Thursday, September 29, 2005

Calling Dr. Belkin 

From the Forward:
"Yeshiva University is under fire for dropping its longtime motto — Torah u-Madda — and replacing it with the non-sectarian slogan 'Bring wisdom to life'."

Aside from the fact that Richard Joel is removing what is arguably THE defining characteristic of YU, what could the new slogan possibly mean? It seems like an advertisement for the Discovery Channel.

You really have to wonder what goes through people's minds. Well, I looking forward to the first edition of the "Bring Wisdom to Life Journal".

This university still manages to survive with Hebrew in its logo.

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Which Cowardly Rabbi? 

The NY Jewish Week on the identity of the infamous SA Halevy. Is the coverup worse than the crime? Not in this case.

"A vitriolic column on Israel’s disengagement from Gaza — calling the Jewish state 'just another oppressor of Jews, a persecutor of religious Jews' — has caused a furor among some members of the largest Orthodox congregation in Teaneck, N.J., who suspect it was written by their rabbi."

Apparantly more than one congregant was told by the editor of the indetity of the author. Bit off more than he can chew, apparantly.

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Conversations: Part 3 

Conversations: A Fantasy in Many Parts

Disclaimer: All information and quotes in this fantasy are just that: Fantasies. The names have not been changed since none of this happened.

Introduction & Part 1, Part 2


It was the summer of 1969. I was in the middle of a magical period for a ten year old boy living in New York State. The NY Jets, with Joe Namath at quarterback had just won Super Bowl III, the Mets were on a magical ride to the World Series and in a few months the Knicks were to start on their championship season. I hit little boy gold. The only thing missing was an unlimited supply of candy.

Little did I know that I would still, at age 45 be waiting for the Jets to repeat; still be waiting for the Mets and Knicks to earn their third championship.

In the middle of the summer though, I was to meet one of the strangest men I would ever encounter. I was ten years old, my father was a rabbi in a small town in upstate NY, I spent each day playing baseball, watching The Millionaire and Divorce Court on morning TV and secretly listening to Met games in bed at night. I rode my bike, played 'war' in the swamp below our development, explored an abandoned cosmetics factory and walked around town with and without my friends.

One day, I even rode my bike, by myself all the way to the NY State Thruway – 3, 4 maybe 5 miles away.

It was on one of those days while riding my bike to the gas station that was right off exit 16 (or was it 17?) of the NYS Thruway that I met a very happy, energetic and hairy man named Abbie Hoffman who was on his way to Yasgur's farm up near Woodstock, NY.

AH: Nice glove, kid.

Me: Thanks – a first baseman's glove – I'm a lefty so I can't play much else. Really want to be a shortstop.

AH: I'm kind of a lefty too. You know who I am?

Me: Sorry

AH: Abbie Hoffman

Me: One of those guys from Chicago? My mother says its your fault for Nixon. WE voted Humphrey.

AH: Probably right – but same 'ole, same 'ole. I see you're Jewish. You know, I'm Jewish too?

ME: Really. Didn't know any cool guys were Jewish.

AH: Yea, well, not too Jewish, really.

Me: No such thing as not too Jewish, you either are or you aren't.

AH: Well, then I am. But I bet your daddy would rather I not be.

Me: well, actually, my dad's a rabbi …

AH: I'm talking to a rabbi's son!

ME: … and he deals with all kinds of guys who are Jewish. Even guys with girl hair like yours. So, you ever go to shul – that means synagogue?

AH: I know what shul is – even had one of those bar-mitzvey things. Said the blessing by the Tohrey , got a fountain pen, whole nine yards.

Me: Fountain pen?

AH: Never mind, you're too young. So, you like being Jewish, religious?

Me: Yea, well, being religious here in this small town is a bit of a pain. Kosher, Shabbat, you know. Birthday parties at Howard Johnson's and I get stuck with ice cream instead of hot dogs and French fries. No Little League – it's on Saturday.

AH: So … don't be religious.

Me: Can't do that.

AH: Sure you can. Listen to your radio secretly on Saturday, go to friends to watch TV Saturday afternoon, eat some good hot dogs.

Me: I know I can, but why would I ?

AH: Freedom, man.

Me: Too scared.

AH: Scared? Of who? Of God?!

ME: No, just, I don't know. Not scared. Just don't wanna.

AH: Waste.

ME: So don't you care about being Jewish? About Israel? I was in Israel last summer. Goin' back when I get old like you.

AH: I'm not old, only 33 – yea, I like the Jewish people, a simple, stupid lot, you can't hate 'em too much man. Well, dumb thing to say, I guess you really can. That's because they're always whining about how much their sufferin'. They think that real Jews are sufferin' Jews. You a sufferin' Jew?

Me: No, I'm a kid.

AH: But you can't do little league?

Me: OK, I suffer a little, but not really.

AH: Yea well, take my advice. Take all that sufferin' crap and all that rabbi stuff and live like a person. Jews don't know how to live like regular people. Even the hypocrites that go to those reform Temples - they make it look like they got it made in their country clubs … but they … You know, I almost became a rabbi. That's right. I was looking for a way to make something happen and I figured I needed authority. But then I saw that the best way to get authority is to tell everyone how dumb authority is! Genius, right?

Me: I guess.

AH: Yea, well, anyway, in this country only Jesus has authority – and nutcases like me. I'm off. Good luck – and go play shortstop anyway!

That's the last I saw of Abbie Hoffman.

As a ten-year old boy Hoffman didn't make too much of an impression on me – until I reached the 10th grade when the romantic allure of Hoffman and the then defunct Yippies and hippies collided with my membership in that group known as the Jewish people. As much as I wanted to be a radical, I could only be a radical who was also a committed Jew. So, instead of supporting Mo Udall or Frank Church or that ultimate in cool politician Jerry Brown, during my junior year in high-school I volunteered once a week in the "Scoop Jackson for President" campaign.

That summer though I met a pretty California girl- Jewish, blond, rich spoiled – and in order to impress her – I left Scoop and turned into a real radical. Needless to say, by the end of the summer I still had my radicalism (relative to still being a yeshiva boy) but the girl was long gone.

I embraced the socialist kibbutz as my model, read Biblical criticism, got my hands on all kinds of radical books like "Steal this Book" by my old friend Abbie Hoffman, "Guerrilla Warfare" by Che, Marx, Lenin, Frantz Fanon, Eldridge Cleaver and on and on and on.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

5 Times I 

I have always thought that the process by which the hitnatkut was approved and carried out was much more dangerous than the act itself. Here are the words of Ariel Sharon after his 104 vote victory in the Likud Central Committee vote:

"The vote was about my path, which I will keep on directing as I see fit ... I will no longer accept the behavior of some MKs in the faction. Because my path was victorious, from now on, when I present my path, they will have to agree. I will unite the party in a statesmanlike way to lead the party forward."

Judge for yourself.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005


I have seen a disturbing trend (which we will comment on more in the future) amongst the modern-Orthodox in the US of praising the Satmar Rebbe, Yoel Teitelbaum. This man was a dispicable character who, while he was alive could not contain his hatred of Zionism and Zionists. To paraphrase Gershom Scholem in his letter to Hannah Arendt - Teitelbaum had no "ahavat Yisrael" in him. While he was alive, no self-respecting rabbi would have praised that man. Today though, revisionism and sentimentality for all things European have taken over.

Before we lapse into rebbe worship let us not forget his disgusting words on Yom Ha'atzmaut. We reproduce them here:
"We must not minimize the seriousness of the grave sin of rejoicing, or appearing to rejoice and making a festival on the terrible Day of Blasphemy, that they call: "Yom Atsmaut" (Israeli Independence Day). The day that the members of the conspiracy against G-d and His Messiah, established their Kingdom of Atheism over the Jewish People, by uprooting the Holy Torah and the Faith. At that time, the shedding of blood of myriad's upon myriad's of Jews began.
This is much worse than accepting idolatry, because they not only accept it, but celebrate and rejoice in the terrible rebellion against G-d and His Holy Torah. There are many sinners and even deniers of the Faith, whose hearts trouble them, because they are not serving G-d, but they are unable to stand up against temptation and against deceitful ideologies that confuse them. However, those who rejoice in this sin, are guilty of much worse, blasphemy.
May the Merciful save us from them and from their followers, and strengthen our hearts and enlighten our eyes in His Torah and in His Service."

The modern-Orthodox in the US have a horrible habit of unlimited praise for all of the anti-Zionist old European rabbis. This may be due to the Art-Scrollization of American orthodoxy or just to a terrible inferiority complex - its hard to tell. Sometimes its harmless - in this case though, it can only lead to damage to the community.

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There is either an interesting halakhic debate going on or a boring political one:

"Another salvo was fired this week in a war between opposing factions within religious Zionism that continue to settle scores in the aftermath of disengagement.

Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, a young, outspoken figure of moderate religious Zionism, attacked an unnamed group of rabbis and students who he claimed are exploiting a legitimate halachic argument over the fine points of family purity to disparage the name of Rabbi Shlomo Aviner."

The whole thing is very unclear but apparantly R. Aviner is not being as harsh as some people think he ought to be regarding his rulings to married couples. He is being attacked from the those at Mercaz as well as by some in the haredi camp.

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Monday, September 26, 2005


Hirhurim, with some sensible statements on Faith in the Sages.

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Agnon's Granddaughter 

I saw this awhile ago and forgot to link to it. Luckily its still online:

"I could have been everything. I would be a writer now if only I hadn't been Agnon's granddaughter - a writer or a poet - but I spread in so many directions and fell between the cracks. I am a wellspring of words, words flow and bubble up from within me, they are so imprinted in me that I create new words in my sleep. In Israel, everyone is always expecting things of me, people hear Agnon and think I came from Beit Katzafti, but they don't understand the price that I pay."

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A Useless Symbol 

Esther Zandberg writes of waste and megalomania in Jerusalem:

"Work began on the erection of the light rail bridge in Jerusalem last week. The train will run about 14 kilometers from Pisgat Ze'ev via Jaffa Road to Mount Herzl, and will cross a bridge at the city's entrance from Highway 1. The bridge, whose shape is reminiscent of a gigantic harp, was planned by the renowed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Forty similar bridges that he designed have been built, nearly at the pace of the opening of fast food chain branches, throughout the world. The local initiative aroused controversy and many objections to no avail, and now the bridge is on its way.
Jerusalem community leaders who initiated the bridge's erection and forwarded the plan view it as more than an essential transportation solution; former mayor Ehud Olmert called it "the symbol of modern Jerusalem."

Read on.

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Sunday, September 25, 2005


"In a surprise break from his fierce opposition to disengagement and his support of calls for the refusal of IDF evacuation orders, former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post, urged members of the national religious camp on Thursday to remain loyal to the state and the army."

I guess if he was an important rabbi living in Teaneck, NJ he would have a better understanding of the mitzvah of living in Israel.

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Feckless Rabbi 

While the cowardly rabbi who goes by the name S.A. Halevy is leading slichot in his air conditioned suburban synagogue, giving, I am sure, a "heartfelt" sermon on tshuva, those "feckless" IDF soldiers he condemns are, instead of saying slichot tonight, hunting down terrorists in Judea and Samaria. I do pity his hapless congregants who - if they know his identity - are partners in his Jew-hating diatribe.

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Friday, September 23, 2005

Name that Rabbi? 

Canonist is trying to identify the rabbinic author of the "disengaged from Israel" article we wrote about a few days ago. Synagogues in the tri-State area should be worried until the rabbi is identified. Going into the yamim noraim with someone like the author on the pulpit will make u'netaneh tokef irrelevant. Saying slichot tomorrow night with that man as the religious leader of a congregation will be a mark on that kehilla.

He must be identified and spit out by the community.

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Immodest Pizza 

But what if they sold them hamburgers?
"One hundred haredi demonstrators gathered Thursday at a Ramat Beit Shemesh pizzeria, demanding that the eatery be shut for allegedly selling pizza to teens wearing 'inappropriate' clothing, police said."

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Conversations: Part 2 

Conversations: A Fantasy in Many Parts

Disclaimer: All information and quotes in this fantasy are just that: Fantasies. The names have not been changed since none of this happened.

Introduction & Part 1


Philip Roth: What if?! What if?! You can 'what if' truth but you can't 'what if' fiction!

I got introduced to Philip Roth, figuratively in 1978 and introduced myself to him literally in 1982.

In 1978 I was spending a year on a kibbutz in the Negev, the southern part of Israel the year after I graduated high school. I picked melons with Arab workers from Gaza, sorted carrots with middle-eastern Jews from Netivot, drove tractors with Israeli boys from the kibbutz.

I eyed the American girls on my program. Succeeded a bit more with the kibbutz girls and almost fell in love with the only non-blonde morally conservative Swedish girl in the world. I was rooming with a violent fanatic who pretended to respect my retrograde views and I looked hard to find a place for myself in what was socialism's only success. In short – I was as ready as I could be when I received a hardcover copy of Philip Roth's "Portnoy's Complaint" from an older brother trying to educate his sibling in what was what in high-culture.

Needless to say, in spite of the fact hat I was convinced that Jewish writers of fiction could not be great – only good; and in spite of the fact that a combination of my elitism and laziness limited my reading to what was "great"; and in spite of the fact, no because of the fact that I had read that Philip Roth was a 'self hating Jew' - for all those reasons I finished "Portnoy" in just a few hours.

I then rummaged through what passed for the English library on the kibbutz (a library made up of those books that did not fit in the suitcases or returning foreign volunteers) and found Roth's "Goodbye Columbus" and … suddenly, Jewish writers (in my mind) could be 'great'.

By 1982, I had finished college, read more literature, philosophy and politics and was ready for a most remarkable meeting.

Me: All I was saying is that Portnoy could have been different. He didn't have to be Jewish. He could have been an annoying non-Jew.

PR: Portnoy was a Jew. Portnoy could have been nothing other than a Jew. And as a Jew born to a comfortable life in a comfortable country – with a comfortable future ahead of him – Portnoy had to create his own world of suffering because without it, he would have been just another goy. He would have had to be a success. He would have been that annoying little Holden Caulfield.

Personally, I wanted to talk literature with Roth, not Judaism. I was tired of talking Judaism. What did Roth think of Henry James, or the Russian novelists – of his contemporaries – of Bellow, of Malamud, of Updike?

But, I was a Jew. I was obsessed with Jewishness. So, against my will I proceeded to talk to Philip Roth , the man who convinced me that Jews, yes Jews could write great literature, about Jews and Judaism.

Me: Why do Jews hate you so much?

PR: Why only the Jews?

Me: No, really. Jews hate you. My rabbis at YU hate you. The editors of Commentary hate you. Jews in Israel – those that have heard of you – hate you.

PR: Well, yes, I guess you are right. You've read Portnoy so you have to know that I'm a traitor. I make the chosen people well, slimy and greasy. I'm a shanda for the goyim!

Me: Why do you laugh at it? And why do you really think they hate you?

Roth suddenly got serious, put on his reading glasses to take another look at the menu, took them off, ordered another cup of coffee for himself (but not for me), put both hands on the table and started.

PR: Jews hate other Jews either because they are heretics like Spinoza, nags and prophets of doom like Jeremiah, failed false messiah's like Shabbtai Tsvi, successful false messiah's like Jesus or pretenders to the throne like the Biblical Korach. I am none of those. Jews, you see also hate another type of Jew: The Jew who is insecure in his Jewishness, who does not particularly like his Jewishness, or the fact that he is Jewish, but who knows that he can't escape his Jewishness. I'm not a threat to anyone like Korach was, not a threat to the system like Spinoza was, not about to start a new religion or sect – I may be a bit of a nag like Jeremiah, but that's where that comparison ends.

Me: So, you want out?

PR: Of course I want out, we all do.

Me: No we all don't – but you can leave if you really want out.

PR: But they won't let me.

Me: Who?

PR: Who? No one, everyone. One thing I learned from writing is that your freedom is limited by the world you got sucked into at birth. And the Jew's world is limited even more. Yes, we have all that literature, all those books, stories to keep us busy for our lives – but that's just it. Some idiot will find a subconscious biblical or some talmudic influence in Portnoy and you know what – he will be right! – because yiu can't get out. And neither can you or anyone else. Not Bellow, not Freud, not Einstein – none of us!

Me: Ridiculous. You don't even know Hebrew, probably never opened a Bible let alone a gemara. You can just read other things.

PR: It won't help to fight it. For example – is there any writer who has made fun of Richard Nixon more than I have? I wrote a whole bad novel just to make fun of him …

Me: Bad?

PR: … yet when I saw those military transports flying to re-arm Israel during the '73 war, I couldn't help but say 'thank God for that sonofabitch'. He was helping Jews in their time of need and I couldn't hate him. I even got teary eyed looking at those big transport planes. I hated France for not letting the US planes refuel and loved Portugal for letting them. I even donated money to Israel. I couldn't stand to see the country suffer. Yet, I have no faith in it. We won't be able to withstand the pressure of ruling ourselves. We won't be able to withstand the suffering we will surely put on ourselves. Its not that we are too moral to be involved in politics, it's that we are too much like Portnoy. We are distracted from those things that will make us a success.

Me: But Israel is pretty successful, Jews in America are pretty successful.

PR: In America it's easy. Everything is in place – the goyim put in all in place so that we, including me, can succeed. In Israel – each time they are on the verge of success, you see, they throw it away. When Jews rule, they agonize, they cry, they you know what like Portnoy until they are alone and in pain.

And that was it. Roth got up and left. Not saying good-bye, not continuing, not paying the check.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Not Wanted: Dead or Alive 

Thanks to Bloghead and Tzvee.blog we can now read a cowardly essay ( he has the whole thing but you can read the original here, but a warning - it is a slow loading 88 page pdf file) written pseudonymously by a self proclaimed "powerful, important rabbi in the tri-state area who was a force in the National Religious movement" in which he declares his "disengagement from the State of Israel" and all but professes his allegiance to one of the more disgusting figures in 20th century Jewry, the Satmar Rebbe. Tzvee.blog identifies the author as Rabbi Pruzansky of Teaneck's largest shul, Bnei Yeshurun. If this is so, it is no surprise and Bnei Yeshurun got what they deserved. After unceremoniously firing a good and honest man as rabbi they turned to a rabbi who after the Oslo accords cancelled Yom Ha'atzmaut celebrations in his Queens, NY shul.

If he is in fact the author of the article, Bnei Yeshurun should demand his resignation for the disgusting things he said about Israel and its soldiers who have defended his right to visit and worship in Israel whenever he pleases. Soldiers who are children of members and former members of that synagogue. Soldiers, without whom Jews would be slaughtered by the thousands.

Aside from showing his complete ignorance of the history of Zionism and the State of Israel – in short of modern Jewish history, this "powerful and important rabbi" writes:

"I had the misfortune of being in Israel during its expulsion of Jews last month. Until that experience, I had never been embarrassed to be a Jew. Please do not tell me that soldiers cannot disobey orders--some did in Gaza and northern Samaria, and at great personal cost. They stand in moral splendor and eternal condemnation of their feckless compatriots. Jews especially should not be making that argument about the virtue of soldiers’ obeying orders—not after Nuremberg, and certainly not after Abu Ghraib, for which American soldiers have gone to prison for doing far less than expelling innocent civilians from their homes. The argument that the army/country would fall apart if there were mass disobedience simply does not wash; more likely, it would have underscored the schism in society the implementation of this policy would have caused, and would have thwarted it."

This great man who has disengaged from the State of Israel (not the first time I am sure) cowardly condemns soldiers in the IDF while he lives comfortably in his tri-state (Teaneck?) home. This great religious leader condemns those soldiers who did not disobey orders as "feckless" while he has never had to face death head on, while defending the Jewish people. He has the nerve to condemn young boys who spend thousands of hours training in the harshest of conditions so as to stop one terrorist and save the lives of countless Jews. This poor excuse for a Jew has the hutzpa to condemn my neighbors, children, cousins and compatriots who have risked and often given their lives so that he can have the right to spew his hatred even in this country. This coward has no need for the IDF, until of course, he does.

Who needs you good Rabbi? Disengage as far away as you can. Stay away from our country. If you have a cemetery plot here – please sell it. We don't want you, dead or alive. The IDF definitely has no use for a coward such as yourself, nor do the religious-Zionists who will continue to build this country.

Bloghead has a copy of a memo apparantly making the rounds of this "rabbi's" shul - if it is correct, it is wholly inadequate. If his congregation has any self-respect they will show him the door before they suffer through a cowardly Yom Kippur sermon from an anti-Semitic hate monger.

Update: Canonist claims that Rabbi Pruzhansky denies writing the article. For the sake of his congregation, I certainly hope so. The fact that he is a credible suspect is disturbing. In any event, whomever wrote the article ought to come out so that his congregation (if he has one) can fire him.

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Who is a Rabbi? 

With the who is a Jew question passe we move on to the next stage of Jewish acrimony.
Non-Orthodox rabbis petition the court for recognition and there is an orthodox response.
There are two practical issues here - money (as is taxpayer money that goes to pay "neighborhood" rabbis, local synagogues, events, etc.) and there is the ability to perform marriages and other such religious rites.

As hard as it is, let's put the money aside for a short while and consider the last paragraph of the second article linked to above:
"Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Chief Rabbinate standardized written rabbinical tests leading to ordination. Students are tested for their knowledge of commonly asked questions in Jewish law, such as Shabbat, family purity and kashrut."

Since in Israel at least, personal smicha is all but gone, why not let anyone who wants to, take the test and be allowed to do rabbi-type things for those who accept them?

But of course at some point we will have to put money back into the equation.

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'We don't know where the money went'

Comptroller mulls probing PM campaign

Col. Zaher gets eight months in prison for sex offenses

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005


A while ago Rav Aharon Lichtenstein of Yeshivat Har Etzion sent a letter to Rav Avraham Shapira, former chief rabbi and currently of Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav regarding the latters halakhic ruling instructing soldiers to disobey orders during the hitnatkut.

A response was sent, not by R. Shapira but by another rabbi, his grandaughter's husband. For legitimate reasons or was it a snub?

Here (thanks to George for the link) is the psak, the original letter, the response and R. Lichtenstein's response (R. Lichtenstein's have been translated into English).

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Simon Wiesenthal, z"l 

JPost: "Simon Wiesenthal, the Holocaust survivor who helped track down numerous Nazi war criminals following World War II and spent the later decades of his life fighting anti-Semitism and prejudice against all people, died Tuesday at the age of 96."

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Demanding Women? 

Yesterday we wrote of a shul meeting and the "women's issue" that was brought up.

I found two interesting items which give us a glimpse of some of these issues in the haredi community. I am no expert on the raising and educating of haredi girls or of what "really goes on" there but these items seem show that a crack may be forming …

The first is from the Hebrew language forum "Hyde Park" where there is a "room" called B'chadrei Haredim (in the Rooms of Haredim – the title works better in Hebrew) where various items of interest to the community are discussed. Sometimes its politics, sometimes kashrut sometimes questions regarding faith and practice.

Last week, there was a thread in which someone asks why it is that men are always the principal's of the girl's seminaries.

To translate his words:

"Why is it good for girls to put a man as a role model for them?

What, is she supposed to be like him? How exactly?

And are men supposed to understand the mind (nefesh) of a girl?

And in her teen years !!!!!

…And can he really be an advisor to her?

And if not, why do we need them?

… It seems very odd to me that a man is the principal of an educational system for girls at such a critical age….

Afterwards we wonder why he deals with the length of skirts and the number of pleats. In that, he truly understands".

The second is from a blog from a seminary girl in Lakewood, NJ, called Semgirl. I am not sure, after reading her posts if this Semgirl is typical or not – if she is one of the "serious" girls or not –it seems that she is kind of average. Graduated high school, went to Israel for a year and has "shidduch dates" of various sorts - some of which she writes about and some of which seem a bit un-shidduch like to me. In a recent post she complained bitterly of being lectured to all too often about tzniut – or its current definition - the length, color and material of skirts, blouses etc. at the expense of being taught actual Torah. She writes of discussions with Christian missionaries who knew Tanach better than she did and complained about an article that was supposed to be a warning about missionaries only to lapse into a tzniut diatribe:

"It starts off by informing us that missionaries are lurking around looking to prey on innocent, vulnerable, ignorant people, but instead of arming us with the valuable info we so desperately need to deal with this threat and confront it head on, the author, instead uses it as a springboard for still another excuse to talk about hemlines and colors."

How do the various streams of orthodoxy treat its women?

It seems to me that in the modern-Orthodox religious-Zionist (MORZ) community in Israel it was assumed that the girls and women could be bought off by allowing them to remain active in things other than limud Torah (most specifically the politics of Eretz Yisrael) while in the haredi community in the US it was assumed that with enough wealth the girls and women could just be bought off with "feminine amenities". The MORZ community in the US has dealt with girl's education more openly but the assumption there is also based on enough material wealth to create a community where literal and figurative men clubs are not disturbed. The haredi community in Israel has taken the other track and has assumed that through poverty, indoctrination and intimidation its women will just be too busy or scared to bother with their spiritual well-being.

Can orthodox women really be bought off? I don't think so. I don't think that all orthodox women have to agree on what it is that they demand from their rabbis just like all orthodox men don't agree. Some women will want a more active synagogue participation while others will want lay leadership positions. Some will demand limud torah on the level of their brothers while others will demand equality in their marriages. But it appears that demands will be made.

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Seperation Anxiety 

As the son of a pulpit rabbi I have a natural disinclination to attend shul meetings, to help out in shul matters and in general to participate in shul activities. Let's just say, that I have paid my dues.

In spite of that I attended last night's annual meeting of our small local shul – where every year things of more or less import are discussed. This is the second shul we have attended in Kfar Saba. The first was taken over by a group of hooligans after (what else?) money became involved. The shul was given $250k to leave the land it occupied to go build on a nearby property and the powers that be decided that …. well, it is really not that important for this story.

This shul a bit further away than the first, but the people are much nicer. Founded years ago most of its members are a bit older than us. Their youngest children are the ages of our oldest – maybe a bit older and they needed an infusion of fresh blood. We had the blood to donate. It is a moderate, centrist shul. The mechitza goes down the center of the shul (2/3 men's section, 1/3 women's). The mechitza is made up of a wall about waist high and a curtain that goes to about 5.5 feet or so. The curtain is lace and semi see-through.

After the usual yawner of a meeting a young girl of about 20, the daughter of a member, stood up and had two requests. The first riled one side of the ideological divide, the second the other. She requested that during the dvar Torah before the reading of the Torah, the curtain be moved so that eye contact can be made with the speaker in order to be able to concentrate (most men were thinking but not saying that they would pay good money in order not to be able to make eye contact with the speaker so that they could catch a few winks). The second request was that on Simchat Torah (the most divisive holiday on the Jewish calendar) a heavy piece of material be placed over the mechitza so that the men will not be able to glimpse the dancing girls and women.

There was a bit of discussion and disagreement on the first issue and it was decided that women be allowed to move the curtain if they need it to concentrate.

On the latter issue – there was of course more spirited discussion, but the issue passed and one of the four parts of the mechitza (each part is separated by a cement beam necessary to holding the roof up) would be covered.

You can guess where the OOS couple stood on this issue, but to tell the truth I kind of feel sorry for these young women who so fear being seen by men. Being in the background has been so pounded into them that the only dvar torah they can confidently give (but only to other girls) is the misinterpretation of "kol kvoda bat melech pnima" (Psalms 45:14) that allegedly teaches us that good Jewish girls don't have to – no, ought not to strive to do anything that will ever put them in a situation where they will be seen or judged by anything other than their "inner beauty" - a wonderful concept that is a code word for – stay out of the public life.

The girl who brought up this issue is smart and obviously does not fear getting up in front of the shul meeting and speaking her mind. I commend her for it. She wants to be able to concentrate better on the dvar Torah being given on Shabbat morning and she wants to be able to celebrate Simchat Torah to the best of her ability. Yet – there is something missing. By claiming that a mechitza which is good enough for tephila is not good enough for dancing on Simchat Torahn is to identify her dancing as sexual rather than spiritual. By looking for ever more stringencies in the "laws of tzniut" she is stating most clearly that her "inner beauty" cannot be appreciated unless all of her femininity has been suppressed.

And suppression is the key concept here. The desire of the religious leaders of Orthodoxy in Israel is to suppress the desires of many of today's young women to be full participants in the religious and public lives of their communities. "Women's issues", at the insistence of these same religious leaders, consists exclusively in creating ways to separate themselves from their male counterparts. The only way to show their religiousity is to constantly discover new ways to "be tzanua".

We are allowing these leaders to cheat our daughters of their birthright by concentrating their minds on secondary issues.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Conversations: Introduction and Part 1 

Conversations: A Fantasy in Many Parts

Disclaimer: All information and quotes in this fantasy are just that: Fantasies. The names have not been changed since none of this happened.


Growing up in and moving across small and large town America you not only get a great view of the country, you acquire certain interpersonal skills, some of which are a great help and some of which are, well … not.

As the son of a rabbi my brothers and I moved from town to town, from congregation to congregation, seven places until I was 18.

I was often in the right place at the right time during my life and got to meet interesting, sometimes famous and often strange people. Being a professional short timer, by the time I entered kindergarten I learned how to do two things well: To get people, all people, to like me quickly: To get people, nearly all people to dislike me after short periods of time – sometimes days, sometimes hours, occasionally weeks or months.

I have had the pleasure of hundreds, maybe thousands of short term relationships. So, instead of telling you the story of my 45 year long life, I will relate to you some of the fascinating conversations I have had with great rabbis, scholars, musicians, ballerinas, writers and artists as well as ball-players, waitresses, surfers and rock stars.

Why have I chosen this point in my life to start writing about my conversations? Well, my skill at getting people to dislike me has increased in strength while my other skill –getting people to like me for even short periods of time has, well – lets just say that in modern parlance, I have become "relationship challenged".

As I sit in this café in the center of Israel – one I frequent at least once a week in order to read, write, drink black coffee, make phone calls and observe nature, I realize that even the waitresses are not willing to flirt with me anymore, let alone befriend me. I don’t know if it's my aging body or boring middle aged personality but the truth cannot be denied.

So, now I limit my conversations to those few people willing to actually have a long-term relationship with me – my wife (Thank God!), my kids (meanwhile), my parents and siblings (do they really have a choice?!) and a handful of other people who have yet to recognize my disability.


In the Fall of 1973 before the Yom Kippur War had ended I was walking the streets of Manhattan after attending one of the many rallies of support for Israel. I was a small town 14 year old boy who only the previous summer moved to New York City - not The City – which I then learned meant only Manhattan – but Queens, one of its outer boroughs. The Queens gig was to be a short lived stop for my rabbinic father, of course, but that made me all the more determined not to let go of those few habits and loves that allow us to adapt to nearly all circumstances.

One of those habits and loves was taking a walk by myself, observing nature. In The City of course, the nature available to observe are its people, along with those things that the people of The City built, created and loved – the buildings, pavements, subway tunnels and cars and buses – which I guess the people in Detroit built. All loud, all big, all quite dirty. But it was the only nature around, so I took advantage of my few hours alone to walk and to observe.

The rally in support of the Jewish State which had just survived its second war in six years featured many speakers who warned us of the perils of our own existence and how it was time for us "in these difficult times" to "make sacrifices".

Difficult times? Sacrifices?

Yes, these were "difficult times", but not for me – or for most of the speakers. I was too young to make sacrifices, but just old enough to be concerned, angry and determined to care about the Jewish people and its country.

I got to ridicule my rabbis for telling the class that learning Torah was more important than attending "goyish" rallies: I got to leave the radio on during Sukkot to listen to the progress of the war (and to find out the scores in Mets-A's World Series games): I got to brave the rain and go door to door collecting money for Magen David Adom – Israel's version of the Red Cross.

Difficult Times? Sacrifices?

Those were exhilarating times for a 14 year old Jewish American boy. While my parent's generation let the holocaust happen with nary a peep, we got to help save the Jewish people! (Oh, to be young!)

So, as I walked the streets of The City I slipped into the Plaza Hotel on Central Park South, pretending to belong (how did I do this in jeans and a sweatshirt?) and found the bathroom. As I was washing my hands I looked into the mirror and suddenly introduced myself to Yitzchak Rabin – general, ambassador , hero. Not Golda, not Moshe Dayan – but surely a most wonderful find as one could imagine on a nature walk through the streets of The City.

Yes, Yitzchak Rabin, washing his hands, cigarette dangling at the sabra's permanently sun-burned lips. Yitzchak Rabin, a man who looked tired, determined and fearful – even to my teenage eyes.

The next thing I know, Yitzchak Rabin is ordering me a cup of coffee in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel telling me what a saint Henry Kissinger was and how the next few years would tell him if the Jewish people "were in it for good".

Me: What do you mean "in it for good"?

YR: You see chaver sheli, the Jewish people are still a fearful people – especially those who read and learn too much. No matter what they learn or read – too much gemara, too much philosophy, too much literature – its all the same.

Me: Too much reading? Can I quote you on this?

YR: Too much, too much. We Jews don't read in order to … what's the word? To enlighten. We read in order to suffer. What am I dong wrong? What are you doing wrong? What did WE do to deserve this? We analyze, criticize, analyze again. I never learned the Talmud myself, but I know its full of criticism's arguments, analysis – and no action.

Me: But isn't that how you better yourself? Isn't self-criticism the most important part of what you call enlightenment?

YR: Shtuyot!!

ME: Huh?

YR: I will teach you a little Hebrew my young friend. Shtuyot, from "shtut"

Me: Huh?

YR: Shtus!, shuts! You little golus boy - nonsense! The purpose of enlightenment, of reading is to bring you pleasure, to make you able to think when you take action! Not to figure out what kind of evil person you are. You know why? Because if you spend your life trying to figure out why you are so bad, well then you are already better than most other people out there. So why do it in the first place? You will see all of the books and articles that come from this war. You will see that the tactical failures of the war's start will end up being deep-seated psychological failings of the people, of the politicians of the generals. Take my word - for the next decade we will be forced to read about how horrible we are to ourselves, to others, to the world! What kind of thing is that for an "eternal" people?

Me: So should we stop reading for the next decade or so? Will that prove to you that we are "here to stay"? That we are really eternal?

YR: No – but we have to be careful. The more we start thinking about "why it went wrong" and not "what went wrong so let's fix it and move on" – well, then we are finished.

Me: If we wonder why, then we are finished?

YR: Yes – because when you ask why, you doubt - once doubt infects the minds of our boys they won't fight. They won't be able to fight. Why to you think the rabbis hate the "Why" question? Because it does no good. It only brings doubt – and doubt for a Jew is fatal. Doubt for a Jew is what makes him suffer. Some Jews think that you can't be a Jew if you haven't suffered. Shtuyot! We suffer not because we are Jews, but because we want to suffer. Zionism was supposed to take that desire away – now you will see that in that sense it was a failure. We read and write and analyze too much and now the desire for suffering is returning.

Me: So, are we going to be in it for good? You know the Israeli people, the American Jews, the Jewish people.

YR: The answer will come in the next few years - you watch the signs. If we survive this - and don't think we are out of trouble, this war isn't over yet – if we survive this, you watch and see if this desire for suffering is returning or not. Good luck, my young friend. I have to go to a meeting with Dr. K – you know him, no? What is your advice before I go to see him?

My advice? I closed my eyes for a second in order to think through the expert advice that I was to give to the war hero before his meeting with the diplomat's diplomat. But Yitzchak Rabin got up and left before I had a chance to give him my answer. I guess he was in a rush so that he could buy some time for the Jewish people.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Two Years 

I have been writing this blog for two years now and for some odd reason I can't manage to stop. Every once in a while I tell myself to stop, but I can't. Even though my success has been moderate at best, especially compared with the other more popular Jewish blogs, I still can't manage to stop. Even after a dry spell like the last few weeks I still can't manage to put and end to this blog. Maybe soon.

In the meanwhile, starting tomorrow I will introduce a new weekly "feature" to the blog. For many years I had wanted to write fiction (like everyone else, except those who wanted to write poetry) and for many years I realized that I was just not good at it.

But the blog has opened up new possibilities to the creatively challenged. Tomorrow, I will present the first of a series called "Conversations". "Conversations" is not fiction per se – in that it is not a novel or a short story. It is a fantasy consisting of conversations by the narrator with people we all know.

I hope you enjoy it.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Time for a Cherem? 

I am not sure about the halakhot of "nidui" and "cherem", but these cases here seem appropriate. The Chief Rabbinate, the Badatz and the main Batei Din in Europe and the US ought to set up a unified bet din to deal with Jews like these.
As for civil law it is time that the Knesset and the government dealt with Israeli citizens like these in a more forceful manner.

From YNET:
"The Yesh Gvul far left group announced Tuesday morning that its members have submitted complaints to a British court against IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and former chief of staff Moshe Yaalon....
Meanwhile, the British Guardian newspaper has published a report Tuesday morning claiming that Daniel Machover (Jewish and ex-Israeli), the lawyer who requested that an arrest warrant be produced against Major General Doron Almog, has demanded that a criminal investigation be opened against Israel’s ambassador in London, Zvi Hefetz, and the staff of the Israeli embassy, for helping Almog avoid arrest.

Almog arrived at London’s Heathrow airport on a two day private visit, but decided to return home immediately after landing, when he learned that a legal charge had been placed against him by a Palestinian organization, charging the general with 'war crime charges' during 'military activity against the Palestinian people.'
The Israeli embassy’s military attaché informed Almog that a British court had taken out an injunction for his arrest, and Almog immediately returned to Israel before British authorities had an opportunity to arrest him."

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Monday, September 12, 2005

To Where? 

How depressing life has become here. We in Israel are stuck in the time warp that is the hitnatkut. It won't leave us alone. I had some confidence and was optimistic just a few weeks ago. I didn't expect miracles or anything of the sort, but I thought we could go on with our lives. But something is infecting our conversation. We can't talk, pray or think without the hitnatkut weighing on us. Everything we say, we think twice about. Whenever we do anything, we hesitate because of it.

Our rabbis still manage to make asses out of themselves as they again know why God has unleashed the forces of nature on one country and not another. They still manage to think that they have something productive to tell us about our political situation. Elul is here and they have nothing to tell us because too many of them spoke such "shtuyot" over the last few months (years?). Or worse – they played politics by not saying anything. Cowards! And the professors? And the journalists? The hatred oozes from their reports and essays. They are sure of the Truth, sure of the correct path to the messianic era. And the politicians? Hmmm.

We debate everything intensely. We debate, decide, change our minds, debate again. We do it with each other, we do it to each other, we do it alone. Who here, from the defense minister on down hasn't been torn between destroying our own shuls and letting others destroy them for us? Sickening. What kind of a people drives itself crazy over such things? What kind of people has a government that debates such things?

And while we are debating between defiling our own holy places and letting others do it for (to?) us, the British are debating whether commemorating the shoah hurts the feelings of their local Moslem population. For all I care the British don't have to commemorate the shoah and neither do the Germans or the Poles. But to stop commemorating the attempted genocide of the Jewish people because a group of citizens are upset, about what? That it was not successful enough? That we tried to piece our lives back together again instead of wallowing in victim hood? Sickening.

And today, I received in the mail an invitation to attend the gala 75th anniversary of Yeshiva University. For a mere $25,000 I can be a "Fellow" (how much if I want to just be a "guy"?). Who are they sending this to? To a bunch of American olim who need to work two or three years just to gross enough to cover tuition at the lofty university? Is it not the height of chutzpa to ask alumni living in Israel to subsidize a new gym or even a new bet midrash at YU?


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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Last Chapter? 

My second son (17 years old, 12th grade) just returned from two days in Atzmona – a town inside the Gaza strip that was part of the hitnatkut. He went with friends to help take apart hothouses in order to try to reconstruct businesses that were forced to "relocate". He and his friends worked from morning to night for two days doing work that the government by all rights should have done. According to Ha'aretz, they left 50 dunam of hothouses so that the army can leave earlier than expected. Instead of a well planned hitnatkut which would have included people being able to reconstitute their towns and lives somewhere else, the government concentrated only on the military aspects of the "operation" leaving the all important human side to incompetent bureaucrats and lackeys.

Some of the blame falls to the residents themselves who did not plan for this or help themselves. But with the accounts of the screw-ups from those residents who did follow instructions and even left early, clearly, this wouldn't have made much of a difference.

The problem lies with the lack of respect for individuals. We are all part of an interest group: Secular, Arabs, religious-Zionists, haredim, settlers, leftists, edot hamizrach. Any action is justified against the chosen "evil group" – for different times there are different "evil groups" – and being part of that evil group justifies any behavior. People here tend to loose track of the fact that before we are part of a group we are individuals.

As an aside, unreported in the news, at least two mortars were fired into Atzmona as they were trying to finish up business there. No injuries, so it doesn't count.

Here are some of the pictures of what is left of Atzmona, taken by my son over the last two days … as one of the last Israeli civilians allowed into the area:

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Kissufim Posted by Picasa

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Magen David shaped shul in Atzmona (still standing?) Posted by Picasa

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Ruins of people's homes. Posted by Picasa

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Inside the hothouses. Posted by Picasa

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Taking them apart. Posted by Picasa

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... more Posted by Picasa

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Smoke from morter fire. Posted by Picasa

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Unexploded morter shell Posted by Picasa

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Back end of a Qassam Rocket Posted by Picasa

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Going Away Posted by Picasa

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005


See My Obiter Dicta on the yahrzeit of his father and of Rav Kook.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Make Love, Not War? 

What can one say to the "hundreds" of students who signed a petition not to serve in the IDF? It is not a surprising phenomenon considering the process with which Sharon rammed the hitnatkut through and the brutal method he instructed the justice system to use to handle (especially young) opponents. We wrote a long time ago that this had legal although not political legitimacy.

But let me take a bit of a contrarian stance here (for a change). Could the hitnatkut not be just an excuse for kids who are masking other issues? Could it be an excuse from a group of anarchic kids who know that they cannot fit into the army? Could these kids be using ideology as a veil to hide their social problems and fears?

This fits into a phenomenon that I have witnessed over the last few years in which religious-Zionist parents have encouraged their boys to take the easy way out and find positions in the army that will keep them out of harm's way. I have seen this from olim as well as native parents – from the more extreme ("chardalnik") to the less so. For the more extreme I have seen more and more religious-Zionist kids going to yeshivot for 2, 3 or 4 years – delaying their army service until married – and therefore getting easier and shorter service – or waiting and then going to the Nachal HaHaredi in order not to be put under too much pressure. From the less extreme I have seen more and more kids looking to use the army as a career jumpstart in the hi-tech fields. And then there are the "out of control" kids (the ones we saw on the roof) who could be using this as an extension of their neo-hippie "drop out and get high" lifestyle (although with so many being allegedly "shomrei negiah" – "make love, not war" is a bit difficult).

I don't think this is a mass movement and I don't think its percentages are any more (probably less) than in the population at large – however, it, to me, is a more disturbing trend than a bunch of 12th graders who for ideological reasons are merely "pissed at the world".

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Old Pics 

Thanks to my brother for the link - old pics of old Israel.

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Friday, September 02, 2005


Just a short two day vacation. We went up north (the only place to go really) to the Nahariya area. Up Kvish HaChof to Zichron, up 70 to 79 to the Krayot and up past Acre to Kibbutz Lochamie Hagetaot. The kibbutz is built along the ancient Roman aqueduct and a visit to the pool gives you a perfect close up look at an engineering marvel. And the salads at breakfast are amazing.

It is right near Nahariya which, besides the intense humidity is a nice little beach town. I won't say quaint – because Israel doesn't do quaint (with the possible exception of Zichron). Israel is Israel. It doesn't really matter where you go, you meet the same people, the same behavior, the same eating habits. When you live in NY City and want to get away – you drive a few hours up to Cooperstown or the Adirondacks or the Finger Lakes and you are away – not just geographically, but culturally. You get to get away from the New York City way of doing things, slow down, meet different personalities.

Israel though is different (for good or for bad). Yes, kibbutzniks are a bit different than city folk and there are small differences between Tel-Avivies and Jerusalemites (in the big city rivalry both like to think that they are two different worlds, but they vastly overstate the differences) but in general, people eat schawarma the same way no matter where they are. People drive the same way not matter where they are.

So, we got to get away without really "getting away". But we got to go to the nicest beach in all of Israel (that I know of anyway) – Achziv – just north of Nahariya.

Back in Kfar Saba , back to school (yeah!), back to work.

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