Fear and Loathing in Beit Shemesh

January 1, 2012

Rape is not about sex, it’s about violence.  So too Orthodox Jewish men attacking little Orthodox Jewish girls in Beit Shemesh because they were wearing short sleeves this past week http://www.jta.org/news/article/2011/12/27/3090916/israelis-rally-around-naama-women  was not, God forbid about tzniut, the Jewish notion of modesty (the perpetrated acts were of course anything but modest),  but about power.

In Israel religion is inextricably interwoven with politics and politics is about power.   It would be nice if this were a symbiotic relationship, resulting in a Jewish democratic state in which politics could be informed by the spiritual and the religious, but unfortunately it has resulted in a parasitic relationship in which religion is all too often colored by, and utilized in, the service of power.

I am not grouping all Orthodox Jews together and I am not stereotyping all Charedi (anti-Zionist, strongly insular) Jews together.   I well realize that though there are hundreds of Charedim who have been involved in violence over the past few years, in protest to co-gender public busses, in response to state involvement in the welfare of children in parts of Jerusalem, or in this recent episode in Beit Shemesh, it is hundreds of Charedim, not thousands or tens of thousands.  Why do they do it?  Several reasons I think.

Though some have political power due to Israel’s parliamentary system, the majority feel powerless.  Just as haughtiness is perpetrated by individuals to counteract strong feelings of insecurity, violence does the same for feelings of powerlessness.    Indeed, religion is a perfect guise for such violence since it paints violence as indignant and vindicated, righteous and productive.

Why do some Charedi in Israel feel powerless?  Among several causes that loom large are that they do not serve in the army, something that in the state of Israel is considered the badge of honor, and an important factor in securing latter employment in the civil sector.  Recently, due to a rabbinical edict, they are not permitted to study secular subjects even if it will assist them in finding a job, rendering the job search incredibly difficult.  http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/151133#.Tv0hKVYkKSo

Many live below the poverty line, http://www.haaretz.com/themarker/more-than-half-of-israel-s-ultra-orthodox-living-in-poverty-1.323309  subsisting on government handouts in order to study for many years and thus avoid army service, considered spiritually dangerous by Charedi Orthodox communities.  Without serving in the army in Israel and without secular academic education, theirs is a poor sub-culture seen as backward by Israel’s general society, and even by Zionist Orthodox co-religionists.

The second reason for the violence is that Orthodox Jews who live in insular communities in Israel often have no real sense of others.  If one lives in an enclosed enough community and is taught that only one’s own way of seeing every detail in life, religion, and the world is right, soon there is no vision, soon such preaching becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.   To not know or value those who are different from oneself breeds fear of the other and disregard, or worse, toward them.

I am told that in many communities Charedi women are forbidden from wearing ankle length skirts and are only allowed calf length skirts.  Why?  Because the Zionist orthodox women often wear ankle length skirts.   This is to me a fear and loathing of the other that is so strong it has led to the absurdly xenophobic.

The third reason I would suggest for the violence is that those perpetrating it have mistakenly done what many fringe groups and sects in Jewish history have done, harped on one Jewish idea or element to the (partial) exclusion of the colorful range of important ideas and commandments in Judaism.  Whether Reform Judaism which stressed the commandments between people, minimizing the ritual commandments, or some Charedim who stress the ritual commandments to the detriment of those between humans outside of their close knit communities.

Judaism deeply values seeing different Jewish points of view even when they differ from our own.  This is the great lesson we learn from Hillel and Shamai, who disagreed about most of Jewish law and yet married their children off to each other.  Let us speak out against the violence and against the teachers of the who perpetrate it and do not take their followers to task, and let us bring back the true Jewish perspective of Hillel and Shamai, that, “Both these and those are the word of God” and erase the false outlook that seems to dominate in our day of, “Its my way or the highway.”

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International Rabbinic Fellowship Statement on Tzohar Weddings

December 8, 2011

The International Rabbinical Fellowship calls upon the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel to permit the rabbis of the Tzohar rabbinical organization to continue registering marriages and conducting weddings in the State of Israel as has been the practice for the last decade.

The wedding initiative under the auspices of Tzohar has allowed thousands of Israeli couples, who might have opted for non-halakhic avenues, to marry under the wedding canopy according to the laws of Moses and Israel. Furthermore, it has brought many more to greater love for Torah and the commandments and respect and appreciation for tradition in the spirit of “Her Ways are ways of Gentleness and all he paths are peaceful”. The important work of Tzohar is a Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name, which should be strengthened and supported.

Tzohar’s wedding project has also been a tremendous resource for many couples from here in the United States and other areas of the Golah looking to celebrate their weddings in the Jewish state.  Many of these couples would not have had the opportunity to create as joyous and meaningful a wedding were it not for the work of Tzohar.

We call upon the political and rabbinic establishment in Israel to ease this process and not put up more roadblocks that cause dissention and create difficulties for those who would avail themselves of this avenue of Huppah and Kiddushin.   We include in this ensuring the right of every Israeli citizen to register for weddings in the municipality of their choosing regardless of residency.


Tie School Funding To Israel Education – Rabbi Barry Gelman

August 26, 2011

Having just read this article asking whether building more Jewish museum is the best use of our resources, I began thinking again about two dilemmas facing Jewish communities across the United States.

  1. Decreased concern and knowledge about the State of Israel on the part of Jews in their teens, twenties and thirties.
  2. Day School tuition crisis (i.e. families cannot afford to send their children to Day Schools)

These problems are related to each other.

Let’s start with Israel.

Concern for and support of the State of Israel is related to what people know about Israel. What people know about the State of Israel and their attitudes towards the State of Israel, by and large, is related to their Jewish educational experiences.

Schools should be incentivized to teach about the State of Israel and urge their students to support the State of Israel. I am not suggestion that schools teach that everything that the State of Israel does is right, but their should be a general attitude pervading schools that the State of Israel represents the cumulative aspirations of the Jewish people. Furthermore, it should be taught that Jewish art, learning, and religious and cultural expression can only be fully expressed in Israel.

Once these ideas are firmly established, then the debates about policy, religious coercion, etc, can be entered into. First, however, the positive connection to Israel must be established. It is perfectly acceptable, even necessary for young people to know that they can voice their opinion when it comes to the State of Israel. Those voices are only valuable when they come from those committed to the overall endeavor to begin with.  No doubt certain realties of Israel will disappoint students, but with a firm foundation as to why Israel matters, the students will at least engage in those areas of Israeli life that inspire them.

It is like a family. There are aspects of everyone’s family that are less than pleasant, but because the value of the family is a given, there is engagement and rarely a decision to cut off ties because of those unpleasant realities. This can work for American students vis-à-vis Israel, if the relationship with Israel is strengthened.

How does this tie into the tuition crisis? Easy, Incentives. Jewish philanthropy from private individuals as well as Federations can be contingent on the existence of Israel programing at schools.  Schools that are willing to dedicate significant time to teaching the importance of Israel get a bigger piece of the funding pie. This strategy plays directly into the hands of the Federations in that graduates of those schools who were worthy of the additional funding will no doubt become future donors to Federations soliciting money for Israel.

Trips to Israel are nice. Israel advocacy programs are valuable. None of these attempts to re-engage our youth with Israel will have a large-scale effect to swing the pendulum back. The day schools are the battlefield.

This is a simple formula. People who know about Israel will support Israel, even as they debate the issues.


Breaking News: Soloveichik (and Rav Soloveitchik) Agrees with Lopatin, according to Lopatin…

August 25, 2011

I am including as a post below a letter from Yitzchak Zev Soloveichik commenting on my post in Morethodoxy regarding outside influences on Halacha. Yizchak Zev is the grandson of Rav Ahron Soloveichik, zt”l, my rebbe, and also the son of Rav Moshe Soloveichik, shli’ta, Rav Ahron’s oldest son, and also a formative rebbe of mine – my first rebbe at Yeshivas Brisk.

Before posting the whole letter, I want to start with his “p.s.” which is a big, big deal:

YZS: “P.S. Here’s a freebie for you. I believe I have heard from family members that the Rov said Shasani Yisrael.”

RAL: Wow!  So now we have the Gemarra in Menachot, the Rosh, the Gra, the Rama (with a varient, but still a positive b’racha) and the Rav.  Maybe a string of minority opinions, but a pretty good string!

Also, before the letter, I want to state that I was overjoyed when I read it because I think that Dr. Soloveichik is agreeing with the main idea I was pushing that outside factors lead us in certain halachic directions.  I also agree with Dr. Soloveichik that these outside factors should never dictate what the halacha will be.  To decide halachic practice we need to go back to all our sources and our mesorah and also to consult and work with the poskim of our generation and previous generations.   I am a puny when it comes to p’sak and knowledge of the masoret.  However, Rashi interprests Mishlei (Proverbs) (20:5) that “A halachih in the chacham’s heart (in the heart of our mesorah) is sealed; but it takes an understanding pupil (even a small one) to draws it out.” We, even the small of knowledge and judgement, have to use these outside factors, emotions, philosophies, methodologies and ideas to draw out the true Torah and law from the wisest of our generation and the generations before us.  That is why with She’asani Yisrael, I do not rely on my own judgement: I look to Rav Benny Lau, to an important Centrist Orthodox posek, and to, Rav Soloveichik, zt”l, for guidance to tell me if my small halachic suggestion has validity or not.  And it seems it does.  To me, Orthodoxy is about how we respond to the outside pulls and pressures: If we go back to our tradition and our traditional thinkers and teachers to find the answers, we are being Orthodox.

OK.  The letter:

Dear Rabbi Lopatin

Thank you for honoring me by responding in such a formal fashion. To write an article just based on a very short comment I posted shows me great and undeserved deference. Though I feel that you have mischaracterized what I have said. This, I am sure, is because of some lack of clarity in my writing (an unacceptable indiscretion for a Soloveichik).

You make the following statement about my opinion:

Basically, the argument is that genuine halacha, Orthodoxy or Torah true Judaism should not be influenced by the outside world: by philosophic trends, cultural currents, ideas of the society around us. Thus, Soloveichik argues that first we need to come up with the halacha – which blessing to say, in this case – and then we work on how it interrelates with the world around us.

This is a poor clarification of my position for a number of reasons; allow me to address just a few of them:

1.    You desire to boil the totality of my views on halacha to a statement I did not make. what I did in fact say was “The most important lesson I think I have ever learned from my grandfather’s Halachik positions is that it was first and foremost what is the true Halacha and then how is it applied to the situation at hand.” There is no inference in this statement to suggest “genuine halacha, Orthodoxy or Torah true Judaism should not be influenced by the outside world: by philosophic trends, cultural currents, ideas of the society around us” Indeed any attempt to paskan Halacha must take into account the seeming infinite influences of the world, our personalities, the societies we live in, in short  Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s Hascacha Pratis that synthasizes all this to create the reality  that molds who we are, how we think, and thus how we approach halacha. Not just as laypeople, but Poskim as well.  Indeed all this forms what is the true psak Halacha. Nevertheless, I

believe, as do my forefathers, whom you quote to discredit a position you apply to me which I do not actually adopt, that psak must begin by first understanding the axiomatic principles of the Torah, gzearah shave, kal vichomer, tzad hashaveh shebahem and so on.  This is what I am certain Rav Chiams’ often quoted “parallel world of Halacha” is referring to (Kudos by the way for not Channeling the GRa”Ch as a refutation for your misunderstanding of my position).

It is only when those basic formulations of halachic principles are upheld and firmly established can we then begin to try to come to the appropriate solution. Those next steps require, really demand, that one look at the all the great external forces at work to ascertain what the unique psak of that unique moment is. Not to first decide what you desire the outcome to be simply because liberal (or conservative, but mostly liberal) social ideas and philosophy hold greater sway over you (not you personally of course) then great moral and ethical truths of the Torah, and as an afterthought try to find shaky halachik reasoning to support your world view. I would add that the former position requires a much greater understanding of the world and a superior sensitivity to human emotion psychology and vitality then the latter dogmatic narrow-minded approach the Morethodox (I assume it is not a pejorative) rabbis take.

2.    The central point of my comment was not a halachik critique, as I made clear in the opening sentences of my comment. (those certainly not my world view of Morethodoxy, which is far more complex than one sentence). Rather it was a critique on the apparent lack of Halachik sincerity you and your compatriots take in this and other matters. The willingness to change your view of whole lessons learned from the Torah, to besmirch the those great generations of Jews whose sacrifices are the sole reason for our peoples continued existence, is I believe the central theme of my criticism.

3.    My last point is about your initial assertion that “ Yitzchak Zeev Soloveichik sent in a comment that crystalizes the debate over whether She’asani Yisrael – Who created me an Israelite! –  is the right blessing for men and women to say in the morning or the three negative blessings, Not a Goy, Not a Slave, Not a Woman/by God’s will.” This is an attempt to cast the whole argument as based on a position which you falsely attribute to me and once you brush aside the straw man you built you imply that that is the totality of your opposition. Rabbi Lopatin you can be wrong for a whole host of reasons beyond what we debate. Beyond my critique is the critique of a  great many scholars who find your position repugnant for a whole host of reasons, some better then others (scholars and reasons).

P.S. Here’s a freebie for you. I believe I have heard from family members that the Rov said Shasani Yisrael.

End of Dr. Yitzchak Zev Soloveichik’s letter.

RAL: All I can say, is thank God I am an Israelite, and thank God halacha allows me to say that b’racha every day.  For being an Israelite means I can struggle, think, question and have full ownership of the Torah and tradition that God gave the Jewish people.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin


Halachic and Philosophical Support for Saying “God made me an Israelite” instead of “God didn’t make me a woman.”, Rabbi Asher Lopatin

August 5, 2011

This is an encore presentation, but I though it was important to back up Rav Yosef’s passionate and truthful blog.

Why I say Say “She’asani Yisrael” – “God … Who has Made Me and Israelite!”- every morning, instead of the three traditional “Shelo Asani”s, by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

 

First a Halachic Discourse:

 

In our versions of Masechet Menachot, 43b (Bavli), Rabbi Meir says that a person, “Adam”, has to say three blessings every day: She’asani Yisrael, Shelo Asani  Isha and Shelo Asani Bur.  On the next line Rav Acha Bar Ya’akov replaces “Shelo Asani Bur” (God didn’t make me an ignoramus) with “Shelo Asani Aved” (God didn’t make me a slave).

The G’marra questions why we need to say both Shelo Asani Aved and Shelo Asani Isha, and  Rashi, in his second explanation of that answer, says that we need to say both in order to come up with the required daily allowance of 100 b’rachot.  The Bach (O.C 46) argues that the main reason for saying all three is to increase the number of b’rachot we say to 100, and that is the main reason for saying three b’rachot in the negative (shelo asani): if you would say  the positive “She’asani Yisrael” then you could not say “Shelo asani aved, isha”.  The Aruch HaShulchan (46, yud) like the Bach that if you say She’asani Yisrael, you cannot say the other two negative b’rachot – you would be “stuck” having said just one, positive, B’racha.

The Rosh  (Rabeinu Asher) in the back of Masechet B’rachot,  upholds the version that we have in Menachot – “She’asani Yisrael”.  While some question this version of the Rosh himself, the Gaon MiVilna affirms it is the girsa of the Rosh  in his Biur HaGra on the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 46:4.

Even though the three negatives have prevailed in our traditions and siddurim, and She’asani Yisrael has not ,the Magen Avraham of three centuries ago and the Mishna B’rura of one century ago mention that in their respective periods there were siddurim – perhaps many of them – that had the b’racha of she’asani  Yehudi  or Yisrael, but that that is a mistake of the printers.

In fact, many of the classic halachik commentators  feel that the negativity of the traditional b’rachot is strange – and they work to come up with answers.  Moreover, even according to the Shulchan Aruch, the positive b’racha of She’asani Yisraeli may have its place – with a convert – and  even those who reject the positive version of  “She’asani Yisrael/Yehudi/Ger” for a convert, do not reject it because it is not a legitimate formulation (matbe’a), but, rather, because it does not work for a convert who has made himself a Jew, rather than being made so by God.

Therefore, I suggest that we follow the b’racha according to the G’ra and the Rosh and our Talmud, and say, “She’asani Yisrael” instead of the negative, and that a woman says“She’asani Yisraelit” instead of the negative.  Once the first b’racha is said in this way, the way it appears in the G’marra Menachot, then we have no choice,  based on the p’sak of the Aruch HaShulchan (from the Bach) , to avoid saying the final two, negative b’rachot of “Shelo Asani Aved” (God did not make me a slave) and “Shelo Asani Isha”(God did not make me a woman), since they become unnecessary after such an all encompassing, powerful, and positive statement of Jewish identity of “She’asani Yisrael/Yisraelit”.

Now for some “hashkafa” – philosophical context:

 

She’asani Yisrael/Yisraelit” is a beautiful b’racha, thanking God for making me Jewish – proud to be Jewish, excited to begin the day as a Yisrael.

Rather than beginning the day with negative b’rachot, which accentuate the G’marra of “noach lo la’adam shelo nivra” – it would be truly better for a human being not to have been created at all –  maybe it is now time to begin the day with a positive b’racha “k’mo sha’ar b’rachot shemevarchim al hatova” (Magen Avraham, 46, 9) – like all other b’rachot that we say blessing God for good things.  How do you want to wake up in the morning: happy to be alive, or frustrated that you are still stuck in this world?  Perhaps it depends on the day!

But  “She’asani Yisrael” matches very well with the story of the angel’s fighting with Jacob in Genesis 32, 26: “Vayomer, Shalcheini ki alah hashacher”, as Rashi interprets: Send me away, Oh Ya’akov, for I have to say the morning blessings of the angels.  These angels, presumably, are happy to have been created!  Then two verses later, the angel gives Jacob his morning blessing:  “Lo Ya’akov ye’ameir shimcha, ki im Yisrael”!  Your name will not be the negative Ya’akov any more, but, rather, the positive, glorious Yisrael!  Can’t you imagine Jacob there and then saying: Blessed are you God who has made me Israel!

There is no better way to bring Jacob’s early morning transformation to life than by us, too, saying every morning, with pride and optimism, the way our G’marra has it: “She’asani Yisrael” – proud to be a  “Yisrael – and through that sweeping away – halachically – centuries of the three negative birchot Hashachar that perhaps were desperately waiting for the day when proud, committed Israelites, would feel blessed enough to push them aside for a brand new morning, just as Jacob’s name was changed so many years ago. Yet, as always, remaining loyal to our tradition and its Talmudic foundation.

Asher Lopatin


The Scotch Counter Boycott is Moral and Just: It Is about Drinking Responsibly! By Rabbi Lopatin

June 23, 2011

I love Scotch, and I paskin like the London Beth Din that every single Scotch is kosher.  But I love Israel as well, and I particularly don’t like people picking on Israel. So, I support fully counter-boycotting against Scotch’s made in the area where their local council is boycotting Israel.   From the best analysis I have seen, Auchentoshen is the Scotch to boycott.  Now, Auchentoshan is not my favorite Scotch, so I’m kind of happy that it is really the only Scotch, readily available in America,  that is clearly  produced and distilled  in the West Dunbartonshire (WDS) part of Scotland, where a majority of the local council has voted various boycotts of Israel – including not allowing Israeli books in the local library.  The most precise report of what is and is not produced in this shire comes from Joshua E. London, of the Jewish Single Malt Whiskey Society, who is critical of the boycott.  But even he admits the viciousness of  the WDS local council toward Israel, and that Auchentoshen, while owned  by a Japanese conglomerate, is distilled and produced in WDS.  

I don’t like boycotts because of policy differences, but when someone boycotts Israel, we must send them a clear message that not only will they suffer, but all their supporters suffer.  People in WDS need to understand that if their elected officials pick on Israel,  it is their responsibility to remove them from office.  I want the world to know that there are millions of consumers and advocates who will fight against any boycott of Israel.  These boycotts are not only ignorant and vicious, they are immoral as well.  The distillers and producers of Scotch, have to tell that to elected and unelected officials: if you live in a place that discriminates against Israel, or if you are a school which allows students to harm pro-Israel students and speakers, your competitors will benefit and you will lose.  That’s the new order.  Maybe these crazy socialist/communist/Marxist councils will pick on someone else.

I’m not impressed that Auchentoshen is working to get KLBD hashgacha for their drinks; Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, refused to give hashgacha for any Scotch in his days, because he believed all of it was kosher.  I still hold of the London Beth Din’s rule that it is all kosher.  In fact, I would suggest that the KLBD, the hashgacha of the London Beth Din, raise the issue of the WDS boycott of Israel in their discussions regarding the kashrut of Auchentashen.  The Scotch companies claim that it is not their fault that the local council has voted to boycott Israel; they are just a company and cannot influence elections.   I ask then, that these companies who feel they can’t speak up, and universities who claim that they have to allow free speech to students that disrupt Israeli speakers, make a donation to the Friends of the IDF to show that they have nothing against Israel.  Or, make a donation to Zaka or Hatzala or even Magen David Adom, any Israeli program that helps victims of Arab terrorism. If they make those donations, and are open about those donations, then I would accept that as a demonstration of their good will.

We in the Diaspora are generally not sending our kids to fight for Israel, nor are we living in Israel and subjecting ourselves to all the risks that Israelis face every day.  We are enjoying the bounty of America or some other foreign land.  The least we can do is send a message of support for Israel with everything with partake of – whether it is Scotch, higher education, or anything else that God has blessed us with the means of purchasing.  Let those who support Israel be blessed and let those who would want to harm Israel face the consequences. God has given us the means of making this world a little more just – let us not shirk our responsibility.  Yes, let us drink responsibly!

 

Rabbi Asher Lopatin


Why is President Obama Ignoring Black Africa? by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

May 26, 2011

The most frustrating thing for me about President Obama’s foreign policy is that he is letting his obsession with issues in the Middle East take him away from the most pressing and devastating humanitarian issues going on in the world: Darfur – where hundreds of thousands of people are facing starvation  and bombings – a brewing civil war between North Sudan and the soon-to-be independent South Sudan, including plans for ethnic cleansing and worse, and most of all  the horrific murder and rape campaigns going on now in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  A recent U.S. study, released May 12, estimated that during the study’s one-year time frame, between 2006 and 2007, 400,000 women were raped in the Congo, or 26 times higher than what the United Nations has been reporting.  400,000 rapes!  In one year!

How can anyone excuse talking about the plight of anyone in the world – whether it is the Palestinians or anyone else – when there are 400,000 women being raped in one area in one year.  Shameful!  We are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on helping a unknown group of rebels in Libya while we are ignoring millions of women being raped, and thousands of men, women and children being killed,per  year?

If you are Jewish, whether on the Left or the Right, you have every right to obsess on Israel – that is your religious, cultural and national obligation.  And if you are Palestinian, by all means you can complain about Israeli checkpoints which are forcing people to spend hours in traffic getting to work, or a security fence which is separating you from your friends and relatives.  But if you are not either Israeli, Jewish, Arab or Palestinian, then you have no right to focus on Israel and Palestinians or even Libyans or Syrians or Bahrainis while hundreds of thousands are experiencing death and rape and genocide in sub-Saharan Africa.  It is morally repugnant for our first African American president to be ignoring the worst humanitarian crises in our world, simply because the Arab world and the Palestinians, and many Jews, are “dreying his kup” – are distracting him – for their own interests.  President Obama needs to set the moral agenda of America and prioritize the areas that truly need our humanitarian attention: Sub-Saharan Africa, Sudan – not Israel or the Middle East.

And to the Jewish community I have a message: If we want the Administration to continue to obsess on Israel-Palestinian peace, we just need to remember that we are being selfish; we need to remember that for every hour Obama has to meet Netanyahu to pressure him, that is an hour that hundreds of more women are being raped in the Congo and another hour closer to finishing the genocide in Darfur.  We may feel that getting Israel out of the West Bank is worth it, or ending the occupation for West Bank Palestinians is worth it, but when the tally of deaths and rapes in Africa is taken, I hope it is not on our heads that the leader of the free world ignored his own homeland and left them to continue living in a hell of rapes, killings and destruction. May God open our eyes and hearts to the suffering of our fellow human beings in Africa, and make sure our President is addressing this moral imperative as he should.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin