Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reb. Sternbuch A.H. - Tribute by her daughter

hesped rivka(2)

Birchas HaChama - NY Times 1897

The battle of tzadikim against the yetzer harah


Baal Shem Tov(Parshas Noach): When the guest sees that the father gets pleasure from this activity and the guest wants the father to have more pleasure – he challenges the son further. He asks more questions which are even stronger and involve new issues. The son responds to the challenge and answers all the questions. This is what is meant that whoever is greater than his fellow he has a greater yetzer. Our Sages (Bava Basra 16a) say that Satan works for the sake of Heaven. The parable is obvious that when the tzadik controls the yetzer harah, G‑d receives pleasure from it. The yetzer harah responds by offering increasingly greater challenges - to which the tzadik responds by defeating it. This is the meaning of Megila (18a) that G‑d called Yaakov “ail” (a divinity). The term “ail” is a language of strength and might (Yevamos 21a). … This is also why a tzadik is called a gibor (hero) in that he conquers his yetzer (Avos 4:1). And in the future the tzadikim will see that their yetzer harah is like a mountain (Sukka 52a). At that point the power of the tzadikim will be obvious to all since they have conquered this great mountain. It is also possible that in the future that everyone will call tzadikim “ail".

Guma Aguiar gives Chabad $500,000 for Pesach


Lubavitch.com reports:

[...] Funding for the seders comes from several philanthropists including Mr. George Rohr, a long time supporter of Chabad activities, and a gift of $500,000 from energy magnate, Guma Aguiar. This is the second consecutive year that Aguiar, 31, has been a major sponsor of Chabad’s global Passover campaign.

Aguiar became excited about this project last year and contributed towards what is now the world’s largest collective Pesach seder in the world. As a result, he said, "Chabad leaders and I have realized what a truly sacred honor it is to partner together with each other on this project." [...]

Monday, March 30, 2009

Slanderous testimony regarding IDF proven false


Following claims made by graduates of the Rabin Pre-military Academy at a conference last month that IDF soldiers deliberately shot and killed Gaza civilians during Operation Cast Lead, the Military Police completed its official investigation into the accounts on Monday and concluded that they were categorically false and based on rumors.

On Wednesday, the Jerusalem Post, citing an IDF source, had reported that the allegations were proven to be untrue in official army investigations.

The probe also concluded that the stories of the soldiers who participated in the conference were purposely exaggerated and made extreme, in order to make a point to the participants at the conference.

The IDF Advocate-General Brig.-Gen. Avihai Mandelblit decided to close the case in the wake of the findings.

In particular, the results of the investigation referred to a testimony from a soldier named Aviv, who claimed to have been given orders to fire at an elderly Palestinian woman. According to the Military Police probe, the soldier witnessed no such thing, and was only repeating a rumor he had heard. In an unrelated investigation, it was found that in a similar incident, a woman suspected of being a suicide bomber approached some IDF troops, who opened fired at her after repeatedly trying to stop her from advancing.

This same soldier admitted that he had not witnessed additional incidents he had described during the conference.

A claim made by a different soldier, Ram, who had supposedly been ordered to open fire at a woman and two children, was also proved by the investigation to be an incident that he had not witnessed. After checking the claim, it was found that a force had opened fire in a different direction, toward two suspicious men who were unrelated to the civilians in question.[...]

Women & funerals: Halacha & minhag?


Bartley Kulp
: Can the moderator of this blog elaborate on this? I am not aware of the halachot of women doing a hesped.

The following rather disrespectful article assumes that the only issue of concern is what a child thinks is appropriate. There are a few other elements involved. 1) the deceased - what is really best for him -spiritually and in the way he is remembered. How is honor and respect shown him/her 2) Family. - what is respectful and sensitive to the feelings of the mourners. These two elements are referred to in halacha has the honor of the living and honor of the dead. So first you need to establish which takes precedent.

3) the community. If the community has a particular way of doing something - whether it is halacha, kabbla or minhag - is it respectful to the niftar to insult them and consequently degrade the respect of the niftar?

The details themselves are complex and vary between communities and even within communities. On a social level - if a person wants the community and especially the Rav to participate - she can not dictate how the ceremony is done. In Yerushalayim the children don't go to funerals. Furthermore the issue of woman in cemeteries is taken very seriously in kabbala. Even the Gra said that he only went to a cemetery once in his life - for his mother - and he was seriously damaged.

Rav Moshe Feinstein says that the main consideration is what brings respect in the eyes of the community to the niftar. Thus he says that even if the mourner does not feel sad - he should act sad. The mourner does not in fact have an obligation to feel sad.

In sum, the mourner is free to do what he/she wants on her own. Without forcing the community and the Rav to witness something they view as an insult to the niftar. She should be aware of what her father would have wanted - and not just what she wants for her personal catharsis. This article assumes that the only thing of importance is what a particular child wants to do to feel better.

It has been noted that it is prohibited to get pleasure from the deceased when it is not for the benefit of the deceased - even feeling good about giving a hesped is in this category.

YNET

Rabbi: Satan dances as women attend funerals

Head of Migdal Haemek's religious council stops woman from lamenting her deceased father. 'He acted like a dictator. Do we live in Iran?' woman's cousin asks

Batya (pseudonym) will not forget the day her father was buried at the Migdal Haemek cemetery. Not only was she forced to deal with a great loss, she was also humiliated at the graveyard when she was prevented from lamenting her father over this grave.

The father was laid to rest at the northern city's municipal cemetery. In addition to family members and acquaintances, the funeral was also attended by rabbis, the mayor and chairman of the city's religious council, Rabbi Yaakov Amar.[...]

Before the funeral procession began, Batya asked to deliver an oration in her father's memory.

"I wrote my father things that sting one's flesh. There are things you don’t say during your life, but you want them heard when bidding farewell," she says.

She went on the stage and said she would like to lament her father, but Rabbi Amar suddenly asked her to get off the podium.

"I was surprised. I looked at him and said, 'What do you mean? I want to say a few words to my father.' But he insisted," she says. "The mayor and other people tried to talk to him, and he replied, 'You are a woman, you mustn't say a word.'

"I tried to grab the microphone back, but he blocked me with his body. I felt I had to fight to say goodbye to my father. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me."

Other family members tried to convince the rabbi, but to no avail. "He acted like a dictator, arguing that she was desecrating the dead and that according to the Halacha (Jewish law) a woman is not allowed to deliver orations," Batya's cousin says.

"Where is that written? What, do we live in Iran? This is a stain on this city's reputation," he says.[...]

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Eternal Jewish Family - Fishing for souls

Billings Farnsworth writes

Halachic Conversion

Marriage and family are two beautiful and sacred things in the Jewish community. Through marriage comes children, and through children comes the preservation of their belief and way of life. Those who choose to get married do so with the hope that they will be able to have an eternal Jewish family.

However, many of these marriages are intermarriages where one spouse is of the faith while the other isn’t. The two of them agree to work together and teach the same beliefs, but unless the non-Jewish spouse is converted using the standards of halacha, the conversion is often considered invalid.

The conversion doesn’t have to stay invalid, however. There are organizations out there that teach the halachic method of conversion and help these couples bypass this hurdle. By converting to Judaism using the halachic method, the non-Jewish spouse will be considered a valid, orthodox member of the faith and community. When it comes time to teach the children religious beliefs both parents will be assets because they will know they have the belief system and passion necessary for the training of children.

There are many people who convert to Judaism using the non-halachic method. However, by following the guidelines of the Torah and halacha those people interested in converting show their absolute belief in Judaism, and their willingness to follow proper Jewish customs and religious rules.

These converts are sometimes considered ideological converts due to their desire to be identified with the Jewish community from a completely religious standpoint. If you are unsure of the proper halachic standard of conversion, consider finding an organization that will help you achieve the religious belief you are searching for.

Eternal Jewish Family, or EJF, is a website with information on Jewish family issues. Billings Farnsworth is a freelance writer.

Abuse:Dov Hikind's strategic retreat

Foward reports:

Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn, a leading voice in the fight to end child sexual abuse in Orthodox communities, is backing down from some of his previous claims and backing away from one of his most confrontational stands against an alleged pedophile.

In an interview with the Forward, Hikind dramatically scaled down a previously reported estimate of the number of abuse cases he knew about. He also said he could not keep a pledge to force a prominent yeshiva to remove an alleged pedophile from its staff.

Hikind said that he adjusted his tactics in order to be most effective. “Some people want me to yell and scream; they want me to burn the town down. I know how to do that, but I would lose the war immediately,” Hikind said in his office in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Boro Park.
After Hikind first publicized the problem of child sexual abuse in religious communities on his weekly radio show, it was widely reported that he heard from 1,000 victims of past and current abuse. That figure was attributed

But the real figure is about 100, Hikind told the Forward. He said the often repeated 1,000 number may have come from his speculation about the possible number of cases, given what he has heard from therapists who treat sexual abuse victims.

“I think what we were saying to everybody was, my God, the numbers must be astronomical,” Hikind said. “We never said a thousand. It keeps on getting repeated; anybody who talks to me, I actually tell them what the facts are.”

In the same interview, Hikind retreated from his previous position with regard to one of the Orthodox community’s most prominent alleged abusers — Rabbi Avrohom Reichman, formerly principal of, and currently a teacher at, the United Talmudical Academy, located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Reichman, the UTA and the Satmar Bungalow Colony summer camp are all named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by Joel Engelman, 23, who says that he was sexually abused by Reichman when he was 8 years old and that the school covered up the abuse.

Since Engelman went public with his allegations, both his family and Hikind have heard from others who say they were also victimized by Reichman. Last summer, following those revelations, Hikind vowed publicly that Reichman would not return to his teaching job in the fall of 2008.

But the accused rabbi is still teaching, and Hikind has not publicly pressed the issue further. The assemblyman told the Forward that his confrontation with Satmar leaders has been “a rather huge learning experience for me.”[...]

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Abuse & the sounds of silence - Yated editorial


I just showed the following editorial from the Yated to Rav Sternbuch. His response was,
"Why isn't there any mention about stopping the perpetrators?" Why isn't there a condemnation of those who committed the crimes against these children? Why are they afraid to condemn the perpetrators?"
This editorial is a welcome step forward but it 1) acknowledges that American gedolim have been aware that there has been a significant problems for years - without doing anything about it. 2) he claims that our American religious leaders were ignorant about how to handle the problem - so why didn't they ask the police, why didn't they ask psychologists and social workers? 3) why has there been an active repression of talk about these issues and pressure on the families not to come forth? 5) why is his focus on belatedly helping the victims handle their suffering without acknowledging that a significant cause of the problem are family, friends and rabbis who should should have been protecting the children instead of abusing them? 6) what is this talk about the abuse being a gezeirah? Does he think that G-d's name is being sanctified by the abuse of these unfortunate children?! That is obscene!


VIN reports an editorial of the Yated editor Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

There is an issue that has been on my mind for several years. It is an extremely sensitive topic and I tried writing about it many times but couldn’t find the right words with which to express what I wanted to say in a way that would be beneficial and adhere to standards of derech eretz and fairness.

I have discussed my predicament with many gedolim and they all encouraged me to write about it here in the Yated and said that Hashem would help me find the proper voice.

The sad fact is that children in our community are being abused by perpetrators who prey upon their innocence and our silence. We don’t have a count of how many people are hurt, but it is much larger than we realized, even a short time ago. There is no real debate about the catastrophic effects of abuse.

The innocence and purity of children is destroyed for life. The victims remain hurt, shamed and scarred. They suffer in silence, afraid to reveal their secret to anyone. They are hounded by feelings of guilt and embarrassment and live lives of tortured pain. The overwhelming majority of survivors suffer in silence, unless they are lucky enough to endure agonizing, arduous, expensive therapy. However, even a lifetime of therapy doesn’t ensure that the victim can ever be fully healthy again. Not every young victim’s psyche can be healed. Victims are much more likely to go off the derech, become addicted to drugs and lead a life of abusing themselves and others.

Let us be clear: For too long, we weren’t tuned in to these innocent victims’ stories and their pain. For too long, we weren’t sufficiently aware that this problem existed and thus were able to ignore the quiet pleas, the sad eyes, the pained lives, and the personalities withdrawn. We didn’t recognize the warning signs and thus largely ignored the phenomenon. Equally clear, this inattention was not a function of some high level conspiracy to harm people or cover up for criminals or abet nefarious activities. It was simply a function of a lack of education about a complex and highly sophisticated problem. It was a result of our leadership simply being unaware of the depths that such sordid people could sink to, and the extreme skill perpetrators exhibit in covering their tracks. And yes, it was undeniably a gezeirah, which, as so often is the case, claims innocent holy souls - bikroyvai Ekodeish.[...]

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sexual temptation - Knowledge of Chazal and habituation


This gemora (Sukkah 52a) and the explanation of the Ben Ish Chai raises a number of important points The gemora describes Abaye following a couple who he assumes will sin. But they didn't and they didn't even struggle with temptation. Abaye was very upset since he had been sure they would sin. He assumed that he would have given in to a situation that they easily handled - that bothered him. Finally he was comforted by an old man telling him that he had a greater yetzer harah then they did. The Ben Ish Chai explains that Abaye was simply naive about these matters. This can be understood 1) that Abaye simply did not know how human beings reacted to interaction with the opposite sex and that he would have withstood it also. 2) Greater people have greater temptation and thus Abaye hadn't been aware that ordinary people don't have the same lust as great people. 3) Habituation makes sex less of a temptation. Therefore a person who lives a holy live and doesn't intereact with the opposite sex on a regular basis. has greater lust. Consequently this suggests that more normal interaction with the opposite sex is greater protection than stringent separation.

Sukkah(52a):Abaye explained that the yetzer harah is stronger against sages than anyone else. For example when Abaye heard a certain man say to a woman, “Let us arise and go on our way.” Abaye said that he would follow them in order to keep them from sin and so he followed after them for three pasarangs across a meadow. However they simply parted from each other and he heard them say, “The way is long and the company is pleasant.” Abaye said, “If I were in that situation I could not have withstood temptation.” He went and leaned against a doorpost in deep anguish. An old man came to him and taught him: To the degree that a person is greater than others, to that degree his yetzer (evil inclination) is greater than theirs.

Ben Yohoyada(Sukka 52a): An old man taught him that whoever is greater than others - his yetzer his greater. There is an obvious question. How was Abaye comforted by these words? If in fact his yetzer harah was greater than the young couple - who didn’t give into temptation – he also had greater power than they to break and conquer it. Why did Abaye assume that he would not have been able to resist temptation as they did? In fact it was so insignificant to them that they didn’t even notice that they had withstood temptation. It seems to me that his assumption that he wouldn’t have withstood the temptation is simply because he never had been exposed to such a situation. He had never even thought about it before. Therefore he wasn’t speaking from experience but just assumed that he would not have withstood temptation. However this situation happened to them regularly and therefore it was not surprising to them.

R' Moshe Feinstein: Blessing the sun - and a child


Every 28 years there is a special blessing made on the sun. It is in commemoration of the sun returning to the position it was in when the world was created. On one of those special occasions a large crowd gathered in front of Rav Moshe Feinstein’s apartment building on the Lower East Side of New York. It was just before sunrise and they had come to say the blessing with him.

However shortly before the designated time for saying the blessing, a father brought his young son to Rav Moshe’s apartment to receive a beracha from the great sage. Time was short but he just wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. Rav Moshe greeted them warmly and then seemed agitated about something. “I am sure your son – like other children - would like to have a candy but I can’t remember where my wife put it.”

He started opening and closing the kitchen cabinets trying to locate the candy. The crowd was getting impatient and yet Rav Moshe kept looking. Rav Moshe was focused on one thing - the happiness of that child. However being short in physical stature he couldn’t reach the upper cabinets. So he climbed up on the kitchen counter to reach them and he continued systematically searching. Finally he found it and climbed down from the counter.

He quickly gave the child the candy – and a beracha - and then hurried downstairs. The opportunity to bless the sun - while important - could wait a little while. The greater importance was making sure that the child had a pleasant and memorable experience meeting a genuine talmid chachom.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sampling error regarding views of Orthodox Jews


YNet reports:

The recent headlines resulting from the JDC – ICCD’s study that most European Jewish leaders support greater tolerance for conversion raised both a frown and bewilderment from those European leaders directly involved in conversion, particularly its rabbis and more specifically its Orthodox rabbinate. A frown because it reminds them of their constant battle with lay leaders over standards for conversion and bewilderment because this survey is like asking taxi drivers about world economic policy – they’ve got a lot to say but understand little about the intricacies of the subject matter.

The survey reports a remarkable tolerance towards intermarriage among the respondents. As much as 85% thought that it was not a good idea to strongly oppose intermarriage and bar those who intermarry and their spouses from communal membership.

According to the JDC’s own statistics 30% of those polled were defined as Orthodox, which means that 50% of the Orthodox polled were not strongly opposed to intermarriage. A major problem with this survey is that it allows respondents to provide their own self-definitions.

Anyone familiar with the European Jewish communal scene knows the following: There are many Jews who belong to Orthodox synagogues purely for burial or familial purposes. When asked to identify themselves, these people will identify themselves as ‘Orthodox’ because they belong to an Orthodox synagogue or burial society. Many do not keep Shabbat, Kashrut, and may even themselves be married to a non-Jew. It is hardly surprising that 46% of these respondents agree, that if you have one Jewish parent (even if it is the father and therefore the rest of the family are not halachically Jewish) you should be allowed to be a member of the community. This means that many who participated in the survey are Orthodox in name only.

Most significantly, there is a glaring omission of the one group of leaders who more than anyone are involved in conversion and matters of Jewish status - the rabbis of Europe. [...]

Birthright graduates - limited Jewish identity


Forward reports:

Nearly 160,000 young Jews from North America have taken part in Taglit-Birthright Israel, a 10-day free Israel trip aimed at revving up their Jewish identities.

Of those no longer in college, only half have attended any Jewish event since their return.

That’s one of the findings of “Tourists, Travelers and Citizens,” a new report by the Cohen Center of Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University. The report is based on interviews and online surveys of 1,534 Birthright alumni in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Toronto, the four largest Jewish communities in North America.

“It means we have a lot of work to do,” says Daniel Brenner, executive director of Birthright Israel NEXT, a national organization that tries to steer alumni toward greater Jewish involvement in their home communities.

The Birthright program was instituted in 2000 by mega-philanthropists concerned about what they perceived as the younger generation’s lack of Jewish involvement. Numerous formal and informal evaluations show participants’ connection to Israel and the Jewish community are enhanced by their trip, but that does not translate into ongoing Jewish involvement, according to the new report

“Years after their trip, Taglit alumni continue to look more like ‘tourists’ than ‘citizens’ in the Jewish community world,” the report’s authors write. “Although they value their Jewish identities, most have only limited participation in Jewish communal life.”

The report shows that 44 percent of Birthright alumni who are no longer in college have not attended any Jewish program since their return from Israel. A further 39 percent have attended just one or two programs. Only 4 percent have taken part in more than four programs.[...]

Guma Aguiar & his Chabad rebbe's bas mitzva


Chabad Lubavitch reports

How do parents of a severely challenged 12 year old girl celebrate their daughter’s bat mitzvah?

The question was poignantly relevant for Rabbi Moshe Meir and Pnina Lipszyc, Chabad representatives to Ft. Lauderdale, who have cultivated a lively Jewish community over nearly two decades while raising their special needs children under extraordinary circumstances. [...]

Guma Aguiar came from Israel with his wife and children to celebrate. “The first time I came to this Chabad center six years ago,” the founder of Leor Energy told the guests, “I had nothing. I knew nothing about Judaism, and didn’t understand a thing of what was going on during services.”

Aguiar, who went on to become a successful entrepreneur, was born to Jewish parents but raised as an evangelical Christian. “I came here because I wanted to try something authentic,” he said, recalling how he walked into the Chabad center one Friday night in search of something missing in his life. He found it in Rabbi Lipszyc’s unconditional acceptance. Aguiar has since returned to his Jewish roots, living in Jerusalem much of the year.

Like Aguiar, many at the Torah dedication/ bat-mitzvah were there having discovered the joy of belonging through Rabbi Lipszyc. Aguiar says that observing the rabbi’s unfaltering devotion to his daughter has been a tremendous inspiration. “Goldi’s come a very long way since we got to know her six years ago. Moshe Meir has nurtured her with incredible love and patience.”

From the way Rabbi Lipszyc greets an endless stream of visitors to the Chabad center and the Kabbalah Café in Ft. Lauderdale, one would never guess that the 45 year old father of five has twice battled cancer and continues to struggle with his own health while working creatively to build and grow Jewish life in the area.[...]

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Children's books are dangerous - lead poisoning?


Rachel Merrill, mother of three, was holding innocuous-seeming contraband in her hand at an Arlington Goodwill store earlier this month: a 1971 edition of "Little House on the Prairie." This copy of the children's classic had just become illegal to resell because of concerns that some old books contain lead in their ink.

Legislation passed by Congress last August in response to fears of lead-tainted toys imported from China went into effect last month. Consumer groups and safety advocates have praised it for its far-reaching protections. But libraries and book resellers such as Goodwill are worried about one small part of the law: a ban on distributing children's books printed before 1985.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the agency charged with enforcing the act, lead in the books' inks could make its way into the mouths of little kids. Goodwill is calling for a change in the legislation even as it clears its shelves to comply, and libraries are worried they could be the next ones scrubbing their shelves.

Parents like Rachel Merrill are concerned, too. She home-schools her children and says that new books are just too expensive.

"We eat organic food, and I'm very careful about that kind of stuff," she said. "But to me, it seems like the law's written way too broadly."

Scientists are emphatic that lead, which was common in paints before its use was banned in 1978, poses a threat to the neural development of small children. But they disagree about whether there is enough in the ink in children's books to warrant concern. Some even accuse the safety commission of trying to undermine the law by stirring up popular backlash.[...]

Judges vs legislation to decide moral issues?


(CBS/AP)
Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank called Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia a "homophobe" in a recent interview with a gay news Web site.

In an interview on 365gay.com, the Democratic lawmaker, who is gay, was discussing gay marriage and his expectation that the high court would some day be called upon to decide whether the Constitution allows the federal government to deny recognition to same-sex marriages.

"I wouldn't want it to go to the United States Supreme Court now because that homophobe Antonin Scalia has too many votes on this current court," said Frank. The video of the interview is available online. [...]

Scalia dissented from the court's ruling in 2003 that struck down state laws banning consensual sodomy. He has complained about judges, rather than elected officials, deciding questions of morality about which the Constitution is silent.

Controversial topics like gay rights and abortion should not be in the hands of judges, he has said, calling on people to persuade their legislatures or amend the Constitution.

Religious Jewish soldiers - condemned by secular

JERUSALEM — The publication late last week of eyewitness accounts by Israeli soldiers alleging acute mistreatment of Palestinian civilians in the recent Gaza fighting highlights a debate here about the rules of war. But it also exposes something else: the clash between secular liberals and religious nationalists for control over the army and society.

Several of the testimonies, published by an institute that runs a premilitary course and is affiliated with the left-leaning secular kibbutz movement, showed a distinct impatience with religious soldiers, portraying them as self-appointed holy warriors.

A soldier, identified by the pseudonym Ram, is quoted as saying that in Gaza, “the rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles and their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the non-Jews who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. This was the main message, and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war.”

Dany Zamir, the director of the one-year premilitary course who solicited the testimonies and then leaked them, leading to a promise by the military to investigate, is quoted in the transcripts as expressing anguish over the growing religious nationalist elements of the military.

“If clerics are anointing us with oil and sticking holy books in our hands, and if the soldiers in these units aren’t representative of the whole spectrum of the Jewish people, but rather of certain segments of the population, what can we expect?” he said. “To whom do we complain?”

For the first four decades of Israel’s existence, the army — like many of the country’s institutions — was dominated by kibbutz members who saw themselves as secular, Western and educated. In the past decade or two, religious nationalists, including many from the settler movement in the West Bank, have moved into more and more positions of military responsibility. (In Israeli society, they are a growing force, distinct from, and more modern than, the black-garbed ultra-Orthodox, who are excused from military service.)

In many cases, the religious nationalists have ascended to command positions from precisely the kind of premilitary college course that Mr. Zamir runs — but theirs are run by the religious movements rather than his secular one, meaning that the competition between him and them is both ideological and careerist.

“The officer corps of the elite Golani Brigade is now heavily populated by religious right-wing graduates of the preparatory academies,” noted Moshe Halbertal, a Jewish philosophy professor who co-wrote the military code of ethics and who is himself religiously observant but politically liberal. “The religious right is trying to have an impact on Israeli society through the army.”

For Mr. Halbertal, like for the vast majority of Israelis, the army is an especially sensitive institution because it has always functioned as a social cauldron, throwing together people from all walks of life and scores of ethnic and national backgrounds, and helping form them into a cohesive society with social networks that carry on throughout their lives.

Those who oppose the religious right have been especially concerned about the influence of the military’s chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki, who is himself a West Bank settler and who was very active during the war, spending most of it in the company of the troops in the field.

He took a quotation from a classical Hebrew text and turned it into a slogan during the war: “He who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful.”

A controversy then arose when a booklet handed out to soldiers was found to contain a rabbinical edict against showing the enemy mercy. The Defense Ministry reprimanded the rabbi.

At the time, in January, Avshalom Vilan, then a leftist member of Parliament, accused the rabbi of having “turned the Israeli military’s activity from fighting out of necessity into a holy war.”[...]

Abuse - Perpetrator as practicing doctor?


A year ago, Sweden’s most prestigious medical school found itself in an international uproar after it unknowingly admitted a student who was a Nazi sympathizer and a convicted murderer, then scrambled to find a way to expel him.

It is hard to imagine how the case could get any more bizarre. But it has.

The 33-year-old student, Karl Helge Hampus Svensson, having been banished from the medical school of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm on the ground that he falsified his high school records, has now been admitted to a second well-known medical school — Uppsala, Sweden’s oldest university.

New twists in his and another case highlight the difficulties that three of the country’s six medical schools have had in admitting and dismissing students with serious criminal offenses in just the past two years. The cases resonate far beyond Sweden, raising fundamental questions about who is fit to become a doctor.

The circumstances of Mr. Svensson’s admission to Uppsala’s first-year class — reported in January by Swedish news organizations — are unknown, because none of the officials involved will publicly discuss his case. He apparently uses an assumed name — a customary practice for Swedes seeking to remain anonymous because of a personal threat. Last week, Uppsala officials, responding to concerns about Mr. Svensson’s admission, said he had not participated in class work, but did not say why.

In another embarrassing twist, a Swedish newspaper reported last month that much of the verdict and court files regarding Bjorn Soderberg, Mr. Svensson’s murder victim, had been cut out or replaced with blank pages. The police said they had been unable to find a culprit.

And in still another case, a 24-year-old medical student at Lund University was convicted last April of raping a 14-year-old boy while he slept. A district court sentenced the student to two years in prison, but a higher court reduced the sentence to two years’ probation and medical therapy. [...]

Monday, March 23, 2009

Snake Oil vs. Scientific Medicine

Our conference was being held over lunch, but Pat, a middle-aged health-care consultant, did not touch a bite of her food. When I asked if something was wrong, she revealed her lifelong battle with Crohn's disease, an inflammation of the bowels that causes diarrhea and abdominal pain.

I asked what her doctor advised. With some hesitation, she told me she was chiefly being treated by someone she called her "teacher," who helped her use her use qi gong, a Chinese system of breathing and energy exercise, to manage her illness.

She also sees a conventional doctor. But I was struck that this woman, whose job involves ensuring that hospital practices are supported by scientific evidence, had chosen to consult a provider of alternative medicine.

"My teacher looks at me as a whole person," she explained. "He looks at my emotional state, not just my diseased state. . . . He empowers me on how to care for myself. . . . My doctor looks at me just as a disease."

As an MD with two decades of experience, I felt a sense of rebuke. Personally, I am not averse to alternative medicine. Though I was raised and educated in America, I was born in India, where treatments such as ayurveda and yoga originated and where they are perceived as an equivalent method of healing many illnesses. And I use meditation and massage as aids to relaxation.[...]

Convert on beis din for conversion? - Rabbi Broyde


Rabbi Broyde has a typically excellect summary of the subject on the Hirhurim blog. Subject discussed on this blog I II III

Some Final Observations Now That the Summary is Over

It seems to me [and to preempt any questions, I am speaking just for myself and for no organization that I am involved in: neither Emory University nor its law school, nor its law and religion program, nor the Beth Din of America nor the Young Israel where I am the Founding Rabbi necessarily agree with my thoughts] that given since this dispute is without clear precedent, one can say for certain that as a matter of halachic policy it is a bad idea to allow a convert to serve on a bet din.

The rationale for this seems clear. Given the fact that there are many, many eminent poskim who think such a conversion is invalid even bedieved, it would be a terrible disservice to any convert to intentionally staff their conversion panel with such a rabbi. It makes such a conversion invalid according to many poskim for no good reason. An indisputably valid panel is a wise idea in every case and for every convert lechatchila. (This is even more so true in this matter where a hachra’ah based on logical rules seems so hard.)

The intentional decision to place a rabbi who is a convert on a conversion panel is nearly a form of rabbinic malpractice in my view; since so many competent and qualified rabbis are present in our times, why staff a rabbinical court with one whose qualifications are to be questioned as a matter of halacha?

Evil which is turned to good is greater good


Arvei Nachal(#23):
G‑d created man for His honor and in order that there be reward and punishment in this world. This is the result of man having free‑will to do good or evil. However it is impossible to have free‑will unless man himself is a combination of good and evil. It is because of this man has the ability to turn from evil. Therefore when the good overcomes the evil – the evil turns to good and the reward is very great. The Zohar (2:184a) states that good exists only in turning from evil. In other words, even thought the good is inherently good, however the evil which is turned to good has a much higher quality. This is stated in Bereishis Rabbah (9:5): “very good” is referring to death. In other words that evil that is turned to good is very good and it is called “very good”. Consequently this is what G‑d wanted in the creation of man. It is impossible to accomplish this unless man is a combination of good and evil.

R' Yochanon & Raish Lakish - Rabbi Derovan

Rabbi Yochanan and Raish Lakish

Michael Freund of Shavei Israel responds to criticism


Michael Freund, Chairman, Shavei Israel responds to "RaP's criticism of proselytizing in Poland":

I would like to respond to the spurious criticism and outright lashon hara contained in the March 19 post entitled, "RaP's criticism of proselytizing in Poland".

I find it simply incomprehensible that my organization, Shavei Israel, is being labeled as "missionary" and criticized for helping people in Poland to return to their Jewish roots. Had the person who posted this tirade bothered to read the article in Mishpacha magazine in question, they would have seen quite clearly that I am quoted as saying the following: "For those interested in halachic conversion, we send them to the proper rabbinic authorities. For those who just want to learn more, we try to provide them with positive Jewish experiences.” Shavei Israel leaves the halachic aspect of each case to Israel’s Chief rabbinate. “Each case has its own set of evidence, its own level of proof or reliability,” Freund explains. “Is the Jewish line from the mother or the father? What kind of proof is there? These are things for a beis din to decide.”

There it is - in black and white - we leave these matters for a beis din to decide, because as Torah-observant Jews our fidelity is to Halacha and nothing else. We simply refer the people in question to rabbonim, and it is up to them to make the determination. Since when is referring people to a beis din considered "missionary" activity? Since when is respecting Torah law and following it cause for being the target of lashon hara?

Michael Freund
Chairman, Shavei Israel

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Rav Soloveitchik & Evolution - by Rav Triebitz


This an excerpt taken from Rav Triebitz's introduction to Rav Soloveitchik's as of yet unpublished lectures on Bereishis

The Rav’s view of incommensurability, however, goes only so far. While discussing the Biblical account of the creation of man and its relationship with the modern scientific theory of evolution, the Rav actually appears to be seeking commensurability.

He declares:
“Indeed, one of the most annoying scientific facts which the religious man encounters isthe problem of evolution and creation. However, this is not the real problem. Whatactually is irreconcilable is the concept of man as the bearer of a divine image and the idea of man as an intelligent animal in science. Evolution and creation can be reconciledmerely by saying that six days is not absolutely so, but is indefinite and may be longer. Maimonides spoke of Creation in terms of phases and the Kabbalah in terms of sefiros, the time of which may be indefinite. However, our conflict is man as a unique being and man as a friend of the animal. Science can never explain how being came into being, for it is out of the realm of science, while the Bible is concerned with the problem of ex-nihilo. Aristotle could not accept evolution because he believed in the eternity of forms.” (Lecture XII).

These statements, while delivered orally, are an almost verbatim quote of a passage written by the Rav himself in the recently published posthumous work The Emergence of Ethical Man. As is clear from the above quote, the Rav is clearly not satisfied with incommensurability, but is apparently adopting the commensurable approach of Rambam in chapter 30 of section II of the Guide for the Perplexed where he seeks to interpret the first chapter of Genesis in accordance with Aristotelian science, and which the Rav himself criticized in lecture I. Clearly the Rav is not dismissing the contradiction between evolution and the Biblical account of creation by declaring incommensurability. The reference to the Guide where an Aristotelian physical interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis is presented is clearly intended to set a precedent for a scientifically commensurable interpretation of Scripture. The other example cited, the kabbalistic interpretation of Bereishis in terms of sefiros, is also being cited as a precedent for a nonliteral interpretation of natural terms, thereby avoiding a clash with scientific theory. The Rav’s assertion at the beginning of lecture II that the Bible will employ ancient outdated theories of science for the purpose of communicating the historical event of revelation is apparently being abandoned. For if the nature of revelation is only to reveal the Will of God, and the details of that revelation will therefore be relative to the science and culture of the time, why does the Rav feel the necessity to invoke non-literal readings of the text?

It appears to me that the Rav’s remarks concerning evolution are an attempt to achieve what I would call ‘halachic commensurability’ and not, merely, ‘scientific commensurability’. While Judaism views man as the “bearer of a divine image” and therefore endowed with the capacity for transcendence, this transcendence, in the Rav’s words, “was always seen against the background of naturalness. The canvas was man’s immanence; transcendence was just projected on it as a display of colors” (Emergence of Ethical Man p. 9). The Rav is clearly speaking from the standpoint of the halachah. In contradistinction, “Christianity succeeded in isolating them and reducing the element of naturalness to a state of corruption” (ibid.). This has to be seen as a consequence of Christianity’s rejection of the halacha
The issue of evolution and its seeming irreconciliation with the Bible “troubled Christian theologians more than Jewish scholars. The naturalistic formula of man was to a certain extent common knowledge among the Jewish sages, who did not resent it, whereas Christian theologians are still struggling with the secularization of human existence by scientific research. The reason lies in the discrepancy between the Jewish Bible and the Christian Gospels, the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Testaments (Emergence of Ethical Man).
The Rav’s desire to find commensurability between evolution and the Torah is therefore motivated by halachic reasons as opposed to scientific ones. The struggle waged by creationists’ against Darwin is in essence, according to the Rav, a Christian crusade which is in contradistinction to the Halachic conception of man. While Judaism’s objection is to the reductionist interpretation of evolution which reduces man to an animal, it equally objects to the Christian antinomy to evolution which views any naturalistic description of man to be sacrilege. The establishment of commensurability between evolution and the Bible is therefore motivated by a desire to adhere to the true philosophy of Judaism, the halacha, and to thereby exorcise it of Christian and Greek influences. The Rav clearly saw the reconciliation of evolution with the Biblical texts as being vital to Jewish interests.

Spirtual love vs material love


Meshech Chochma(Vayikra 19:18):
Bereishis Rabba (41:1): A tzadik flourishes like a date palm… Just as a date palm and cedar tree have desires also tzadikim have desires. What are their desires – it is for G‑d…. Rav Tanchum said that there was a date palm in Chamaso which did not give forth fruit. A palm tree gardener passed by and commented that this date tree is longing for palm tree in Jericho. Once the two were grafted it bore fruit. The key to understanding this medrash is from the tradition that the yetzer harah does not have an influence except on which the eyes see (Sotah 8a). Lust for material things only is aroused by what the eye sees and then the heart desires(Bamidbar Rabbah 10:2). Similarly Megila (15a) says that the mere mention of the name of Rachab (who was very beautiful) caused a person to be sexual aroused. But that was only if the person knew what she looked like. However what the eye hasn’t seen the heart doesn’t desire.

In contrast the lust of tzadikim is not that way but comes from the power of the mind… Their desire is solely for spirituality and getting close to G‑d and not for material things. This is stated in Shemos (33:20): No man can see me and be alive. Thus we can understand the lust of the date palm and the cedar tree to which tzadikim are compared. It is not based on material desires. Therefore we see that the date palm had desire for that which it couldn’t see. The tzadik has gained control over his material nature and now has desire for that which can’t be seen – which is G‑d. This is also the proper understanding of “You shall love your fellow man as yourself I am G‑d.” Just as you have been commanded to love G‑d even though He hasn’t appeared before you – similarly you shall love and value every single Jew – even though he is so far away from you that you have never seen him.

Abuse - Jewish Board of Advocates for Children


The Jewish Board of Advocates for Children, Inc. (JBAC) is a new non-profit corporation founded in New York State in 2008.

The founders recognize a need for a new voice to address the pressing issues of the day in yeshiva and nonpublic school education. Those issues include the health, safety and welfare of all children, the spiraling cost of religious and nonpublic school education, and the quality of education.


We are both a think tank and activist organization. Among our initial accomplishments, when we were known as the N.Y.S. Yeshiva Parents Association, was our successful advocacy for a new law authorizing all nonpublic schools to fingerprint and background check their prospective employees. Our schools can now avoid hiring convicted sex offenders and other dangerous persons who should not be working near children. This law became effective July 1, 2007.

Our activities include multi-disciplinary conferences, attended by professionals, community leaders, and all interested persons who possess a fervent wish to make a better world for our children. We seek practical solutions to contemporary challenges.

Our Officers and Executive Committee members are comprised of individuals with strong backgrounds in law, medicine, mental health, education, parenting and mentoring, and the Jewish religion.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Abuse - Be careful with doctors


Dr. Melvin D. Levine, the North Carolina pediatrician who faces a lawsuit accusing him of molesting young boys during physical examinations, has signed a consent order agreeing that he will never again practice medicine in North Carolina or anywhere else.

In the consent order, approved by the state medical board on Friday, the board said it had been prepared to present testimony that the genital examinations Dr. Levine conducted on five unnamed patients were done outside the presence of a parent or chaperone, were not medically indicated and were either not documented in the medical record or not documented according to prevailing standards.

Until the accusations of sexual molesting surfaced last year, Dr. Levine was a prominent voice in the field of learning disabilities. His books and lectures were acclaimed by teachers and parents.

Dr. Levine, 69, has denied any wrongdoing. He voluntarily suspended his license last April and faces no criminal charges. Although the consent order did not address his guilt or innocence, Thomas Mansfield, the medical board’s legal director, said the order was unusually broad.

“The result of this consent order is that this physician will never examine another patient anywhere in the world,” Mr. Mansfield said. “Rarely do you see one that says never again, in any jurisdiction.”

The order, whose language was negotiated with Dr. Levine’s lawyer, said Dr. Levine had been prepared to present testimony that his examinations were medically indicated and consistent with standard medical practice.

The order also said the board had received many letters in support of Dr. Levine from doctors, educators, former patients and their parents, saying he had been instrumental both in helping students who struggle in school and in “helping teachers and clinicians understand the differences in learning and better manage students whose problems were misunderstood and poorly managed in the past.”

Dr. Levine’s lawyer, Alan Schneider, said, “He continues to adamantly deny the allegations.”[...]

Abuse - Incest - immoral but legal


Associated Press

Surprising as it may seem, incest is not always a crime in Europe.

Three European Union nations — France, Spain and Portugal — do not prosecute consenting adults for incest, and Romania is considering following suit.

The shocking case of Austrian Josef Fritzl, found guilty this week of holding his daughter captive for 24 years and fathering her seven children, has focused new attention on incest — which is a crime in itself in Austria even if the acts are consensual. But in the Fritzl case it was in connection with rape, homicide and other charges that led to a sentence of life in a secure psychiatric ward.

Laws exempting parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters from prosecution for incestuous acts if they are not forced upon adult family members are decades old in France, Spain and Portugal.

In Romania, decriminalizing incest among consenting adults is being considered as part of a wide range of reforms to the country's criminal code. No date has been set yet for a parliament vote on the bill, and opposition to the proposal is fervent even among some lawmakers in the ruling coalition.

Currently all forms of incest in Romania are punishable by up to seven years in prison. But Romania's Justice Ministry suggests the new legislation would move the country — which joined the European Union two years ago — closer legally to some other EU members.

"Not everything that is immoral has to be illegal," said Justice Ministry legal expert Valerian Cioclei. "We cannot help these people by turning them into criminals and punishing them."[...]

Friday, March 20, 2009

Rambam - Faith & Doubt & the study of Science


Daas Torah: "Why don't we try another dichotomy. If you think his [Rambam] belief that studying of science leads to a greater appreciation of G-d is applicable to all times and all places - than you would conclude that he made a major mistake. On the other hand if you view that he only wrote that for his generation then you would assume that he would have abandoned it in our age when we see being a scientist does not produce a better understanding of G-d than studying Torah."


רפאל I do not think that the Rambam would abandon his view. True, he would be shocked by Chilonim studying Science and not finding G-d. But his directives were for Torah Jews. I submit he would be appalled by the intellectual corruption in today's Yeshiva world, in no small part caused by the ignorance of Science, davka after it gave birth to insights into Creation that are without precedent.

===========================================

I think the above exchange demonstrates the gap between the two sides. The Rambam is pictured by my opponents as the Enlightened Man - fearlessly search for truth without regard for the consequence. Urging all men to drop their blinders and no longer fear the Truth which is contained in Science and Philosophy.

This stereotype is simply not supported by the Rambam's own writings. For example the Rambam says that the Morech Nevuchim was not written for everyone. It was specifically written for those who involved in science and philosophy and were bothered by how to integrate the material. Even so he wrote this work with great care - concealing much of his true views as he writes in his introduction. In fact the Rambam was so successfull in concealing what his views were - as manifest by the apparent contradictions between the Moreh Nevuchim and Mishneh Torah - there is no agreement even amongst academics as to the Rambam's true positions on many issues.

Then we have his letters - one of which describes his abandoment of the study of Torah for science and philosophy. Rav Kapach simply says it is a forgery because it is inconsistent with eveything else we know about the Rambam. Then we have the view that the Rambam says that there is no need to study anything besides the Mishneh Torah. Yet he writes in one of his letters that in his yeshiva there was a traditional study of Talmud.

The false fantasy of the Rambam's espousal of fearless search for truth becomes unraveled with his statement that one is not allowed to study works which leads to questions and possible heresy. He says that even a sincere person who is trying to understand Torah - but concludes a view which is heresy - is in fact a heretic.

The Rambam would not walk into Lakewood and knock the shtenders over with the cry - "Go to college and seek the truth - you have nothing to fear!"

One always has to keep in mind the audience for a particular program

A number of years ago Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm wrote a book "Faith and Doubt" which argued for the positive view of having doubt and having searching questions. However tucked away in a footnote 52 he presents a similar position to the above noting Hilchos Avoda Zara (2:3) which proscribes the study of that which may lead to heresy and hence into doubt. "If one reads the passage in Avoda Zara carefully he will note the author's explanation of and qualifications on his prohibition: the inablity of all kinds of mentality to understand philosophic truth...the emphasis on the fact that this is a general decision to be applied to the masses of people... and to casual unsystematic suty... and the fear that such speculation will be undertaken by those who do not know its fundamental principles and methods... Obviously Maimonides was dealing with two principles which had come into conflict - the duty to know G-d rationally, and the obligation to protect the unsophisticated from spiritual confusion...What, however, if the state of society and culture are such that to follow these rules without deviation would result in wholesale abandonment of faith? Would we be justificed in applying these rules regardless of the effects that were to follow? Obviously not.... In Maimondies' days, most peole were covered by his decision in Hilchos Avoda Zara and the minority of accomplished scholars and sophisticated intellects by the law in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah. That was how the halacha protected the integrity of the faith. Today there may be pockets here and there of those who will live in self-contained communities without any access to the great sources of Western Civilization; for them the same decision holds true without change. But most of us, despite our lack of halakhic expertise and our doubtful philosophic sophistication, are such that doubt is ubiquitous with us and if we do not entertain it yet we surely will be exposed to it before long..."

Thus we must acknowledge and be concerned about the consequence of a particular program of study. If a person comes from a culture where Science is the standard of truth - then it might be important to address the issues as R' Slikin is doing. Then again it might be better to simply teach him that the only truth that matters is Torah. However a person who is in the Chareidi society immersed in learning Torah day and night. It is highly unlikely his yiras Shamayim will benefit from a diet of contradictions of Science and Torah and proposed solutions. There are, however, a minority of Charedi Jews that can benefit and therefore should study these issues. It is simply not for everyone.

Rav Sternbuch - Final battles before Moshiach

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Abuse - Press charges or help victim?


In Abuse Case, Press Charges Or Help The Victim?


Temima Shulman Special to The Jewish Week | Mar 18, 2009

A rabbinic expert on abuse in the Jewish community told a conference in Teaneck, N.J., dealing with child sexual abuse last week that “working outside of law enforcement is irresponsible,” and was highly critical of the efforts of Borough Park Assemblyman Dov Hikind.

Rabbi Mark Dratch, who heads JSafe, a not-for-profit organization that addresses issues of abuse in the Jewish community, depicted Hikind, who has been outspoken in recent months in calling attention to the problem of abuse in the Orthodox community, as trying to be an advocate for the abused while refusing to give over the names of alleged perpetrators he says he has amassed to the police. - Read More -

Conservative Judaisim - 3 generation movement


Jpost - Sherwin Pomerantz The writer is president of Atid EDI Ltd., a Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm,

Rabbi Jerome Epstein's op-ed regarding bringing back the Conservative Movement's most committed young people to Conservative synagogues (March 17) reminds me of the farmer who closed the barn door after the horses left.

His statement that "many of the more committed people who were inspired by our movement have chosen to identify with Orthodox congregations, not because of the ideology but because they seek others who share their commitment to the very ideals that we say we hold dear. They bought into what we said we stand for - but they do not find it in our synagogues. So they seek elsewhere" describes exactly my situation as well as that of so many of my friends and associates who grew up in the Conservative Movement in the US and who now live traditional life styles within the framework of Orthodox synagogues, albeit for the most part in what is know as "modern" Orthodox.

I am a product of the movement. I was president of one of its Chicago area synagogues, Midwest regional president, chairman of the United Synagogue's Council of Regional Presidents, national vice president and, upon making aliya in 1984, founder and officer of Kehilat Ya'ar Ramot, the Conservative congregation in that Jerusalem neighborhood. Yet today, I am the head of the board of the Ohel Nehama synagogue in Katamon and very much involved in the life of that community. What happened?

Rabbi Epstein, whom I have known for the more than 35 years that he has been a professional with the United Synagogue, hits the nail on the head when he says: "They perceive that there is no place for them and their Judaism in the Conservative synagogue." It was not as if those of us who were in the ranks of the traditionalists of the movement left the movement, rather the movement left us by failing to support, in practice, what the movement purported to support in theory.[...]

Rebbtzn Sternbuch A"H - Brother's Hesped

RaP's criticism of proselytizing in Poland


Recipients and Publicity
comment {rest of post is in comments to "Subbotnik Jews of Ilyinka are Jews": ]

Mishpacha magazine for hire continues to promote agenda of Michael Freund and Shavei Israel proselytizing organization.

Mishpacha magazine for hire poses danger to Torah true hashkofas by not teaching about Kiddush Hashem when Jews are obligated to sacrifice their lives for Yiddishkeit and not become Christians, Catholics or Communists.

Shavei Israel digs for converts in Poland and elsewhere in the guise of "hidden Jews" who will in any case require GIUR KEHALACHA LECHUMRA.

As in the case of the Russian Subbotniks, the status of gentiles seeking to become Jews in Poland, as many as 150,000+, poses a threat to Israel as long as the Israeli Chief rabbinate does not affirm its position and leaves it up to Michael Freund to set the agenda.

Read the latest article first, with later comments and analysis starting with "RaP": [...]

Rabbinic Authority - Descriptive vs rational justification


One of the outcomes of the discussions [ I II III ] about Chazal and Science is that there are two disparate models being used here. Each side thinks it is obvious that their model is correct. On the one hand we have the insular chareidi model which says that the only relevant information is that which comes from seeing the text the way our godolim see it. On the other hand are those that argue that it is fine to use that approach for practical halacha but one needs to be and has the right to be concerned with objective truth.

This reminded me of the summary of Prof. Michael S. Berger's excellent book - Rabbinical Authority. He says that determining the source of Rabbinic authority in the traditional world is basically a description of what a particular community considers to be authoritative. On the other hand the more modern elements say that we need to identity objective sources of authority - which are independent of what people in a particular community do.


p154-155

"Interpreting legal texts led us in chapter 9 to introduce Stanley Fish's analysis of literary criticism, which situates all interpretation within the context of interpretive communities. Indeed, a "text" has no existence independent of such a community, for only a community, with its values, assumptions, principles, etc., may construe a text as a "text" in the first place. We teased out the implications of such a model for interpretation in legal traditions in general and in the Jewish legal tradition in particular, showing how the ways the Sages read the Torah became characteristic of that community and were subsequently (consequently?) applied to the Mishnah, the Talmud, and even medieval codes.

All three chapters of part III offered alternative understandings of authority that, to varying degrees, rejected the Enlightenment assessment of authority. The Enlightenmentent model demands that some justification be provided for forgoing one's own independent judgments and decisions in order to defer to another's view. But in part III I tried to show that authority is embedded in a form of life which, in the end, renders such rational justification beside the point. Applying a Wittgensteinian approach to the issue of Rabbinic authority, we saw that the issue could not truly be understood outside a set of circumstances that already situates it - and those subject to it - in a particular context. Description, rather than justification, was seen to be a helpful and productive way of analyzing authority. The question that came up in the nineteenth century and that continues to the present is not really about the authority of the talmudic Sages but is about the contemporary relevance or appropriateness of a form of life that makes the Sages of late antiquity central to one's entire outlook and set of concerns. Various interpretive communities, represented in part by the range of Jewish denominations today, have resolved this issue in a variety of ways, and each, in the end, construes the "text of the Talmud" and "Rabbinic authority" quite differently. The choices made by each community naturally bear consequences for its members, but it is only in terms of these interpretive communities that we can properly discuss the issue of the Talmud's, or Rabbinic, authority.

No simple solutions, therefore, await us as we inquire into the nature of Rabbinic authority. Sages, texts, and interpretive communities and forms of life mix inextricably in complex and subtle ways such that the effort to separate them and view one as antecedent or primary to the others fails to capture how authority is to be understood in Judaism. Rabbinic authority is necessarily conceived in the intricate interface of community and text, a fitting condition for "the people of the Book."

Yemenites - Satmar vs. Jewish Agency


Fearing a possible spate of killings following threats to the Yemenite Jewish community, the umbrella body of American Jewish federations will be evacuating almost half of the remaining Jewish community in Yemen to the United States over the next two weeks, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

The UJC is working with the US State Department, local federations and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to implement the evacuation and help finance the $800,000 expense of absorbing 110 Yemenite Jews in the United States, over one-third of the roughly 280-strong community.

"The funding would go toward such resettlement costs as housing, food and social-service programs," said a statement by the UJC on Tuesday.

Jewish Agency officials blasted the move. A senior agency official told the Post that Jews "should not immigrate to the United States. The place of Jews is in their homeland, the land of Israel, and like all the Jews of the world, the Jews of Yemen have to make aliya to Israel. That is their destiny."

The agency is particularly upset because the extraction of the Yemenite Jews comes at the behest of the New York Satmar community, a hassidic Jewish sect that is opposed to modern political Zionism and funds Jewish education institutions in Yemen.[...]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

First all-encompassing Israeli center for child abuse

Israel's first all-encompassing center for child and teen victims of sexual and physical abuse will open Tuesday as a separate department at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer.

Based on the successful US model, where currently 600 such centers are in operation, Beit Lynn will provide abuse victims between the ages of three and 18 with a wide range of services and therapy, including social welfare and legal services.

Its creation is based on a law passed last year, which calls for six more such centers to be set up.

"This is the first center of its kind to be established in Israel, and bringing together medical staff with other responders will provide the capacity to give treatment quickly and effectively in the most traumatic of cases," said Prof. Ze'ev Rotstein, Sheba Medical Center's director-general.

Funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, together with the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, Sheba Medical Center, NGO Ashalim, the Israel Police Force and contributions from the ministries of health, justice and education, the new center aims to streamline the initial process rape victims must undergo, whether their attacker is a family member or a stranger.

In the past, victims were forced to visit each office independently, usually being carted around by their parents from the hospital to the police station and on to social workers and lawyers.

The new center will bring all these elements together under one roof, with all first responders sharing information and easing the trauma for the victim.[...]

Abuse - Can you ever trust a predator?


Associated Press:

A pastor in this quiet, picturesque New England town opened his doors to a convicted child killer who had served his time but had nowhere to go.

But some neighbors of the Rev. David Pinckney vehemently disagree with the pastor's decision — one even threatening to burn his house down after officials could find no one else willing to take 60-year-old Raymond Guay.

"Politicians think they can dump their trash in our small town," said one neighbor, Jon Morales, whose girlfriend and two children live across an unpaved road from Pinckney's home.

Chichester, a town of about 2,200 residents in south-central New Hampshire, has been in an uproar since the weekend, when police announced that Guay would spend two months with Pinckney's family.

About 40 angry residents protested outside the home Saturday, Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard said. One protester blustered that he wanted to set it on fire, he said.

Town leaders were expected Tuesday night to ask state and federal officials to remove Guay from town.

Guay already had a criminal record when he was charged in 1973, at age 25, with abducting and murdering a 12-year-old boy in Nashua.[...]

Daas Torah vs Academic Analysis


Rabbi Isaac Hutner's "Daat Torah Perspective" on the Holocaust: A Critical Analysis
Tradition, 18(3), Fall 1980 235

Introduction Three years ago The Jewish Observer, a magazine published by the Agudat Israel of America, printed a discourse by Rabbi Yitzhak Hutner Shlita, Dean of Yeshivas Rabbenu Hayyim Berlin and a member of the Moetzes Gedola Ha Torah, the rabbinical council of the Agudah, on the subject of teaching the Holocaust in religious schools (" 'Holocaust'—A Study of the Term and the Epoch It's Meant to Describe," October 1977). This discourse aroused a good deal of discussion and controversy within the Orthodox Jewish community, both inside and outside the pages of The Jewish Observer. Nevertheless, despite the variety of comments, criticism, and clarifications—in particular Rabbi Yaakov Feitman's chazarah clarification essay, "Reviewing a Shiur" (The Jewish Observer, January 1978)—the discourse has not as yet elicited the thorough, rigorous, and dispassionate scrutiny that, in light of its importance and controversial nature, it so evidently deserves. Rabbi Hutner's discourse is important for several reasons. First, Rabbi Hutner is perhaps the leading thinker in the traditional yeshivah world, and a discourse of his on the delicate and important subject of teaching thc holocaust in religious schools is bound to carry great weight. Second, as will become clear in the second part of this article, Rabbi Hutner's discourse indicates that the yeshivah world and the Agudah, of which Rabbi Hutner is an outstanding representative, despite their pragmatic accommodation with the State [...]

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Prohibition of Water - an appeal to reason


JPress - an article by Dr. David Berger

Date: Wednesday, November 17 2004

A halachic ruling prohibiting New York City water was recently formulated by Rav Dovid Feinstein shlita and signed by Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv shlita and Rav Pinchas Sheinberg shlita. It affirms that once copepods can be seen as moving entities in the city's reservoirs, they remain prohibited even when they are not discernible in tap water.

Since water is so basic a substance, it is hardly necessary to point out the seriousness of this ruling. Even in an urban setting, it is easy to envision realistic scenarios involving jeopardy to the health of especially vulnerable observant Jews, not to speak of lesser but nonetheless deeply troubling consequences.

There are rabbinic decisors of stature who disagree with this stringent stance, relying on an attested and respected opinion recorded by earlier authorities that the water is permissible if the organisms in question are not discernible. (This is apart from the ruling by at least one distinguished rabbi that the copepods are permissible because of the halachic status of reservoirs.)

I make no pretenses to any standing in a debate among poskim on such a question, but I believe it is important to underscore certain considerations with the hope they will help encourage the latter authorities - while maintaining the highest reverence for the great rabbis who hold a stringent view - to keep the halachic discourse on this matter alive.

There is strong reason to believe that the presence of these crustaceans in the city water supply is not a new phenomenon - and that the almost universal, instinctive reaction that water imbibed over the years by a host of tzaddikim and talmidei chachamim must be permissible does not deserve to be dismissed as irrelevant.[...]

Internet use by jurors causes mistrials


NYTimes reports: [internet bypasses traditional blocks to information]

Last week, a juror in a big federal drug trial in Florida admitted to the judge that he had been doing research on the case on the Internet, directly violating the judge’s instructions and centuries of legal rules. But when the judge questioned the rest of the jury, he got an even bigger shock.

Eight other jurors had been doing the same thing. The federal judge, William J. Zloch, had no choice but to declare a mistrial, a waste of eight weeks of work by federal prosecutors and defense lawyers.

“We were stunned,” said a defense lawyer, Peter Raben, who was told by the jury that he had been on the verge of winning the case. “It’s the first time modern technology struck us in that fashion, and it hit us right over the head.”

It might be called a Google mistrial. The use of BlackBerrys and iPhones by jurors gathering and sending out information about cases is wreaking havoc on trials around the country, upending deliberations and infuriating judges.[...]

R' Yakov Horowitz - Modesty Squad conviction


On Sunday, Elhanan Buzaglo was sentenced to four years imprisonment for the vicious beating of a woman nine months ago in Jerusalem's Ma'alot Dafna neighborhood. Buzaglo, a member of a haredi mishmar hazniyut, a self-appointed modesty squad, pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain struck with the State Attorney's Office.

Buzaglo, who broke into the 31-year-old divorcé's apartment along with four other men, was convicted of receiving $2,000 from the mishmar hazniyut for his role in the attack, which was intended to intimidate her into leaving the predominantly haredi neighborhood. Judge Noam Solberg wrote in his decision that "the punishment must reflect the abhorrence of his acts... and deter him and others like him."

Even though the Jerusalem District Court described the assailants as an "armed militia," Buzaglo, 29, was the only defendant to be convicted in this barbaric attack. According to newspaper reports last October, a series of flaws in the investigation, including a problem with the recording device, enabled Buzaglo's dispatchers - the modesty patrol members - to evade indictments.

From my vantage point, it is unfortunate that all those who participated in the vicious beating of a defenseless woman are not facing long prison sentences. But it is a great step forward and hopefully will mark a turning point in the attitude of law enforcement officials to these thugs.

AS AN EDUCATOR and a proud member of the haredi community, I appeal to all haredi Knesset members to display moxie and genuine leadership by calling a joint press conference where they repudiate all forms of violence and vow to bring to justice all those who perpetrate these types of attacks from this day forward. They should bring all law enforcement resources to bear to bring law and order to the streets of Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Bnei Brak and other areas where these people operate. If elected officials cannot commit themselves to protecting innocent women from vicious beatings, they should all resign and be replaced by people who will.

There is no question in my mind that the vast, overwhelming majority of haredi Jews worldwide feel as I do: disgraced and shamed when these events occur, and frustrated that there seems to be little that we can do to remove this stain from our shirts. Many members of our community are reluctant to speak out publicly, fearing that doing so will cause a hillul Hashem, a desecration of God's name. However, I propose that remaining silent in the face of violent and lawless acts perpetrated by individuals purporting to represent Torah values is the greatest hillul Hashem of all.

The time has come for us to speak out, telling our children and students in unequivocal terms, "These people are criminals and sinners - and do not represent us!" Our publications should begin reporting these incidents in the news sections of our papers, condemn them in our editorials and call upon the police to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law.

We should stop using politically correct terms like "misguided youths" to describe cowards who beat women for sitting in the "wrong" sections of buses and physically assault peaceful citizens who do not dress according to their standards - observant or otherwise. "Misguided youth" implies that they engaged in a prank like a water fight or that they went overboard in pursuit on a noble goal. There is nothing noble about these acts - or the terrorist mentality that glorifies them.

THE VIOLENT MEMBERS of these self-appointed modesty patrols are, in fact, a modern-day version of the Sadducee sect - having long ago veered off the path of our Torah and formed their own cult. They kneel to the idol of intolerance and bring the blood and bruised bodies of their victims on the altar of hatred. They only lack the intellectual honestly to declare themselves a new, nonreligious movement divorced of any rabbinic teaching and tradition.[...]