Myths and Facts about Kids Going ‘Off the Derech’ in College

I thought that questions raised in this comment warrant a separate post. It’s part of an ongoing discussion on LookJED about ‘spiritually conducive’ environments on college campuses. I wrote about it here as well. I wanted to address specifically the issue of kids either a) abandoning observance or b) diminishing observance on campus. I believe several points are in order when approaching the issue:

Firstly, from my experience, very few students gradually abandon observance. If they abandon it, they abandon it almost immediately upon arrival on campus. It’s very difficult to speak of these students as ‘losing frumkeit’. Generally, they were not frum – neither in theory nor in practice – before arriving on campus. The difference is that they no longer need to adhere to communal norms or worry about embarrassing parents. They will often continue to play the part of ‘nice frum boy/girl’ when they go home. They question here is whether there’s something to be gained by keeping these kids – and at this point they have gone through 12 or 13 years of Jewish education and also see themselves as adults capable of making their own decisions – in an environment where the social pressure to remain outwardly observant will promote greater adherence to Jewish observance, or whether it’s worth letting go. I hope to demonstrate why I deem the latter to be the best course of action. The upshot of this first point is that it’s not the environment of the secular university per se which kills observance, rather, the fact that this is the first time in their lives that these kids are not in an Orthodox milieu.

Secondly, from my experience, college students abandoning frumkeit is very often a temporary phenomenon. Most ‘come back’ by the time they are ready to enter communal life – get married, settle down, have kids, etc. In this sense, it is similar to the practice in certain Anabaptist communities (like the Amish) of having to make the ‘adult’ decision of remaining within the community. There is no halakhic sanction for temporarily jettisoning observance, obviously, but there is precedent in the Rabbinic imagination. I refer to story of Purim, where, without the Presence of Temple and Prophet, the Jews became drinking buddies with the Emperor. But when push came to shove, they re-accepted that which they had started to lose. For more on this, go here. Point is, Chazal acknowledged that there such a thing as making a free, adult decision as opposed to a compelled, childish set of behaviors. And if these students are returning to the frum community just for convenience and comfort, then see point 1 – they generally end up no less frum than they were to begin with.

Finally, there is the phenomenon of diminished observance and the potential for bad decisions by students who are otherwise frum. This is the area of greatest concern, and would give me personally the greatest pause before sending my own child to such a campus. And here is where it really depends on the person and the community. For many students, this adversity instigates greater growth. It’s the grain of sand that causes the oyster to produce a pearl. I’ve had students tell me that they are ‘more religious’ after 4 years at UMD than they were after their year in Yeshiva. I doubt they did more learning at UMD than they did in Yeshiva, but you can also be sure that the 1 hour per week they set aside to learn at UMD meant a whole lot more than the learning by osmosis that took place during their Israel years. This, too, is rooted in the concept of ‘adult decision-making’, and here’s the point: most people, at some point, stop being a passive recipients of religiosity and take responsibility for their own. For some, it happens in college. For some, in high school. For others still, it’s after college. It’s the moment of truth where, all pressures stripped away, we get to see what really sank in during all those years and hundreds of thousands of dollars of Jewish education, summer camps, and Israel years. For many, the ability to take ownership of and responsibility for their own Judaism is a watershed. In many cases, the sooner the better – keeping them in a religious environment creates greater animosity toward a system that is trying to control them. By buying a few extra years of pressured conformity, you lose in the long run (again, depending on the kid). Again, it’s not college that ‘causes’ diminished observance, but the existence of many new opportunities couple with a lack of restraints. The opportunities for error that college presents may be too overwhelming, but, like before, this is a personal question that students must answer truthfully. It’s important to realize that it’s a cost-benefit analysis, though. Net mitzvah observance must be weighed in the short and long term, and with the whole person taken into account.

JLI's primary audience is the students in this latter group, and the goal is to facilitate, as counselors, resources, and role-models, the process of becoming Jewish adults. At least that's my summary of it.

In any event, the incidence of students arriving in college truly frum and leaving truly frei is, in my estimation very, very, low.

Next post, I will discuss several paradigms for successful religious growth on campus that I have observed.


Pesach Plans

Well, the Rebbetzin and I are going to be the scholars-in-residence at the Sheraton Moriah in Tel Aviv. Keep us in mind if you don't have Pesach plans yet.
Now I just need to find a job for the rest of the year.


We’re Neturei Karta

We’re Neturei Karta. We put the Kapo

in Kapote.


Seminary Auction

The ADDeRebbetzin, as I've noted before, teaches at a few American post-HS seminaries. At one, they held an auction for tzedakah. Each teacher autioned off a service of some sort, and the students bid (real money) on the service, with the proceeds going to tzedakah. The Rebbetzin did ok - she auctioned off a movie night, maximum 2 students, at our home. It went for 200 NIS. The most expensive item was bought for 1000 NIS by 4 girls. It was a trip to get a bracha for shidduchim from R' Scheinberg.
Words fail me.

Letting others do the talking

There was a recent LookJED query about spiritually conducive Shabbat environments on American college campuses. Ultimately, I think that questions of this type are best answered individually, and I said so, but there are clearly certain campuses that have a better Shabbat atmospere than others.

It also just so happens that I'm in a pretty good position to talk about the University of Maryland, one of the most (if not THE most) spiritually conducive campus Shabbats around. Start with this: the Carlebach minyan on Friday nights at Maryland is simply one of the nicest davenings around. It regularly draws 250 students, and everyone sings. It's simply beautiful. Beyond that, there's a variety of options for meals, singing, onegs (including onegs with alcohol, for those inclined), and shiurim. The communal havdalah is beautiful as well, though it can get tiresome. Maryland student, even those who live near the campus, overwhelmingly opt to stay on campus for Shabbat. It's just a really, really nice Shabbat. And as most of my readership knows by now, I was the JLI Rabbi there for the past 2 years before making Aliyah.

The interesting thing is, I didn't write any of this on my LookJED response. I didn't really need to. I wrote in saying that I would be willing to discuss with students or teachers, or put them in touch with someone from another campus. Two other educators wrote in singing the praises of Maryland, including one who mentioned the role I used to fill. She overestimated my role in creating the Shabbat atmosphere, but that tends to happen when you're the Rabbi during 'the good years'. It's ok - the Rabbi gets blamed for everything during the 'bad years', too. In any event, I didn't write in singing the praises of Shabbat at UMD, but, it turns out, others did.

The only other respondent to the query was the director of another Hillel, singing the praises of his own community. It was an interesting study in contrasts. Nobody was writing in about how great his campus is on Shabbat (though one of the two mentioned his campus as one that has a lot of orthodox kids). It's funny how that works. Methinks he doth protest too much. I'm not sure I'd give his campus the high marks that he does, which is no chiddush. The people, however, have spoken.

Mi-Chutz La-Machane

As we all know, Jews don't agree, pretty much on anything. Nevertheless, despite these disagreements, there's a basic, reluctant willingness to sit together at the same table on Jewish issues. We all consider ourselves part of the same community, for better or worse. All the different groups and factions are pretty much represented in international Jewish bodies and in the Israeli Knesset. At the end of the day, we acknowledge that these other factions are, for better or worse, Jewish factions.

I can think of two, and only two, exceptions that I can think of - groups of Jews that are so thoroughly and unanimously rejected by the rest of the Jewish community, that, though Jewish by birth and supposedly representing 'Jewish' factions, they are simply not given a seat at the Jewish table. Across the board.

The two groups are:
a. Messianic Jews
b. Rabid anti-Zionists like Neturei Karta (and I'd lump Holocaust-denying Jews in with this group as well)

What makes these guys so special?


The Old will be Renewed, and the New will be Sanctified: A Tale of Chanukah

The above quote, from Rav Kook, describes how I felt this past Friday night. As I’ve mentioned before, a very ancient synagogue was unearthed about a five-minute walk from my home. It is set amidst the ruins of what is the most likely candidate for the Hasmonean-era town of Modiin, where many of the events of the Chanukah story are set.

Last night, the first night of Chanukah, we held a Carlebach-style Kabbalat Shabbat in the area adjacent to the fenced-off ruins. I was still feeling to sick to absorb the full impact, though it was still powerful, but many others were speaking of goose bumps and very strong emotions.

The initiative was mine, but it wasn’t much. I sent out some emails and did some word-of-mouth promotion, but it revealed a groundswell of sentiment that was just beneath the surface, waiting to be drawn out. There were probably about 50 of us, men, women, and children, down at the ruins. I can’t say what everyone took away from there, but I took away that our new super-modern ‘city of the future’ must remain aware of its ancient roots.

The impoverished of my people will place their hopes in you, and thus we will rebuild a city upon its ruins


Story about the Kidnapped Baby

There’s a story going around about a 50-year-old guy from Canada who found out from his mother’s will that he was adopted from a Chassidishe family in Bnei Brak. Link.

Now let me make this perfectly clear. I don’t believe this story. Not for a minute. There may have been some Chassidishe couple with lingering doubts about the circumstances of the death of their child. There may have been a Christian Canadian couple who adopted a Chassidishe kid from Bnei Brak.

But there is absolutely no way in hell that some kid was stolen and sold to a Christian family. That’s just ludicrous. I can see that this adopted fellow wanted to do some research, and someone told him about a family that lost a kid under suspicious circumstances. Bingo! What a story! Hey, they even look like they could be brothers!

What probably happened was that some Chassidishe maidele was knocked up by her father/uncle/boyfriend and they had to get the kid as far away as possible. Whether they intended for the child to wind up in Christian hands is another matter, but this family had to do some sweeping under the rug, and they had to do it fast.

Until we see the will, dates, hospital records, and DNA evidence, I am sticking to my guns that this is a composite of two different stories (call them J and E, if you will) that, when combined, play really well into the Satmar narrative.

And since this will be mevurar through DNA testing, beyond the shadow of a doubt, there is absolutely no to'eles in propagating it now. It's not like having this guy on the street is endangering anyone.

Now hear this: if you take this story at face value, but express a ‘healthy skepticism’ about women getting beaten on majority chareidi busses or the existence of pedophiles in your kid’s school, then you are aiding and abetting the reinforcement of destructive stereotypes, be it that ‘frum folks are good’ or ‘frei folks are bad’.

I’m done ranting. That took a lot out of me. Gotta go back to bed. CMV stinks.


Jacob Wanted to Live Peacefully

When we left off last week, Jacob was in a pickle. He understood that he was supposed to have more children through Rachel, but no longer had the ability to do that. How did he deal with that?

Well, perhaps he could have children with another wife, but those children, like Abraham’s later children, would not have been included in the covenant. It would mean that not all of his children would be included in Brit Avot, which was a perfectly reasonable conclusion. Indeed, it was this conclusion that his father and grandfather ultimately drew, though neither without a ‘fight’. Thus, Jacob arrives at a moment in his life where he is ready, like his father and grandfather, to ‘retire’ from the covenant business. After choosing successors, each of them returned to ‘civilian’ life, which passes without incident, and in prosperity. Recall that this was built into the ‘Brit Bein Habetarim’ – that Abraham was promised that he would be a ger from the moment Yitzchak is born, but that at the end of his life he would enjoy his old age. None of the Avot were able to truly ‘enjoy life’ as long as they bore the Abrahamic covenant. They were destined to wander (la-gur).

Thus, at this point in the story, Jacob wishes to ‘retire’. He will elect a successor and then retire from the Covenant business. The first verse says it all – VA-YESHEV Yaavov be-eretz MEGUREI aviv… Jacob SETTLED in the land of his fathers’ SOJOURN. and Rashi comments, so perfectly and succinctly ‘bikesh Yaakov la-shevet be-shalvah’ – Jacob wished to dwell in tranquility. He chose Joseph and retired, thinking he’d live out his days happily. Boy was he wrong.

As a sign of his choice, Jacob gives Joseph the ‘striped coat’ to wear. His brothers hate him and are unable to speak with him. Understandable. Then come the dreams, and they get jealous. The dreams weren’t just about the covenant, the content of ‘Brit Avraham’. They were about earthly domination. They were rooted in the brachot that Jacob wrested from Esau – the blessings of the fat of the land, power, and sovereignty over brothers. Here, already, they had grounds (and precedent) to believe that Dad got the wrong guy. They may have been able to live with one being the covenant-bearer. They couldn’t bear his earthly domination as well. And they therefore decide to put an end to his illusions. As for their father, he’d simply have to pick again.

Jacob, for whatever reason, didn’t think so. When he learns of Joseph’s ‘death’, he is unconsolable. He felt that his own future died with Joseph, and that the covenantal lineage would end there. Note that until Jacob learns that Joseph is alive in Vayigash(45:26-46:4), the covenantal story goes cold. The way Rashi alerts us to this is by saying that Jacob lost his ‘ruach ha-kodesh’ – his Divine spirit.

At the point in the story where Joseph is gone, what does everyone think? At what point does it dawn on anyone that maybe they are ALL covenant-bearers, that maybe Jacob was mistaken about the NEED to choose a single successor. There’s only evidence for two brothers, and it’s the process by which those two brothers are ‘reunited’ to the Israelite family which frames the story until the actual reunion. The two brothers are Joseph and Judah.

Judah goes first. He leaves his family, settles elsewhere, and does the ultimate no-no of anyone who wishes to be considered for the Covenant – he marries a Canaanite woman. This is evidence, clear as day, that Judah had written himself out of the Abrahamic picture (I have an entire approach to the story of Judah, but this is not the time. Od Chazon La-mo’ed). His sons (especially Onan) seem to share his sense of detachment from familial responsibility. Ironically, it is Tamar who brings him around. It is she who teaches him who he is and what his role in the family will be (her communication is through the three items she takes from him, ve-acamol), and that relationships between human beings are not mere ‘transactions’ (it was a cold, calculating Yehuda who suggested the sale, and who ‘transacts’ a relationship with the woman who turns out to be Tamar, ve-acamol). It seems to be Tamar, ostensibly a Canaanite woman (though the Midrash maintains that she was the daughter of Shem ben Noach, i.e., of the right family), who first becomes aware that the destiny of this family is still intact – including all brothers.

Joseph, obviously, was a tougher sell. It’s unclear, beginning to end, what Joseph’s ‘plan’ was with the brothers, but one thing seems clear. HE DIDN’T WANT TO GO BACK TO HIS FATHER’S FAMILY. And why would he? They sold him! Was Dad in on it? Maybe. Either was, he wants to move on. He gets married to a local girl (who the Midrashim again, amazingly, retrofit to the right family, in this case turning her into Joseph’s own niece) and starts his own family. And he calls his first son Menashe because ‘Elokim made me forget all of my toil and ALL OF MY FATHER’S HOUSE’! At what point does Joseph decide to ‘return’ to the family? Unclear. I believe that it’s not until he can ‘no longer hold himself back’ – but my reason will wait for another time. Until then, he was planning on getting Binyamin away from them and sending them off. He was not figuring that the brothers would band together like they did, and he responded in kind.

It was at this point that Jacob, too, comes around and recognizes that his sojourn had never been complete (see his conversation with Pharaoh) and that his own destiny is in fact the destiny of a family and a nation, and not of an individual.

The Ganze Mishpocha

My paternal grandmother, a”h, was the youngest of 15 children. Although much of her family perished in the Holocaust, a significant number escaped or survived and made it to the U.S. or Israel. By now, it’s extremely difficult to keep track of the entire family (I have enough trouble keeping in touch with my own sisters), especially since there are very few people left who bear the family name, Mihaly (of Michaeli). Obviously, none of my grandmother’s descendants bear that name.

Nevertheless, the Mihaly family, descendants of my grandmother’s father, is very large and very, very diverse. Greg is a member of the Mishpocha as well – his wife is my second cousin once removed. Needless to say, the fact that we consider ourselves ‘cousins’ is more ‘cutesy’ than anything else. It’s like a novelty item.

Anyhow, Greg pointed out (and I had no idea, though my father recognized the name right away) that Judith Glassgold, Psy.D., who contributed the appendix to the recently approved Conservative Responsum on Homosexuality, is a Mihaly as well: my second cousin. While discussing heterodox family members, the late Rabbi Prof. Eugene Mihaly (RIETS musmach) of HUC was my father’s first cousin.

Oh, and occasional commenter Yaakov – you know that you’re mishpocha as well. You and Greg are third cousins. Dr. Glassgold, Psy.D., is second cousins with your mother, Psy.D. They would both probably come in handy if there was ever a family reunion, which there won’t be (the last time all 19 of my grandmother’s grandchildren were together was at her funeral 12 years ago. Two of my grandmother’s great-grandchildren are in seminary together this year, and didn’t even know each other beforehand.) Anyhow, this is more about interesting connections than about any kind of specious claims to yikhes. For all I know, my alter-zayde Aryeh was a horse-thief, though I know of at least 10 people named for him, and have occasionally introduced two to each other (Arnie, meet Arthur, you’re cousins and named for the same man). For example, Yaakov’s brother, z”l, and yblch”t, Greg’s father-in-law, share that man’s name. This is what makes being the awkward distant relative at a chasanah fun.

R’ Yochanan and Resh Lakish, R’ Chaim Hirshenson, and R’ Chaim Brill

In case you missed it, there was quite the discussion over a particular reading of the Gemara in Bava Metzia 84a, which discusses the relationship between R’ Yochanan and Resh Lakish. The proposed reasings can be found here, here, and here, but don’t neglect the comments here.

My own contribution here won’t really be my own, as I’m simply resurrecting a long-forgotten contribution that I happened to chance across. It appears on p. 18 of R’ Hirshenson’s book ‘Motza’ei Mayim’, which is essentially a commentary on the Rabbah Bar Bar Chanah stories of Bava Batra 63ff, but which includes much tangential writing, including an expanded exposition of the political positions of Rbb”C, Resh Lakish, R’Yochanan, and R’ Yehuda, all of whom engage each other in political dialogue on the pages of the Talmud. Here is what he writes about Resh Lakish (the original will be appended to the end of this post). Although it doesn’t address the continuation of the story, there’s enough here to completely turn the aggadah and its meaning on its head. Also, from my own observation, it’s impossible to understand this Gemara without relating to the nearly-identical Rabban Gamliel/Rabbi Eliezer story in Bava Metzia 59b:

The opinion of my close friend, the wise, honorable, noble-spirited, humble Rabbi Chaim Brill, may his light continue to shine, from St. Petersburg, which appears is his book ‘The Story of Resh Lakish’, is not far-fetched. The aggadah records that Resh Lakish was a bandit who left his banditry because R’ Yochanan promised his sister. However, Resh Lakish was not an everyday bandit, rather, there were nationalist groups which formed military bands (?) to assist Rome in its war against the (Sassanid – AR) Persians with the promise that Rome would rebuild the Beit Hamikdash for Israel. Because of this, Resh Lakish says to R’ Yochanan, “They called me Rabbi there, and they call me Rabbi here”, because even those who the Rabbis called ‘bandits’ genuinely considered Resh Lakish to be their ‘Rabbi’ because they intended their actions for the betterment of all Israel. However, they displeased the Rabbis because they wasted to ‘rise like a wall’, or because the Rabbis feared that the magi would avenge Jewish alliance with Rome by pouring their wrath upon the Jews of Babylonia, Persia, and Medea. Thus, the Rabbis called them ‘bandits’.

Even though we are lacking many details, leaving this as no more than a hypothesis, it seems that there’s much truth to it. What the Talmud reports, “Anyone with whom Resh Lakish would chatter on the street was trusted in business deals even without witnesses”, this, perforce, was even when he ‘was called Rabbi over there’, because the masses were with him and accepted his opinion, and Rabbinic opposition to them was regarded as contemporary opposition by extreme Charedim to Zionism.

In this debate, R’ Yochanan’s accusation of Resh Lakish as a ‘bandit’ is much less personal and much more political, and the value of the machloket between them takes on a much different character, and the inability of R’ Yochanan to find another suitable chavruta far more central to the story.


Oleh Choleh

A common phenomenon in Israel is what’s known as “Oleh Choleh” – literally, ‘sick immigrants’. It takes a while for immigrants to develop immunity to Israeli strains of common bacteria and viruses, and, especially for families with kids in schools, these bugs run through these immigrant families like wild.

We’ve gone through this, too. There hasn’t been a week where we haven’t been to see some doctor or another. Currently, I have a mono-like virus called CMV. It stinks. I’m exhausted, cold, weak, etc. It’s driving the Rebbetzin crazy. But hey – at least I’m not missing work.


The Second Revelation at Beit El

Jacob experienced 2 separate revelations at Beit El – the first on his way out of the Land of Canaan, and the second on his way back in. The first set the tone for his departure – God assured Jacob that He would protect him and return him safely to the land. The second (35:9-15) is far more crucial to the Patriarchal Covenant. The covenant centers around two central elements – eretz and zera – the land and children. It is only upon Jacobs return that he establishes beyond all doubt that he is the heir to the covenant. He receives the aboriginal bracha of piryah ve-rivyah and the promise of the land. The evidence is strengthened in that soon after this revelation, the Torah records the death of Yitzchak (again, not chronological; a simple calculation yields that Yitzchak didn’t die until 12 years after Joseph’s disappearance) and the progeny of Esav, before beginning the tale of ‘Toldot Yaakov’ at the beginning of Va-Yeshev.

What’s often overlooked is that the remainder of Jacob’s life is totally affected by his understanding of the bracha, at least as much as the first revelation set the tone for Jacob’s sojourn in Aram.

The bracha of peru u-revu means multiple children – always has, always will. After receiving this revelation, Jacob understands that he will have at least 2 more children. Also, each of his ancestors had a single wife through whom the covenant passed, even though they may have had multiple wives.

Immediately after the revelation (35:16-20), Rachel gives birth, but dies. It is more than clear that Jacob understood that the covenant would pass through Rachel, and that he expected another child from her. He renames the child born ‘Son of my right’. He was clearly expecting a son for the left as well. Don’t believe me? Read Bereishit 48:3-14. The entire story comes to a close there with Menashe becoming the long awaiting ‘Son of the left’. Notice that Jacob’s speech there begins with the second revelation that he received at Beit El.

construction zone

i'm in the process of upgrading to the new version of blogger. reatures will be restored shortly.


Bus Beatings

I have a bunch of Torah posts at the tips of my fingers. Really I do. But then junk like this comes up and just bothers the hell out of me. Please note, it’s one side of a story. Also, though the authoress signed her name to the email that was sent to a number of English-language mailing lists in Israel, and gives full permission to reproduce it, I have decided not to include it. Decisions like that are easily regretted:


For the past 5 weeks, I have been waking up at 3:50 a.m. to catch the # 2 bus out of Har Nof to the Kotel. I enjoy davening by the neitz at the Kotel HaKatan in the Moslem quarter. It is peaceful, quiet, and yes, even though I am totally alone - it IS safe. I have never been bothered by the Arabs there in that area.

On several occasions, both men and women have stopped by my seat and asked me to move to the back of the bus. I have politely - and firmly - refused this "invitation". This is not a Mehadrin bus and there are no signs indicating that it is. It is, rather, the arbitrary decision reached without due process by a group that claims it is "the majority" to render the # 2 bus a Mehadrin bus. I checked with Egged - it is not.

After a few weeks, other women decided that they, too, do not enjoy sitting in the back and sat down next to me or behind me. These women were verbally bullied by the other passengers to move to the back. All of them caved. However, 1 woman who had been literally picked up by 2 other women and moved to the back of the bus, came back a few days later, took a seat behind me and adamantly refused to move when beckoned to move to the back. Another woman later sat next to her but moved when other women loudly demanded that she moved. In the meantime, they were leaving me alone and I became somewhat confident that they would continue to leave me alone. But . . . .

Last Friday morning, November 24th, I took my makom kavua on the bus and did my usual thing of just looking out the window. A few stops later, a man who is regularly on this bus, stopped at my seat and said, "I want to sit here. Please move to the back of the bus". I smiled and said, "I'm sorry, I'm not moving but there are 2 seats in front of me, 1 across the aisle - you can sit there". He refused and demanded MY seat. I was somewhat amused at this childish and arrogant behavior but told him again, politely and quietly, that I am not moving and that if he really, really wants to sit here, he could even sit in the empty seat next to me. But - I'm not moving. This
man stared at me for about 10 straight seconds and then spat in my face. Without missing a beat, I jumped up, called him a son-of-a-bitch, and spat back at him. This brought screams from the women calling me a crazy woman. He responded to my response with a push in the face and a punch to the breasts that sent me flying on to the floor. I jumped up and punched him back. At this point, no fewer than 4 other men jumped up - not to defend ME - but to ATTACK me by punching, hitting, slapping, and kicking me to the floor. I was fighting back the whole time but was no match for 4 men in such cramped quarters. I finally got enough aim to kick one man in the privates and he went limping back to his seat in unmistakable agony. (Yes,
I DO smile every time I think about it in the aftermath). But, in the meantime, the "holy" man sat in my seat and had discarded my bag onto the middle of the aisle. I went after him again, demanding my seat back. He spat at me which evoked the same response from me. My snood had come off my head during this scuffle so I knelt down to the floor to find it and the "holy" man kicked me in the face. The kick was so strong that the dirty outline of his shoe could be seen on my right cheek. Within a short amount of time my cheek began to swell and it took no less that 4 Ibuprofens over Shabbos to keep the swelling and the pain down. At the time of the kick, however, I felt no pain - only rage, equally distributed between the Chillul
Hashem and the perversion of what some of these Chareidim call "kedusha". I kicked him back, grabbed his black hat and threw it down the aisle. It was handed back up to him but I grabbed it again, turned it upside down and spat into it. It was grabbed from me and I yelled that he would not get his hat back until I got my snood back. Someone passed up a knitted beret, I said "Todah", and put it on my head. I went back to demanding my seat back but he stared straight ahead, refusing to move. He was being protected by one particular man who held both poles between the seats to block my access.

By this time you are most likely asking: What was the bus driver doing during all this? What about the other passengers? Answer: NOTHING!!!! Other than 4 men protecting him by beating, kicking, punching, slapping me - not one person on the bus came to my assistance. In fact, the women were screaming at me that this was MY fault because "you don't know your place, you stupid American". The wheels on the bus kept rolling along as the bus driver never once stopped the bus or got on his PA to demand order.

HOWEVER - almost immediately after the initial spitting, kicking, and punching, 2 men - both secular and whom I've never seen on that bus before - got on the bus with 2 large video cameras and filmed the "activities".

While catching my breath and regaining my strength, I looked around at me and saw men sitting there with their noses in their siddurim as if a woman being beaten and kicked was normal. I began yelling at them: "Is this the Chareidi way of life??? How can you sit there with your noses in your siddurim while a Jewish woman is being beaten and kicked and spat in the face??? Do you think your tefillahs are being answered while you sit there and DO NOTHING????!!! Your tefillahs are being flushed bittul - how can you stand before the Ribbono Shel Olam at the Kotel this morning and expect that Hashem will hear you???? What is wrong with you people???" And then, I turned to the women: "And - you women! - you let a Jewish woman be treated this way and you say and do NOTHING - ABSOLUTLEY NOTHING! - to help her? Last week it was your trash cans they burned, soon it will be your homes and then it will be you. These men will treat you worse than the Arabs treat their wives and daughters - You are MAKING A HUGE MISTAKE!!! What are you worried about - that if you speak up your daughter won't get a shidduch??? Well - you've perverted the whole thing. If you are wiling to condone this then you will get everything you deserve. You are just as bad as this rasha
is!" I then told all of them - men and women - that they could take their Torah learning and their tefillahs and flush them down the toilet because they have learned NOTHING - ABSOLUTLEY NOTHING - and they are a perversion to everything that is kadosh. Note: During the entire time I was being blocked in the human cage of 4 men, these holy men were pressed against every part of my body. I taunted them asking - "Ah - so this is more tzniut than me sitting there? Or is this really what you all wanted?" One of them actually replied: "Yes, this is more tzniut".

As we approached the Old City, I whispered to one of the camera men to get me the police. As one of them attempted to get off, he was blocked by the men and several of the men yelled at him in Hebrew to not get the police. He backed away. However, when we got off the bus, I attempted to stay with the "holy man" who was cowardly trying to avoid me. I began yelling at the top of my lungs for the police, ran through security and a soldier and police man came and detained him. At this point a bunch of women came up to the police and the soldier and loudly started telling them that this was all my fault, that I had started it by refusing to move to the back of the bus.
(Yes, I know, the Kafkaesque nature of it does not elude me either). However, the police and the soldier weren't buying it and demanded that this man wait while they went to get a supervisor. While waiting, an American woman came up to me and calmly asked me, "Why is it so important to you to sit there? We are the majority - we have decided that we want a separate seating bus." I calmly responded: "Why is it so important to you that I NOT sit there? And who says you are the majority? If you are, then why not use the 2 choices available to you: 1) Petition Egged to make this a Mehadrin bus, or 2) Get your own private hasa'a. But until you succeed in
doing either, this is a public bus and anybody can sit wherever they want. Now, let me ask you, is there really more kedusha in men beating, kicking, and spitting at a woman because she won't give up her seat?" She never responded, she just looked down, shrugged, and walked away.

While waiting for the supervisor, several of the "holy" man's friends surrounded him and quickly ran with him escorting him to the tunnel in the men's section of the Kotel. I would not go into the men's section of the Kotel so I waited there mistakenly thinking he had to go out from where he went in. I later learned that one can escape into the Moslem quarter via an exit. This was apparently what he did as the police came back and could not find him. In the meantime, the men with the video cameras showed the film to the police. And then, one brave soul . . . . .

One of the men on the bus came up to me while I was standing with the police and said he would like to help me. He was thoroughly disgusted by what happened and he had witnessed the entire series of events. This man gave the police his name and phone number and offered to be a witness. He said he could not get up to help me because he was blocked by the men beating me and he was sure they would have all ganged up on him, too. Perhaps this is why the bus driver did not stop. I don't know. But, the bus driver did not summon the police at the Kotel, either. Yes - he was wearing a kippa, the black velvet kind.

The witness offered to get me a doctor as my face was red and starting to swell but I declined his kind offer and wished him a good Shabbos. The police advised me to make a report at the Old City Police Station (Kishlei) inside Sha'ar Yaffo which I did at 9 a.m. with the commander, Yoram.

And, Sunday morning, November 26 I was back on the # 2 bus in my makom kavua. Curiously missing was the "holy" man and his defenders. And nobody asked me to go to the back of the bus.

Plonit Almonit

P.S. I have sent an email to Egged filing a formal complaint. I am asking that the # 2 bus not be granted Mehadrin status as I feel that this privilege has been nullified by the actions and inactions of the # 2 passengers. And YES - you may print this, post it on your web site, forward it, do with it as you please. Covering up what we are afraid will be a Chillul Hashem will not rein in such evil - only exposure. Violence against one's fellow Jews should have a very, very heavy cost until it is no longer "acceptable".


Reb Shlomo Would be Proud

Hat Tip to Yenem's Velt
and check out this one, too. The Rebbetzin points out that the crowd in this latter one looks Israeli.
And for a final, hilarious video, check this out. The Pres' ultimate point is similar to the one I made here.

Veetaminchik Cider

There’s a popular Israeli brand of fruit-juice concentrates fortified with vitamins called ‘Veetaminchik’. It’s go a very recognizable cartoon lion on the front. My kids like it.

The other night, added a bunch of the stuff to hot water. It was delicious.


Commercializing Blogs

This is an informational post to let blog readers know what’s out there.
There are three basic ways that a site or blog (like mine) can make money without costing readers a red cent: direct advertising, per-click advertising, and affiliate marketing. I will explain each one in turn:

  1. Direct advertising – somebody pays $X to run an ad on a blog for Y amount of time. This can be direct or through an agency such as BlogAds. The amount that a blogger makes is not dependent on the number of times the ad is clicked, though the advertiser is certainly looking at those statistics to see it he’s getting his money’s worth from that blog. Readers who click on those links help the blogger indirectly by increasing the amount of exposure an advertiser can expect from a particular blog, and readers in general help by increasing the number of displays the advertiser can expect. This is all taken into consideration when trying to determine which blogs are worth advertising on.

  2. Per-click advertising – this is how Google makes its billions. The idea is that advertisers pay an agency, usually Google, for their ad to appear whenever certain keywords appear. These ads make money only when the ads are clicked, a certain number of cents per click. Some of that ad money goes to Google, and some to the website host. Nobody really understands the whole algorithm as Google is very protective of it. There are also safeguards to prevent the siteowner from simply clicking his own ads. Google’s very smart that way. Sites with high volume can end up making lots of money with Google Ads – some even into the millions annually.

  3. Affiliate marketing – this is basically sale by commission. A website which sells goods makes a deal with a site – you link to us, and we’ll give you a cut of every sale made as a result of that link. Even if the link is to a specific product, anything purchased during that session qualifies for the commission, which is generally about 5%. If you regularly make purchases from online retailers, you could be doing someone you know a favor by making the purchase through their affiliate link, without it costing you a thing. The fundraising potential for affiliaye marketing is enormous, and actually pretty easy to set-up. Contact me if you want some help turning your organization’s website into a commission generator.

How D’ya Like Dem Apples

NOTE: This has been floating around in a different form as a mussar schmooz. My father reworked it into a joke of sorts, thought the kernel of mussar remains.

A charedi man and a chiloni woman were sitting near each other on a bus. The charedi fellow offers her an apple. She asks, biting into the apple, what prompted the gesture. He replies, “Well, after Eve bit from the apple, she realized she was naked.”

She smiles and offers him a bite. Accepting the offer, he asks why she decided to return the favor. “Because,” she responds, “after Adam ate from the apple, he had to go to work!”


Abba Yoshev BaRosh

A friend recently pointed out in their son’s 2nd Grade ‘Dinim’ book (for the study 1f Jewish Law) that, at the Friday night table, the father sits at the head. They asked if this was in fact based in Halakha (indeed, the 2nd grade text is sorely lacking in footnotes). In truth, it’s not a halakha, but it’s pretty well-ingrained in the collective Jewish consciousness that der Tatte stands at the head of the table and recites Kiddush. And there’s a certain power to that consciousness. At the same time, there’s something wrong with calling it dinim. I say, say what the halakha says, and let the kid learn the rest at home – like I did.
Perhaps another alternative is to represent the ideal Shabbat table through pictures, thereby communicating those values more subtly. Of course, that can easily alienate anyone whose family is not ideal (irreligious, single-parent, Sephardi, etc.), kinda like the there-are-no-blacks-on-the-Jetsons phenomenon.
At home, I usually sit at the head, but sometimes not. The Rebbetzin sometimes sits at the other end, and sometimes not. Growing up, we both sat to our fathers’ immediate right (we’re both eldest children). She call that ‘in kissing range’, and I call it ‘within smacking range’.
My father himself, though a youngest child, grew up sitting ‘in smacking range’. In fact, he’d get smacked whenever any of his siblings misbehaved, under the instruction ‘give that to him/her later on’. Amazing how our Shabbes Tischn can be so similar yet so different.


I Was Almost Impressed

On Friday afternoon, I lit the Shabbos candles for the ADDeRebbetzin and was about to leave for shul, but I couldn’t find the sefer that I had put down before lighting. Four of us, myself, the Rebbetzin, and two American seminary girls that we hosted for Shabbat, looked around until the AddeRebbetzin noticed it lying on a shelf and pointed it out.

Since Bamidbar, I’ve been regularly reading R’ Elchanan Samet’s essay on the Parsha, and I’ve become a big fan. This was the sefer in question. When, after we located it, one of the seminary girls saw it, she exclaimed “Oh, I love that sefer”.

I was impressed. This book is in Hebrew, is conceptually fairly difficult, and generally not the type of fare standard for this population. I said, “Really? You’re a fan of R’ Samet on the Parsha?”

She replied, “Oh, I though it was Hatzne’a Lechet’”.

Shabbos Party

My 2 sons are in a local nursery/day-care where there are a number of kids from religious families, but the majority are not. It’s similar to a JCC in the US – the food is kosher, they do the holidays, etc., and it’s fine for little kids.

Every week, they do a ‘mesibat Shabbat’ – a Shabbos party. One boy gets to be the ‘Abba shel Shabbat’ and a girl gets to be the ‘Eema shel Shabbat’. They make Kiddush and Hamotzi, and sing some Shabbat songs. A while ago, the teachers told us that they were impressed that my 2.5 year-old had caught on to the Shabbat songs so quickly, even though he didn’t know the weekday songs. Well, duh!

The interesting thing about this is the uniform of the ‘Abba’ and ‘Eema shel Shabbat’. The Abba wears a kippah and the Eema wears a mitpachat (tichel, kerchief). I find it fascinating that this is the norm in a mostly chiloni gan with mostly chiloni teachers, but that the rhythms of Shabbat are not only valued but completely rooted in traditional structures and roles. It basically reinforced my distinction between religion and Judaism, where Israelis are generally very positive about the latter, but are increasingly frustrated with the former.

Of course (yes, the ADDeRebbetzin asked), if the kid doesn’t want to wear the kippah or mitpachat they may opt out, but it rarely if ever happens.


Employment Update

Well, I no longer work for Tzohar. The experiment failed. Jumping into the world of fundraising takes a lot longer than three months. Nobody was happy with the arrangement.

I did find another job, though it starts only in August. It’s a mashgiach ruchani position at a post-high school seminary. I’ve got to find something to do in the meantime, though. Nine months is a long time. Fortunately, for nine months it doesn’t have to be the most enjoyable job in the world.


Crazy Video

This is unbelievable. If you know who Dov Shurin, aka Ben Israel, is, then the concept of the video isn't at all shocking, though its execution may be. Enjoy!

Cool Link

Just found this site called ‘Charity Navigator’, which evaluates data, obtained from the IRS, on a large number of NPOs and charitable organizations. For example, here are YU, Gesher, and Gush. You can learn a lot about these organizations by looking at these links. By the way, ‘American Friends of Tzohar’ has nothing to do with my organization; we don’t yet have a U.S.-registered identity.


Israeli Schizophrenia

If you listen long enough to discussions about religious-secular relations in Israel (and I get plenty of that with Tzohar), a paradoxical picture will begin to emerge: On one hand, there’s a sense that there’s a real rift between the two populations, and that in many respects, that rift is growing or at least standing pat. Poltically, the religious are marginalized. Even those areas which are traditionally under religious provenance are being threatened, and the religious institutions are responding by becoming more entrenched and trying to expand their control in those realms.

At the same time, you hear of a ‘thirst’ for authentic Judaism from within the secular population. You hear statistics, for example, that in the army, Shas gets more votes than any other party. On my block, most families built Sukkot – mostly kosher but some not – as what’s probably the Israeli cultural equivalent of a Christmas tree. The overwhelming majority of Israeli couples, according to a recent survey, would opt for a traditional wedding even if civil or non-traditional alternatives existed! Fasting on Yom Kippur is still in the consensus, as is keeping certain basic elements of kashrut. Non-Orthodox schools with strong Jewish curricula – such as the Tali network – are very successful. The list continues.

I’ve chanced upon a distinction which seems to resonate with many people (religious and secular) that I mention it to. It probably will sound weird in English: Israelis are not interested in religion; they are interested in Judaism (in Hebrew – they’re not looking for dat, they’re looking for Yahadut). Anything which is legal, institutional, bureaucratic, etc. is almost automatically discounted from being meaningfully Jewish.

Obviously, reality is much more complicated than that, and I don’t pretend to really ‘get it’. But I’ve found the distinction useful.


Populist Gadlus

Gil reports the following from R' Ephraim Wachsman's speech at the Agudah Convention:
some Torah scholars become famous simply because the laypeople like what they have to say and aren't really Gedolim
R' Gil then speculates as to which populist pseudo-Gedolim R' Wachsman could possibly be referring to, discounting R' Y.D. Soloveitchik and R' Aharon Soloveichik as possibilities.

I think I've figured it
out, though. It must be the author of the following quote, which appeared in a New York Times interview in 1975 and was excerpted in an NYT obituary in 1986:
'You don't wake up in the morning and decide you're an expert on answers,'' he said. ''If people see that one answer is good and another answer is good, gradually you will be accepted.''
The author of this quote, of course, is R' Moshe Feinstein (I remember once hearing from R' Yosef Blau that many in the Yeshivish world were upset about this quote because it doesn't really express what gadlus is, much as REW contends. R' Blau felt that this quote hits the nail on the head regarding what gadlus is).
In fairness, REW might be saying that being p
opular isn't necessarily a rayusa, but it's not a ra'ayah to gadlus either. In any event, given Lakewood politics, by bet is that it was a veiled reference to the wildly popular Kashrut.org, run by the Rabbis Abadi, formerly of Lakewood. Not everything has to be directed against Modern Orthodoxy, y'know.


ADDeRabbi News and Comment

  • Charles Krauthammer has an excellent, in my opinion, op-ed in which he rakes Sacha Baron-Cohen over the coals for his Rolling Stone interview, especially where he talks about the importance of exposing indifference to anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred in the American heartland.

  • This is truly astounding. McDonald’s changed their label from gold-on-red to gold-on-blue so that people will not mistake unkosher branches for Kosher ones. The Tel Aviv Rabbinate (R’ Lau) approved this arrangement, but the Jerusalem Rabbinate is still debating it. I find it baffling. Why? Are they simply assuring a brand name? What it represents? I don’t know, but after recent events (the cancellation of the agunah conference for dubious reasons, recent statements from R’ Amar about amending the Law of Return to exclude converts), I have started to wonder what religion they represent.

  • Apparently I’m a month late in discovering that Paris Hilton has released a line of ‘Heiress’ perfume. I think she’d have much greater success marketing [I had something really funny to say here, but ADDeRebbetzin nixed my posting it on the blog. It’s really not so bad, but it presumes some basic knowledge of PH’s history. Whatever. Shalom Bayis. You can post your guesses in the comments.]

A Harsh Moral Lesson

The story of Yaakov taking the Brachot from Esav is one of the most dramatic in all of Chumash. There's so much going on - the whole complex of relationships between each of the four principals, the plot and its execution, and the subtexts and context.

One lesson that I think clearly emerges, which I recently saw that R' Samet also concludes from his essay on the Parsha (it's much better - and very different - in Hebrew) is that:
The proper moral decision is not always between good and evil; sometimes it
is between a greater and a lesser evil - but this does not exempt the one
who commits the lesser evil from his debt.

I'd tinker with the last line - it does not negate the right of the wronged party to collect his debt. I'd also formulate the lesson a bit differently differently: Sometimes, doing the right thing in a particular situation comes at a very, very steep price.


Arutz 7 Interview

I was interviewed by Yishai Fleischer of israelnationalradio.com at the OU conference. The interview begins about 24:40 of this audio show.


Never Mind about Chabad

Funny thing. I write a post about the violence at Ponevezh and Satmar, two of Lubavitch's antagonists, and its absence in Chabad itself. Two commenters alluded to violence that broke out at 770 that same day. Surprisingly, there's very little about it in the news, though Dovid gives some idea what happened.
UPDATE: Tzemach Atlas has more, and this comment thread on Vos Iz Neias has a bunch.

Anyhow, never mind about the Rebbe smiling from the grave.
Sad, though. I remember speaking with my colleague at UMD after he had attended the Kinus Ha-Shluchim in past years. It sounds like an incredible event for the shluchim and their families. Too bad this kind of thing has to happen. But as the old saying goes, when you play with fire, someone will get burned.

The First FFB

Last year, I wrote a post for Maven Yavin called 'The First FFB'. It's probably not my best post, but it's definitely one of my favorites. It speaks to my own situation and to the situation of my parents, especially my father, whose name is Yitzchak and whose Bar Mitzvah Parsha was Toldot. Growing up, I didn't have too many friends whose parents were both FFB (which was fairly atypical in Baltimore).

My father tells the story of a young couple's Kiddush Club from about 30+ years ago in B-more (no, Laz, you didn't invent it ;-). This group had a cholent on a blustery winter Shabbat morning. My father made a comment like, "Boy, there's nothing like a hot cholent on a cold Shabbos." Members of the group then proceeded to one-up him with foods - shrimp, cheeseburgers, bacon - that beat cholent hands down, even on the coldest of Shabbatot.

The humor of the story is in the encounter between the FFB experience - in which that cholent stands near the pinnacle of culinary delight (if it's REALLY cold) - and the BT experience, where this brown sludge is a far cry from the pleasures that the world enjoys and that the BT abandons.

I think about this stuff every year this time, for some reason. I reflect on the expectations that were placed upon me as a child and young adult, and the degree to which those expectations are the heritage from parents who somehow felt that they themselves didn't live up to every expectation.

And then I wonder just how many generations I'd have to go back in order to find the ancestor who filled his parents' every hope.

And then I wonder if I'll be able to keep myself from pouring all of that unresolved expectation into my own kids.

Austritt Today

German Orthodoxy in the mid-19th Century developed a doctrine called austritt to deal with the fact that the Jewish communities were being dominated by Reform. The doctrine essentially meant that the Orthodox community disenfranchised itself from the established community, and set up a separate communal structure. This was highly important where separation between church and state was incomplete, since having an independent community meant that the government recognized you as an independent religious community, not beholden in any way to the community from which you separated. R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch is the most well-known proponent of this doctrine, which remains implicit in Chareidi politics until today, and continues to me debated in some form or another, as it was debated then (yes, there were German Orthodox Rabbis opposed to it).

Fast forward 150 years, and the same situation is reversed in Israel. There’s no separation between church and state. In order to obtain certain basic services (basically, getting married, buried, divorced, or converted, but it extends, in the case of Judasim, to kashrut and cases seen by the Rabbinical courts as well) one must belong to a recognized religion. If you don’t really belong to any, tough luck. Find one. The largest and most influential religion in Israel, obviously, is Judaism. Those ‘Jewish’ services are controlled by a relatively loose confederation of Rabbis under the umbrella of the Chief Rabbinate. This Rabbinate has historically ignored all non-Orthodox expressions of Judaism, and has increasingly ignored even Orthodox expressions which are not beholden to a particular Chareidi power structure.

The Religious Zionist community continues to basically accept this state of affairs. There are still plenty of RZ Rabbis who hold Rabbanut-recognized positions (especially as Rabbis of small yishuvim, moshavim and kibbutzim, in which the election of a local Rabbi is least characterized by political horse-trading and most characterized by the needs and wants of the constituency), which means that there is essentially a Religious-Zionist sub-Rabbinate within the Chief Rabbinate, with its own hierarchy and power structure (though less rigid), which tries its best to serve the needs of its constituents and advance its halachic vision of the state.

It is getting increasingly harder to do that. Political horse-trading has reduced the office of Chief Rabbi to a joke; the influence of the Edah Charedis on the Rabbanut is known. For example, the Rabbanut recently changed the law to prevent weddings from being performed by anyone but the holder of a Rabbanut-recognized position. This severely limited the pool of Rabbanim who could do so, and was seen as a direct response to the fact that more and more people were turning to Tzohar and other ‘friendly’ Rabbanim who had semicha but were not necessarily recognized by the Rabbanut. At the same time, more and more Charedi Rabbanim are obtaining Rabbanut recognition, through the Edah Charedit, to perform weddings. Despite all of the nice-making between the Rabbanut and the RCA over the summer, there are still senior members of the Rabbanut court system who will not recognize the conversions of American batei din even if the Rabbanut grants official recognition.

The question is, at what point does this become intolerable? At what point does the Religious Zionist community declare austritt, unbeholden to the dictates of an official government-sponsored Judaism that takes their money and doesn’t answer their religious needs. I suspect (well, more like I know) that the Reform and Conservative communities in Israel are itching for the opportunity to declare themselves free of official Orthodox hegemony in Israel. Historically, Modern Orthodoxy/ Religious Zionism has always seen itself as part of an ‘Orthodoxy’ which includes itself and Charedi elements. Given current trends in Israel specifically, will that trend continue? Or will there be a ‘reverse Austritt’, with other branches of Judaism declaring their official, political dissociation from Chareidi hegemony?

UPDATE: Just saw this. Fuel to the fire.



Mi-Bnei Banav Shel Haman Limdu Torah Be-Bnei Brak (Sanhedrin 104b)

This is simply outrageous.
I can't help but think of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose main antagonists included Satmar and Ponevezh, laughing in his grave as those two movements are fighting was of succession (literally) while his, despite much internal tension, remains stronger than ever.

It provides a different spin on the Chabad melody after which this post is named. The translation of its words are as follows:

"The grandchildren of Haman taught Torah in Bnei Brak. We are victorious."



There’s an interesting Midrash at the beginning of the Parsha (it also turns up in Esther Rabbah): R’ Akiva was sitting and lecturing, and the people were falling asleep. He said to them, “What did Esther see that enabled her to rule over 127 provinces? Let the granddaughter of Sarah who lived 127 years come and rule over 127 provinces.

I find this Midrash to be extremely fertile for contemplating the situation of galut. The generation of Rabbi Akiva and the generation of Esther have that in common – they are situated at the beginning of exiles. In R’ Akiva’s generation, the people ‘fell asleep’ –they became afflicted by spiritual depression and ennui. It was a generation that had lost the Temple and become subject to Roman domination. In this setting, R’ Akiva turns to Esther (whose very identity, in the Rabbinic mind, is rooted in the state of Hester Panim – the hiding of God’s Face) as a role model for someone who can inspire a generation that had fallen asleep.

R’ Akiva, in this Midrash, emphasizes Esther’s ability to ‘rule’ over 127 provinces. Despite the lack of God’s palpable presence, Esther doesn’t let the situation control her, doesn’t allow herself to be a victim of circumstance, and doesn’t lapse into the apathetic default state of galut. Rather, she determines her own destiny.

R’ Akiva and Esther both lived in generations of breakdown. By what right does one try to pick up the pieces and forge a new whole from them? By what right can the Torah be made to strike roots in a new environment?

If Avraham represents a universal moral intuition, the Sarah represents a particular Jewish morality. It is she who insists, to Avraham’s dismay, on the purity of the environment in which Yitzchak is raised. She is the one who insists that we remain distinctively ‘Jewish’. The Patriarchs in general operate according to a ‘pre-Torah’, acting out the values which later would be enshrined in the laws of the Torah, but still in their unarticulated form. When new situations arise, it becomes mandatory to fall back upon that intuition, the heritage of the Partiarchs and Matriarchs, to reconstitute how one is to live as a Jew in this new reality. It is this intuition, embodied by the lives of the Avot, which enables Esther, and later R’ Akiva, to thrive in galut (based loosely on the Chiddushei Ha-Ri”m).

Ger Ve-Toshav Anochi

At the beginning of the Parsha (Chayei Sarah), Avraham introduces himself to the Bnei Cheit as a ‘Ger Ve-Toshav’ – an alien and a resident. There has been much written about the oxymoronic nature of Avraham’s statement, and someone even alluded to it in a comment on a recent post of mine about the struggles of acculturating in Israel. The Rav self-described himself with this phrase, and it became the title of an article in this book describing his relationship with the modern world.

Nevertheless, the question remains: what’s p’shat in this phrase?

One of the major themes of Bereishit (there are 4 or 5, and a thorough study of them all would probably be book-length) is that of migration. Careful attention to the Torah’s usage of the roots gur, shev, chai, and shochen yields a framework for the entire narrative. Ve-acamo”l. Here, two are merged – ger and toshav, normally denoting two different things, are conflated. Why?

At the Brit Bein Ha-Betarim, Avraham was promised that his seed would be ‘ger’ for 400 years. Ramban points out that since the 400 years begins with the birth of Yitzchak, from the time of his birth, Avraham and his descendants are no longer ‘toshavim’ in the land of Canaan, but are gerim. This status of ger only applies to whomever is currently the bearer of Avraham’s brit. Avraham and Yitzchak, at the end of their lives, once they have already designated successors and ‘passed the torch’, are no longer subject to the travails common to the Chosen Family. Yaakov also wishes to enter into that state of ‘retirement’ from being covenant-bearer (see the first verse of Va-yeshev and Rashi there. Note also the interplay between these two roots, shav and ger, in that verse), but that plan backfires, ve-acamo”l. The end of their lives are recorded in ‘fast forward’ mode, similar to Terach’s, their deaths even recorded prematurely. Once they have passed the torch, they are no longer essential to the story.

By the end of the Akeidah, it is certain who will be the heir of Avraham’s Covenant (until that moment, when Yitzchak’s death was expected, there was still some doubt). Avraham has passed the torch. He is ready to ‘retire’ (this theme actually comes up in several places in the Parsha – where Avraham’s ‘old-age’ is mentioned), but he can’t because Yitzchak is not ready to assume that mantle, specifically because he is unmarried (and it seems that the covenant includes Partiarch-and-wife, especially since the bracha of ‘pru u-revu’ is part of the Covenant. Only when Yitzchak gets married, and Rivka replaces Sarah, can Avraham fully ‘retire’ (note also that the eved Avraham consistently refers to Yitzcahk as ‘ben adoni’ until he introduces Rivka to him, when he calls him ‘adoni’ – reinforcing Yitzchak’s replacement of Avraham at that moment).

Between the Akeida and Yitzchak’s marriage, Avraham is in limbo – ready to retire, but unable to do so. This ‘limbo’ is reflected in his self-description as a ‘ger ve-toshav’.


Tzohar in the News

Rabbis see rise in questions from secular Israelis - Haaretz - Israel News


Bye-Bye Labelr (for now)

For the past day or two, it has been nearly impossible to access this blog because it imports data from a site called labelr, which was helping me to archive my blog topically. When their site went down, mine couldn't load.
Well, it's been removed, which should make things much better.

Also, the posting pace will probably slow considerably because I'm working 1 1/3 jobs. The only time I have to sit and think (and blog) is on the bus. I also use that time to prepare classes and get other work done. Unfortunately, blogging has become somewhat burdensome.

The other reason to stop blogging is because I used to be much more confident that I have a clue what I'm talking about. I'm really just not so sure anymore. It's kinda like this - I'm living in a different culture. In my 'home' culture, I was on much more solid footing. Here, I see things that would be offensive or just not done in the home culture, and I think it's wrong, but really it's just part of the new culture (and I'm not talking about substantive things like morals and ethics). In the new culture, I'm an outsider, but don't really want to become an insider because, like I said, I'm not too crazy about it. I'll never really 'make it' in this country as an outsider (and by 'make it', I mean achieve even the degree of professional success that I acheived at UMD), but I don't really want to join the ranks of the other outsiders in the American Yeshivot and Seminaries, basically dealing with imports from the home culture because it's too hard to break in to the new culture. And there's also the matter that average Israeli Rabbanim, by and large, can absolutely learn average American Rabbanim under the table. Granted, that's not all that goes into being a Rabbi, but at the end of the day, American Rabbanim, on average, just haven't spent nearly as much time in the Beit Midrash.

Thus, my confidence is somewhat shot as nothing seems stable anymore. I'm trying to adjust to spending most of my day behind a desk. Trying to find some time to learn, daven, and play ball beyond work and family. Blogging? I don't really have time to think original thoughts, let alone record them. And even if I did, as I mentioned, my confidence in both their originality and their accuracy is shaken. More on that at a different time.

So we'll see how things go. I've got some ideas for making this all more palatable; we'll see how it goes.


High School Students and Online Forums

What would you tell this guy? I’m more interested in the perspectives of the students themselves; what is acceptable behavior for mechanchim vis-à-vis student journals, blogs, and facebooks pages, and what oversteps the boundaries into ‘stalkerish’ behavior?

To: lookjed@mail.biu.ac.il
Sent: Tuesday, November 07, 2006 5:58 PM
Subject: "My Space" and "Face Book"

Although I hope, that as mechanchim, most LOOKJED readers are familiarwith My Space and Face Book, for those who are not, I will give a briefdescription.
At each of these sites, teenagers (as well as adults) cancreate their own page with pictures, graphics, text and more. It is achance to put forward the image that you would like others to have of you.Posters (and on My Space anyone) can see the pages of other posters andrequest to be their "friend", creating a virtual link, or more, betweenthem.Many our students - and this is true in virtually all types of schools -are making use of these sites. It goes without saying that the "friends"they are making are often not of the kind we would wish them to have.(That is to say nothing of the reports of stalkers making use of thesesites). Additionally, the language and images used on some of ourstudents' pages would make a sailor blush. Additionally, students can makeclaims about their teachers and schools that are now put out there asfacts for anyone to see.If you are naive enough to think that this is not an issue in your school,sign up at Face Book and do a classmate search using your school name. Youwill not be able to see your student's page, but you can see the name,pictures and schools of their "friends". Alternatively do a search on MySpace using your community name and see what you find. On My Space, beaware however that you might see things that are problematic, to say theleast.

What should our response be as educators? Perhaps we should have educationnights for parents, who I suspect are all too oblivious to what theirchildren are doing on the computer at night. This might be an opportunityfor parents to have important discussions with their children. Shouldadministrators try to discover who has these pages and deal with those whohave pages that are antithetical to their school community? To be sure,our students will feel that this is their private life outside of schooland that we have no right to pry, but I feel comfortable saying that wemust not remain ignorant or on the sidelines. To do so would no differentthen ignoring a party out of school where illegal substances were used.I would very much like to hear what others are doing about this challengingissue, or at the least, what they think should be done.


Tzohar's Statement on the Pride March

The following statement was released by Tzohar:


The Tzohar Rabbinic Organization strongly opposes the occurrence of the “Pride March” in Jerusalem

According to Jewish tradition, there are 10 levels of sanctity, and the sanctity of Jerusalem is greater than the sanctity of other places. Arranging this protest in Jerusalem specifically seriously wounds the identity of this holy city, as for many Jews in Israel and around the world.

Even within the general framework of democracy, there is profound meaning for the public identity of the State, and it is therefore the state’s responsibility and the public’s right to establish boundaries for the protest.

We believe that this sensitive topic calls for dialogue and clarification, but not in the form of high-profile marches.

We strongly and unambiguously oppose any outburst of violence in this context. The sanctity of Jerusalem is also injured when, God forbid, blood is spilt upon her.

The sanctity of Jerusalem obligates all who value it to legally express their protest of this desecration of the holy. We wish to remind Rabbis, teachers, and parents that they must take responsibility for the behavior of our children and students, and to observe the guidelines of tzni’ut and halakha between man and God and between man and man.


In God’s Country

Last night, I drove past Tzomet Shilat and saw a huge number of police vehicles. They were there to monitoring an anti-pride-march protest that was taking place there. Apparently, such protests were taking place around the country. I have relatives from Jerusalem staying with me for Shabbat. They don’t want to be home on Friday. Understandably.

I think it’s an amazing coincidence that this is happening around the same time as elections in the US. The issue of ‘family values’, and how the Republicans have them, and the Dems don’t, is a major GOP campaign plank. Thus, similar conversations are taking place on both sides of the Atlantic.

I’ve seen a few personal accounts marshaled in support of gay rights. This open letter to the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Martin O’Malley, is genuine and heartfelt. I can’t agree, but I can appreciate the human dimension of the story. There’s a side open to dialogue there, and his religious strivings may remain informed by the Torah, even if there are elements, as there clearly are, that he will never accept.

On the other hand, there are pieces like this, in which whatever sympathy we may have had for an individual’s plight are completely overwhelmed by the conclusions that the author drew from his experience and wishes so impose on us and on the Torah. With Rabbis like this as their ally, the Jewish gay community needs no enemies (though they’re still a-plenty).

Others just don’t get the point. They cite Supreme Court decisions granted homosexual partners spousal rights, etc., and point out that these decisions never were protested. Well, duh. It’s Jerusalem, stupid. It’s about the character of the city – is it, as it always was, a religious center, or is it the capital of a Western Democracy. If it were in Tel Aviv, things would be very quiet. Moving the march out of the center of the city is a good start.

One unrelated crack that I can’t resist: now we know why Israeli busses are called ‘Egged’.

In the name of calm and peace, can all sides agree to the following? It’s not asking much:

The gay community must accept that:

1) The Bible and Koran, revered by billions as the word of God, explicitly and irrevocably forbid homosexual intercourse between men.

2) As long as the majority of this planet adheres to the major religions, they will not change people’s minds about homosexuality.

3) Flaunting homosexuality is insulting to adherents of these religions.

Religious communities must accept that:

1) Some people really ARE homosexual, and will not be changed

2) Making demeaning jokes about homosexuals or treating them as less than humans is bad

Is that possible?

Pride and Prejudice

As much as I dread it, we may look back on the events of this coming weekend as the beginning of the all-out war between religion and state in Israel. The clash is not inevitable by any stretch of the imagination, but the clash is real, and it’s predicated on a real clash of civilizations [We may start to see the name Huntington in the pages of the Yated as often as it’s heard on Al-Jazeera]. These rifts run very. Very deep.

That’s part of the reason that I think this pride march was such a stupid idea. Readers of this blog know that I am very concerned about the plight of homosexuals in the Jewish and Orthodox community. I’ve written a lot about it (including a d’var Torah on this week’s Parsha). But this march is something completely different. It’s antagonistic. It’s designed to make people’s stomach’s churn. Even if it was a ‘celebration’ of heterosexuality – like Carnival or Mardi Gras – it would be grossly out of place in Jerusalem. It’s one thing to advocate for a cause. Ramming it down people’s throats (no pun intended) is quite a different matter. It will not earn you any sympathy.

Similarly, protesting violently will not earn any sympathy. Peaceful protests, in those numbers, will be tough to control. I heard a great idea what to do – organize Chareidi rallies in secular neighborhoods. March down main street Savyon screaming ‘ve-haya machanecha kadosh’ and see how them like it. That would be fighting in kind. As it stands, everyone’s preparing for battle.

I have a slim volume entitled "The Oppression of the Jewish Religion in the 'Jewish' State of Israel". It's a documentary, published by 'Mechon Hayahadus Hacharedis' to chronicle the 'Shabbas' demonstrations (I believe it was from the early 80s. The volume was published in the late 80s.) I believe that was the last time that there was a series of mass demonstrations by the Chareidi public on this scale (perhaps the protests against the Barak court in the late 90s were, but I don't recall them being as constant as this). It's an unbelievable bit of propaganda, complete with captions like "An Israeli police gleefully pulling a Jewish beard", "The pogrom at its peak", "Where is this??? Nazi Germany?", and "The legions of Amalek's police force in the Holy Land". It's unreal. I wonder what the sequel will look like.

Protesting and Rosh Hashana 19a

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ראש השנה דף יט עמוד א

בעשרים ותמניא ביה אתת בשורתא טבתא ליהודאי דלא יעידון מאורייתא. שגזרה מלכות הרשעה שמד על ישראל שלא יעסקו בתורה, ושלא ימולו את בניהם, ושיחללו שבתות. מה עשה יהודה בן שמוע וחביריו? הלכו ונטלו עצה ממטרוניתא אחת שכל גדולי רומי מצויין אצלה. אמרה להם: בואו והפגינו בלילה. הלכו והפגינו בלילה, אמרו: אי שמים! לא אחיכם אנחנו, ולא בני אב אחד אנחנו, ולא בני אם אחת אנחנו? מה נשתנינו מכל אומה ולשון שאתם גוזרין עלינו גזירות קשות! וביטלום. ואותו היום עשאוהו יום טוב.

On the twenty ninth day of it [Adar – Rashi, based on Megillat Taanit], good news came to the Jews, that they wouldn’t be disconnected from the Torah. The evil empire (Rome, not the Yankees - AR) decreed apostasy on Israel: that they may not engage in Torah, that they may not circumcise their sons, and that they violate the Sabbath. What did Yehuda b. Shamu’a and his friends do? They consulted with a matroness who was frequented by all of the Roman nobles. She said to them, “Go protest (hafginu) at night.” The went and protested at night, saying “For God’s Sake! Aren’t we brothers, sons of one father, and sons of one mother?” And they were rescinded. And that day was made into a holiday.
A few points are in order:

First, note what the protests are about in the Gemara and today. Shabbat. Bris. Torah. Not the right of some group to march. Not mixed seating in public transportation.

Second, notice the method of protest. Build bridges with someone from the other side. Appeal to common ground. No violence. No name-calling. No rock-throwing.

Of course, the Romans were different. Had the Yidden tried anything too funny, heads would have rolled. For 2000 years in Galus, we took the non-violent approach (except on Purim, a la Elliot Horowitz) because it was most tactical. But in Israel, where everyone is INDEED the son of the same parents, where we know that the blood will not flow between brothers, the situation is exploited to gain concessions that the Galus-Yid would never dream about. It’s ironic considering that it’s generally NOT the Chareidi viewpoint that we’ve left the Galus; that you’ll find in National Religious circles. So why the agitation? Is it simply because here they can get away with it?

A few years ago, my very pregnant, chareidi sister got on a separate-seating bus in Kiryat Sefer (yeah, RBS is behind the times; KS is the cutting edge). There were no seats left on the women’s side. So she sat in an empty row on the men’s side. As the men’s side filled up, some yutz tried to kick my sister out of her seat, so there would be more room on the men’s side. She refused, and he backed off. My sister, the chareidi Rosa Parks.