How the Charedi and Modern Worlds Can Learn to Appreciate Each Other

When our children were young, we would buy their Shabbos clothes in Willamsburg. As we entered the neighborhood, I was amazed at the number of chesed activities that were being conducted by the children and the posters for shiurim, drashos and commuity events of interest. For many years, we have also attended simchos in Williamsburg. Once, we left around 10:00 P.M. We started driving home and I noticed a tremendous number of Chassidishe Yidden on their way to shul for Maariv. Likewise, the renaissance of the observance of Shatnez began in Williamsburg after WW2. In a similar vein, anyone who has had a relative hospitalized in a hospital in New York City will always see a Satmar Bikur Cholim bus parked nearby. Likewise, Hatzalah’s members are always at any hospital’s emergency room. There is no doubt that all of these wonderful acts of chesed began in the heartland of the Charedi world and have spread to other Orthodox communities.

Now, let’s look at some other Charedi/yeshivishe communities. My favorite is an “out of town” community-the Park Heights section of Baltimore. One finds a community devoted to Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim on a 24/7 basis. It is also a community that interacts with the secular Jewish establishment in a very positive manner. Yet, as in any major frum community, the issues of chinuch, kids at risk, shidduchim and the next generation’s economic wherewithal are present.
Read more How the Charedi and Modern Worlds Can Learn to Appreciate Each Other

A Chatzi Yarchei Kallah ( How We Spent Our Winter Vacation)

Last August, we said good bye to our daughter, son in law and granddaughter as they embarked for a year ( at least) in Israel at YU/RIETS’s Gruss Kollel. We kept in touch via cellphone and pictures. However, we decided to spend two weeks in Israel between the end of December and the middle of January. Our younger daughter joined us after completing finals at SCW. The following is a small travelogue of some of the highlights of our trip.

The Gruss Campus is nestled in the Bayit Vagan neighborhood of Yerushalayim, which affords some of the most gorgeous views of Ir HaKodesh, especially at night. It includes a Beis Medrash, classrooms and two buildings for accomodations for the kollelniks, most of whom are young married couples with preschool children. Unlike many kollelim, Gruss provides two hot meals a day and free board,as well as empty apartments ( if available) for family relatives, which are far less expensive than an apartment or hotel room. We stayed on campus for the two weeks.

Of course, we connected and met with some dear friends who had made aliyah and went to the Kotel. We did not do any real touring simply because we wanted to spend time with our children. We spent a lot of quality time babysitting , etc with our kids. We were amazed at the difference between our then 14 month old and a now 18 month old granddaughter who loves to be cuddled, read to , climb, run and chase the cats and birds around the Gruss campus as well as ride the swings and see her cousins in a nearby neighborhood!

Prior to our leaving in late December, my SIL advised me that his chavrusa would be returning to NY for some simchos. I decided that even with chavrusos and sedarim for learning in our neighborhood. and even though I could have had Net access in the Gruss building, that I needed to recharge my spiritual batteries as much as possible with as minimal interruption outside of meals and just sit and learn each morning to the best of my abilities. I went without Net access for the entire trip and without seeing a newspaper for most of the trip.

Every morning, I davened in a wonderful minyan that lasted about an hour-twice as long as the normal Shacharis weekday morning. The davening on Shabbos was wonderful-great Baalei Tefilah and Baalei Kriah. I couldn’t recall the last time that Kabalas Shabbos was so inspiring. Some of the Avreichim davened by the windows of the Beis Medrash just to have the view of the Makom HaMikdash raise their kavanah. To paraphrase a commercial, some things in life are priceless-davening facing the Makom HaMikdash is truely priceless.

We decided to learn during the morning seder so he could review for an upcoming bchinah.
After breakfast, we returned to the Beis Medrash and after a preliminary shiur in Mesilas Yesharim given by the Rosh Kollel, we proceeded to work hard at Perek Chezkas HaBatim, a wonderfully rich Perek in Bava Basra with many Shitos HaRishonim for most of the days we were in Gruss.. In the afternoon, after lunch and Mincha, I attended shiurim in Hilcos Nidah and Hiclos Ishus as well as wonderful shirim at night both in Gruss and as well with Bayit Vagan with R Asher Weiss in a neighborhood shul that was packed with Bnei Torah who represented the full spectrum of hashkafas in Israel.

Being in Yerushalayim means that you either hike the steps of the Arei Yehudah and the Chutzos Yerushalayim or take the buses. We did both. Taking the buses is a fascinating way of picking up a feel for the country, as is taking a far more expensive taxi.

We were also blessed with great weather. At the suggestion of a neigbor’s daughter who is now living with her family in Romema, we also met with R Sheinberg and received his brachos. We also did our share of shopping for Sefarim in Shanky’s, Manny’s and Girsa, three of the best ( but hardly the only seforim stores ) in Yerusahalayim. Somehow, we were not overweight upon our return to NY.

RYBS once commented that while he knew that some American Jews were Shomer Shabbos, few understood the meaning of Erev Shabbos. I finally understood the Pshat of that observation after watching so many Yidden shop for their challah, kugel, etc in Geulah. The aroma of the streets just was so evocative of the upcoming Shabbos Kodesh and the rush to complete preparations for Shabbos on such a short day.. Such an atmosphere cannot be duplicated anywhere else-possibly not in even the Chasidishe neighborhoods and definitely not in our more MO communities even with our bakeries. up to date stores with groceries., Glatt Kosher meat, etc.

The Gruss Kollel is a wonderful gem in the world of YU/RIETS. The Avreichim and their families represent the full spectrum of the RIETS Beis Medrash and Roshei Yeshiva . They celebrate their Simchos, work together in all means of Chesed and a Gmach and had a Tisch on one Shabbos while we were there for the Chasan Torah and Chasan Breishis for the past Simchas Torah with nosh, etc and Divrei Torah. The Kolelleit also serve as a liason for Mussar Vaadim and Hachnosas Orchim for talmidim in Yeshivas Torah Sharaga, a yeshiva for “gap year” Americans.

For those readers who have a son or son in law in a Kollel or even in a yeshiva for a one year program, I urge you to not just visit and take your kids out for dinner or away for Shabbos in a hotel or apartment. Spend some time in the Beis Medrash. Appreciate a Tefilah that is led by a Baal Tefilah, as opposed to a “chiyuv” with a less than inspiring command of Nusach HaTefilah or Perush HaMilos. Try to spend some time learning Torah with your son and SIL. There is simply no greater way of showing your family that you value and appreciate Talmud Torah.

For all of us, it was truly a wondeful trip, with our batteries recharged in so many ways.

Kibud Av Vaem and Hakaras HaTov

I try to speak to my mother, may she have a long life, at least once a week.When a Yarhtzeit and any day that includes the saying of Yizkor approaches, we speak and there is a perceptible sigh in our voices as we remind each other about either the Yahrtzeit of my father ZL and saying Yizkor.Such a feeling brings back numerous memories.

I may have written about this before but my parents were very instrumental in my pre teen years in making Kiddush Friday nights, sending me to Talmud Torah, seeing that I had a Bar Mitzvah, stayed out of school on those Yamim Tovim that were not school holidays, being in shul for the Yamim Noraim , sending me to and paying for my being active in NCSY, and being patient, albeit not without some “discussions”, with my ups and downs as a BT for many years as they waited to see if my interest in observance was genuine or just a teen age fad during the late 1960s and early 1970s where many teens were engaged in far more rebellious acts and life styles. When they found out that NCSY had a special banquet at its National Convention for which I was a co chair, in their innocence, they wanted to attend, despite the fact that the banquet was an all night event with a huge emotional component for anyone who attended.Somehow, I managed to assure them that their presence was not necessary.

My father ZL was always active in his shul without being an officer. When an issue arose as to the financial well being of the shul, my father was asked to review the books and did so in a way that helped place the shul in a far better financial setting.

My father ZL was an accountant and a partner in a local accounting firm. Among his many clients was the local Hebrew Day School and its principal who he never charged for his services ( which was his practice for many indigent clients). He was very close with its principal. Other Torah observant clients were one of the few Torah observant families in a nearby town. My parents went to all of their simchas for their children, many of whom are prominent Mchanchim whose names I recognize in the Yated and elsewhere. When a prominent yeshivah gdolah opened in the area, my father ZL was one of the few people in the area who became active in its early years.

There were times when I called upon rabbanim affiliated with NCSY or a rebbe in YU to speak to my father about key issues. My father ZL was always respectful of and favorably impressed with their suggestions.

Recently was my father’s Yarhtzeit on the cusp of both our anniversary as well as the departure for a year of learning in Eretz Yisrael for our daughter, son in law and our adorable grandaughter. Our younger daughter , who was an educational coordinator for one of NCSY’s summer programs, will be graduating Stern this winter . The memories of the past , the present and the future are passing in an amazingly quick manner. I suspect that many of us have either albums or pictures that we don’t look at because many people in the albums are in the Olam HaEmes. Even without looking or glancing at the album, I will always remember how much my father ZL and my mother, may she be blessed with many more years of an active life, enjoyed our chasunah , which for many of their friends, was the first Torah observant chasunah they went to, as opposed to a wedding.

Anyone who has gone through many aspects of Halacha and Hashkafa will see that Hakaras HaTov is a major aspect of being a Torah observant Jew which has no real end.From a lawyer’s perspective, it is akin to a cause of action that has no statute of limitations. After all, we relive the Exodus, the receiving of the Torah and living in a precarious existence in the desert every year and in many ways throughout the year as we fulfill Mitzvos Bein Adam LaMakom. Yet, Kibud VaEm, honoring and respecting one’s parents is a crucial means of Hakaras HaTov on the Bein Adam LChavero level.

I realize that for many BTs, the relationship with one’s family of origin is one of the most sensitive and frustrating issues in their growth as Bnei and Bnos Torah and that one can very well maintain that the issue is largely dependent on how one relates to one’s family before one became a BT, as opposed to strictly halachic and hashkafic components. Yet, as we walked our daughter down to the chupah, enjoy our granddaughter and live our lives as Torah observant Jews, I see and hear my father with us. Yehi Zicro Baruh

Jewish Media Coverage of the Torah Observant World

The Jewish Week ( “JW”) caters to LW MO and gives some token space to Chabad. It has long had no use for the RW MO world and only negatives for the Charedi world and now seems as if its role on Middle East affairs is ala ultra left. Like it or not, one learns precious little about Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim from the JW despite the fact that the MO and Charedi world are Federation beneficiaries. Instead, JW readers are treated to a “pluralistic” version of a Dvar Torah, and a veritable bombardment of coverage re scandals in the Charedi world, etc, as if that was the only news about that those communities and the RW MO world that are worth the reader’s attention and that by omission of such coverage, such scandals do not exist in the heterodox world.

Even on issues affecting Israel, the JW is aping the NY Times to tell us that we should avoid criticizing a new far left group called J Street, and that we should side with an administration that is forfeiting American sovereignty so that we can fit into the “league of nations” and imposing a dictated settlement on Israel

Jewish Action and Tradition have long held the potential to serve the MO public but suffer from a few flaws of their own. JA is published seasonally and by the time a new issue is rolled out, a current issue is old news. The articles and letters in JA are always worth reading and do not avoid hashkafic or halachic controversies and JA’s archives are almost all available to the extent that the same are posted on line. JA has some excellent columnists and one sees a wide range of content of a high quality on a great range of subjects and much news about the OU and NCSY, etc. It is a far better read than the NCYI Viewpoint which IMO is a house organ with an occasional article of interest.

Tradition focuses on wnat it deems to be the intellectual issues facing MO at the expense of what is happening in the MO street. At times, Tradition strikes me as the ultimate example of the ivory tower like existence of some prominent MO thinkers. IMO, its web presence is better than it was, but the content is uneven except for the columns of R JD Bleich and R D SZ Leiman.

The RJJ Journal always has articles on important halachic issues by promiment and up and coming Talmidie Chachamim. Chaikirah strikes me as a very important and recent addition with a very committed and intellectually honest approach to issues of Halacha, Hashkafa and Jewish History as well as a great letters section.

Like it or not, while the Yated offers coverage of the Charedi yeshiva world and even respectful coverage of RIETS RY, which one never finds in the JW, one never sees or views women as spiritual personae who are known teachers of Tanach, etc or even spouses of honorees in the Yated, Hamodia ( which AFAIK is edited by a woman) or Mishpacha. Given the fact that Chinuch HaBanos involves very different issues than Chinuch HaBanim, I wonder why there is no Roundtable consisting of some of the wonderful educators and administrators of girls schools.

The Jewish Press and such papers as the Five Towns Jewish News offer a far more wide ranging view of the MO and Charedi world than Yated,which is obviously and almost totally Lakewood/Litvishe in orientation, Hamodia, which is Chasidishe or Mishpacha, which is Charedi lite and which tries to cover the Litvishe and Chasidishe worlds. In all of the Charedi publications, there are some excellent columnists and writers who are powerful advocates for their POV, who I respect as unapologetic proud Torah observant Jews and Talmidie Chachamim, even when I differ with their POV on a hashkafic or halachic issue. One can sense an attempt within the Charedi media to attract RW MO readers by offering editorials and columns that would at times attract RW MO and RZ readers such as their coverage of the massacre at Mercaz HaRav.

FWIW, many of the columnists, and the letters columns in the Charedi media, especially the Yated, offer a fairly good window into some of the halachic, hashkafic and sociological issues facing their communities. The Chinuch Roundtable and R Yakov Horowitz are two excellent examples. The Yated, in contrast to all of the other papers, also features a weekly interview with Malcolm Hoenlein. However, none of the Charedi media really make an effort to understand and distinguish between LW MO and what I would call a committed MO that looks to the RIETS RY for its halachic and hashkafic guidance.

On Arevim, there was a recent thread about the purported suspension of publication by the JO. IMO, whether the same is permanent or temporary is irrelevant because the JO”s role has been supplanted by Yated, Hamodia and Mishpacha and even the Charedi papers in Lashon HaKodesh, which publish on a weekly basis, thus filling and possibly replacing the need for the JO, especially when such JO columnists as R Jonathan Rosenblum and R A Shafran are available via email . FWIW, I find the Yated and Mishpacha far easier to digest than the JO, especially since I let my JO subscription expire after its infamous coverage of the Petirah of RYBS.

None of the Jewish media that purport to cover the Torah world offer the reader a review of recently published sefarim, articles in halachic journals or English Judaica on a regular basis. In view of the absolute flood of new sefarim, journals and English Judaica, IMO, such a column which R S Y Zevin ZTL wrote on a regular basis and which was compiled and is out of print, is long overdue for anyone who considers themselves a discriminating purchaser of sefarim and Emglish Judaica. Such a column, which could only be written by a Talmid Chacham with the broadest of shoulders, would go a long way in evaluating the merits of new sefarim and whether they add to the study and understanding of Torah. What passes for the same are essentially a few critical reviews in JA ,Tradition or the TuM Journal, but IMO, we need such a review on a far more wide ranging and steady basis.

JW – Jewish Week
MO – Modern Orthodox
LW – Left Wing
RW – Right Wing
JA – Jewish Action
OU – Orthodox Union
NCSY – National Conference of Synagogue Youth
NCYI – National Council of Young Israel
RIETS – Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
AFAIK – As Far As I Know
RZ – Religious Zionists
RY – Rosh Yeshiva
FWIW – For What It’s Worth
RYBS – Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik
JO – Jewish Observer
IMO – In My Opinion
ZTL – Zecher Tzaddik L’Vrocha

Accepting Rabbinic Authority – Is The Individualistic American Outlook a Deterrent?

When we think of America, one of the core principles is freedom. The Bill of Rights enshrined and gave freedom a legal foundation. Much of American history, whether in the debates against slavery and its expansion, the protection of one’s right to think, speak and worship or not to worship and even an asserted right to privacy, revolve around an individual’s rights and his or her ability to push the envelope of society-whether intellectually or culturally-at the expense of what other elements in society would consider immoral, inappropriate or violently offensive to their sense of decency. Based upon these facts, it is no accident that the media, etc of 2008 are neither that of 1988 nor 1888.

The Torah and especially halacha, in my opinion (IMO), offer a different point of view (POV) on freedom. The Halacha is first and foremost a a system that is premised on both the individual and the community. Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik (RYBS) pointed out that the Machzor for the Yamim Noraim incorporated this factor intentionally to highlight the discrete roles of the individual and the community. However, as an individual, halacha is premised on how one fulfills one’s obligation in a particular context called a mitzvah. In other words (IOW), the issue is not how one pushes the envelope to get away with fitting in with the system, but rather in fulfilling one’s obligations in a sense that one fulfills the spirit as well as the letter of the law. By comparison, a First Amendment based challenge or even far less seemingly significant cases are all based upon pushing the level of existing precedents or merely blindly defending them.

Given that premise and the American tradition of individualism, the demand that a Jew nullify his or her own will and rely on what a Rav says or after many years of study, what they think that their rebbe would say, is no small intellectual challenge. It requires rewiring your mind to think first and foremost-what does halacha require and how can I best fulfill my obligation as a Jew. IOW, I would suggest that attempts to manipulate halacha to accommodate those who view Halacha as either sexist , etc, fail to recognize that halacha is based on obligations, not rights.

In its most pristine and ideal form, all of halacha is built first and foremost on how each of us can best fulfill his or her obligations , whether on the individual or communal level. Seder Zeraim, beginning with Brachos and continuing thru the end of that seder that deals which deals wiith many of the Mitzvos HaTelyos HaAretz, reminds us that man may only consume from this world in a proper and Divinely permitted way. Seder Moed tells us that time is sacred. Seder Nashim teaches us to get married , be a better spouse and to use our mouths and minds in a proper manner. . Seder Nezikin tells us how to compensate an injured party, how to pay for one’s negligence, how to respect someone else’s property as well as how a court system should operate. Sidrei Kodashim and Taharos instruct us how to offer what we earn to God and how to act in a holy manner. The key is how do I fulfil my obligations-not how I can stretch the meaning of the law. Even the language of Halacha speaks of obligations-Yotzei, Chayav, Patur, Lchatchilah, meizid, shogeg. Once one has fulfilled their obligation, then and only then, can one speak of enhancing one’s fulfillment of any mitzvah via minhagim , etc.

The easiest contrast between the American values of freedom and how a Torah observant Jew views the world is in the realm of marriage . In this regard, just read any of the supermarket tabloids or even the NY Times Sunday Styles and contrast the wedding announcements with those in any media that is read in the Torah world ranging from the Jewish Press to the Yated. The contrast between the two is very palpable.

Let me suggest a relatively simple explanation.Obviously, the halachic view of the family neither is hedonistic nor one based on Victorian notions of prudery. However, IMO, there is a major factor that firmly accentuates the community’s right and obligation to sanction the creation of a Bayis Neeman B’Yisrael.

The Rambam in the beginning of Hilcos Ishus describes marriage before and after the giving of the Torah and the fact that Halacha demands that the marriage ceremony be held before a minyan. RYBS once commented that the Rambam was emphasizing that marriage is an act that requires communal approval and sanction, as opposed to the contemporary ethos that basically looks at marriage either as the consummation of a long “hook up” of two pieces of plumbing for convenience or a merger of assets to obtain economic benefits. While contemporary society almost venerates romantic love as the basis for marriage and worships at the holy grail of society, Halacha, in a revolutionary way, reminds us that marriage is the holiest of acts between a man and woman for a higher purpose that requires a communal approval. It is only after the vort, chasunah and sheva brachos that a couple can learn, on a day to day basis, to love and cherish each other.

I would add one small caveat, A system that is predicated on individual rights seemingly at the expense of the community invests all with the same abilities and rights to an opinion, regardless of their level of knowledge. Halacha insists that while all Jews are created in the Divine Image and our ancestors stood at Mt. Sinai, only those with the most knowledge of Torah and Halacha are entitled or should render an opinion, especially on cutting edge issues of halacha. It is akin to seeking medical or other specialized advice. Only someone with expertise in a subject can be counted on for an intelligent, albeit not infallible opinion.

Sefirah – Teaching What Counts

First Published on April 24, 2006

Sefirah is viewed by the Sefer HaChinuch and many other Rishonim as a long Chol Hamoed between Pesach and Shavuous to get ourselves ready as a people and individually for the Kabalas HaTorah that occurs each year on Shavuous. It is interesting that the aveilus associated with the death of the talmidim coincides with this period. Obviously, we can only experience growth in Torah via Tikun HaMidos. R A Z Weiss in his Hakdamah to Minchas Asher on Shabbos makes this point.

I haven’t seen this observation elsewhere, so here is a possibly novel idea- Perhaps, the episode of the death of R’ Akiva’s talmidim as described in the Talmud (Yevamos 62b) is designed to teach us that quality matters over quantity, inasmuch as R Akiva’s original 24,000 talmidim were decimated to the point whereby only four of his talmidim were left to spread Torah.

Flipping Out? Myth or Fact? The Impact of the “Year in Israel” – A Review

One of the most talked about issues within the Modern Orthodox world, whether in its publications such as Tradition 1, the Yeshiva University student media 2, a fairly popular , if stereotypic novel 3 and many a Shabbos table, is the effect of a year of study in an Israeli yeshiva for post high school students. Much of this discussion inevitably segues to how the Orthodox world has shifted to the proverbial right 4 . Too much has been written from the view of the external, as opposed to the internal thought processes of these young men. At long last, a welcome corrective has arrived that actually explores the effect of the year on Modern Orthodox post high school young men. Yashar Press deserves much praise for publishing “Flipping Out?: Myth or Fact? The Impact of the “Year in Israel”.

“Flipping Out” is prefaced by an introduction by Richard Joel, the President of Yeshiva University, who extols the benefits of the year in Israel programs, but who urges greater parental involvement and who argues against rushing through one’s college years. This introduction was written before Yeshiva University announced recently that it was engaging in an evaluation of the yeshivos and seminaries on its Year In Israel Program, which form one of the key elements for the near record enrollments in YU , RIETS and Stern College for Women 5. It remains to be seen whether the evaluation is primarily financial , academic, or ideological, especially since some of the institutions that recently left or were dropped from the program may have supplied too few students and engaged in decidedly anti YU sloganeering, etc .

“Flipping Out” consists of three different studies. Dr. Shalom Z. Berger profiles the rise in the “year in Israel” programs. Dr. Berger, an educator, graduate and musmach of YU , RIETS, and the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, depicts the rise of Modern Orthodoxy and the growth of the “year in Israel” programs. Dr. Berger’s study profiles the various yeshivos that these young men attend , why students spend a year in Israel, their spiritual growth and how they maintain their growth upon their return to their families and college environments. Dr. Berger also notes that many Modern Orthodox schools have “Israel nights” with visits from educators from many yeshivos and also run a religious guidance track to enable their students to make a proper choice.

Contrary to much of the prevalent urban mythology that is prevalent in some Modern Orthodox circles, the overwhelming majority of these young men are not deserting college for a life in kollel. Based upon studies and interviews with many of these young men, Dr. Berger finds that they return with a far more intense commitment to the core elements of Jewish continuity and belief, namely Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim. Of course, time is the greatest method of quantifying this commitment, but Dr. Berger concluded that these programs have provided great service to the Modern Orthodox world.

Much has been written either in publications such as Jewish Action or elsewhere about intergenerational strife that emerges from a parent who wonders what happened to his son who used to be far more passionate about baseball and contemporary culture than in working his way through a page of Talmud. Dr. Berger points out very cogently that parents can navigate this potential area of conflict by parents if they appreciate enhanced religious growth commitment, as opposed to viewing the same being a threat to an often lukewarm commitment to Orthodoxy. 6

Dr. Jacobson, a RIETS musmach and psychologist now residing in Israel, explores the more precise nature of the adherence to halacha by students, the realization of the depth of the study of Torah and Talmud , increased sense of ethics and connection with the Land of Israel among many students.7 Dr. Jacobson also provides much well needed understanding into the spiritual atmosphere and

personalties that many students encounter in their yeshiva and among their Roshei Yeshiva and mentors in their yeshivos. In addition, Dr. Jacobson describes how change begins during the course of the yeshiva calendar or “Zmanim” , impediments to change and the role of Roshei Yeshiva as instruments of religious change. Dr. Jacobson also analyzes how students interact with their parents. In this regard, in the “Parents’ Guide To Their Child’s Year in Israel:Issues and Questions” that was published by the Orthodox Caucus, , Dr. Jacobson suggests that parents stay in touch with their children in a yeshiva not just via cellphone , visiting Israel and treating their son and his friends for dinner, but in learning Torah together, attending a shiur, and realizing that a son who has a positive commitment that is different than his home’s is far better than a son who has walked away from observance. In the wake of Noah Feldman’s “Orthodox Paradox” article8, one can ask the following rhetorical question quite seriously-would one prefer a son who is more committed to Torah or a son who is gradually or rapidly losing all connections to Torah observance?

Dr. Chaim Waxman, a sociologist who has written many articles on American Orthodoxy, views the year in Israel programs in the context of a history of Relogious Zionism and Modern Orthodoxy in the United States , as enhancing a positive view of Israel and allowing for many Minhagim of Eretz Yisrael to become part of American Orthodoxy. Dr.Waxman also notes that what many consider as “chumra” is really a more stringent practice than what one had been previously practicing publicly or privately and that the same has antecedents as far back as 14th Century Spain.. Dr. Wazman points out that even though Charedim are perceived to be ideologically anti Zionist, they are far more conservative with a small “c” on issues of land and peace. Dr. Waxman also analyzes the impact of the “year in Israel” progams, the Orthodox community and aliyah and the political viewpoint of the American Orthodox community with respect to Israel and whether it has evolved from a perspective of avoiding involvement in “domestic” Israeli political issues such as the withdrawal from Gush Katif.

All in all, the above three elements demonstrate that the Year in Israel Programs succeed in helping Modern Orthodox young men realize the profundity and spirituality of a Torah based and centered life. One of the undercurrents that emerged from reading this book is that the study of Torah in many yeshiva high schools in the Modern Orthodox community competes with Advanced Placement tests, college admissions and extracurricular activities. None less than Rav Aharon
Lichtenstein has bemoaned the fact that in such a setting “the Rambam frequently does not so much compete with Michaelangelo as with Michael Jordan, or even lamentably, Michael Jackson. Small wonder that he often loses. Clearly, there is a need to exert an effort that the ambition to become a talmid chacham becomes a primary aspect of youthful dreams, and that provision be made for for their optimal realization.” 9

Despite the above portrait of American Modern Orthodox education, the Year in Israel programs have enabled many to reevaluate their spiritual and material goals. It is only a Year in Israel program that can enable someone who might have been thinking either of the Ivy League or as a professional career to realize that he just might have a more profound life as a Talmid Chacham serving the Jewish People. We need to applaud these young men and their spouses who have chosen such an avenue in life, as opposed to belittling them with variants of “those that can’t do, teach.”Although “Flipping Out” focused on the effect of the “Year In Israel” programs for young men, one would hope that a future edition would focus on the effect of the programs for young women at a wide range of seminaries and ulpanot.

Obviously, Israel is not a religious insurance policy that will work wonders for all students and there are some fine Bnei and Bnos Torah who did not spend their initial year after high school in Israel. Yet, Drs. Berger, Jacobson and Waxman stress that the many positives of what should be considered as mandatory for any Modern Orthodox student considering a college education anywhere in the Diaspora far outweigh the overemphasized and little understood reasons why there is strife between some parents and some of their returning sons. As a parent of adult daughters who have gone through the year in Israel and its many positives, I have seen its positive effects not just on its participants. Many a young man and woman, whose commitment to Torah observance was tenuous, ritualized and shallow, have returned with a far deeper commitment to Torah observance . Drs. Berger, Jacobson and Waxman have written an excellent book that should be read by anyone concerned about Torah education in the Modern Orthodox world.

1 Tradition, Vol.32 Summer 99

2 Commentator, Kol Hamvesar, Volume 1, Issue 1, 9/5/07kolhamevaser .com

3 The Outside World

4 Haim Soloveitchik “Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy ( Tradition, 28:4) ( 1994) pp. 64-129. Sliding to the Right Samuel C. Heilman University of California Press (2006).


6 Dr. Berger’s doctoral thesis, of which this section is largely taken, can be found at

7 Dr. Jacobson’s doctoral thesis, of which this section is largely taken, can be found at

8 Noah Feldman “Orthjodox Paradox NY Times. com/2007/07/22magazine/22/yeshiva-t.html

9 R. Aharon Lichenstein “The Future of Centrist Orthodoxy” ( Leaves of Faith, Vol. 2 , Chapter 15, P.324)

Originally posted on Cross-Currents

Thanksgiving – Sanctifying Hashem By Being a Mentsch

This article was originally posted on November 19th, 2006.

For many BTs, Thanksgiving can be an easy or tortuous day to negotiate. R Gil Student posted a link to an article by R’ Michael Broyde that set forth the various views of Gdolim on the issue of partcicipating in the celebration and related issues such as the Mesorah of the Kashrus of turkey. I reccomend the article for anyone seeking a guide to the halachic issues.

We have always “celebrated” by having a shiur in the morning followed by getting together with relatives for a sumptuous repast. Assuming that one accepts the view that one should celebrate the day as a form of Hakaras HaTov for the amazing religious liberties and freedoms that Jews enjoy here, as opposed to any country,excluding Israel, , it can be an easy way of spending time with relatives if one utilizes a great natural resource-common sense.

Assuming that there are no kashrus problems, it is a great opportunity to show all of those relatives and assorted guests that a Torah observant Jew can interact with all sorts of people and engage in social chit chat, etc. Obviously, in such a context, your goal is to appear as a mentsch at all times. I would counsel against engaging in any conversation that even remotely touches on Torah and mitzos unless someone asks you directly for your point of view and you calculate that you can answer the query without sounding like you are on a soap box or being defensive in any way. It is almost like an office outing-politics and religion, among other issues, are not just issues to be discussed at such an occassion, unless you are directly asked a question.For instance, I was once directly asked how one could educate one’s children to avoid intermarriage.Once I realized that the question was meant as an openning to a discussion, I then proceeded to give a time honored answer-If one views every opportunity with one’s family to educate them on the supremacy of Torah and Mitzvos and does not rely on the formal educational processs-your children will have a much stronger probablity of marrying a Jewish partner as opposed to constantly harping on the negatives.On another occassion, I was asked about the interaction of the First Amendment and property rights vis a vis the erection of a sukkah in a coop. That led to an email correspondence on recent cases that dealt with that issue.

Like it or not, the currentlty prevailing ethos of pluralism and secular ethics allows Torah Judaism to compete with any and all humanly created ethical and moral systems. In that sense, while your family and friends are great that you can get together without any of the “stress” of a Shabbos or Yom Tov, IMO, Thanksgiving is not a day for kiruv based activities or engaging in any heavy discussions about different lifestyles. However, it is a day whereby you can be Mkadesh HaShem Brabim simply by being a mentsch.

It goes without saying that issues of kashrus, etc should be discussed and that not all issues in this regard can be easily negotiated,Yet, if these issue do not present a problem, then a social gathering has the potential to be a huge Kiddush HaShem.

In Defense of Art Scroll

I am no fan of ArtScroll’s historical and hashkafic perspective, but in my opinion, their Machzorim and Siddurim have enabled more Jews to fulfill the mitzvah of Tefilah properly and with some hashkafic perspectives than at any time in Jewish history.No other Sidddur or Machzor contained a halachically proper text, halachic instructions ( i.e. HaMelech HaKadosh, Musaf on Yom Tov) than ever before.

Their Chumash, Mishnah and Talmud have opened the world of learning for many Jews who either use it as a means to get to real Jewish texts or as a reintroduction to Limud HaTorah. ArtScroll deserves a major Yasher Koach for its work on the Mesoras HaRav Machzorim. Instead, we now see where the far LW MO stands on Jewish literacy. Unless it meets that sector’s PC feminist POV and includes POVs of scholars whose views are not part of the Mesorah , they are concerned that ArtScroll is too frum for them. Click here for the Jewish Week’s article. There is also a companion article on a Feminist friendly Bentcher authored by Susan Aranoff and Rivka Haut.

IMO, the choice is easy. A publishing company whose Siddur, Machzor, Mishnah and Talmud enables one to daven and learn, even with its Charedi learning Hashkafa, deserves our communal patronage far more than anything published by two feminists whose POV is simply beyond any reasonable definition of MO. Unfortunately their idea of Halacha is every imaginable Daas Yachid opinion, plus the implementation of R’ Rackman’s proposals, which clearly do nothing except be Marbeh Mamzerim B’Yisrael.

Rabbi Herschel Schacter once quoted R Y Gorelick ZTL, that every Adam Gadol has his mishegas, but a mishegunah is someone whose pastime is collecting the mishegas of every Adam Gadol. The nentcher in question clearly fits that description aptly.

The article on ArtScroll almost made it look like ArtScoll was engaged in some conspiratorial or criminal act in its fund raising. It should only be that every mossad and publisher of Jewish works was so successful. Of course, neither article mentioned the Machzorim based on the teachings of RYBS-but I have unfortunately come to expect nothing but the worst about Torah Judaism from the Jewish Week.

Getting Beyond Doubts

One of my first substantive explorations into the Torah blogosphere was with regards to the ban of R’ Slifkin’s books. This essay is not intended either to condemn or defend the ban which many have written about almost to the point of ad nauseum. However, in my surfing of the Torah blogosphere, I was struck by the fact that so many people’s emunah seemed so fragile because of a perceived irreconcilable conflict between Torah and science.

There are a number of approaches available. I use the term “approaches” because IMO, there may not be any real answers that solve every problem relating to one’s degree or level of Emunah. FWIW, this issue is not a 21st Century issue but can be found in Hilchos Teshuvah where we find that the Raavad champions “Emunah Pshutah” or “simple faith” as opposed to a faith based upon a scientifical or philosophical basis. Echoes of this dispute can be found in writings of the Ramban and Rashba. One can postulate that the development and flourishing of Kabbalah under the Ari was in reaction to a rationalistic system of viewing hashkafic issues that had no answer for such cataclysmic events as the expulsion from Spain.

That being said, RYBS commented in many different contexts that our challenge is to be a Shomer Torah UMitzvos despite the presence of doubts. IOW, the challenge is neither to walk away from Torah observance because of the presence of real doubts on many issues or to believe that one’s responsibility is to solve issues that not even Moshe Rabbeinu received answers to such as Tzadik vRah Lo, Rasha vTov Lo..Simply stated,-one should not water down Torah to make it palatable to science and those who believe in “scientism” or water down legitimate scientific discoveries or questions to make science palatable to Torah. There are some conflicts that cannot be resolved. OTOH, many of the books authored by militant athesists such as Dawkins, Gould and Hitchens strike me as displaying less knowledge of Torah Judaism than a graduate of an elementary day school, yeshiva or Beis Yaakov. IMO, such books are hardly a threat to Torah. R D Lamm has an excellent essay on this issue as well where different levels of doubt are set forth. I don’t have the title in front of me, but it is worth reading just on what constitutes a legitimate sense of doubt.

Given the above, I would argue that our responsibility is to gain as much an understanding of what Chazal viewed as the Ikarie Emunah which are set forth in Chumash, the Siddur and Machzor. Basic concepts such as Bchirah Chofshis, Akedah. Am Segulah, Bris Avos, Yetzias Mitzrayim, Bris Sinai, Kabbalas HaTorah, TSBP, Malchuyos, Zicronos and Shofaros and Teshuvah seem IMO the concepts that Chazal stressed in developing a bedrock sense of Ikarie Emunah. As a corollary, I would maintain that a study of the Taryag Mitzvos and how they apply differently to a Kohen, Levi Yisrael, woman and minor would show that our Mesorah presented and demands different levels of Kedusha for different people. From what I have seen, we need to work more on these Ikarie Emunah and to be able to believe in them-even if there is no physical or archaeological evidence that would support them. I strongly believe that a belief that would be predicated solely or primarily on the evidence supporting these events is susceptible to a human challenge.

Guide to abbreviations:
IMO – In my opinion
FWIW – For what it’s worth
RYBS – Rav Yosef Ber Soleveitchik
IOW – In other words
OTOH – On the other hand
TBSP – Torah She Baal Peh

Shepping Nachas From Graduation

When a son or daughter graduates any stage of the yeshiva system in North America, one should contrast it with what passes for Jewish education in the heterodox Jewish community and indeed shep nachas. As a BT, you should have a great degree of nachas that you have raised a son or daughter who probably has a lot more Jewish textual knowledge and appreciation of what a committment to Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim are all about. For some students, there is no doubt that ideals such as Achdus take on a more real meaning in summer camps, where divisions and cliques that sometimes develop during the school year can dissipate as a child makes new friends that can last for a lifetime.

It is equally tempting for parents to be triumphalistic if their children did well in school and seem well on their way to becoming Bnei and Bnos Torah-especially if they compare them to relatives whose children do not appear to be headed in that direction. However, I think that while such a view may have a temporary and fleeting sense of achievement, IMO, all a BT parent has to do is to realize that there are so many Jewish adults and children whose knowledge of wnat it means to live as a Jew committed to Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim is based upon either urban myths or stereotypes about Torah Judaism.

Much has been written about the role of yeshivos and seminaries in EY in shaping the committment of American Torah committed high school graduates across the Torah spectrum. I firmly believe that while at one time “the year in Israel” may have been indeed a luxury, that it is a necessity. Like it or not, high school across the range of the hashkafic spectrum often is not that spiritual and the competition for grades and who is in charge of various wholesome extra curricular activities can detract from spiritual growth. It is no coincidence that many students who either were barely committed or went through the motions in their school years discover and develop a love for Torah in EY. Even if your child did well in school in terms of developing on the spiritual, academic and social levels, IMO, in most cases, the student who spends a year or more in a yeshiva or seminary in EY returns afterwards with a far greater committment to Halacha, even if his or her hashkafa may be somewhat different than his or her parents. IMO, the key is not how a child appears or acts upon his or her graduation or departure for EY, but rather their demeanor and appearance in the arrival area after landing at JFK. I have long been of the view that parents who visit their children should not just take them shopping or out for dinner in Jerusalem’s malls and restaurants or provide them with R & R in a hotel room. Rather, a parent should sit in on a shiur, chabura or chavrusa and really attempt to see what their child is accomplishing on a spiritual level. IMO, if more parents participated in their children’s education in this proactive manner, we would hear more nachas about our children and less complaints about the so called “slide to the right.”

Parenting, the BT and the TV

The Brisker Rav ZTL was once asked how and why his children developed into such exemplary Talmidie Chachamim. The Brisker Rav ZTL replied to the questionner by stating that Tefilah and Tehilim were two main bases as a starting point. I think that the issue of whether, if at all, a family should partake of popular culture and how to deal with the same within the four corners of their house is an issue that warrants discussion.

Obviously, if one has elected not to have a TV , that solves part of the problem. OTOH, that presents the issue of whether one should allow one’s children to visit friends from school who have a TV , etc. For many years, our kids had visitors from families who did not have a TV, despite the fact that we had a TV. However, the amount of time sent in front of the TV was minimal.

Gradually,as a family, we discovered that TV had deteriorated in terms of content, even during the so-called “family hour” and weaned oursleves away from the small amount of time in front of the TV. As R E Buchwald once pointed out, watching TV was the equivalent of bringing in the garbage that we had just taken out. Except for an occasional Yankee game or an old movie, there is really nothing really worth watching. As a child, we always watched the news. However, if one has a radio, the same can be obtained via any all news station at the beginning of the hour. As a NY Giant fan, I also discovered that the commercials were also objectionable as well.

We never darshaned in front of our kids that TV was evil, etc. We just realized that there were far better things to do with our time. FWIW, I think that if one does darshan on the evils of TV, your child will wonder what is so evil about it, especially if you or their friend has an internet connection.

I recently read a series of articles re parenting in a charedi magazine. Maybe I am wrong, but I think that communication with children, demonstrating by one’s own actions what is important and serving as a role model are ultimately far more productive means than insisting , for instance, that a child never watch TV or cannot be seen in shul without a white shirt, black hat , gartel or in tzniusdik attire that appears to be different than one’s neighbors.

We all have to realize that all teens in all cultures go thru experiementation, rebellion, etc that is healthy in some ways and problematic in others. It is important for parents ,especially for BTs to distinguish between these two very different trends and not to use Torah as a weapon in a way that will impact adversely on a child’s growth. I do believe that some Charedi parents who are worried that their child might become (Chas Ve Shalom-their language as documented in some Charedi media) a MO or Religious Zionist may in fact be losing sight of the forest in the trees..

I highly recommend R Wolbe ZTL’s Zeriah uBinyan Bchinuch , the Nesivos Shalom and R D A Twersky’s many works on these issues as well as a means of familiarizing oneself with these issues and for setting forth approaches to the issues.

Steve Brizel’s Eretz Yisroel Travel-blog

Steve Brizel is in Eretz Yisroel and he has been blogging his trip in the comments to this post. We’ve collected some of the comments here, but read the whole thread for the commenting back and forth.

For many of us in Chuz L’aretz, one of the best ways of cultivating and maintaining a love of EY in a physical sense is visiting our children who are learning in yeshivos and seminaries. We visited our older daughter back in 2004 and we are leaving for EY Bezras HaShem for two weeks, this Wednesday night.

Here are a few suggestions for any first time or returning visitor who is visiting a child. First of all, if your son or daughter invites you to sit in on a shiur or chavrusa or chaburah, do so and don’t pull them out of valuable time that could be devoted to Torah learning.You will be inspired by so many young men or women devoting their time to learning Torah.

Read more Steve Brizel’s Eretz Yisroel Travel-blog

The View From the Baal Simcha

Mark-Thanks for the wonderful update! We were so happy that so many people who have shared a role in our Avodas HaShem participated in our simcha.Although thanks to the construction on the BQE we got home very late and we are running on a lot of post Chasunah adrenaline ( and coffee) , I am constantly replaying the entire evening. It felt sort of surreal as we greeted guests before the start of the Kabbalas Panim and Tish. After we took our pictures, my mchutan and I went upstairs to the Tish. At that point, I felt that I had been hit by a proverbial ton of bricks. All of the planning, etc seems otherworldy, especially when your wife and machantenesta do all of the planning, until you sit down with your mchutan, your son or son in law the Msader Kiddushin and the guests. Once my dear wife and my mchatenesata broke the dish, our escorting the chasan for the Bdeken, our brachos and the walking into the Chupah were just as spiritually uplifting and awesome an event that I have ever experienced. When Chazal spoke of the importance of the mitzvas simchas chasan vkallah, there is no doubt that they were not exaggerating in any way, shape or form. As Mark pointed out so beautifully, the atmosphere was enhanced by the presence of so many RY from RIETS, chaverim of the chasan, Torah pioneers in Queens such as R F Schonfeld and R J Grunblatt as well as the special Ahavas HaTorah and Chasivus HaTorah of the chasan and kallah who arranged for the publication of a Kuntres of Divrei Torah L Zecher Nishmas R F Wagner ZTL, the rav of the YIFH , a talmid chacham and a rebbe of both the chasan and kallah.
Read more The View From the Baal Simcha

The Future of Kiruv-Help or Hindrance?

At the outset, I would like to point out how sites such as Beyond BT and others demonstrate the Chafetz Chaim’s belief that all of technology can be used for the enhancement of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim-especially when Bnei and Bnos Torah of widely differing hashkafos can discuss the issues on this blog without rancor.

That being said, Mark and I had recently discussed different modes of kiruv and their effectiveness. I suppose that I will start with the overused and trite MO and Charedi typologies. However, I am not sure that these adjectives can be used with any degree of defining certainty in this area.

If you were to ask me for a brief and non- inclusive survey of the kiruv world, I would start with NCSY,NJOP, Aish, Discovery, Chabad and Breslav and also include many of the community kollelim organized by Torah U’Mesorah, and many yeshivos as well. However, I would add the following point-NCSY does not aim to have a NCSYer enter a particular yeshiva. Their advisors hope that a motivated NCSYer will attend a yeshiva or seminary that is right for them , regardless of hashkafa. NCSY does not present Codes or other similar “answers” to issues of hashkafa but depends on the abilities of its rabbinic staff and advisors to help an adolescent explore legitimate approaches to these issues. There is a non-judgmental attitude that is present among its rabbinic leadership and advisors that is amazing, especially since its professional staff and advisors run the full gamut of yeshivos and seminaries but work together despite their hashkafos for one cause-the NCSYer.One is not compelled to seek a particular yeshiva or seminary, but one that is right for the individual.
Read more The Future of Kiruv-Help or Hindrance?

A Family Simcha

We recently attended a Bas Mitzvah of a very close family relative. The family is traditional, does not work on Yom Tov attends shul on Shabbos and belongs to an Orthodox shul, despite the fact that they are not what we would call Shomer Torah U Mitzvos. The Bas Mitzvah attends a prominent coed yeshiva in Manhattan.We spend Thanksgiving, Chanukah and one meal together during Chol HaMoed Sukkos and celebrate family simchos together.

We spent Shabbos in the immediate vicinity of an Orthodox shul where we attended and enjoyed wonderful davening and fantastic meals that were catered by a very prominent Glatt caterer for both Shabbos dinner and lunch for all attendees. This shul’s mispallelim range from MO of all kinds to Chasidishe to Yeshivish to interns and residents who are working at a nearby prominent hospital . One of the highlights was hearing a Chasidishe Chazan daven Kedusha to Yerushalayim Shel Zahav!
Read more A Family Simcha

Mekareving Family and Friends

Family and friends have their own agendas which may or not coincide with the values that a Torah based life demands of us. In some ways, kiruv may be easier with a complete stranger than with family or friends from one’s past. Sometimes, the past intellectual and cultural baggage is just too difficult to overcome with those who one knows the longest.

On the other hand, even strangers can react negatively over the way that certain issues are handled within our communities and the concomitant coverage in the secular media.

Tzafun (Step 12) – Halachic Approach to a Common Problem

The following is dedicted LZecer Nishmas Avivah Rachel bas Malkah Zicronah Livracha whose all too short life was dedicated to Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim. May her family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

I mentioned in my first post that one of the more frequent issues that arises with respect to Tzafun is that of Chatzos–eating the afikomen before halachic midnight. IOW, your seder is progressing -you have gone through Magid with a lot of Divrei Torah and Shirah and you have started the meal. Depending on the calendar, Chatzos not so suddenly creeps up on you and a halachic issue presents itself-what about the Afikoman?!

The Avnei Nezer, one of the Gdolei Acharonim presented the following ingenious solution.The He suggested that one take a matzah before Chatzos and say-If the Halacha is in accordance with R Eliezer Ben Azaryah , this is the Afikoman. If the halacha is not so, it is just a piece of matzah. Therefore, regardless of who the halacha is like., I can continue to eat because according to R Eliezer Ben Azaryah, since the time for eating the Karban pesach has passed, and according to the Rabbanan, one can eat the Afikoman until Alos HaShachar (sunrise)-all night and before Alos HaShachar I can eat another piece of
matzah to fulfull the view of the Rabbanan. ( See ShuT Avnei Nezer Orach Chaim Siman 251 Sif Katan 5 for the entirety of this fascinating solution).
Read more Tzafun (Step 12) – Halachic Approach to a Common Problem

Tzafun (Step 12) – Eating the Afikoman

The Mishnah (Pesachim 120a) tells us “ain maftiriin achar Pesach Afikoman. Rav Yehudah in the name of Shmuel states that the Afikoman is the last item eaten at the meal as a remembrance of the matzah that was eaten with the Karban pesach. Although Mar Zutrah quotes Shmuel as permitting one to eat after the Afikoman, the Gemara concludes that one may not do so. The Baalei Tosfos understand that Afikoman is a Greek word that means cessation from eating.

Many Rishonim ( Rambam, Rashbam, ) hold that the eating of the Afikoman is the essential part of the mitzvah of eating matzah. It should be noted that there is a substantial machlokes in the Rishonim and Acharonim as to whether one can drink anything after the afikoman because it would nullify the taste of matzah in one’s mouth .
Read more Tzafun (Step 12) – Eating the Afikoman

What Was the Transgression of Those Who Perished in the Darkness

Pesach is coming and it’s time to delve a little deeper into the Hagaddah and Yetzias Mitzrayim.

Rashi quotes a Medrash that only 20% of Klal Yisrael left Egypt, the remainder having perished during the plague of darkness.

What was the specific transgression that caused them to suffer this fate aside from the obvious one of not listening to HaShem and Moshe Rabbeinu?