The Permanent Preciousness of the “Secular” Jew

By Rabbi Nathan LopesThe David Cardozo Academy.
Originally Posted Apr 5, 2006

We are living in an age of flaunting irreverence. Debunking has become the norm and wherever we turn we experience a need to reveal the clay feet of even the greatest. Human dignity, while often referred to, has become a farce in real life. Instead of deliberately looking for opportunities to love our fellow men as required by our holy Torah, many have rewritten this golden rule to read: “Distrust your fellow men as you distrust thyself”. Disbelief in themselves has overflown into their relationships with their fellowmen. Fear for their own deeds and mediocrity has led them to believe that the spiritual mighty have left us and that we are a generation of spiritual orphans.

This condition has slowly entered into the subconscious of segments of the religious community as well, although in a more subtle form. Influenced by materialistic philosophies, many a religious personality, once known for his reverence for his fellow men, has, without being aware of it, become part of the problem. Instead of sending a message of unaltered love and respect for a fellow Jew, whatever his background or beliefs, many within the religious Jewish community have fallen victim to a kind of faint debunking which has led to a most worrisome situation in and outside the land of Israel.

When observing even those who are fully committed to help their fellow Jews find their way back to Judaism we see an attitude which is foreign to religious life and thought. Without denying their love for their fellow Jews, we cannot escape the impression that there exists a kind of talking down to “secular” Jews, which has become the norm.

Constant emphasis is placed on the need to cure the secular’s mistaken lifestyle. No doubt such an attitude is born out of love for one’s fellow Jew but it lays the foundation for infinite trouble. It is built on arrogance. While the religious Jew is seen as the ideal, it turns the “secular” Jew into a second class member of the Jewish people. It is he who needs to repent for his mistaken ways. Such an attitude is built on the notion of contrast and lack of affinity. The “secular” Jew will always feel inferior. As such the point of departure through which one would like to bring fellow Jews closer to Judaism is at the same time its undoing. The suggestion that “One should throw oneself into a burning furnace rather then insult another person publicly” (Berachoth 43b) may very well apply, since it is the community of “secular” Jews which is being treated with the notion of inferiority.

For Jews to bring their fellowmen back to Judaism there is a need to celebrate the mitzvoth which the “secular” Jew has been observing all or part of his/her life. Not his failure to observe some others. Only through the notion of sharing in mitzvoth will an authentic way to be found to bring Jews back home.

The foundation should be humility not arrogance. There is little doubt that “secular” Jews, consciously or unconsciously, keep a great amount of commandments. Many of them may not be in the field of rituals, but there is massive evidence that inter-human mitzvoth enjoy a major commitment among “secular” Jews. Beneath the divisiveness of traditional commitment lie underpinnings of religion such as compassion, humility, awe and even faith. Different are the pledges, but equal are the devotions. It may quite well be that the minds of the religious and not religious Jew do not fully meet, but their spirits touch. Who will deny that “secular” Jews have no sense of mystery, of forgiveness, beauty and gentleness? How many of them do not have inner faith that God cares or show great contempt for fraud or double standards? Each of them are the deepest of religious values.

This does not only call for a celebration but may well become an inspiration for religious Jews. This is not just done by honoring “secular” Jews for keeping these mitzvoth but in restoring ourselves in their mitzvoth and good deeds. There is a need to make the so called irreligious Jew aware of the fact that he is much more religious than he may realize. It is the realization that God’s light often shines on his/her face just as much, if not more, than on the face of the religious Jew.

Just as the irreligious personality needs to prove that he is worthy to be the friend of a religious Jew, the religious Jew needs to be worthy of the friendship of his secular fellow Jew. It would be a most welcome undertaking if religious Jews would call on their “irreligious” fellow Jews for guidance in mitzvoth which demand their greater commitment.

There is a great need for calling Jews back to their roots by showing them that they never left. Once religious Jews start to learn that irreligious Jews are their equals, and not their inferiors, a comeback to Judaism on the right terms will come about.

One of the tragic failures of ancient Jews was their indifference to the Ten Tribes of Israel which were carried away by Assyria after the Northern Kingdom was destroyed. Overlooked and not taking seriously by their fellow Jews, they were consigned to oblivion and ultimately vanished.

This is a nightmare that at this moment in Jewish history, should terrify each and every religious Jew: The unawareness of our being involved in a new failure, in a tragic dereliction of duty.

What I Like About You

I attended the wedding of a close friend’s son and it’s an occasion to take note and be thankful to Hashem for the wonderful communities that we live in and the wonderful Simchos we share. The Internet can often be a negative place and I think it’s important that we keep our primary focus on the wonderful things in our day to day lives.

So here are 10 things I like about my community and their Simchos:

1. You’re spiritually oriented.

2. You enjoy the food served at Simchos.

3. You can have deep meaningful conversations.

4. You’re not materialistic.

5. You know how to drink, without ever getting drunk.

6. You have great respect for Rabbeim.

7. You’re a pleasure to spend time with.

8. You care about people.

9. You have a great sense of humor.

10. You care about the community.

Reading for the Recipes

It’s motzei Shabbos just minutes to havdallah. My husband and sons are in shul and I’m home alone clearing up after shalosh seudos. On the table sits quarter of a hallah, soft and fluffy on the inside, crusty, dark and sesame flecked on the outside, still fresh even now, as the Shabbos draws to a close. I pick it up, fondling it in my hand for a moment before I pack it away . Harei Zeh Hallah. This is the challah, The best challah I’ve ever baked, since starting out almost two decades ago with the the Enchanted Broccoli Forest Cookbook as my guide.

The hallah recipe came form a Boro Park woman named Devorah Heller who is known far and wide as the Hallah maven, a title she truly deserves. What makes this story truly remarkable is that I found the recipe in the the pages of a hareidi woman’s magazine and I hate hareidi womens magazines. Really hate, Emphatically Hate, Hate Hate. Yuck Yuck Yuck!!!!!

I just hate them. They make me feel so weird and out of place that after even a quick leaf through I’m (almost) tempted to toss off my sheitel and crawl back into my long discarded blue jeans.

The tragic part is that I so wanted to love them. When they first hit the stands I thought that my dream was coming true. My two great loves writing and yiddishkeit together at last in one glossy printed, neatly stapled package (with plenty of bylines by yours truly, retired journalist on the comeback trail, of course). What I was hoping for was a glatt kosher version of the New Yorker sans the kefira and the erotic ads but what I got instead was Martha Stewart with a wig.

After driving for close to an hour to buy the first edition of one of these mags I called a good friend and kindred spirit to vent my distress.

“It’s not for people like us, “ she said. “ Just don’t buy it. “. I tried following her advice but somehow, every time I passed the newsstand, the magazines beckoned.

“Just one more time” I told myself. “ Maybe this week, there would be a clever short story, a well drawn essay, something something I could share with my hypercritical New York Times reading mother. And every week I was disappointed.

What were they printing? Articles about silverware, backpacks, teenagers, in-laws, buying guides for items I didn’t want or need. and rhyming Hallmark card poetry

Somehow, I had, quite ridiculously come to equate these publications with Yiddishkeit. Did the fact that they weren’t my style, meant that Yiddishkeit wasn’t my style either? I was no longer sure.

Then I discovered the hallah recipe. After years of baking dry, dense loaves my great joy at experiencing baking success washed away a good deal of my anger and doubt. I started to rethink my dilemma until I reached a startling conclusion. The problem wasn’t with the magazines, it was with me.

I was playing a ridiculous, game, as they say, looking for the proverbial oranges among the dibbles and clamps at the hardware store. These magazines didn’t want to compete with the New Yorker. They were never going to be the New Yorker or even Harpers but that didn’t mean that they were entirely without value in G-d’s world and in my life.

I mean after years of baking hallahs that could have doubled as free weights, it was no small thing to stumble upon this recipe. So I’m putting out the white flag, calling off my war. That is what Hashem wants anyway, Shalom between his children. From now on, I’m going to use these magazines for what they are good at – the recipes.

And as to that leftover piece of hallah sitting the platic bag. It ought to be yummy tomorrow morning toasted and, smeared with magarine. What could be wrong with that?

Originally Published on Jan, 14 2008

Faigy Mayer…the story of the lost princess

For those of you who have not yet heard of the tragedy of a young woman who took her life then you should. Faigy was a young woman who grew up in the Chassidic community in New York and after a turbulent life dealing with mental illness left that community. Last week she ended her life, leaping from a 20 story building. Her death torments me. I find no peace and share my troubled thoughts…

My heart aches and my eyes shed endless tears for you Faigy. For your dreams that are no longer, for the talent that is no longer and for the search that has ended prematurely. For those that refused to see and feel and reach out when you were obviously hurting so much. For your friends. For your parents, siblings and family. For Hashem whose pain must be far greater then mine.

You ran away from a world that I was drawn to. In the world that you felt imprisoned I found my freedom…and yet I feel your agony. Behind the images you posted and the anguish you expressed I see a princess lost in the abyss of her struggle to find inner peace and purpose.

Are you not the lost princess that Rebbe Nachman spoke off…I guess that the wait for the warrior that was meant to come and rescue you took too long and the pain was too unbearable to sustain.

We judge you not….for who are we to judge…we are all on a journey fraught with challenge, hope and uncertainty. Along the way each of us rise and fall while we experience the events and interactions that bring us closer to our purpose…although at times it appears that our experiences are in fact distractions from that purpose.

Faigy my heart doesn’t just ache for you…I cry for all the other lost princess and princes who in their search become so lost that they rather surrender then persist. I cry that a community that I love chose to abandon rather then understand you.

We need to find a way forward. We need to ask some hard questions and talk openly to find the answers. The truth is that there is a growing number of our youth that are opting out and we need to ask ourselves why? I don’t pretend to have the answers but I cannot bare the agony of another lost princess choosing to surrender rather then live.

To all the other lost princesses and princes out there my heart is open and my prayers are that our ever patient G-d grant you the time and means to heal the wounds and reconnect in a meaningful and inspired way.

Rabbi Aryeh Goldman writes at hitoreri.com

Keys to BT Success from a Shabbos in Monsey

I had the pleasure of spending some time this Shabbos with two Beyond BT contributors. Rabbi Label Lam was my host and he davens on Shabbos morning at a Shtiebel where he and Yaakov Astor alternate giving the weekly Shabbos drasha. Yaakov’s drasha this week included recounting some fascinating Torah lessons he taught on his recent trip as a tour guide through Poland.

The area of Monsey that they live in observes a high level of halachic stringency, which can presents challenges for a BT. Yet, both Yaakov and Rabbi Lam have thrived there. I think there are three factors which contribute to their success.

The first factor is that they have accepted the norms of the community. It’s easy to find fault in any community, and our ego makes it easy to fall into that trap. However, publicly following the norms shows respect for the residents, which makes a lot of sense if you want to live and grow there. Most communities allow for some room for deviations from the norm in the privacy of your home.

The second is that they connect with their neighbors. Connecting to others is a major determinant of happiness and success. The demographics in Monsey have become increasingly Chassidish due to a large migration of Yeshivish families to Lakewood. Although neither Yaakov nor Rabbi Lam are Chassidish, they do connect with the commonalities they have with their neighbors. They pray together in the same Shuls, they learn Torah, and they are focused on connecting to Hashem. These are major commonalities and a strong basis for friendship and connection.

Thirdly, they are continually growing in Torah, Avodah and Gemilas Chassadim. This is perhaps the most important factor. In my many years as an observer of BTs, continued growth in these three area is the number one determinant for success – by far.

These keys to BT Success are in fact universal and are highly recommended, wherever you may reside.

Catching Bagels

It’s probably happened to most of us. You’re out somewhere, it could be at work, a museum, a park or anywhere else, and someone walks over and throws you a bagel. If you’re lucky it isn’t frozen. Well, I’m not really talking about that kind of a bagel. “Being Bageled” is a phrase that, while not coined by him, is becoming popularized by Rabbi Mordechai Becher. It’s basically when a person who is not visually identifiable as being Jewish (at least in their own eyes) says something to you so that you know that they too are Jewish.

Example: I was sitting at a real estate closing when the buyer walked in with 4-5 additional family members. The buyer’s attorney turned to me and whispered “Oy, they brought the gantza mishpachah!”

Rabbi Becher tells a hilarious Bagel story. He was traveling in Budapest when a couple of tourists approached him and asked how to find a certain marketplace. Rabbi Becher pointed the way and one of the tourists said “Thanks a lot. You know what, we’ve been wandering around for a while, we wouldn’t want to be wandering around for forty years like last time!”

Why do people bagel? Is it because they are looking for commonality? Friendship? Something else? How do you respond to a bagel? A shmear and some lox? A discussion of where the person is from? Something else? Rabbi Becher says that being bageled is siyata deshmaya (divine providence) but how we react to the bagel is part of our “free will” and can often be quite critical. Anybody out there have a good bagel story or some good insights on the bagel phenomenon?

Originally Post May 15th 2008

Frozen Jews

Originally Posted on Oct 25, 2006

When Modiin was first built, it was designed as a ‘secular’ haven for the people who used to fancy living in Jerusalem, but didn’t want hareidim for neighbours. As the city has grown, it’s begun to attract quite a few modern orthodox, including a lot of expat anglos, who for the most part, have similar feelings about the hareidim.

When we moved here last year from London, we were just happy to be somewhere where we had jewish neighbours, regardless of what they did or didn’t keep. I wonder now if we were a little naïve.
It’s not that we have had any difficulties, G-d forbid, with our secular neighbours. They have been as friendly as they can be, given the fact that we can’t eat in their homes, and they aren’t overly keen to come for a Shabbat meal.

But that ‘anti-haredi’ stance comes out in a lot of subtle, and not so subtle ways that has implications for everyone who lives here. It means that building synagogues, mikvas and schools in the area is loaded with a whole bunch of fears about being ‘taken over’ by the religious.

The irony is that if anything, the ‘religious’ people here are just as scared of being taken over by the hareidim. We also don’t want people telling us how to dress, telling us when we can drive our car, telling us what we can and can’t watch.

Until quite recently, I was firmly in this camp. How can you have free will – and the merit of doing a particular mitzvah – if you are being compelled to do it by outside forces?

But then my husband started to go to kollel a few hours a day, in the hareidi neighbourhood of kiryat sefer. There is no kollel in modiin, so that was the nearest option.

And lo and behold, we discovered that hareidim are not the scary monsters that many people persist in making them. Many of them are the kindest, non-judgemental and most genuine people you could care to meet. They have their priorities right: lots of kids, and a focus on learning and mitzvahs as opposed to accumulating pointless ‘stuff’.

In Israel, there is a long list of popular complaints against the hareidim, starting with the number of kids they have (that secular wisdom dictates that they can’t afford) and culminating with the ‘facts’ that they don’t pay taxes and don’t serve in the army.

I’m not qualified to comment on all the ins and outs of these issues. But it seems to me that they all touch on the same basic issue: hareidim act as if the ‘natural’ laws of the world don’t apply to them.

But of course, as jews, that is exactly how we are meant to act.

Once you see it in action, in a neighbourhood like Kiryat Sefer, it calls into question how many of us modern orthodox act and think.

I was talking to a hareidi woman who used to be chiloni (non-religious) and lived in Tel Aviv. She and her husband made tshuva a few years back, and now she lives in Kiryat Sefer with her five kids.

She does a lot of outreach work with girls in Ramle, many of whom don’t think twice before chowing down on a pork chop. She was telling me about her work and said something that really made me stop and think.

“A lot of these girls eat pig, but when you show them that the Torah is true, they make tshuva and over time, they go the whole way,” she said. “They understand that if the Torah is true, then ALL of it is true. Just as they shouldn’t eat pig, they understand that they should also try to do all of the other things in the Torah.

“It’s easier to work with them than to work with ‘frozen jews’, who are keeping more, but think what they are doing is enough. Frozen jews never really reach the top of the mountain, because they haven’t accepted that the Torah is true, and comes from Hashem. If you accept that the Torah comes from G-d, you can’t pick and choose which bits of the Torah you keep. They are all equally important.”

The point is not that we have to keep everything immediately. But the point certainly is that we have to continually strive to reach that goal.

It’s an uncomfortable reminder and it leads to a lot of uncomfortable questions, not least because i™ makes a very clear distinction between those that really believe in Torah and Hashem – regardless of their outward observance – and those that really don’t – again, regardless of their outward observance.

I don’t know what the answer is. But I’m increasingly of the opinion that when it comes to belief in G-d, you can’t spend a lifetime trying to sit on the fence.

Har Nof Widows Request That We Increase Love and Affection for Each Other

With tears and broken hearts from the blood that has been spilled, the blood of the sanctified ones, our husbands, the heads of our homes (Hy’d),

We turn to our brothers and sisters, everyone from the house of Israel, in whatever place they may be, to stay united [to merit] compassion and mercy from on High. We should accept upon ourselves to increase love and affection for each other, whether between a person and his fellow, whether between distinct communities within the Jewish people.

We beseech that each and every person accepts upon himself or herself at the time of the acceptance of Shabbos, that this Shabbos, Shabbos Parashas Toldos, should be a day in which we express our love for each other, a day in which we refrain from speaking divisively or criticizing others.

By doing so it will be a great merit for the souls of our husbands, slaughtered for the sake of G-d’s name.

G-d looks down from Above, and sees our pain, and He will wipe away our tears and declare “Enough — to all the pain and grief.”

And we should merit witnessing the coming of the anointed one, soon in our days, amen, amen.

Signed…
Chaya Levine
Breine Goldberg
Yakova Kupinsky
Bashi Twersky
and their families

I’m Happy … Feeling like a Room without a Glass Roof

Is Judaism a meritocracy or an aristocracy?
Why do we dwell in our Sukkos on Shabbos but do not fulfill the mitzvah of Lulav on Shabbos?
Why is a stolen Lulav invalid for performing the mitzvah when one does fulfill the mitzvah of Sukkah in anothers Sukkah?

[The nation of] Israel was crowned with three crown: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty. Ahron merited the crown of priesthood, as the passuk-verse; declares: “And it will be an eternal covenant of priesthood for him and his descendants following him.”(Bemidbar 25:13).  David merited the crown of royalty, as the passuk declares: “His progeny will continue eternally, and his throne will be as the sun before Me.” (Tehillim 89:37)

The crown of Torah lays at rest; waiting and ready for all, as the passuk declares:  “The Torah which Moshe commanded us is the inheritance of the congregation of Yaakov” (Devarim 33:4).  Whoever desires may come and take it. Lest you say that the other crowns are superior to the crown of Torah, consider that the passuk declares: “By me [Torah], kings reign, princes decree justice, and nobles rule” (Mishlei 8:15,16).  Thus, you have learned that the crown of Torah is greater than the other two.

— Rambam: Laws of Torah Study 3:1, 2

 

Today is to do them (the mitzvos) and tomorrow is NOT to do them. Today is to do them and tomorrow is to receive their reward.

— Eruvin 22A

Judaism contains elements of both an aristocracy and a meritocracy. On the one hand being a Kohen, a Levi or a candidate for Moshiach– the Messiah; is purely an accident of birth.  Jewish identity itself is determined by biological matrilineal descent while tribal identity is determined by patrilineal descent.

But on the other hand our sages teach us that a mamzer-one born from a kares prohibited union; who is a talmid chacam-Torah scholar; takes precedence over a Kohen Gadol-High Priest; who is an am haaretz-ignoramus. Anticipating sociological patterns, Chazal comment “take heed of [the dignity of] the children of the impoverished, for Torah [scholarship] shall emanate from them”(Nedarim 81A) and “[why is it] that the sons of talmidei chachamim are rarely talmidei chachamim themselves?” (ibid).  Some of history’s greatest Jews e.g. Onkelos, Rabi Meir and Rabi Akivah were geirim-righteous converts; or their descendants.  On this level Judaism is the ultimate meritocracy with no glass ceilings that impede upward social-spiritual mobility.

We will see that paradoxically; the aristocratic, heredity-based aspect is actually the more egalitarian, classless of the two elements whereas the meritocracy creates a stratified, multi-tiered hierarchy. Based on two Halachic differences between Sukkah and Lulav-the four species; the Izhbitzer understands the two mitzvos of the holiday in light of the hereditary- and merit-based components of kedushas Yisrael-Jewish sanctity.

On Shabbos the Halachah exempts us from fulfilling the mitzvah of Lulav whereas we are still obligated in the mitzvah of Sukkah.  The reason for the contrast is that Shabbos is a scintilla of Olam Haba-the Coming-World wherein avodah-serving the Creator through the exercise of free-will; no longer exists. There (then?) all that the person toiled to acquire in the here-and-now world through his choices and actions are secured in his heart. This is why all 39 categories of creative activity are prohibited on Shabbos. Whether we are speaking of our weekly Shabbosos or “The Day that shall be entirely Shabbos and eternal rest”, only one who has exerted himself on Shabbos eve will enjoy the fruits of his labors on Shabbos (Cp. Avodah Zarah 2A). Sukkah is an effortless mitzvah, one is merely “there.” Sukkah represents the hereditary kedushas Yisrael present in the heart of every Jew passed along like spiritual DNA from the patriarchs. The mitzvah of Sukkah resonates with same the kind of “all our work is done” sensibility that inform Shabbos and Olam Haba.

But Lulav, which we take up in our hands and move in every possible direction of human endeavor, is characteristic of all mitzvos maasiyos– the mitzvos requiring decision-making, exertion and activity. The Izhbitzer’s disciple, Rav Laibeleh Eiger points out that the gimatriya-numerical value; of Esrog is 610. When we count the other three species used to fulfill the mitzvah along with the Esrog the sum is 613, the precise total of all of the mitzvos. The 4 species embody every possible avodah endeavor. There is something very proactive, workmanlike and this-worldly about Lulav that makes it inconsistent with Shabbos.

Read more I’m Happy … Feeling like a Room without a Glass Roof

Filling Our Higher Walls With a Meaningful Relationship with Hashem

By YMG

Building “higher walls” is a hishtadus implemented in many communities in Klal Yisroel. It’s a hishtadlus that many FFB’s and BT’s put a good deal of their precious trust in to keep their kids on the derech.

But, no hishtadlus, however worthy, can “make” anything happen or guarantee a result. G-d alone made, makes and will make all happenings (Rambam Thirteen Principles of Faith #2). G-d is the One & Only Source of every seemingly independent power, and every seemingly effective hishtadlus (#’s 2 & 3 of the Six Constant Mitzvahs).

If you trust in Hashem while making a histadlus, He will requite and fulfill that trust in Him. Whereas if you repose your trust in anything else—-such as building higher walls—- Hashem’s system is to remove His Divine Providence and let “nature run its course”. The very thing you trusted in will be the “cause” of your frustration, disaster, loss etc and your trust in it will be unrequited.(Heard from Rabbi Avigdor Miller ztl)

There is a lot of emphasis placed on building higher walls but insufficient emphasis on filling the confines of those walls with a meaningful, loving and rewarding relationship with Hashem. Instead the confines of those higher walls continue to be filled with externalities based upon social/cultural conventions that are mistakenly confused with genuine Avodas Hashem.

Is it any wonder then that the hishtadlus/strategy of higher walls is failing regardless of what community is being discussed?

From Where Do You Put Your Old Time Rock And Roll? – Comment 45 by YMG

A Burial Highlights Our Collective Spiritual Sensitivity

Divisions have always been a factor among the Jews, and our times are no different, but at our core we’re all children of Abraham, partners in the covenant, possessing spiritual sensitivity, and destined to help the world unite and collectively connect to Hashem. An event last week brought this message home.

Through Facebook, I keep in touch with friends with whom I grew up. Our neighborhood synagogue was Conservative, but many people intermarried, although they have not lost an awareness of their Jewish heritage. Last week, a friend’s mother passed away and they asked me to officiate at the funeral. The oldest son recently had a conversation with the mother about whether she preferred a cremation or a burial. I’ve seen this before, and Rabbis have told me that the main reason that they consider cremation is because it is less expensive and because they were never taught the reasons behind Jewish laws and customs. When the spiritual concepts behind a proper Jewish burial are explained, many will pay the extra money to provide this for their parents.

At the advice of my Rav, my focus was to provide a proper burial for the mother, which primarily included a Tahara, a pine box casket, and the actual burial performed by the immediate family and myself. I emphasized the tremendous final act of loving-kindness they were performing and that struck a very deep spiritual and emotional chord.

In the eulogy, I spoke very briefly about the body, the soul and its immortality. I pointed out how the strong loving-kindness traits of the mother shaped her soul, and paralleled the primary spiritual traits of Sarah and Abraham. Every word was true and they clearly saw the spiritual connection between them, their mother and all the Jewish people. And this message can be made clear to almost all Jews that I know, observant or not, since they are spiritually sensitive and full of loving-kindness.

The collective soul of the Jewish People is the second highest of the five levels of the soul. Every Jew is a part of that collective soul and we immeasurably improve as individuals and as a people when we sensitize each other to our spiritual traits, specifically loving-kindness. In the merit of the loving-kindness of the deceased and her family, may we internalize this message a little more and help each other grow spiritually and connect to Hashem.

My Intolerance of the Faithful

The moment the rabbi walked through the door all the students jumped to their feet… and I looked about desperately for a way out of the room.

The rabbi wore a long coat, a wide, antiquated black hat, an untrimmed beard, Coke-bottle spectacles and, incredibly, sidelocks. I knew — I just knew — what was going to happen next: the rabbi would lecture us in a thick German accent and tell us we were all damned to hell. There was no way I could sit through such an ordeal.

But I had taken a seat in the far back corner of the room and now found myself trapped by the crowd of glassy-eyed acolytes eager to drink in the torrent of demagoguery that was about to come our way. I would have made a spectacle of myself climbing over people to get out. Instead, I slumped back in my chair and told myself that I could survive anything for an hour.

Then the rabbi began to speak. I leaned forward, immediately drawn in by an introduction as elegant and articulate as if he had been an Ivy League academic.

Which he was, despite his Chasidic garb: a former professor at Johns Hopkins University, in fact. Over the next two months, he systematically shattered my stereotypes and dismantled my arguments against the existence of G-d and Torah from Sinai, drawing upon proofs from science, history, and human psychology, which he wove together in a tapestry of irrefutable logic. Three decades later, my mind still returns to his lectures as I teach my own students.

Imagine how differently I might view the world today had I seated myself nearer the door on that fateful morning half a lifetime ago.

The kind of ignorance of which I was guilty was far more excusable than that of the Forward’s contributing editor Jay Michaelson, whose selectively documented hit-piece against traditional Torah observance proves Alexander Pope’s famous observation that a little learning is a dangerous thing.

In a drive-by “editorial” not worthy of a hyperlink, Mr. Michaelson spews forth with an eruption of pure vitriol prompted by the most egregious violation of politically correct jurisprudence: non-conformity to liberal ideology. Here are some representative excerpts:

Call them what you will — ultra-Orthodox Jews, “fervently Orthodox” Jews, Haredim, black hats. They will soon become the majority of affiliated Jews in the metropolitan New York area, and the religious majority in Israel. The results will be catastrophic…

[M]ainstream American Jewish organizations must stop pretending to have common cause with Jewish fundamentalists. Just as mainline Christian denominations recognize Christian fundamentalism to be a threat to their religious values, so the mainstream of Jewish denominations — including Modern Orthodoxy — must recognize that this distortion of Judaism is actively destructive to Judaism itself.

Like Christian fundamentalism, Jewish fundamentalism is extremely new. It arose in response to modernity, and it radically changed Jewish values. Formerly, the Jewish mainstream balanced strictness and leniency: In the battle between the strict Shammai and the lenient Hillel, Hillel always won.

But the Haredi world is a phalanx of Shammais. The strictest is always the best. Moses wore a shtreimel, the fur hat that many married Haredi men wear, at the Red Sea. Scientific knowledge is evil. These are radically new Jewish ideas presented as radically old ones. Those of us who do not share them must recognize them as a threat.

Of course, human nature being what it is, the Torah community is not perfect. We have our lapses and even our outrages, like the indefensible violent zealotry against the so-called women of the wall. We have those among us who succumb to the same superficiality that characterizes popular culture and those who cross legal or moral boundaries under the burden of financial pressure.

But to overlook the Torah community’s extraordinary acts of kindness, charity, and devotion to the traditions handed down over a hundred generations in apoplectic rant against back hats and Talmudic scholarship is disingenuous at best and pathological at worst. What Mr. Michaelson denounces as “fundamentalism” is in truth the selfless commitment to the path of our forefathers, without which the Jewish people would have become extinct many centuries ago.

And no, Mr. Michaelson, no one believes that Moses wore a fur hat when he split the Sea.

Neither does the Torah community have any quarrel with science. Indeed, a growing community of Orthodox physicists, biologists, and chemists make an articulate case for reconciling Torah and science, and they convincingly expose the myopic fallacies indulged by secularists unwilling to concede the limits of their own understanding.

Finally, before Mr. Michaelson repeats his condemnation against the philosophy of the great sage Shammai, he might want to do his homework. One of Judaism’s most famous maxims in Talmudic literature is recorded in the name of Shammai: Greet every person with a cheerful countenance. “Every person” — even those who froth at the mouth and defame you without cause or justification.

It is sadly ironic how the self-appointed defenders of free speech and ideological tolerance consider themselves exempt from both tolerance and civility toward those whose values might force them to question their own. The Forward does its readers a disservice by providing a platform to drive the stake of senseless hatred ever deeper into the heart of the Jewish community.

Originally published on Jewish World Review here.

Memorial Day – Hakaros HaTov

Today is Memorial Day here in the United States. It is the day that we mourn those soldiers who gave their lives so that we can enjoy the freedoms offered by this great land.

Although we are still in Golus, it’s incumbent upon us to appreciate all of the good bestowed upon us by our country and to honor the memories of those brave men and women who fought and died to protect our freedom.

So today, be you democrat or republican, conservative or liberal or anywhere in between, take a moment to offer your thanks to the over 1,000,000 soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for your freedom.

First published May 29, 2006.

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.