Sunday, October 04, 2015

Shemini Atzeres - the Season of Simcha

The Chasam Sofer makes a very interesting comment about Shemini Atzeres. He says that this particular Yom Tov does not have any special symbol or Mitzvah act that enhances our observance of the Yom Tov. He notes that on Pesach we have Matzah. On Shavuos we have the Shtei HaLecham – the 2 breads brought with the sacrifices of the day. On Sukkos we have the four species (commonly called Luvav and Esrog).  On Rosh HaShanna we have the Sofar. And on Yom Kippur we fast.

On Shemini Atzeres we have only the holiness of the day. This says the Chasam Sofer is all we need. V’Hayisah Ach Sameach – Shemini Atzeres is all about the Simcha of Yom Tov. This is the focus on Shemini Atzeres.

As we complete this holiday season - my wish to all of my readers and commenters a truly joyous Yom Tov. Chag Sameach

Friday, October 02, 2015

Family Comes First

Rav Meyer Maryles
My son and his family are here for a family Simcha and for Sukkos. This is a rare occasion. My entire family is in Chicago. All 4 of my children, their spouses and all of my grandchildren. Happily - it is taking up a lot of my time. Much as I intended to do so, I do not have any time to write a new post today.

As a side note, those who are able to attend and are so inclined, my son, Rav Meyer Maryles will be giving a Shiur this Shabbos at 6:45 PM at the Agudah of West Rogers Park. (After Mincha).

To all my readers and commentors, have a Good Shabbos.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Misguided Motivation

There is an interesting – if sad  video in Ynet (which can be seen below)about those women in Israel that wear Burkas. Ariela Sternbuch  went undercover (no pun intended) into this world to see what it is all about – and ‘filmed’ it. These women believe that covering up every inch of their bodies – including their faces -in public  is what God demands of them.

I have written about the Burka Women before. Needless to say they are in my view, grossly in error about that. But this is what can happen when modesty in dress is over-emphasized. This is not to say that Tznius in how one dresses isn’t important. It is. No one – men or women - should walk around in a manner that provokes lustful thoughts in others. However, since men are more inclined to have such thoughts via the visual, it is they that should be careful to avoid immodestly dressed women or images of them. To the extent that women can help men in out in that regard by avoiding immodest dress is a value that should not be ignored.

The question is, how far should a woman go to help men out in that regard? Aside from the basic Halachic requirement to cover up those parts of the body that are considered Erva, to my mind it is a function relative to the customs  in the society in which one lives. So that in a country like Iran a Jewish woman should respect the modesty standards of that country – even if it goes beyond our own Halachic requirements.

In a country like Israel or America, modesty standards are far less than what Halacha requires. So that one need only fulfill the basic requirements of Halacha. This does not mean that if someone wishes to dress even more modestly than Halacha requires - that they can’t do so. Of course they can. But where does one draw that line?

To be frank, I’m not sure. But I believe I can say with a high degree of confidence that wearing a Burka is not it. It goes way too far. There is no Halacha – or even a Chumra -  for a woman to cover her face. Nor is there a Halacha that requires a woman to be shapeless and wear what is basically a tent over her body. What that ends up doing is distorting what being modest is all about. Modesty is more than about what one wears. It is about how one behaves in public and in how one deals with their fellow man.

So why the Burkas? The women in this video explain their reasons. They see themselves as temptresses sent here on earth by God for the purpose of undoing that status in the extreme. But listening to them reinforces my belief that they have taken cues from the constant haranguing from a variety of rabbinic leaders that that say - the way that women dress is the cause of all of our problems.

So these women take t all to heart and indeed blame themselves  – as women – for all the problems in the world. There is no extreme that goes too far in the goal of Tznius. A goal that if not fulfilled will cause men to have forbidden lustful thoughts and possibly even immoral acts. They have decided that it is God’s will – indeed it was why they were created – to cover up every inch of their bodies, and avoid being in public as much as possible. In those instances that they must go out – to do so when the likelihood is least that men will be there.

They look at how our Arab cousins dress and say, their level of Tznius is better than ours. It behooves us to be at least as modest in dress as they are. And this is how they raise their children.

By their own admission this is a great sacrifice. It is not being done to achieve greater spirituality – although clearly they feel that by doing this – they are. It is being done because they see this as their mission in life given to them by God.

It is indeed ironic that the very thing that makes a someone an Oved HaShem – doing what God wants – that they are so misguided in what they believe that to be.  As sad as this is, the motivation of these women is far more in line with what Judaism is all about, than it is with those women who seek personal spiritual fulfillment.

Contrast this with – say – those women who feel they can only be fulfilled as a Jew by donning Teffilin, or being called to the Torah – something which God does not require of women. For these women elevating their own spirituality is what they seek to accomplish. The Burka women seek only to fulfill God’s will as they understand it.

But motivation that is misguided is still wrong. Because it leads to behavior that ends up making a mockery of Judaism in the eyes of the world. Not to mention the psychological harm it causes to their children

Thankfully they are a very small group of people. But they are large enough to capture the attention of the media and bring ridicule upon God’s chosen people. And for that reason alone thy need to be re-educated to see just how wrong they are interpreting what a Jewish woman should look like.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Unacceptable Provocation by Religious Zionist Jews

Birchas Kohainm  (priestly blessing) at the Kotel
This is not going to be a popular view among my Religious Zionist friends. But I believe it is Emes. There was an Arab protest (mostly religious Muslims in Jerusalem) on Sukkos as Jews were on their way to the Kotel. Not that things like this haven’t happened before. They have. Sometimes violently. I recall for example Muslims on Har HaBayis throwing rocks down onto visitors at the Kotel a while back. I’m sure this type of thing happens more often than is reported. (Although in all the many times I have visited the Kotel it never happened.)

I can’t help thinking that this particular violent behavior by religious Muslims is a direct result of those Religious Zionists that feel they must assert their rights to pray on HarHaBayis (The Temple Mount - where the Beis HaMikdash once stood). They seem to be constantly challenging the Muslims on the mount by going up there to pray. The most extreme example of this was when – not long ago - a devout Religious Zionist Jew active in the so called ‘Har HaBayis Movement’ (Temple Mount Faithful) was practically murdered for going up there and praying.

Everyone was rightly upset that a man was practically killed for practicing his religious beliefs. There was universal condemnation of that from all sectors of Judaism  - my own condemnation included.  

That said, I do not see the justification for this kind of provocation. Yes, Har HaBayis is ours. That is made clear in the Torah. But now is not the time to make those assertions.

First of all there are parts of Har HaBayis that no one is permitted to set foot upon today because of our presumed state of Tumah (spiritual impurity) that can only be fully cleansed through the ashes of the Para Adumah (red heifer) and immersion in a Mikva. We have no such ashes today because there has not yet been found a completely red hefeir that does not contain more than a single non red hair and that has not been worked in any way.

Now it is true that there are some areas of Har HaBayis which do not require such spiritual cleanliness which technically one is permitted to stand upon. But most Poskim (virtually all the Charedi ones) have said that one should not rely on this area and just stay off of the Temple Mount completely. That has not, however, stopped groups like the Temple Mount Faithful from alighting there.

I’m sure (or at least I hope) that in most cases it’s about the desire to pray as close to Israel’s holiest site as possible. The problem is that there is another religion in control up there that will not have it. For many reasons. Some of which should be understood - even to those of us that believe that we have the right to be up there.

Imagine for a moment if the situation was reversed. We finally had a Para Adumah and the Beis HaMikdash was rebuilt.  Somehow the Muslims were in control of the State of Israel and we lived there as 2nd class citizens. (Which is how Muslims traditionally treat Jews that live in their countries.) But we were now in control of Har HaBayis.

Imagine if a devout Muslim wanted to pray in the Azara - close to the Kodesh HaKadoshim (Holy of Holies in the Beis HaMikdash) which they too believe is holy. We wouldn’t allow it. If they forced their way up there and prayed close to the Holy of Holies, would that not upset us? It would be an outrage! We would surely be as upset at them as they are now at us.  

This of course does not justify the violence. But I hope it at least illustrates why they are so upset by a Jew praying on the Temple Mount. They know we are in charge overall. And that our military might could easily enable us to take over Har HaBayis. They see people alighting in that area who have sworn to destroy their holy mosque and build their own holy house of prayer.  Of course they are going to be upset by that.

Going up there even for religious reasons (especially for those reasons from their perspective) is a major provocation and threat to them! This is not the time to do this. Firstly because most Poskim don’t approve and more importantly there is no productive end to it. There is no way that we are going to get back Har HaBayis before Moshiach comes. Any attempt to assert our rights there serves only to antagonize the devout Muslims praying up there – which ultimately incites them to be even more violent.

To say they attack us anyway is a poor excuse in my view. One does not pour gasoline on a fire just because there is a fire anyway.

So as much as I believe we have every right to pray up there, I protest anyone who decides to do it before Moshiach comes. Nothing will be gained except a lot of Jews getting hurt - in some cases seriously. Not to mention the Halachic problems with it. Or a world watching that will see this as a bunch of religious fanatics from an occupying force causing trouble for the poor underdog Palestinians.

For the time being we should be satisfied with what we do have. The Kotel - which is closest non controversial point to the Makom HaMkidash. This is the site that is almost universally approved for all Jews to visit and pray. If the Religious Zionist zealots would stop provoking them by going up there, I’m sure that there would not be any protests on Sukkos like the ones in the video below; protests that are quite scary – especially for little children.

I therefore support all government efforts to prevent these people from going up there by whatever means necessary. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Erring on the Side of Safety

Guest Contribution by a Noted Religious Psychologist

R' Henoch Plotnik signed  on to the  Kol Koreh
I was sent the following from a respected religious psychologist that chooses to remain anonymous. He is considered an expert in the field of sexual abuse. It was sent in response to my recent post on Rav Dovid Cohen’s endorsement of a Kol Koreh signed by 100 Charedi rabbis requiring suspicions of sexual abuse to be report directly to the police. It follows unedited in its entirety.

My two cents.

Aside from agreeing with Rav Dovid, I have a few comments to note.

There are two overlapping issues here, crime and psychopathology.  Therapists do not treat crime, and the criminal justice system cannot remedy or cure psychopathology.  In an effort to tease these out a bit, while both can coincide in the same individual at the same time, let’s expound.  When an incident of molestation occurs, a crime has been committed.  

This single incident alone does not determine pathology.  Any review of criteria in the DSM would note that various symptoms, conditions, or behaviors must have a duration or repeated events in order to qualify for a diagnosis.  This is actually accurate, because a lapse of judgment does not indicate a disease or disorder.  That is unquestionable.  This would mean that there needs to be an alternative explanation to the “ruach shtus” that is behind every aveirah, which although it sounds like mental illness, does not exempt one from culpability.  

And there is a clear halacha about the exemption of a shoteh from responsibility.  There are many episodes of molestation that involve a single or limited number of events.  This situation might not qualify for a diagnosis of pedophilia.  Such cases might be prosecuted for the criminal aspect of victimization and the involved damage, but would unnecessarily be handed off to therapists to treat.  Such individuals cannot be cured because they are not ill, any more than someone who committed any other aveirah.

In pedophilia itself, there are different underlying issues.  There may be a (1) perverted sexual attraction.  There might be (2) sexual addiction.  And there may be (3) sociopathology – a criminal victimization tendency.  Of these three, it is generally believed that #2 is treatable (I agree).  #1 is subject to the current debate on SSA.  I believe in theory that it is treatable, but there is no current knowledge of just how to accomplish that.  #3 has never been shown to be possible, despite the massive investment of governmental bodies to insist their prison system is rehabilitative.

In this regard, someone shown to be a serial molester belongs incarcerated for life, to protect society.  Limited sentences become comical, as several cases in the media indicate.  However, there is a sometimes complex and intricate judgment to make – whether an offended is a serial molester or not.  How much of a risk is he (or she)?  

I am firmly convinced that there is nary a Rov, however great a scholar, talmid chochom, or boki in Shas and Poskim, who has the skills to assess this.  Most mental health professionals lack such expertise.  Even the most highly trained would be making an educated guess (and I would rely on that).  

So how is anyone to make a judgment of “raglayim ledovor”?  In theory, this sounds responsible – it would attest to the risk level.  In reality, I have no clue how anyone, including the greatest gadol, could do this.  Perhaps there is a “ruach hakodesh” factor, where a gadol would possess the ability to read the future and know that there will never be another victim.  Are we permitted to rely on this?  Even Chassidim who ascribe “ruach hakodesh” type powers to their rebbes would struggle with this.

So Rav Dovid is clear on this, and we should also be so.  We have a situation where there is a safety issue, and we need to be ready to err on the side of safety.

Have a great, wonderful, and Simcha filled YomTov.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Defining Modern Orthodoxy as Centrism

Centrist leader, R' Aharon Lichtenstein, ZTL 
I found the debate between Rabbis Avrohom Gordimer and Michael Chernick enlightening. The truth is that I agree and disagree with both of them - although I object to the insulting tone used by Rabbi Chernick. The subject is Modern Orthodoxy and how to define it. This is a subject that is dear to my heart since I consider myself Modern Orthodox.

I have discussed this issue in various ways and contexts many times. My definition is very simple and very broad. Modern Orthodoxy first and foremost is exactly what the name implies it is. It is Orthodox (which is the subject) and modern (which is the modifier adjective). 

Orthodox is defined in the dictionary as: conforming to established doctrine especially in religion.

Modern is defined by that same dictionary as: relating to the present time or the recent past

This means that we Modern Orthodox are loyal to what defines us as Jews: The Torah and Halacha derived from it. The basic elements of modernity are secular education, ethics, and culture. We have a positive view of that - with a caveat that rejects anything that contradicts the Torah.This is where the debate between Rabbi Gordimer and Rabbi Chernick comes in.

Rabbi Chernick rejects Centrism (sometimes referred to as  Right Wing Modern Orthodoxy) as being Modern Orthodox - considering it a form of Charedism defined as simply wearing modern clothing and speaking passable English. While this is true about Centrists it hardly defines them. 

Centrists, he says, are beholden to Daas Torah – meaning that they too rely on Poskim (albeit their own) just like Charedim. Modern Orthodoxy, he says, rejects that notion and sees that authority belonging strictly to the Morah D’Asra - the communal or synagogue rabbi of any given community. That may be true for the most part. However meta Halachic decisions have always been referred to by the Morah D'Asra to people more knowledgeable than themselves. 

Centrist rabbis realize that there are Torah giants that can make more informed decisions than themselves. This is not an impediment to Modern Orthodoxy as I defined it above. 

Another important distinction is how we view the State of Israel. Centrists have a positive view of it and support it. Charedim have a negative view of it and at best tolerate it and at worst condemn it and its founders.  That positive view lies anywhere between a Religious Zionism seen as near messianic to a view that sees no inherent messianism in the State but nonetheless sees it as a very positive development for the Jewish people since Israel was, is, and always will be our God given homeland. Not to mention the fact that it was a haven for Holocaust survivors displaced after the war.

In this sense all of Modern Orthodoxy is the same. But there are other incarnations of Modern Orthodoxy. One is what I call MO Lite, where I fear many Modern Orthodox Jews lie. Jews in this segment see themselves as Modern first and Orthodox second. Which sometimes means that they will compromise Halacha they consider trivial in favor of modernity.

As I understand it, this is due mostly to being Jewishly under-educated (either by circumstance or by design) . Having been raised Sabbath observant; in Kosher homes; and belonging to an Orthodox Shul they tend to continue along those lines generally. In other words they are more culturally Orthodox than they ideologically Orthodox. 

The other category is Left Wing Modern Orthodoxy - which has morphed into Open Orthodoxy (OO). I believe that Rabbi Chernick defines Modern Orthodoxy this way. While he doesn’t say so explicitly, his definitions can easily fit into that category. 

They have openly rejected the wisdom of their great mentors and substituted their own wisdom to make decisions so controversial that it has placed them outside of anything that can be called Orthodox. 

Just recently one of their bright lights has called for accepting biblical criticism as one legitimate approach to the Torah. Which is identical to the Conservative Movements position. Both OO and the Conservative Movement apparently accept (but do not demand) the belief that the bible was written by different people in different eras and redacted (rather poorly) into one book. They have also bowed to spirit of the times in rejecting centuries old tradition in favor of modern concepts of ethics.

This is not modern Orthodoxy. This is as Rabbi Gordimer points out neoconservative Judaism.
That said, I disagree with Rabbi Gordimer on why we seek secular educations and engage with modern culture. Here is what he says:
Modern Orthodox Jews can remain fully engaged in the broader world and its educational and cultural offerings, they can dress in contemporary Western style, speak with enlightened articulation. 
In this I agree with Rabbi Chernick. This can easily be a description of a moderate Charedi Jew. Rabbi Chernick identifies this as Centrism which he does not consider to be Modern Orthodox. I disagree.  Centrism is more that moderate Charedism. It is not passive interaction with the culture. It is active. We do not only see utilitarian value in it. We see intrinsic value in secular knowledge, culture and ethics. I always think of what Rav Aharon Lichtenstein said about the English Literature he studied at Harvard. It gave him a much deeper understanding of certain portions of Tanach. Rav Lichtherstein was the embodiment of the Modern Orthodox Jew - the Centrist. He is the role model we should all follow. Not those that have rejected tradition as antiquated.  

Rabbi Chernick points out we are obligated to adjust to the times. I agree. New circumstances require new Halacha. But new innovations in Halacha must be developed in ways that are consistent with past innovations. As Dr. Eliezer Berkovits once told me: We do not adapt the Torah to fit the times. We apply the Torah to the times. In the view of most Centrists - only the greatest rabbinic minds of our time are capable of decisions that change our traditional way of life. Not the Mara D’Asra (which means community or synagogue rabbi).  

No matter how well educated he is Jewishly – he is no match for a someone like Rav Soloveitchik who was is immersed in Torah. Only people like him, or Rav Lichtenstein in his day, or people like Rav Hershel Shachter in our day can make the kinds of ground breaking decisions that OO rabbis make. Which are based more on what their constituency wants than on the unbiased decision making process of a great Halachic mind.

I understand why they do it. They see it as Kiruv (although I never heard them use that word). 

Rabbi Chernick says: 
Many conditions of modern Jewish life are unprecedented. Therefore, creative halachic responses to these new conditions are required for successful Torah living and the healthy continuity of the mesorah. 
This is true. But the idea that a synagogue rabbi has the ability to see things without any bias - or authority to make major changes in tradition cannot be - nor has it ever been - an accepted approach to innovation. Even if it is for purposes of ‘drawing Jews into greater mitzvah observance’. That is the job of someone more objective and outside his immediate influences.

As I have said so many times in the past, the future of Judaism rests with Moderate Charedim (the overwhelming majority) and Centrists.

I know I will be accused of seeing only my way as the right way. Guilty as charged. I do. As far as Modern Orthodoxy is concerned, this is what I truly believe. I believe Centrists are the true bearers of Modern Orthodoxy and it will be they (us) who will ultimately perpetuate it into the future. OO (what LWMO has evolved into) is in my view destined for failure in any Orthodox context. MO-Lite Jews will only survive as Orthodox if they become more serious about their religious ideology and join with Centrists (or moderate Charedim). They or their children will otherwise either assimilate out of Judaism - or join the left which will take them out of Orthodoxy

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Rav Dovid Cohen on Reporting Sex Abuse to the Police

Rav Dovid Cohen
By now it is rather well known that the Agudah Moetzes requires that all suspicions of child sexual abuse be first reported to a rabbi so that he can decide whether the suspicions are credible enough to report to police.

I believe that when they made this declaration it was in response to Rav Elyashi’s Psak that any suspicions which have ‘Raglayim L’Davar” (loosely translated as credible evidence) should be reported directly to the police. The Moetzes felt that the layman is not capable of determining what is considered halachicly credible evidence and therefore he must first vet all such suspicions before a Rav. 

Their fear was that innocent people will be accused and that their lives will be ruined – even if they are later found to be innocent. While that may be a legitimate concern, there is near universal agreement that when a child says he was abused, it is rarely if ever made up. 

That has resulted in a lot of terrible injustices. In one rather famous case a huge Talmid Chacham that gave Shiurim in Lakewood’s BMG was hounded out of town because he reported his son’s abuse to the police without the permission of rabbis involved in the case. (Although I have been informed that one of those rabbis actually did give him permission to report it to the police.)

I’m told that a lot of child sex abuse is not reported when rabbis get involved. I think that’s what the Kol Korei (public posting) signed by 100 Charedi rabbis urging people to go directly to the police - was all about. These rabbis, chief among them Agudah Dayan Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst actually defied the Moetzes requirement to vet all suspicions before a rabbi first. Why did they do this? Perhaps they were given a crash course in the devastation suffered by victims. I was told by an activist involved in that letter that one of those rabbis told her, ‘We were living in the dark ages’.

Whatever the reason for it, it was obviously the right decision. The question remains as to why there are some glaring omissions from this august list? There are some prominent names missing that have not signed. I can’t answer the question. But if I had to guess, I would say that they are ‘team players’. Meaning that they will not defy any edict the Moetzes comes out with. They consider that defying defying Daas Torah!  Which leads to another question. Why did those card carrying Charedi rabbis that did sign feel it was just to defy the Moetzes?  And why after all does the Agudah Moetzes continue to insist on reporting to rabbis first? 

Could the answer be that they simply don’t realize the devastation sexual abuse causes to the victims? This is exactly what Rav Dovid Cohen, a world class Posek suggests in an interview (which can be heard below) with Rabbi David Lichtenstein:  ‘I am not very tolerant of Rabbanim who don’t know how to eat this thing’…‘They don’t know what molestation is all about.’ ‘And that’s why they perhaps feel that it’s nothing’.

One may recall that Rabbi Cohen had made some controversial statements about another issue in the past. Which were extremely upsetting to me and to which I strongly objected. But the fact is that he is still a world class Posek and is the Posek for Ohel.

Rav Cohen was asked in that interview about whether he supports that Kol Korei. He said he enthusiastically does and doesn’t understand why it was even necessary. With rare exception he always advises people to do so. So he too is in opposition to the Agudah Moetzes postion on this matter.

In response to a question about why this is not Mesirah (informing on a Jew to secular authorities) he said that it is a matter of Halacha based on the Shulchan Aruch. When a community is endangered there is no such thing as Mesirah (in cases where the death penalty is off the table - which is the case with sex offenders). He further explains that children are believed in these cases in order to protect the community. Based on this and the high incidence of recidivism, he believes that convicted molesters should be jailed for life. Not as a punishment. But as a protection for the community.

Rabbi Cohen further says that rabbis are not trained like psychologists that specialize in sex abuse. They are not therefore the ones to consult in these matters. In fact he says that those who do not report suspicions of abuse directly to the police are not only NOT violating prohibitions of Mesirah, they are actually violating the clearly stated Mitzvah in the Torah of ‘Lo Samod Al Dam Re’eacha’ – ‘Do not stand (idly by) on (while) your friend’s blood (is being spilled)’! A molester is a Rodef (a pursuer whose goal is to damage you or others). The Halacha is that one must do what is necessary to stop him.

A sex offender is a Rodef. And putting him (or her) in jail is what’s necessary in most cases in order to stop him. Firing him from a job or ‘kicking him out of town’ just places the Rodef into other communities where he can continue his abuse.

It’s gratifying to see yet another world class Posek stand up to abuse in responsible ways. Whatever criticism one might have of Rabbi Cohen, it cannot be denied that he is a believer in doing the right thing as he understands it and will vigorously pursue justice no matter who opposes him - or what people say about him. He stood up for Rabbi Natan Slifkin and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein when the rest of the Charedi world accused (and still accuses) the former of heretical writings and the latter of Shmad (facilitating the conversion of Jews to Christianity). He is indeed a man of courage. And for this he deserves credit.

Hat Tip: JCW

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Godliness Versus Narcissism

On this – the day before Yom Kippur, talk of Teshuva is appropriate. Rabbi Yaakov Sussman, a Rosh Yeshiva at the Hebrew Theological College addressed a group of its alumni, supporters, and our families at the annual Shabbos Shuva Seudah.  He was brilliant and I will never be able to do justice to what he said. But his message is too important to ignore. So I will try. He spoke about Teshuva and sin.

We all sin. In our heart of hearts - each of us knows what our personal weaknesses are. But as Rabbenu Yona says in Shaarei Teshuva, it all boils down to Gaavah and Taavah – arrogance and personal desires. When we act in accordance to our own selfish interests we distance ourselves from God. Self gratification and the idea that we are always right is our downfall. And that leads to sin. On the other hand - when we are more interested in the welfare of others and do not just think of ourselves we become closer to God.

When we think of the primary character trait of our Patriarch Abraham, the idea of Chesed comes to mind. Chesed – doing for others – is virtually synonymous with Avraham Avinu. This is what moved him toward God – and what moved God toward him. The Akedah where Avaraham was willing to sacrifice his beloved son Yitzchak shows just how selfless he was. He was God directed. Not self directed.

‘What’s in it for me?’ is the antithesis of Godliness. This is what every Jew should be asking before anyone does anything in life: Is this what God wants me to do? Does God want me to behave in this way? Or to say the things I am  saying? I am not just speaking to my readers. I am speaking to myself.

The highest form of Teshuva, I think, would be to always think of God in everything you do, and not ousevles. Taavah and Gaavah are really part and parcel of the same thing:  narcissism.  If we can get ourselves to think of others instead of ourselves, without any personal agendas, that would make our Teshuva meaningful and we would become changed people. Better people.

It is not easy to do. Chances are we will revert to our old behavior and attitudes once Yom Kippur has passed. But that should at least be our goal on Yom Kippur. And who knows? Maybe some of us will succeed. And perhaps all of us will succeed at some level.

With this I wish all of my readers a G’Mar Chasima Tova, and an easy fast.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A YCT Student’s Encounter with Satmar

Jonathan Leener
I am not surprised at all. The hospitality of the Chasidic world is legendary. To a Satmar Chasid there is no such thing as judging a fellow Jew’s religiosity. A Jew is a Jew. 

Jonathan Leener, a senior rabbinical student  at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah moved into the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, entering the world of Satmar. Which gave him some trepidation based on all he has read about them in the media (and perhaps even on this blog). But his fears were not warranted. His experience in a Chasidic Shtiebel that he happened upon quite randomly was a radical departure from the Shuls he was used to in his previous neighborhood of Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Instead of the rejection or cold shoulder he expected, the atmosphere there was warm and welcoming. He was treated practically like royalty. In spite of the fact that he looked more like a Beatle than a Hasid (as he describes himself in a Times of Israel article) he was given an Aliyah and even called up to the Torah as ‘Harav Channan David’. He had never gotten an Aliyah in his old neighborhood. When he mentioned that he was going to be a rabbi the Chasdidm there seemed genuinely excited for him. He enjoyed the atmosphere of prayer there too: 
The beautiful melodies and the rhythmic swaying or shucking was completely memorizing.  I had a feeling that my ancestors davened in a shul like this back in Poland.
After Davening he enjoyed a ‘Cholent’Kiddush and lively conversation about people and issues of the day. What he took from this experience is the following: 
They redefined for me what Jewish Hospitality — hachnasat orchim — should look and feel like. With small and intentional gestures, the great divide between us seemed insignificant. 
As I said at the outset, none of this surprises me. As individuals there are few Jews that can compare with the warmth this community exudes for fellow Jews of all stripes. It doesn’t matter what you look like to them, or even what your Hashkafos might be. ‘A Yid is a Yid’. That is all that matters to them. That is how their world famous Satmar Bikur Cholim operates. (Yes, they have a website!) 

If you are sick and in the hospital in the New York area, it is not unusual to find a Satmar Chasid bringing Kosher home cooked meals to - not only you, the patient – but to all your visiting family members as well. This all stems from the warm and welcoming attitude that Satmar Chasidim have for their fellow Jews. This is a part of their Chinuch that they get exceedingly right and something from which we can all learn.

This doesn’t mean that all the criticism I have of their public or educational policies has gone away. I still have tremendous issues with them on so many levels. But in this respect, they are Tzadikim. I’m happy to look at the positive for a change and I appreciate the article by Jonathan Leener, the YCT student that took me there.  

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Isolation from the Culture Doesn't Work

What kind of Chinuch produced this obscene gesture?
Is this what isolation from society brings? An obscene gesture?! (See photo) I would not be posting this picture if it weren’t a matter of public record having been posted in the New York Post. It is a violation of my rules to use profanity in any way. But now that it is out, I have to publicly protest what this fellow did; make sure that everyone knows what it is I’m protesting; suggest what the problem might be; and a possible solution.

Obviously most Chasidim wouldn’t do this, nor would they even know what it means. That’s because they live isolated lives and wouldn’t have any way to learn such gestures.

Or do they? Well, obviously some do. The young Chasid in the picture didn’t just think it up on his own and know what it means.  It wouldn’t surprise me if he found out about it on the forbidden but increasing utilized (by Chasidim) internet. What he apparently did not learn is what a Chilul HaShem it is when a religious looking Jew who is the midst of a religious ritual makes an obscene gesture to a member of PETA.

Now I am no fan of PETA. I think they are a group of misguided people that think they act on behalf of the humane treatment of animals. In some instances they are right to protest obviously inhumane treatment. But in other cases they simply go too far in what they consider inhumane treatment. And worse – the tactics they use to achieve that goal.

In this case a member of PETA was protesting the practice of Kaparos. This is a ritual whereby one takes a  live chicken wave it over his head; while reciting words to the effect that the chicken should be in his (or her)stead for the punishment from God they deserve for sinning over the past year. They then throw the chicken on the ground after which they slaughter and either eat it or donate it to charity.

This custom is frowned upon in the Shulchan Aruch as it mimics an ancient idolatrous practice (Darkei Emori).  What most Orthodox Jews do in the modern era do is use money in lieu of a chicken and then give it to charity.

But the practice has been resurrected in our day (for some reason) and many Orthodox Jews (mostly Chasidim) do Kapros with a chicken. I personally abhor the practice as I still see it as mimicking ancient idolatrous practice - and I am also uncomfortable throwing the chicken on the ground. That said, I do not think that chicken suffers if used for Kapporos. When it is thrown on the ground it lands on its feet.  So there is no harm to the chicken until it is slaughtered. PETA would like to stop this practice. 

While I agree with the goal, I don’t agree with the motive. Nor their tactics. But what I disagree with even more is when a religious looking Jew responds to a misguided but perhaps well in intended member of PETA with one of the most universally recognized obscene gestures in the world. Nor should Kapaors with a Chicken even be done in public as seems to be the case here. (I wonder if it’s even legal to do that.)

If there was ever an argument for better Chinuch, I’d like to know what it is. I do not accept the argument that this is an exception to the rule –or that this is an immature teenager. That might work in some cases. But this fellow is obviously involved in what he believes is the sublime Mitzvah of the season, working diligently to help his co-religionists do what they believes is an important component of Teshuva.

It is unlikely that it would be someone that would be an OTD adolescent Chasid or even one at risk. It is very likely that this is a mainstream Chasid -albeit a teen. That he thinks he’s standing up for God by using an obscene gesture can only mean his education was faulty. And I’m talking about his religious education, not his ‘nonexistent’ secular education.

What a Chilul HaShem!!!

If there is a lesson here, it is that insularity does not work. Somehow the general culture seeps in. That this community pretends it doesn’t,  just makes matters worse – since that ends up ignoring the problem.