Monday, September 30, 2013

Lashon harah learned from rechilus – how?

Rambam(Hilchos De'os  7:1) states that the Torah prohibits rechilus (gossip). But he goes on to say (Hilchos De'os 7:2): "There is a much more serious sin than rechilus (gossip) which is included in this prohibition and that is lashon harah. Lashon harah is saying negative things about another person – even though they are true.... The Ravad disagrees with the Rambam and states that lashon harah is not a more serious sin than rechilus – the opposite is true.

Rav Asher Weiss (Minchas Asher Vayikra #41) notes that the Rambam seems to be learning the prohibition of lashon harah is learned from rechilus by a kal v'chomer. In fact he says that the Chofetz Chaim(Be'er Mayim Chaim 1:4) states that according to the Ravad's view that lashon harah is not as serious a sin as rechilus that means that it can't be learned by a kal v'chomer. So how does the Ravad learn the prohibition of lashon  harah? The Chofetz Chaim suggests that the Ravad learns lashon harah from verses other than those dealing with rechilus. However Rav Weiss disagrees and notes that there is no problem because both the Rambam and the Ravad agree that lashon harah is learned from the verse of rechilus. The Rambam doesn't say that there is a kal v'chomer but rather says that lashon harah is "included in the prohibition " of rechilus. Therefore the dispute is only which of the prohibited speach learned from Vayikra(19:16) is a more serious sin.

Rechilus - what is it? Idle gossip or informing what others did or said about him?

The question of which halachic authorities hold which position is often not clear. For example the Rambam (Hilchos De'os 7:2) clearly says, "What is the definition of gossip (rachil) that the Torah prohibits? It is someone who takes information about people and spreads it from one person to another and says, "This is what so-and-so said" or "This is what I heard concerning so-and-so." It is a sin even if what he says is true - because gossip destroys the world."... Thus it is obvious that the Rambam views rechilus as idle gossip – not informing. 

However we find that the Kesef Mishna (Hilchos De'os 7:1) disagrees with this conclusion. He says, A person who gossips (rechilus) about another...The view of the Rambam is that rechilus saying "so-and-so said something about you" or "he did something to you" even though the alleged statement or act is not negative or degrading to that person. The classic example of rechilus is what Doeg told Shaul that Achimelech gave bread and the sword of Goliath to Dovid. If you had asked Achimelech whether he had said these things he would not deny them because there is nothing negative about these statements. In fact the opposite is true. He considered that he was properly serving Shaul as can be seen in his defense for saying these things.  So even though the statements contain nothing inherently negative about another person, but since he is spreading the information from one person to another- this is called rechilus because it is like a peddler (rochel) who travels around the cities.

The Kesef Mishnah's understanding is discussed also by Avodas HaMelech (Hilchos De'os 7:2): Gossip (rechilus) is when one says "this is what so-and-so said" or this is what I heard about "so-and-so". See the Kesef Mishna who explains that rechilus according to the Rambam is when says, "So-and-so said about you such and such" or "So-and-so did such and such to you." That even if there is nothing inherently degrading just as we saw concerning the gossip of Doeg who mentioned to Shaul that Achimelech gave bread and the sword of Goliath to Dovid and if he was asked he would not have denied saying it because there was nothing degrading said but in fact he considered that he was doing a favor to Shaul and we see when he defended himself. Therefore even though the information conveyed is not inherently negative to someone but since it was conveyed from one person to another – it is called rechilus (gossip) which is exactly what it is. It is like a peddler traveling around the cities with his wares.<

Thus we see from the Rambam's example of Doeg that he views Rechilus as informing someone what another person had said or done which impacted the listener – and not idle gossip about other people. The Chofetz Chaim accepts this as the correct understanding of the Rambam and what Rechilus is.

David Cohen, CEO of Chevra Hatzalah, Resigns

FiveTowns Jewish Times   David Cohen, the CEO of Chevra Hatzalah, resigned on Sunday afternoon, in a communication with the Executive Board of Hatzalah.  The resignation was a result of allegations of Mr. Cohen’s involvement with recent scandals at Met Council, where Mr. Cohen served both as an advisor and as the former Chief Executive Officer prior to Mr. Rapfogel. [...]

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results

Wall Street Journal   I had a teacher once who called his students "idiots" when they screwed up. He was our orchestra conductor, a fierce Ukrainian immigrant named Jerry Kupchynsky, and when someone played out of tune, he would stop the entire group to yell, "Who eez deaf in first violins!?" He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled. He corrected our wayward hands and arms by poking at us with a pencil.

Today, he'd be fired. But when he died a few years ago, he was celebrated: Forty years' worth of former students and colleagues flew back to my New Jersey hometown from every corner of the country, old instruments in tow, to play a concert in his memory. I was among them, toting my long-neglected viola. When the curtain rose on our concert that day, we had formed a symphony orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.

I was stunned by the outpouring for the gruff old teacher we knew as Mr. K. But I was equally struck by the success of his former students. Some were musicians, but most had distinguished themselves in other fields, like law, academia and medicine. Research tells us that there is a positive correlation between music education and academic achievement. But that alone didn't explain the belated surge of gratitude for a teacher who basically tortured us through adolescence. [...]

I would ask a different question. What did Mr. K do right? What can we learn from a teacher whose methods fly in the face of everything we think we know about education today, but who was undeniably effective?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Comparing Mr. K's methods with the latest findings in fields from music to math to medicine leads to a single, startling conclusion: It's time to revive old-fashioned education. Not just traditional but old-fashioned in the sense that so many of us knew as kids, with strict discipline and unyielding demands. Because here's the thing: It works.  [...]

Balancing the terror of Lashon Harah with Obligation to help others with negative information

This is a continuation of previous posts  Lashon harah revisited and Lashon harah and to'eles
Today we have a strong fear of the evil of speaking lashon harah - largely due to the efforts of the Chofetz Chaim. It is unfortunately true that in many common situations this fear does not stop us from speaking lashon harah - as the Chofetz Chaim himself points out. Nevertheless in many important situations this fear does prevent us from conveying negative information even though the Torah requires it.  There are people who marry when it is known the marriage can't work- because of personality, mental health issues or control issues. There are dishonest people given position of trust. There are child molesters who continue teaching. There are incompetent doctors and therapists who continue ruining their client's lives. There are rabbis and teachers who molest women and children. There are "investment specialists" who destroy the financial welfare of communities. No one speaks up to stop these negative consequences - either because the fear of saying lashon harah overwhelms the awareness of the obligation to say helpful negative information or it is used as a pious excuse to justify avoiding unpleasant and difficult situations..

My concern is not- chas v'shalom - to deny the reality that lashon harah is terrible but to provide a corrective balance in which the reality of the Torah requirement to convey negative information is reinforced and becomes possible. Not speaking lashon harah is as important as speaking negative information when the Torah requires it. They both are Torah requirements - and they are contained in the same Torah verse (Vayikra 19:16), Do not spread spread gossip amongst your people. Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow. I am G-d. The first part is the prohibition of lashon harah. The second part is the obligation to help people even if it involves negative information.

To understand the fear, one needs to simply read the powerful introduction to the sefer Chofetz Chaim - translated in part below. It is clear that the Chofetz Chaim's goal is for people to stop talking about others. Therefore not only does he present the universally agreed upon sin of lashon harah, but he minimizes the permissibility of speaking negatively about others even when it is beneficial by placing additional conditions on speaking negative information. (This will be more fully discussed in future posts).

Additionally, while he reports the statements of Chazal without exaggeration -  one needs to understand the rabbinic style of dealing with sin. As the Rivash (171) and Rambam (Commentary to Mishna Sanhedrin Chapter 7) clearly state - the severity of sin is exaggerated by rabbis in order to get people to obey. In addition legitimate alternative lenient readings  are not presented or they are dismissed as minority views. So while this approach is typically helpful in normal situations, it causes problems when it prevents keeping the Torah obligation communicating negative information when appropriate. In short, it reinforces refraining from speaking at the expense of speaking up. More detailed discussion will be provided in future posts.

Chofetz Chaim (Introduction):... However at the end of the era of the Second Temple, there was significant increase in the amount of baseless hatred and lashon harah amongst us due to our many sins. Because of this the Temple was destroyed and we were exiled from our land as is stated in Yoma (9b) and Yerushalmi Yoma ( 1:5). Even though the gemora only mentions baseless hatred – it means also lashon harah which is a consequence of baseless hatred. Because if the gemora only meant baseless hatred - that would not have been reason for such severe punishment. We can also deduce that lashon harah was meant in addition to baseless hatred from the fact that the gemora concludes that we learn from the destruction of the Second Temple that baseless hatred is as severe as the combined punishments for idolatry, illicit sexual relations and murder. Such an equation is  explicitly stated in Arachin (15b) regarding lashon harah.[The School of R. Ishmael taught: Whoever speaks lashon harah increases his sins even up to [the degree of] the three [cardinal] sins: idolatry, incest, and the shedding of blood.]Furthermore a careful analysis of Yoma (9b) also demonstrates that lashon harah caused the destruction of the Second Temple. It first discusses the reasons for the destruction of the First Temple and then compares them to the reasons for the destruction of the Second Temple. It asks, "And didn't baseless hatred also exist in the era of the First Temple since it states that people would eat and drink together and then stab each other with their tongues?" [The gemora answers that in the First Temple it was done only by the princes but in the Second Temple it was done by all the people.] [Thus we see that the term baseless hatred is also used to describe lashon harah]. ... However the only reason for the continue exile is because of our many sins that prevent the Shechinah dwelling amongst us. When we carefully examine our ways to determine which sins are the basis for the extended exile we find there are many. However the misuse of language is by far the worst for many reasons. 1) Since it was the cause of exile in the first place as we saw from Yoma (9b) – as long as this sin isn't correct is is not possible for the Redemption to come. ...

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Rabbi David Cohen of Hatzala Linked to Kickback Scheme at Met Council

NY Times  [also see Forward]  In August, the board of one of New York City’s most respected social services organizations drew widespread attention when it fired its executive director, William E. Rapfogel, because it believed he had been taking large kickbacks from its insurance broker. 

But the board of the organization, the Metropolitan New York Council on Jewish Poverty, took another action at the same time that was not widely noticed. It ended a longstanding consulting relationship with Mr. Rapfogel’s predecessor, Rabbi David Cohen, who led the organization, which is widely known as Met Council, before Mr. Rapfogel took over in 1992.  [...]

The other co-conspirator is Joseph Ross, the owner of Century Coverage, according to the two people briefed on the investigation. 

Neither Mr. Ross nor Mr. Cohen has been charged in the case. Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, Alan M. Abramson, and Mr. Ross’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, declined to comment.[...]

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lashon harah is only prohibited when there is no benefit or to'eles

update - added more sources 9/27/13 [see  Lashon harah revisted
 Balancing the terror of lashon harah]

The main Torah source prohibiting lashon harah is 
Vayikra (19:16): Don't spread gossip amongst your people. Don't stand idly by the blood of your fellow. I am G‑d
 It is important to very  carefully study this verse  to understand what lashon harah is. The first thing to notice is that the verse is not just about lashon harah. The second verse is a command to help people in trouble or to prevent them from getting into trouble. Why are the two issues combined?

A number of commentaries have noted that this dual issue verse teaches that the prohibition of lashon harah is conditional. If a benefit results from saying the negative things that can't be obtained otherwise - then it is permitted to speak. This is known as the heter of to'eles. In fact we see that it is not a heter but it is a condition that determines whether the negative information is lashon harah. This shows that not every negative statement is in fact lashon harah.

Chazon Ish(2:133): Knowledge about a talmid chachom who shapes yiddishkeit is similar to that of an artisan. Just as one is permitted to convey accurate information about an artisan if there is to'eles so it it permitted to reveal information about a gadol if there is to'eles. Of critical importance is to be totally accurate otherwise it is slander. This implies that expressing negative information about others is relevant for those who are considered influential authorities – in order to understand the degree to rely on them.

Rabbeinu Yonah(Mishlei 24:28):
Don’t be a gratuitous witness of your fellow man – ...This principle is stated in Berachos (19a), If you see a talmid chachom sinning at night, do not suspect of him of sinning anymore by the day because he will surely have repented by then. Since he has the reputation of a person who is fearful of sinning and he is upset and regrets that his lust overcame him. However if the talmid chachom is in fact a wicked person who is mistakenly thought by the people to be righteous – he is not only to be criticized to those who know how to keep quiet – but in fact it is a mitzva to publicize his deeds until they are well known to the public. That is because severe harm occurs when wicked people are honored because he will turn many away from the proper path and denigrate the honor of the righteous and encourages sinning. There is in fact profanation of G‑d’s name by honoring the wicked because some people will be aware of the sins the wicked do and will concluded that there is nothing wrong with sinning and that it doesn’t lower one’s stature (Yoma 86b)…

Rav Moshe Sternbuch(Teshuvos v'hanhagos 1:839): Question: A a teacher asks his students to reveal who did something wrong. - is this permitted? Answer: It would seem that the teacher first has to say to his student that the prohibition of lashon harah is very severe. However since this is l'toeles there is no prohibition of lashon harah. (See Chofetz Chaim 4 and the statement of the Alter of Kelm in Marpeh Lashon said in the name of Rav Yisroel Salanter with clear proofs that whatever is for to'eles is not prohibited as lashon harah). In this case it is clearly for the benefit of the chinuch of the student and therefore there is no concern that this is lashon harah. In fact just the opposite because just as there is a prohibition to speak negatively about others - there is an obligation to inform the teacher so that he is able to properly chastise the student and thus it is not considered lashon harah at all.

Chofetz Chaim (Hilchos Lashon Harah 4:10):  Nevertheless if a person sees someone who has bad midos such as conceit, anger, or other bad personality traits or the person isn't concerned about studying Torah etc. then it is correct to tell his son or his students to avoid associating with such a person in order that they not learn his bad midos. That is because the basis of the prohibition of lashon harah - which applies to even if it is truth - is intent to degrade another person and rejoice in his debasement. However if his intent is to guard his fellow man from learning from his bad deeds - then it is clearly permitted and in fact it is a mitzva to convey this [negative] information to others. However in these cases and similar ones it would seem that it is a mitzva for the one conveying the negative information to explain the reason why he is saying these negative things about another person. That is so the listener will not err and assume that negative comments in general are permitted. Furthermore so that the listener will not be astonished that the speaker seems to be a hypocrite in that sometimes he prohibits lashon harah even when true (see clall 9) because it is an important mitzva to keep his children from sin. and yet he is himself is now saying negative things about others...

Chofetz Chaim (Be’er Mayim Chaim Hilchos Rechilus 9:3): Requiring that the motivation to speak rechilus is for a beneficial goal (to’eles) - doesn’t’ mean that if he doesn’t have this motivation that he is automatically exempt from communicating the necessary information to the person in danger. That is because he still has to fulfill the obligation of “not standing idly by the blood of his fellow.” This also applies to saving someone from financial loss. Look at Rashi (Sanhedrin 73a). This requirement of to’eles for permitting speaking negative words means only that he should try and force himself do it for a benefit and not because he hates the person. Otherwise he will be violating the prohibition of rechilus.

Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Yechava Daas 4:60): … In fact this is the way to understand the verse regarding lashon harah. “Do not speak lashon harah but don’t stand idly by concerning the blood of your fellow.” Even though there is a prohibition of lashon harah, nevertheless the second clause of the verse tells you that it is conditional on this not causing harm. Therefore you are obligated to inform others regarding certain matters in order to them to guard against loss and danger. This is expressed in Nidah (61a) that even though it is prohibited to listen to lashon harah but you should protect yourself from the potential danger you hear about. The Rambam (Mitzva 297) says that protecting another’s money is also included in “don’t stand idly by concerning the blood of your fellow.” … Therefore even if there is only a financial loss, one should inform your fellow man in order that he can protect himself from those who want to harm him. And surely when there is a possible danger to an individual or a group.... 

Malbim (Vayikra 19:16.41): Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow - The literal meaning of the verse is that if you see someone in danger – do not stand by but rather make a serious effort to save him…. However the association in this verse of not speaking lashon harah teaches us that even though we are prohibited to speak lashon harah, nevertheless if you know testimony that can help another - even though it involves lashon harah and breaking confidentiality – it is necessary to reveal the information and to testify. This is true even though revealing secrets is prohibited as lashon harah.

Netziv (Vayikra 19:16): Even though there is a clear prohibition in this verse against lashon harah, nevertheless this is conditional on “not standing idly by the blood of others.” In other words if you know that there is someone who wants to harm another then you are obligated to inform the intended victim and it is prohibited to stand idly by and let it happen.

Ohr HaChaim (Vayikra 19:16): The prohibition of lashon harah is conditional on whether not speaking will not cause harm to another. If you see a group that wants to kill people then you are obligated to notify the potential victims so that they can save themselves. One should not keep silent by saying that you don’t want to speak lashon harah. Thus we learn that if you don’t notify the potential victim and he is killed that you have nullified this mitzva of not standing idly by the blood of others. We learn this from the incident of Gedaliah who was warned of danger but did not pay attention to the warning.

Shulchan Aruch(C.M. 426:1): If you see someone drowning in the sea or being attacked by bandits or wild animals and it is possible to save him by yourself or to pay others to save him and yet you don’t save him or alternatively you hear non‑Jews or informers plotting to do him harm and yet you don’t inform him or alternatively you know that non‑Jews or bandits are planning to attack him and you are able dissuade them and yet you don’t or other such scenarios – you are violating “do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow (Vayikra 19:16).

Rav Elochon Wasserman (Kovetz Ha’aros Yevamos #70): ...It would seem that all that is prohibited between people (bein adam l’chavero) is only prohibited when done in a harmful and destructive manner without justification. For example regarding the prohibition of “Not hating your brother.” This is only prohibited for gratuitous hatred (sinas chinom). In other words when he is not doing anything wrong (davar ervah). However if he is doing something wrong then it is permitted to hate him. It is important to note that the reason for hatred being permitted in this case is not because of the fact that a sinful person is not considered your “brother.” Tosfos (Pesachim 113b) explains that if you hate this sinful person for another reason then you transgress the prohibition. The hatred is only permitted because of the bad (davar ervah) that you see in him. Similarly regarding the prohibition of beating another, the Rambam writes that it is prohibited only if done as fighting (derech netzoyan). This is clear from the fact that it is permitted for a teacher to his student. And this that we noted before in Sanhedrin (84b) – that is only a rabbinic restriction. And similarly concerning the prohibition of causing anguish to a widow or orphan, Rambam (Hilchos De’os 6:10) writes that if it is done to teach Torah or a trade – there is no prohibition. Similarly concerning the prohibition of lashon harah, it is permitted against people who cause discord and quarrels in order to stop the fight. Similar concerning using words to cause anguish (onas devarim), it is permitted publicly criticize someone publicly if it is for the sake of chastisement. It is even permitted to publicly embarrass someone if it is done for the necessity of chastisement for a person who has not stopped his bad behavior after being rebuked in private. In such a case it is even permissible to curse him. In fact this is what was done by the prophets in the past as the Rambam (Hilchos De’os 6:8) notes. We thus shown from all this, that all the prohibition involving interpersonal actions do not apply when the act is beneficial.
Chinuch (236): We are required not to gossip about others as the Torah says (Vayikra 19:16) "You shall not be a tale-bearer." The idea is that if we hear someone say something bad about a friend, we should not tell them "Someone is saying such and such about you" unless our intent is to prevent damage or to stop a fight....

Pischei Tshuva (O.C. 156): I want to note here that while all the books of mussar are greatly concerned about the sin of lashon harah, I am greatly concerned about the opposite problem. I want to protest about the even greater and more common sin of refraining from speaking negatively when it is necessary to save someone from being harmed. For example if you saw a person waiting in ambush to kill someone or breaking into someone’s house or store at night. Is it conceivable that you would refrain from notifying the intended victim to protect himself from the assailant - because of the prohibition of speaking lashon harah?  By not saying anything you commit the unbearable sin of transgressing the prohibition of Vayikra (19:16): Do not speak lashon harah [but] do not stand idly by when the blood of your fellow man is threatened? By not speaking up, you violate the mitzva of returning that which is lost to its owner Devarim (22:2). Now if you can understand the obvious necessity of speaking up in these cases then what is the difference between a robber breaking into someone’s house or store or seeing that his servants are secretly stealing from him or that his partner is deceiving him in their business or that another person is cheating him in commerce or that he is lending money to someone that you know doesn’t repay? How is this different from stopping a proposed marriage to someone you know is a wicked person who would be a horrible husband…. From where do we get the mistaken idea that in the case of murder, I will speak up but that it is prohibited to say anything in other situations where someone is being harmed?…

Christian love: Buying their way into Jerusalem

Times of Israel   A few years ago, a group of several dozen elderly Russian-speaking immigrants in Jerusalem organized by Dr. Lila Glazer was looking for a place to meet. Lacking resources, Dr. Glazer turned to the municipality, who by chance, had just been approached by American evangelist Mike Evans, who happened to be looking for an opportunity to initiate a project in the holy city. 

Evans and his Jerusalem Prayer Team went to work, and after a $400,000 investment, Glazer’s group is now the proud beneficiary of the most deluxe shelter in the city. Kitted out with spacious meeting rooms, the underground shelter has a renovated bathroom, air conditioning and heat, a well-equipped kitchen, large-screen TV, wi-fi and a chair-lift. 

Earlier this week, at a hastily-erected sukka in front of the entrance to the shelter on Azza Street in Rehavia, Evans was feted by the grateful immigrants in front of a smattering of Russian Israeli and English-speaking journalists.

No one cared to bring up Evans’ agenda or his lengthy history of missionary activity. Who could blame the elderly immigrants, many of whom are Holocaust survivors, and who now have a beautiful place for their much-needed social and religious activities.  Dr. Glazer told me she wished more Christians would be made aware of their stories. [...]

Eruv Tavshilin by Rabbi Yair Hoffman

FiveTowns Jewish Times   In the Hebrew the numbers 5774 are expressed as Tof shin ayin dalet.  One could understand these letters as an abbreviation for the expression, “Tehye Shnas Dalet Eiruvin” it will be a year in which four Eruv Tavshilins will be made.”

What is an Eruv Tavshilin?

Whenever Yom Tov comes immediately before Shabbos, in other words, on a Friday – an Eruv Tavshilin must be made. An Eruv Tavshilim is a Rabbinic device that allows one to “continue preparing and cooking” for Shabbos on Yom Tov. In other words, through the Eruv Tavshilin, one actually begins the Shabbos preparations on the day before Yom Tov.  The Malachos performed on the Yom Tov for Shabbos are considered to be a continuation of these preparations. (Rema O.C. 527:1)

We learned, however, that performing Malacha on a Yom Tov for another day other than the Yom Tov itself is, in fact, a Torah prohibition.  If this is the case, then how could it be that a Rabbinical enactment allows one to get around a Biblical prohibition?

The answer is that, technically, it was permitted by the Torah to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbos.[...]

Rapfogel: Former Chief of Jewish Charity arraigned

NY Times    On Tuesday, Mr. Rapfogel, dressed in a blue suit with a white shirt and no tie, was arraigned in a brief proceeding before Judge Kevin McGrath in Manhattan Criminal Court. He did not enter a plea and waived his right to a speedy trial, a move suggesting that he was or would be involved in plea negotiations. Judge McGrath released him on $100,000 bail.[...]

The charges, which the complaint said were in some measure based on investigators’ interviews with Mr. Rapfogel and the two people referred to as co-conspirators, stem from an inquiry by the state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, and the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli. They began to look into Mr. Rapfogel’s stewardship of Met Council after the organization detected the improprieties and alerted state authorities. 

“It’s always sad and shocking when we discover that someone used a charity as their own personal piggy bank — but even more so when that scheme involves someone well respected in government and his community,” Mr. Schneiderman said in a news release announcing the charges. 

Mr. DiNapoli said, “The scale and duration of this scheme are breathtaking.”[...]

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lashon Harah - revisited: Daas Torah on Lashon HaRah

[See  Balancing terror of lashon harah]
Having spent much time on the issue of abuse, one of the main difficulties in dealing with abuse is the fear of lashon harah. It is right up there with the fear of mesira. In our days it is believed that the Chofetz Chaim compiled the Shulchan Aruch on lashon harah and that there is nothing more to discuss because he simply nailed down every issue and halacha. In other words, it is believed that if you want to understand the issur of lashon harah all you need to do is master the sefer Chofetz Chaim without going back to the original sources.

In fact, the Chofetz Chaim did more than simply compile halachos - he made major decision and interpretations which in fact involve significant disputes amongst poskim. Consequently there are not only legitimate alternative psakim dealing with many issues but there are even alternative definitions of what constitutes lashon harah and rechilus.

The issue of lashon harah is not simply a theoretical issue such are the study of korbonos - there are major differences in action which result if you use the alternative views that were rejected by the Chofetz Chaim.

Of course many people assume that one can not disagree with the Chofetz Chaim. When I compiled my index to the Mishna Berura and wanted to write an introduction regarding the nature of the Mishna Berura, Rav Sternbuch advised me against it. He said even though in previous years there was no [problem] disputing the Mishna Berura or even acknowledge that it wasn't entirely written by him, but  "in our times the Mishna Berura has become kodesh kedashim." However just as there was no official canonization of the Mishna Berura there was no canonization of the sefer Chofetz Chaim.

Because of my concern getting a viable balance between the concern for lashon harah with that of a functioning society, I have decided to write a Daas Torah volume on the sources and issues on Lashon HaRah.  A clear expression of the need to balance the concern for lashon harah with the needs of a viable society is expressed in the following Pischei Tshuva.

Pischei Tshuva(O.C. 156): I want to note here that while all the books of mussar are greatly concerned about the sin of lashon harah, I am greatly concerned about the opposite problem. I want to protest about the even greater and more common sin of refraining from speaking negatively when it is necessary to save someone from being harmed. For example if you saw a person waiting in ambush to kill someone or breaking into someone’s house or store at night. Is it conceivable that you would refrain from notifying the intended victim to protect himself from the assailant - because of the prohibition of speaking lashon harah?  By not saying anything you commit the unbearable sin of transgressing the prohibition of Vayikra (19:16): Do not speak lashon harah [but] do not stand idly by when the blood of your fellow man is threatened? By not speaking up, you violate the mitzva of returning that which is lost to its owner Devarim (22:2). Now if you can understand the obvious necessity of speaking up in these cases then what is the difference between a robber breaking into someone’s house or store or seeing that his servants are secretly stealing from him or that his partner is deceiving him in their business or that another person is cheating him in commerce or that he is lending money to someone that you know doesn’t repay? How is this different from stopping a proposed marriage to someone you know is a wicked person who would be a horrible husband. Saving a person from these situations is clearly included in the command (Devarim 22:2) to return to the person himself or his money. From where do we get the mistaken idea that in the case of murder, I will speak up but that it is prohibited to say anything in other situations where someone is being harmed? The general principle is that these are matters which depend upon the speaker’s motivation. If the informant’s intent in relating these matters is entirely to cause harm that is lashon harah. However if his intent is to bring about benefit to the other person and to save him and to protect him – then it is a great mitzva. In my opinion this is the underlying intent of the Yerushalmi which the Magen Avraham brings which says that it is permitted to speak lashon harah about people who cause disputes. … It is obvious that even concerning those who cause disputes it is not permitted to speak lashon harah gratuitously about them in all matters. It is only permitted for those things directly related to the particular dispute. It is only permitted concerning that which they are trying to harm others. In such a case it is permitted to reveal degrading things about them in order to save others. … Unfortunately I have seen many times where someone witnesses another person trying to cause harm to someone – and he suppresses the information and says, “Why should I get involved in a matter which isn’t my business…However one needs to be very careful about these and similar matters. Our Sages have said – when the permissibility depends on motivation - it says, “And you should be afraid of your G‑d.”

Hoshana Rabbah, Shmini Atzeres, and Simchas Torah by Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Five Towns Jewish Times  

HOSHANA RABBAH    Hoshanah Rabbah is a very holy and special day. It means the “great salvation” and is celebrated on the seventh day of Sukkos. The judgment which was written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur is handed down on this day.

The Yalkut Shimoni explains that it is on the 21st of the month because Hashem’s Name of “I shall be” is equivalent to this in Gematria.

The davening for Shacharis is like Shabbos morning and the baal tefillah wears a kittel. We circle the bimah seven times on Hoshana Rabbah; during the regular days of Sukkos we circle the bimah only once. We also take a bundle of aravos and hit them on the ground until the leaves fall off.

There is also a custom to stay up all night on Hoshana Rabbah and study Torah.  Chassidim have the custom to read from Sefer Dvarim on the night of Hoshana Rabbah.  This is done without a bracha.  There is a debate between Rav Elyashiv and Dayan Yitzchok Weiss (Minchas Yitzchak VIII #84) as to whether someone from Minhag Ashkenaz may participate in this unique nighttime Torah reading. 


Shemini Atzeres is the culmination of Elul, the Yamim Nora’im, and Sukkos, times and holidays where we have developed an intense closeness with Hashem. But Shemini Atzeres is actually a new and independent Yom Tov, where Hashem says to us, “Stop. Don’t go. Stay with Me one last day.” This is the explanation of the word “Atzeres — stop.” [...]


While in Eretz Yisrael Simchas Torah and Shmini Atzeres are celebrated on the same day, in chutz laAretz Simchas Torah is on the second day of Yom Tov. The completion of the cycle of Torah reading is celebrated. [...]

Alleged English pedophile - escaped to Israel: Law of Return trumps International Law

YNET     Does the Law of Return trump international law? This question will have to be ruled on by the High Court of Justice, following an attempt by an ultra-Orthodox Jew from England, who was convicted of sexual abuse of children, to find asylum in Israel.

The man has been detained already for over a half year. In a rare instance, the Interior Ministry decided not to grant him standing under the Law of Return, due to the heavy suspicions against him in the UK.

Now the issue comes before the High Court, which is expected to rule soon, in an unusual case – is it possible to grant standing under the Law of Return to a Jew accused of pedophilia who has fled his home country in order to escape prosecution?

An indictment was filed gainst T., 48, for indecent assault on a minor. After charges were announced, T. fled to Israel together with his family. But when he landed, he was arrested for using a fake passport.

The Immigration Authority refused to grant him standing under the Law of Return due to the charges against him in the UK, and even sought to deport him back to his homeland.[...]

Friday, September 20, 2013

New Brooklyn Messianic center set to missionize Orthodox neighbors

Times of Israel  As Sukkot arrived in Flatbush Wednesday, the many ultra-Orthodox Jewish residents of the Brooklyn neighborhood were completing their temporary dwellings and preparing to welcome their physical –- and metaphysical — guests, in the best festival tradition.

But during the week-long holiday, another guest was set to appear in the neighborhood: A multi-million dollar Messianic Jewish center will open its doors to target members of the religious community. 

The Chosen People Ministries has been putting the final touches on a new seminary in the heart of this highly Jewish section of Brooklyn. The price tag for the building, the former Yablokoff Kingsway Memorial Chapel at 1978 Coney Island Avenue, was $2.1 million, and some additional $900,000 has been spent on renovating it.

The prominent missionary organization, which describes itself as “Messianic Jewish,” has long operated in what might initially seem to be hostile environments. Encouraging Jews to accept the Gospel, the organization has opened summer camps in Israel and a guest house targeting young Israeli backpackers in South America. According to anti-missionary activists, members of the ministry sometimes even don traditional Jewish garb like yarmulkes and ritual fringes before going out on recruiting missions.

Neighborhood anti-missionary activists have called in nationally prominent experts to figure out how to confront the Chosen People Ministries’ flagship Brooklyn Messianic Center and the Charles Feinberg Center for Messianic Jewish Studies in their neighborhood. [...]

Was Sex With Children Ever Okay?

Time Magazine  In an interview with TIME this week, biologist Richard Dawkins talks about being molested as a child, which he says was not a particularly big deal. “What’s happened now is that society has developed a horror of it, and rightly so. But I do think it’s important to not be too judgmental of past ages by the standards of ourselves,” he says. “You have to look at history through contemporary eyes rather than through today’s eyes.” [...]

Dawkins was molested by a master at his primary school while he watched a squash match. True to his scientific bent, he describes it pretty clinically in his book An Appetite for Wonder: “He did no more than have a little feel, but it was extremely disagreeable (the cremasteric reflex is not painful, but in a skin-crawling creepy way it is almost worse than painful) as well as embarrassing.”

After it was over, young Dawkins ran off to tell his friends. Many of them had had the same unfortunate experience. In his telling, it seems to have been more or less regarded as bad luck, rather like having been bowled for a duck (having scored no runs) in cricket. “I don’t think he did any of us lasting damage,” he notes.

But Dawkins has not put that last hypothesis through rigorous scientific testing. The studies on any child-adult sexual contact are pretty clear, whether it is so- called “consensual” or not. It can be toxic for the child. There are thousands of sexual abuse survivors who struggle with what happened to them decades after the event.

Dawkins seems to be suggesting that in making a huge deal of sex offenses against minors that happened long ago, we may be overreacting.  And perhaps making things worse for the victims. Indeed, Geimer has claimed that the media victimized her by constantly invading her privacy every time Polanski popped back into the news.

Certainly, things have changed since the Pill first unshackled sex and pregnancy and folks threw sexual caution to the winds. What had once been regarded as an unfortunate moral failing—a penchant for young children—is now universally seen as predatory and dangerous to others. But the degree of damage sexual abuse causes may have less to do with the public attitude towards it, as Dawkins seems to suggest, and more to do with the personality, life experience and relative health of the abused. Whenever humans are wounded they heal differently, even if the injuries appears similar. Some need rest, others exercise; some respond better to therapy, while others benefit from something more invasive. [...]

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How Iran Uses Terror Threats To Successfully Deter U.S. Military Action

Tablet Magazine   President Barack Obama thinks that the deal with Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons was possible only because of his credible threat of force. The way he sees it, Iran’s gotten the message, too. As the president told George Stephanopoulos over the weekend, “My suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn’t draw a lesson that we haven’t struck [Syria], to think we won’t strike Iran.”

However, the essential feature of a credible threat of force is to have previously employed actual force against the adversary you’re threatening. Shortly before Obama announced he would seek congressional authorization for the use of military force against Syria, the White House briefed House and Senate staffers on the possible ramifications of U.S. action. Perhaps unintentionally, the briefings seemed only to have dampened congressional appetite for attacking Iran’s man in Damascus. “They showed them Iran retaliation scenarios,” a senior official at a Washington, D.C.-based pro-Israel organization told me. “They highlighted the fact that Hezbollah has a global reach. The staffers left those briefings with the blood drained from their faces.”

Iran and its allies have proven their willingness to use force against America—as witnessed by the April 1983 bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut; the October 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut; the 1998 bombing of Khobar Towers, which housed U.S. servicemen in Saudi Arabia; and Iran’s war against American troops in Iraq, which lasted until Obama’s 2011 withdrawal.[...]

It is easy to frame some of Iran’s recent terror plots as evidence that they are the gang who couldn’t shoot straight. For every operation that, say, kills five Israeli tourists in a Bulgarian resort town, there are a dozen botched plots, like the operation in Thailand where an Iranian agent blew off his own legs with a hand grenade.

But from another perspective, it doesn’t matter that the vast majority of Iranian projects come up empty, like the plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, which might also have killed hundreds of Americans in the nation’s capital if it had succeeded. Taken together, what these operations show is an obvious, and alarming, inclination to employ violence against America—even in the absence of any direct American military action against Iran. Carried out by second-string operatives, yet backed by arms of the Iranian government and the global terror infrastructure it has put in place, these attempts are generally interpreted by policymakers as warning shots—a reminder of what will happen if America really gets the Iranians mad.[...]

The Jacksonville Florida Tragedy and Halacha by Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Five Towns Jewish Times   The recent incident this past Yom Kippur involving a woman in Jacksonville, Florida who was killed while crossing an intersection with dangerously fast cars was very tragic indeed.  It not only left the sixteen year old daughter who was with her with life-threatening injuries, it left her orphaned r”l. This young lady had lost her father many years earlier.

The tragedy, however, brings up a halachic question.  In an area where the traffic light poses a danger in crossing because it is timed for too short a time to cross safely, would it be permitted to ask a gentile to press the button? [...]

When this author presented the case to permit asking a gentile to press the crosswalk button to some leading Poskim, the Poskim agreed to the underlying rationale.  They also agreed that the leniency can be promulgated in their name.  The Poskim were Rav Moshe Heinemann Shlita from Baltimore and Rav Shmuel Fuerst Shlita from Chicago. [...]

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

California and it's unions protect pedophile teachers

National Review    [California decided] to exempt government agencies, including public schools, from a new measure intended to enable civil measures against organizations that harbor pedophiles.

In 2014, California will open a litigation “window” allowing victims of sex abuse to file lawsuits against the employers of those who abused them, on the theory that those employers are in some instances partly culpable for the abuse, which is indeed the case. The “window” is needed because, in many sex-abuse cases, the statute of limitations for civil actions runs out before victims come forward. Perversely, the law exposes only the employers; the abusers themselves remain immune to litigation. [...]

And it does not stop with litigation windows. In 2012, the Assembly considered a bill making it easier to fire teachers who sexually abuse students. Consider for a second that word “easier” — should anything be easier than simply firing somebody who molests children? The bill was written in response to the case of a Los Angeles elementary-school teacher who was fired after being accused of sexually abusing his students, and who challenged his firing. Rather than act in accord with the horrifying details of the case, the school district paid the teacher $40,000 to drop his appeal. That’s small change compared with the $30 million settlement the district is paying to the teacher’s alleged victims as a result of the case, or, for that matter, compared with the $23 million bail requirement that is keeping teacher Mark Berndt behind bars as he awaits trial on 23 felony counts of gruesome sexual abuse.

Against that background, making it easier to fire teachers facing credible accusations of sexual abuse seems like a pretty straightforward proposition. But the California Teachers Association and other unions presented a united front against a bill passed by the state senate, and it died in the Assembly. [...] But if it comes down to the interests of a unionized government employee vs. those of a nonunionized sex-crime victim, look for the union label.

Whistle blower reveals head of Met Council has been skimming money

NY Times  A few months ago, an anonymous letter was sent to the board of directors of one of the city’s most venerable nonprofit institutions, the Metropolitan New York Council on Jewish Poverty. 

The writer, who claimed to be a former employee of the charity’s insurance broker, said money was being skimmed from payments that the charity made for health insurance. The allegation was strikingly similar to one made in a letter sent two years earlier. Nothing amiss was found then, but this time a new chief financial officer made a startling discovery. 

The charity’s chief executive, William E. Rapfogel, had been conspiring with someone at the insurance brokerage, Century Coverage Corporation, to pad the charity’s insurance payments by several hundred thousand dollars a year, according to a person briefed on the investigation.[...]

The account of the letter is the first time it has been clear that the scandal came to light from an anonymous whistle-blower, not through any audit or government oversight. It is the latest example of the remarkable lack of oversight, both of nonprofit groups that receive grants of taxpayer money and the politicians who award those grants without competitive bidding. That process has been at the center of successful criminal prosecutions of several city politicians in recent years.  [...]

At last! A kosher smartphone with rabbinic approval


Monday, September 16, 2013

When teachers openly support a child molesting colleague

Fox News   Enrollment appears to be nosediving in a Michigan school district where several teachers publicly supported a former colleague who admitted having sex with a middle school student.

The student body count in the West Branch-Rose City district, in northeast Michigan is down unofficially some 87 students following a tumultuous summer in which angry parents blasted seven teachers for writing letters in support of former teacher Neal Erickson. The letters urged a judge to be lenient in sentencing Erickson, who admitted to sexual misconduct with an underage, male student from 2006 to 2009. When the school board declined to take action against the teachers, many parents vowed to pull their kids out of the public schools, which have a total enrollment of just over 2,000. [...]

Erickson, 38, was originally investigated last October once allegations that he sexually molested the then 14-year-old boy surfaced and was eventually arrested in December 2012. Erickson pleaded guilty May 8, and asked for a lenient sentence, citing "stress" and financial hardship for his family.[...]

But on July 10, the judge brushed the letters aside and handed down a sentence of 15 to 30 years in prison. And he had strong words for Erickson's colleagues.

“I’m appalled and ashamed that the community could rally around, in this case, you,” Circuit Court Judge Michael Baumgartner said towards Erickson during his sentencing. “What you did was a jab in the eye with a sharp stick to every parent who trusts a teacher.”

Reporting on mayoral primaries distorts Jewish tradition

NY Times   While the Democratic field remained unsettled, Mr. Lhota was moving on Thursday to reach out to potential supporters. In the morning, he visited the Queens burial site of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who was the revered leader of Lubavitch Hasidim. 

Flanked by rabbis, one of whom addressed him as “Mr. Mayor,” Mr. Lhota asked for, and received, a gift of honey cake, following a Jewish tradition associated with the Lubavitcher rebbe, as Rabbi Schneerson was known. 

Mr. Lhota, wearing a black skullcap, brought a note to the rebbe’s grave site, tore it and cast it onto a pile of other torn notes, in accordance with another Jewish custom. 

Asked whether his note was about the election, he said only, “It’s all about the future of New York City.” 

Simon Sinek : "It is not what you do but why you do it"

A critical contribution to social understanding. He presents the thesis that behavior is best driven by focus on why we doing things rather than what we do. Related to child abuse - it is not enough to create laws to punish abuse and provide rules to avoid situations where abuse can occur. It is not enough to get people to report abuse. It is important that everyone understand that abusing others causes pain - and we need to value not hurting others.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Is Emotional Intelligence critical for academic success as well as success in life?

NY Times [...] Wade’s approach — used schoolwide at Garfield Elementary, in Oakland, Calif. — is part of a strategy known as social-emotional learning, which is based on the idea that emotional skills are crucial to academic performance. 

“Something we now know, from doing dozens of studies, is that emotions can either enhance or hinder your ability to learn,” Marc Brackett, a senior research scientist in psychology at Yale University, told a crowd of educators at a conference last June. “They affect our attention and our memory. If you’re very anxious about something, or agitated, how well can you focus on what’s being taught?” 

Once a small corner of education theory, S.E.L. has gained traction in recent years, driven in part by concerns over school violence, bullying and teen suicide. But while prevention programs tend to focus on a single problem, the goal of social-emotional learning is grander: to instill a deep psychological intelligence that will help children regulate their emotions. 

For children, Brackett notes, school is an emotional caldron: a constant stream of academic and social challenges that can generate feelings ranging from loneliness to euphoria. Educators and parents have long assumed that a child’s ability to cope with such stresses is either innate — a matter of temperament — or else acquired “along the way,” in the rough and tumble of ordinary interaction. But in practice, Brackett says, many children never develop those crucial skills. “It’s like saying that a child doesn’t need to study English because she talks with her parents at home,” Brackett told me last spring. “Emotional skills are the same. A teacher might say, ‘Calm down!’ — but how exactly do you calm down when you’re feeling anxious? Where do you learn the skills to manage those feelings?” 

A growing number of educators and psychologists now believe that the answer to that question is in school. George Lucas’s Edutopia foundation has lobbied for the teaching of social and emotional skills for the past decade; the State of Illinois passed a bill in 2003 making “social and emotional learning” a part of school curriculums. Thousands of schools now use one of the several dozen programs, including Brackett’s own, that have been approved as “evidence-based” by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, a Chicago-based nonprofit. All told, there are now tens of thousands of emotional-literacy programs running in cities nationwide. 

The theory that kids need to learn to manage their emotions in order to reach their potential grew out of the research of a pair of psychology professors — John Mayer, at the University of New Hampshire, and Peter Salovey, at Yale. In the 1980s, Mayer and Salovey became curious about the ways in which emotions communicate information, and why some people seem more able to take advantage of those messages than others. While outlining the set of skills that defined this “emotional intelligence,” Salovey realized that it might be even more influential than he had originally suspected, affecting everything from problem solving to job satisfaction: “It was like, this is predictive!” 

In the years since, a number of studies have supported this view. So-called noncognitive skills — attributes like self-restraint, persistence and self-awareness — might actually be better predictors of a person’s life trajectory than standard academic measures. A 2011 study using data collected on 17,000 British infants followed over 50 years found that a child’s level of mental well-being correlated strongly with future success. Similar studies have found that kids who develop these skills are not only more likely to do well at work but also to have longer marriages and to suffer less from depression and anxiety. Some evidence even shows that they will be physically healthier.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Yom Kippur, Tel Aviv style

Times of Israel   Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – begins this Friday evening. Many people know Jews don’t eat or drink for 25 hours (sundown to sundown) but few know what actually happens on Yom Kippur in modern, non-religious, Israel.

When I arrived, just over four years ago, Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv took me by complete surprise.

Practically all cars and motor transport will stop. Just not go anywhere. Almost no planes, trains or automobiles will move until Saturday night. [...]

From sundown to sundown the streets are full of people strolling or cycling; on suburban streets or along 10 lane highways, the only thing you have to watch out for are kids on speeding bicycles. Non observant people figure out how, for just one day a year, not to drive except for dire emergencies.

I will allow my 4 year old child to pedal furiously down a 6 lane divided highway in whichever direction he prefers. [...]

So why is being Jewish so different when you’re in Israel? There has never, in my recollection, been a Jew outside of Israel who’s publicly got upset by anyone eating, even in front of him, on Yom Kippur. 

Jews have never, and will never, ask you to stop driving for a day in your country. It just won’t happen. Even in our own country this isn’t a law, it’s just something the vast majority of Jews want to do because, over here, in Jewish Israel, it feels right.

That is the difference between living as a Jew outside Israel and as a Jew in Israel: here we can just BE Jewish and the calendar and the customs and the norms of behavior push us into being culturally Jewish even if we don’t want to study Torah for nine hours a day.[...]

Visiting the Lubavitcher Rebbe's grave

NY Times    [...] In the nearly 20 years since the death of the rebbe, as Rabbi Schneerson was known, what began as a spontaneous pilgrimage has evolved into a spiritual touchstone of the religious movement he spawned, complete with its own rituals, controversies and supplicants from all corners of the globe. 

And, perhaps in a nod to the famously sleepless city where the rebbe lived, preached and died, his grave site is open night and day.[...]

The pilgrimage to Cambria Heights, a largely black, middle-class neighborhood, has faced some challenges. Large celebratory crowds have frustrated neighbors, and efforts at expansion — most recently, a proposal for a more permanent structure than the tentlike ohel — have been met with opposition by the local community board. The center has made efforts to streamline parking, and in June, delivered bottles of wine to neighbors on surrounding streets, Rabbi Refson said. The number of visitors commemorating the rebbe’s death now tops 30,000. 

Girl’s Suicide Points to Rise in Apps Used by Cyberbullies

NY Times    The clues were buried in her bedroom. Before leaving for school on Monday morning, Rebecca Ann Sedwick had hidden her schoolbooks under a pile of clothes and left her cellphone behind, a rare lapse for a 12-year-old girl. 

Inside her phone’s virtual world, she had changed her user name on Kik Messenger, a cellphone application, to “That Dead Girl” and delivered a message to two friends, saying goodbye forever. Then she climbed a platform at an abandoned cement plant near her home in the Central Florida city of Lakeland and leaped to the ground, the Polk County sheriff said.

In jumping, Rebecca became one of the youngest members of a growing list of children and teenagers apparently driven to suicide, at least in part, after being maligned, threatened and taunted online, mostly through a new collection of texting and photo-sharing cellphone applications. Her suicide raises new questions about the proliferation and popularity of these applications and Web sites among children and the ability of parents to keep up with their children’s online relationships. 

For more than a year, Rebecca, pretty and smart, was cyberbullied by a coterie of 15 middle-school children who urged her to kill herself, her mother said. The Polk County sheriff’s office is investigating the role of cyberbullying in the suicide and considering filing charges against the middle-school students who apparently barraged Rebecca with hostile text messages. Florida passed a law this year making it easier to bring felony charges in online bullying cases.[...] 

Atonement, Forgiveness, And Our Most Fundamental Error

Scientific American   Today is the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. Although it is often called the “holiest day of the Jewish year,” what is notable about Yom Kippur is not the fact that it is particularly holy, nor is it the fact that many Jews you know might be particularly hungry today. Yom Kippur is notable because it is really all about the unequivocal importance of one thing — atonement. We sit in our religious services all day, reflecting on the need to atone for our sins. However, it is stressed that we cannot just do this by showing up to services and praying. We must also directly ask for forgiveness from those that we have wronged in the past year; and, in turn, we must be willing to grant forgiveness to those whom we believe have wronged us.

This past week has been a particularly challenging one for me, a fact that is only made more salient by my recent reflection on Yom Kippur. This was a week filled with a lot of stress – a major disagreement with friends (an unpleasantry that doesn’t happen all too often, thankfully, though this relative infrequency makes it especially painful when it does occur), dissertation work, transitioning back into a new semester of teaching, losing a flash drive for a period of about 24 hours (always enough to give me a few panic attacks). I had to face the unavoidable fact that I’ve once again found myself over-scheduled and under-rested this semester, and brace myself for the uncomfortable reality of having to let go of a few commitments and inevitably let people down. And of course there were more things — smaller stresses here and there that are not worth mentioning, and larger ones that are less appropriate for a public blog. But in a way, it’s almost perfect that Yom Kippur has arrived for me after such a truly stressful, overwhelming week. If nothing else, this week has served as a critical reminder to me of one of the most consistent and foundational facts in all of social psychology. The environment that surrounds us — those stressors, obligations, demands, fights, and other situational pushes that we constantly experience — have a strong, disconcerting influence on our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. If we’re going to reflect on atonement, it must serve us well to acknowledge just how important our surrounding environments can be when it comes to events that require repentance — and just how often we might fail to acknowledge the situation’s strong role in our lives. If someone were to judge me for anything that I said or did this week, I know that I would hope they would have accounted for the numerous stressors and other dramatic ongoings that could be influencing my words and actions. Unfortunately, given what I know of social psychology, I’m also well aware that they probably would not have done so — and to be fair, I likely wouldn’t be immediately prone to doing so either, if the tables were turned. [...]

I bring this up today, on Yom Kippur, because if we are going to focus on atonement, it is worth considering how our ability to forgive and forget might be at the whim of our cognitive biases. All too often, we are quick to form dispositional attributions for behaviors that might actually have situational causes — and all too often, those attributions are negative. Perhaps that driver did not cut you off because he is a jerk, but because another car was about to swerve into his lane, or because he had two children in the backseat who had just distracted his attention, or because his wife was in labor and he was rushing to get to the hospital. Maybe that girl had to stop on her way to class because of an emergency, or she just added the class the minute before she walked in, or she was actually accidentally showing up 30 minutes early for the next class. It becomes so much easier to engage in this atonement process and understand where others are coming from once we realize that all too often, we are actually doing ourselves a disservice if our ultimate goal truly is forgiveness. We can often over-perceive the presence of bad intentions arising from other people’s inner traits and personalities, when those bad intentions really might not be there…at all.

Op-Ed: Should Teachers Be Saying ‘Yechi’ with Students?

Crown Heights Info   At a recent Chaddishe auspicious day, celebrated with a children’s rally at 770 with several schools participating, there was a teacher from one of the schools that delivered a captivating story to the assembled children. It was a tale from the days of the Baal Shem Tov.

The teacher described this poor Jew thrown into prison by the poretz for lacking the funds to cover rent. He relayed to the spellbound children; “The yid was in such great despair and so sad, he felt that nobody can help him, so he screamed to Hashem from the depths of his heart, “Yechi Adoneinu… leolam Voed!”

Today, dropping my three year old child off at school, I entered the classroom with my kid, and the children were in the midst of davening. Yechi was a very central part as it was sung with great vigor. I was astounded. He isn’t enrolled in a fringe school, rather one of the mainstream ones that has been around for decades.[...]

Is it the role of a school that serve a diverse parent body, to be an indoctrination ground for children from the moment they begin to develop?

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Communal Confession by 5TJT Editorial Staff

 אשמנו  - We have been guilty.  We have cared more for our reputations than we have for the victims of molesters in our midst.

בגדנו  - We have betrayed the innocent and the weak among us.  We have ignored the pleas of those who have been victimized.

גזלנו  - We have stolen. We have stolen the childhood and the innocence of victims by not acting to remove people from positions of authority where they can continue abusing.

דברנו דופי  -We have spoken falsely.  We have said that those who make such accusations are liars – when we either knew that this was not the case, or where we were unsure. We have misused the notion of Chezkas Kashrus to ignore our obligation to protect our charges.

העוינו  - We have caused others to sin.  By allowing redifus to be swept under the table, we have allowed other molesters to further sin.

והרשענו  - We have caused others to do evil. By not acting upon what we had known we have caused others to pursue the victims and their supporters and to label them mosrim.

זדנו  - We have had evil hearts.  We have planned revenge against victims of molestation and their supporters by excluding them from the communal institutions that we control.  We have vilified them in our papers and publications.

חמסנו  - We have become violent.  We have yelled at victims and their supporters and have fought against them.

טפלנו שקר  - We have attached lies.  We have attached ourselves to sinners.  We have allowed molesters to continue operating and have actively supported them.

יעצנו רע  - We have advised evil.  We have told people who have molested others what to do to avoid being caught.

כזבנו  - We have lied. We have done so in crafty ways where we have taught ourselves to be deceptive people.

לצנו  - We have scoffed.  We have made fun of those who have pointed out the fundamentally wrong issues of not cleaning up our act.  We have labeled them mosrim, anti-Semites, and self-hating Jews who try to destroy our Torah Mosdos.

מרדנו  - We have rebelled against the noble principles of the Torah in allowing this shameful behavior to continue.

ניאצנו  - We have been scornful – causing Hashem to be angry at us.  We have not cared to ascertain the truth or to protet Hashem’s nation from a grave internal danger.

סרנו  - We have turned from the path of the Torah’s truthful ideals and have created a Chilul Hashem.

עוינו  - We have intentionally allowed Chilul Hashem to continue by making Klal Yisroel look like they defend child molesters and that we do not protect the victims.

פשענו  - We have sinned/ rebelled.  We have entirely ignored the psak din of Gedolim who have said that when there is clear Raglayim ladavar to molestation we must involve authorities

צררנו  - We have persecuted members of Klal Yisroel by only getting rid of the known molester from our school, but allowing him to move to other communities and continue.

קשינו עורף  - We have been stiff-necked and stubborn in this matter and still have not learned important lessons.

רשענו  - We have been lawless and wicked.  We have created an environment where those who stand up for victims are looked at as troublemakers.

שיחתנו  - We have corrupted our communities with the incorrect notion that it is forbidden to protect victims from their oppressors.

תעינו  - We have strayed.  We have strayed far from the ideals of Torah in supporting oppressors and even in saying, “We have other things to worry about first.”

תיעבנו  - We have done abominations.  Our support for those who victimize others is a complete abomination in the eyes of Hashem.

תיעתענו  - We have allowed ourselves to be led astray.  Because of this issue we have ceased our role in becoming a light unto the nations and are off-track.

וסרנו ממצותיך וממשפטיך הטובים ולא שוה לנו ואתה צדיק על כל הבא עלינו כי אמת עשית ואנחנו הרשענו – We have turned away from your Mitzvos and chosen something unworthy of us.         And You Hashem are Righteous in all that is brought upon us for You have done Truth and we have wrought evil.