advice given by Hasidic Rebbe's and other gedolim to stay in Europe rather than go to Israel or even America; the intense hatred of the Zionists and the inability to deal with issues that might put the Zionist movement and ideas in a good light.

In any event, much good will come now that the haredi community is looking to teach the next generation the history of what happened to their grandparents and great-grandparents, who along with so many others were slaughtered in spite of and because of their faith in God, their faith in man or their faith in culture.

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On the Fringe 

"On the Fringe" has a facinating five part series on the raising of a child with disabilities. Highly reccomended.

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Monday, February 21, 2005

Bedside Manner Discovered in Israel! 

Tel Aviv University medical school has for the first time decided to use personal interviews for its incoming class. According to the report in YNET (not in English) nearly 1/3 of the applicants who would have been accepted in past years were rejected because of their "personalities". Next thing you know Israeli doctors will be required to look at their patients when speaking to them. Isn't a doctor's job difficult enough?!

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YNET in English 

The beta version of YNET's English language news site is up (thanks for the tip Judy). YNET is the web site of Yediot, the most popular newspaper in Israel - a classic tabloid. But the web site is known to be the most up to date, news-wise.

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Iraq's Ayatollah Sistani 

A facinating article in the WaPo on the religious leader of Iraq's Shiites.

"Reading the works of Khomeini after the works of Sistani is a bit like dipping into Plato's 'Republic' after spending time with Aquinas: Khomeini had a sweeping, revolutionary view of the state as a source of virtue, markedly different from Sistani's limited view of the state as an institution run by the best men one can find."

We should watch and maybe learn from what plays out in Iraq.

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This Old House (of God) 

If old synagogues in neighborhoods that have lost its Jews turn into Churches, what happens to Churches whose parishoners have left?

From the CS Monitor:
"David Smith is gearing up for some tough choices over the next couple of years - about 70 in all. That's because as chancellor of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, Mr. Smith will soon oversee the largest sell-off of church real estate in American history, as the downsizing diocese puts as many as 70 local parish buildings on the block. Because these properties have become much more than bricks and mortar to longtime members, assessing an offer's reasonableness marks only the start of the seller's dilemmas."

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Vus is Dus? 

A new book teaching Yiddish the old-fashioned (American) way.

Yiddish with Dick & Jane , by Ellis Wiener and Barbara Davilman.

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Sunday, February 20, 2005

Edah Conference 

If anyone wants to write in about today's Edah Conference - please email me and I will be glad to post interesting comments, reports and observations.

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Thanks to a commentor (BKochba) on the post below, here is a link explaining variations of a pre-nuptual agreement to help wives whose husbands won't give them a get (divorce decree). The article outlines a few options and indicates which rabbis approve which ones. It does not indicate if R. Elyashiv has accepted any of them - although R. Ovadia Yosef, R. Moshe Feinstein and R. Yosef Solovietchik have accepted some.

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Two Kotels and then some. 

The controversy over the Kotel HaMa'aravi (Western Wall) continues, of course.

The haredim and Orthodox want exclusivity over the main prayer area - and have even extended it and placed a six foot mechitza along the back. The Conservative movement has taken the High Court's order and use the area to the south known as Robinson's Arch as the "Conservative Kotel". The Women of the Wall claim rights, in spite of the High Court ruling to be allowed to use the women's section of the main prayer area for their Rosh Chodesh tephila -especially when it is empty. The Reform movement has, for all intents and purposes, cut all ties to the Kotel.

Read on.

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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Rav Bin-Nun Talks 

R. Yoel Bin-Nun, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat HaKibbutz Hadati at Ein Tzurim who has tried to lead a raprochment between the religious Zionists and secular camps speaks on the future of religious-Zionism (the article was a sidebar to the Bnei Akiva article we commented on yesterday):

"Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, the prophet-looking scholar whose defense of Yitzhak Rabin and attack on his fellow settlers resulted in his near ostracization last decade, sees Bnei Akiva's situation with typical pessimism.
Warning of an 'unprecedented rift' within religious Zionism, he says youth associated with Bnei Akiva is effectively in the process of seceding from the State of Israel.
However, in Bin-Nun's analysis, the crux of the crisis is not in Bnei Akiva's loss of orientation, but in the state's.
'What is called religious Zionism is no longer the same as we once knew it,' says the rabbi who today heads the Ein Tzurim Hesder Yeshiva. 'There is a feeling going around that the religious Zionists are no longer wanted by the state. Instead, people feel like the state wants to break them down.' "

Read on.

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Jewish Stories 

Nearly all the great major projects in Jewish learning are happening in Israel. We have seen many wonderful projects over the years that could never have occurred in the Diaspora: The Da'at Mikra commentary on the Tanach, the Koren Tanach, the Kehati Mishnayot and the Steinsalz Talmud to name just a few.

Now comes the first volume of the "Enclyclopedia of the Jewish Story (Intziklopedia shel hasippur hayehudi) by Bar-Ilan University Press. According to the reviewer Assaf Inbari "This encyclopedia encompasses all the literary and folklore frameworks that over the generations produced Jewish fiction in written or oral form, in all the literary and nonliterary genres through which Jews told their stories (from midrashim to accounts of journeys, memoirs, questions and answers on issues of Jewish law, and ballads), and in all the Jewish languages in which the stories were told."

The thematic system works like this. Inbari uses for illustration the famous story of Nachum Ish Gam-zu and his trip to Rome (Sanhedrin, 108b, and Taanit,21a).

"In this case, the encyclopedia's editors discovered 39 versions, including Ashkenazi and North African ones from the Middle Ages and others that found their way into the 'Ma'iseh Buch' - a collection of short stories in old Yiddish, published in Basel in 1602 (is the title of S.Y. Agnon's 'The Book of Deeds' a Hebrew translation of the title 'Ma'iseh Buch'?) - into 17th- and 18th-century collections of stories of Persian and Yemenite Jews, and 19th-century collections of Hasidic tales (only then did the story receive a Hasidic meaning), into Haim Nahman Bialik and Y.H. Rawnitsky's 'Book of Legends/Sefer Ha-Aggadah: Legends from the Talmud and Midrash,' into Micha Josef Berdyczewski's 'Mimekor Yisrael: Classical Jewish Folktales,' and even into Agnon's short story, 'The Kerchief.'

The encyclopedia is therefore structured in the following manner: First the presentation of the nuclear proto-story (the argument); then a chronological survey of the story's derivative versions; a comparative discussion (the link between the story, or between its motifs, and tales from Christian, Muslim and other cultures); a summary discussing the story's basic meaning that addresses the meaning's modifications in the different versions; and, finally, a bibliography of the versions and a table of motifs. All this is offered in a very concise fashion. After all, encyclopedia entries are not articles."

Inbari calls this "a literary-cultural event whose significance cannot be underestimated."

Collections of Jewish Legends, Stories and Fiction:

C. N. Bialik and Ravnitsky: Book of Legends

Ruth Wisse: The Modern Jewish Canon

S.Y. Agnon: A Book That was Lost: And Other Stories

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Friday, February 18, 2005

Hannah Szenes 

The strange tale of the Hannah Szenes archives:

"A trove of documents and photos connected with Hannah Szenes have been stored all these years in a Haifa apartment. Without an arrangement between the family and an Israeli institution, the archive will be transferred to the Holocaust Museum in Washington."

Read on.

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The Bnei Akiva Rift 

Note: This post corrected soon after its original post.

The cover story on today's Magazine of the Jerusalem Post is an article on the rift within Bnei Akiva between the haredi wing and the more moderate one. Articles like this appear occasionally over the years as this has been a problem since yours truly was in Bnei Akiva in the 1970's. This is not a new thing, but Talya Halkin does a good job in picking out the two main problems – the politics (specifically the hitnatkut) and the place of women – actually girls in the movement.

As to the first, this is a serious issue for Bnei Akiva and one we have spoken about when we wrote of Tu B'shvat (A topic also covered in the article). The problem here is twofold. First, the dominant rabbinic voices in Bnei Akiva are for the most part messianic and second nearly everyone has a friend or a relative who lives in a Yesha (Judas, Samaria, Gaza) community. As a movement, I think they have dealt with it as well as can be expected. Clearly, the most in Bnei Akiva are against the hitnatkut, but just as clearly they have come out against violence as well as "siruv pekuda" (soldiers refusing orders to participate in the hitnatkut).

The second issue – that of the place of the girls is a more serious one. As Halkin mentions, some of the snifim have gone "separate" - with separate activities for boys and girls, while the vast majority are still co-ed. There was a push by a few boys in the Kfar Saba sniff to separate last year, but all to no avail.

Essentially, this has become a local decision, but there is immense pressure from certain rabbis, specifically Shlomo Aviner to enforce complete and total separation of the sexes. This is especially so regarding the annual weeklong summer camps and the "hadracha" (leadership) seminars where the boys and the girls are not allowed to sit at the same tables during meals! This literal obsession with sex by rabbis such as Aviner has caused immense friction within the movement. Aviner, who seemingly writes another book every other week is well known for giving an Halakhic "pesak" regarding the lenghth of skirts, sleeves, etc. He is one of those rabbis who, since he lacks superior intelligence, uses politics and radical misogony to make his mark.

The picture painted by Halkin does not look good. However, one flaw with the article is that she barely goes outside the Jerusalem area to find people to talk to. Israel is not only Jerusalem. Because of the fluid nature of Bnei Akiva, the counselors or madrichim switch every two years and the heads of the snifim every year (sometimes two) and on the one hand, the arguments never end – and on the other hand, the arguments never end. What we mean by this is that the healthy ideological discussion goes on and on, and contrary to popular belief, the neo-haredi side does not always win in these local arguments.

Unfortunately, the Aviner wing is ascendent in the national policies of Bnei Akiva as few are willing to stand up to the loud mouths that come out of Merkaz - especially regarding the attitude towards girls and any learning that does not originate from a Merkaz oriented or haredi yeshiva.

What is missing are strong rabbinic voices of moderation within the movement. Kids can look to and quote R. Lichtenstein, R. Henkin, R. Bigman and others – but these rabbis are not as vocal as they should be.

My hope is that the voices of moderation within Bnei Akiva don't leave out of protest but continue to work within the movement so as to save the last outpost of religious-Zionism that can still bring people together in spite of the fact that they have different points of view. My hope is that these voices of moderation - the kids and the leadership - find the strength and courage to act against the likes of Aviner & Co.

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Ahead of his Time 

Rabbi Riskin gives a Commentator tribute to Rabbi Moshe Besdin, founder of JSS at YU - the "first yeshiva for ba'alei teshuva".

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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Divestment, Inc. 

In spite of a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and parts of Samaria, in spite of releasing Palestinian detainees, in spite of Abu Mazen's declaration that the war is over … self righteous (or is it just plain old anti-Semitic?) mainstream Protestants still can't bring themselves to end their declaration of war.

The United Church of Christ is considering its own divestment from Israel while the Simon Weisenthal Center is trying to convince the original sinners, the Presbyterian Church, to "Give Mideast Peace a Chance" and to drop their divestment plan.

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Oh (Expensive) Jerusalem! 

One of the main reasons that Jerusalem residents have been resentful of former mayor Ehud Olmert and to a lesser extent Teddy Kolek is that they were enamored of foreign money. They loved building luxury apartment complexes for wealthy Jews who come once a year at most, for a few weeks. If you walk out of Jaffa Gate on an evening when tourist season is over, you see beautiful apartments that are all dark.

Instead of a "living city" they have created a city for wealthy part-timers and the poor. Its hard to argue with "the market" but here in Israel there is no real free market in real-estate. This has not been a market based policy, but one based on a view of urban planning that allows politicians to enrich themselves and their friends at the cost of a livable city.

Although they don't quite get it, The Jewish Week reports on why this was a disastrous policy.

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Holy Misogyny 

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel will probably not uphold the pre-nuptual agreements that are supposed to protect a woman from Agunah status (where a recalcitrant husband will not grant a 'get' to his wife) since Rav Elyashiv does not accept them.

How many woman's lives have to be ruined before we, as a community stand up and say enough to haredi rabbis who refuse to understand the nature of the world around them. It is clear that their understanding of Halakhah, great as it is, is based not on that human world in which we live, but on their own egotistical sense of the divine word. Compassion and common sense have not entered their minds.

If this is indeed as the Post reports the time has come to do as the haredim have done before their putsch and takeover of the Chief Rabbinate. We must set up our own rabbinical courts and ignore the rulings of those courts in which haredi rabbis sit.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Rav Lichtenstein Speaks 

R. Aharon Lichtenstein gave an interview (in Hebrew) to an organization called "Tzionut Datit Realit" – or Practical Religious-Zionism - and distributed it in their debut alon (weekly sheet) in shuls last Shabbat.

The gist of the interview deals with his differences with the more messianic wing of religious-Zionism as found in Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav and its students – in other words, most religious-Zionist rabbis. He deals with some of the issues we wrote of here regarding the dangers to the religious-Zionist camp should they continue with messianic politics.

It is worth reading the entire interview you can swing the Hebrew, but I will translate to the best of my ability, a few paragraphs here.

Q. What is the Rav's opinion of the concept from the world of Rav Kook and his students of "Atchalta deGeula" (onset of the redemption)?

Rav Lichtenstein: From my thought this is a very vague concept. I don't feel that we are on the verge of finding ourselves in the days of the messiah. I want to believe that that which started with Shivat Zion (the return to Zion) - this whole episode of the returning of Knesset Yisrael to the Land of Israel is consequential not only in the political and geo-political worlds but that there is also a certain return here to the historical landscape and a different 'kind' of life – that it is a consequential act in the history of Knesset Yisrael. With this, I believe and I want to hope, even though I don't see it in every event and act, that it is a step towards the redemption as I understand it. I think that here the question is not if this is "Atchalta DeGeula" or not, but more a question of how you grasp the redemption itself. Here, there is certainly a specific argument: How you think of physical and material concepts versus how you think of the spiritual and moral concepts. And it is here that I have the argument with the people you mentioned. The parameters that they count regarding the redemption are not, to my taste, spiritual (ruchani) enough. The geo-political events, the renewal of (Jewish) agriculture, etc, while I don't dismiss them, when you open a Tanach then first and foremost you see it spoken of a spiritual flowering…."

Q. (Loosely Translated) Will the one sided ideological based education in the religious-Zionist camp be the carpet that is pulled from under the community in light of current reality (i.e. removal of Jewish settlements in the Land of Israel) ?

Rav Lichtenstein: That possibility certainly exists. There are two possibilities: That it will be the "carpet" or that the new reality will cause those people who 15-16 years ago thought they had the answers to all the problems and that the facts on the ground backed them up to rethink their positions. It would appear that if there were events that happened that by their worldview could not happen, it would cause them to have second thoughts…

This is an important interview. Please read it in its entirety.

Books by Rav Licthenstein:
1. Leaves of Faith: The World of Jewish Learning

2. Leaves of Faith: The World of Jewish Living

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Pipes on Anti-Semitism 

"The golden age of American Jewry, therefore, is ending.

American Jews have had the relative luxury of worrying about such matters as intermarriage, coreligionists around the world, school prayer and abortion; if current trends continue, they will increasingly find themselves worrying about personal security, marginalization, and the other symptoms already evident in Europe. "

Read the whole thing.

Latest book by Daniel Pipes: Militant Islam Reaches America

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A Leisurely Walk 

From the NY Times:

"From the late 1930's until Einstein's death in 1955, Einstein and Gödel, the physicist and the mathematician, would take long walks, finding companionship in each other's ideas. Late in his life, in fact, Einstein said he would go to his office just to have the "privilege" of walking with Gödel."

Read on.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Science, Purpose and the Soul 

It is always interesting when scientists use religious words or terms like "soul", "purpose", or "principles of morality". I don't mean this cynically. If scientists are of the greatest minds of our generation (and it is hard denying that) then those of us interested in theology, ethics, morals and philosophy in general can only gain by their joining the conversation.

Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine (http://www.skeptic.com/) has an interesting article in American Scientist (via A&L Daily) in which he tries to show that "purpose" and not eternity is what is the main motivation of man's moral behavior. Purpose – be it family, work, aesthetics or religion, is based on the facts of your own and your inherited (genetic) life, so to speak.

Shermer writes: "In science, a fact is something confirmed to such a degree that it would be reasonable to offer our assent that it is true, provided that the assumptions on which it rests are intact. In life, purpose is provisional for the same reason—there is no Archimedean point from which we can authenticate final Truths and ultimate Purposes. In its stead, we have to validate our own facts and determine our own purposes. The self-correcting machinery of science corroborates provisional facts, and life itself provides the template for provisional purpose."

In other words, we live our lives according to the goals or "purposes" we set for ourselves, modified by the facts of life as we live them. Halakhah works in exactly the same way. We have our masoret both intellectual and practical, we have the theoretical or idealized Halakhah of the Codes, and we have life as we live it so as to modify – sometimes our lives, sometimes the Halakhah - our multiple purposes as religious (and for some Halakhic) man and woman.

Where Shermer goes out on a scientific ledge is when he relies on evolutionary psychology. He theorizes:

"About 35,000 years ago, social groups grew larger and cultural selection began to take precedence over natural selection. The natural progression of this upwards trend is to perceive societies as part of the human species and the human species as part of the biosphere."

This may of may not have happened, but as a scientist who accepts the development of biological man via natural selection it seems quite a stretch to move in one sentence towards a claim of "cultural selection".

But this is what he must do if he is to force morality from a Natural Law position to a utilitarian position.

"Although purpose may be found in countless activities, is there a principle by which we may generalize its particulars? In "The Science of Good and Evil" I suggested two principles of morality. First, the happiness principle: it is a higher moral principle to always seek happiness with someone else's happiness in mind, and never seek happiness when it leads to someone else's unhappiness. Second, the liberty principle: it is a higher moral principle to always seek liberty with someone else's liberty in mind, and never seek liberty when it leads to someone else's loss of liberty. In this context I would like to suggest a purpose principle: it is a higher moral principle to pursue purposeful thought or behavior with someone else's purposeful goals in mind, and never pursue a purpose when it leads to someone else's loss of purpose. "
It is not a matter of disagreeing with his principles, but other purposes and other analysis of the facts of life will by necessity lead to other maybe less praiseworthy moral principles: Hence, the continual problem of a utilitarian or scientifically based morality."

Nevertheless, Shermer makes some interesting points in an attempt to form a scientific basis for living life with a soul.

Latest book by Shermer: "Science Friction"

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The Times they are A'Changin' 


The Knesset agreed on a fixed time for the changing to and from Daylight Savings Time. One small religious-secular fight to the death is off the table.

"Under the bill, the result of a compromise between religious and secular lawmakers, DST will begin each year in keeping with the Gregorian calendar, and end each year in accordance with the Hebrew calendar. The law proposal, put together by MKs Eli Aflalo (Likud) and David Azoulay (Shas), stipulates that DST will begin every year at 2 A.M. on April 1, and end at 2 A.M. on the Sunday morning between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur."

Solomonic comprimise par excellence.

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From Hollywood to Emek Yizrael 

A program to bring "yordim" (Israelis living abroad) to kibbutzim.

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For Israeli Artists 

One of the problems here in Israel is the limited ability of artists to train and then work in Israel. For a small country the most talented musicians, dancers and artists need to seek out the best possible training in places such as Julliard in NY.

To that end, Ha'aretz reports that the American-Israel Cultural Foundation offers loan based scholarships for study abroad. In order to encourage the young artists to return to Israel, the entire amount is converted into a grant upon returning to Israel.

"For young Israeli musicians, the direction is westward. Their art comes from the West, along with the classical music that fills their lives, and that is also where they are headed - to study and train, to make dreams come true, and to earn a living. Singers, musicians, composers, conductors and soloists, whether on the verge of an international career or still taking their first steps, avant-garde modernist trailblazers and artists of ancient music playing authentic instruments - they are all are impatient, eager to leave and go west to the centers of the musical world, such as New York's Julliard or Berlin's Eisler Hochschule."

Gideon Paz, director of the Foundation "says that the foundation encourages students 'to leave but also to return. According to the system we have developed, the students have to return half of the scholarship, which can be as high as $30,000-40,000, when the time comes. But if the student returns to Israel within two years of completing his studies and starts to work here, the entire scholarship becomes a grant. That is a significant sum, and that is how we are fighting the talent drain. We try to tie them to Israel so that we don't lose them and one day find them playing in some orchestra in Cincinnati.' "

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Monday, February 14, 2005

Sorry, not Sorry 

JTA reports that London's mayor has refused to apologize for comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard. Nor surprises here, its not like he is a prince or something.
Read here about Europe's socialists and their dirty little Jewish problem. Or is it their dirty little Jew problem.

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Interesting Observations ... 

... on a trip through "modern-Orthodox-land".

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Sylvia Rafael, A"H 

"Sylvia Rafael, a legendary Mossad hit woman convicted of mistakenly assassinating a Moroccan waiter in Norway 31 years ago, is to be buried secretly in Israel according to her last wishes. "

Read on.

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What is Necessary? 

Yet another controversy has surfaced that has rabbis defending what need not be defended. A baby has died and two others have been infected with Herpes apparently due to the custom of "metzitzah" (sucking the blood) of the mohel.

I don't know enough to comment on the Halakhic necessity of the practice, but I think we can trust Rabbi Moshe Tendler's opinion as quoted in this JTA report:

"Tendler minced no words when discussing metzitzah b’peh.

'What people don’t understand is how widely disseminated the herpes virus is. Statistics say that 80 percent of the adult American population carries it, as you well know from how many people in their lives acquire a cold sore,' he said. 'It’s an omnipresent danger, and for an infant, in the early days before his immune system kicks in, it’s not necessarily localized. It can be a systemic infection.

'I’m particularly disturbed that once this information becomes available, the mohelim don’t do what they’re told,' Tendler continued. 'When the AIDS epidemic started, the gadolim' — the great rabbinic scholars of their day — 'concluded that the mohelim should use a sterilized glass tube so they could avoid catching AIDS from the baby. It never occurred to them to think that the baby could catch something from them.'

Tendler said that in his Monsey, N.Y. community the practice of metzitzah b’peh is spreading, as is cutting the foreskin and removing the mucous layer in two discreet actions. The use of the surgical clamp is coming under fire as well, he said.

'It’s seen as the frum' — or observant — 'thing to do,' he said. 'Being ‘frumer than thou’ is now the sign of personal piety. At certain life-cycle events, people are afraid to take a lenient approach.'
There is a religious requirement to perform a brit milah painlessly, which means as quickly and as antiseptically as possible, Tendler said.

'This is a requirement of Jewish law, not of medicine only,' he said. 'Metzitzah is strictly medieval medicine, and it should have given way to modern medicine.

'We have a tradition that says that when it comes to medicine, you don’t look into the Talmud. You seek the most competent physician to tell you what to do.' "

Does anything else need be said?

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All Religious Holidays are Good ... 

... except for your own.

Fashoinable Israelis celebrate Valentine's Day. Say good by to Tu B'av ?

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Sunday, February 13, 2005

Jews Breaking Ranks 

The lead article in this part Friday's JPost Magazine focused on the move towards "non-denominational" kehilot in the American Jewish community. He focuses on schools and on shuls – but it is the synagogue phenomenon that is more interesting. According to the article in the major cities like Boston and NY as well as in "other cities across the US the emerging pattern is the same: Jews of different religious stripes are coming together to worship, study and create communities that don't quite fit into the traditional molds of the three or four Jewish religious denominations in America."

The author, Uriel Heilman brings examples of the "Orthodox-style minyan in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the sexes are separated by a mehitza but women lead some parts of services." The Conservative movement has its own "community of questioners" from a "synagogue in Manhattan that dropped its Conservative affiliation, hired a new rabbi and attracted so many new members with its non-traditional services … that it had to create a second, overflow service in its 1,200-seat temple. "

Also, he writes of the rabbi "who decided he didn't need ordination from an established rabbinical seminary … and instead got three friends and colleagues to confer upon him the traditional title of rav. He then went out and transformed an old synagogue in Brookline, Massachusetts from a nearly empty shell with a dozen active members into a thriving center of worship and education with hundreds of regulars."

What are we to make of this? Is this really a new trend in American Jewish religious practice or is a a reapeat of decades past? In the '50's when my father was starting out in the rabbinate there were also fads of guitar playing minyanim as well as the Orthodox shuls without the mechitzah – or was it the Conservative shuls that used an Orthodox prayer book and rabbi? Later on we had the Chavura movement which might still be around and might even be considered establishment already.

I have no objection and fully understand people who feel, shall we say out of step with the available denominations but I wonder ….

First – are there any intellectual underpinnings to these new minyanim and synagogues ? Mordecai Kaplan, whatever you may think of his leaving the Conservative movement and forming Reconstructionism (which looks nothing like the Reconstructionism that we find today) was a serious scholar and thinker. Without a solid (Jewish) intellectual and not only spiritual foundation some of the communities described here might turn into New-Age paganism in spite of best intentions of its members.

Second – and this is certainly related to the first question - will there be any continuity? Are these shuls and minyanim too idiosyncratic? Will the children raised in what is a narrow non-denominational type of setting feel the same specific and narrow needs that caused the formation of the new shul? And if the child does "inherit" the spirituality, will he or she be comfortable in a synagogue that diverges just a bit from what he is used to?

Its hard to argue against a plan that fills up a 1200 seat synagogue and maybe the article doesn't do justice in describing the "trend". Who am I to argue against breaking ranks with the religious establishment ? - I just hope these successes are not short lived.

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Shortage of kosher salami hits the US!

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Suggestion for Michael Steinhardt 

Michael Steinhardt is worried again about the future of (American) Jewry. And rightly so. In this Friday's Jerusalem Post he asks Jewish philanthropists to "save Jews, not Harvard".

We have covered this ground in depth in the past (in an Open Letter to Michael Steinhardt) and will, since he brought up the subject, one more time ask Mr. Steinhardt to do what needs to be done to turn Birthright from a free junket for spoiled American Jewish kids into a program for rebirth and renewal of Judaism. His support for Jewish education is commendable but his insistence on continuing to think that giving free vacations to Israel for those who can afford them will strengthen their long-term Jewish commitment is disappointing.

In order to make Birthright, or any other program successful he has to make demands of his participants. Not financial ones- but educational ones. How about setting up courses on college campuses throughout the country in Hebrew language and Tanach? Those who take and pass the courses get a free Birthright tour to Israel.

As Mr. Steinhardt must know from his business dealings, what you get for free you don't value. If we don't demand that they put down some dollars, at least let them commit to some time and brainpower.

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Saturday, February 12, 2005

David Murray on Sax ... 

... at the end of February at the Tel-Aviv Jazz Festival. Nice piece on Murray here, and nice to see quality artists still coming to Israel.

"Murray, who will be celebrating his 50th birthday during the week of the festival in Tel Aviv, took his first musical steps in church. His mother was a 'professional church musician' by his definition, a pianist who was hired by black preachers for the "special feeling" in her music. Murray began playing in church on Sundays under his mother's tutelage. The family belonged to the African American Pentecostal Church, in which people articulate their faith in the most expressive way. They are called 'holy rollers,' and Murray explains that they shout their praises of God in an effort to fill their whole being with divine inspiration and achieve outer body experience.Murray says that the church instilled in him the fire and passion to go "to the fullest," a phrase that he uses often. 'In church you stand naked in God's sight, like a baby. Sometimes that's how I feel when I'm playing,' says Murray."

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Friday, February 11, 2005

Ludwik Fleck 

"He developed the vaccine for typhus in war-torn Lvov, and was ordered by the Nazis to produce it in Buchenwald. But Ludwik Fleck was best known for theorizing that modern medical discoveries are not isolated events, but occur in historical and social contexts. His great contribution to the philosophy of science was only grasped after his death in 1961, in Nes Tziona

There is no Nobel Prize in philosophy, but if there were it's possible that an Israeli scholar would have received it more than 40 years ago. True, he lived in Israel for only four years, didn't know a word of Hebrew and was spurned by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Today, however, almost 45 years after his death, he is taught at universities around the world. His name is Ludwik Fleck, and he is widely considered to be the father of the modern philosophy of science. He was born in Poland, survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and was laid to rest in Nes Tziona, near Rehovot. This is, as it were, a classic Jewish story - and it is also an Israeli story.
Fleck, according to Dr. Thomas Schnelle, the author of the main biographical article about him, was not inclined to share his thoughts with many others. In hundreds of meetings, Fleck did not bother to tell Dr. Marcus Klingberg, his closest friend in the four years he spent in Israel (which were also the last four years of his life), that before the world war he had published - following concerted effort and despite the race laws - a philosophical work entitled The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, the book that would earn him world glory four decades after its appearance."

Read on.

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Outa Control 

From Ha'aretz:

"Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to be rushed away from a wedding celebration at Kfar Chabad, east of Tel Aviv, on Thursday night after a group of disengagement-plan opponents verbally assaulted him and slashed a tire on his car. "

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Thursday, February 10, 2005

On Love and Chosenness 

Meir Soloveitchik is making a nice name for himself with penetrating essays on various topics and themes at once common to all religions and specific to Judaism. A few years ago he wrote a fabulous essay on "hate" - irking his fellows Jews by declaring for all, in a non-Jewish publication, on the Jewish "Virtue of Hate".

Now, in the current issue of Azure he turns his analytical skills and writing style to "love" – contrasting the Jewish and Christian views of love and by that defending the chosenness of Israel.

"God loves the Jewish people because they are, according to Seforno, “the children of his beloved.” If the Jews are chosen to serve for all eternity as a light unto the nations, it is because God, in the words of the theologian Michael Wyschogrod, “sees the face of his beloved Abraham in each and every one of his children as a man sees the face of his beloved in the children of his union with his beloved.”6 This unique, preferential love that is bestowed upon Israel…"

Soloveitchik contrasts the Christian's concept of God's unmotivated and universal love of all people no matter their deeds to the Jewish concept of God’s covenantal love which "is inextricably intertwined with the most profound questions about the kind of love that human beings are supposed to feel".

He writes:
"God, therefore, according to (the Christian theologian) Nygren, cannot love humanity as human beings love each other. His love could not possibly be grounded in a specific, love-worthy aspect of his beloved. It is instead an ethereal, un-human, unmotivated love that God bestows upon humanity. “To the question, ‘Why does God love?’ there is only one right answer,” Nygren concludes: “Because it is his nature to love.”19

Judaism, in contrast, argues against such a sharp distinction between divine and human love. After all, man was created in the image of God; the way we love is a reflection of the way God loves. Thus, as with human love, God can desire to enter into a relationship with us; he can indeed be drawn to some aspect of our identity. "

Read on. Meir Soloveitchik with another gem.

Worthwhile books discussed in the article that you can order here:

Michael Wyschogrod: The Body of Faith: God and the People of Israel
Anders Nigren: Agape and Eros

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Say What? 

We don't ususally comment on matters economic, but the Bank of Israel must be in cahoots with the Palestinian Authority in their attempt to destroy the Jewish State.

The JPost reports:

"The Bank of Israel on Wednesday announced a new directive that aims to 'terminate the common practice in Israel of frequent and prolonged deviations from the approved credit framework.'
In other words, the central bank is seeking to bring order to the ubiquitous overdraft, or minus, which has allowed generations of Israelis to divorce their spending from reality.
The new directive, issued by Supervisor of Banks Yoav Lehman, will force both banks and clients to conduct more transparent dealings, bringing an end to ambiguous norms on credit limits and the price of exceeding them, in an attempt to prevent overdraft accounts from spiraling out of control. The new directives are set to go into effect January 1, 2006.
'The banks will have to determine the credit framework for the client that fits his needs, his ability to return payment and his securities, all based on documented analysis for the use of the bank's authorized credit personnel,' the Bank of Israel statement said. "

Credit framework? documented analysis? What country did they say they live in?

If they want me to move to Nebraska, why don't they just say so?

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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Don't Fall for it! 

According to the JPost the haredi educational system in Israel is about to go private. Privatization is not necessarily a bad thing but the disingenuous way they are going about it is appalling.

The Post writes that "Haredi education leaders are poised to launch a massive international PR campaign to disparage Israel for discriminating against the haredi education system in the allocation of funds."

True enough, the haredi "Chinuch Atzmai" system has seen its funding drop over the last few years but funding for all education has dropped. Many teachers are working on 80% salaries and some religious-Zionist yeshivot are desperate to find funds to pay their teachers. My own son's yeshiva, a prominent and well run one here in Kfar Saba is under tremendous financial constraints.

The haredi system teaches almost no secular studies, does not prepare its boys to enter the world and encourages them, no demands of them to be draft dodgers and welfare families.

Don't do it. Don't fall for it. When you get a phone call or a letter tell them that no, you won't support an educational system that is against the interests of the Jewish people. Tell them that a campaign based on this statement by Rabbi Avraham Pinzel, manager of Chochmat Shlomo, the largest (haredi) Talmud Torah elementary school in Jerusalem is unacceptable:

"We will appeal to both orthodox and non-orthodox Jewry and the governments of the western world and notify them that the State of Israel, which was established on the detritus of the Holocaust, discriminates against authentic Jewish education. Each haredi family in the Diaspora will be asked to adopt a child and donate $80 a month… That's enough to allow us to break ties with the state."

Don't do it! Don't give money to people who use such anti-Semitic tactics. And don't "just say no" - tell them why you are saying no.

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A Welcome Change 

The kibbutz movement in general and the Religious Kibbutz Movement (RKM) in particular are going through crises of existence and of identity. The ideology of the secular kibbutzim – a combination of Zionism, settlement activity, Jewish labor and socialism – is in conflict with the dominant ideology of post-Zionism on the one hand and rank materialism on the other. The ideology of the religious kibbutz – Torah va'Avoda in the broadest sense of Jewish labor, Zionism, settlement activity, socialism and an understanding of Judaism both in confrontation and harmony with modern society - is in conflict with the haredization and radicalization of the religious-Zionist community.

To this end the Religious Kibbutz Movement has taken hard socialism out of its main ideological leanings and is looking to expand its influence in the country in general and the religious community in particular. This is an important step as the infrastructure of the RKM can be used to stem the radicalization of religious-Zionism in all its many forms – religious, intellectual, political and messianic.

For example, the RKM will now accept in its ranks communities that are not kibbutzim. This resolution (full Hebrew text here) was accepted (my translation):
"From a continued dedication to our core values that have guided us and with the deep changes that are going on in society in general and the kibbutzim in particular, the Movement sees the establishment within it, side by side, in widening circles, of kibbutzim and religious-Zionist communities looking to fulfill a life based on the following principles …"

The principles enumerated, based on a broad definition of Torah va'Avodah similar to the "synthesis" of Torah u'Maddah that Rabbi Lamm has preached over the years are divided into the three categories of Religious-Zionism in Israel, Social Justice and World Jewry.

Without going into the rest of the declarations and principles what is important is that the RKM is ready and willing to abandon its socialist dogma and to become a larger influence on the religious-Zionist community in Israel.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

If You are in Israel ... 

... at the end of February try out the 16th Tel-Aviv Jazz Festival in .... Tel-Aviv, of course. We went twice last year - once with the Out of Step trumpet playing son and his sax and guitar playing buddies (Bnei Akiva madrichim all) and heard great music from some young Israeli jazz musicians.

Will try to clear some evening and budget time to go again.

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Roots of Genocide 

The debate goes back and forth on the roots of Nazism. Was it in German culture? In their genes? In their Religion? In their history? Did we see it in Grimm's Fairy Tales?

Clayton Jones in the Christian Science Monitor reviews a book (Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare, by Philip Short) on the roots of the Cambodian genocide as perpetrated by Pol Pot and the still powerful (yes, still powerful) Khmer Rouge.

Jones writes:

"The author pins much of Pol Pot's actions on his warped notions of Buddhist austerity, detachment, and the suppression of individuality, combined with his ill-formed study of Marx in Paris as a young man and as a follower of Mao and Stalin. Born with the name of Saloth Sar and later called Brother No. 1 by his comrades, he was also jilted in an early love affair that may have left him bitter.

Relying on interviews with former Khmer Rouge leaders and the translation of thousands of documents, Short's psycho-bio also tries to pin much of the blame on Cambodian culture, where both peasants and kings have been historically brutal, where the folk tales are grim and menacing, and where the people suffer from a national inferiority complex."

Interesting. Read on.

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A Good Message 

Whatver else, good or bad, that might come of out of Condi Rice's visit, at least this:

JPost Reports:

"US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made no acknowledgement of Yasser Arafat's grave when she met the Palestinian Authority leadership in Ramallah on Monday before concluding a whirlwind trip to Israel and the PA.
Unlike a long line of other leaders who paid some kind of homage to Arafat's grave at the entrance to the Mukata, when visiting PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), Rice's car simply pulled into the compound, passed the grave and Rice got out and walked into the building. "

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Monday, February 07, 2005

"A Scrap if Time" 

Decisions and Choices. During the Shoah people had to make stark choices and difficult decisions – not only the big ones like that were sometimes available before the war to stay or to leave, to run off and abandon parents, brothers and sisters to the sure safety of the Land of Israel, the United States or some other country out of the reach of the Nazis. In hindsight, those choices, although full of guilt to many of the survivors – were clear and correct.

But what of the small things? What of the seemingly inconsequential choices taken before anyone imagined the Shoah? What of the heart rendering choices taken during the Shoah that no human should ever have to take?

Ida Fink lives in Tel-Aviv and writes in her native Polish, coming here after the war. In her collection "A Scrap of Time" there are 23 stories of choices, decisions and accidents that saved lives or cost them – sometimes at the expense of others, sometimes at the expense of no one and nothing.

There was the prissy little girl who, no matter how much she was coaxed by her rowdy friends, could never manage to jump off the ladder – and who died trying to jump from the train of death.

Or there was the farmer who never fixed the broken door on his pigsty. A group of Jews had to hide in that pigsty and were never discovered because the Nazis could never imagine people being so stupid as to hide in a place without a door.

Or the young man who was sent by the Nazis to fetch his senile former French teacher who hadn't left her house in years. Knowing that he couldn’t return without her (she was on the Judenrat list) he used her love of teaching French to lure her to her death.

Or the non-Jewish maid who insisted, against her Jewish master's wishes, on having a dog. The loyal dog was later hung instead of the Jews as it refused to follow the Nazi command to "run to your (hiding) master".

Kafkaesque? Demented? Inhuman? Hellish?

No. Just stories of life – the life of Jews in Poland from 1939 to 1945.

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Neuhaus on Klinghoffer 

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Richard John Neuhuas, the editor of First Things. He is an excellent writer and writes about Christianity without being defensive. True, as a convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism he can often the defend his new faith with the zeal of a "chozer b'tshuva" – but in spite of that it is usually worth reading his words.

In the current issue of First Things he reviews a new book by David Klinghoffer Why the Jews Rejected Jesus . Klinghoffer, a journalist is himself a Jewish chozer b'tshuva and has written quite a bit on Jewish and other subjects. At first glance, an explanation of why the Jew doesn't belief in Jesus as the messiah seems to be a good idea. According to Neuhaus though, he seems to want to prove to Christians that they never should have accepted Jesus.

Neuhaus writes:

"Much of the book is given to a detailed point-by-point rebuttal of the claim that Jesus fulfilled the messianic promises of the Hebrew Scriptures that Christians call the Old Testament. These arguments will be of interest mainly to those who describe themselves as Hebrew Christians or Messianic Christians, and who believe they are fulfilled as Jews by becoming disciples of Jesus. The arch- villain in Klinghoffer’s story is the apostle Paul who, he says, radically rejected Judaism and invented a new religion dressed up in “biblical trappings.” Although Klinghoffer excoriates the liberal theological reductionisms of the nineteenth century, both Jewish and Christian, at this point his argument is oddly similar to a long liberal tradition of blaming Paul for distorting the more attractive religion of Jesus. Along with many Christians, he fails to appreciate the implications of the fact that Paul’s epistles were written well before the gospel accounts of Jesus. In part because of their prior placement in the New Testament, it is a common error to think that the seemingly more straightforward gospel accounts were later and complicatedly “theologized” by Paul, whereas, in fact, Paul’s writings reflect what was generally believed about Jesus in the community that later produced the gospel accounts."

I trust Neuhaus to have read this book well and honestly. If so, it seems to be further proof that it is not our business to "refute" the theological claims of other religions: Especially when that refutation is based on the exegesis of divine proof-texts.

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This from the Jerusalem Post:

"In hundreds of synagogues across the nation, congregants, answering the call of a former chief rabbi and two leading kabbalists to fight disengagement, will organize on Monday into groups and... be quiet.

Translated literally as a "speech fast" (ta'anit dibur), the practice of holding one's tongue from the mundane, combined with praying and learning Torah, is seen by kabbalists as having more spiritual impact than a fast.

The new act of speechlessness is timed to precede the summit of Palestinian Authority, Egyptian, Israeli and Jordanian representatives at Sharm e-Sheikh on Tuesday. "

Read on.

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Sunday, February 06, 2005


Talya Halkin has a nice little piece followed by a great interview on Rosh Yeshiva and novelist Haim Sabato - author of "Adjusting Sights" (purchase via link on the sidebar)- a fabulous short work on the Yom Kippur War.

One exchange:

Halkin: The world of Bnei Akiva that you encountered as an adolescent believed in being an integral part of Israeli society. What do you think has happened to this world?

Sabato: First of all, Israeli society has changed. Public life here is dominated by the media and by politics, which have taken up more space than they deserve. They have transformed every discourse into a form of contention. The reason I don't like to give interviews is because you can't have a pleasant, cultured conversation without everything becoming about politics. People immediately try to break everything down into political change. Everyone becomes suspicious about your politics. People won't accept that you can love the land of Israel and also love peace and love humanity. I want to insist that culture also merits a place of its own
I am for being open to the world - I enjoy listening to a philosophy lecture or reading poetry, but I also want to protect the uniqueness of my own world and not be carried away by a world that isn't mine, and that is becoming increasingly difficult.

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Can You Tell Me the Way to Bergen-Belsen? 

There is a fascinating article in this past Friday's Ha'aretz that is well worth reading in spite of the fact that they don't seem to have translated it into English. It is about a trip to a conference in Germany by an Israeli doctor whose grandparents were in Bergen-Belsen and his journey there.

Almost no one at the train station or the ten other people he asked for directions, had ever heard of it – and one professor of German history had not a clue where it was. When he got there he found death certificates with "cause of death" on them. The article puts lie to the claim that the youth in Europe in general and Germany in particular are being tought about the Holocaust.

The Hebrew is not that difficult – its worth breaking your teeth over. Maybe they will translate it later in the week.

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An interesting article in Ha'aretz on a rosh yeshiva at Har Etzion, Ya'akov Medan - trying to bring some sense to his fellow anti-hitnatkuters, as well as the government.

"The head of the Har Etzion yeshiva is proposing that the commanders of the evacuation and the leaders of the evacuees agree on the rules of the game ahead of time - and that both sides forswear the use of weapons. "

Read on.

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Over this very rainy Friday and Shabbat, the water level on the Kinerret rose another 17cm. Keep track by glancing to the right.

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Thanks to Kobi who helped me to solve my previously posted computer problem. It was a spyware/hijacker problem.

I ended up using Microsoft's beta spyware software as well as a techie program called Hijack This .

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Friday, February 04, 2005

Fisticuffs At Ponevezh 

A power struggle is under way for control of the largest haredi yeshiva - Pnovezh.

Jerusalem Post reports:

"A belligerent faction in the Ponevezh Yeshiva, considered the Harvard of haredi yeshivot, is likely to splinter off and set up an independent yeshiva.

This follows an escalation of violence that culminated in the bloody beating of a yeshiva head.
Last Thursday, Rabbi Haim Peretz Berman, the newly-appointed cohead of the Ponevezh Yeshiva, was ambushed outside his Bnei Brak apartment on the way to morning prayers.
The assailant pummeled Berman's face with brass knuckles and continued to hit him after he fell to the ground. "

All this without army training.

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Don't Buy It 

Sorry, but in a country like Israel I can't accept the performance of national service instead of army service for able bodied young men. The proposal mentioned here would allow haredi and Arab youth to do "national service" in lieu of army service. While the problem with Arab youth is a different one, haredi youth should be made to go to the army. Exceptions could be made (but don't have to be made) for the few that are exceptional but the vast majority ought to be made to go to the army.

The situation has reached absurd proportions. The haredi rabbis are not protecting their communities only their unrealistic and destructive views. Who better to defend a Jew's right to learn Torah in Eretz Yisrael than Jews who learn Torah in Eretz Yisrael?

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I am having one of those Internet problems and was wondering if anyone had any ideas on what to do.
Apparantly at random, some sites come up and some don't. Some do occassionally and some never do. Some just load wrong. The error I get is "unable to load this page. I have run my McAfee Virus Scan and AdWare from Lavasoft.

If anyone who is a whiz has any suggestions - I would appreciate it. Please email me to:
outofstepjew@hotmail.com .

Thanks and Shabbat Shalom.

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Thursday, February 03, 2005

OU Misses the Point 

We commented facetiously last week on the OU's attempt to ban "kiddush clubs". This week the OU is apparently sending out a letter to its congregations: "In response to an urgent request from rabbis and educators, the Orthodox Union has designated Saturday, February 5 for OU synagogues across the United States and Canada to call for the elimination of so-called “Kiddush Clubs” during their Sabbath services."

Rabbi Moshe Krupka is quoted as saying that: "It became clear at the meeting that the rabbis considered elimination of the Kiddush Clubs to be an important step – one of many – which will be required to create the desired change in our communal mindset."

Further: "Besides denigrating the Sabbath prayer service, 'these clubs also have a harmful influence on young people because of the clubs’ idealization of alcohol,' Rabbi Weinreb emphasized. 'This is particularly disturbing because it is emblematic of the larger dangers of alcohol consumption and substance abuse in our community.' "

Wow. The OU seems to think that these Kiddush Clubs are a major, if not THE major problem with American Orthodoxy.

Yet, they miss the point, methinks.

The origin of "kiddush clubs" – from what I remember (being the son of the rabbi, I was usually shooed away) – was a bunch of men going down to set up the kiddush for the congregation and partaking of some herring and cake washed down by some (cheap) shnaps. Same Halakhic problem of drinking in the middle of tefilah, but harmless enough – especially since they were getting things ready for the congregation. Their true motivation is really not important.

Now what has changed? Now, from conversations with daveners in congregations in the capital of modern orthodoxy in northern New Jersey, I understand that very expensive single malt scotch and other delicacies are brought in by and for a selelct few – but with no intention of "setting up" the kiddush for the congregation.

So … what is it that has changed that really ought to bother the rabbis of the OU? What is the message that they ought to be sending but won't because it goes to the heart of the religion of American (modern and haredi) Orthodoxy?

The problem is not halalkhic – for then this would have been a problem 30 years ago, too. The problem is the egocentricity and the rank materialism that has now become part and parcel of these clubs. For what is a club if you can't have the "best" one and you can't exclude others from it? What is a club worth, if yours doesn't have the best "stuff"? And what is the purpose of a club if you can't initiate your own boys into it?

And what is a synagogue worth if yours doesn't have the most comfortable seats, if your children arn'te dressed the best and if the congregants don't show off their latest financial conquest via fancy jewelry and yet another unkown type of cask strength single malt scotch.

The problem is not these ridiculous little kiddush clubs that the OU is whining about. The problem is that the OU and its rabbis have tolerated and often encouraged excess materialism in its synagogues, wasted untold millions on its buildings and given lectures and shiurim as an excuse for their congregants to go on fancy cruises around the world and ski vacations in Vail or the Alps.
A message to the OU: Look at what all this money has wrought. If you and other orthodox organizations have one challenge, it is to teach its members how to deal with their newfound financial success without gorging themselves beyond belief. Don't think that if you prevent a bunch of bored men from leaving shul in the middle you will have solved the major issue in your communities.

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Moving Towards Hebrew 

Reform Judaism has been moving to more traditional practices, so the reports go. Toward this end, they have redone their famous "Plaut Torah" to allow congregants to follow the reading in the synagogue more clearly. What is fascinating to me though is not that there is a move towards more traditional practices ,that is to be expected even amongst non-believers in this worship of the "New Age" .

What is interesting to me is that more and more people are apparently able to follow the Hebrew text. We have written (whined?) in the past that the only way to any semblance of Jewish unity is through the two things that have never left us - the Tanach and Hebrew.

Instead of all this "study" of mysticism, Jewish "identification" through cutesy activities and lightweight intrigues, the money men of the Jews ought to encourage the study of Hebrew and the Tanach – across all Jewish sectors.

Even amongst the yeshiva and day school educated I have seen from speaking to Jewish teenagers here for a year, I see that their knowledge of both is elementary at best.

The Reform movement's step is a small one, but is encouraging.

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Below the Iguana 

We saw "Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys" at the Lone Star Cafe, on Fifth Avenue north of the Villiage (if I am not mistaken) sometime back around 1980 or 81. If you rememer it, it had a giant iguana on the roof, until City Hall made them take it down. Another short-sighted decision by City Hall.

We were of the few, the only ones actually, wearing on our heads what Kinky referred to as "the Yom Kippur Clipper".

Kinky was irreverent then and hopefully he hasen't lost it even though he is running for governor of the Great State of Texas. But, like most people, politics will surely ruin that strange Texas Jewboy.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Rabbis and Science 

Did Hazal or the rishonim ever (as a group) go against the prevailing scientific views?

This goes a long way in making sense of the strange notion of "Hazalic-infallibility".

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Another Look at Haredi-Brisk 

As one of those old time YU guys who at least tries to come down on the rationalist side of the religious divide I have to admit that I have a soft spot for the "true lamdanim", wherever they are found. I don't enjoy studying nor do I think too highly of the intellectual foundations of hasidut but am always interested in the application of, for lack of a better word, "lomdus".

So, when I first read the article we wrote about last week regarding the haredi Brisk Yeshiva in Jerusalem I read it with a bit of sympathy. I chuckled a bit at their strict conservatism – both in learning and in attitude (especially this gem: "The joke about Brisk," one prominent ultra-Orthodox scholar told me, "is that when Rav Avraham Yehoshua coughs during his lesson, he explains that he is coughing because `Grandfather used to cough here, too.'" ) But it is exactly that conservatism and how it affects my life and those of my fellow Israelis that continued to bother me the whole weak.

Although from the article it seems that they, unlike the religious-Zionist Briskers have atrophied intellectually, specifically, what I am talking about is the haredi-Brisk insistence on a continued and an adamant anti-Zionism. There may or may not have been a good anti-Zionist argument during the times of R. Haym of Brisk and his children, but that holds no longer. In all honestly, it didn't hold much then either.

In a strange quirk of history, R. Haym's oldest son, R. Moshe was a Zionist who went to America while the younger son, the anti-Zionist R. Velvele, came to live in (pre-state) Israel. (It would be an interesting exercise in counterfactual history to imagine what Israeli and American orthodoxy would look like if they had switched places.)

What does it mean today to be a religious Jew living in Israel and to be an anti-Zionist?

Does it mean that you would rather live under the protection of the Palestinian or Jordanian police force than under the umbrella provided by the IDF?

Does it mean, that yes, learning Torah in Eretz Yisrael is a nice thing to do, but we would rather be forced to leave and learn Torah elsewhere than recognize what it is that makes all this learning possible?

Does it mean that you would rather ignore the plight of your fellow Jews than give up even a minute of time to learn Torah or to admit that yes, maybe some ancestor made an error of judgement?

From what I remember from some of Rav Soloveitchik's Halakhic reasonings – that the concept of "al tifrosh min hatzibbur" (don't separate yourself from the community) means that even though the Halakhah might permit something, we don't change so as to harm the unity of Am Yisrael – we can and should apply it here to his cousins at haredi-Brisk.

Ought we to look admiringly at people who don't even have the decency to thank the soldiers without whom they would not have the zchut of learning Torah in Eretz Yisrael? Just imagine for a moment how many yeshivot would survive one day without the Israeli Army? Just imagine how many yeshiva boys and their wives and sisters, would be slaughtered if the army decided to close up shop for just a few hours.

Zionism is no longer something that Jews, let alone religious Jews have an option to reject – no matter how great their grandfathers were.

I am a bit ashamed of myself for personally romanticizing the haredi Briskers. A group of more selfish, self-involved, intellectually stale and egocentric people would be hard to find.

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