What Are Some of the Biggest Problems Facing the Jewish Community?

What Are some of the biggest problems facing the Jewish community (both frum and non-frum)?

Let’s continue this thread from last week and highlight some other issues:

Economics of Yeshiva and Family Support?

The Hashkafic Divide Between Israel and America?

Lack of Unity?

Lack of Jewish Knowledge?

Lack of connection to Hashem?

Islamic Fundamentalism?

Do We Show Enough Respect to Secular Jews?

Like most really good questions, the typical answer would be, “It depends.” It depends on the basis for the respect towards a Jew and how we personally define a “secular” Jew. The following few lines are my personal thoughts on the above question.

When I think about ways or reasons to respect another Jew, my first thought (and this really applies to non-Jews as well, based on what I’ve been taught) is the concept of Kavod HaBriyos (respect towards one of Hashem’s creations). There is an intrinsic respect that we should be giving to anyone created by Hashem, simply because their own existence is a manifestation of Hashem’s ratzon (will or desire).

The second thought regarding respect is the concept of “pintele Yid”, a Yiddish term that refers to that innate Jewish “spark” that is in each of us. The neshama of Jew contains part of Hashem and it’s that “spark” that might be another basis for respect towards other Jews, regardless of if they are “secular” or not. An understanding of both of these levels of respect is, ideally, something that should be emphasized both in the home and in our school stystems.

A third level of respect, and this is sort of “out there” depending on your religious outlook, is a feeling of respect for a Jew’s secular accomplishments. This might be on an educational, professional, or a personal level. When I use the term accomplishments, I’m not referring to financial success, but more of the effort involved in pursuing a goal. For example, in a previous profession of mine, I was the Kashrus supervisor (mashgiach) for a local Kashrus organization in a Midwestern City. At times my job required me to be at the Jewish Community Center as early as 5:30 AM. I was always impressed with the number of people I saw who were also at the JCC that early in the morning using the exercise equipment. Their dedication, on a personal level, to their health, gave me food for thought in regard to my own struggles with getting up in the morning for minyan.

The term “secular Jew” is, in my opinion, can have a few definitions. A “secular Jew” could be someone who has no connection to Judaism on any level. Without getting in any halachic obligations of Kiruv (or mitzvah of “Loving Hashem”), it’s probably safe to write that we all agree it’s important to have some connection to Judaism.

A fellow Jew who is “secular” might also be a non-affiliated Jew who has craving for gefilta fish and matzo ball soup. On an dietary level, this Jew is connecting with Judaism on their level. This secular Jew might be a co-worker, old friend from the neighborhood, or a relative. They might fell connected to Judaism not by any outward religious observance, but by purchasing Israel Bonds, donating to their local Jewish Federation, or eating a bagel with a shmeer of cream cheese on a Sunday morning.

Another view of a “secular Jew”, and I don’t personally feel this way, might be that anyone who isn’t Torah observant is “secular”. I wasn’t taught to view Jews in this way, but some people within our camp do. I have met many Jews affiliated and involved with reconstructionist, reform, and conservative congregations that are far from “secular”. They are very committed to their Judaism and very serious about it. To label them as secular is really problematic. It’s possible to respect them for their own level of observance, even if it isn’t the same as our lifestyle. This doesn’t mean that Torah-observant individuals, organizations, or educational institutions shouldn’t approach them, but try to understand where they are coming from. For a Jew to choose to attend a Shabbos evening or morning service instead of a sporting event, one-day sale with door busters, or watch TV can be as much as a challenge as it is for me not to speak loshon hora.

I’ll be honest, I think some Torah-observant Jews show tremendous respect towards secular Jews. I also think that some of us could show a bit more respect. Remembering that we are “a nation of Priests” who were given the opportunity to teach by example can only help in showing respect towards secular Jews.

The Sabbath Manifesto

Have you seen the Sabbath Manifesto and the accompanying blog. Perhaps it’s a good start towards appreciating Shabbos.

From the web site:

The Sabbath Manifesto is a creative project designed to slow down lives in an increasingly hectic world.

We’ve created 10 core principles completely open for your unique interpretation. We welcome you to join us as we carve a weekly timeout into our lives.

1) Avoid technology
2) Connect with loved ones
3) Nurture your health
4) Get outside… See More
5) Avoid commerce
6) Light candles
7) Drink wine
8) Eat bread
9) Find silence
10) Give back

Achrey Mos/Kedoshim In a Nutshell

The Rabbinical Seminary of America (Chofetz Chaim) branches across America are learning Yevamos and the Daf Yomi is currently in Sanhedrin so we thought it was appropriate to post the Achrei-Mos/Kedoshim outline upon which much of those two Masechtas are sourced.

Even if you not learning those Gemoras, the Parsha is a must read (in multiple senses of the term) and the outline is a good supplement to navigate through it.

Thanks again to Rabbi Rietti for allowing us to post these outlines. (You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash from Amazon here).

# 16 The Yom Kippur Service
# 17 Shechita Outside the Temple
# 18 Araiyut – Forbidden Relations

# 16 The Yom Kippur Service
* The Kohen is warned not to enter the Temple area except to serve.
* The Sequence of The Yom Kippur Service.

# 17 Shechita Outside the Temple
* Shechita outside Temple punishable by Karet.
* The Torah warns against consuming blood
* The Shochet must cover blood of the slaughtered animal.
* Don’t eat any animal that is either Neveila (died without ritual slaughter)
or Tereifa, an animal with an internal defect. If he does eat them, he must immerse himself and his clothes in a Mikveh.

# 18 Araiyut – Forbidden Relations
* The Torah warns against following the lifestyles of Avoda Zara
* The Torah lists forbidden relationships:
* Father or Mother
* Stepmother
* Sister
* Granddaughter
* Granddaughter
* Half sister
* Paternal Aunt
* Maternal Aunt
* Uncle’s wife
* Daughter-in-law
* Sister-in-Law
* Mother and daughter
* Nidda
* Adultery
* Do not give your children to the god Molech
* Homosexuality
* Beastiality either for a man or woman
* The Torah warns of the consequence for violation of the above is spiritual excision (Karet) and expulsion from the promised land.

# 19 Be Kedoshim!
# 20 Consequences of Major Violations

# 19 Be Kedoshim!
* Train yourselves to be in control of your cravings
* Fear Parents
* Observe Shabbat
* Warning against following Avoda Zara. 
* Don’t make a Pessel for others.
* Don’t eat Pigul
* Don’t eat Notar.
* Laws of Peah, Leket, Peret, Ollalot
* Laws of stealing, denial of rightful claims.
* Laws of Oaths:
* Laws of cheating in business & withholding wages.
* Laws against cursing.
* Laws of Justice.
* Laws of interpersonal behavior.
* Forbidden mixtures.
* Forbidden practices.
* Behave with Awe in The Temple.
* Don’t seek mediums to communicate with the dead.
* Don’t seek out a Yidoni (to enter mystical states).
* Honor the elderly and Torah scholars.
* Don’t hurt a stranger or convert
* Love the convert like you love yourself
* Honesty. Don’t miscalculate, own honest measures.

# 20 Consequences of Major Violations
* Molech – Skila
* Inquiring after Ov – Karet
* Inquiring after Yidoni – Karet
* Cursing Parents – Skila.
* Adultery – Strangulation.
* Step Mother – Skila
* Daughter in law – Skila
* Homosexuality – Skila
* Mother & Daughter – Burning.
* Beastiality – Skila
* Step sister from father or mother – Karet
* Nidda – Karet
* Aunt – both die childless
* Sister in law – both die childless
* Don’t go in the ways of other nations.
* I separated you form the other nations to behave in a holy way.
* Act of Ov – Skila
* Act of Yidoni – Skila

Today is Yom Hazikaron in Eretz Yisroel

Yom Hazikron is the day on which Israel honors its war veterans. National memorial services are held in the presence of Israel’s top leadership and military personnel. The day opens the preceding evening at 20:00 (8:00 pm), given that in the Hebrew calendar system days begin at sunset, with a siren. The siren is heard all over the country and lasts for one minute, during which Israelis stop everything (including driving, which stops highways) and stand in silence, commemorating the fallen and showing respect. Many national-religious Jews say prayers for the souls of the fallen soldiers at this time as well. The official ceremony to mark the opening of the day takes place at the Western Wall, at which time the flag of Israel is lowered to half mast.

A two-minute siren is heard the following morning, at 11:00, which marks the opening of the official memorial ceremonies and private remembrance gathering which are held at each cemetery where soldiers are buried. The day officially draws to a close between 19:00 and 20:00 (7–8:00 p.m.) in the official ceremony of Israel Independence Day on Mount Herzl, when the flag of Israel is returned to full mast.

Scheduling Yom Hazikaron right before Yom Ha-Atzma’ut is intended to remind people of the price paid for independence and of what was achieved with the soldiers’ sacrifice. This transition shows the importance of this day among Israelis, most of whom have served in the armed forces or have a connection with people who were killed during their military service. To families of the fallen, however, this isn’t always a welcomed transition as mourning while most Israelis plan their Yom Ha-Atzma’ut celebrations isn’t simple.
From Wikipedia

Here is a link to a memorial video for two talmidim/soldiers from Bnei David who were killed in Lebanon.

Would You Consider Praying for Your Fellow Baalei Teshuva?

From Derech Emet

Most Baalei Teshuvah do not have relatives to pray for them.
But they can pray for each other.

Why not pray for Baalei Teshuvah as a group or as individuals?

Every weekday Shemone Esrei includes a petition on behalf of righteous converts.
So why not pray for Baalei Teshuvah also?

Pray that Baalei Teshuvah should be happy and healthy.
Pray that Baalei Teshuvah should have success in parnassah, shiduchim and everything.
Pray that Baalei Teshuvah should continue to ascend in Torah and not fall.

Pray for Baalei Teshuvah, not only for their sakes, but for the sake of the Name of G_d. Making a comparison to Tehillim 115:2 (Why should the nations say: Where is their G_d?) Why should the relatives of Baalei Teshuvah say, or even think:

Why does their G_d not help them with health?
Why does their G_d not help them with happiness?
Why does their G_d not help them with marriage?
Why does their G_d not help them earn a living?
Why does their G_d not help them with _______?

Embracing my Own Intrepid Spirit

By Varda Branfman
Varda blogs at http://writingforhealing.blogspot.com/

Where I walk
The angels fear to tread

At three a.m.
I’m alone
On East 2nd Avenue
While junkies climb
The fire escapes

I pull all-nighters
When others sleep
Safely in their beds

That’s not
The half of it

I push the limits
Riding stick-shift
For three days and nights
To reach the other coast

I’m a drop-out
From Library Science School

I could have learned
The information
Could have landed the account
For cold lozenges
Could have delivered
Those speeches

I’ve left many promising futures

I’m always leaving
Their harbors of safety
And hearing their invectives
Flung at my back
“You’re a flake”
“You’ll never have money”
“You’ll be sorry,”

And they’re right–
My sorrow does grow
Day by day
And I’m always digging
Myself out
With bare hands

I climb for hours
I walk for miles
And never get there

I’m always missing the last boat
And don’t know when I’ll be lifted
Off my islands

I speak into the microphone
As the regulars drift off to sleep
Over their beers
And the other poets hackle

I empty the pipes before winter
So they don’t freeze and burst
I pay the bills
But don’t leave a forwarding address

Once when I’m driving alone
On an icy road
The wheels start spinning
And I see trees
On the side of the road
racing towards me
I think “Dead”
My whole life sucked
Into that wave of trees

I wait for impact
Wait to pass through those trees
A changed person

But a force in my hands
Not me
Grasps the wheel
And turns against the skid
Which is sure disaster

The car is lifting
Up in the air and landing
Back on course
Without skipping a beat
I’m driving as if nothing happened

I don’t belong
I hear applause from those angels
Assigned to me

I get the feeling
That Someone up there
Loves me

He’s the One
Who makes the redwood forests
And grand canyons
Who never plays it safe
Never sleeps
Or slumbers

If I weren’t so intrepid
And didn’t keep moving
I would still be installed
In place
And easily missed Him
I could have been successful
At doing what they do
And living what they live

I would have never followed Him
Into the desert
Or forfeited a return plane ticket
To stay
Or found my soul mate
By following a slender lead
To a hotel lobby

Or lived in a tiny 3-room apartment
Without central heating
Or had all those beautiful children
On a salary that didn’t exist

I would have never
Crouched on hands and knees
To check the house before Pesach

Or stood guard

waited an hour and
Balanced on a ledge
To see a holy face

Or looked into a goblet of wine
As I hung on
Every word of blessing

If I weren’t so intrepid
I would have never
Followed that trail of crumbs
In the forest

What Not To Do At The Shabbat Table

The Broodo family of Dallas, Texas is now a well-established Orthodox family. They’re leaders and role models in their community. However one event during their first Shabbat experience almost derailed their teshuva journey. If it was not for the quick thinking of their hosts, their lives might have been very different today.
Ken and Beth Broodo were both raised in non-Orthodox Jewish homes. Ken is a lawyer, and several years ago a local Jewish organization, the Dallas Area Torah Association (DATA), the “community kollel,” sponsored a onetime lunch-n-learn at his law firm. It was delivered by a big-name visiting rabbi. Ken attended the event and enjoyed it, but didn’t feel particularly changed by it.
The event put the Broodos on DATA’s mailing list, and six months later they received an invitation to a DATA seminar on the upcoming holiday of Purim. The Broodos acknowledged that they knew very little about their Judaism and were very curious to learn more, so they decided to attend the event.
At the event, DATA rabbis spoke about various topics of Purim. One topic, the Hidden Mask of Nature, peaked their curiosity. The speaker, Rabbi Aryeh Feigenbaum, surprised them by pointing out that Hashem’s name is never mentioned in the Megillah but His hand is apparent throughout the whole story.
“Only when you look back do you see Hashem’s hand in it. Even when I say it now I get chills. I had never heard something of that depth about the Torah. It was an interesting phenomenon to me,” Ken said.
Ken was fascinated by the presentation and impressed by Rabbi Feigenbaum. Ken stayed afterwards to drill him with a slew of other questions.
Following the seminar, the Broodos began attending other classes sponsored by DATA. Ken began studying one-on-one with Rabbi Feigenbaum each week. He and his wife began seeing the truth and beauty of Judaism and began to realize that this was the spirituality they were craving in their lives. However they were somewhat intimidated by the observances and cautious about jumping into anything too religious.
Rabbi Feigenbaum had given them an open invitation to come to synagogue on a Friday night and to his home for Shabbat dinner. The Broodos were intrigued by the opportunity to learn more and to get closer to the Feigenbaums. They were uncertain about what the experience would be like, but were excited about the opportunity. One Friday night they decided to take him up on it.
As soon as they entered the Feigenbaum’s house, the Broodos were made comfortable by their hosts’ warm welcome, the beauty of their Shabbat table and the obvious love and holiness that filled the home.
“It was my first Shabbat dinner. I was very taken by the whole scene – the white tablecloth, the silver Kiddush cup, the candles, the singing and the Divrai Torah,” Ken said.
Ken especially loved Mrs. Feigenbaum’s homemade Challah. He had never eaten homemade challah before, and he found it to be absolutely delicious.
After finishing his first piece, Ken craved a second slice. The challah was sitting in a metal wire basket in the middle of the table, amidst all sorts of dishes and just on the other side of Mrs. Feigenbaum’s beautiful silver Shabbat candlesticks. Ken tried asking other people to pass him the bowl, but he couldn’t get anyone’s attention. So he decided to lean across the table and pick up the challah bowl himself.
The challah basket was lined with a napkin. As he carried the basket over the items on the table, Ken lifted it over the Shabbat candles, and within a second, it caught fire and turned into a giant bowl of flaming challah!
Ken dropped the burning basket onto the table and was about the douse it with his glass of water, when the rabbi leaned over the table and said ‘Stop!’ Rabbi Feigenbaum picked up the basket, carried to the front porch and let it burn out.
Ken felt extremely embarrassed that he had set the Feigenbaum’s challah on fire. He was ready to leave the meal at the first opportunity and never come back again. But when Ken and wife finally did put on their coats to leave, without missing a beat, Mrs. Feigenbaum responded in a way that immediately turned around his negative feelings.
“Stop worrying about it,” she said to Ken. “The next time you want toast for Shabbat, just let me know in advance!”
Mrs. Feigenbaum’s quip put a smile back on Ken’s face and helped the Broodos stay on their path of growth towards Jewish observance.
“When Mrs. Feigenbaum said that, we all laughed. I realized that no one judged me for making such a ridiculous mistake. Then I felt accepted” Ken explained. “When you’re not frum and you’re around people that are, the one thing you feel sure of is that you are being judged and not accepted.”
The burning challah episode was a critical point in the Broodos’ life. If their hosts had handled it in any other way, they might have never come back. Instead they returned for many more meals in the Feigenbaum home and grew extremely close to the family. They began attending additional classes and started coming to the community frequently for Shabbat.
The Broodos eventually moved into the neighborhood. Several years later, the new local Orthodox synagogue was founded in their living room, and they remain extremely involved to this day. They also now frequently host newcomers to the community. And for anyone who seems uncomfortable by being in an Orthodox home for Shabbat, Ken eases their worries by telling them the story about the Shabbat night that he set the rabbi’s challah on fire.

Michael Gros is the former Chief Operating Officer of the outreach organization The Atlanta Scholars Kollel. He writes from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. The Teshuva Journey column chronicles uplifting teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. Send comments to michaelgros@gmail.com To receive Michael’s Teshuva Journey column and other articles via email, visit http://www.michaelgros.com

Published in the Jewish Press in March, 2010