Israel Meir Kin is a Threat to all Jewish Women, by Yosef Kanefsky

March 25, 2014

A little over a thousand years ago, Rabbenu Gershom of Mainz, the leading scholar of Ashkenazi Jewry, enacted bold legal measures to protect Jewish women from abuse.

Last week a fellow named Israel Meir Kin poked his finger in Rabbenu Gershom’s eye, and now every Jewish woman is at risk.

In his day, Rabbenu Gershom began to notice a disturbing and outrageous trend. Husbands, who found that they now fancied another woman, were taking advantage of the Biblical law allowing them to divorce their wives unilaterally and virtually without cause. And with the stroke of a pen, and the cold delivery of a divorce document, they were shattering the lives of their wives and families. Rabbenu Gershom strode into the breach and proclaimed a ban of excommunication against any man who divorced his wife without her consent. And to insure these husbands who lusted after another woman wouldn’t simply marry their new love without divorcing their first wives, he placed the same ban of excommunication on any man who married more than one wife, effectively ending the practice of polygamy in Ashkenaz. Rabbenu Gershom was determined that Jewish women would no longer be subject to this kind of abuse at the hands of their husbands.

In our day, Israel Meir Kin has undone Rabbenu Gershom’s work. This past Thursday, as about 30 of us stood in protest, he blatantly violated Rabbenu Gershom’s ban, by marrying a second woman without divorcing his wife. As if it were not enough that for the past 9 years he has spitefully been refusing to grant a Jewish divorce to his wife Lonna (allegedly unless she were to pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars), he has now completed his journey of shame by toppling the age-old ban on polygamy. (See the articles in this past Saturday’s New York Times, and the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/22/us/a-wedding-amid-cries-of-unfinished-business-from-a-marriage.html?_r=0″; and http://www.jewishjournal.com/bloggish/item/modern_orthodox_protest_against_agunah_wedding_in_vegas”>)

Make no mistake. Israel Meir Kin’s actions are not merely outrageous and despicable. His actions threaten all of our daughters and all of our sisters. I can guarantee you that at this very moment there are men who are watching, waiting to see whether Israel Meir Kin gets away with this. And if he does, there will be more Israel Meir Kins. And every single married Jewish woman will be shorn of the protection Rabbenu Gershom had afforded women for the past millennium.

If you know Israel Meir Kin, a physician’s assistant now residing in Las Vegas, Nevada, or if you know someone who knows him, you must act now. Bring whatever legal form of social or economic pressure to bear on him that you can. This is a moment that has the potential to wreak havoc and misery for generations to come. Unless we act to stop it.


My Teacher and My Mentor. A Tribute to Rabbi Avi Weiss. by Yosef Kanefsky

March 17, 2014

This coming Sunday evening Rabbi Avi Weiss will be honored by Yeshivat Chovevai Torah. As this is the first time Rav Avi has ever allowed himself to be publically honored, the tribute speakers will have decades and decades of monumental accomplishments to select from. I’m suspecting that lost among these numerous accomplishments will be the powerful influence that he had upon the young rabbis who were lucky enough to learn the rabbinate from him. I was one of those lucky ones, having served as Rav Avi’s assistant rabbi for six years. Even today, 18 years after I left his professional side, there is not a single day that unaffected by what he taught me. So I’ll try to sneak this in now, alongside the many tributes that will be coming.

What did I learn from Rav Avi (and still don’t do as well as he does)? Here are just a few things:

(1) No matter what else is going on in the world, in the moment that someone is sharing his or her personal struggles with you, there is nothing else going on in the world. For each person is a world unto himself.

(2) Try your utmost to love everyone. If you can’t, the rabbinate’s probably not for you.

(3) Don’t be afraid to be different. Especially when you are being different in the name of including and embracing those who would otherwise be left out.

(4) A shul is family. And like any family, it has older people, and younger people. Healthy people and sick people. People who are more typically “abled” and people who are in some way disabled (and we are all in some way disabled). People whose Judaic knowledge is strong and people who are just now learning. When you look around shul on a Shabbat morning, it’s got to look like a family.

(5) Not everyone who is ritually observant is religious, and not everyone who is religious is ritually observant. Rabbis need to deeply understand this.

(6) Don’t sit on the bima. That’s not where the Jews are.

(7) It’s (almost) never a bad time for a niggun.

(8) Lifecycle ceremonies are teaching times. They are precious moments when people’s hearts are open in an unusual and wondrous way. Don’t let these moments become mechanical rituals.

(9) It makes no difference whether you’re teaching a class of 3, or giving a sermon in a room of many hundreds. You always give it your all.

(10) Your wife is the most important person in the shul.

Thank you Rav Avi. As I recently affirmed to the blessed members of Bnai David –Judea, “what is mine and what is ours, is yours.”


Lincoln and the Jews….. And Us by Yosef Kanefsky

February 21, 2014

As Lincoln’s birthday approached, I was feeling curious about the relationship between President Lincoln and the Jewish community. And as it turns out, there were indeed two significant episodes in which Lincoln asserted his presidential authority on behalf of the Jewish community. And as it also turns out, there is something fascinating about the way that the Jewish community did – and didn’t – think and speak about Lincoln. About this, I will share not a judgment of the community, rather an observation that I think is important and instructive.. But first, the two episodes.

The first episode began in July of 1861 when Congress adopted a bill authorizing the Union’s regiment commanders to appoint regimental chaplains, provided that they were “ordained ministers of some Christian denomination”. The bill’s wording – which was pointedly different than the Confederate law authorizing the appointment of any “minister of religion” – drew little Jewish attention at first. But when one Pennsylvania regiment specifically elected a rabbi as their regiment chaplain, and his credentials were rejected, the issue was taken up by the American Jewish press, which labeled the law an unconstitutional promotion of Christianity above other religions. The rejected chaplain, the reverend Arnold Fischel of the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue in NY, personally met with President Lincoln about the issue, and he secured Lincoln’s promise to instruct Congress to amend the wording of the law. And indeed the amended wording was passed on July 17, 1862.

The second episode is somewhat better known. It began on December 17th 1862 when General Ulysses S Grant issued General order #11, expelling all Jews from the areas under his command, which encompassed Mississippi and Kentucky. Grant blamed “Jews, as a class” for the widespread smuggling and cotton speculation that was affecting the area. One of the expelled Jews, accompanied by congressman from Cincinnati, went directly to the President, who had not heard of Grant’s order, and who immediately ordered the general-in-chief of the army to send a telegram to Grant stating that “if such an order has been issued, it will be immediately revoked”.

Both of these episodes were of course consistent with Lincoln’s broader attitudes and philosophy. Even before becoming President, he was well known for his belief that the US ought be more true to its credo declaring all men equal, had spoken forcefully about the unjust oppression of the Negro slaves, and opposed efforts to block Catholics and immigrants from achieving citizenship. These same views extended to the Jewish community as well.

Now for the non-judgmental observation about the Jewish community at the time. It struck me as I was reading excerpts from Jewish eulogies that were offered during the deep and dark mourning following President Lincoln’s assassination in April of 1865, which occurred on the Friday night of Shabbat Chol Hamo’ed Pesach. Certain themes were ubiquitous in these eulogies. Lincoln is remembered for his character and for his leadership through the country’s most difficult hour. Rabbi Bernard Illowy mourned, “thy hands were never bound by the wiles of others… thou didst hear nothing but the wishes of thy people, thou didst fear none but God, who alone was thy guide and trust”. Over and over Lincoln was compared to Moses, as by Rabbi Max Lilienthal who proclaimed that “like Moses, he was ever thoughtful of the duty allotted to him, to bring his people back to enjoy the whole land.” Many others extended the comparison, noting that the President too had died as he stood on the precipice, as he was about to finally see the fruits of his hard labor. And, of course, he is remembered and thanked for his efforts on behalf of the Jewish community. Isaac Lesser, who led Cong Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia for many years, referenced both the chaplain episode and General Grant’s order #11 in his eulogy. Col. Philip Joachimson, who had been invited to a New Orleans synagogue to deliver a memorial address said, “We, as Jews, had a distinct ground to love, respect, and esteem him…. His mind was not subject to the vulgar clamor against Jews…” The president of Bet El Emet in Philadelphia spoke of the way that Lincoln “ was never appealed to by us, in vain. On every occasion he promptly recognized our claims as a religious body…. And acceded unhesitatingly to our just demands..”

What’s interesting, and upon reflection striking, is that, despite the frequent comparisons to Moses, and the proximity to Pesach with which all of these eulogies were delivered, very few Jewish eulogizers praised Lincoln as the emancipator of the slaves. This part of his legacy didn’t, generally speaking, have any special resonance for us. Which points to the simple reality that we, as a community, didn’t make any connections or draw any parallels between the story of the black slaves and our own story. We just didn’t go there.

Even the few eulogizers who did highlight Lincoln’s role as emancipator, did not do so in the context of Egypt and the Exodus. Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise alluded to the teaching of Isaiah , as he exhorted his audience, “let us effect and perpetuate the great desires which heaved in the breast of Abraham Lincoln… Let us break asunder, wherever we can, the chains of the bondsman, the fetters of the slave,” And Rabbi Sabato Morias, of Mikveh Israel of Philadelphia, alluded to the teaching of Hillel in declaring, “To forbear doing unto others what would displease us, was his golden rule. It was this maxim that he illustrated in the immortal document of emancipation that bears his honorable signature.” Isaiah, Hillel – but no citations from the book of Shmot. Even while we were comparing Lincoln to Moshe, and even while we were doing so in the weeks following Pesach. The black slaves themselves made the connection all the time of course, “Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt’s land, Tell old Pharaoh, Let my people go.” But we did not.

And in truth, this is all perfectly explicable given our cultural and historical circumstances in 19th century America.. In the south, slavery was a deeply-rooted cultural and economic institution, where Jews relied on slaves no more – but no less – than their Gentile counterparts did. And while Jews in the north, like Gentiles in the north, were anti –slavery, this was not the war was about. The war was about preserving the Union, which for people like us – immigrants from Europe who were living in freedom for the first time – was very very important. And as Jews we were actually disinclined toward the abolitionist cause, as the die- hard abolitionists tended to be Protestant evangelicals whose mission included converting Jews, and – because history is a crazy thing – some of whom were pretty anti-Semitic. And when we did hear our rabbis talk about the slavery, the issue they were often discussing was the politically-tinged question as to whether or not slavery was sinful. And for the record, some argued that it was not. B’nei Jeshurun’s Rabbi Morris Rafall (in New York) for example, after cataloging all of the great Biblical figures who owned slaves, asked, “Does it not strike you, when you declare slavery to be a sin, that you are guilty of something very little short of blasphemy?” The cultural and historical circumstances of the time just didn’t take us to the place where we’d draw a parallel to – or experience empathy with – the situation of the black slaves.

It’s not a judgment. Rather an observation. But it’s an observation that reminds us that we must never rest easy, or be complacent about the level of religious and moral insight we’ve achieved. Our religious and moral insight need to be always be progressing. And we need to possess the openness and courage that this process demands, for there are always higher and more refined insights and realizations to reach. And this too, is part of Lincoln’s legacy. His attitudes toward abolition famously evolved as well. In this way too, he is a hero and a model.


A Miracle: Looking Back After 13 Years, by Yosef Kanefsky

February 5, 2014

“It’s your miracle child!” I hadn’t heard anyone refer to our youngest son that way for a decade or more. But several people did so this past Shabbat, as this youngest son of ours “leined” and shared a Dvar Torah, in celebration of his Bar Mitzvah. Until these friends invoked the “miracle child” phrase, I honestly hadn’t thought about it at all. But quickly, it all came cascading back.

Twenty years ago, about a year after giving birth to our second child, my wife developed breast cancer. Many months of radiation and chemo followed. And then a little bit of anxious quiet. And then cancer again, and surgery and chemo again, a mere 3 years later.

As could be expected, her life, and our life, her plans, and our plans, were deeply affected. The only really important plans now were the plans to get cured, and to not allow fear to overshadow and paralyze our lives and family. Not easy things.

And then, a couple of years later, the “miracle child” came. We named him Yakir Simcha – precious joy – both because this name alluded to a verse from the soon-to-be-read Megillat Esther, and because, well, under the circumstance, this is what he was. In public we didn’t focus at all on Yakir’s place in our story of illness and recovery, and I don’t think that he is himself even conscious of it. But the quiet impact of his birth upon his parents was, as could be expected, quite profound.

And yet, I think it was only this past Shabbat that I realized just how profound. Specifically, at the moment when others lovingly invoked the “miracle child” memory, and it struck me that I had not thought about this at all. I had not thought of it because his birth had transformed us – in one incredibly important way – from being a “cancer family” to being a more regular family – a family that in time stops thinking about the fact that it has a “miracle child”. Yakir had, completely unwittingly of course, erased one of our deep scars, and this ultimately, was the true nature of the miracle.

As I write these words, I am thankful to God all over again, for the healing that He bestowed upon us. And I am also recognizing and reflecting upon the fact that there are many people who have scars that are never erased. That many people suffer traumas from which there is no real recovery. The normalcy they eventually achieve is forever a compromised normalcy, impacted permanently by their illness or loss or misfortune. And it’s often hard for even their close friends to remember, and to realize.

I know I need to work harder on this. I hope I now can.


Is Tolerance in the Orthodox Lexicon? by R. Yosef Kanefsky

January 14, 2014

There is no classical Hebrew word for “tolerance”. The modern Hebrew term is “sovlanut”, but this word never appears with this meaning in rabbinic literature. This isn’t surprising of course, as the contemporary notion of tolerating differing views is born of modern humanist perspectives, and democratic political systems. Our classical literature blossomed long before those concepts were current.

But does this mean that there is no equivalent to tolerance within Orthodox thought and discourse? This question takes on increasing urgency as the practice of publically excoriating and debasing one’s ideological opponents has become de rigueur in Orthodox circles, particularly in the blogosphere. This trend has developed even among those of us who proudly regard ourselves as possessing modern sensibilities. Is there nothing in our tradition that constrains us from mimicking the broader culture’s increasingly intolerant and debasing discourse, in which the invalidation and delegitimization of others is routine?

I’d argue that there is, in fact, a classical Halachic articulation of the imperative to exercise tolerance, one which is listed by Rambam and by Sefer HaChinuch as a Biblical commandment, and which is codified as such in Jewish law. It is recorded immediately following the Biblical Mitzvah to rebuke one’s fellow for misdeeds that the latter has committed (Vayikra 19:17). That same verse concludes with the admonition to “not bear sin on his account”. There are two primary interpretations of this phrase:

(1) Yes, rebuke your fellow, but do not do so in a manner that will result in the sin of humiliating your fellow publically. In the Talmud’s words, “I might think that you should rebuke even in a manner which causes his countenance to redden. Therefore Scripture adds, ‘you shall not bear sin on his account.”

(2) Yes, rebuke you fellow, but do so as an antidote and alternative to hating him. (“Thou shall not hate your brother in your heart” are the Biblical words that immediately precede the Mitzvah to rebuke.) The underlying idea is that if we remain silent about the misdeeds that we perceive in the other, we will slowly, but surely, grow to hate him. Whereas, if we privately address these issues with him, we are far more likely to step off the road toward enmity and hatred. The prevention of hatred is the intended outcome of – and the implicit justification for – the directive to rebuke.

Jews are going to disagree. Orthodox Jews are going to disagree. It is only when we are able to ultimately tolerate one another, i.e. when we are able to disagree and offer rebuke that neither humiliates nor fosters hatred, that we are permitted to speak. If we cannot exercise tolerance, the Biblical permission to rebuke is withdrawn. This is the Halacha.

No one captured the danger and folly of intra-Orthodox vilification and intolerance better than Netziv did, in his introduction to Breishit. Netziv’s understanding of the sin of the generation of the Second Destruction – a generation filled with Torah scholars – is that “they presumed that anyone who differed from their particular way of fearing God, was a heretic or a Sadducee. And as a result [of this intolerance] they came to bloodshed (in a figurative sense) and to all of the evils in the world, until finally the Temple was destroyed.”

The good news, is that together, we can stem this tide. Together, as we read what’s being written out there, and listen to what’s being said out there, we must discriminate between legitimate, crucially important debate, and degrading, debasing, intolerant attacks (not to mention the terribly destructive practice of painting entire groups with broad brushes). And, privately and discreetly, we can rebuke our teachers and friends, who are unquestionably well-meaning and sincere, but who have fallen into the same bad habit as did their predecessors of two millennia ago, and are routinely violating the Torah’s constraints on the Mitzvah of rebuke. We can still save and sanctify our intra-Orthodox discourse, if together we simply draw the line where God drew the line.

The last Mishna in Shas teaches that God identified exactly one vessel that can hold Israel’s blessings, preventing these blessings from all coming to naught. And that vessel is peace. Had the word existed in Mishnaic times, that blessing would have been “savlonut”.


Partnership Minyanim: Let’s Live and Let Live. by R. Yosef Kanefsky

December 24, 2013

I might be wrong, and hope that I am. But I have a growing sense that a full-scale assault on Partnership Minyanim is brewing, the goal of which is to define these Minyanim as being “over the red line”, outside the pale of Orthodoxy. I do understand what might motivate such an effort, and I recognize the religious sincerity and constructive intentions of colleagues who might feel it’s an important thing to do. And at the same time, I am absolutely positive that doing this would constitute a terrible, even tragic mistake. And I would plead that they reconsider.

The reason that it would be a terrible and tragic mistake is that it would have precisely the opposite effect than the one intended. The move to write Partnership Minyanim, and the Orthodox Jews who daven in them, out of Orthodoxy is animated by the desire to prevent a slide toward (non-Halachik) egalitarianism. But the reality is that Partnership Minyanim are precisely the greatest bulwark against exactly that slide.

Contrary to common assumption, people who choose to daven in Partnership Minyanim are not doing so because they are seeking to evade or erode Halacha. They are choosing to daven in Partnership Minyanim davka because they are seeking to live within Halacha. Partnership Minyanim are the one and only way that these Orthodox Jews can simultaneously affirm their commitment to Halacha, and be true to their deeply held ideals concerning the religious dignity of both men and women. The Minyan is a lifeline.

But is the Halachik argument which supports Partnership Minyanim correct? This is the subject of passionate debate, with many Orthodox rabbis having written in opposition to it, and a small number having written in support. When determining our communal policy however, the pertinent question is not whether the halachik argument supporting Partnership Minyanim is correct. It is rather whether the Halachik argument supporting Partnership Minyanim is viable, is defensible. Because this determines whether these Minyanim are a threat to – or a safeguard of – people’s Halachik commitment.

And the answer to the question of Halachik viability is a firm “yes”. The Halachik argument is built upon a viable, defensible reading of the Talmud in Megilla, which in principle includes women among the public readers of the Torah. And it is built upon ample evidence that the concern for the “dignity of the congregation”, on which basis the Talmud rejects the inclusion of women as Torah readers, is a concern that is subject to change. Numerous Halachik sources in a variety of other contexts support the idea that a congregation may decide that its dignity is not compromised, despite the Talmud’s concern. There are, of course, other ways to interpret these sources. But the salient points here are that Partnership Minyanim conform with a viable reading of the Halachik sources, and that they are deliberately and thoughtfully conceived, designed and brought to life within a commitment to the Halachik framework. One may disagree with the interpretation of the sources. But one cannot deny the conscious Orthodox quality of the endeavor.

As such, Partnership Minyanim are clearly serving as the place within the Orthodox tent where people are able to remain faithful both to Halacha and to their commitment to the spiritual and ethical value of equal dignity. Take these Minyanim away, and you create a new and forbidding landscape in which young people raised with these twin passions are left with nowhere in the Orthodox world to turn. And even more tragically these young people will conclude, with justification, that the Orthodox rabbinate knowingly denied and suppressed viable halachik readings in order to bar women from greater participation in Jewish ritual life.

In 1956, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l expressed his opposition to Bat Mitzvah celebrations, and ruled that it is forbidden to mark a Bat Mitzvah in shul. We must count ourselves fortunate that Rav Moshe didn’t go so far as to draw a “red line” and categorize any shul in which a Bat Mitzvah ceremony took place as being “not Orthodox”. It’s hard to imagine the kind of hemorrhaging from Orthodoxy that such a decision would have caused over the ensuing decades.

We all need to be responsible and realistic about the consequences of our actions. The vocal opponents of Partnership Minyanim should of course, for the sake of Heaven, express their opposition, and explain their halachik objections. But I urge with all my soul that they resist the calls to draw a “red line”. Nothing good will come of it, and a huge amount of damage would certainly be done.


“Words from the Heart” posted by Yosef Kanefsky

November 11, 2013

Garnel Ironheart is an avid – and mostly critical – reader of Morethodoxy. But I was very taken with a comment he submitted last week and reproduce it here in full (and I apologize for the negative remarks about Chabad. They do not reflect my views at all.)

Look, I’m not a big fan of Morethodoxy. Frankly I think it’s only about 10 years until you’re the right wing of UTJ, full-on Conservativism with a mechitza (hopefully). But in the interest of achdus let me give you some free advice.
Look at Chabad. If you think you’re having troubles with the Agudah then think about what they’ve gone through. The Agudah’s PR flacks attack you in print. Chabadniks have gone through physical attacks from that part of the Jewish community. You get called “Unorthodox”. They’ve been called heretics, non-Jewish and neo-Christians. Remember all the abuse heaped on the Rebbe, zt”l by Rav Shach, zt”l?
Yet years later, after all the abuse, after all the ongoing sex scandals, after all the messianism, Chabad is incredibly successful and growing stronger. Why? Because they have a message (Believe in the Rebbe and ye shall be saved) and they stay on it. They push the positive, drumming their ideology into anyone who will sit still long enough . They don’t take time to respond to outside attacks. They plow forward with their agenda no matter what. And it has worked for them in spades.
If you want this Morethodoxy thing of yours to amount to something more than a bunch of new-age feel-good rabbis sitting around talking about kindness and love then you have to develop a concrete message and start pushing it. Playing defense all the time will just get you shoved into a corner.

I’ve never met Garnel (unless he also goes by some other name, in which case maybe I have!), and as I said, I don’t agree with all of what he says here. But I do appreciate the humanity and sincerity with which he wrote this. I read it as “words that emanate from the heart” (which, as we know, “enter the heart”) So here a few things that I’d like to share in response:
(1) I have never, and still don’t really think about Morethodoxy as being a “thing” – a movement, a distinct ideological sub-group. Like most of the “founding” Morethodoxy crew, I am a musmach (ordainee) of YU, a member of the RCA , and a full-time rabbi in an OU-affiliated shul. But I understand and appreciate the perspective that Garnel and many others have, namely that Morthodoxy is a forum for the ideas and religious philosophy that have become identified with the students of Yeshivat Chovevai Torah (YCT) and members of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF) and that in reality -though not by conscious design – the three, along with Yeshivat Maharat and several other organizations as well, have effectively coalesced into a distinct movement within Orthodoxy. While I – and most of my friends and colleagues – reject this perspective, the perception is both significant and real. (And, in fact, I am the current president of the IRF, and my co-blogger Rabbi Gelman is a past-president.)
(2) I’m sure our wives and kids wish that we were just “feel-good rabbis sitting around talking about kindness and love!” Like my Morethodoxy companions, and so many of the rabbis who are members of the IRF, we are out in the trenches, day and night, pastoring, teaching, programming and building, as rabbis of shuls, as teachers and principals in schools and as campus rabbis and chaplains around the country. In fact, this is a large part of why we lack the laser-like focus of an organization like Chabad. We are an integrated part of the Orthodox community’s multifaceted rabbinic leadership, serving in numerous and various institutions, each with its own complex set of unique challenges.
(3) Having said all of this, I think that Garnel’s challenge needs to be taken seriously. Not to satisfy our critics, and not as a means of carving out a place for ourselves as a distinct wing of Orthodoxy. Rather in order to better serve Klal Yisrael generally, and the Orthodox community especially, through bringing our vision forward in coordinated and concrete ways. We are reaching a critical mass in terms of the numbers of Orthodox rabbis and Jews who are passionate about living and teaching an Orthodoxy that is (choose your adjective) engaged / progressive / inclusive / connected , and for the sake of God, Torah, and Israel, we need to have greater focus in terms of agenda, message, and action. And – as Garnel implies – we mustn’t get pre-occupied with playing defense.

Is this easier said than done? Sure. But let’s get to work. I’ll do my share. It’s not upon any one of us to complete the work, but none of us is exempt from participating.


Be strong and of good courage, chevra. Posted by Yosef Kanefsky

October 31, 2013

To my dear friends and fellow-travelers:

Whenever the waters get a little choppy, as they have this week, we need to remember only one thing. And that is, that we are serving God, and God alone. We are accountable only to God, and to our own souls and consciences. We believe – down deep in our spiritual core – in a vision of Orthodoxy that never throws up its hands in the face of human suffering, one whose eyes and heart are open to the friendship and thoughts and struggles of all Jews. A vision of Orthodoxy in which success is defined by the promise that “through you all the families of the world will be blessed”, and one in which Torah and Mitzvot are opportunities to be shared, not privileges to be protected. We believe – genuinely and unalterably – that this is what God has told us is good, and that it is this which He requires of us. We are accountable only to God. To God, to the people that we serve, and to ourselves.

Pursuing the path of God involves being open to advice and to constructive criticism. How else could we engage in the critical processes of introspection and self-improvement? But no less important than listening to friends who advise and criticize, is refusing to be distracted by the static of public attack. The public attackers are also sincere, and genuine in their words. But what they are asking is that we forsake God, and instead serve them.

In the end, we will succeed because we will create communities for whom Torah is the Tree of Life, the Mitzvot are sweeter than honey, and Halacha is the tradition with which we engage the human condition and dignify all those created in the Image. We have no energy to spare, or time to waste. The day is short, the work is great, and the Master expects much of us.


An Apology to our MTA Classmates Who Were Victimized, posted by Yosef Kanefsky

August 18, 2013

As Elul rushes toward Tishrai, my good friend Joey Lipner and I have penned a letter of apology to our classmates who were compelled to “wrestle” with Rabbi Finkelstein. In it, we apologize for never having said or done anything, even as we were quite aware of the bizarre things that were going on.  If you were in MTA in those years, or if you know someone who was, please consider signing the letter and/or passing it along.   We hope that it will bring some tikkun to this awful situation.  Here’s the link:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/apology_to_mta_classmates/

At the same time, we await the report that Yeshiva will be putting out revealing the results of its investigation. I have received assurances that it will be released in full to the public. This is of course a vital first step in fulfilling the spirit of up Rabbi Lamm’s statement of apology.


“I Have Not Been Troubled by Them”: Another Angle on the Question du Jour, by Yosef Kanefsky

August 9, 2013

I love my wife. And this love shapes my daily routine, and defines the contours of the way I live. I am aware of the scientific position that what we call love is in reality a complex set of bio-chemical reactions, refined over the millennium by a process of natural selection that favored those homo sapiens who were able to sustain faithful, long-term mating relationships, and that love is therefore a delusion, a deception performed by our genes. I am aware of this position. But it doesn’t in any way affect my belief that I am truly loving my wife. Nor does it alter in any way the set of rituals and behaviors through which I respond to this love’s call. I recognize the validity of the position and of the questions that it raises, but I am not troubled by them.

I of course cannot know what Rabbi Soloveitchik meant when (in The Lonely Man of Faith) he acknowledged his awareness of “the theories of Biblical criticism which contradict the very foundations upon which the sanctity and integrity of the Scriptures rest,” yet asserted that he was not “troubled” by them. Perhaps he was not troubled because he knew how to effectively refute the arguments of the Biblical critics, or because he had uncovered the flaws in their scholarship. Or, as is suggested by the fact that he never published further on the topic of biblical criticism, perhaps there was a different reason that he was not troubled. Perhaps he likened believing in the traditional view of the Scriptures to believing in the truth of love.

I am blessed (or lucky) to possess a strong experientially-based belief in the truth of  Divinely-given Torah.  It is an experientially- based belief that in no way addresses the weighty questions of Biblical authorship and historicity, questions whose existence I am acutely aware of. Yet, it largely shields me from their effects.  When, for example, I act honestly even when this honesty comes at a personal cost, and I do so because it is written in the Torah that I should, I feel – truly and deeply – that I am responding to God’s voice, to the voice we all heard at Sinai. Or when I succeed in “doing the upright and the good,” my experience is that of responding to the words that are calling out from the Sefer Torah – the Sefer Torah to which we point as we say, “and this is the Torah which Moshe placed before the Children of Israel.”  Equally, on the occasions when I ignore the pasuk in Vayikra, and fail to guard my tongue from speaking lashon hara, my experience is that of having defied the word that God spoke to Moshe upon the mountain.  This is what it feels like to me. The belief that I am in fact living in relationship with God’s word is no less real than the belief that I am in fact loving my wife.

I know that we are all different, and that there are many Orthodox Jews for whom this doesn’t work as well, for whom this kind of “compartmentalization” evinces a lack of intellectual and spiritual integrity. But I also know that I am far from alone in feeling and living the way I do. And so I write this short essay in the effort to describe this way of being – of knowing the questions and even finding them worthwhile and important, but not being “troubled” by them.  I write, to ratify the viability of being intellectually aware and at the same time genuinely pious. For it is, I believe, no less viable than both recognizing the biological realities of hormones and neurological hard-wiring, and at the same time, being unquestionably in love.


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