An Invitation to Me’ah She’rim for Rabbi Lopatin, and I accept!

July 24, 2009

From Rav Pinchas Lipschutz, Editor of Yated Neeman in the USA:

I invite Lopatin and the rabbi who wrote in The Jerusalem Post to join me for a visit to Meah Shearim. Let’s go visit the stores and places of business of the Reb Aralach – yes they do work – and see how they conduct themselves. Let’s visit their homes and see how they live. Let’s follow them to the Beis Medrash and observe them davening and learning. We’ll go to the rebbe and you can ask him all your questions. We’ll visit Ben Zion Oiring and watch a one-man chesed operation in action. We’ll talk to Uri Zohar and hear what he has to say. We will pay a visit to Rav Dovid Soloveitchik and you can ask him why he publicly referred to the sorry story as a blood libel. We can just stand at Kikar Shabbos and watch how these loving lovely people go about their daily affairs. If, G-d forbid there should be a need for another hafganah we can attend and watch how Yerushalmi yidden peacefully express their pain and how they are treated by the police. And we can stay till the bitter end and watch how the rif-raf comes and destroys the place. And then we can review together what we have seen and determine whether a re-evaluation is in order.

Dear Rav Lipschutz,

With a spirit of achdus and cheshbon hanefesh,I would like to take you up on your invitation to join you for a visit to Meah She’arim. I have been there many times, as I’m sure most of us reading this blog have, and have been there for a tisch at Toldos Ahron – I believe – but it would be different going with you in a spirit of love and appreciation for acheinu beis Yisrael, who are so committed to Torah and Yiddishkeit – as all of us recognize. I would like to organize an Achdus trip to Israel with Modern Orthodox rabbis, Centrist Orthodox rabbis and Yeshiveshe velt rabbonim all going together for the outstanding itinerary you propose for Meah She’arim, and then to continue into the Old City to visit Yeshivat Ateret Kohanim, then to walk on to Yeshivat Hakotel, Eish Hatorha, Yeshivat Porat Yosef, and to end up in Talpiot Mizrach to visit Beit Morasha and in Bakkah to visit the Pardes Institute, led by Rav Daniel Landes, the great grandson of Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, zt”l. I would like to invite also Rabbanei Tzohar – perhaps Rav Cherlow and Rav Yehoshua Shapira, as well as leading rabbanim in the Chareidi world in Eretz Yisrael. Together we will show how the greatest Kiddush HaShem is the Achdus of Klal Yisrael and its Torah leadership.

Kol tuv and a gut Shabbos,

Asher Lopatin

Breaking the Chains of Silence

July 23, 2009

Mahara”t Sara Hurwitz

I recently met with several women, who have spent the greater part of their professional lives advocating on behalf of agunot—women whose recalcitrant husbands refuse to grant a get.  They came to me hoping discover the solution to the agunah problem.  The plight of wives– and husbands for that matter– whose spouse callously withhold a writ of divorce is a traumatic experience.  It is hard to believe that despite many attempts by Rabbis, and advocacy organizations to circumvent the agunah problem, there are many, many men and women who are suffering.  I don’t have the solution, but perhaps together, with our varied voices paired with our religious and ethical conscience, we may discover the magic bullet.

Here’s a just a few of the existing band-aides that attempt to prevent couples from becoming agunot as well as release those who are currently chained to loveless marriages:

  1. RCA prenuptial agreement
  2. Heskem L’ Kavod Hadadi (the agreement of Mutual Respect)
  3. Rabbi Emanuel Rackman’s Beit Din
  4. Rabbi Michael Broyde’s Tripartite Pre-nuptial Agreement
  5. Nullifying a marriage based on a technical defect in the wedding ceremony

1.  The RCA prenuptial agreement includes a “binding arbitration agreement, whereby both the groom and bride accept the Beit Din of America as an arbitration panel, and is legally able to render any decisions relating to the get.  The BDA prenup agreement proposes to compel a husband to give a get or pay $150 per day for each day that he refuses to grant her a bill of divorce. 

A few problems that are embedded in this solution: any person who is very wealthy, mentally unstable or has absolutely no funds, and therefore nothing to lose may not be threatened by the monetary obligation, and simply ignore the bet din’s pleas. In addition, the women may refuse to accept the get in exchange for child custody, or other demands.

2.  Another prenup, called the Heskem L’ Kavod Hadadi (the agreement of Mutual Respect) works much like the RCA prenup. However, both the bride and the groom obligate themselves to support the spouse, the amount ranging from $1500 per month to half his/her monthly net income. 

While the Israeli agreement has potentially increased the financial burden on the recalcitrant spouse, there are cases where the recalcitrant party may simply ignore the financial obligation and continue to withhold the get without concern for the pain this action may cause.

3.  A third, rather radical solution was proposed by Rabbi Emanuel Rackman in 1997.  The rationale behind the Rackman court is that since “grave errors,” “mistakes,” or “salient defects,” underscore the marriages at issue, the wives’ initial consent to marry their husbands was marred, rendering the marriages void.  Therefore, the Rackman Beit Dins have freed many chained spouses without the need for a get to be given by the husband to the wife. 

There has been many critiques written on the Rackman courts, and despite the fact that it has the potential to alleviate the suffering of so many, Rackman’s court’s are not widely accepted by the Orthodox community.  (see Rabbi J. David Bleich in his 1998 article entitled Kiddushei Ta’ut: Annulment as a Solution to the Agunah Problem).  Rabbi Dr. Michel H. Broyde dismisses Rackman’s solution, saying that the Rackman court allows for the annulment of marriages based on defects in the husband that arose after the marriage was entered into—something that Rabbi Broyde feels is unfounded in the halakhic literature.

4.  Rabbi Broyde has advocated for the annulment of marriages in cases where unknown to their wives, their husbands were homosexuals, impotent, epileptics, mentally ill or apostates when their wives married them. (based on heterim by Rav Moshe Feinstein and others).  Rabbi Broyde has also proposed a Tripartite Pre-nuptial Agreement: authorizing the rabbinic court to void a marriage by communal ordinance; establishes that a consecutive fifteen-month period of separation is a condition to void the marriage; and appoints agents to give the get in the husband’s stead.  This agreement has not yet been authorized by the Orthodox community.

5. Yet another proposed solution that could free agunot is finding a defect with the marriage ceremony.  If the wedding did not fit the halakhic requirements of kiddushin, then the marriage could be annulled.  Some even advocate to purposefully introduce a technical error into the wedding ceremony—having a non-observant witness, for example.  While this solution has its merits, it seems disingeneous to purposefully flaw the wedding ceremony. 

So where des this leave us?

There should be no reason why any Rabbi officiating at a wedding does not insist that a couple signs a prenuptial agreement.  Many of the agunah cases that have been resolved, have in large part been due to the binding prenuptial agreement. Yet, this is not enough.  We must ask ourselves if there is a way to find a halahicly acceptable premise with which to accept the Rackman courts.  If not, then we need to advocate for larger acceptance of Rabbi Broyde’s Tripartite Pre-nuptial Agreement, which it would seem would free many agunot, if employed.   Or, perhaps, (and I am not sure how I feel about this) advocate for a small technical breech within the kiddushin ceremony.

Whatever the solution, let’s break the silence. Our community must galvanize together and raise a voice of moral conscience to advocate for the freeing of women who are currently agunot, as well as find solutions to prevent men and women from becoming chained to hateful, loveless marriages in the future. 

Do you have the answer?

An Open Letter to My Chareidi Brothers and Sisters in Israel

July 22, 2009

First I want to congratulate you for your fervor and unity in responding to those who are violating Shabbat by driving to Jerusalem on Shabbat and those who are intervening in family life in the Toldos Ahron community by treating children in the hospital when they are emaciated and weighing 7 kg at two years old.
But, secondly, I want to tell you that from a Torah True perspective your reactions are the very opposite of what you should be doing. Your commitment to Torah and current events gave you an opportunity for a great Kiddush Hashem, and instead you have distanced thousands – if not millions – from Torah. Didn’t you consider that Chilul Hashem B’farhesia, publicly profaning God’s name, is such a great sin that it outweighed going out on a limb to protect parking lots from cars on Shabbat, or to protect a family that really seems like it was abusing its children? Do you think that there could never be child abuse in your community? And was it not worth bringing an emaciated child – even you agree that he was dangerously emaciated – to one of the world’s leading hospitals for a check-up? Do you agree that doctors’ have a role in our lives in making some physical and psychological determinations?

Rather than resorting to violent riots that have turned off even people sympathetic to your love for Shabbat and the integrity of the family, you should have copied God the way we are supposed to: with love and kindness – midot hachesed – the loving traits of God. Wouldn’t it have been far more effective to have shown up at the parking lot on Shabbat with grape juice and challah rolls and offered people driving into Yerushalayim the ability to celebrate Shabbat just a little? Had you offered them cholent and kugal, don’t you think word would have gotten out that Shabbat is a beautiful thing? After all, these people driving into Jerusalem are choosing to spend Shabbat in the Holy City, not at the beach in Tel Aviv or Ashkelon! We all need to think of how we can reach out to our brothers and sisters even when they are sinning in our eyes, and rather than making them park dangerously all around Jerusalem, endangering pedestrians who are not violating Shabbat, make them realize that you are willing to interrupt your Shabbat to spend some time with them! Maybe the next time some of them would be willing to drive into Jerusalem on Friday night, spend the night in a hotel – even an Arab hotel in the Old City! – and experience a full Shabbat in Jerusalem. Why didn’t you suggest to the city that parking overnight in Jerusalem – from Friday night till Shabbat is over – should be made free, to encourage people to drive in before Shabbat? All these moves would have made Jerusalem, Shabbat and the religious way of life something beautiful, not ugly – God’s name would be glorified, not sullied by the dirty rubbish that you have been throwing at city workers.

Rather than rioting against what seems to be saving of a child’s life – piku’ach nefesh – didn’t you question for a moment what is going on? What are the names of Chareidi organizations that protect children – and spouses – from abuse? The Chareidi community in America has such organizations which serve the entire Jewish community – have you set up yours? I haven’t seen them involved or consulted. No, instead of blaming Hadassah hospital, the doctors and the media of a conspiracy, maybe you should begin a process of coming clean and accepting that domestic abuse occurs in all types of communities – from the most religious to the most secular, Jewish and non-Jewish. And that sometimes the police and the authorities have to be brought in to protect children and spouses. That would be the appropriate response, one that would be a Kiddush Hashem, which would win the respect of Jews and non-Jews for Torah and for Judaism.
My brothers and sisters in the Chareidi community: God’s name is not sanctified by you showing how much political muscle you have to close parking lots, to maintain the ‘status quo’, or to show that you can do whatever you like to your kids without the authorities intervening: that’s not the way to sanctify God’s name, or even your name. The way to Kiddush Hashem is for all of us to place God and God’s kindness above our own agendas, and to show that we are willing to sacrifice even your own serenity on Shabbat, our own control over our families, in order to protect the weak and make God’s name something beautiful and desirable, not something which people cannot run away from fast enough.

Asher Lopatin

A Profound Disagreement on How to Live Jewish Lives –By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

July 17, 2009

The Mishna in Berachot (53b) states: “With regard to one who ate a meal and forgot to say the bircat hamazon (grace after meals), Bais Shamai says they must return to their place and say the grace, Bais Hillel says they should say grace in the place they are when they remember.”

The Talmud on this Mishna comments: “We learned in a Berita (an uncannonized Mishna), Bais Hillel said to Bais Shamai, “According to your opinion, if one ate on top of a hill, are you saying they would have to climb back up to recite the grace after meals?”  Replied Bais Shamai to Bais Hillel, “If someone forgot their wallet on top of a hill would they not climb back up for it?  If one would return up the hill for their own honor, for the honor of heaven how much more so should they.”

This is an interesting and surprising argument between Bais Shamai and Bais Hillel.   Isn’t Bais Shamai right?  If we would go back up the hill for ourselves, should we not return to say the grace after meals for God?  What is Bais Hillel’s reason for disagreeing with Bais Shami’s opinion?

The following piece of Talmud (Betza 15a) may shed some light: “They say about Shami the elder that all his days he would eat in honor of the Shabbat.  If he found a nice animal one day he would say, “This one is to eat for Shabbat.” The next day if he found another one that was better than the first he would put aside the second one to save for Shabbat and eat the first animal.  But Hillel the elder had a different path, all of his deeds were for the sake of heaven, as it says in the verse, “Bless god each day.”

Though Hillel and Shami were both great sages they had very different takes on how to live a Jewish life.  To elucidate I will rewrite the preceding two arguments in the form of a conversation.

Bais Hillel: You can bench (say grace after meals) wherever you remember.

Bais Shami: No, you must bench where you ate.

BH: That may be better, but I’m sure you don’t really believe that, for, what if someone ate on a hilltop, surely you would not ask the person to schlep back up the mountain to bench?

BS: Wouldn’t you do that for your wallet?   So certainly you should for God’s honor; to bench!

BH: Who says this is about honoring God by schlepping?  Maybe we honor God by benching well, not after sweating up a mountain (with Yiddish accent)!

BS: Eating is very physical, Shabbat is holy, let us use the holiness of Shabbat to sanctify even the weekday meal.

BH: God is right here, everywhere, in every step, in every meal, not just on Shabbat and not just back up on the mountain top.  God must be an inherent part of our everyday lives!

BS: It’s better to go back up the mountain to bench….

BH: No, it’s better to let people bench and have some kavanah and not hock them to climb back up a hill…

BS: Climbing back up a hill is a great religious act since it enables one to bench in the best way.  Shouldn’t we make that sacrifice for a mitzvah?

BH: No, benching is a great religious act since by it we thank God for our food.  Yom Kippur for instance or giving up one’s life for the sanctification of God’s name, these are acts of sacrifice, benching though is thanking god for our everyday food in our everyday, real lives.  God is already a part of that.   Its what benching is.

BS: We fundamentally see religion and the way in which it can effect life differently, don’t we?

BH: Yes we do, at least we agree about that.

Both opinions are the word of the Living God, but the halacha (the law, the path) follows Bais Hillel, (Aruvin 13b).

The Critic in All of Us

July 16, 2009

Post by Mahara”t Sara Hurwitz

In recent months, I have become inured to personal attacks on my religious belief system, shul, community, and me.  Notwithstanding this, I don’t believe everyone should agree. Difference of opinion is healthy and keeps us alive. Disagreement forces us to examine and think critically about other opinions, informing our own beliefs and values.  Yet the spirit in which criticism is given does matter to me. 

2000 years ago, in the Second Temple period, the Jewish people succumbed to their internal strife.  At a time when the Jewish people should have united against the Roman Empire, the Jewish resistance fragmented between upper and lower classes, priestly caste and the masses, fundamentalists and progressives. Sadducees and Pharisees. They fell into a virtual civil war, and Titus and his troops conquered the city and burnt the second Beit Hamikdash to the ground. The Gemara’s rationale for the demise and destruction of the Temple is sinat chinam, groundless hatred between the Jewish people.  It was not their political or religious disagreements that tainted them—it was the venom underlying their disagreements.

The question I find myself asking today is whether history will repeat itself.  Will 20/20 hindsight after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash awaken us to the tragic consequences of baseless hatred?

I welcome constructive criticism, and with it the opportunity to learn and grow.  But criticism must come from a place of love and respect.  Not anonymous, hateful, unthinking statements.   

The parsha this week opens with a discussion of nedarim, and perhaps the Torah offers a perspective on how we should use our words and the care one should take when making a vow.  There is much discussion about whether taking a neder (vow) is praiseworthy or not.  If everything is truly written in the Torah—that which is prohibited and that which is permitted, who are we to obligate or prohibit something to ourselves?

It is for this reason that Rambam asserts that the motivation behind a neder is of critical importance.   Does the individual take upon himself or herself a new obligation in order to enhance avodat Hashem, service of God, or does the neder perhaps symbolize a rebellion against the Torah? The Rambam reaches this very conclusion, as he formulates his dialectical approach at the end of Hilkhot Nedarim (13:23 — 24):One who takes nedarim in order to stabilize his conduct and correct his ways — this is proper and praiseworthy…But although they are considered the service [of God], a person should not indulge in, or accustom himself to nedarim that add prohibitions. He should rather abstain from those things from which it is worthwhile to abstain without a neder.”

In the right context, done for the right reason, a neder is indeed praiseworthy.  So too, criticism of other people can either enhance avodat Hashem or be a hillul Hashem.

In the case of cricism, the distinction lies in the tone.

I am my prayer before You.

July 15, 2009

Posted by Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky


God, open my lips, and my mouth will speak Your praises.

 As I begin this recitation of the amida, and prepare to lay out my requests before You, I do understand the severe limitations that attend this endeavor. I will be asking that You heal me and heal those close to me, and that You provide sustenance to us all. But I know that You are committed to the notion that “the world operates according to its rules”, and that You are therefore generally averse to supernatural interventions (though Your “natural” ones are wondrous.).  I will pray that You bless this world with justice and with peace, even as I acknowledge Your insistence on people having complete freedom of will, including the freedom to act corruptly and violently. I will request that You redeem us speedily from our afflictions, and soon in our days reestablish the throne of David. And though I am profoundly grateful for Medinat Yisrael the first flowering of our redemption, I fully realize that the world, in its present state, is not poised for immediate redemption. There are still too many swords out there, with the market for ploughshares and pruning hooks still severely depressed. 

Yet pray I shall, not only because tradition enjoins me to do so. I will pour out my conversation before You because You are our Loving Parent, the Compassionate One whose mercies never cease, without whom there would be no life, no wisdom, and no joy. I don’t have any idea how You administer the world on a day-to-day, or even on a millennium-to-millennium basis, but I know that all that is precious to me exists only because You willed it into being. If there is hope at all, it is in You. 

And I will pray because in recounting all the things that You are, I will again remember all the things that I must strive to be. A bestower of kindnesses. A lover of righteousness and justice.  One who forgives abundantly. One who raises the fallen, heals the broken-hearted, protects the stranger, and feeds the hungry. I will pray, for it is through looking at You that I become conscious of myself.

And I will pray because it is during prayer that I hear Your voice. Life with people is so complex. So many things happen each day which demand decisions and responses – decisions and responses that will alter the course of people’s lives, not least, the lives of the people whom I love the most, and who count on me the most. Internal passions – of love, anger, jealousy, and pride – cloud my judgment. As I whisper the blessings that I have whispered thousands of times before, I will place my dilemmas and my struggles beneath the light of Your countenance. (I hope this is OK with You.) I will not always know precisely what the right answer is by the time I reach the end and take my three steps backward, but I will always have a much clearer idea. And sometimes, I will know the answer precisely. For You are a God who hears prayers and supplications. And You have taught us, and our parents before us, the laws of living.

 I am my prayer before You.

 May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be desired by You, God who is my Rock, and my Redeemer.

A Vacation From Ideology – Rabbi Barry Gelman

July 14, 2009

I am on vacation in New York and whenever I visit New York I try to make time to visit my favorite Jewish book store, Biegeleisen. You see, I am a seforim junkie and I must get my fix every year. To my mind there is no better dealer that the good people of Biegeleisen. 


WARNING: Do not confuse Biegeleisen with a Judaica store for there are no fancy havdallah sets, no cookbooks and no jewish music for sale there. Beigeleisen is seforim only (almost all hebrew with a few englsih books floating around).


The store is located in Borough Park, Brooklyn, a well known chareidi community. The streets are lined with kosher food stores, clothing stores for women with clothes that meet the modesty standards of that community and many yeshivot and shteibels (small one room synagogues).


Sometime visiting communities like Borough Park makes me feel like I am on a different planet. The ways and customs of that place are so different in so many fundamentally important ways from those that I and my community practice. I have often felt bad about this reality and naively hoped that it could be different. Sort of my own little, “can’t we all just get along” dream. 


For some reason this year’s pilgrimage to my seforim mecca left me feeling differently. Read the rest of this entry »