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

An Unusual Dilemma

Since this is an interesting discussion, we’re going to leave this post on top today. – admins

This is probably not the sort of post that you will accept or run on BeyondBT, but it is very sincere and I would love to see what your posters have to say about my dilemma:

I grew up in a normal American town. The town has about the same percentage of Jews as the United States at-large, somewhere in the range of 3-4% or thereabouts (could even be slightly higher than that). That town, the derekh eretz found in it, my non-Jewish father, and my non-Jewish grandfather, are responsible for my values, morals, and eventually desire for Torah. There are towns like my town all over the United States, but those towns do not have sufficient Jewish populations to attract Orthodox shuls, etc. In the case of this particular town, however, it is extremely close to a town with one of the highest per capita Jewish populations in America, so–save for shabbos itself–all of the resources of a Jewish community (including multiple Orthodox and non-Orthodox shuls, mikvah, etc.) are within a ten-minute drive.

My interest in Torah is solely–but thoroughly–religious. I have never had any attachment to or interest in Ashkenazic (or Sephardic) Jewish culture and, with a few notable exceptions, I have never even felt that I “fit in” in Jewish social circles (no matter the socioeconomic strata of the Jews in those circles). Although I have been sometimes-more, sometimes-less observant for more than ten years, I am not going to move to a modern American Jewish community. I have never been willing to move to one, and this is not going to change. I could move to all sorts of towns similar to mine all over the country, but I will not–for reasons firmly grounded in the intractable problems of the derekh eretz that prevails in modern American Jewish communities–move to a Jewish town. I aspire to provide any children that I might one day have with a Jewish education, but–for the same reasons of derekh eretz–to not do so through the mechanism of a private Jewish day school. Instead, I would seek to use the public schools of my small town (or whatever small town my wife and I ultimately wound up in), as those public schools are entirely consistent with real Torah values (and reinforced the values that I myself acquired growing up). For Torah, nach, kethuvim, gemara, and Hirsch, I will use all available resources (for example, my town is minutes away from numerous thoroughly qualified and credentialed rabbis and arranging comprehensive tutoring, and then reinforcing at home, would be imminently viable) to put together a roll-your-own solution that can work.

The vast majority of Orthodox rabbis, and virtually all baal teshuvas, who I have met have told me that no Jewish girl who cares at all about Torah would ever be willing to live outside of a Jewish town. They insist that I am either wrong about Jewish towns, wrong about normal American towns, bigoted, biased, or that I “have issues.” I laughed at these assertions for ten years and then was vindicated when a potential match, who grew up in a Jewish town, attending day schools, and working in day schools, moved to the town and discovered that my only misrepresentation was understating the case. Her disgust with local Jewish communities (she was from another part of the country) and day schools, and her relentless love and adoration for my family, my town, my schools, and my culture, was absolute. Unfortunately, she got homesick and moved back to the big city from whence she came.

Many baal teshuvas find it very difficult to discuss this problem with me because their own interest in Torah was initially sparked by the warmth of Orthodox families and homes. I, by contrast, grew up in a profoundly warm home in which I had dinner with my family at least six–and often enough seven–nights a week. When I first started going to shul, parishioners would ask “Isn’t shabbos wonderful?” I would say “Yes, the prayers, the sanctification of the day, conformance to God’s laws, etc. Absolutely.” They would say “No, I mean the meal.” I would say “Yes, the blessings over the wine and the bread, the grace after meals, etc.” They would say “No. I mean the fact that I actually get to sit down with my family, uninterrupted, and have a dinner during which, without distraction, we talk about each other’s lives, find out what we’ve been up to, and share what we’re doing.” I could only respond “But don’t you do THAT part of it EVERY NIGHT AT DINNER?” They could only shake their heads and say “No. The rest of the week, we’re too busy working.”

In addition, I was never alienated from my normal American town the way a lot of baal teshuvas were. My small town was my community, is my community, and either it or another normal small town will continue to be my community. I never needed the “Jewish community” (which, frankly, does not comport with what community has ever meant to me, as to me, “community” implied far more than a bunch of people with a common “volk” and a common religion; it is something forged over decades, not weeks, and the price of entry is long amounts of time, not a particular religious faith) because my community has always been my extended family.

In order to offer advice or suggestion to me, you would need to take it for granted that the cultural, values, derekh eretz gap really exists. Do not waste time trying to persuade me that a heimishe Jewish town really has the values that I am looking for. It would take ten densely-typed pages to fully explain the derekh eretz differences. What I am looking for (what I grew up with and still have) is just a normal American small town, with normal American small town values. That’s what I want to expose my family to. That sort of town is what I want my kids to grow up in, so that they absorb those values through their family, their community (which would, of course, be largely non-Jewish), and the positive peer pressure of other kids who by and large come from homes with similar values. To deal with my situation, you need to assume that what I want simply is not available as the predominant derekh eretz in a Jewish town. Please, oh merciful please, do not try to persuade me otherwise.

I don’t need a frum girl. If a girl with normal small town American values, who happened to be Jewish, and who happened to have grown up in a normal American small town (and wasn’t merely desperate enough to try one), was somewhat observant but wanted to drive from a town like mine to a parking lot a half mile away from an Orthodox shul in the neighboring Jewish town, that would work. That would be close enough to what I’m looking for that I could make it work.

But I have been told that what I want–a normal American small town cultural and values derekh eretz, and a commitment to living in a normal American small town community (rather than an American Jewish community)–is simply nowhere to be found among American Jewish girls.

What do you think? If it really is hopeless, then after well more than a decade of very ardent effort, I may have to concede that it just isn’t possible and, with a heavy heart, find another way to pray so that I can marry and have a family. I love God and I love Torah, but I am not enough of a martyr to go through life with neither wife nor children in order to prove how committed I am to Judaism. I am at a crossroads and I could use either confirmation that there just are not any Jewish girls who want to live–fully, completely live–in a normal American small town, or a legitimate claim that there are Jewish girls who want to live in a normal American small town.

Over a decade ago, I figured that I would give it a good hard try. And if I met a girl who affirmatively wanted to live in a normal American small town during that time, but we just weren’t attracted to each other, that would be enough to keep me trying for years to come, because that would at least show me that girls of that sort were out there–even if I hadn’t met the particular one of them who was compatible with me yet. But in all these years, I have never met one who actually affirmatively wanted to live her life, to live her community, to live her derekh eretz, in a normal American small town. And I am just about ready to accept that what I want does not exist among Jewish women.

All I want is what Samson Raphael Hirsch called “Torah im derekh eretz.” I just want it in my normal, good, decent, and fully Torah-compatible small town American derekh eretz. And a wife to live it with.

Please advise.

aspiring father

Tzafat – An Ecletic City of Seekers

By Laurie Rappeport

English-speaking immigrants have been settling in Tzfat since the founding of the State but in the ’70s the numbers began to grow as many Anglo olim were searching for spirituality combined with a desire to live in a small supportive community. The English-speaking community of Tzfat is comprised of people of all ages and religious (and non-religious) sentiments. It is surprisingly cohesive and creates a welcoming presence for newcomers who continue to arrive every year.

Many of Tzfat’s new residents are “seekers” — people who want stronger, or different, spiritual components in their lives. Among these are a larger-than-statistically-typical number of gerim, many of whom have unique stories of their journey to Judaism. In addition, probably more than 50% of the newcomers are BTs. Of these many come to Tzfat because they’re moving closer to religious observance or to a particular community. Other BTs as well as FFBs find that Tzfat is an easy place to live if you want to move from one type of religious observance to another.

There is a wide range of religious communities in Tzfat that attract new residents. These include Chabad, Breslev, Sanz, Litvack, National Religious and even New-Agers. Breslev is a growing presence in Tzfat and it attracts many people who are new to Judaism as well as individuals who want a more Hassidic presence in their lives. Chabad is a strong group as well in the city and operates many local educational institutions which welcome everyone. Tzfat is known as the “Berkeley of the Middle East” and many of the people who have immigrated from the Bay area, together with others, have created their own kind of observant Jewish Renewal in Tzfat.

One of the biggest and newest religious groups in the city is the Carlebach crowd. There are two Carlebach shuls, Beirav and the House of Love and Prayer. Both encompass mixed populations of Haredim and National Religious. A large percentage of the local Jewish Renewal adherents attend services at the Carlebach shuls as well.

One of the features of Tzfat that draws so many newcomers is the reputation that the city has as a place where people from different communities get along well. This is particularly evidenced within the English-speaking community where mutual self-help groups and institutions cater to all.

The entire Anglo community, from Hassidic housewives to secular kibbutzniks who live on neighboring kibbutzim, use the Safed English Library. There is a wide selection of books and magazines at the library which include traditional Jewish book alongside science fiction, novels, romance, classics and much more. The library operates solely on donations and volunteerism and every day volunteers come in to check in new books, pack up doubles to send to other libraries and update the shelves. Many new immigrants choose to come to Tzfat in part because of the library which is also a center of information for the community.

Another information hub is the Tzfatline newsletter which is compiled and sent out by email several times a week. A subscriptions to Tzfatline (at tzfatline@aol.com) is free and the newsletter is used by people to post information about real estate, services, jobs, classes, gmach offers, items for sale, ride shares, positions wanted, lessons provided, etc. The newsletter is another example of a community-wide service which is used by everyone. A second, “chattier” form of communication is the Tzfat Chevre Facebook page on which residents can offer goods and services, ask questions and request advice. The format allows members to chat back and forth. There are several hundred members of the Facebook group.

Living in Tzfat isn’t suitable for everyone. Employment is difficult to find and the city doesn’t host the wealth of cultural activities that can be found in the Center of the country. However, for Anglos who are interested in living in a small, welcoming and accepting community, Tzfat is definitely a city to explore.

The Swinging Pendulum of Yiddishkeit

By “Always a BT”

I have noticed a phenomenon of late that makes me ponder the proverbial swinging pendulum of Torah observance. It hit me recently, having attended a number of simchas & observing the dress & mode of conduct of my own generation in stark contrast to that of our children.

My husband & I became frum as college students in the 70’s. After we got married, we settled in another city where we amassed a group of friends that can only be described as eclectic. Our FFB & BT friends alike grew in Torah as we built careers and raised our children. Our street had many frum families with similar age children, a rarity in our “out of town” community at the time. The kids all played together (boys AND girls!) and we (mothers especially) became as close as family. There was a climate of mutual understanding and respect that still exists 25 years later.

Our “Yeshivish” friends moved a little to the right of their childhood upbringing, with more time for learning, chumrahs, etc. Our “MO” friends also moved a little to the right, the women giving up pants and/or covering hair and the men more dedicated to learning, davening with a minyan, etc. (full disclosure: I hate labels but can’t figure out how to get my point across without them).

The level of Torah learning has increased substantially for both groups in depth, breadth & commitment. But, I have observed that the children of my FFB friends have either moved further to the right (i.e., kollel lifestyle, more chumrahs, less secular media etc.) or dropped Yiddishkeit altogether (although generally without any hostility). The children of my MO friends (both boys & girls), have become, for the most part, much more learned textually than their parents but slightly less (for lack of a better word) careful in their observance of mitzvos. The clothes are a little tighter, the skirts & sleeves a little shorter, the hair a little less covered, the boys a little more lax about minyan attendance, shomer negia, etc. Is this just a reflection of the hefker world we live in?

Additionally, my BY educated daughters have many classmates who go all the way through the system & can barely maintain a kosher kitchen and, despite many years of learning Halachas of Shabbos, etc., really don’t have a working knowledge of the hows & whys. My gut feeling is that this is a result of emphasizing academics over hashkafa and chesed done outside the house as opposed to chesed within the home, where children can learn by implementing what is taught at school. My girls learned these things, not as subjects taught in school, but while helping at home and during discussions at the dinner table.

In general there is more knowledge, but less observance. It’s baffling to me that with all this (re)dedication to learning Torah something is getting lost in the translation from text to practice. Isn’t the purpose of Torah learning to become closer to HKBH by achieving a greater love, understanding & observance of mitzvos? Or, is this trend just the natural phenomenon of the pendulum swinging the other way?

Has anyone else noticed this?

South Brooklyn School Devastated by Hurricane Sandy

Dear All,

South Brooklyn neighborhoods of Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Manhattan Beach, Sheepshead Bay and Seagate have been devastated by Hurricane Sandy last week. Among victims of the hurricane is Mazel Day School located blocks away from the ocean and the bay. The two buildings which house the school were badly flooded and all K-6 classrooms, books, furniture, classroom materials, computer equipment and kids’ art work were severely damaged by as much as six feet of sewage water. Several SifreiTorahs housed in what was supposed to be a water proof case were also damaged. The pictures of the damage are available www.mazeldayschool.com and on the school’s facebook page.

Mazel Day School is an orthodox neighborhood school started 10 years ago with three children and grown to 140 today with a waiting list. The school is open to all Jewish children, regardless of religious observance. Children come from both observant and non-observant homes. The children from observant homes usually have parents who are baalei teshuvahs that value child-centered, value-oriented education dedicated to excellence in both Judaic and secular studies. School motto is “instilling a love of learning and the joy of Judaism”. This school is gem of the neighborhood and lives up to its motto. After the storm, the teachers organized conference calls for the children to learn the parsha of the week with their friends.

The school is very much supported by the parents and local donors. However, many of the parents and local donors were personally hit by the hurricane themselves and are not able to contribute as generously at this time. Before the storm, the school was gearing up for a new building fundraiser to expand the middle school and take more children from the wait list. The storm has crashed this plan and hit the school with the reality of now raising funds to replace was previously there.Principals and parents have been working around the clock to manage the situation from looking for temporary classrooms to salvaging flooded items to cleaning. Kids have been cleaning along with the parents.

Please help rebuild this school. If there is one thing Sandy can teach us, it is the fleeting value of money that we invest in our own comfort. Please consider investing in something that has an everlasting value – the Torah–based education of our children. Donations of any amount will make a difference. Please donate at www.donatemazel.com. All donations are tax–deductible.

Thank you in advance! May you be blessed with nachas from your own families and children and always be in position to help others!

Lily Shnayder

Mazel Day School parent

The Distress in Far Rockaway and How You Can Help

Dear Friends

I just came back from Yeshiva Shar Yoshuv. A couple of friends and I decided to take the day and help people in Far Rockaway clean out after the flood. We called Achiezer this morning and they said come to Shar Yoshuv and we will send you out.

When we got to Shar Yoshuv the sight was unbelievable. At the entrance to the campus was a truck accepting Shaimos. In front of the main entrance to the building was a truck accepting family’s laundry to be washed. The dining room was set up to serve lunch and supper. Supper was starting at 3:30 P.M. so people could get home before dark. The gym was set up with racks of cloths for men, women and children. Teams were being sent out to pump water out of people’s homes.

We came to the volunteer station and we were asked to help people unload Shaimos from their cars into a big truck. The line of cars coming to drop off ruined Seforim was nonstop. People were pulling up with cars, minivans and even a pickup truck loaded with full libraries of seforim. I with my own eyes saw thousands of Seforim that were ruined. I spoke to a woman who asked if we could send help over to her house to bag up her ruined Seforim. She came with a stroller with bags full of dirty laundry, together with her children so they could eat lunch. She said that she came on foot because she was afraid to use her car and run out of gas. She said that she just had no energy left to deal with the ruined Seforim. What I experienced was just dealing with the Seforim that people lost.

I did not see their dark cold homes; some still will many feet of water in them, others full of water damaged possessions. It was clear that many regular people are in need of lots of help. Boruch Hashem here in Kew Gardens Hills things are fine, but a few short miles away things really are not.

We have to do what we can to help our brothers literally dig out of this. If you have time to volunteer call Achiezer at 516-791-4444. If you can make a donation to the Hurricane Relief Fund you can do so at Achiezer.org. In the Zechus of the unbelievable Chesed going on may all of Acheinu Bais Yisroel have yeshuos bekarov.

Yours Truly,

Rabbi Chaim Eli Welcher

Considering Tzfat After Teshuva

By Simcha Cohen

The increase in aliyah from English-speaking countries over the past few years has considerably boosted the English-speaking population of Tzfat. Community leaders estimate that there are over 1000 English-speakers in Tzfat today out of a total population of 33,000.

New immigrants are drawn to Tzfat for a variety of reasons but the strong religious atmosphere is a big draw to many observant residents who are interested in living amongst a like-minded community of Jewishly-committed Anglos. Among these residents are many ba’alei teshuva who find the atmosphere in Tzfat to be a welcoming and accepting one for people who want to grow in their observance and commitment to Judaism.

Local institutions, including the Safed English Library, Livnot U’Lehibanot, the Ascent Institute, Lev U’Neshama and the Carlebach community along with communities such as Breslev, Chabad and Sanz provide information and assistance to newcomers. Two local e-newsletters, the Tzfat yahoogroup and the Tzfatline newsletter allow Anglos to trade information about subjects as diverse as available Torah classes, real estate offerings, car rides and homes for pets. These newsletters and self-help groups offer assistance to all, irregardless of community affiliation, and many ba’alei teshuva find this type of inclusiveness to be an attractive characteristic of Tzfat.

Anglos live in neighborhoods throughout Tzfat including the Old City and the Artist Quarter, the Darom, Cana’an, Ibikur, Biriya, Ramat Razim/Neve Oranim and Menachem Begin. The Chabad community’s center is in Cana’an, Breslev’s center is in Kiryat Breslev/Old City and the Sanz center is in the Old City. Many adherents of these groups, including ba’alei teshuva who are connected with these groups, look for housing near their community’s hub. However followers of these and other groups live in all areas of Tzfat. The Meor Chaim neighborhood is a “Haredi” — ultra-Orthodox — neighborhood comprised of Ashkanazim, Sepharadim, Hassidim, Litvaks and unaffiliated individuals. Apartments in this neighborhood are relatively low-cost.

Educational alternatives offer Tzfat residents a varied range of school options which present an array of options for newcomers who are planning their childrens’ schooling. Approximately 33% of the children in Tzfat attend Haredi schools and these range from Yiddish-speaking boys’ and girls’ schools to mainstream Beit Ya’akovs, Hassidic and Litvish cheders and Sepharadi Talmud Torahs. Another third of Tzfat’s schoolchildren attend national religious institutions. Alternatives include the Chabad school network with schools for boys and girls, a national religious boys’ Talmud Torah and state religious schools that meet all levels of a family’s observance. There are also several non-religious schools in Tzfat.

It’s Lonely in the Middle

First Published Dec 4, 2006

I’ve long been taken with the following quote from Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik: “All extremism, fanaticism, and obscurantism come from a lack of security. A person who is secure cannot be an extremist.”

Perhaps the quote has stuck so firmly in my mind because of the context in which I first saw it. Rabbi K., a prominent Modern Orthodox rabbi, invoked this quote in an article railing against the Chareidi world for its “intolerance,” castigating Chareidim again and again for their unwillingness to accept the validity of any expression of Torah observance other than their own.

It’s a pity Rabbi K. didn’t read his own article. The thick vitriolic brush with which he paints the entire Chareidi world would do any extremist proud.

Which doesn’t mean, of course, that he doesn’t have a point. The Chareidim do, too often and too typically, look down their noses at “less committed” communities within Orthodoxy. But this kind of disdain for anyone not like ME is hardly unique to men in black.

The problem of invalidating other hashkofos seems to have become far more common of late. George Carlin once said (or so I’m told) that everyone driving down the highway thinks that he is going at exactly the right speed, and that everyone else is either obstructing traffic or a reckless maniac. But is it possible that the rational middle really has come to represent fewer and fewer Torah Jews and Torah movements than ever before, so that every group condemns every other as either fanatical or heretical? Why have the Orthodox grown so insecure that we are all racing headlong toward one extreme or the other?

In a deeply thoughtful essay in Tradition Magazine (“Torah Without Ideology,” published in 2002), Professor Moshe Koppel offers an elegant explanation for the polarization within the Orthodox world. As a physical being striving for spirituality, as a spiritual being exiled in a physical world, every Jew is sentenced to a life of inevitable and irreconcilable tension. If he embraces the physical world, he may compromise his spiritual health. If he eschews the physical, he may endanger his physical well-being. How does he choose?

Professor Koppel observes that both the modern world and the Chareidi world make the same fundamental mistake, each in its own way. In their efforts to eliminate this spiritual-physical tension, Chareidim are inclined to reject any involvement with the physical, whereas Modern Orthodoxy is inclined to legitimize everything physical in the context of being a Torah Jew. In my own language, Chareidim tend toward forbidding everything not expressly permitted, while the Modern Orthodox tend toward permitting everything not expressly forbidden.

Of course, these are not the stated ideologies of either camp, but this is where many adherents end up. In practice, each camp frequently becomes a caricature of itself. Because the painstaking avodah of evaluating what to take and what not to take from the physical world produces such acute, chronic tension, we flee for the extremes instead of striving to find balance. And, on our way, we condemn everyone who has staked out a position different from ours, lest we face the tension of having to ask ourselves why they have engaged more or less of the physical world than we have.

I can’t say it any better than Moshe Koppel: “[Internalized values] are always full of tension between conflicting poles: between loyalty to Jews and loyalty to the values they embody, between the letter of halachah and its spirit, between conformity and individualism, and so on. This tension is a wonderful, healthy thing — it is the source of a person’s intellectual vitality and creativity. Living a Torah life means living with tension…”

But it’s not easy. Today’s extremism is no mere matter of right versus left. It is the unwillingness to acknowledge the legitimacy of other hashkofos within the bounds of halachah. It derives from a passionate desire to avoid tension, whether that tension comes from our uncertainty of how to synthesize the spiritual and the physical or from our insecurity that maybe someone else is doing a better job of it than we are. And the middle is that place where we can struggle with the tension of living as a Torah Jew, each in his own way, without resorting to the defamation of those who go about it differently.

The flight of so many Torah Jews from the middle testifies to just how hard it is. And it gets even harder for the few of us left in the middle when we find ourselves increasingly isolated from the growing community of observant Jews who refuse to accept that there is more than one kosher way to live as a kosher Jew.

Denouncing Spiritual Terrorism

On March 16, 1968, soldiers of the 1st Battalion’s Charlie Company committed one of the most notorious war crimes in American history when they brutally massacred over 300 villagers in the Vietnamese hamlet of Mỹ Lai.

Was every soldier in the American army complicit in the crime? Did the perpetrators of the massacre act in accordance with the dictates and the mission of the American military? Was the savagery inflicted on innocent men, women, and children indicative of the country whose soldiers wore its insignia on their uniforms?

The simple answer is: no.

We can talk, legitimately, about collective responsibility and the mixed cultural messages that may have contributed to the atrocity. But when Americans learned about the barbarism of their own soldiers, the untempered outrage that poured forth testified that the individuals had acted as individuals, and that their inhumanity in no way represented the values of their country.

The same was true about the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin in 1995 by the marginally religious zealot Yigal Amir. As unpopular as Rabin may have been among the religious community, only the most extreme ideologues saw his actions as anything other than an aberration of the Torah values he invoked to justify cold-blooded murder.

And the same is true now with respect to the hideous spitting incident in the Beit Shemesh community in central Israel. It doesn’t matter that the perpetrator may wear a frock coat and sidelocks. It doesn’t matter that he may refrain from kindling fire on the Sabbath, may keep a strictly kosher diet, and may stand in prayer before his Creator three times a day. It doesn’t matter that he may study Talmudic texts and analyze the finest points of Jewish law. It doesn’t matter if his neighbors, whether few or many, sympathize with his attitudes and his actions.

At best, he is a misguided fool. At worst, he is an imposter and a terrorist. Whatever he is, he does not represent the ideals of Torah Judaism.

The sad truth is that the Torah, the Almighty’s guide to morality and virtuous conduct, is only as good as we allow it to be. The Torah may be a perfect expression of the Divine Will, but it only works to the extent that imperfect humans are willing to let it shape their conduct and, even more essentially, their character. It does not mystically or magically turn us into saints; rather, it teaches us how to transform ourselves into spiritual beings. But it remains up to us to follow the path it lights before us.

The sad truth is also that there are imposters among us; the Talmud itself laments the “pious fools” who clothe themselves in the external trappings of religiosity with no comprehension whatsoever of true spiritual values. The Jew who prays fervently and then cheats in business, the Jew who clops his chest in repentance then slanders his neighbor, the Jew who meticulously trains his son to read from the Torah scroll and then spits on a child who may have innocently absorbed the social mores of the surrounding secular world – a Jew such as this is worse than a fraud. He is nothing less than a terrorist, for he brings violent derision upon the Torah and all its sincere practitioners.

Frequently at odds with contemporary Western values, Torah values are easily mocked, satirized, and misrepresented by intolerant skeptics who would rather ridicule than seek answers to their questions. But the Orthodox community includes tens of thousands of Jews like myself, Jews raised in irreligious homes who chose to return to Torah observance, Jews who learned to appreciate the ancient wisdom of our people by asking those same questions, by searching for teachers and mentors who could articulate the answers, and by listening patiently to their explanations.

Unfortunately, many secularists and most of the media prefer to deal in stereotypes. It’s easier to depict bearded men in long coats as fanatics than it is to examine the historical and philosophical foundations of their tradition. It’s more provocative to caricature women wearing head-scarves, three-quarter sleeves, and knee-length skirts as burqa-clad Jewish Wahabists than it is to concede the modest elegance projected by many Orthodox women. It suits the progressive agenda better to decry separate seating on buses in religious communities as Shariah-like segregation than it does to contemplate how sensitivity to sexual boundaries bolsters the integrity of the family structure against the hedonism of secular society.

The useful idiots who masquerade as devoutly orthodox but possess little understanding of authentic spiritual refinement empower cynics eager to smear an entire theology with the broad brush of condemnation based on the actions of a few. But amidst the outrage, consider this: Does it make any sense that true adherents of the culture that taught the world the values of peace, charity, and loving-kindness would endorse the public humiliation of a little girl in the name of piety?

It doesn’t. And we don’t.

Rabbi Goldson writes at http://torahideals.com. To subscribe to Torah Ideals email newsletter, go to the website and find the subscription link on the sidebar. Articles are posted, on average, every week or two.

Rabbi Goldson recently published Dawn to Destiny – Exploring Jewish History and its Hidden Wisdom. A captivating analysis of Jewish history and philosophy from Creation through the era of the Talmud

My Brothers Do I Seek

My Brothers Do I Seek

By Jonathan Rosenblum

I came to full Jewish observance relatively late in life. I was nearly thirty and married when I first walked through the doors of Ohr Somayach. I don’t fully remember the entire process of becoming religious. But certainly the most important element of our decision was exposure to people of a refinement and depth that we had never before encountered.

For the last twenty years, I have been writing biographies of modern Jewish leaders. If one bright thread unites the lives of all the disparate figures whose lives I have researched it is their commitment to the Torah imperative that “the Name of Heaven should be become beloved through you.”

In the 1930s, Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, today renowned as one of the premier Jewish thinkers of the century, supported himself in London tutoring young public school students. He instructed one of those young students to drop a coin in the cup of all the numerous beggars along the way. To another, he suggested that he should always go to the upper-deck of the London bus he rode to the lessons. Since he only travelled one stop, perhaps the conductor would not reach him to collect his fare, and then he – an identifiably religious Jewish boy – would hand the change to the person next to him and say in a loud voice, “The conductor did not collect my fare, please pay him for me.” The lesson: Not only must one sanctify G-d’s Name through one’s actions; one must seek out opportunities to do so.

These figures saw themselves as teaching about Torah in every situation. Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, the wise man of American Jewry, once took a ball out of his pocket in a doctor’s office and started playing with a young boy. When asked if it was not beneath his dignity, he replied, “He may never see another old Jew with a white beard. I want his association to be a good one.” When he passed away, a group of nuns in Monsey wrote a letter lamenting the loss of the old rabbi who always smiled at them on his walks.

For thirteen years, the Klausenberger Rebbe traveled the globe raising the money to build Laniado Hospital in Netanya, to create a model of a Torah approach to healing. Once he learned that a pamphlet on the laws of family purity was being distributed to patients, and ordered it be stopped immediately. He built the hospital not to do missionary work but to demonstrate how the Torah views healing, he explained. That was reflected in the no-strike clause in every doctor’s contract, the surfeit of respirators so no triage decisions would ever have to be made as to who would receive a respirator, the willingness of nursing students, inspired by the Rebbe, to spend days and nights by the beds of patients upon whom everyone else had given up; and the use of much more expensive, but less painful, disposable syringes for shots.

The Rebbe was famous for his stringency with respect to shmiras einayim (guarding one’s gaze). But in the DP camps after the War (in which he lost his wife and eleven children), when he heard that young Jewish girls, dehumanized by what they had been through, had set up a red light district, he personally went to bring them back to their heritage.

These great Torah leaders treated each every person with whom they came into contact with respect and empathy. Reb Yaakov Kamenetsky and another rosh yeshiva once entered a cab, in which the music was blaring. The other rosh yeshiva asked the cabdriver to turn-off the radio. But Reb Yaakov told him not to. “The driver’s work is so monotonous that he’ll go mad without out it so we have no right to ask him to turn it off,” said Reb Yaakov, citing a Talmudic passage in support.

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach would not jump up from his seat on the bus if a woman not dressed according to halachic standards sat down next to him, lest she feel insulted. He would simply push the button as if his stop was coming up and get off the bus.

A religious family undertook to cover the expenses of the fertility treatments of a non-religious Jewish couple, and sent them to Israel to receive blessings from great tzadikim, including the Rosh Yeshiva of Mirrer Yeshiva, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel. When the couple arrived at the Rosh Yeshiva’s house in summer attire, not usually seen in Meah Shearim, Rebbetzin Finkel greeted the wife with a hug and words of encouragement – “You are both Jewish. It is such a big thing to marry Jewish today.”

So as not to embarrass her visitor, the Rebbetzin explained that her husband was such a holy man that out of respect she dons a shawl when she goes into speak to him, and offered her guest another shawl and a piece of matching jewelry.

Reb Nosson Tzvi remained silent when the couple entered. The person who escorted them in started to explain their situation, but the Rosh Yeshiva stopped him short: “Of course I know who they are, I’m thinking of their pain.” Then he turned to the husband and asked, “Do you ever feel people are staring at you?” The husband nodded. Reb Nosson Tzvi added, “I often feel that way and that people cannot understand what I’m saying [on account of the loss of muscular control from debilitating Parkinson’s disease].” Let’s cry together. And that’s what the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva and the childless couple did.

Non-religious Jewish politicians who worked closely with Rabbi Moshe Sherer, the long-time president of Agudath Israel of America never felt that he looked down on them. New York Mayor Ed Koch said, “He personified the Talmudic rule, ‘Hate the sin, not the sinner’.” Upon Rabbi Sherer’s death, Alexander Schindler, the head of the American Reform movement, wrote a eulogy in The New York Times. The morning after his funeral, the black woman behind the entrance desk at the building housing Agudath Israel’s office, whom Rabbi Sherer always made a point of greeting effusively and inquiring after, and the Latin American building superintendent, whose family had been spared deportation because of Rabbi Sherer’s use of his political connections on their behalf, both wept openly.

LAST FRIDAY NIGHT, a rav who was one of my role models at the beginning of the journey and remains one today spoke about yesterday’s fast of Aseret b’Tevet, which, according to some opinons, is the date of the sale of Yosef by his brothers. The Torah portion of the week, VaYigash, relates how Yosef and Binyamin fell on each other and wept. Rashi comments: Yosef wept for the two Temples that stood in the portion of Binyamin, which would be destroyed; and Binyamin wept for the Mishkan at Shiloh, in the portion of Yosef’s son Ephraim, which would also be destroyed.

What is the connection between those destructions and the reunion of Yosef and Binyamin? Yosef had constructed an elaborate test for his brothers to see whether his brothers would stand by their half-brother Binyamin, and thus rectify their sale of him. The brothers passed that test. But only in part. Throughout Yehudah’s plea to Yosef on Binyamin’s behalf, he refers to the latter as the son of their father Yaakov and as “the lad”, but not as “our brother.” Something was still lacking in brotherly unity. And that lack was felt in the destruction of the Temple for causeless hatred.

Until we can repair that lack of brotherhood, the Temple will not be rebuilt. Mrs. Tzila Schneider, the head of Kesher Yehudi, is trying to do just that. In recent years, she has organized thousands of learning partnerships between religious and non-religious women. The main message she offers the hareidi volunteers is: “If you see yourself as only a teacher in this relationship, but don’t feel you have anything to gain or learn from your secular partner, this program is not for you. This program is only for those who believe every Jew is special and that we are all intimately bound to one another.” I have been present at events in which the phone study partners met each other for the first time, and the warmth and excitement was palpable. Many pairs sat with their arms around each other for the rest of the evening.

Last Shabbos was spent with a group of over 100 women university students receiving an introduction to Torah Judaism under the auspicies of an organization called Nefesh Yehudi. I was amazed by the sophistication and command of the breadth of Jewish thought of the lecturers, including Mrs. Miriam Kosman, who made her debut in these pages last week. The conversation on Friday night lasted until 4:00 a.m., and the students did not hold back with their questions on every topic – relationships, homosexuality, why most hareidi women wear wigs, and, of course, Ramat Beit Shemesh.

Neither that Shabbaton or hundreds like it or 7,000 phone partnerships in Torah learning will fully repair the tear in Klal Yisrael. But they are steps in the right direction.

I HAVE NEVER REGRETTED the decision to become religious. I cannot even imagine how much less rich my life would have been without Torah. But it must be admitted that there is much in our society that does not conform to the paragons one meets upon entering the hareidi community. And much that I have subsequently been exposed to would have made the decision much harder at the beginning.

It is unrealistic to expect an entire community to attain the level of the great figures I have spent the last two decades writing about. But, at the very least, we should strive to emulate their example of turning every encounter with a fellow human being, and especially a fellow Jew, into a positive experience. Those whose insularity has rendered them oblivious to that message fill me with pain and anger.

Jonathan Rosenblum founded Jewish Media Resources in 1999. He is a widely-read columnist for the Jerusalem Post’s domestic and international editions and for the Hebrew daily Maariv. He is also a respected commentator on Israeli politics, society, culture and the Israeli legal system, who speaks frequently on these topics in the United States, Europe, and Israel. His articles appear regularly in numerous Jewish periodicals in the United States and Israel. Rosenblum is the author of seven biographies of major modern Jewish figures. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago and Yale Law School. Rosenblum lives in Jerusalem with his wife and eight children.

The Challenge of Introducing Young American Jews to Torah

Ben Moshe’s comment on ‘The ABCD of Young American Jews’.

There are no shortcuts to solving this problem. No matter how one tries to position it, Judaism is prescriptive. It teaches that there are things that one must do, and things that one cannot do; things that are permitted, and things that are off-limits. These constraints do not sit well with a generation that grew up in a multicultural environment, free of social pressures that kept previous generations of Jews in the fold.

As I once heard a Rav say, “In America, every Jew is a Jew by choice.” The only way to get excited about Judaism is to have positive role models who instill love and enthusiasm for mitzvot from an early age, or, like many members of this blog, to acquire the taste later in life.

In previous generations (including my own), American Jews who looked for an alternative to the yoke of the mitzvot tried to find it in political and social movements such as support for Israel, Holocaust commeration, rescue of Soviet Jewry, etc. (see reply #2 above).

These binding ties were “Jewish” because they addressed the plight of fellow Jews and could be presented in the context of Jewishly-rooted concepts such as “tikkun olam” or “tzedek, tzedek tirdof” or “kol Yisrael areivim zeh ba-zeh”.

Today, Israel is somewhat more secure, the Holocaust is for many found only in movies and in the Diary of Anne Frank (that some read only because it was a school assignment), and the Soviet Union is history.

Although there are still many fellow Jews who need help, today’s generation tries to define Judaism in the context of causes that are remotely connected to Jewish ideas and to Jewish communities, if at all: Darfur, the environment, homosexual rights, immigrant labor, etc. When there is so little difference between Temple Beth (fill in the blank) and any other “social justice” organization, it is no wonder that young American Jews feel little affinity davka to Judaism.

Hannah Has Two Mommies

The military has repealed its Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy toward gay soldiers. This is just one more manifestation of the increasing acceptance of homosexuals in modern life. Over the past fifty years, society’s perception of homosexuality has changed from seeing it as a mental illness, a perversion or a deviant criminal activity, to the 21st-century viewpoint that this is an alternative lifestyle choice involving capable consenting adults.

Judaism’s conflict with homosexuality begins with the Torah prohibition. Like other Torah laws dealing with forbidden kinds of intimacy, this refers to the action itself. Prohibited acts of intimacy, coming under the general heading of Giluy Arayos, are considered to be the most serious sins, along with murder and idolatry.

For years, our own Jewish world had a similar Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Two older men, or two older women, living together for many years: well, that could simply be a financial arrangement. No one asked; no one told. It was no one’s business.

Nowadays, things are different. Men and women declare openly that they are gay Jews, lesbian Jews. What’s more, they want to be recognized by our mosdos, our shuls and our yeshivos and our communities, as openly gay and lesbian Jews. They want also to be Orthodox Jews, seeing no conflict between the gay lifestyle and the Orthodox Jewish lifestyle.

But isn’t there a fundamental underlying conflict? We don’t have communal organizations for those who announce they are going to eat pork or not observe the laws of Taharas ha Mishpachah. It’s the opposite: think of those shuls named Congregation Shomrei Shabbos or Congregation Mikveh Israel or some similar name. Don’t Jews band together to do mitzvos, not aveiros? Should we go back to a more genteel time, the old Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy: we won’t speculate about your private life as long as you don’t flaunt it? Isn’t homosexuality and other prohibited behavior outright pritzus, and not simply a lifestyle choice?

There are homosexuals married by civil law who are the biological parents, adoptive parents and stepparents of Jewish children. These are children who are halachically Jewish, born to Jewish mothers. They are being registered in yeshivos and day schools by gays and lesbians who want a Jewish education for their children. If a yeshiva turns away families with television in the home, can it turn away a Jewish child with two mommies or two daddies? Should a yeshiva take in any child who truly wants to learn more about his or her religion? It’s not the child’s fault what the parents do, or are.

But doesn’t a yeshiva or day school naturally want children from its own level of observance, from its own culture? For example, wouldn’t it be perfectly legitimate for a Sephardic yeshiva to take Sephardic children and not Ashkenaz? Or for a Bobover Chasidic yeshiva to require children to be Bobover, or at least from some other Chasidic group of an observance level similar to Bobov (Belz, Amshinov, Pupa)? So should or could our day schools and yeshivos turn away children whose families do not have the kind of lifestyle they prefer, not limited only to excluding gay and lesbian Jews, but also others?

What about gay and lesbian Jews who perform the mitzvos: gay men who wear Tzitzis and yarmulkes; lesbian women who are shomer Shabbos and Kashrus. Can we hold that there are Orthodox Jews who do certain sins, just like everyone sins? Or is it a lifestyle conflict that is incompatible? Can we be tolerant toward gays and lesbians, accepting of them as people, while condemning what they do? Are we homophobic bigots to reject their lifestyles as being against the Torah? Do we allow openly gay men and women to join our shuls, or quietly ask them to keep their private lives private?

Is Orthodox Judaism a big tent, big enough to include gay and lesbian Jews? Or must we exclude all those individuals who unapologetically and willfully violate an explicit prohibition of the Torah? What about celibate homosexuals and lesbians, those who consider themselves to be gay but do not engage in acts of intimacy? If a known pork eater is not at this moment eating pig meat, is he or she still a sinner? Is it just the activity itself or the entire lifestyle promoting and celebrating this activity? And where does Daas Torah, the rulings of our Gedolim, hold on these issues? Do we condemn sincere Jews for being too steeped in serious sins, and accept them only if they have utterly given up this lifestyle and become true Baalei-Teshuvah?

I don’t have the answers. I only have the questions.

Creating a Consciousness of Connection

One of the problems we face is a lack of support and connection. There are many different needs: jobs, housing, spouses, advice, friendship and in our increasingly busy world there seems to be a shortage of people to turn to.

A first step is to try to create a consciousness of connection and caring. We’re not all in the position to run big projects but we’re all in the position to take small steps to collectively address the problem.

Some of the best advice I’ve heard on this subject is from Rebbetzin Heller, who points out that creating connection involves asking ourselves two questions when we’re talking to someone:
1) What can I learn from this person?
2) What can I give to this person?

Everybody has knowledge, insights and perspectives that we don’t have and that they want to share. All we have to do is listen and learn and in the process we not only gain from what they teach, but we also create a connection to the person.

Giving comes in many shapes and sizes like finding someone a job, making a shidduch, giving advice, giving compliments, building confidence or just having a listening ear. Giving is the great connection generator and if we just raise our awareness of what’s involved, we can create the bonds we all want and need.

One of the foremost experts on behavior change suggests the follow steps to create new habits:
1) Make it tiny – simplify the behavior
2) Find a spot in your routine where this tiny behavior can fit in
3) Train the cycle – do it every day

If once a day we approach a person with the consciousness of learning and/or giving we can grow this habit and create beneficial connections for ourselves and all the people we come in contact with.

One of the things we want to do through Beyond BT is host live events where people can connect with one another. The next one is an Oneg scheduled this Shabbos, February 11 from 8:30 pm to 11:30 pm in Kew Gardens Hills. We encourage everybody in Kew Gardens Hills this Shabbos to stop by. It’ll give you a great opportunity to work on your new learning/giving/connecting habit.

Light to The Jews

We as Jews are failing our own people. Many people’s experiences with Judaism have clearly not been warm or inspiring enough for them to seek out more than a superficial level of involvement in Judaism. I believe that BTs especially need to be comfortable enough in their choice to become observant so as not to depict Judaism as a set of rigid rules. I think FFBs, due to more confidence, are generally better at showing others the beauty of Yiddishkeit.

IMHO, in dealing with secular (or Reform or Conservative) Jews, the focus must be on hashkafa and not necessarily halacha. We must be shining examples of mitvot bein adam l’haveiro, kindness, chesed, yashrut, etc. I cannot count the number of Jews (American & Israeli) who had negative preconceived notions of frum Jews, who told me “I’ve never met a religious Jew like you before”.

Our unique look (kippah, modest dress, etc.) makes us stand out and we are held to a higher standard by the general public because of it. We are walking advertisements for Observant Judaism; we must not ever forget this. If anything comes out of this thread, I hope it’s that.

– A Recent Comment By Susan

Remembering the Conservative and Orthodox Jewish worlds of the 60s and 70s

I have been a B.T. since 74. This is how I remember the Conservative and Orthodox Jewish worlds of the 60s and 70s.

Orthodoxy was a lot less extreme right-wing at that time, and Conservative Judaism was a lot less extreme left-wing.

People were actually able to describe themselves as “Conservadox,” which would be nearly impossible to do nowadays.

Many Conservative Jews at that time kept some form of Kashrus and Shabbos, while there were married Jewish women, even Rebbetzins, who considered themselves Modern Orthodox but wore pants and did not cover their hair.

Most Jews had families of only two or three children (birth control was never discussed but unofficially practiced in some form by even strictly Orthodox Jews) and all Jewish children were pushed to attend and graduate college.

All Jewish boys, whether religious or not, were expected to support their families, and so were steered to become doctors, lawyers and dentists; girls were encouraged to pursue female friendly jobs like teaching as a sideline to their most important job, raising Jewish children and running a Jewish home.

Holocaust survivors never talked about their experiences, preferring instead to look ahead to the future generation of Jewish children rather than look back at the awful past.

The only hint was in the names of the Jewish children: e.g. Michael would be for the grandfather Mordechai who had died at Auschwitz, Linda for Leah the grandmother who had perished at Bergen-Belsen.

All Jews, Orthodox or Conservative or Reform, fervently supported Israel and bought Israeli products and State of Israel bonds.

Orthodox Jewish men wearing felt hats and dark suits were indistinguishable from the Conservative and Reform Jewish men of the 1950′s, as all men at that time wore felt hats and dark suits.

Few Orthodox Jewish men had beards, as all needed to go out and earn a living in a society that was hostile to bearded men; however, nobody asked a sheilah of a Rav as to which brands of electric shaver were kosher to use or not.

What ultimately changed the Orthodox Jewish world was that Jewish education, being low-paid, ended up attracting only the extreme right-wing, rebbes and morahs who pushed an extreme right-wing Orthodox Judaism on their students, for better or for worse.

Conservative and Reform Jewish education dwindled from the hated every afternoon Hebrew school down to once-a-week Sunday school down to a couple of Bar- and Bat- Mitzvah lessons at age 12.

Meanwhile, soaring crime and declining academic standards at public high schools sent concerned Orthodox Jewish parents to yeshiva high schools with demanding double curricula in secular studies and limudei kodesh.

Originally published as a comment.

Is It Hip to be Sefardi?

By Ilene Rosenblum

Rabbi Avraham Yosef, Chief Rabbi of Holon and the son of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, recently declared that all newly religious Jews should follow the Sefardi tradition, regardless of their heritage.

I’ve heard this one before. Eating kitniyot, legumes on Passover and jamming to music that doesn’t have the oy oy oy refrain at first sounds enticing. But that’s ignoring the full picture. While some Ashkenazim wait anywhere between one hour and six hours after eating meat before eating dairy products, I’m unaware of any Sefardi tradition to wait fewer than six. Sefardi men also wake up before dawn to say Selichot for the entire month of Elul. That’s a lot of sacrificed ice cream and sleep for some chummus on Pesach.

Maybe the Sefardim want to gain a little more ba’al teshuva clout. In my experience, there is much less outreach from Sefardi institutions, and should a person of Sefardi descent become more observant, they often find support from Chabad or get “streamlined” into a program that doesn’t teach Sefardi customs. But I don’t think that is what is at stake here.

What is interesting is that this comment referred to Jews becoming more observant — not converts. Why not encourage the Jew to connect to his or her Jewish roots but rather to plant new ones? Although I believe the argument is flawed and otherwise problematic, it’s one thing to suggest that converts adapt a certain set of customs, it’s another to have a Jew change.

According to an article in Ynet, the rabbi explained in the halachic responses section of the Jewish website Moreshet, that in Israel one must embrace Sephardic traditions. In order to reconcile the precept that one mustn’t abandon the tradition of one’s fathers “and do not forsake the teachings of your mother,” he ruled that those born to religious parents should follow their traditions, but if a Jew has no religious background, no family tradition in halachic matters, that person must accept the Sephardic tradition and laws.

What about for someone like me, who comes from a traditional household that was clearly Ashkenazi but not Shabbat-observant? It would seem an insult to the tradition brought over by my grandparents and great-grandparents — albeit watered down in the United States — to switch to something else rather than try to revive what I do have.

While the gaps between Ashkenazi and Sephardi observance are not always so wide, it has been difficult enough keeping up with the prayers and songs I have not understood, unfamiliar phrases, doing this and not that on Shabbat, and odd customs, that it would have been an undue emotional burden to distance myself from what may be familiar, including my family!

Besides, I can’t imagine expecting to get a real tan without turning red, downing hilbe or being able to properly shake my hips. Pass the whitefish.

Check out Ilene’s blog at www.ilenerosenblum.com/blog.

Leadership vs Isolationism

Rabbi Micah Segelman

The Orthodox community is poised to assume the mantle of Jewish leadership in America. Demographics attest to our continued growth both in absolute terms and as a portion of the overall Jewish community. We are the most passionate and knowledgeable about Judaism and Israel and are the most willing to give of our time and money for Jewish causes. We are the stewards of the Torah’s wisdom and thus have so much to share with other Jews. But are we thinking and acting like leaders?

Klal Yisroel’s mission as the chosen people is to lead the entire world in drawing closer to Hashem (1). “Thus it became necessary that one nation be introduced into the ranks of the nations which, through its history and life, should declare that G-d is the only creative cause of existence, and that the fulfillment of His will is the only goal of life (2).” This requires that we adhere to higher standards and that to a degree we separate ourselves from the world around us (1). “Such a mission imposed upon this people another duty, the duty of separation, of ethical and spiritual separateness (2).”

While separation is required it seems to me that total isolation from the world around us is incompatible with the leadership that the Torah demands of us. If we only have the ability to relate to people within the Torah camp then we’re not fulfilling our great mission. We can’t influence a world from which we have retreated.

Jewish interests are constantly threatened. We are faced with disproportionate criticism and inappropriate censure of Israel. We are confronted by secularism, materialism, and promiscuity. Our Orthodox interests are threatened by groups of Jews who oppose Torah study and observance and we are challenged by the extreme left wing of modern Orthodoxy. We must forcefully and honestly engage our antagonists and lay our rightful claim to the moral high ground. Yet in doing so we must display leadership and not succumb to narrow parochialism. When we show disdain for other viewpoints we antagonize people who are outside of our own community. We must use calm and compelling logic and not resort to strident and intolerant language. Instead of confident and reasoned arguments we sometimes resort to shrill tones and personal attacks. We are alienating those who could become our supporters.

A friend of mine grew up in a traditional but non-frum home and the children were enrolled in an elementary school Yeshiva. One day his brother’s Rebbe told the class that “Golda Meir is a rasha” (this story happened in the early 70’s). Largely as a result of this incident all of the children in my friend’s family were transferred to public school. My friend is a fine Ben Torah and Marbitz Torah. But none of his siblings are frum.

We can learn how to effectively lead from many of the recent responses to the issue of ordaining a woman to serve in a Rabbinical role. The statements from the Moetzes Gedolei Torah and the recent letter from HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky (3) were forceful but not strident. Many of the articles written (such as those by Rabbi Adlerstein, Rabbi Ginzberg, and Rabbi Shafan) also struck the right balance. Unfortunately, even a well formulated and constructive article written in a moderate tone can generate negativity when a few phrases are seen as unnecessarily harsh, especially when they are taken out of context (4). This too should be instructive for us.

If we fail to teach our children and students how to relate to people outside the Torah camp we are building a future Torah community incapable of leadership. We must set boundaries for our children and students in their interaction with the outside world. We correctly stress the dangers which the world around them presents. However, our ultimate intent is to equip them to make their way in the world as confident Bnei Torah. Our intent should be to prepare them to confront the outside world – not to paralyze their interaction with the world around them.

In discussing whether a ben Torah should go to college one of my Rebbeim said that he’s “Pro Torah” and not “Anti College.” This seems to me to be a much healthier message than telling people that college is “treif.” If we stigmatize secular education we are teaching people to be afraid of the outside world. Whether to pursue secular education is an individual decision to be made with great care and proper guidance. Furthermore, there are different valid Torah approaches to this issue.

However, I would hope that all agree that we can’t produce a generation of Bnei Torah who are thoroughly insulated from the world around them. This doesn’t require advanced secular education per se. But it requires a healthy attitude towards and the ability to understand and communicate effectively with the outside world.

I once returned home after being away in Yeshiva for a few months and came to shul for shacharis. Even to this day I often wear colored or striped shirts. However, on that particular day I was wearing a white shirt, dark pants, and a dark jacket. A man in shul whispered a derisive remark (which I unfortunately overheard) to the effect that, “Looks like they did a good job brainwashing him.” Clothing is fairly innocuous and yet it created a tremendous barrier, even for a person who is Orthodox. Imagine the barrier that would have been created if I truly came across as cloistered. And imagine if the other person was much further removed from Torah than my critic was.

Being comfortable in the outside world will be helpful to people in earning a living. But this isn’t the only motivation in engaging the world around us. Being overly restrictive carries the risk of alienating people who don’t want to live an isolated life. Cloistering ourselves makes us incapable of bringing other Jews closer to Torah. The inability to engage the outside world precludes us from advocating for causes that are important to us.

We have an opportunity to lead and to make a tremendous Kiddush Hashem. But are we up to the task?

Sources
(1)Seforno, Shemos 19:4-6
(2)Rav Hirsch, The Nineteen Letters (Spring Valley, NY 1988), Letter Four
(3)Five Towns Jewish Times, Letters to the Editor, July 8, 2010
(4)Jewish Week, ‘Rabba’ Appearance Stirs Up Controversy, June 30, 2010

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