Thursday, April 30, 2009

Conversion - ecumenical panel discussion

Jewish Week

Each of the rabbis — Orthodox, Conservative and Reform — on a panel probing the Who is a Jew controversy claimed that his or her movement’s policy on conversion standards was consistent with tradition. Yet they also acknowledged that the divide among them was deep.

Two of the panelists, one Orthodox and one Reform, at last Thursday evening’s community forum, sponsored by The Jewish Week and the JCC in Manhattan, expressed concern that if compromises were not made soon, the strand that holds American Jewish religious life together may be frayed beyond repair.

Rabbi Robert Levine of the Reform Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan warned the full house of 250 people at the JCC: “We’re coming very close to the level of sinat chinam” [hatred among Jews] that brought about the destruction of the Temple. “Many Orthodox rabbis won’t walk into my shul, and that pains me,” he said, noting that the level of trust among rabbis of different denominations has deteriorated in recent years.

“The key issues here are trust and urgency,” agreed Seth Farber, who received his rabbinic ordination at Yeshiva University and is founder and director of an Israeli organization called ITIM: The Jewish Life Information Center, which helps Israelis navigate the bureaucracy of the Chief Rabbinate on matters of personal status, including marriage, divorce, conversion and burial.

Rabbi Farber cited the writings of Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a prominent Orthodox rosh yeshiva in Israel, as suggesting that Orthodox authorities are paying too high a price by adhering to strict standards in defining Jewish status if their position threatens Jewish unity.

Staking a claim that Conservative Judaism meets traditional standards on conversion, Rabbi Judith Hauptman, professor of Talmud and rabbinic culture at the Jewish Theological Seminary, cited Talmudic passages regarding how one should treat a potential convert. She said each requirement is met by Conservative religious courts.

Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox), trod lightly on specifics in questioning whether non-Orthodox rabbis demand that a convert live a fully observant life.

He said that adherence to the mitzvot of the Torah has sustained Jewish life over the centuries and will continue to do so. Trust is important, he said, but added that it is equally important to be truthful, asserting that the Orthodox community has best weathered the storms of assimilation and intermarriage by maintaining halachic standards.

The most serious dispute among the panelists was between the two Orthodox rabbis, with Rabbi Farber charging that Rabbi Herring’s RCA has made conversion more strict and difficult in the last two years, through an agreement the group reached with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

“Admit you’re changing the standards,” he said to Rabbi Herring noting: “The new RCA standards exclude a significant number of Orthodox converts who could have converted five or 10 years ago.”

Rabbi Herring insisted that it was “a canard, false and untrue to say that RCA standards are more severe” than in the past. He said the group’s guidelines in the early 1990s were more strict, and that what the RCA has done now is take the existing guidelines and standardize them so as to increase conversions. He said there were more conversions in the last year and a half (150) than any previous 18-month period, and that another 200 conversions “are in the pipeline.” [...]

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Torah study & commonsense

Vayikra Rabbah(1:15): A rotting animal carcass is better then a talmid chachom lacking in da'as i.e., commonsense and social sensitivity. We can learn the importance of derech eretz from Moshe Rabbeinu who was the epitome of all wisdom and the supreme prophet, who led the Jews out of Egypt, performed many miracles in Egypt and the awesome splitting of the sea, went up to heaven and brought back the Torah, was involved in the construction of the mishkan. Nevertheless he did not enter into the inner sanctuary of the mishkan until G‑d invited him in".

Yofe To'ar(Vayikra Rabbah 1:15): The term da'as is referring to social sensitivity. Therefore the medrash tells us that a disgustingcarcass is better them someone lacking social skills who is despised and rejected by other people. In addition such a talmid chachom degrades the Torah. While the stench of a rotting animal can be avoided by not coming near it, a person without social sensitivities goes everywhere even though he is not wanted Consequently it is impossible to escape from him and he is an unpleasant burden….

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Memorial Day - a story


Harriet Levin isn't one of those people who will preoccupy herself asking why it happened to her, rather than to someone else. She's not someone who will try to apportion blame, or blame herself for allowing him to go to the army despite her gut feeling that something bad would happen.

Harriet Levin doesn't ask herself "what if" it hadn't happened. Harriet Levin believes in destiny. Her son's destiny was to die in a war for Israel and become part of this country.

"Mikey did what I always wanted to do and never did. He made aliyah to Israel and enlisted in the IDF," she said. "I always dreamed of doing more for my country, of coming and volunteering.

"After all, it's the easiest thing live in a big, beautiful house in the United States and to write a check for a pro-Israeli organization every once in a while," she explained. "I wanted to give a lot more, but I didn't think I'd give so much, that I'd give my son." [...]

Marriage - even for a few days?

Ben Yohoyada(Yoma 18b): When Rav visited the town of Darshis he would announce: Who wants to be my wife for a day? G‑d forbid to have doubts about these great scholars of Israel to say that they have such tremendous lust for intercourse. G‑d forbid to think that they are not able to live without a woman for a few days – something that even the crudest person is able to tolerate – and surely such holy people as these who sanctify themselves from excesses. Furthermore if it were true that these men had such uncontrollable desires – G‑d forbid – why weren’t they concerned about their own reputations and especially since they even announced it? Who would do such a public announcement? Furthermore what is the reason that this was written in the Talmud? It can’t be to debase these scholars G‑d forbid! If it were to learn the halacha – there was no need to mention their names. Please pay careful attention to the explanation that justifies their actions. That is there are times when there is a bad practice in various places that the men do no get married until after they are 30 or 40 years old. This practice is found today in Kurdistan and also in places in Europe. In the time of Rav and R’ Nachman this was the practice of Darshis and Shekuntziv. Therefore when these rabbis went to these places they would rebuke the people not to wait later than 20 to get married. But since this problem was well established in these places and many of the ignorant masses erred in these matters – the rabbis made announcements concerning themselves in order to draw attention to this in the most dramatic way. When the masses saw that the rabbis viewed marriage so important even for a few days it became apparent that this was surely true of themselves. They said that if these rabbis who are involved in Torah study day and night and they are holy people and they are also married – nevertheless they are concerned with seminal emissions and thus don’t want to remain without a woman even a short time then surely we who are unmarried with much stronger lusts – it is best we got married and not delay anymore to remain without a wife because of the issur of wasted seed….

Monday, April 27, 2009

Abuse - Beating children/ Igros Moshe

Igros Moshe(E.H. 4:68):
You and your wife have such great stress from raising your children that you beat them. However it is obvious to everyone that there is absolutely no beneficial purpose in beating them – in fact it makes raising them much more difficult. Therefore it is an irrational behavior caused by nerves and because of this you cannot handle the stress and you do this crazy behavior of viciously beating your small children without any rationale. You are fully aware that you are transgressing a Torah prohibition every time you hit them because it is clearly not justified educationally. Furthermore these beating from rage are without any limit and are just an attempt to dominate them. It is also possibly dangerous because you don’t avoid hitting them on places of the body which are very dangerous to the child. Consequently I give you have permission to use birth control …for two years…This permission also is granted because of the danger to the mother. It is obvious that she is sick with nerves and all this is very stressful to her. Therefore the difficulty of raising children is possibly dangerous not only to the children but also to her life.

Abuse - Opposition to window of Markey Bill

The Jewish social service organization Ohel has decided it will oppose legislation that would allow victims of childhood sexual abuse currently beyond the statute of limitations to bring their cases to court. Agudath Israel of America and Torah Umesorah, its affiliated educational arm have announced their opposition to the open-window provision under consideration in Albany.

Ohel CEO David Mandel declined to confirm Ohel’s position, which was described to The Jewish Star by a source close to the organization.

“It is simply not a matter of a yes or no issue of supporting the Markey bill or the Lopez bill as one can be supportive of major portions of legislation without supporting it in its entirety, and at the same time remain true to their convictions,” Mandel said.

Mandel was referring to legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Queens) that would extend the civil statute of limitations by five years as well as open a year-long window to bring civil cases that currently are beyond the statute. A competing bill sponsored by Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) would extend the civil statute of limitations by two years but does not include the yearlong window.

In a statement released Tuesday, Agudath Israel of America and Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, indicated that they would “have no objection to legislation designed to give victims of abuse greater recourse against perpetrators.”

However, Agudah and Torah Umesorah “vigorously oppose” legislation that would do away with the statute of limitations, even temporarily for a year, since that “could subject schools and other vital institutions to ancient claims and capricious litigation, and place their very existence in severe jeopardy.”

Agudah acknowledges a conflict of interest related to a lawsuit against Yeshiva Torah Temimah in Brooklyn, and Yehuda Kolko, a longtime rebbe there. The suit lists an Agudah-owned summer camp for boys, Camp Agudah, Inc., as a defendant. The suit was filed in Brooklyn Federal Court in 2006. It alleges that Kolko molested David Framowitz, identified in the suit as John Doe No. 1, while he attended Camp Agudah in the summer between his seventh and eighth grade years. [...]

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mind expansion - Berachos 57b - R' Kook

Lifting One-s Spirits & Expanding One-s Spirits - Rav Kook on Berachot 57b

Bnei Berak - home-grown terror

Arutz Sheva

Bnei Brak vandals slashed tires on nearly 30 cars, torched a synagogue and burned a woodwork shop between Friday and Saturday night. The Bnei Brak residents agreed to talk with Israel National News TV on condition that their identities be concealed.

“Some of the local kids who were probably kicked out of their homes gathered here and decided to spend the night in the synagogue," one person said. "They tore down the Torah ark covering to sleep under it, and they took all the prayer shawls in the synagogue to use as sheets. A fire broke out when they burnt prayer books, and the whole wall was set aflame. This is pure vandalism.”

One yeshiva student spoke of his personal experience about how dangerous Bnei Brak can be late at night. “Two punks came over, and they were holding a glass bottle. They shattered it on my neck. With what was left after the bottle was broken, they tried to stab me. I was rushed bleeding to the hospital where pieces of glass were extracted and I was told that it almost reached my main artery. Two weeks later my uncle who is a great rabbi here walked through the streets, and two punks came over and started pulling his beard and hitting him."

Jews sometimes suffer assaults and harassment by Arabs or groups of immigrants defining themselves as neo-Nazis in other Israeli cities, but Bnei Brak is dealing with a homegrown menace. "They come from good families who live here in the area, they leave the way of their families and they allow themselves anything," one person said.

"They have no day or night, they have no boundaries and we don’t see the police doing anything. When we call the police and complain about the harassment, we notice they don’t come at all or they come with the siren and blazing lights and that’s enough for them to run away and come back the next time.”[...]

Moshiach & immorality III

Kli Yakar(Bamidbar 5:2): Therefore Dovid called the yetzer harah impure (tamei) (Sukka 52a) because it caused him to fail in three things: adultery with Bas Sheva, murder with her husband Uriah and idolatry – that he wanted to worship idols as it states in Sanhedrin (107a).

Avoda Zara (4b): R’ Shimon bar Yochai said that Dovid was not the type to do the sin with Bas Sheva nor were the Jewish people the type to do the sin of the Golden Calf. … So why did they sin? G‑d decreed [that they sin to give a model to repentance - Rashi] - to teach that if an individual sins they should say to go to the individual [Dovid] and if a community sins they should be told go to the community.

Sanhedrin(107a): Dovid asked G‑d to erase the sin of Bas Sheva [as if it had never been done]. G‑d replied that it had already been ordained that his son Shlomo will say in his wisdom (Mishlei 6:27): “Can a man take fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals and his feet not be burned? So he that goes in to his neighbor’s wife; whoever touches her shall not be innocent.” Dovid asked whether he really needed to suffer so much? G‑d told him to accept his suffering and he accepted it. Rav said that for 6 months Dovid was afflicted with leprosy during which time the Divine Presence (Shechina) departed from him and the Sanhedrin avoided him.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Abuse - Markey Bill - critique of Agudath Israel

VIN reports Dr. Asher Lipner writes

New York - Agudath Israel in consultation with its Moetzes Gedolei Yisroel (Coucil of Torah Sages) has finally decided not to support the Child Victims Act of State Representative Margaret Markey. The Markey legislation would extend the statute of limitations on both criminal and civil cases involving the sexual abuse of children, and it would open a one-year "window" durring which all past cases of abuse could be presented in court. It is being supported by both Orthodox assemblymen - Dov Hikind, who has become a champion of the rights of victims, and Sheldon Silver, the Speaker of the Assembly, who has voted for it three times. The benefits of allowing all victims of abuse to confront their abusers in court are best explained in Cordozo Law Professor Marci Hamilton's book, Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect It's Children. Aside from giving survivors of sexual abuse a chance for justice, similar "window" legislation in two other states have helped society identify over 350 sexual predators who were unknown before the legislation. The alternative bill that Aguda is presumably backing, which does not include such a window, is referred to by Ms. Hamilton as the "Hide the Predator Act".

In lockstep with the Catholic Church, their partners in fighting this much needed legislation, Agudah argues that allowing victims of all ages to sue molesters would put into jeopardy, not only the molesters themselves, but also any institution that knowingly or negligently harbored molesters. This would constitute a potential drain on community resources, (since some important Jewish institutions will undoubtedly be implicated because of a long standing tradition of silencing victims in the community) especially at a time when the economy has hurt our institutions’ ability to do so much good for so many people.

I hope the Agudah reconsiders its misguided position and takes into consideration that on this issue, doing the right thing may actually pay dividends "both in this world and the next". Showing the proper compassion, integrity and sense of justice that the victims of sexual abuse deserve and parents of Jewish children demand, not only is the moral thing to do, but may actually serve to avert many a lawsuit in the long run.[...]

Moshiach & immorality II

Dovid had 400 children from war‑time rape (yafas to’ar)

Sanhedrin(21a): Dovid had 400 children and all of them were the result of war‑time rape with non‑Jewish women captured in battle (yafas to’ar), and they all had long hair and all of them rode in golden carriages. They led the soldiers and they were the men of power in Dovid’s household.

Aruch LeNer(Sanhedrin 21a): Dovid had 400 children - It appears at first glance to be incomprehensible that from those wives who were yafas to’ar of his 18 wives - he would have 400 children. I saw that Rashi (Kiddushin 76b) was aware of this problem. He wrote that not all were children of Dovid but were rather the children of other Jews. However Tosfos Rid (Kiddushin 21b) quotes one of the major rishonim who says that they were definitely Dovid’s children from the yofas to’ar that Dovid had raped in battle. But he did not take them as wives and thus they were not counted among the 18 wives that were permitted to him.

Rashi(Kiddushin 76b): Dovid had four hundred children – they were children of his soldiers from yofas to’ar but they were not his biological children.

Tosfos Rid(Kiddushin 21b): Those four hundred children [that Sanhedrin (21a) said that Dovid had] they were the result of the permitted first intercourse with their mothers who were raped in battle. However Dovid did not keep them as wives because then he would have had more than the allowed 18 wives.

Guma Aguiar & R' Tropper


It all started with a phone call. Last Erev Pesach the Kol Yaakov Torah Center received word that the Sefer Torah the yeshiva had been borrowing for a number of years had to be returned to its owners. Yehuda Dovid Kaplan, staying with the Rosh Yeshiva for Yom Tov, offered to donate a new Sefer Torah as a replacement. Yehuda Dovid and his uncle, Mr. Thomas Kaplan, generous supporters of Kol Yaakov and its outreach division, Horizons, decided to dedicate this sefer to the memory of their mother and grandmother, Mrs. Lillian Jean Kaplan, A”H.

Within a few weeks a new sefer was procured with the assistance of sofer Rabbi Melech Michaels, an alumnus of Kol Yaakov, and a Hachnosas Sefer Torah was quickly planned. Rabbi and Mrs. Yehoshua Krohn graciously offered their home on Meadow Lane for the K’sivas Ha’osios. Talmidim, Rebbeim, alumni and supporters of Kol Yaakov gathered to complete the sefer on the Sunday before Shavuos. The yeshiva was honored by the participation in the k’sivas ha’osios of Ha- Gaon HaRav Reuven Feinstein, Rosh HaYeshiva of Tiferes Yerushalayim, Staten Island and HaGaon HaRav Shmuel Faivelson Rosh HaYeshiva of Bais Medrash L’Torah in Monsey, shlit”a. With Rabbi Yehuda Tropper, the Rosh Yeshiva’s father, completing the last of the osios, the Sefer Torah was exuberantly escorted to the Kol Yaakov Torah Center along Saddle River Road and on to West Maple Avenue. Though the noonday sun was out in force the participants escorted the sefer accompanied by unwavering dancing and singing to music provided from the back of a pick-up truck by Nochi and Yosef Krohn.

After the Sefer Torah was brought to its new home, the over 100 assembled guests, sat down to a seudas mitzvah and were inspired by the amazing story as told by Yehuda Dovid Kaplan. Also known as Guma Aguiar, Yehuda Dovid, though born a Jew, was raised as an Evangelical Christian. Through the dedicated teaching and inspiration of Rabbi Tropper and Kol Yaakov, Yehuda Dovid has since returned to the path of yiddishkeit and has made a stunning transformation in recent months. Part of his desire in dedicating a new Sefer Torah for the yeshiva was as a means of reaching out to his estranged family who were still practicing Christians. This endeavor surpassed his greatest expectations: In the span of the few shorts weeks between Pesach, when the Sefer Torah was purchased, and the week of Shavuos, when the sefer was completed (and paralleling the sefira period, when we mark the ascent of our forebears from the 49 Sha'arei Tum'ah of Mitzrayim to the spiritual heights of Har Sinai), Yehuda Dovid’s family had ceased practicing Christianity and had begun their return to their true heritage.

Moshiach & immorality I

Bereishis Rabbah (51:8): There is not a man in the world – Lot’s daughters thought that the whole population had been destroyed as it was from the Flood. Let us keep alive the seed of our father.Shmuel said that they didn’t say they wanted a child from their father but rather they wanted to preserve the seed of their father. Thus they were referring to the seed that comes from a different source i.e., they wanted to preserve a child who would be born from their descendants - Moshiach… There are dots on the word “she left” – which alludes to the fact that Lot did not know when she lay down but he did know when she left. …R’ Yehuda ben Shimon said that the wine was a sign of the Messianic Era as it states in Yoel 4:18): And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down sweet wine.

Yashar (upright) vs Tzadik (righteous)

Malbim (Mishlei 11:3): There is a distinction between yesharim (uprightness) and tzadikim (righteous). The yashar is one who naturally goes on the upright path – whether it is in religious thought or matters of understanding. That is because the majority of issues concerning yashar involve understanding (binah) or moral traits and deeds that are rooted in wisdom (chochma). Therefore when it comes to matters of wisdom (chochma) the yashar is distinguished from the tzadik in that the yashar naturally has the inclination in his heart to do good because of the uprightness which is implanted in him. In contrast the tzadik's conduct is based upon having learnt what righteous behavior is and constantly practicing it until the tzadik conquers his baser drives and trains himself to do the opposite of his nature. The yashar is simply expressing his nature. Furthermore the yashar is not concerned with the letter of the law but is concerned with the spirit of the law - until he conducts himself beyond that which the law actually requires…. Therefore in order to go in the good path it is needed that 1) his path is yashar and 2) that he is aided in going in that path. … Thus one who is not yashar, his path is not yashara and he needs help from Above to straighten his path. Even though the yashar conducts himself in the manner of uprightness because of his inner nature, nevertheless his physical needs sometimes cause him to deviate from that path. But if he has the additional aspect of temimus (purity) he will be totally consistent in his conduct of uprightness and not deviate from it because of physical needs….

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hikind objects to Aguda's views on abuse

VINS Assemblyman Hikind

New York - On behalf of the countless sexual abuse victims – those whose stories of personal anguish still resonate with me, and those who still have yet to come forward – I respectfully urge you to reconsider your position regarding the statute of limitations bill containing a window provision which is currently before the Legislature.

I assure you it is not the intention of this legislation to bankrupt or otherwise jeopardize “vital communal institutions,” for we all recognize that the existence of yeshivas and the continuity of the Jewish future are irrefutably tied. Indeed, I believe it is our very commitment to providing our children with a solid Jewish education which has sustained us as a people for generations.

Tragically, however, many of our children, our most precious resource, have been sexually violated in a variety of contexts, and for numerous years, these victims were left without any remedy. Their pursuit of justice has, until now, been filled with endless days of shame, silence, and frustration. We are all guilty of not doing more to alleviate their suffering. You have stated that you have, “no objection to legislation designed to give victims of abuse greater recourse against perpetrators." In this regard, we are of the same heart and mindset.

While your concerns are valid, I implore you to reassess your decision about this bill, to take a closer look, and work toward achieving a satisfactory and equitable compromise on the one year window provision. There are potential alternatives to the bill in its present form which may be more amenable to you. Creating a cap on a litigant’s financial award or on the contingency fees collected by attorneys are just two possibilities which may prove viable.

Achieving justice for the victims need not come about as a result of the financial demise of our greatest institutions. But neither can we forsake those who have already sacrificed far too much.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Holocaust - describing the undescribable


JERUSALEM — In the Ukrainian town of Berdichev, Jewish women were forced to swim across a wide river until they drowned. In Telsiai, Lithuania, children were thrown alive into pits filled with their murdered parents. In Liozno, Belarus, Jews were herded into a locked barn where many froze to death.

Holocaust deniers aside, the world is not ignorant of the systematic Nazi slaughter of some six million Jews in World War II. People know of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen; many have heard of the tens of thousands shot dead in the Ukrainian ravine of Babi Yar. But little has been known about the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of smaller killing fields across the former Soviet Union where some 1.5 million Jews met their deaths.

That is now changing. Over the past few years, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and research center in Israel has been investigating those sites, comparing Soviet, German, local and Jewish accounts, crosschecking numbers and methods. The work, gathered under the title “The Untold Stories,” is far from over. But to honor Holocaust Remembrance Day, which starts Monday evening, the research is being made public on the institution’s Web site. [...]

Baalei Teshuva - a reality check

LazerA (guest post) - a comment to "Killing with self-righteous criticism - Tznius & p...":
mekubal said... "I am left to wonder why the FFB world feels the need to so often blame the ills of Chareidi society on the BT. ... It is attitudes like this that leave me astounded that the BT movement rolls on as well as it does.
"Obviously, there are many different kinds of people who become frum for many different reasons. Baalei teshuva are people who, assuming they were well-adjusted individuals to begin with, have chosen to uproot their lives for the sake of Hashem. As such, they are, broadly speaking, a very positive influence in the frum world. At the same time, this not mean that they arrive without any negative baggage, and this reality should be recognized by both the baalei teshuva themselves and the broader community. There clearly are problems that are more common among baalei teshuva than the general community. This, of course, does not justify any kind of broad discriminatory attitudes or practices. We should treat people as individuals, not as members of a category.
mekubal said further... It also leaves me to think that those involved in kiruv are heinous criminals. They are cons selling an illusion. For if we are honest with the potential BT ... then I doubt that so many would be sold on the program...
As a child of parents from non-religious backgrounds, and a person who has worked "professionally" in kiruv, I have to disagree with this assessment.

First of all, while there certainly is discrimination against baalei teshuva (and their children) it simply isn't as bad as mekubal is describing. Under normal circumstances, the children of baalei teshuva are accepted in frum schools, though perhaps not always the exact school that the parents desired (this happens to many frum parents as well). Baalei teshuva can have difficulty getting married (as do any number of frum singles as well) for a wide range of issues. Honestly, in many cases they are best off marrying other baalei teshuva. Their children may have some difficulty, but unless they fall into the common trap of seeking a "prestige" shidduch, they will almost always find a fine frum young man or woman to marry. (Frankly, those families that are most likely to have a strong bias against baalei teshuva are, in any event, very unlikely to provide an appropriate shidduch for a baal teshuva or his children.)

Secondly, the idea that sincere baalei teshuva would not have accepted the truth of the Torah and their obligation to follow the mitzvos if they had been aware of the social difficulties that they would face in the frum community shows a deep disregard for the sincerity and sacrifices that baalei teshuva are making. These are serious people! They aren't "joining" because they like the social scene; they are "returning" to Hashem because they are convinced that this is their moral duty.

Finally, I can't speak for other kiruv "professionals", but when I have worked with families in the process of becoming observant, I have always been careful to be sure that they went into religious observance with their eyes open, aware of the various social issues they would face. My concern was to properly prepare them for the difficulties they would face and to advise them on steps they can take to mitigate, to some degree, some of these difficulties.
Michoel said... "Baalei T'shuvah tend to ... timidity and lack of independent thought and action.
"People who choose to move away from the societal norm and become religious Jews are clearly capable of independent thought and action. At the same time, baalei teshuva are late-comers to Judaism and, by necessity, need to receive a greater degree of guidance than a person who was raised in a frum household and received a Torah education from childhood (at least initially). This does not indicate an inherent tendency towards timidity or lack of independence.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Life after false imprisonment

CBS News

At 51, Beverly Monroe was practically central casting for an accomplished middle class mom:

"I had a great life, absolutely great life," she said. "I had a super job, career. I had my own home. I was financially secure. My daughter Katie had just finished law school, my youngest daughter Shannon was a senior at William and Mary. My son was living with me and going to college.

"Things could not have been better."

"And then this happens," Cobiella said.


In March of 1992 Monroe found her longtime companion Roger de la Burde dead in his Virginia home, a bullet in his head, a pistol by his side.

By all appearances, it was a suicide. But the police told Beverly Monroe she was suspected of murder …
"I had no experience, no thought of ever being accused of anything," she told Cobiella. "I mean, it's incomprehensible."

It was equally incomprehensible to Beverly's daughter. But, as a young lawyer beginning a new job, Kate Monroe also knew that "incomprehensible" did not make her mother's conviction impossible.

"I think I understood immediately when Mom was charged that she could be convicted," Kate said. "And I understood when then she was convicted that she might never come home."

It turns out she was half-right. In October of 1992, a jury believed not her mother but the prosecutor. Beverly Monroe was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

"I was convicted on not only no evidence, but just sheer speculation," Beverly said.

Lawyer Kate Monroe quit her job and spent the next six years searching for proof of her mother's innocence.

She found it in 1999. Prosecutors, she discovered, had withheld evidence showing that the likely cause of Roger de la Burde's death was suicide, not murder.

Seven years after her conviction, Beverly Monroe was released.[...]

Treating abuse - Neve Michael Home


Some 180 children and youth at risk reside at the Neve Michael Children's Home after they have been removed from their own homes. Here they face the daily challenge of coping, and getting over traumas and years of abuse [...]

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Marriage - definition

Shulchan Aruch(E.H. 26:1):
A woman is not considered married unless there is a proper Kiddushin. However if the man has intercourse with her in the manner of fornication and not for the sake of marriage – it is nothing. Even if he has intercourse with her for the sake of marriage – but it is a secret – she is not considered married even if she has an exclusive relationship with him. Not only are they not married but we force him to send her from his home. Rema The reason is that she will definitely be embarrassed to go to mikva and therefore he will have intercourse with her when she is a nidah. However if he sets aside a woman and she goes to mikve then some people say that she is permitted to him and this is called pilegesh (concubine) which is mentioned in the Torah (Ravad). Others (Rambam, Rosh and Tur) say that this is prohibited and the punishment is lashes because of the Torah prohibition (Devarim 23:18) of not having a prostitute (kadesha).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Important women - perception or reality?

Igros Moshe(O.C. 5:20): …
The Beis Yosef brings the Ri in the name of Tosfos that all of our women are important and therefore need to recline at the Seder. (The Bach raises the question according to the view of Rashbam that women don’t recline because the fear of their husbands is supposed to be upon them – and it follow therefore that also important women need to have the fear of their husbands? However I don’t understand his question. Was it really the will and the command of the Sages that the fear of her hsuband exist even for those things which aren’t relevant to him and even when it nullifies a mitzva? Furthermore it is not good that the husband be so fussy about this wife. We see that for many hundreds of years that husband have not been concerned about requiring this as we see in the Beis Yosef who brings the Ri in the name of Tosfos – and he states that all of our women are important and need to recline at the Seder. Also the Mordechai brings this view. In addition it can’t be understood that all these women objectively became important - so that the husband needs to honor them even according to the rules of secular society. Obviously it was because the husbands came to recognize over time that they have no reason to feel superior to their wives. And similarly the wives recognized the great need that the men have for them. The small amount of genuinely important woman that have been found in all ages were those that the husband perceived their superiority – just as they had need for their husbands. They recognized that even their husbands knew this)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Obama's "Rabbi"

Rabbi Capers Funnye celebrated Martin Luther King Day this year in New York City at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, a mainstream Reform congregation, in the company of about 700 fellow Jews — many of them black. The organizers of the event had reached out to four of New York’s Black Jewish synagogues in the hope of promoting Jewish diversity, and they weren’t disappointed. African-American Jews, largely from Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, many of whom had never been in a predominantly white synagogue, made up about a quarter of the audience. Most of the visiting women wore traditional African garb; the men stood out because, though it was a secular occasion, most kept their heads covered. But even with your eyes closed you could tell who was who: the black Jews and the white Jews clapped to the music on different beats.

Funnye, the chief rabbi of the Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in Chicago, one of the largest black synagogues in America, was a featured speaker that night. The overflowing audience came out in a snowstorm to hear his thoughts about two men: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama. King is Funnye’s hero. Obama, whose inauguration was to take place the following day in Washington, is family — the man who married Funnye’s cousin Michelle.

A compact, serious-looking man in his late 50s, Funnye (pronounced fu-NAY) wore a dark business suit and a large gray knit skullcap. He sat expressionless, collecting his thoughts, as Joshua Nelson and his Kosher Gospel Band steamed through their sanctified rendition of the Hebrew hymn “Adon Olam.” Nelson, a black Jew, was raised in two Jewish worlds — a white Reform temple in New Jersey and a Black Jewish synagogue in Brooklyn — and he borrows from both. The first time the Rev. Al Sharpton heard a recording of Nelson’s “Adon Olam,” he said, “I can hear that’s Mahalia Jackson, but what language is she singing in?” [...]

Yad Moshe - Topic Listing

2 Page Sample Yadmoshe

Daas Torah - Index & Introduction

We were slaves to Pharaoh - Women's status

Ramban(Bereishis 3:16): And to you husband will be your desire - for sexual intercourse. Even so she should not have the arrogance to ask for it directly. Rather he should rule over you that everything is from him and not from the wife. This is Rashi’s explanation. But it is not correct. This verse is in fact a praise of the wife as it says in Eiruvin (100b) that this is a beautiful characteristic of women. The Ibn Ezra says that the expression “your desire will be to your husband’ means that she will obey all that he says, because the woman is in the domain of the husband to do all that he wishes. However I have found no instance where this language of “desire” means obedience – it always means passion or lust. It appears correct to me that she was punished that she would have very strong desire for her husband and she would not be concerned with the associated suffering of pregnancy and birth and the fact that the husband treats her as a slave. It is not normal that a slave should desire to have a master but rather he wants to escape to freedom. However this is measure for measure because Eve gave the fruit to Adam and commanded him to eat it. Therefore she was punished that she would no longer be his boss but that he would boss her according to his wishes.

Torah Temima(Bereishis 3:16):And he will rule over you - we learn from this that a woman asks for intercourse through her actions while the man asks for it directly and this is a good trait for women (Eiruvin 100b). Even though the trait of modesty is a good trait, nevertheless it is a curse that she can’t openly express her desires to her husband. It should be noted that this doesn’t explain the language “And he will rule over you” in terms of its literal meaning of having a master… Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezar (Chapter 14) notes that this is one of the curses of a woman and she should have her ear bored as a permanent slave and as a maidservant. The Radal says that this teaches that it has been decreed that a woman always has to pay attention to the words of her husband. It is logical that the reason for the practice of piercing a woman’s ears for jewelry is an allusion to the fact that she is enslaved to her husband as is noted in Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezar. If so then why isn’t the expression in this verse “He shall rule over you” explained according to this understanding [and instead the gemora says it means that she can’t asked openly for intercourse]? … Nevertheless it definitely would appear that the verse doesn’t lose its literal meaning and that is also meant. Therefore in terms of the relationship of a husband and wife, the wife is obligated to accepted the authority of her husband as we find in the Rambam (Hilchos Ishus 15:20): “Our Sages have commanded that the wife view her husband as a king and lord.” Aside from the language of this verse this idea of ruler ship can also be seen in the Sifre…that a woman does not have permission to speak before her husband. This is also possibly the source that Pesachim (108a) that a woman does not have to recline at the Pesach Seder in the presence of her husband. The reason being that he rules over her. She is exempt in the same way that a student is in the presence of his teacher. He cannot recline in the manner of freedom because of his fear and respect of his teacher. It is logical that this is the reason that a woman who does not fulfill the wishes of her husband is called a moredes (rebel). Since it is an obligation to accept him as king and lord [as stated in Rambam] therefore when she does the opposite - it as if she had rebelled against the kingdom. …

Eternal Jewish Family - Modern Orthodox view

RaP writes:

Understanding the Modern Orthodox perspective and reactions to the attacks upon them.

Rabbi Nochum (Norman) Eisenstein faces criticism from a new direction as a former friend from Skokie attacks his association with EJF and work with conversions

A Modern Orthodox perspective on the attacks against it by Rabbis Eisenstein, Tropper and EJF

A notable and respected Jewish blog owner, Modern Orthodox Rabbi Harry Maryles of Chicago, Illinois, who is an old friend and acquaintance of Rabbi Nochum Eisenstein of Vaad HaOlami Leninyanei Giur, the fickle ally of Rabbi Tropper of EJF.

Maryles's popular blog "Emes Ve-Emunah: A Forum for Orthodox Jewish thought on Halacha, Hashkafa, and sociological issues of our time" is at and resembles this blog of Rabbi Dr. Eidensohn/da'as torah just that Rabbi Maryles's blog speaks from a Skokie-style Modern Orthodox perspective, with its hashkofa based on: Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik, Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Dr. Norman Lamm and Torah U’Mada, Dr. Eliezer Berkovits, the Hebrew Theological College, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow and Rabbi Mordechai Rogov.

What is of relevance to this blog is that Rabbi Maryles claims to have the personal insight to speak about Rabbi Nochum Eichenstein, whose English first name was Norman and was known as "Normy" to his childhood friends. [.... rest of post is comment to Rabbi Bomzer's ban signatories - retract":]

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Killing with self-righteous criticism - Tznius & piety

I just received this disturbing letter. Before reading it please read the following gemorah.

Bava Metzia(59a): Better it is for man to cohabit with a doubtful married woman rather than that he should publicly shame his neighbour. Whence do we know this? — From what Raba expounded, viz., What is meant by the verse, But in mine adversity they rejoiced and gathered themselves together... they did tear me, and ceased not?David exclaimed before the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Thou knowest full well that had they torn my flesh, my blood would not have poured forth to the earth. Moreover, when they are engaged in studying "Leprosies" and "Tents" they jeer at me, saying, "David! what is the death penalty of him who seduces a married woman?" I reply to them, "He is executed by strangulation, yet has he a portion in the world to come. But he who publicly puts his neighbour to shame has no portion in the world to come."’

To whom it may concern-

First of all, let me begin by saying that my husband always reads your blog. He enjoys what you have to say, and we are happy that someone out there is speaking about the degradation that is going on in our Jewish society.

A incident happened that was so shocking and so heartbreaking this past week, that it must be posted somewhere. Incidents keep happening against women on the issue of tznius throughout the world, and it needs to stop.

Mrs. X , called me in shock on Friday after 5 o'clock. She is a mother of four, a busy student, and she had to go pick up some items for Shabbos . She is waiting to check out at this busy grocery store when a frum man, wearing the traditional white shirt, black pants and jacket, pull his cart up behind her. In a soft but slicing tone, he begins to blast her on her appearance in front of oh, 50+ people that include every type of yid, non-religious customers, as well as non- Jewish cashiers. He goes on and on in front of all these people saying such things "Don't you know the negative impact your untznius dress has on your children?" "Don't you feel embarrassed that you dress like this in public?"

The humiliation went on and on, and she just stood there, frozen. She couldn't say anything. This was a complete stranger wearing the yeshivish dress who was humiliating her in front of so many people because she had a lower neckline and she was wearing short sleeves. What is wrong with this man's hashgafa? Doesn't he know that embarrassing someone is like killing another person?

To make matters worst, the second these 50+ spectators heard these hurtful things he was saying to her, not one person came immediately to defend her. Everyone just stood there and watched. I feel he should of just dumped bleach on her clothes. That would have been less embarrassing for her. There was even a women there who was covering her hair yet wearing pants, and even she didn't say anything or do anything to come to her defense! This man was committing every type of sinas chinam, and no one said anything.

Finally, after only a few minutes that felt like hours, a women who was wearing the ideal dress that this man was saying she should conform to, came up to her and told her "Don't say anything to him. You don't have to defend yourself". She then turned to this man, and firmly and somewhat harshly, put him in is place. She said to him "You are wearing the same type of dress that my husband wears, and this is what you are doing to a fellow Jew? You don't know her. You don't know what background she comes from. You don't know who her Rav is. This is what you do, embarrass and humiliate a women in front of many to push your agenda? This is how you are going to get people to become more tznius, by embarrassing them publicly? Who do YOU think YOU are?!?" She kept going off on him as my friend hurriedly checked out. She could still hear the woman firmly telling him off for his horrific behavior as she pushed her cart through the automatic doors.

She still cannot believe that this happened to her. She is thankful that her daughters who attend Bais Yakkov were not with her. I am sure this man sends his daughter there too.

As you are well aware, its seems that Judaism is falling down around us. It is only due to people like that woman in the store who are keeping true Torah alive.

Tznius has its laws, but it is each defined and internalized by each woman who chooses for herself to observe the modesty laws. In fact, a close friend of mine chose to stop wearing her shaitel because she said she feels naked in it. I, on the other hand, need to have hair, so I just re-cut my inexpensive wig for Pesach to better suit me.

We each internalize our level of modesty differently. However, this man and many more people with the misconstrued and misinterpreted message of Jewish values will (G-d forbid) kill any women desires to want observes tznius. What if my friend had just become frum, and this is what this man had said? If I was had just become frum, and this happened to me, my first thought would be to tear of my tichel and give up! However, when she told me about what this true Eishes Chayil did for her, I realized that Judaism is not lost entirely.

I am still in shock that the Jewish people right now are quickly finishing their preparations for Pesach, a time where Jews around the world remember what occurred centuries ago. Our ancestors fought against Egyptian oppression to wear Jewish proper dress, and the Jewish nation merit for redemption was due partly because they kept their religious code of dress. However, thousands of years later, a man preparing for in a few nights to discuss with his children what atrocities women faced at the hand of the Egyptians had the audacity to say something like this to another human being.

I just hope that this story leaves a message for people that while that man thought he was doing the right thing and addressing my friend's "inappropriate attire", what he did what 1,000, 000 times worse.

Thank you for your time.

Conversion limbo - Rabbinate vs. Interior Ministry


Fifteen years ago in Turin, Italy, Rachel - aka Emanuela - began the spiritual odyssey that eventually led to her passionate embrace of Orthodox Judaism.

Today, at 35, Rachel is two months pregnant, married to a kashrut supervisor and living in the Jerusalem area.

But her personal journey, which has taken a somewhat unpleasant turn, is still not over.

Although Rome's Orthodox Rabbinical Court declared Rachel Jewish on July 11, 2006; although the Chief Rabbinate of Israel recognized Rachel's conversion; and although Rachel was joined in wedlock to her devout husband by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel six months ago, the Interior Ministry refuses to recognize Rachel as a Jew.

Thanks to a High Court injunction, she is allowed to remain in Israel with her husband until the court rules on her case. Until that happens, however, her citizenship status is in limbo.

She has no rights to any state services such as national insurance or health care, and if she leaves the country - to visit her family in Italy, for instance - she will not be allowed to return.

"My situation is worse than non-Jews who marry an Israeli," Rachel said on Thursday in a telephone interview. "At least they have rights."

Rachel is being helped by ITIM, a nonprofit organization that helps the perplexed navigate Israel's religion-related bureaucracies. [...]

Friday, April 3, 2009

Suicide and sexual abuse

Gittin (57b):
It was taught: There was an incident in which 400 boys and girls were captured for prostitution. They realized what their captives wanted and they asked, “If we drown ourselves in the sea will we get the World to Come?” The most important of them interpreted Tehilim (68:23): The L‑rd said, I will bring again from Bashan, I will bring again from the depths of the sea.” This means that G‑d will bring again all those who drown in the sea. When the girls heard this they all jumped into the sea. The boys drew the follow conclusions from this. They reasoned that if the girls committed suicide to avoid being forced into a normal sexual intercourse then in the case of boys shouldn’t they commit suicide to avoid unnatural sexual intercourse? They then also jumped into the sea. Concerning them Tehilim (44:23) says: For Your sake we are killed all day long, we are considered as sheep being slaughter.

Tosofos(Gittin 57b): All of them committed suicide by jumping into the sea – In contrast it says in Avoda Zara (18a): ‘Let Him who gave me my soul take it away, but no one should injure oneself.’ [Thus one should not commit suicide even to avoid sexual abuse!] The answer is that in our case concerning the 400 children they were afraid that they were going to be tortured as it says in Kesubos (33b): If they had beaten Chananiya, Mishael and Azariah they would have worship the idol. Thus they would have tortured the children but not killed them.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Brooklyn D.A.'s new crackdown on Jewish abuse

The Brooklyn district attorney's office is planning a new crackdown on sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where victims have hid their shame for decades.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes will announce Project Kol Tzedek - Hebrew for "Voice of Justice" - on Wednesday.

The first-ever team of prosecutors, counselors, religious leaders and Jewish social agencies will work to encourage young victims to name their attackers.

Sexual abuse in the city's Hasidic enclaves has gone largely unreported. Victims say they fear the shame of the attack and condemnation for revealing secrets to secular authorities.

But the culture has begun to change, officials said.

"Over the last several months, there has been a lot of articles in the newspaper," said Sex Crimes Bureau Chief Rhonnie Jaus.

"It has helped people in the community come forward, and we are starting to see more cases."

Since October, the Daily News has reported on five cases of men in Hasidic neighborhoods charged with sexually abusing children, ranging in age from 7 to 15.

The DA's office now has 19 cases involving accused molesters from Borough Park, Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Flatbush, officials said.

"This is the highest amount that I have ever seen," Jaus said.

Under Project Kol Tzedek, prosecutors will visit yeshivas and synagogues, and the DA will open a hotline and host meetings with victims interested in coming forward.[...]

Mazel Tov to Rav Nosson Liss!

Sexual misdeeds of great people

There seems to be a common belief that sexual sins only occur in lustful, unrefined people with little self-control. In fact our Sages tells us that the greater the person the greater is his yezter harah (Sukka 52a). Thus it is really the saintly refined person with great self control - who is in greater danger. The following in an example from the Talmud that led to a suicide attempt and eventual death from penitential fasts.

Whenever R’ Chiya bar Ashi said the tachanun prayer he would say, “The Merciful save us from the yetzer harah (evil inclination).” One day his wife overheard him. She said to herself, “It has been many years that we have not been intimate, so why does he have a need to pray for this – [he obviously doesn’t have a strong sex drive]?” One day he was studying in his garden and she dressed up and repeatedly walked past him. He asked who she was. She replied that she was Harusa (a well known prostitute) who had just returned. He desired her. She told him to first bring the pomegranate to her from the top of the tree. He jumped up and brought it to her. He came into his house his wife was firing the oven. He climbed in it [to kill himself – Rashi]. His wife asked him what was the meaning of this? He told her what had happened. She replied that she was the woman involved. However he paid no attention to her until she gave proof with the pomegranate. He said, “Nevertheless my intention was to sin.” That righteous man [R. Hiyya b. Ashi] fasted all his life, until he died thereof.