Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Reb Shlomo Freifeld - remembering his greatness and how he inspired others to be great

Rabbi Mendel Horowitz wrote an amazing article about growing up in Shor Yoshuv. It was just published  in Mishpacha for the 25th Yahrzeit of Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld. However I think it is difficult for someone who wasn't there to properly grasp the significance and the allusions and implication in Mendel Horowitz' rich emotional prose. I am including a few paragraphs (click the link for the full article). http://pillarofmyforever.blogspot.co.il/

To help get a richer glimpse of Reb Shlomo's unique sensitivity and personality I am offering a few stories from my 10 years in Shor Yoshuv. After reading them reread the article.

Rebbe Of My Past, Pillar Of My Forever

By Mendel Horowitz, Mishpacha Magazine, Succos 5776

According to my father, life for me in Shor Yoshuv began on Erev Rosh Hashanah, when still unredeemed, I lay on his shtender throughout Minchah at the coming of 5732. After Yom Tov, my pidyon haben happened in the basement of the “old” building. The deli platters were from a Brooklyn caterer who opened special for the occasion and the lemon meringue pie was my bubby’s who, until her end, spoke regrettably of the bochurim transporting those pastries upside down so the meringue stuck to the foil packaging. Twenty-five years later I would redeem my own son in the dining room of the “new” building, making me an incidental detail in a matter of Trivial Pursuit.

From the modest yeshivah he founded in 1967 and in the brotherhood that from there evolved, Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld "revived the spirits of the lowly and the hearts of those contrite." These words from Isaiah appear on his tombstone and in that way I experienced him in life. As a tower of passion and sincerity, Rabbi Freifeld influenced countless students throughout the 70s and 80s, religious from birth and baalei teshuva alike. Under his leadership, Shor Yoshuv became a haven for idealistic young men who found in him their mentor, model, and cornerstone for living.

My father was among those initially attracted to their rebbe’s vibrant manner, and with my mother, toiled to develop the yeshivah into a community. For as long as I can remember Rabbi Freifeld was our master and Shor Yoshuv was our muse. There was never uncoupling the two. Our teacher’s scheme was not aimed at scholarship nor was it limited to scholars. His surprising coalition of styles met a startling combination of needs. We trusted in our master because he believed in everyone first. In our rebbe we found incentive. In his yeshivah we discovered our worth.

Long before “at risk” was cliche, Rabbi Freifeld won the affection of uninspired youth from ordinary, Orthodox homes with his smile, honesty, common sense, and concern. Never a pioneer of any movement, the New York-born son of immigrant parents attended first to others like him, capturing the attention of unresolved yeshivah students who had nowhere else to go. In his rebbe, my wary father discovered a figure he could trust; and in Shor Yoshuv, a faith he could esteem. If you are an Orthodox Jew in America, you conceivably have experienced effects of Rabbi Freifeld’s magnanimity. In Far Rockaway, Rabbi Freifeld made possible a generation of families living inspired, inventive lives. In the hearts of his talmidim and in the methods of modern educators, my rebbe’s original influence endures.[...]

 ============Some of my personal memories  of Reb Shlomo - DT =============
I never remember him pulling rank as a rosh yeshiva or even as an older person. Nor do I ever remember his criticizing me - though I gave him ample reason. He was always focused on eliciting growth from everyone. Especially from those who felt they had nothing to offer. He never said anything because we deserved it, but rather what we needed to hear to continue our struggle to greatness. He was always smiling

At my first meeting with him - at the suggestion of Rav Bulman - I explained that I had many questions about Yiddishkeit that I had not gotten answers for and had been told that many of my questions were inappropriate to ask He said simply, "All questions are legitimate. The gemora is organized around questions. There is nothing wrong with asking questions. All I ask from you is to be patient about getting answers. I'll try and arrange private time for us to discuss your questions." In fact after 10 years he addressed very few of my questions. Some were dealt with by other rebbeim in the yeshiva. But his major contribution to me was to legitimize my questioning. I eventually wrote a sefer "Daas Torah" that deals with many of the issues that bothered me. Thus he ended up giving me the ability to answer the questions - myself.

update: Reb Shlomo not only had a great sensitivity and skill dealing with others but he also had a strong physical presence and charisma. I hadn't realized how much his physical presence was part of the "message" until I started transcribing his speeches for someone. When compared to my memory of what he said or even a hearing a recording - the paper record just sat there. The electricity and awesome power of his words simply weren't captured by the transcript. He once told me that he had trouble writing his thoughts and wished he could just commanded the pen to write. (This was before voice activated computer transcription programs). But the bottom line is the impact of what he said was strongly dependent on the personal experience of seeing this giant of a man expressing his heart felt words with his entire being.

It was one of the rules of the yeshiva that any stranger who walked in was to be greeted. That this is unusual was revealed by bochurim who left to go to other yeshivos and reported how strange and insensitive their new yeshivos were. One bochur who went to Lakewood reported that someone had come from Australia and went unnoticed in the Beis HaMedrash. He also told the story of another bochur who had an important phone call but didn't have change. He was ignored in the beis hamedrash where everyone was learning with great hasmoda. Suddenly he felt someone link arms with him. It was the mashgiach Rav Wachtfogel. The mashgiach announced to everyone, "your fellow student is in need of change - who can provide it for him."

Once I criticized the way Reb Shlomo dealt with a certain individual. Instead of being offended he said the following immortal words. "I never claimed to be infallible and I make mistakes. But the most important thing that I have done is create a tzibur. Most of what happens here is due to the tzibur - not to me."

Reb Shlomo told me that he was jealous of his devoted talmid - Benjy Brecher - who readily cried  during davening. I was astounded that the rosh yeshiva would reveal to a bochur that he felt he lacked something that someone else had.

When I started Shor Yoshuv I didn't know how to learn gemora. Most of the other guys had come up through the yeshiva system and had no trouble with the gemora. I was once sitting in the beis medrash feeling depressed about my incompetence an difficulty keeping up with the others. As usual he not only picked up that something was wrong - but he came over to try and deal with my issues. When I explained my serious problems, he said. "Is that all that is bothering you? You feel that everyone is far advanced of you and you will never catch up? You are in fact in a superior position to most of the other guys in yeshiva. They have spent years developing a strong hatred for Torah learning. You have a head start because you simply have to learn gemora. They have to first overcome their hatred for it in order to advance."

After Shabbos morning davening we had a kiddush in which he gave insights into the parsha. He once spoke about the gemora in Shabbos which says one should not ask a talmid chachom questions about a gemora that he is not currently studying because he might be embarrassed to admit the he didn't understand it and he would make up an answer. My chavrusa and I had just made a siyum on Shabbos and we both looked at each other when he gave an explanation for what the gemora meant. It clearly went against the intent of the gemora. After the kiddush we went over to him and asked him to explain why he gave an explanation which was clearly not what the gemora said. He looked at us both and said, "What do you expect from someone who hasn't looked at that gemora in 25 years." His unflinching honesty in admitting to his students that he was wrong served the purpose of not only showing his tremendous concern for the truth - even if it caused him embarrassment - but also reinforced the gemora. Most talmidei chachomim would have in fact attempted a rationalization to conceal their error.

There was a student in the yeshiva who had done the unforgivable. It had become public knowledge that he was living his with girl friend. Obviously he was going to kicked out of the yeshiva and we were all sure that he would be given a very harsh lecture from Reb Shlomo. I was sitting in the beis hamedrash when he came in for his meeting for Reb Shlomo. He sat next to me and said, "Well it looks like I am leaving and I am sure Reb Shlmo has some choice words which I deserve - but I really don't care what he says."
He was calm and acted as if he was glad his stay in yeshiva was over. A few minutes later he was called into Reb Shlomo's office and we waited for the yelling and screaming to start. But there were no sounds coming from the closed office. When he finally came out he was white and shaking. "
I asked him what did he say to you?" It must have been incredibly harsh to penetrate his confident sneer. He replied, "Reb Shlomo simply asked me for personal forgiveness - that he wasn't big enough to influence me properly." That was the only thing he had no defense against and it penetrated his defenses like a cruise missile.

I was one of Reb Shlomo's principle drivers - since I had access to a car. I once drove him to Williamsburg to get a new wide rimmed hat which had been custom made for him. When he tried it on he saw that it was not what he had ordered. I was amazed that he didn't directly criticize the man. Instead he said, "I am embarrassed that I have to say that this is not what I ordered."

When one of the supporters of the yeshiva who lived in Washington D.C. was niftar, he asked me and a few other bochurim to drive down with him to see the family who were sitting shiva. The man's children were all below the age of 8. What do you say to young children who have just lost their father?
He sat down with them at a small table. He didn't try to give them words of comfort - they meant nothing to them. What he did do was to talk to them as if he one of them. And he entertained them by making various faces. In short he comforted them on their level - something he was the master at doing. I learned that the mitzva of nichum aveilum is not  to make yourself feel righteous - but rather is to do what is needed to comfort the mourner.

 We were once driving to Brooklyn and he mentioned that according to the gemora in Berachos it is prohibited to mention Torah in the presence of a dead person - because the dead person no longer had the ability to learn Torah. He told me in the name of Rav Hutner, "It is not only for the dead that one should avoid shaming because of their inability to participate. This is a lesson for everyone. For example one should not have a spirited Torah discussion in the company of the ignorant who can not participate. One needs to be sensitive to the feelings of others."

When I moved to Brooklyn after 10 years in Shor Yoshuva, it was quite disconcerting. No one took the initiative to greet me or other newcomers. But perhaps the greatest change was the lack of community. In Flatbush there was no community to belong to. I once mentioned this to Rabbi Shimshon Scherer. His response was, "You have lived in a fantasy world for ten years. You will never find another community like it. Just be glad that you had a chance to be part of it."

When Rav Feivel Cohen shul's had a melave malke in Flatbush. Rav Feivel Cohen was hoping to form a genuine kehila like Shor Yoshuva.  Reb Shlomo was the guest speaker. I'll never forget the words, "As I was driving across the Marine Channel Bridge linking the Rockaways and Flatbush I knew that I was stranger entering a strange land. A land without a sense of community as we have in Shor Yoshuv. Fortunately Reb Feivel is working to correct that problem and with G-d's help he will succeed in building a genuine kehila here in Brooklyn.

 Reb Shlomo was down to earth and had a solid sense of humor. I spent a lot of time with his family, doing errands and well as spending time with his children. Once his 7 year old daughter took a vice grips pliers that I was using to fix something in the house and removed the screw and threw it out on the roof adjacent to their kitchen. I was very upset at losing a valuable tool. Reb Shlomo came in and sized up the problem. How to get the screw that was lying on the roof? Obviously no one was going to climb out the window to retrieve it. He thought a moment and asked his daughters for several pieces of bubble gum which he proceeded to chew. He then stuck the wad on the end of a broom stick and stuck it out the window and retrieved the screw.

At the yeshiva we occasionally had visiting talmidei chachomim give a shiur to the entire yeshiva. On one occasion, the distinguished talmid chachom spoke about Bava Kamma regarding the difference between a tam and muad ox. What was interesting was that the roshei yeshiva constantly interrupted him and disagreed with him. After the shiur a number of us stood around discussing the shiur. We concluded that it couldn't have been correct since the roshei yeshiva disagreed with it - so why was he asked to speak. Reb Shlomo sensed our question and noted, "You are probably wondering why we asked him to speak if we disagree with what he said. What I wanted you to note was not so much the content of the shiur but how he relates to Torah. Most of us have a very formal relationship with Torah. A distance is maintained with proper attitude. However I hope that you noted that for Rav Plontchik there is no distance. He relates to the Torah as if he were in a comfortable bed. Torah is something personal and intimate. I wanted you to experience a talmid chachom who has such a relationship to Torah - even if I disagree with his conclusions."

When I left Shor Yoshuv for Brooklyn, the final meeting I had contained one message. "Doniel don't forget to be normal. Far Rockaway is still normal - only one family has a chandelier." In fact saying that someone was normal was one of his highest praises.

Just before I left America to move to Israel, I drove to Far Rockaway from Brooklyn with my young sons. At that time Reb Shlomo was dying from spinal cancer. He was in constant pain and he was in constant danger from catching a cold or worse because of the medication that suppressed his immune response. Because one of my sons had a cold I left them in the car to run in and get his bracha and run out. He didn't have the energy for more than that.
However things didn't go as expected. He wanted to talk and we did. I realized it wasn't a good idea to leave my young sons alone in the car and so I stood up to say goodbye - explaining the problem.
When he heard that my sons were in the car he insisted that I bring them in - even though he was exposing himself to danger. He not only greeted them but insisted on talking with each one - including asking them to solve mathematical puzzles. Finally he gave them individual berachos and we departed. His literal mesira nefesh for others was astounding.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Rebbitzen granted right of privileged communication by Oregon court

Yated   Is a rebbetzin a religious leader? Or is the term an honorary title denoting nothing more than “wife of a rabbi?” 

The question lay at the heart of an unprecedented court case in Portland, Oregon, in which Mrs. Esther Fischer and Mrs. Sarah Goldblatt, two kollel wives employed with their husbands by the Portland Community Kollel, were subpoenaed in a divorce trial. The women were asked to disclose personal and confidential information they had received from the wife in the divorce case, which might have bearing on child custody issues coming before the court. 

The women responded that such information, including confidences shared in person, by letter, over the phone and through emails and texts, was protected by the statute governing clergy privilege, similar to the law granting attorney-client privilege. 

As rebbetzins in the Portland community, they said, their conversations with community members fell under the rubric of a state law protecting the confidentiality of information entrusted to clergymen. As advised by rabbonim, the women said they were not permitted to share personal information they had received from a woman they had taught or counseled.[...]

As the testimony and deposition continued, the atmosphere in the room seemed to change. The questioning came to an end and Judge Beth Allen, in an unusual departure from protocol, issued her ruling on the spot. 

“It seems pretty clear,” she said, “that the issue here is not about official ordainment as a means of identifying Orthodox Jewish clergy. The state is not in a position to dictate to religious organizations how to define their clergy. The key seems to be how the movement itself identifies its religious leaders.” 

“In Orthodox Judaism, where only men can be rabbis, men can have their confidences protected by the law when they talk to the rabbi. But what about the women who prefer not to talk to male clergymen about deeply personal matters and turn to women religious leaders for guidance? Is it reasonable that women who prefer to open their hearts to other women should be deprived of the law’s protection? 

“I don’t believe that is what the statute governing clergy privilege intended,” the judge concluded, granting the kollel wives in this precedent-setting case their motion to void the subpoena.[...]

Effectiveness of Psychotherapy for Depression Is Overstated, a Study Says

Medical literature has overstated the benefits of talk therapy for depression, in part because studies with poor results have rarely made it into journals, researchers reported Wednesday.

Their analysis is the first effort to account for unpublished tests of such therapies. Treatments like cognitive behavior therapy and interpersonal therapy are indeed effective, the analysis found, but about 25 percent less so than previously thought.

Doctors have long known that journal articles exaggerate the benefits of antidepressant drugs by about the same amount, and partly for the same reason — a publication bias in favor of encouraging findings. The new review, in the journal PLOS One, should give doctors and patients a better sense of what to expect from various forms of talk therapy, experts said, if not settle long-running debates in psychiatry about the relative merits of one treatment over another.

Five million to six million Americans receive psychotherapy for depression each year, and many of them also take antidepressant drugs, surveys find. Most people find some relief by simply consulting a doctor regularly about the problem, experts said. Engaging in a course of well-tested psychotherapy, according to the new analysis, gives them an added 20 percent chance of achieving an even more satisfying improvement, or lasting recovery. Before accounting for the unpublished research, that figure was closer to 30 percent, a difference that suggests that hundreds of thousands of patients are less likely to benefit.[...]

The way to think about the results, Dr. Hollon said, is that antidepressant drugs and talk therapies are modestly effective, and the combination is better than either approach alone. But for those who do well or fully recover, “psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavior therapy, seems to be most effective in cutting the risk for a relapse long-term,” Dr. Hollon said. [...]

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Nachlaot abuse scandal - What is the significance of an apology?

I received this document and comments today

Thought you might find this interesting and would like to post it on your site.  This was posted in the neighborhood of Nachlaot during the 10 days of Tchuva.
It obviously raised many questions. 
1. If M is writing a letter of apology stating that SKV is innocent of what he thought she was guilty of as is implied in the Hebrew, does this mean that he no longer believes his children were molested by a cult to convert them to Christianity? (Since she was believed to be the head of this cult?)
2. If this is true, where does he draw the line of reality and rumor?
3. What implications does this have for Rav Berkovitz in his belief of what he is claiming in Sanhedria?

Around the same time that this apology was put up, most of the material on Rotternet was taken down. 

Regards, and Chag Sameach

YNET reporter infiltrates the Taliban women of Jerusalem

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Learning that touches the heart and soul by Allan Katz

Va'yelech 74 Hakhel - Learning that touches the heart and soul
 Guest post by Allan Katz

The Parasha-Portion of Va'yeileich - Devarim- Deut. 31:10-13 deals with the mitzvah of ' Hakhel where the king read passages from the Torah in the presence of the whole nation. All the men, women, and children - including infants had to attend the event. It was a re-enactment of giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It took place in the temple in Jerusalem after the Sabbatical year during the festival of Succoth, once in 7 years. The Shmittah -Sabbatical year and Succoth allude to God's divine protection and providence, and Israel's faith and loyalty to their God.

The Talmud – Cha'giga 3, asks why the ' infants- ha'taf ' had to attend? Two answers are given. Even if these infants do not benefit directly from the ' hakhel experience', their parents and especially their mothers are credited for bringing them. The underlying reason is - by bringing their infants and making sure every person would be present at this event, they show an appreciation of the importance and centrality of the Torah for the Jewish nation and for future generations. The Talmud – Masechet Sofrim adds the following reason - there is in fact a benefit and intrinsic reward for the infants themselves from the Hakhel experience. People would according to their intellectual levels and obligations, either engage in studying the words of the Torah, or just listen to the reading of the king, but all would be emotionally moved by the ' Hakhel ' experience which would make them more appreciative of the wonder and awe of God, to love his law and be more committed to God and his Torah. The Malbim explains that the toddlers and infants will be affected emotionally in a bigger way than the adults by the incredible atmosphere of fear and love for God and awesome sight of millions of Jews standing united for hours for the sole purpose of hearing the lessons that the king is reading from the Torah. Their lack of intellectual understanding allows the imagination to make an indelible impression of what they see and experience. This experience is intrinsically valuable as it will contribute to the love and fear of God when they become obligated to do the mitzvoth.

The purpose of the Hakhel experience is to move people emotionally, so that their learning experience will touch their hearts and souls and motivate them to higher levels of love and fear of God. The big events such as the festivals do the same thing and give us an ' emotional lift' out of our routine existence. But our aim should be that all our learning and experiences should touch our hearts and souls.

When it comes to our kids' education, people are becoming aware of the importance of social-emotional learning to help kids regulate their emotions and improve their social skills, but no attention is being paid to something equally important – that a kid's learning should touch their hearts and souls. The reason that this does not happen is that learning is driven by extrinsic motivators like grades and competition. Kids, parents and teachers focus on how well kids are doing, and any emotional input is put into the ' good job' praises or expressions of disappointment. Instead success or failure should be experienced only as information. This allows parents and teachers help kids to focus on what there are doing and learning , making meaning of what they are doing, sharing their learning and learning from others , and ' connecting to ' the learning so that the learning touches their hearts and souls. Instead the emotional connection is not with the learning but with the grade or position in the classroom rankings.

Curriculum should be based on kids' interests and what is relevant and meaningful to their lives. They should be expressing their opinions and perspectives in the context of a caring, cooperative learning community and not just giving the answers that teachers want. In this way they will develop a love for learning, act on newly acquired knowledge in other areas as well and show a commitment to the values underlying their learning. They should be hearing stories of real people whose lives give expression to lessons learned and they should also tell their own stories and share their own experiences. The Mitzvah of ' Hakhel' comes to remind us to open our hearts to our learning and that all learning and experiences can and should touch our hearts and souls and those of our children and students.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Rambam - Two Perspectives - Dr. James Diamond and Dr. Dov Friedberg

The embedded video doesn't seem to work. Use the link below to go directly to the site

The latest big sexual assault survey is (like others) more hype than science

Stewart Taylor Jr., an author,  journalist and Brookings Institution nonresident senior fellow, is writing a book with KC Johnson about the alarm over campus sexual assault. Taylor disagreed with the conclusions of one of the largest surveys of sexual violence and misconduct on campus and the way it was reported by the media

“Survey: 1 in 5 women in college sexually assaulted.”

This headline, on The Washington Post’s long Sept. 21 article about a large survey of students at 27 public and private universities across the country college, is false.

Although the survey, by the Association of American Universities (AAU), was itself deliberately designed to exaggerate the number of sexual assaults on campus, even the AAU said that “estimates such as ‘1 in 5′ or ‘1 in 4′ as a global rate” across all universities is [sic] oversimplistic, if not misleading.”

This is not to suggest that The Post misrepresented the AAU survey’s findings any more than did most major news media. Such advocacy-laden surveys on campus sexual assault — and breathless media reports overstating their already exaggerated findings — have become the norm in this era of hysteria about the campus sexual assault problem.

The problem is no doubt serious, if shrinking. But it has been vastly exaggerated by the Obama administration, anti-rape activists, their media allies and universities pandering to them. It’s no surprise to see the AAU joining this chorus.

Below are three ways in which the 288-page AAU survey report is grossly misleading, as are others like it and the credulous media coverage of them all.

First, the extraordinarily low response rate of students asked to participate in the AAU survey — 19.3 percent — virtually guaranteed a vast exaggeration of the number of campus sexual assaults.

Even the AAU acknowledged that the 150,000 students who responded to the electronic questionnaire were more likely to be victims of sexual assault than the 650,000 who ignored it because “non-victims may have been less likely to participate.” [...]

A more reliable estimate came in 2014 from the Justice Department’s annual National Crime Victimization Survey: No more than 1 in 160 (0.6 percent) of college women per year — or 1 in 32 (3 percent) over five years — are sexually assaulted.[...]

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Review of International Beit Din for Agunos - Case 105 by Rabbi Sasson

I was just informed of an excellent article which provides a cogent analysis for the layman of the halachic errors found in one of the IBD's rulings - Case 105. It explains why there are such strong objection to the IBD by Rav Schachter and other major talmidei chochomim - and that it isn't a case of eilu v'eilu. 

The article appears in the September 22  edition of Torah Musings

I am just going to quote part of it - clink on the above link for the full article.
As the controversy surrounding the International Beit Din (“IBD”) continues to swirl, there is some confusion among the general public regarding the nature of the objections to the IBD. While Batei Din have disagreed from time immemorial, this particular disagreement is qualitatively different, not just a disagreement about conclusions but a disagreement about competence. Leading dayanim have declared the IBD incompetent to decide aguna cases, but their reasons are still unknown to the general public.

Rav Hershel Schachter published a letter encouraging his students and colleagues to not rely on IBD rulings, to which other dayanim across the country added their agreement.1 Specifically, Rav Schachter challenged a particular ruling relying on a well-known opinion of the Ritva. This is a reference to the IBD psak (ruling) on Case 105 (from here on: Psak 105), available in both English and Hebrew on the IBD website.2 The IBD website tells us that “This psak is representative of several decisions handed down by the International Beit Din.”  

Additionally, Rabbis Simcha Krauss and Yehuda Warburg of the IBD have written with regard to Psak 105 that “This psak din as well as other IBD decisions are available for public scrutiny on our website.”3 As such, it seems appropriate to subject Psak 105 to the examination which Rabbis Krauss and Warburg have invited. I strongly encourage any reader not to take my word, but to read the English and Hebrew versions of Psak 105 in conjunction with this review. This review will assume that the reader is generally familiar with the contents of Psak 105, including the background and final decision.

First, a disclaimer: I am under no delusion of being a halakhic decisor. I am certainly not qualified to issue a psak in the complex areas of Even Ha-ezer and heter agunot. As such, this review will not engage in detailed analysis of the various halakhic issues involved. The purpose of this review is to identify the crucial halakhic issues that a complete and coherent psak crafted by a qualified and competent Beit Din would necessarily address.[...]

Ramban's view of sexuality explained by Prof James Diamond's

The following are excerpts from the beginning of Prof James Diamond's article  about the significance of having two genders and sexuality in the Torah. The full article is available for free from Academia.  I found it very thought provoking but am not claiming anything else. For those of you who don't like academic articles or don't want to read something mixed with the views of heretical scholars - this is not for you.

 Nahmanides and Rashi on the One Flesh of Conjugal Union: Lovemaking vs. Duty
 Harvard Theological Review  102:2 (2009) 193–224 

The argument that ensues in this article will demonstrate, firstly, that a prominent example of this feature of Nahmanidean exegesis pertains to the domain of interhuman relations. Here I will focus particularly on those “truths” his exegesis discloses about the spousal relationship. Secondly, Nahmanides’ view of the spousal relationship is offered as paradigmatic of his kabbalistic theology, which not only does not displace its concrete social, psychological, anthropological, and juristic realia, but actually complements them. Thirdly, the case will be made that Nahmanides’ narrative exegesis, with its overarching quest for the plain sense of the text, is not intended simply to sate his readers’ intellectual and literary curiosity but also practically shapes his normative positions. In this particular context I will explore how his exegetical construct of a primordial composite human being, its gendered bifurcation, the definitive ideal of spousal union, the subsequent relational tensions between man and woman, and their conflict and resolution into a gendered hierarchy, all dramatized by the Garden of Eden narrative, inform his normative framework for the conduct of conjugal duties. […]

Nahmanidean metaphysics envisions a dynamic interplay within the internal recesses of the Godhead consisting of an ebb and flow of energy exchanged between its female and male potencies. The perpetual struggle for a proper balance between the two infuses the narrative relationships between their earthly counterparts of man and woman with far more significance than they otherwise would have.10 Although others have noted the mystical enhancement of the sexual act in the kabbalistic tradition,11 studies of this aspect of kabbalistic thought have tended to focus on the precise identification of sefirotic allusions and symbolism. Insufficient attention has been paid to the model God poses simply as a unitary being (albeit, paradoxically, a dynamic one consisting of sefirot, or intradeical emanations) in his engagement with and governance of the world. As Gershom Scholem put it, “In its totality the individual elements of the life process of God are unfolded yet constitute a unity.”12God’s macro-relationship with both the world and Israel presents an archetype for imitatio dei in the micro-relationships between human beings and, in particular, between opposite genders. […]

The first negative divine assessment of God’s creation is of the lonely condition of the male deprived of female companionship in the second chapter in Genesis. All other creations were judged “good,” whereas this single product of the originating process is “not good”—“for it is not good for man to be alone”—prompting a corrective creative measure: “I will make for him a helpmate” (Gen 2:18). The exegetical question posed by this particular verse is what precisely is “not good” about the solitary state of man. For Rashi the phrase “not good” expresses a grave theological concern that man’s presence as the sole representative of his species on earth will miscast him as a singularity leading to his deification: “That they should not say, ‘there are two powers: God is unique among the higher beings as he has no partner, and this [man] is unique among the lower since he has no partner.’”16 […]
Nahmanides, on the other hand, sees the “not good” as an existential malaise of Adam’s resulting from his being a single composite entity of male and female.17First he accedes to the rabbinic opinion that original man was created with two faces, male and female back to back:18 “It is likely that this account is according to the one who holds they were created with two faces.” He then explains the mechanics of self-reproduction: “and they were made to have the natural means whereby the reproductive male organ would enable the female reproductive organ to give birth.” Once the anatomical features of this primal being have been determined, Nahmanides addresses God’s assessment of its value and identifies that facet which elicits God’s not good, and he explains how “I will make him a helpmate opposite him” responds to the problem. God realizes that “it is good that the mate stand opposite him so that he can see it and either separate from it or unite with it according to his will.”19 It is crucial to note that since Nahmanides establishes a possible procreative biology of the primordial androgynous being, it is not the negative prospects for propagation of the species that he views as the problem. What is problematic about this original condition is the permanent state of unity between the male and female and the lack of choice to either form or sever a relationship with another human being. The “good” of the human species is that there can be both separation and union between the sexes, each instigated by an independent exercise of will. We have here none other than a definition of man as a relational being whose “goodness” lies in his capacity to enter into and leave relationships.20 On this issue Rashi exhibits no concern for the relational facet of man, while Nahmanides is keenly sensitive to the vacuity of a life devoid of the other where relations are a static given rather than attained and maintained. It is important to note here that I do not intend to portray Nahmanides as a liberal advocate of equality between the sexes but only to emphasize his appreciation for the complexity of human relationships.■

Monday, September 21, 2015

U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies

Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene — in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.

The policy has endured as American forces have recruited and organized Afghan militias to help hold territory against the Taliban. But soldiers and Marines have been increasingly troubled that instead of weeding out pedophiles, the American military was arming them in some cases and placing them as the commanders of villages — and doing little when they began abusing children.

“The reason we were here is because we heard the terrible things the Taliban were doing to people, how they were taking away human rights,” said Dan Quinn, a former Special Forces captain who beat up an American-backed militia commander for keeping a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave. “But we were putting people into power who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did — that was something village elders voiced to me.”

The policy of instructing soldiers to ignore child sexual abuse by their Afghan allies is coming under new scrutiny, particularly as it emerges that service members like Captain Quinn have faced discipline, even career ruin, for disobeying it.
After the beating, the Army relieved Captain Quinn of his command and pulled him from Afghanistan. He has since left the military.[...]

The American policy of nonintervention is intended to maintain good relations with the Afghan police and militia units the United States has trained to fight the Taliban. It also reflects a reluctance to impose cultural values in a country where pederasty is rife, particularly among powerful men, for whom being surrounded by young teenagers can be a mark of social status.[...]

But the American policy of treating child sexual abuse as a cultural issue has often alienated the villages whose children are being preyed upon. The pitfalls of the policy emerged clearly as American Special Forces soldiers began to form Afghan Local Police militias to hold villages that American forces had retaken from the Taliban in 2010 and 2011.[...]

Friday, September 18, 2015

The GOP’s dangerous ‘debate’ on vaccines and autism

The CNN moderator laid out the question for Ben Carson like a baseball on a tee, just waiting to be crushed.

“Dr. Carson, Donald Trump has publicly and repeatedly linked vaccines, childhood vaccines, to autism, which, as you know, the medical community adamantly disputes,” Jake Tapper said. “You’re a pediatric neurosurgeon. Should Mr. Trump stop saying this?”

For months, Carson has touted his medical expertise while on the campaign trail. And in the weeks since the first debate, the famed surgeon has risen in the polls as a milder-mannered, more rational alternative to Trump.

Now was his chance for a home run; a big hit as swift and incisive as any surgical operation.

Instead, Carson bunted.

“Well, let me put it this way,” he began hesitantly. “There has — there have been numerous studies, and they have not demonstrated that there is any correlation between vaccinations and autism.”

Carson’s tepid response drew immediate criticism from doctors and pediatricians across the country.

“No Ben Carson,” Baltimore pediatrician Scott Krugman wrote on Twitter. “The answer is ‘yes’ Donald Trump is wrong. Vaccines don’t cause autism. What are you talking about?”

Yet, on an issue that could prove prickly for Republicans in the general election, Carson’s comment was actually the most forceful of the night.

Trump essentially doubled down on his past statements by again suggesting that vaccines, or concentrations of them, cause autism.
“Autism has become an epidemic,” he warned. “Twenty-five years ago, 35 years ago, you look at the statistics, not even close. It has gotten totally out of control.”

Rand Paul, like Carson, a doctor, also equivocated on the issue.

“I’m all for vaccines,” he said. “But I’m also for freedom.”

The exchange, particularly Trump’s comments, drew a sharp response from autism groups.

“Despite a wealth of scientific evidence debunking any link between autism and vaccinations, tonight’s Republican primary debate featured prominent commentary from a leading candidate repeating inaccurate information suggesting a link,” the Autistic Self Advocacy Network said in a statement. “Autism is not caused by vaccines — and Autistic Americans deserve better than a political rhetoric that suggests that we would be better off dead than disabled.” [...]

Calling get-refusal a tort: Direct confrontation between religious values and secular ones

This is an interesting article from Susan Weiss about using secular tort law to "solve" the Aguna problem. It shows the inherent conflict between secular and religious thought in this matter.  "Susan Weiss is the founder and executive director of the Center for Women’s Justice and a doctoral candidate at Tel Aviv University in sociology and anthropology. She initiated the tort cases described in this paper."

The following are the last two pages. Click the link to read the whole thing.


Calling get-refusal a tort provokes a direct confrontation between religious values and modern ones. Get-refusal is about male dominion over women. Equal power to sue for divorce is about liberty, autonomy, and equality for women. It is a modern notion. The tort of get-refusal forces the rabbinical court to confront modernity and to conduct a dialogue, whether they want to or not, with women..

It was, and remains, the hope of Israeli cause lawyers that this dialogue and confrontation would yield a transformative response from the rabbinic court and religious communities that will untie the knots between gender, equality, and Jewish divorce law. 

Various transformative response are imaginable, some more radical than other, all of which are
possible: (1) The rabbinic courts could embrace the tort of get-refusal as a way to help
them resolve difficult cases. Theoretically at least, the rabbis could encourage women to
sue for damages in the civil court as a way of warning husbands against recalcitrance. (2)
Rabbinic leaders might be encouraged to find internal systemic halakhic solutions to the
problem of religious divorce; (3) Alternative Israeli Orthodox rabbis could break with
existing rabbinic judges to form more modern rabbinic courts; and (4) An increasing rift
may develop between the secular and religious courts that would pave the way for the
legislation of secular marriage and divorce in Israel..

Rabbinic Supreme Court Responds to Tort Claims: March 11, 2008:

Despite the effectiveness of the tort law in solving long-standing cases in the rabbinic court (not to mention doing justice), the Israeli rabbinic courts have not embraced tort as a solution, or as a way of ameliorating, the problem of get-refusal. On the contrary. As more and more women have been suing for damages for get-refusal, the rabbinic court has been expressing more and more opposition to those cases on religious grounds, arguing that these case violate the rule against the forced divorce (get meuseh). The rabbis claim that husbands who give the get after they’ve been sued in tort, are not giving the divorce freely, but in response to the tort cases.
On March 11, 2008, the Supreme Rabbinic Court (file 7041-21-1)issued a 26 page decision (all obiter dictum) in which it held as follows:
All petitions filed outside the rabbinic court – like petitions to civil courts for damages — that relate to get refusal, whose practical consequence is to acceleratethe delivery of the get, are an interference with the laws of the Torah regardingdivorce, and effectively preclude the possibility of the execution of a [kosher] get…
Attorneys who deal in family law should be advised to weigh carefully their recommendations to clients to file damage claims in the family court for getrefusal. Such recommendations are tantamount to malpractice, and I doubt that attorneys could avoid such claims [of malpractice], even it if they were to sign their clients on waivers to that affect. It can be assumed that clients are not aware, and cannot possibly foresee, what serious consequences and delays can occur inthe delivery of the get , even after the husband has agreed to give the get, if the husband's agreement [to give the get] was given subsequent to a petition for  damages for get-refusal (J. Algrabli).

In short, the rabbinic court declared in no uncertain terms that it would not yield to outside attempts to reform its failings and wielded, once again, the immutable rule against the "forced divorce"(get meuseh), thus re-winding the knot of religion that had for a moment loosened.

In Conclusion
The tort of get-refusal is delineating, distinguishing, demystifying; and defrocking the knots that bind gender, equality, and Jewish divorce law. The tort has prompted an important dialogue in the Israeli courts between modernity and tradition, between liberal principles and religious values. It remains to be seen how that dialogue will play itself out and if the knots that bind Israeli Jewish women unremittingly to their husbands will somehow be undone. It could be that women will lose patience in their attempt to unravel these knots and will simply cut them in order to escape entanglement

Open Orthodox Theology and Repentance

Times of Israel    by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer

Sometimes, things are just so outrageous that we need to do a double-take, as we cannot believe what we are seeing. And sometimes, these outrageous things are repeated and form a pattern, shocking us all the more so.

Sadly, recent writings by the leadership of Open Orthodoxy have fit this mold. While I was hoping to start the new year without having to address this issue, wishing that the numerous expressions of highly problematic theology by Open Orthodox leadership would taper off, matters have gone from bad to worse, and there is again an obligation to speak out.

Although one Open Orthodox leader has portrayed these protest writings as personal attacks against him, nothing could be further from the truth. Those of us who speak out in dissent are critiquing the controversial theology and not the personalities involved. Furthermore, it is our wish that there would be no need for these polemics; we only pen protest essays in response to theological instigation. Correlating to the new year wish of this Open Orthodox leader that the critiques cease, it is my new year wish that there be no further instigation or provocation, such that there would be no further need to respond.

This Open Orthodox leader, who serves as the Chairman of the Department of Talmud at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), recently suggested that we should commit to a new type of belief in the events in the Torah – a belief that does not intellectually accept the factual truth of these events:
We need to debate what heresy is, not whether it is allowed… A promising direction is to revisit the philosophical meaning of “belief,” and examine to what degree religious belief can be understood as being a-factual; a faith-proclamation, not a factual postulate. Defining belief as a-factual would allow a person of faith to “believe” religiously in the historicity of the biblical narratives and at that same time entertain the postulates of Bible critics.
Then, the day after Rosh Hashana, this same rabbi proposed that God repents, or needs to repent, for his misdeeds, including His creation of a flawed and insensitive halachic system.

I am sorry, but the above statements are, respectively, heretical and blasphemous. Were such statements to emanate from private individuals, it would be one thing, but for these statements to be expressed by one of the most prominent rabbinic scholars and leaders of Open Orthodoxy, who trains all of the movement’s (male) rabbis, is far more concerning. And since the rabbi who espouses these ideas does so quite publicly, those who feel that the ideas are a radical and alarming departure from Orthodoxy have every right to publicly express such.

Shortly prior to this all, another very noteworthy and well-known rabbi who has affiliated with Open Orthodoxy explicated his belief that any ideas which a fully humble person sincerely intuits as correct are actually divine Torah revelations. (The rabbi elaborates that since he feels that ordaining women for the Orthodox rabbinate is the correct approach from a moral and ethical perspective, such ordination becomes revealed and ratified as part of the Torah and is a mitzvah to be pursued (!)).

This same rabbi, who previously proposed that God did not communicate the Torah to Moses in a literal oral sense, recently argued that proper Torah adjudication involves meshing intuitive values with Torah texts, crafting the textual interpretation to match one’s intuitive values:
The posek begins with the refined intuition and moves from there to the formal legal analysis which he consciously or unconsciously bends to conform to his intuition…  Every situation is different and requires a different quality of discernment.  The level of clarity of moral conviction necessary to argue with God (in the case of Abraham – AG) is different than the inner conviction required to manipulate a tosafot or reinterpret a gemara. Areas which do not involve laws of such severity, or do not involve explicit halakhot at all but involve modification or abrogation of minhag – generally accepted practice – require a different quality of discernment.
These radical articles were reposted and endorsed by the president of YCT. (Please also see here.)

(An alternative approach to halachic adjudication was presented by the previously-noted Open Orthodox leader, explaining that halachic decisions should be made by taking rulings found in traditional source texts and combining them with contemporary values. This rabbi criticizes expressions of Modern Orthodoxy whose core is “exclusively Orthodox”, and he instead maintains that a synthesis of Torah and secular values are to be merged in order to arrive at the proper manifestation of Orthodoxy. Please also see here and here.)

After the founder of Open Orthodoxy declared it to be a new and separate movement or denomination, it has undergone an intense radicalization and an accelerated departure away from Orthodoxy, as is glaringly evident from the above and many other sources. (Please also see this important article on the topic.)

I would like to suggest repentance on the part of Open Orthodoxy, but the sad truth is that this movement/denomination has repeatedly ignored calls to reconsider its actions and trajectory and has instead opted for further separation from all that is Orthodox, creating a new theology that, at best, is a lighter and more liberal form of the approach of the early Conservative movement.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Guide for Avreichim to the Halachos of Tznius Based on a shiur by Hagaon Rav Gershon Meltzer shlita

 Update: Added interview with Rav Eliashiv which doesn't fit exactly in what is being claimed in his name.

Someone recently showed me a pamphlet on tznius with the haskoma of Rav Berkowitz (below) and others including Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Ganz. The organization claims that they have the same authority as Chazal in their psakim dealing with tznius and that they must be accepted as authoritative (I assume that means in Israel by the yeshiva community). When I get a copy I hope to publish the whole thing.

שאלה שנשאלה על ידי למרן ר' חיים קנייבסקי שליט"א בכ"ז ניסן תשע"ה

וזה לשון השאלה: תקנות ב"ד משמר התורה שהוקם ע"י הגרי"ש אלישיב והגר"ש ווזנר לפסוק הלכות ולתקן תקנות בדיני צניעות ולבוש הנשים והגרי"ש אמר שזה בתוקף דת יהודית האם זה מחייב כמנהג המקום גם את בני חו"ל הגרים או נמצאים 
בארץ ישראל  

תשובת מרן: כן, מחייב

From the pamphlet:

Examples of Das Yehudis. -------------------------------------------------------------

There are three types of halachos that are included in the category of Das Yehudis: 

I. Prohibitions Enacted by Chazal, such as the prohibition for a woman to uncover theier arms above the elbow. 

2. Local Custom: The accepted rulmg of all Poskim is that a person is halachically bound to follow the strmgencies of the place where he lives.7 Hence, it is considered a violation of Das Yehudis for a woman to dress in a fashion that is considered immodest in her locale, even if she comes from a place where the prevailing standards of tznius were more lax. For example, if a woman grew up in a community in America where certain forms of dress were acceptable, and she now lives in Yerushalayim, she must abide by the more stringent minhagim of Yerushalayim. 

3. Halachos Enacted by a Beis Din or Local Leaders: The Chochmas Adam[1] rules that the shivah tuvei ha'ir in any community have the power of a beis din, even if they are simply ordinary people dedicated to benefiting the public, and not great Torah scholars, and they may enact binding halachic guidelines for the benefit of society. Just as the directives of the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah and other Torah sages throughout the generations have the status of halachah, every individual must follow the dictates of the community in which he lives, unless a rule is enacted that the majority of the public cannot handle.[2] In Eretz Yisrael, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rav Shmuel Wosner, zichronam livrachah, created the Mishmar HaTorah, a group of rabbanim who are responsible for formulating guidelines on matters of tznius, and the decisions of this entity have this binding status.[emphasis added] Baruch Hashem the Mishmar HaTorah’s guidelines have become increasingly accepted by the public. In light of the above, it should be clear that every garment or sheitel must fit into all the guidelines associated with Das Yehudis in order for it to be worn.

[1] Chochmas Adam (Klaal 102 Sif 1)

[2] The rulings of such leaders on issues of tznius therefore have the same force as the rulings of Chazal and must be followed.