One of the primary concerns in the orthodox Jewish community when discussing the issue of reporting sex abuse to the authorities is that inevitably there will be false accusations that will ruin the lives of innocent people. It is very scary to think that someone can be named as an abuser and before any evidence is presented the accused can be found guilty in the court of public opinion. In a community where the main currency is reputation and communal standing false accusations can have drastic consequences.
This is a good reason not to judge people before the facts are known and also a good argument against placing too much stock in reputation. Changing our approach on these issues would go a long way to making our communities safer places.
Whether concern over false accusations is a legitimate reason to require rabbinic approval before going to the authorities is a discussion for another time. I don’t see why should be any different than other non-orthodox Jewish communities, but again, not the discussion here.
The NY Times has a very (appropriately) one-sided article on the Baruch Lebovits and Sam Kellner situation. [click to continue…]
The war over MK Rabbi Dov Lipman is rising to a crescendo. The mouthpiece of the Ultra-Orthodox American establishment is the Yated Ne’eman. The Yated and its Matzav.com website are leading the charge to discredit and demonize Lipman in every way possible. Meanwhile, the Centrist Orthodox Americans are watching from the sidelines as they watch a potential hero go to zero. The Modern Orthodox Jewish community is becoming enraged as they see their values trudged upon by their charedi brothers and sisters.
It’s a mess.
Two important voices from the moderate camp have invited Lipman to speak. The RCA Convention will be headlined by Lipman and the BAYT Shul in Toronto is featuring Lipman as a Scholar in Residence the last week in June.
For these grievous sins, Lipman, the RCA, and BAYT have come under a severe assault of attacks from the Yated and Matzav. Articles calling for boycotts of these fine institutions, articles condemning the the decision makers and rabbinic leadership of both institutions, and of course articles enumerating the horrible sins of Lipman as ammunition for their war appear regularly in their pages. [click to continue…]
I don’t think it matters much what Jewish law would say about the government snooping on its citizens. The government is not subject to Jewish law and its citizens don’t expect the government to conform its policies to Jewish law. Yet, there seems to be value in such analysis as I have been asked this question by several people.
As is often the case, we have two competing interests at stake. Privacy on one hand and safety on the other. Both of these interests are recognized in Jewish law. But they are completely different planes.
Life is primary in Jewish law. All else comes after life. One is not permitted to kill. One is not permitted to commit suicide. One is not permitted to harm one self. One is not permitted to place one’s life in danger. One is obligated to violate Jewish law in order to save one’s own life (with three exceptions – murder, idolatry, and adultery). The sanctity of life is of the utmost importance in Jewish law. These particular laws are derived from primary sources in the Torah and Mishna. [click to continue…]
“Concerning this it is told in the account of the Wars of the Lord, “What He gave at the [Sea of] Reeds and the streams of Arnon.” – Numbers 21:14
The Torah connects the miracles at the Sea of Reeds with the miracles at the streams of Arnon. We are very familiar with the splitting of the sea and the drowning of the Egyptians as the waves crashed down upon them. At the streams of Arnon, Amonites and Moabites were waiting for the Israelites and planned to ambush them. G-D saved the Israelites by crushing the soldiers lying in wait with the mountains they were using for cover. The twin peaks merged together destroying the people lying in wait. The verse tell us that these fantastic miracles are recorded in the book of the Wars of the Lord.
The Hebrew words for “what He gave at [the Sea of] Reeds” are “et vahev b’Sufa.” In the Talmud, our Sages ask what drasha we can learn from the words in Psalms (127) “et oyvim b’shaar – the enemies at the gates?” The Talmud answers in name of R’ Chiya bar Abba that even a father and son or a teacher and student that study Torah in one gateway become enemies when they argue about the Torah and they do not budge from their position until they love one another, as the verse says “et vahev b’Sufa.” Rashi explains that the Talmud is referencing the mention of the book of the Wars of the Lord and is playing on the word vahev which is similar to the word ahava – love, and is saying that the battles of Torah (the Wars of the Lord) end in love.
R’ Schwab asks the obvious question here. This is a very farfetched drasha. What possible connection could there be between the splitting of the seas, the crushing of potential ambushers by way of mountains, and the intense study of Torah with a partner? [click to continue…]
Professor Tamar Ross was interviewed by Professor Alan Brill over at Kavvanah about Torah M’Sinai and Biblical Criticism. To be honest, when I read the interview I was unable to comprehend what she was trying to say. Only after a lengthy Facebook conversation and some posts by Gideon Slifkin did I get her approach, sort of.
Her words are very dense and quite cryptic but I think this what she is trying to say.
In her opinion, we have two immovable objects. We have Divine Revelation and the requisite belief that God gave the Torah to us in its complete form and we have Biblical Criticism which in her opinion asserts that the Torah has evolved from multiple authors and multiple eras. Something has to give. For most people, ignorance about one or the other is the turning point. People who know more about Biblical Criticism than TMS are more likely to think that the Torah is not Divine. Those who know more about (the Orthodox Jewish) approach to Torah than Biblical Criticism are more likely to think that Biblical Criticism is just a theory or soft science with more biases than religious approaches to Torah.
I am not here to take sides and apparently neither is Professor Ross. [click to continue…]
One of the more difficult stories in the Bible is the story of Noah and the Flood. It is confounding on several fronts.
The morality of the tale challenges us. The text of the narrative is confusing. The presence of competing flood narratives from the rest of the ancient world gives us pause. The paucity of scientific and archaeological evidence of a massive flood is disconcerting. Perhaps most of all, it is difficult for our modern ears to hear the relevance of the story today.
All the aforementioned issues can be answered with a variety of approaches. We have dealt with some of the them on this blog. (See here: Flood Bombshell)
On Tablet Magazine Marjorie Ingall reviews a new book with a version of the flood story told as if it were an Indian scroll. Sounds cool. [click to continue…]
Yesterday, in an article in Newsday, the world was introduced to the term Tuna Beigel. Now it’s time to retire it.
A little Googling will yield plenty of results for the term and almost all of them are negative. It’s used to describe people born to chasidic families who modernize. They keep many of the exterior elements of chasidishe life but lead lives that are not insular at all. They are familiar with popular culture, they have less rigid ideas about modesty, and they live outside the chasidic enclaves. However, I would say that these people are by and large orthodox. If they leave orthodoxy they leave this group.
For non-chasidim, these people can seem odd. They don’t speak English well, they are under-educated, they have chasidishe foibles and tendencies. Because of these barriers they don’t really integrate perfectly into the mainstream yeshiva world or into the modern orthodox world. Hence, they have their own group and their own name. The separate name and their lack of integration are an indictment of the frum world. Non-chasidim must do a better job of welcoming those who left insular community. Titles that mock their difficult choice would not a good way of doing this.
The problem is that Tuna Beigel is a pejorative. [click to continue…]
I received a review copy of the new Nehalel BeShabbat siddur a few weeks ago. Over the last few weeks I have been test driving the siddur.
For starters, I have never used such a beautiful prayer book. The pages are laid out very well. The typography is excellent and a pleasure to read, no italics thankfully. We are given basic instructions for the service throughout and I found them to be accurate and useful. The translation was decent enough. There were some odd choices, but it’s like a happy marriage between Artscroll and Koren. What sets apart Nehalel BeShabbat is the photos.
Many of us have seen their “benchers” with gorgeous illustrative photos. That concept has now been extended to the Shabbat siddur. It is not without careful consideration and considerable hemming and hawing that the photos were deemed appropriate. Several writers in the introductory remarks justify the inclusion of photos in the siddur. Personally, I think it’s an acceptable idea and found using Nehalel BeShabbat with its photos mostly a positive experience. Praying with Nehalel BeShabbat is an interesting journey and I appreciated the effort to explain the use of photos in the siddur.
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“Put fire therein, and put incense upon them before the Lord tomorrow; and it shall be that the man whom the Lord does choose, he shall be holy; you take too much upon yourselves, you sons of Levi.” – Numbers 16:7
In this week’s parsha, Korach challenges the legitimacy of Moses’ leadership. It was something of a suicide mission as Korach knew that if he was wrong, he would die. But why would Korach risk his life? By all accounts Korach was smart and ambitious, not a fool. What was Korach thinking?
Rashi quotes the Medrash that says that the “you take too much upon yourselves” can be interpreted Midrashically to mean “I have told you about a great thing.” This explains Korach’s folly. Through prophecy, Korach saw a vision that he would have very special descendants and believed that he would be spared in their merit.
This vision emboldened Korach and he proceeded with his rebellion with confidence that he would survive the ordeal. It was Korach’s hubris that did him in. He thought that if his descendants were righteous it gave validity to his mission. In truth, his sons repented before the ground swallowed Korach and his rebels. It was their descendants who Korach saw in his prophecy.
Rabbeinu Chananel says that Korach and his group were Levites. R’ Shteinman points out that this means that the sin of this group was different than the other sins of the Israelites in the desert. Starting with the sin of the Golden Calf, the Levites abstained from sin. The Levites were able to withstand the temptation of sin throughout the sojourn in the desert. Until Korach.
What happened? Why was Korach the Levite susceptible to sin in this instance? [click to continue…]
Every group or cause needs a spokesperson. There is no more eloquent a spokesperson for her cause than Leah Vincent. (No offense to the rest of her group intended.)
Leah represented herself and Footsteps quite nicely on Katie Couric’s show, creatively named Katie. Every story about someone leaving the ultra-orthodox community has the potential to be a huge chillul Hashem and an abject failure. My sense of the segment on Katie was that despite the significant obstacles placed before her, Leah has been very successful in her personal and professional life. The segment veered from a discussion about the flaws or problems in her community. In fact, it almost glossed over them.
If one was looking for a chillul Hashem, I think it would be hard to find one in this segment. It was much easier to see chillul Hashem in previous television appearances by those who left ultra-orthodox Judaism. I think it speaks to Leah’s dignity and demeanor that the segment was so respectful. [click to continue…]
There is a Talmudic mystery that has perplexed Torah scholars for centuries.
Normally the Talmud is a free flowing conversation. Each new topic that is discussed is properly headed or is a segue from a previous conversation. On Sanhedrin 43A, the Talmud abruptly ends the conversation and picks up the conversation on 43B with an unrelated topic. Some scholars have offered creative suggestions that connect the two but no interpretations are sufficiently satisfactory.
The mystery has been already been solved. Here are 10 incredible photos of three versions of one book of the Talmud that tell the story of this mystery and its solution. Come with me on a Talmudic journey spanning 5 centuries. [click to continue…]
In Parshas Shlach, Moshe sends the spies to the Land of Israel. Just prior to their departure the Torah tells us that Moses called Hoshea bin Nun Yehoshua. The common reading of the verse is that Moses changed Hoshea’s name to Yehoshua. No reason is given in the text of the Chumash for this change.
The Talmud in Sota (34b) famously tells us that Moses “said – Yud Hey [the name of God] will save you from the plot of the spies.” I think most people understand this interpretation of Chazal as saying that Moses had a premonition about the mission from the start. He somehow knew that they were going to sin. To protect Hoshea from sin Moses added God’s name to Hoshea so that he would be saved from their scheme.
The Torah Temimah asks the obvious questions here. First, if Moses knew about the plot how could he send them to sin? Second, the best he could muster was a name change for Hoshea? If he knew they were going to sin he should have offered protection for all of them!
Because of these questions the Torah Temimah reinterprets what Chazal are saying here. [click to continue…]
“And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.” – Number 14:1
Upon hearing the negative report of the spies about the Land of Canaan, the Israelites were forlorn. They believed they would have no chance of conquering the land and so they wept. The Talmud tells us in the name of Rabbi Yochanan that the night they wept was the 9th of Av. God told the Israelites that they cried for no reason on 9th of Av in the desert so God would give them a real reason to cry in the future. It seems that our first and second temples were destroyed on the 9th of Av as retribution for the communal sin of the spies and their slander.
The Book of Lamentations wails over the destruction of the first temple. According to the Talmud it also hints at the reasons for the destruction. Each of the first four chapters of the book forms an acrostic with the first letter of each sentence forming the Hebrew alphabet. In the Hebrew alphabet the letter Ayin precedes the letter Peh. However, the verse in Lamentations chapter 1 beginning with the letter Peh precedes the verse beginning with the letter Ayin. This is because the Peh, which can also refer to the mouth, jumped ahead of the Ayin, which can also refer to the eye. The spies spoke about things that their eyes did not see and so the Peh precedes the Ayin in Lamentations to allude to the sin that caused the destruction of the temple.
There is a problem with this interpretation. [click to continue…]
Conor Friedersdorf has an excellent article on theatlantic.com called “History Is Beautiful Things Made by People With Ugly Ideas“. He argues that a graduate student who refuses to sing a song written by Walt Whitman because Whitman was a racist is wrong. The song itself is not racist however its composer said some very racists things in his life.
Friedersdorf writes that history is full of flawed men and women who did things that we would find abhorrent today. If we disregard their accomplishments because we are looking at them through modern glasses we lose all their contributions to society. Taking this idea to the extreme, it would be akin to not performing a surgery because the person who discovered or refined the technique was a racist or a bigot. We would lose almost all modern progress if the only people from whom we accepted their ideas or inventions were perfect people.
Instead we must view our forebears as products of a time where things were different than they are today. Even if it was the same world, modernity is built upon the ideas of flawed people. [click to continue…]
I received a copy of Doublelife: One Family, Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope a few weeks ago. It took a while for me to actually sit down and read the book but I read it over the weekend and will do my usual review with a side of analysis on the book.
The story is quite intriguing. A Jewish man who makes a living playing music at Church and a Christian woman who does the same fall in love, get married, and end up as orthodox Jews. There’s a lot of blanks to fill in and the book does a fair job of telling their story.
It’s hard not to notice the book’s most obvious shtick right away. The entire story is told in letters between Harold and Gayle. Harold’s letters are written in regular typeset and Gayle’s are in italics. I found this very distracting. I don’t like italics. But that might be a personal quirk.
The larger issue is that it seems so artificial. Everything is written in letter format. Even things that couples obviously already know about one another. Normal people do not write letters to each other that ask the big questions like “will we have a Christmas tree or Hanukkah bush in our home”. Normal couples do not express themselves in letters to the exclusion of anything else. Yet, the book expects us to believe that all these important conversations took place via letters. Either these are real letters, which is just odd or it’s a gimmick. Making things worse, in order for this to work logistically, the two of them are almost never together. He is writing about his life, she is writing about her life, but because of the format we rarely get a feel for what life is like for the two of them when they are together. Some people might like this format choice, but I did not. It was weird.
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