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ARI WEINBERGER Future Emergency Medicine Physician
DANIEL FUCHS Future Cardiologist
Spring 2020/5780 | Vol. 80, No. 3
96 72 FEATURES
20 24 34 36
FROM OUR ARCHIVES The Role of Women in the Founding of OU Kosher By Faigy Grunfeld RABBI’S DIARY Why Your Millennial Child Needs Your Rabbi By Yaakov Jaffe HEALTH AND WELLNESS Nicotine Is Back. Now What? By Rachel Schwartzberg Is Vaping Kosher? By Aaron E. Glatt JEWISH LAW The Next Frontier in Jewish Law: Artificial Intelligence Rabbi Ari Z. Zivotofsky speaks with Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon Rabbi Tzvi Ortner: The Solution Finder The Chassid behind the effort to make “smart” kitchens Shabbat and yom tov-friendly By Merri Ukraincik COVER STORY Faith and Family: When a Child Leaves the Fold—A Symposium
JEWISH CULTURE Frum and Funny on Twitter: Sharing Insider Culture with the Outside By Judy Gruen SYNAGOGUE AND PRAYER The Story of the Synagogue Chumash By Yosef Lindell
02 06 10 14 76
LETTERS PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE Increased Devotion but a Paucity of Passion By Mark (Moishe) Bane FROM THE DESK OF ALLEN I. FAGIN The “Survivors’ Talmud” and the Obligation to Remember CHAIRMAN’S MESSAGE By Gerald M. Schreck LEGAL-EASE What’s the Truth About . . . Davening Facing Pictures, Mirrors or Reflective Surfaces? By Ari Z. Zivotofsky
82 87 96 104 106 108 110 112
THE CHEF’S TABLE A Lighter Side of Pesach Cooking By Naomi Ross INSIDE THE OU Compiled by Sara Olson Goldberg INSIDE PHILANTHROPY Compiled by Marcia P. Neeley BOOKS Wine, Whisky and Halachah By HaRav Shraga Kallus and Rabbi Avraham Chaim Slansky Reviewed by Eli Gersten Jewish Ideas in Morality and Religion By Sol Roth Reviewed by Gidon Rothstein Pshuto Shel Mikra By HaRav Yehuda Copperman Reviewed by Yitzchak Etshalom REVIEWS IN BRIEF By Gil Student LASTING IMPRESSIONS Milk for Pesach By David Olivestone
Jewish Action seeks to provide a forum for a diversity of legitimate opinions within the spectrum of Orthodox Judaism. Therefore, opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the policy or opinion of the Orthodox Union.
Jewish Action is published by the Orthodox Union • 11 Broadway, New York, NY 10004 212.563.4000. Printed Quarterly—Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, plus Special Passover issue. ISSN No. 0447-7049. Subscription: $16.00 per year; Canadian, $20.00; Overseas, $60.00. Periodical's postage paid at New York, NY, and additional offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Jewish Action, 11 Broadway, New York, NY 10004.
Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
LETTERS THE MAGAZINE OF THE ORTHODOX UNION jewishaction.com
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THE DAF IN THE DIGITAL AGE Thank you for your article on the digital world of the Daf Yomi (“The Daf in the Digital Age” [winter 19]). However, I would like to bring to your attention the beginnings of the digitization of the daf, which was not mentioned in your article. The first Shas placed on the Internet was by my organization, Ashreinu (E-daf.com). Since my background was in computer software, I had an idea: let’s put Shas on the Internet so that anyone in the world can have access to Shas. I approached my gabbai and said, “Josh [Itzkowitz], would you like to be koneh Olam Haba [acquire the World to Come]? I have a project for you.” Josh agreed. He carefully scanned in each page of the twenty volumes of Shas—2,711 pages—multiple times. Josh began his work in 1999 and worked tirelessly for nine months. He scanned in each of the 5,422 sides three times to get the best possible image (16,266 scans!). We then hired a webmaster, and E-daf was born. At its peak E-Daf had 500,000 hits a month, i.e., 250,000 blatt gemara were learned through E-daf each and every month in all parts of the world—from Brooklyn to Israel, Germany to Siberia. The first time Josh showed me the geographical stats, I literally cried tears of joy. As the idea took off, others have followed in our footsteps and improved on our idea. One who promotes the welfare of an individual and helps him grow in Torah and mitzvot, “secharo harbeh me’od—his reward is ever so great.” Josh did this job with love and devotion, so much so that one day when the links to the next day’s daf and all of Shas were broken, Josh stayed up all night to fix them so no one would miss the daf the next day. I felt compelled to draw the curtain back so that all can see the wizard of being mezakeh harabim [strengthening the masses]! Dovid Kraus Brooklyn, New York I took pleasure in completing two cycles of Daf Yomi using my 100-year-old Vilna Shas. It made me feel closer [to our mesorah] than had I used an ArtScroll or smartphone. Perhaps that is why Dr. Henry Abramson’s remark toward the end of his excellent interview (“Up Close with Dr. Henry Abramson,” [winter 2019]), where he defines cassettes as “an obsolete technology from the last century,” did not resonate with me. For ease of operation, whether recording or playback, nothing is simpler than cassettes or VHS. Most significant for religious Jews is that their privacy is assured. When using cassettes or VHS, we are not compromised by ads or “cookies,” and no filter is necessary. I stand by the continued value of my large collection of tapes,
This magazine contains divrei Torah, and should therefore be disposed of respectfully by either double-wrapping prior to disposal, or placing in a recycling bin.
LPs and even 78s. Marshall McLuhan’s dictum, “the medium is the message,” should be shunned by all those who believe the message is primary and the medium a temporary convenience. Learning a 1,500-year-old text informs us of the enduring value of older things. Larry W. Josefovitz Beachwood, Ohio TOLERATING ANTI-SEMITISM Allen I. Fagin’s call to ban hate speech (“The Intolerance of Tolerance,” [winter 2019]) is a slippery slope. For centuries our books were censored for real and imagined negative statements about other religions and their founders. Do we want a return to that? Moreover, punishing Holocaust deniers and their ilk makes them martyrs and creates a backlash. The way to fight speech is with speech. Avraham Keslinger Ofra, Israel With regard to Allen Fagin’s well-written article, I want to point out that the liberal and progressive colleges, academia, media, et cetera, deny one the freedom of speech when one’s speech is against their beliefs. On college campuses, there is talk of micro-aggression—one is not permitted to do anything as simple as rolling one’s eyes or grimacing, indicating one’s opposition to a certain position. Students are taught not to engage in such behaviors as they are not politically correct. But what about my right to free speech? The term “politically correct” is never used in the same sentence with Jews, Israel or the Holocaust. The “politically correct” argument is a tool of the left, and not of the right. Thank you, Mr. Fagin, for a wonderful argument. Unfortunately, you are preaching to the converted. Your article belongs in the New York Times. Good luck getting the paper to print it.
There’s a chef in Charlotte who thinks she's missing an ingredient. There’s a gym teacher in Jacksonville who’s ready for some mental lifting. There’s a scuba diver in Scottsdale who wants to get his feet wet.
Arnold Wechsler West Palm Beach, Florida How curiously selective are today’s fervent free speech advocates! This is most evident at ground zero: American college campuses. They are “open forums” for some, but not all; conservative and pro-Israel views are de-platformed. While all such institutions have clear guidelines as to acceptable behavior, those are rarely enforced on the most militant offenders. Harassment, intimidation, event disruptions and the like hardly fall under the free speech rubric. Yet such slights, as well as ostracism and exclusion by fellow students, scorn from radical faculty and indifference or worse from administrators, regularly face Jewish students. Viral anti-Semitism is being insidiously spread throughout society by identity politics, political correctness, intersectionality, social justice and advocacy journalism— which, ironically, increasingly dictate what can and cannot be said. On free speech grounds, there has been
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strong pushback against anti-BDS laws at the state and national levels, as well as the president’s executive order extending Title VI civil rights protections, which have never before been seen as problematic, to Jews and other religio-ethnic groups. Shamefully, J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, and IFNotNow have joined in that criticism. Inextricably intertwined, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are being fought on proliferating fronts by many groups and numerous individuals. Whether it be countering massive media misinformation and misrepresentation; lobbying politicians at local, state and federal levels; denouncing academic, cultural and economic boycotts of Israel; or mounting legal challenges, those efforts are having an impact. On campus, a new organization, Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF), aims to tap into a heretofore largely overlooked resource: concerned alumni. It already has several dozen chapters, including at Columbia, Barnard and NYU. To join or start a chapter at one’s alma mater(s), visit campusfairness.org. Richard D. Wilkins Syracuse University Chapter, ACF Syracuse, New York THE HEROIC KESTENBAUM BROTHERS Regarding the articles by Susie Garber, “A Discovery Sheds Light on Rescue Efforts During the Holocaust” (winter 2019) and R. Licht, “The Kestenbaum Rescue Efforts: An Analysis,” I would like to fill in a few important gaps. Mention is made of seventeen boxes of miscellaneous documents [discovered in the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Manhattan]. These boxes were culled from filing cabinets stored in my parents’ garage in Flatbush. (My mother, Shirley Kestenbaum Schulder, was Jacob Kestenbaum’s oldest child.) After analyzing the various documents, our family concluded that most likely Jacob Kestenbaum was responsible for saving approximately 600 Jews from the Shoah. In the summer of 1976, my wife Esther took it upon herself to collate these papers as best she could. Then I mentioned the existence of the files to Professor Yaffa Eliach, z”l, my former Jewish history teacher at the Yeshivah of Flatbush High School. (She subsequently left to teach at Brooklyn College and form the Center for Holocaust Studies, the precursor to most, if not all, Holocaust-related research centers in the United States. The Center for Holocaust Studies is credited in the article for English translations of several Yiddish letters. The documents were initially loaned to the Center.) Once the Museum of Jewish Heritage was established, my mother and the rest of her family decided that it was the best place for these priceless documents to be preserved on a permanent basis. William Schulder New York, New York
There’s a lawyer in Lancaster who wants to know why we answer questions with a question. There’s a plumbing contractor in Pittsburgh who’s ready to take the plunge. There’s a home-schooling mom in Portland who wants to be home-schooled. Learn (and shmooze!) with a fellow Jew for just 30 minutes a week.
elp shape the ewish uture.
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INCREASED DEVOTION BUT A PAUCITY of PASSION Ongoing studies of American Orthodox Jewry, though still imprecise, indicate a significant surge in religious devotion. The number of students enrolled in day schools and yeshivos, adults attending Torah classes, lulav and esrog sets sold and pounds of shemurah matzah purchased for Pesach are just a few of the myriad examples illustrating this phenomenon. The rise in religious devotion is not only spiritually significant, but according to studies of American Jewry, it also plays a role in boosting Jewish identity and continuity. wo characteristics of the Religious passion, however, is not religious experience are as clearly on the rise. Though easily devotion and passion. Often, confused with devotion, passion however, we fail to view is quite different. It is not merely them as distinct from each other and greater intensity of commitment thus neglect to ensure that each is independently developed and nurtured. or even inspiration, excitement or joy. Nor is passion evidenced by For the Orthodox Jew, devotion arguing one’s opinion louder than denotes a sense of loyalty and commitment to halachah, to principles others, or espousing views with utter certainty in one’s position. Rather, of faith and to the Jewish people. It means being guided by Torah passion signifies absolute and intense and Torah values when making engagement with an ideal or goal choices, whether in how to behave such that pragmatic realities are no or in what to believe. A devoted longer a restraint and seemingly Orthodox Jew is fully committed to impenetrable obstacles are no longer serving God and dutifully fulfills a barrier. Passion is a treasured drive these obligations as best as possible. to achieve more than can possibly be expected. It enables a writer to toil many lonely years penning a novel Mark (Moishe) Bane is president and the inventor or scientist to give of the OU and a senior partner and birth to invaluable discoveries despite chairman of the Business Restructuring withstanding derision or frustration. Department at the international law firm Ropes & Gray LLP. Passion motivates the young idealist to not only dream of changing the
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
world, but to actually attempt to do so. And religious passion, the most transformative passion of all, generates the energy and ratzon (human will) to achieve spiritual heights that surpass normative expectations. Over the ages, Judaism has thrived on the energy and ratzon generated by passion. We extol the religious zeal of Torah giants who achieved extraordinary scholarship despite living amidst harsh and difficult conditions, and our nation’s courageous heroes on the battlefield, from King David to the Maccabees to the modern-day defenders of our people. And we admire the fiery ardor of those who have, over the centuries, sacrificed their lives to be mekadesh Shem Shamayim. But religious passion is also evident in less dramatic ways. What about the unnamed and unacclaimed individuals and families whose commitment to religious observance perseveres in the darkest of hours, or impoverished parents who allocate their paltry resources to provide their children with a religious education? What about those who toil in the challenging and often thankless fields of education and community service despite inadequate remuneration and insufficient appreciation? Certainly there are many individual American Orthodox Jews who exhibit such passion, and there are even groups who collectively aspire to it. But while religious devotion
is a hallmark of our community, why is there not a widespread aspiration for achieving religious passion? Some of us feel passionate with regard to a particular cause or challenge. We may respond intensely about a sports team or political candidate, about an insult we feel demands recompense, or about helping a friend in dire need. But what about religious passion? How often is our religious devotion complemented by a passionate yearning for closeness to God? And if and when we do respond affirmatively to moments of religious intensity, do we aspire to retain and sustain that drive? We educate our children to be devoted Jews, but do we also teach them how to be passionate Jews? Is it fair to suggest that we deeply hope that our children grow up to be religious, but give them the message that they, please, not be too religious; that they develop into “well-rounded” Orthodox adults, but should understand that there is no need to overdo it and become passionate idealists? Do we hope that our children care about the needs of others, about Torah scholarship, about justice and about the future of the Jewish people, but only if these characteristics are kept in proper balance? We speak of idealism as a virtue, but only if accompanied by a balanced lifestyle. Interestingly, our discouragement of the pursuit of true religious passion may be one of the few areas of religious parenting that we actually teach by example. Why are so many of us averse to religious passion? Are we fearful that too much religious passion will cause us to neglect life’s practicalities, leaving a sense of disillusionment in its wake once the passion dissipates? Has American Orthodoxy been too infused with materialism and affluence so that the cost of pursuing passionate idealism is simply too steep? Or is religious passion simply incongruous with the integration within the broader American society that we find so imperative? The grave repercussions of passion on a communal level may be another possible reason for our discomfort with religious passion even on an individual level. Communal Passion Communal passion is the stuff of social movements that advance justice and champion lofty values. But communal passion is also the fuel of revolutions, wars and ideological upheavals. It is an agent of change, and often generates extremism and fanaticism. Orthodox Judaism is wary of uncontrolled change, because the consequences are highly unpredictable. Orthodox Judaism is founded on timeless truths and non-negotiable halachic principles and dictates. While recognizing that change often preserves rather than distorts Torah and Torah values, necessary and positive change within Judaism is typically employed through evolution rather than revolution, and only when implemented with deliberate thoughtfulness, sensitivity and care. Change effected through communal zeal, by contrast, tends to be unwieldy and often progresses even beyond the control of its instigators.
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Communal passion is also commonly associated with extremism, which is anathema to our community. Such passion may or may not begin with a focus on God, but generally dissolves into bitter divisions within Judaism itself. Throughout Jewish history, fanaticism and extremism have served us poorly. A prime example is Churban Bayis Sheni, the destruction of the Second Temple, which was hastened by the Zealots, a break-away Jewish sect. Seeking to impose their political views by controlling Jerusalem’s destiny, they destroyed the besieged city’s food supply, leading to starvation, death and the Roman conquest of Jerusalem. Notwithstanding their deep religious devotion, most American Orthodox Jews practice a Judaism of moderation and deliberateness, unlike the Israeli Orthodox community where religious fervor is commonplace. Israeli passion, however sacred it may be, often results in the very extremism that offends Americans, sometimes leading to hostility and alienation between Orthodox factions. Even those observant Americans who admire the religious passion of certain Israeli sects and communities and may even financially support them, typically decline to adopt such a lifestyle themselves. That is not to say that there is never an occasion when communal passion is appropriate. When confronted by a grave crisis—such as a severe threat to our physical selves or to our core theological principles— even moderate American Orthodox Jews will respond vigorously and passionately. In these situations, passion can generate the energy and will that are necessary to achieve results when failure is intolerable but pragmatic solutions are infeasible. For example, much of American Orthodoxy responded forcefully in support of the fledgling Jewish State in the aftermath of the Holocaust and campaigned vigorously to free Soviet Jews, who were spiritually and physically trapped behind the Iron Curtain. For these same reasons, American Orthodoxy’s 8
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
We educate our children to be devoted Jews, but do we also teach them how to be passionate Jews? educational and rabbinic leadership and their students passionately built yeshivos and day schools to reinvigorate Torah study among a precariously illiterate American Orthodoxy, and galvanized the late 1960s kiruv (outreach) movement in the face of rising assimilation. But in the absence of crisis, communal passion is not commonly found among American Orthodox Jews. The Role and Impact of Individual Passion Much of the resistance to communal passion is inapplicable to passion on an individual basis. That is not to suggest that passion is necessary or even appropriate to the endless stream of “wants” that evolve over the course of our lives and which inform our actions, emotions and choices. We begin by wanting ice cream, our parents’ approval, and friends. We then add academic success, the car keys and a seat at the cool kids table. As we get older, we want a spouse who can love and be loved, children who are happy and follow in our path, and a semblance of financial stability. When we age, we first realize that good health has been what we always wanted most. We then also hope to remain relevant to our children, and to not outlive our spouse and our savings. Passion, however, is not stuff with which to pursue our ordinary wants. Regardless of how essential the wants may be, passion is inappropriate. Rather, passion belongs to our lofty goals and values, to the aspects of life that transcend the ordinary; allowing
us to aspire to personal summits of achievement that are otherwise beyond our reach. Passion introduces personal ratzon, human will, which is the most powerful energy short of the Divine, that empowers us to attain unimaginable personal growth or to have an unfathomable impact on others. Ratzon allows us to tackle inconceivable challenges and to pierce the impenetrable. When meeting truly extraordinary individuals whose accomplishments, whether in scholarship, creativity, influence or otherwise, are seemingly beyond human comprehension, I often speculate that their most valuable resource is this unbridled ratzon, which has allowed them to transcend their natural limitations. I have been privileged to observe individuals with enormous personal passion, and the power engendered by their passion. One such individual was Mr. Zev Wolfson, a”h, a visionary philanthropist who dictated realities rather than deferred to them. During a casual Pesach stroll in the 1990s he shared with me a thought that I later realized was the theme underlying his approach to communal activism. We were discussing the personalities and traits of Jewish leaders with whom he had interacted and I asked whether he had found a particular individual to be great. Our walk abruptly stopped and Mr. Wolfson looked at me and asked, “What makes a person great?” I scrambled for an answer he might find acceptable and I replied, “Great people are those who maximize their potential.” He scoffed dismissively, commenting that every individual is expected to maximize his or her potential; hence, doing so is good, but certainly not great. Bewildered, I asked: “What then makes an individual great?” He responded that great people are not those who meet their potential but those who exceed their potential. If we fail to aspire to passion, we diminish our chances of exceeding our potential, and stymie our children. Passion is the power of ratzon; the power of the individual to transcend potential; the opportunity to be great.
FROM THE DESK OF ALLEN I. FAGIN
The “SURVIVORS’ TALMUD” and the OBLIGATION to REMEMBER
n January 1, 2020, over 100,000 Jews gathered at MetLife Stadium and the Barclays Center to celebrate the thirteenth Siyum HaShas. It was a day of joy; of crowning achievement; of proud identification as Jews; a public proclamation of how limud haTorah has permeated and uplifted our community and defines our essence; a day of prayer and thanks to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. And it was also a day to remember, to proclaim our ability not only to survive but to thrive, a day to celebrate our eternity. The Siyum HaShas included a remarkably moving presentation by Rabbi Paysach Krohn (youtube.com/ watch?v=X04xDtlQ9c0) regarding what has come to be known variously as the DP Camp Gemara, the Survivors’ Talmud, or the She’erit Hapleitah Shas. At the Siyum, an actual volume of that historic Shas was used to be mesayem (conclude) the Daf Yomi cycle. Allen I. Fagin is executive vice president of the OU.
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The story of the printing of the Survivors’ Talmud is a remarkable testament to the enduring emunah of the few who survived Churban Europa, and who sought to recreate organized Jewish life, ritual observance and Torah learning in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust. Following the end of World War II in Europe, thousands of Jewish survivors of the Nazi extermination camps were relocated to displaced persons (DP) camps until arrangements could be made for them to be reunited with family, or they would otherwise be able to leave Europe. The number of Jewish inhabitants of the DP camps in the zones of occupation ranged from 50,000 in May 1945 to 185,000 by late 1946. These survivors, the She’erit Hapleitah, arrived in the DP camps with only the clothes on their backs, their bodies wracked by disease, their souls shattered by the unspeakable horrors they had suffered and witnessed. As the hope of finding surviving relatives gradually diminished, and the extent of the near total destruction of European Jewry became increasingly apparent, it was an indomitable faith that guided—indeed propelled—the rebirth of Jewish life. Responsibility for these survivors, and the DP camps that housed them, fell to the US Army, with help from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (the Joint). Of course, it would be some time before all of the survivors could be resettled, and in the interim, the Jews living in the DP camps began to organize some semblance of the religious life and infrastructure that had been eradicated under Nazi control. The ability to once again engage in limud Torah was a yearned-for priority. Among
the many struggles and difficulties facing them, the survivors in the DP camps had barely any sefarim, save for the few that had been stashed in German warehouses and a number of volumes loaned by the Joint and the American Vaad Hatzalah (formed by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis in America and Canada). For the survivors, the return to a meaningful life of Torah study was paramount; this required access to sefarim. A dedicated group of Jews led by Dachau death camp survivors Rabbi Shmuel Abba Snieg, chief rabbi of the US zone of Allied-occupied Germany, and Rabbi Samuel Jakob Rose, a student of the famed Slabodka Yeshiva, approached the US Commander of the American zone, General Joseph McNarney, and discussed the need to arrange for the publication of the Shas for the survivors living in DP camps. Remarkably, in an inspirational case of Jewish unity, Rabbi Snieg was able to connect across denominational lines with Rabbi Phillip S. Bernstein, a Reform rabbi from New York who was serving as an advisor to General McNarney. Rabbi Bernstein orchestrated a meeting between General McNarney, Rabbi Snieg and his group. In a memorandum to the General, Rabbi Bernstein captured the intense thirst that the Jews of the DP camps had for a Shas: Could General McNarney, acting on behalf of the US Army, provide “the tools for the perpetuation of religion, for the students who crave these texts?” An edition of Shas, Rabbi Bernstein argued, printed right after the horrors of the Holocaust, “published in Germany under the auspices of the American Army of Occupation, would be an historic work.” It is clear that the rabbis recognized that this project would send a profound
MAKING PARTNER IS EASIER THAN YOU THINK
By: Sandy Eller
If Steve Savitsky had to correct one misconception about becoming a Partners in Torah mentor, it would be the notion that only seasoned educators are qualified to convey Judaism’s richness to a fellow Jew. “When I first started encouraging people to volunteer, they would tell me they didn’t know enough, but most people know far more than they realize,” said Savitsky. “Of course it’s important to study something, but the main part of mentoring is to share things about your life - why you light Shabbos candles, keep kosher and devote so much of your income to educating your kids.”
Rabbi Samuel Jakob Rose, a survivor of Dachau, examines the galleys of the first postwar edition of the Talmud to be printed in Germany. Photo taken ca. 1947. Courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial
Museum via the National Archives and Records Administration, College Park
message: having the US Army print a set of Shas in Germany would constitute a concrete manifestation of Jewish survival, despite the now apparent, multi-year Nazi effort to exterminate the Jews, their culture and their religion. General McNarney, for his part, immediately understood the significance and potential impact of this project. Despite severe shortages of paper, ink and supplies, General McNarney ordered the project’s start. An agreement, titled “The Agreement Between the American Joint Distribution Committee and the Rabbinical Council, US Zone Germany, Regarding the Printing of the New Edition of the Talmud,” was drafted and signed on September 11, 1946. The Joint would supervise the project alongside the US Army, while the funding would come from the Joint and the German government. Because of the dearth of supplies, as well as the Army’s underestimation of how many sets of Shas would be needed in the camps, the original approval was for fifty copies of the Shas. With every breakthrough in the quest to bring the Survivors’ Talmud to fruition, a major obstacle arose. Foremost among the challenges was the inability to locate a complete set of Shas in post-War Europe. Between 1930 and 1945, the Nazis had stolen or burned countless sefarim belonging to European Jews (according to published estimates, the Nazi machinery confiscated between three and four million Jewish books); and throughout the entire region, not one complete set of Shas could be found. Ultimately, two original sets were brought from New York by the Joint, but only after Rabbi Snieg and Rabbi Rose discovered hidden copies of Masechet Nedarim and Kiddushin in their DP camp, itself a remarkable testament to the dedication to Torah learning amidst the depravity of the Holocaust. By February of 1947, work on the printing of the Survivors’ Talmud began, under the direction of Rabbi Snieg and Rabbi Rose. The Army had requisitioned a printing plant in Heidelberg, Germany for printing the Survivors’ Talmud—ironically, this same plant had mass-produced Nazi propaganda literature during the war years. Many additional obstacles followed, including scarce materials, delays in funding from the German government, and long waits for
As chairman of Partners in Torah, Savitsky is passionate about the program that asks volunteers to donate their time, not their money, with a 30 minute, once-a-week phone conversation. While he acknowledges that people lead busy lives, Savitsky insists that anyone can find half an hour to enrich the life of another Jew. “So many of us go through life as observant Jews and never appreciate how fortunate we are to lead religious lives,” said Savitsky. “Those of us who have had a Jewish education and a religious upbringing possess the tools to positively impact the lives of others.” Hedge fund veteran David Magerman is one of Partners in Torah’s many success stories. Drifting away from the Conservative Judaism of his childhood, Magerman was reintroduced to his religious roots when his wife, Debra, insisted on keeping a kosher home. A trip to Israel further piqued his interest and Magerman called Partners in Torah in 2004. The rest, as they say, is history, and Magerman is renowned for his philanthropic efforts supporting Jewish education nationwide. Among Partners in Torah over 76,000 veterans are some well-known names, including actress Mayim Bialik and her partner, Allison Josephs, creator of Jew in the City and Project Makom. As Bialik progressed, she proudly proclaimed her religious observance, her refusal to work on Jewish holidays inspiring others to do the same. More often than not, Partners in Torah mentors are typical members of the observant Jewish community, who take vacations, read books, travel and play ball with their kids. Because they hail from all walks of life and have common experiences with their students, they have what it takes to be role models and to forge the personal connections that are essential for the student- mentor relationship. As Partners in Torah founder and CEO Rabbi Eli Gewirtz emphasizes, the program’s primary focus is to help Jews build lifelong connections to Judaism and a campaign launching this month will recruit thousands of new participants, while increasing staff and services to help mentors in their journeys in learning. Along with a digital library of study materials, Partners in Torah staff will be available to offer guidance and address any questions. Rabbi Gewirtz recognizes that some may be reluctant to become mentors because they might not have all the answers to their students’ questions. “There is nothing wrong with telling someone “I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you,’” observed Rabbi Gewirtz. Rabbi Gewirtz describes the student-mentor partnership as a match made in heaven, connecting those who have Torah knowledge with others who are eager to learn. “So many Jews are looking for a connection to Judaism and if we’re not there for them, they will look elsewhere,” said Rabbi Gewirtz. “In just 30 minutes a week, you can make a difference and help shape the Jewish future.” Learn with a fellow Jew for 30 minutes a week and help shape the Jewish future. Sign up at www.partnersintorah.org/mentor Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
supplies being shipped from overseas. At long last, the first copies were printed in May of 1949. At an emotional ceremony, Rabbi Snieg presented the first copy of the Shas to General McNarney’s successor, General Lucius Clay, famously stating: “I bless your hand in presenting to you this volume embodying the highest spiritual wisdom of our people.” The final printing was completed in November of 1950, bringing the total number of sets to just a few hundred. This was the one and only instance in modern history that a national governing body had published an entire edition of Shas. Each volume of the Survivors’ Talmud was printed with its now-famous title page, depicting a Nazi concentration camp enveloped in barbed wire. Above the camp are scenes from Israel: palm trees and holy sites. Connecting the two contrasting images are the words (in Hebrew) “from bondage to freedom, from darkness to a great light.” In a brief introduction, Rabbis Snieg and Rose told the story of the publication of the She’erit Hapleitah Shas: Engraved in our memories is that bitter day in the ghetto, when the decree came from the Nazis, may their memory be blotted out, to gather up all the books into one place to destroy them. The peril of death hung over those who would dare hide a book . . . All our holy books were taken from us for abuse and set afire. Now, because of Hashem’s great mercies, a remnant of His people remains, saved from the sword of their accursed destroyers, but without a book in their hands . . . during our overlong exile, our holy books were burned once and again by monarchs and governments. This is the first time in the long history of the Jewish people, that a government has helped us to publish the books of the Talmud, which are our life and length of days. The volumes of the Survivors’ Talmud came with an English dedication, signed by Rabbi Snieg: This edition of the Talmud is dedicated to the United States Army. The Army played a major role in the rescue of the Jewish people from total annihilation and after the defeat of Hitler bore the major burden of sustaining the DPs of the Jewish faith. This special edition of the Talmud published in the very land 12
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where, but a short time ago, everything Jewish and of Jewish inspiration was anathema, will remain a symbol of the indestructibility of the Torah. The Jewish DPs will never forget the generous impulses and the unprecedented humanitarianism of the American forces, to whom they owe so much. In so many ways, Yiddishkeit is built around the obligation to constantly remember: “Zachor et yom haShabbat lekadsho”; “Zachor et asher asa lecha Amalek”; “Zecher li’Yetziat Mitzrayim”; Yom Hazikaron; Zichron teruah; Zecher l’Mikdash k’Hillel. Over and over— every Shabbat and every chag—we are commanded to remember some critical event in the history of our people. No other religion that I am aware of gathers communally even once, let alone four times each year, to formally remember loved ones who are no longer with us. Yizkor is a cornerstone of our ritual, and a fundamental element of being a Jew. Jews are obliged to remember. But how is this obligation to remember actualized? Perhaps most challenging of all: how are we to remember that which we have never personally experienced? The Pesach Hagaddah seeks to confront this fundamental dilemma: “Bechol dor vador chayav adam lirot et atzmo k’ilu hu yatza miMitzrayim—In each and every generation, one must view himself as if he personally had gone out of Egypt” (Pesachim 116b). We endeavor, to the maximum extent possible, to relive a past event with which we have no direct, personal relationship. But how can we ever transcend our own environment and truly relate to another era, or to profoundly different circumstances? As it relates to the Holocaust, our generation is particularly challenged in remembering a past that we have thankfully never experienced. It is a challenge that, I believe, consumes our rebbeim and teachers. How to teach memory. That challenge multiplies with each passing year, as the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles, and few remain to speak firsthand of the horror and the torment. The obligation to remember becomes all the more immediate and all the more critical. Perhaps we can gain some insight from the paradigm mitzvah of remembering:
The title page of Masechet Bechorot from the “Survivors’ Talmud.” Courtesy of Yeshiva University, Mendel Gottesman Library
“Zachor et asher asah lecha Amalek baderech b’tzeitchem miMitzrayim . . . lo tishkach—Remember what Amalek perpetrated against you when you were going out of Egypt . . . do not forget” (Devarim 25:18-19). Why is it necessary for the Torah to add the words “lo tishkach” —do not forget—when the pasuk begins with the word “zachor,” remember? Why this seeming redundancy? The Rambam counts two separate mitzvot in relation to remembering Amalek. The first is zachor—zachor b’peh: to remember out loud, by articulation through speech. The second, lo tishkach, do not forget, is balev—an intellectual and emotional memory, a memory indelibly etched in the heart and mind. We are obligated to internalize what the threat of Amalek truly means, to keep that threat in our consciousness and never forget it. The decision to make the Siyum HaShas on a volume of the Survivors’ Talmud fulfilled both aspects of zachor, lo tishkach. Can any of us truly comprehend, let alone seek to replicate, the emunah in Hakadosh Baruch Hu demonstrated by the She’erit Hapleitah, who struggled to regain their precious sifrei kodesh, who pleaded to once again hold a Shas in their hands? But at the
very least we must strive to remember it—we are obliged to remember it— in the fullest, deepest, most profound sense of zachor, lo tishkach. About eight years ago, my wife and I were searching for a bar mitzvah gift for one of our grandsons—a gift we hoped would convey both meaning and obligation. We happened upon an auction of sefarim and purchased a set of the She’erit Hapleitah Shas. That would be our gift to our grandson. The Shabbat of his bar mitzvah, I addressed our grandson, relating the story of how this Shas came to be printed, and detailing the obligation to remember the courage and the extraordinary faith of those who yearned for its publication. I concluded with the following thoughts, which I share with all of you: “Remembering the past does not mean approaching life weighed down by tragedy; quite the opposite: it means being uplifted by our capacity for survival. I think Elie Wiesel expressed this concept best in a lecture he gave Are you looking for an
in 1986, on the occasion of his receiving the Nobel prize. He said: ‘Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.’ Dr. Erica Brown, in her collection of essays called In The Narrow Places (Jerusalem/New York, 2011) for the Bein Hametzarim period, writes as follows: ‘As Jews, we never dwell on the persecutions of the past without opening our arms wide to the promise of the future. Rav Soloveitchik once questioned the implications of the medrash on Bereishit that states that God created numerous worlds and then obliterated them, before creating the universe as we know it. The Rav’s response: a Jew has to know how to emulate God and, like God, to continue to create even after his former world has been eradicated. It is that persistent sense of hope and recreation, despite suffering and destruction, that gives us the strength
to remember, to transform memory into action, misery into repentance, and desolation into redemption.’” Concluding my words to my grandson, I said: “We hope you will use this Shas often and that it will help you to be mekayem both mitzvot of remembering—zachor and lo tishkach. We hope that you will have the zechut to complete multiple masechtot . . . and we hope that on each occasion when you make a siyum, you will remember and honor the memory of those who first held this Shas—remembering verbally—zachor—and remembering in your heart and mind—lo tishkach.” As we did at the recent Siyum HaShas, we honor memory, while rejoicing in the present and boldly and confidently anticipating a future that, with God’s help, is ours to forge. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks recently remarked: “I believe that we must honor the past but not live in it. Faith is a revolutionary force. God is calling to us as once He called to Moses, asking us to have faith in the future and then, with His help, to build it.”
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Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
By Gerald M. Schreck
ome decades ago, when I was about to graduate Yeshiva University where I majored in English literature, I was encouraged to take an aptitude test. I did, and once I got the results, I shared them with my mother. “Mom,” I said, “I scored high in abstract thinking.” “How will you support a family with abstract ideas?” my mom asked, a twinkle in her eye. “Don’t worry,” I told her reassuringly. “I will take the abstract ideas and make them tangible,” I joked. While I couldn’t envision it back then, I have spent much of my career doing just that. The summer after graduation, I answered an ad in the New York Times: a major national radio broadcast network was seeking a copy boy. I got the job and was overjoyed—it was my first “real” job, and most likely I was the only Orthodox news writer in the industry at the time (it was 1965). Over the years, my career in communications evolved. I worked in public relations, and subsequently founded my own marketing consulting company. And indeed, much of my work involved making abstract concepts tangible and communicating them succinctly and memorably. Eventually, my career went in an entirely new direction; I left the 14
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field of communications and have been involved in real estate for the past few decades. Fifteen years ago, when I was asked to take on the chairmanship of Jewish Action, I jumped at the chance—here was an opportunity to work with words again! A chance to influence, to educate, to enlighten, and to make abstract ideas real, relevant and meaningful. And, in fact, the most challenging part of the editorial process is just that. Pulling together the magazine each quarter is no simple feat. But one of the most difficult aspects is not conceiving of the story ideas but implementing them—that is, making them real, relevant and meaningful. Once an idea is approved, we must decide on an appropriate writer. Not every writer is suited to every story, and it’s the job of the editorial staff to select the best writer for each story. Once a writer is chosen, and the article starts to take shape, there is an ongoing process of evaluation. How is the story developing? Does it need additional research? Are there any holes? Does the angle work? Is there a need for an additional article or two to fully flesh out the topic? What makes Jewish Action exceptional is that we devote significant time to each story. Each article is subject to multiple rounds of edits with days, and sometimes weeks, of trimming, reworking and reevaluating. Our editorial staff demands a lot from our writers and often goes back to them with requests for revisions or clarification. In the more than thirty-five years we’ve been around, Jewish Action has developed a reputation for quality writing, accuracy and integrity. Ensuring we live up to our high standards requires time. It’s important to realize that even after the “perfect” writer is identified, there is no way of knowing exactly how a story will develop and what we will discover. There’s an unpredictability built into the editorial process.
In this issue, for example, we knew we wanted to address a thorny topic: how to maintain a healthy, positive relationship with one’s child after he or she has left the Orthodox fold. But we had no idea how the story would evolve. We consulted with a wide range of professionals, including rabbis, mental health professionals, educators and parents. Once the responses started coming in, we realized the story is far more complex and painful than we originally envisioned. We discovered that just as each child and each family is unique, each child who is drifting religiously is unique, and there is no single formula that will work for everyone. We learned about the importance of unconditional love, acceptance and respect. And, at the same time, we learned that while a parent must compromise and be flexible, the need to consult with a rav on an ongoing basis is critical. The interviewees seemed to echo one another. So many parents, they told us, struggle with the question, “Doesn’t acceptance seem like approval?” But as Tal Attia, who serves as an OU-JLIC educator at Binghamton University in New York, explains, acceptance does not necessarily mean approval. “When loved ones do make the intentional, pervasive and longstanding choice not to live by Torah values, distinguishing between approval and acceptance is pivotal. Whereas approval is a value statement, acceptance is a warm hug.” Certain topics demand that we tread even more cautiously than usual, which we tried to do with this cover story. I hope we were successful and that the words of insight, advice and chizuk in this issue will help ease the path for parents and children who are undergoing this agonizing life challenge. Gerald M. Schreck is chairman of the Jewish Action Committee and an honorary vice president of the OU.
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FROM OUR ARCHIVES
In this column, we hope to provide readers with a glimpse into OU history. The story of the OU, established in 1898, is in effect the story of the American Orthodox Jewish community. Readers are invited to submit documents, photos and other materials pertaining to the OU and its programs for consideration by e-mailing email@example.com.
The Role of Women in the Founding of OU Kosher By Faigy Grunfeld
hile the link between the Orthodox Union and kashrut is renowned, the role of its Women’s Branch in the establishment of the OU’s kosher certification program is lesser known. In 1924 a group of indefatigable women with a penchant for activism challenged the status quo of kashrut in America. At that time, there was no system in place, and there were no standards. Individual rabbis were paid by food manufacturers to provide kosher certification, which led to accusations of conflicts of interest and corruption. Under the leadership of Rebbetzin Rebecca S. Goldstein, wife of then-OU President Rabbi Dr. Herbert Goldstein, these women noted the dearth of Faigy Grunfeld teaches English and history. She lives in Detroit, Michigan with her family.
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kosher products available to the American Jewish housewife. “We had always been telling our children what they might not eat. We decided, however, to see if we could not persuade some of the well-known manufacturers of food products to substitute kosher for non-kosher ingredients—and then we could point out the things we were permitted to eat,” wrote Rebbetzin Goldstein.1 And the women did just that. They succeeded in pressuring the OU to create the first non-profit, communally sponsored kosher certification program. The genius of the program was that it was a non-profit public service, “totally free of the element of personal gain and private investment.” Members of the Women’s Branch sent representatives to visit food manufacturers, investigate and analyze ingredients, and introduce the concept of OU supervision, convincing them that increased sales to kosher
consumers would make certification a profitable endeavor. In 1924, Sunshine Kosher Crackers, manufactured by the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company, was the first product to receive OU certification. The famed OU symbol, created when Heinz became certified in 1927, was soon visible on dozens of other products. By the mid-1930s the OU was supervising about two dozen companies, including a few leading national brands.2 In a 1934 article, Rebbetzin Goldstein, president of the Women’s Branch,3 wrote the following: “We were successful in persuading the Sunshine Biscuit Company to establish a kosher department. Twenty-six of Heinz’s ‘57 varieties’ are packed under our supervision . . . This work must of necessity progress slowly, for we must be absolutely certain before our Union can put its stamp on any article . . . .” In 1935, when Loft’s, the world’s largest maker and seller of candy
1. Heinz’s distinctive Pesach ad on the back cover of Jewish Life, Jewish Action’s predecessor publication, April 1954.
University Archives/Herbert S. Goldstein and Rebecca (Fischel) Goldstein family papers
2. Rokeach kosher scouring powder container, Brooklyn, ca. 1912. Courtesy of the
4. Dreft soap proclaims its kosher for Passover status under the OU in the April 1949 issue of Jewish Life.
3. A Passover directory put out by the OU Women’s Branch in 1933. Courtesy of Yeshiva
5. Heinz mashgiach Frank Butler (left) and Rabbi Baruch A. Poupko of Shaare Torah Congregation, a local shul, inspecting a
Collection of Yeshiva University Museum
vat at the Heinz plant in Pittsburgh, 1951. Courtesy of the Detre Library and Archives, Senator John Heinz History Center
6. Rabbi Herbert Goldstein, OU president from 1924 to 1933. Courtesy of Aaron Reichel 7. Heinz tomato ketchup label, 1934.
Courtesy of the Detre Library and Archives, Senator John Heinz History Center
[The women] succeeded in pressuring the OU to create the first non-profit, communally sponsored kosher certification program. Right: The April 1979 issue of Hakol, the newsletter of the OU Women’s Branch, featured Pesach cleaning tips, the holiday schedule, and ads for kosher l’Pesach foods and Pesach programs.
Rebbetzin Rebecca S. Goldstein, co-founder of the OU Women’s Branch and its first president. Courtesy of Aaron Reichel 18
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at the time, became OU-certified, one publication referred to the news as “an historic event for the Jews of America.” The occasion was celebrated with a dinner at the Hotel Biltmore, at which the OU honored the non-Jewish president of Loft’s. Over time, the OU began certifying hundreds, and eventually thousands, of products, while earning a reputation for conscientious and reliable kashrut supervision. But the Women’s Branch did not only work to expand the range of kosher products. It was also deeply committed to educating Jewish women about Judaism in general and kashrut in particular. In his book Kosher: Private Regulation in the Age of Industrial Food, Timothy D. Lytton writes, “The Women’s Branch of the OU, founded in 1923, played a leading role in the promotion of traditional kashrus observance through its extensive network of synagogue sisterhood organizations.” The sisterhoods educated women, many of whom did not have access to formal Jewish schooling, about the laws of kashrut, even drawing upon the health and hygienic benefits of kosher food. They also offered classes and instruction in kosher cooking and published cookbooks. The Branch published “Yes I Keep Kosher,” a leaflet describing the advantages of observing the laws of kashrut. Additionally, the Women’s Branch was successful in opening a kosher cafeteria at Harvard “under the auspices of [the Women’s] Boston Branch” in 1925,4 probably the first kosher cafeteria on an American college campus. Rebbetzin Rebecca Goldstein: A True Visionary For those who knew her, Rebbetzin Goldstein’s life choices were not particularly surprising. Daughter of the noted philanthropist Harry Fischel, Rebecca as a young woman adamantly insisted on marrying a rabbi, although back then there were virtually no American-born Orthodox rabbis to be found. She met her future husband at the funeral of one such English-speaking rabbi.
Herbert Goldstein was moved by the passing of the rabbi and Rebecca’s aspiration for a rabbinic lifestyle, and so he committed to swapping professions. “Do the Jewish people really need another lawyer, or could they use an English-speaking rabbi?” he quipped. In fact, one episode that inspired Rebbetzin Goldstein to later pursue her initiatives in kashrut took place during her own courting experience. When her future husband took her out for a number of hours, they found nothing to eat except milk, bananas, chestnuts and tomatoes; the proprietor of the establishment kindly gave them salt for the tomatoes. Another motivating incident was a 1923 trip by sea with her father to what was then Palestine. Mr. Fischel, a wealthy man, succeeded in convincing the caterer of the famed Cunard ocean liner company to allow for a separate kosher kitchen with new cooking utensils, a Jewish cook and a Jewish waiter for his traveling party. Rebecca took note of the hardships other Jewish sea travelers must experience. Harry Fischel himself was active in arranging kosher food for Jewish immigrants arriving at Ellis Island in New York. Despite his own luxurious travel accommodations, he still felt dissatisfied with the food options he had arranged. He could only imagine how weak and fatigued these Jewish immigrants must be after their long journey by sea. He petitioned President Howard Taft (the most well-fed president in US history) to allow the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to establish a kosher kitchen on Ellis Island. In this way, Mr. Fischel hoped to strengthen the new arrivals and give them a fair chance of passing the physical evaluation when they arrived on US shores. In a 1925 speech at the OU National Conference, Rebbetzin Goldstein summarized her ultimate ambition: “We are anxious to make every Orthodox Jewess more keenly interested in all things that are Jewish and to stimulate her love for her religion and her people. This, in our opinion, can be done most effectively by means of women’s organizations.”5 Spoken like a true innovator. Notes 1. Mrs. Herbert S. Goldstein, “The Jewish Woman: A Force for Jewishness,” Jewish Forum 8, no. 10 (December 1925): 571. 2. Timothy D. Lytton, Kosher: Private Regulation in the Age of Industrial Food (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2013), 45. 3. “The ‘Women’s Branch’ of the Union of Orth. Jew Congreg. of America,” The Jewish Library: Third Series, edited by Rabbi Leo Jung (1934), 107-111. 4. “The Jewish Woman: A Force for Jewishness,” Jewish Forum 8, no. 10 (December 1925): 571. Note that the OU’s Women’s Branch disbanded in 2018, a victim of its own success, as women began earning leadership positions within the OU itself. 5. Ibid.
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Why Your Millennial Child Needs Your Rabbi An open letter to parents of American Orthodox Jewish teenagers and young adults By Yaakov Jaffe
Many young people are lucky to have developed long-term relationships with their OU-JLIC Torah educators while in college. Courtesy of OU-JLIC of Brooklyn College Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Jaffe is rabbi of the Maimonides Kehillah in Brookline, Massachusetts, and the dean of Judaic studies at Maimonides School in Boston. 20
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n a Shabbat afternoon this past summer, I was speaking with a number of teenagers in a sleep-away camp about whether or not one may play basketball on Shabbat. I suggested they each ask their shul rabbi for a final answer. To my surprise, they demurred, as if they could not envision speaking to their community rabbi (who had surely spoken at their bar mitzvahs just a few short years ago) about this or any other question. Clearly, these teens felt they had no rabbi to guide them about this relatively minor halachic issue or potentially even a more major one. Much has been written about the length of time late adolescents and young adults are supported by their parents—financially and emotionally. Boomerang children move back home after college and continue using their family cell phone plan and their parents’ automobile and health insurance plans; the Affordable Care Act allows children to remain on their parents’ plan until age twenty-six. All of this then begs the question: until what age should children remain on their parents’ spiritual insurance? For many Modern Orthodox American Jews, the local rabbi serves as a spiritual insurance policy of sorts. Just like one’s physician, the rabbi and shul are there to provide regular annual check-ins and to be called upon, Heaven forbid, in a time of crisis or illness. Building a relationship with one’s rabbi over a lifetime enables one to turn to him for help and support when needed. In the past, I imagine the answer to the question posed above would have been obvious. Children remained connected to their parents’ community rabbi through their childhood, but gradually transitioned to being guided by their rabbis and mentors in yeshivah or college, and ultimately to their own rabbis when they, as adults, joined a community of their own. Yet today this is no longer the case. After
After leaving their parental homes, few Modern Orthodox millennials have a relationship with their new local community rabbi. leaving their parental homes, few Modern Orthodox millennials have a relationship with their new local community rabbi. Many, especially singles or marrieds without children, do not make it a priority to formally join a shul. Some live in transient communities and don’t bother forging a connection with the local rabbi; others may attend minyanim that lack a rabbi, or live in urban areas with many congregations and hop from shul to shul without being committed to one place. Still others attend shuls where the congregation may be so large that the rabbi lacks the time to build a relationship with each of his congregants. Having spent a decade and a half in the rabbinate, I now believe that young adults need to maintain a relationship with the community rabbi of their youth until they forge a connection with the rabbi of their new community. Many young men and women are lucky to have developed long-term relationships with their rebbeim or teachers in yeshivah or seminary, or with their OU-JLIC (Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus) Torah educators while in college, but many others did not. Those who did manage to forge such a connection might find it challenging to continue the relationship after graduation. In contrast, the rabbi of one’s childhood is always accessible. Even when young people live on their own in a different city, they often visit their parents for yamim tovim and other occasions and can easily reconnect with their family rabbi. In addition, since parents often keep their rabbis updated on their children’s lives, the rabbi may be well aware of the specific challenges facing the young adult in question. 22
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Calling upon one’s childhood rabbi for continued support through young adulthood is not only necessary, it is crucial. Ironically, it may be during a young adult’s most challenging years that he lacks the spiritual guidance he so desperately needs. Keeping the Connection Indeed, nothing is more gratifying for me than when the former youth of my kehillah—whether they are in college, single or married, living locally or in a distant city—call with halachic she’eilot or hashkafic questions, be it the first time they confront the challenges of Biblical criticism, or the first time they have a work conflict on Shabbat. My wife and I consider such phone calls the fruits of our years of investment in building relationships with the children in our kehillah, from attending school Chanukah parties and bar and bat mitzvah pizza lunches to organizing teen dinners and advising graduates during the college selection process. By involving ourselves in the lives of the children, we hoped to create strong bonds with the young generation in our shul. The investment has been, and continues to be, tremendous, but it pays vital dividends. What should parents do to ensure that their teen and young adult children are connected to a rabbi? 1. Ask yourself: Is it important to my teen’s development that he or she build a relationship with our community rabbi? If the answer to the question is yes, encourage the relationship in conversations with your child. For example, if your child asks you a question about the parashah, halachah or any other topic related to Judaism, encourage him to ask the rabbi directly. This will help him to develop the skill
of reaching out to a rabbi for help. The fifth-grader who asks the rabbi if he can swim in camp during the Nine Days, or the tenth-grader who asks if she has to repeat Shemoneh Esrei because she forgot to say V’ten tal u’matar, will one day become the college freshman figuring out the kashrut status of his dorm kitchen or the first-year legal associate trying to determine whether her billable hours are ethical through a religious lens. 2. Work with your synagogue to make sure your community rabbi has the opportunity to build deep relationships with teen congregants. Many rabbis are understandably busy, and the needs of the adults in larger congregations may be so vast that they can take up every waking hour of the rabbi’s day. Yet in order for your rabbi to be a resource for your children as they grow into young adulthood, somehow he will need to find time to build and maintain those relationships. Obviously, shul priorities are often set by lay leadership, and a shift in the rabbi’s focus will require lay leaders to recognize that every hour a rabbi spends in a one-on-one pastoral meeting with a child under the age of eighteen is time spent building a valuable connection that will allow the relationship to continue until adulthood. 3. Partner with your school to involve the community rabbi in your children’s education. In our less fractured “out-of-town” community, a large percentage of students in our school attend the same half-dozen or so congregations. Because the school recognizes the importance of building connections between teens and their community rabbis, local rabbis are invited regularly to teach classes and electives or to host school Shabbatonim. This may be less effective in a larger city where the students in a graduating class might be congregants in twenty or more different shuls. Nevertheless, even such schools can partner with community rabbis and invite them to visit when possible. Another
approach used by one of our teachers is to give every ninth grader an assignment that involves asking the local rabbi a halachic question; in this way, the school used its influence with teens to help build a deeper connection with the local rabbis. 4. If your teen has a difficult time in college or after beginning his first job, encourage him to meet with the rabbi while home during a vacation. Young adults might feel awkward reaching out to a rabbi they haven’t spoken to since their bar or bat mitzvah, and they might not know how to go about it. Parents can make the suggestion and grease the wheels to facilitate a meeting, reassuring their child that the rabbi surely has the time and would be happy to meet with him or her. 5. Resist the movement to start a “teen minyan” run by a “teen minyan coordinator” without the rabbi present. Families often daven Minchah and Maariv on Friday and Shabbat
afternoons at satellite minyanim and do not attend their main shul. On Shabbat morning, many teens attend a “teen minyan” where the community rabbi is not present. These minyanim are run by an incredible cadre of lay volunteers or educators, and at times by the assistant or intern rabbi of the congregation. Yet if your teen attends such a minyan, he will be spending the entire Shabbat separate from the community rabbi. He or she won’t hear the rabbi speak and won’t get to shake hands with the rabbi at the kiddush, all of which help build a sense of comfort with and connection to the rabbi. The teen minyan coordinator might stay
in the position for a year or two and then move on to the next chapter in his life, while the rabbi will hopefully still be there for a long time to come. The role of a rabbi is constantly evolving with the times. I doubt that serving as a source of religious support to married twenty-seven-year-olds living four states away was in the job description of a communal rabbi decades ago—but today it is. The communal rabbi is a phone call away from wherever a young adult might be living. It behooves us all to recognize the changing realities of Orthodox life and its effect on the rabbinic role.
It behooves us all to recognize the changing realities of Orthodox life and its effect on the rabbinic role.
Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
HEALTH HEALTH & & WELLNESS WELLNESS
Nicotine Is Back. Now What? By Rachel Schwartzberg By Rachel Schwartzberg
ri* doesn’t remember why he began vaping when he was twelve. But by the time he started high school at a New York-area yeshivah, he was addicted to nicotine. “I used to do it every day,” he says of his e-cigarette habit. “I would wake up in the morning and take a hit. I always had it on me. If I didn’t, it was like forgetting my phone—I felt like I was missing something.” Now seventeen, Ari has quit vaping. “It got to the point where I couldn’t focus without it,” he says. “I didn’t want this thing in my life. I didn’t want to grow up and be a dad with a nicotine addiction.” E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid to convert it to vapor, which is inhaled. The * All names of students have been changed. Rachel Schwartzberg works as a writer and editor and lives with her family in Memphis, Tennessee.
liquid may contain nicotine, He began to research vaping so he flavored glycerin or THC (the could help guide the staff, students and active ingredient in marijuana), in parent body. What Rabbi Grebenau addition to other chemicals. found alarmed him. “It’s very scary One vape pen, the Juul, has exploded stuff,” he says, “and most people in popularity in recent years, so much don’t know much about this, since it’s so that “Juuling” is now commonly relatively new. The research is clear used as a verb. The Juul is rechargeable, that vaping is harmful; many of the looks somewhat like a USB stick long-term effects aren’t yet known. and is designed to evoke the sensory There are a lot of question marks.” experience of smoking a cigarette. One Rabbi Grebenau says society has been Juul liquid cartridge, or “pod,” contains slow to understand the severity of the as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. situation among teens. And it quickly Until recently, Juul pods came in became apparent to him that Jewish a variety of flavors that appealed to educators around the country were young people. After negative media desperate for any information on the attention in the summer—when dozens subject. “After I wrote a blog post about of young people were hospitalized vaping, people sought me out because I with mysterious lung ailments seemed to know something about it. It linked to vaping—the company became clear to me that this problem is limited its flavors dramatically. much more significant in the Orthodox In 2017, Rabbi Maury Grebenau, community than I had realized. And it principal of Yavneh Academy of is clearly not a fad that’s going away.” Dallas high school, noticed a lot of The national Monitoring the Future chatter among the students about survey of eighth, tenth and twelfth vaping. “I knew I needed to educate graders, administered annually since myself about this,” he recalls, “but 1975 by the National Institutes of I couldn’t find much out there.” Health (NIH), showed that rates of Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
FACT: Nicotine exposure can harm brain development. e-cigarette use doubled in the past two years. In 2019, more than one in four students in twelfth grade said they had vaped nicotine within the past month. Among tenth graders, the number was one in five. Clearly, the Orthodox community is not immune. “When it comes to e-cigarettes and teens, the Orthodox community is catching up to everyone else,” says Dr. Hylton Lightman, who has served as a pediatrician in Far Rockaway, New York for more than thirty years. “Fortunately, with other types of substance abuse we’re lagging behind the general population, but not with this.” Even more troubling, public health research indicates that vaping may serve as a gateway, predisposing teens to other risky behaviors. “It is clear that vaping leads to using other substances,” says Dr. Lightman. After examining the research, Rabbi Grebenau has come to that conclusion as well. “Teens who vape have an increased chance of using marijuana or cigarettes.” Noah* is a tenth grader at a yeshivah high school in the Midwest who vapes every day. He doesn’t believe Juuling will lead kids to smoke cigarettes. “Switching from Juuling to cigarettes would be switching from something convenient to something that’s a hassle,” he explains. “Why would you bother?” He and his friends agree, however, that “if you already [vape] a Juul, you’d probably also be the type of kid who would smoke weed.”
Because . . . Why Not? it feels good,” he says. “It gives me Dr. Lightman believes teens a head rush, like a light-headed gravitate toward vaping because feeling but in a good way.” it seems “innocuous.” For Noah and his friends, vaping Rabbi Grebenau concurs. “It doesn’t also alleviates boredom. “It’s like have the psychological barriers of playing with fidget spinners or cigarettes,” he says. “Cigarettes cause chewing gum,” Noah explains. yellowing of the teeth and nails, and Dr. Lightman highlights that they smell bad. When kids are offered boredom is, in fact, a serious factor a vape, they think, ‘How bad could in the widespread vaping use among it be? It’s candy apple!’” In fact, last teens. “Kids today are primed to year’s Monitoring the Future study need stimulation and thrills. This concluded that many teens associate is most definitely connected to the little risk of harm with vaping. use of technology. Teens gravitate Dr. Lightman stresses that medical to a Juul as they do to any other research has shown that “nicotine device. They don’t consider how affects the developing brains of harmful it can be, because it is adolescents.” Once the brain changes, freely available all around them.” it can continually crave nicotine. Indeed, e-cigarettes have become Furthermore, the additives in so ubiquitous that experts say it’s e-cigarette liquid are “quite toxic and unlikely an Orthodox kid won’t can cause lung damage and even death.” encounter them. “If anyone says it’s Even those teens who are informed of not in their school,” says Dr. Lightman, the danger may be pulled in. Sarah* is “they are unfortunately not in touch a twelfth grader at a Modern Orthodox with reality or their student body. girls’ high school. She says she and And it’s happening in elementary her peers are aware of the medical school, not just in high school.” risks of vaping, “but it doesn’t stop “It makes no difference whether they me. I just think it won’t happen to are boys or girls, cool or not cool, less me.” She began vaping in tenth grade observant or more observant,” says when a friend shared her Juul. Sarah Rina Emerson, managing director of eventually bought her own. “Juuling National NCSY and CEO of New York is appealing at first because of the NCSY. “It’s a problem across the board. physical pleasure you get from the “Vaping is also different, in a nicotine buzz,” she explains, “and significant way, from other substances after that you get addicted.” Sarah now that teens experiment with,” adds vapes “every day, multiple times a day.” Emerson. “When teens are drunk Ari feels growing up is “stressful or high, or even smell of smoke, we and hard for teenagers. Vaping know what they’ve been doing. But takes away the stress for five there is almost no way to detect if seconds, so you keep doing it. And someone has been vaping. It’s much then it becomes an addiction.” less clear-cut than other substances Noah began vaping “mostly because we have dealt with. And I think that everyone around me was doing it. the ambiguity is appealing to teens. It’s cool looking. It tastes good. And It’s also cheap and accessible, which
If anyone says it’s not in their school, they are unfortunately not in touch with reality or their student body. And it’s happening in elementary school, not just in high school. 26
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
$38,000,000,000 According to the New York Times, at the end of 2018 Juul Labs was valued at $38 billion, more than the Ford Motor Company.
Ezra Academy high school students Nissim Mushayev (left) and Michael Rubin introduce their team’s anti-vaping initiative at NCSY JUMP’s Create-a-Thon competition this past November. JUMP (Jewish Unity Mentoring Program) is NCSY’s National Leadership Program that trains and empowers high school students from all over the United States to become leaders. Photo: Etan Vann
FACT: Most tobacco use is established during adolescence.
makes it even more attractive to them. And there is a lot of misinformation; no one seems to know why vaping is bad, or if it’s bad, other than the fact that it’s illegal if you’re under-age.” Though many states have recently raised the legal age for buying vaping products from eighteen to twenty-one, teens have no trouble buying these products at local shops. “If you go in with someone and they know him, they will sell to you too,” Noah explains. “They don’t card and they don’t care.” Sarah agrees. “Some places don’t ID, so I’ll go there,” she says. “Or I’ll get a friend [of legal age] to go for me.” Ari also asks other people to buy vaping products for him. Uncharted Territory “Many parents struggle with parenting teens,” says Rabbi Grebenau. “This is not a new problem. What is different 28
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When kids are offered a vape, they think, ‘How bad could it be? It’s candy apple!’ here is the lack of knowledge about what we are dealing with. For example, a student was found in school with vape pods containing a quantity of nicotine equivalent to twelve packs of cigarettes. It was clearly a serious problem, but when we spoke to the parents, they responded that they had not known what vaping was until they Googled it. They lacked an understanding of what was going on with their child.” “In my practice, some parents know what’s going on and some don’t,” says Dr. Lightman. Noah is upfront with his parents about his vaping. “My parents feel I am responsible for my actions,” he says. “They also know they can’t really take away my Juul. It’s just thirty-one dollars to buy a new one. They took away my brother’s, but he bought another one.” In fact, by the time many teens are caught vaping, they are already
addicted to nicotine. Therefore, confiscating a Juul from a teen may not be a productive approach. “My friends say they’re going to stop,” says Ari. “They’ve even thrown away their Juuls. But then they get another. I’ve personally had three.” He reports experiencing panic attacks, increased hunger and headaches when he quit. To cope, he took up running, “to fill in that space with something healthy.” Noah quit vaping briefly in the summer. He feels that giving it up is doable. “It’s all about willpower,” he says. “When I stopped, I had cravings and headaches from nicotine withdrawal. But if the Juul wasn’t on me, I did nothing.” He says it took about a month to adjust. Unfortunately, he did go back to his habit. Dr. Lightman emphasizes that there is no question that parents should be proactive. (See “Could Your Child Be
Vaping? What Every Parent Needs to Know” on the following page.) In Search of a Solution “We have seen vaping bring nicotine addiction back into the high school population when it was all but gone,” says Dr. Rivka Schwartz, associate principal, general studies, at SAR High School in Riverdale, New York. As coordinator of Machon Siach, SAR’s research arm, she is leading what has become known as The Yeshiva League Substance Use Initiative. The initiative began with the New York-area high schools that play sports in the Yeshiva League, Dr. Schwartz explains. “This encompasses a range of kids who socialize with each other. They hang out together, go to camp together, spend Shabbos together. It’s clear that whatever happens with kids in one school isn’t happening in a vacuum.” “Our initial thoughts were that we should leverage the collective energies of schools across the community,” explains Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, principal of SAR High School and dean of Machon Siach. The group of principals met and, in their research, came across a study from Reykjavik, Iceland, addressing teen drinking. In 1996, Reykjavik discovered that there was a significant alcohol problem in its teen population. A survey at the time showed that 42.5 percent of the city’s teens had recently gotten drunk. In 2014, the number was down to 5 percent. What happened? The city used a multi-pronged approach, including surveys, pledges from parents to commit to increased quality time and curfews, and government-sponsored social programming to alleviate teen boredom. Ultimately, the approach resulted in genuine cultural change. “[This] felt very compelling to us and oriented our work from that point onward,” says Rabbi Harcsztark. Machon Siach engaged a national research firm to conduct a survey of Orthodox high school students modeled after Monitoring the Future. On February 27, 2019, approximately 3,600 students from nineteen schools—mostly in the New York/ Continued on page 32
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Anti-vaping flyers created by the Ezra Academy JUMP team, designed to be hung in schools and shuls to raise awareness. They are available via the team’s Instagram account, vaping_killz. Courtesy of Rabbi Tzachi Diamond
By Rachel Schwartzberg
This past November, NCSY hosted a JUMP Create-a-Thon in Stamford, Connecticut, bringing together fourteen teams from high schools across the US and Canada. JUMP (Jewish Unity Mentoring Program) is NCSY’s leadership program that trains and empowers high school students from all over the United States to become leaders. In a hackathon style event, teams were tasked with identifying an issue plaguing the Jewish teen community and coming up with actionable solutions. The team from Ezra Academy in Queens, New York—Ellea Harkins, Gabby Davidov, Michael Rubin and Nissim Mushayev—selected vaping as their area of concern. “Jewish teens are plagued by this problem,” explains Rabbi Tzachi Diamond, who works for New York NCSY and serves as the faculty advisor for the JUMP team from Ezra Academy. “The team hopes to bring awareness to try to prevent kids who are beginning to vape or have not yet begun. They are working to make it cool not to vape.” The three-day Create-a-Thon culminated with each team presenting brief pitches to a panel of judges. Three winning teams were awarded micro-grants from NCSY to help implement their plans. Ezra Academy’s team members won the top grant for their Vaping_Killz campaign. The teens created posters to hang in schools and shuls to bring about awareness of the issue. They are working on several other initiatives, including a school “buy-back” program for vaping devices and meetings with a company that manufactures vape detectors. They are also reaching out to other Jewish high schools and to Jewish organizations that address substance abuse in the hope of collaborating to bring the issue to the fore. “They know they’re not the first ones to address this issue,” says Rabbi Diamond. “But they feel if they can save just one life, it’s all worthwhile.”
Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
WHAT EVERY PARENT NEEDS TO KNOW
Could Your Child Be Vaping? How should a parent of a teen address the issue of vaping?
By Rachel Schwartzberg Try to get in front of the problem. “Prevention is better than intervention,” says Far Rockaway pediatrician Dr. Hylton Lightman. Educate yourself. Know what e-cigarettes look like, how they are used, where your teen might be encountering them, and the laws in your state. Talk with your children about the dangers of vaping, even before they bring it up. “Some parents are afraid to talk about things,” says Rabbi Maury Grebenau, principal of Yavneh Academy of Dallas. “They worry, ‘if my kids know about it, they are more likely to do it.’ That’s simply not true. I want my ten-year-old to know about vaping before she encounters it, so she is armed. She might hear from a friend who says, ‘This is really good; try it.’ If she doesn’t know anything about it, why would she say no?” Model appropriate behavior with all substance use. The data from the Yeshiva League Substance Use Initiative survey indicated that adult modeling is “really important to how kids engage with substances,” says Dr. Rivka Schwartz, associate general studies principal at SAR 30
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
High School in Riverdale, New York. “I didn’t need a survey to tell me that. If we are in a community that normalizes substance use and marks Jewish occasions with alcohol, then all of our speechifying is worthless to teens.” Pay attention to what’s going on in your teen’s world and keep the channels of communication open. Getting a teen to open up is admittedly difficult. Parents should talk less and listen more. Try eating dinner together a few times a week. The Shabbat table is a great way to catch up with your teen. Spending quality time with your teen can help foster communication, especially if you are engaged in an activity you both enjoy. Use outside resources such as a guidance counselor or therapist to help your teen through difficult times or challenging situations. Discuss it with your pediatrician. If you’re concerned that your teen is already vaping, your pediatrician may be a good resource. In Dr. Lightman’s practice, all patients ages eleven and up are screened for alcohol use, vaping and smoking. “When I approach the topic in a non-threatening manner, I don’t see dishonesty,” he says. “If I learn
that a teen is doing something risky, I tell him it’s time to call in his parents and make a plan. Invariably, preteens and even teens don’t mind if we call the parents in. We discuss the situation and how we can improve it. The goal is to reduce at-risk behavior, and the message is: ‘We are going to work together as a team to get there.’” Put pressure on elected officials to enact and enforce laws to protect teens. Rabbi Grebenau suggests that parents join forces to make their voices heard at all levels of government in an effort to influence policy. “This issue isn’t going away,” he says. “Working together, we’ll do a lot better than siloed efforts.” Make sure schools, camps and other communal organizations are sending clear messages. “Kids are looking at our policies,” says Rina Emerson, managing director of NCSY and CEO of New York NCSY. “If our schools, camps and youth programs aren’t updated to reflect the reality of today’s world, the kids see that. [Vaping] is a relatively new problem that crept up on us, and some of our institutions haven’t quite caught up.” The suggestions above are based on numerous interviews with health professionals, educators and teens.
Continued from page 29
Thou Shalt Not Smoke
Excerpts from Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski’s anti-smoking essay “Thou Shalt Not Smoke” in Jewish Action’s fall 1994 issue; his words are just as poignant today.
It is nothing less than horrifying to see young students in a yeshivah poisoning themselves with cigarettes. They are at an age when it is much easier to quit this habit than after it has been ingrained for thirty or more years, and it is unconscionable that they are permitted to smoke. Rabbis and teachers who smoke are setting a terrible example. It is incumbent upon all religious leaders, rabbis and roshei yeshivah to put a stop to this flagrant violation of Torah. It is easier to do things as a group, and quitting smoking en masse will facilitate it for everyone. . . . I cannot understand, I really cannot, how people who claim to be observant of Torah—who will not drink milk that is not supervised; who will not eat anything but the strictest glatt; and who do not carry on Shabbos where there is an authentic eruv because they are meticulous about a minority halachic opinion—can allow themselves to smoke cigarettes when it has been established beyond a shadow of doubt that cigarettes are poisonous and have many destructive effects on the body. . . . I call upon responsible Jewish leaders to get together and state definitively and unequivocally, “Smoking must stop. As of this day, no one in our yeshivah is permitted to smoke, on or off premises.” With an unyielding, unanimous approach, this scourge of death and devastation can be eradicated with one blow. Rabbis must take a similar stand with their congregations. We must have the courage to do what we know is right. Cigarette smoking causes disease and death. “Those who have the capacity to eliminate a wrong and do not do so, bear the responsibility for its consequences.” These are harsh words, but they are not mine. They are the words of the Talmud, Tractate Shabbos 54b.
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New Jersey area—sat and filled in pages of Scantron® bubbles. “This isn’t a question of one school, one type of school or even one substance,” says Dr. Schwartz. “It’s about the culture of substance use among our kids. What is it centered around? How is it happening?” Dr. Schwartz clarifies that the survey was not about substance abuse per se. “Rather, the focus was specifically on teen use of substances, be it smoking, alcohol or drugs, in the context of socializing. We are all talking about this problem, but truthfully we have no idea what we’re talking about. We had to learn.” Interestingly, Dr. Schwartz points out that there is no other undertaking where yeshivah high schools are working together toward a bigger goal. “Our unity and shared purpose are part of the strength of this effort,” she notes. In fact, the group made a firm decision not to separate data by school. “It’s possible we would see different trends for different schools, but we gave up on that for the sake of community. We are all in this together.” The group plans to carry out the survey annually, with the goal of observing trends over time. What to do with the data, however, is a more tenuous conversation. The recommendation would be to launch a research-based public health effort to mobilize the Jewish community to address substance use in its midst. “It’s an undertaking that can potentially take up to ten years to be fully operative and show results,” says Dr. Schwartz. “But we don’t do a lot on that time scale in our community.” With many institutions in the Jewish community operating on year-to-year budgets, Dr. Schwartz believes there needs to be broader support and buy-in from the community to achieve a long-term initiative. In the meantime, Dr. Schwartz says SAR has been taking short-term measures to address the issue within the school—as have most Orthodox high schools. At Yavneh Academy, Rabbi Grebenau installed vape detectors in certain areas on campus, and he invites a substance
use expert to speak to the students a few times a year. Virtually all Jewish high schools have policies in place regarding e-cigarette usage. For its part, NCSY doesn’t allow e-cigarettes at any of its programs. “Teen vaping is illegal,” says Emerson. “We take that seriously and treat it like anything teens are doing that is illegal.” The Shabbat Factor There is one significant vaping issue that is unique to Orthodox teens: Shabbat. “Before I quit vaping, I didn’t keep Shabbat,” Ari admits. “I needed it so badly. I didn’t use my phone on Shabbat, but I used my Juul.” Sarah also says she vapes on Shabbat, “just not as much, because I feel guilty.” Ultimately, says Emerson, “at our NCSY programs, we deal with vaping on Shabbat the same way we deal with Shabbat in general. We address it in context: What’s the kid’s background?
FACT: When OU Kosher was approached by e-cigarette companies seeking to certify their flavored liquid pods, it made the decision not to certify manufacturers of e-cig products.
And which is the bigger problem—the addiction or the chillul Shabbat?” Dr. Schwartz maintains that the community must have bigger conversations than how schools and programs are policing teens. “We have potential to be more effective than ‘who gets caught’ and ‘how do we punish?’” she says. “We need to be discussing how we deal with the culture in a much broader sense if anything is going to change.” Interestingly, sometimes kids themselves can motivate one another to change. What led to Ari’s decision to quit vaping? His younger brother. “My little brother is fifteen,” Ari says. “He saw me doing it. He saw
his friends doing it. Now he does it, and I hate that he does. I sat him down and said, ‘Don’t start. You don’t want this thing in your life.’ “I think teens have to go through this,” Ari adds philosophically. “Trying to enforce ‘straightness’ in teenagers doesn’t go over well. We have to find out for ourselves.” “This is an uphill battle,” concludes Dr. Schwartz. “It’s everywhere. But fighting uphill battles is what we do [in Orthodox high school education]. We’re trying to convince our kids to opt in, when society gives them every reason to opt out. We are countercultural in everything we are teaching these teens. This is one more way.”
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A must-read memoir of love, dedication, and personal transformation
DREAMS never DREAMED Kalman Samuels
founder of Shalva, Israel’s leading organization in disability care and inclusion
Kalman and his wife Malki couldn’t have imagined that their smiling, healthy baby boy would be rendered blind and deaf in infancy, changing their lives drastically. They couldn’t have predicted that they would become international leaders in advocating for people with disabilities – and touch the hearts of millions around the world. The Samuels’ lives demonstrate that ordinary people can create extraordinary change, transforming challenges into opportunities.
Now available online and at Jewish bookstores Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
Is Vaping Kosher? By Aaron E. Glatt
With technology comes new health problems. The e-cig, created in 2003 by Chinese scientist Hon Lik who wanted to help smokers curb their fatal habit, was originally geared for adults. Today, it’s become a major public health crisis in the US among young people. One of the most recent illnesses to arise as a result of vaping is EVALI, an acronym for “e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury,” which has been diagnosed in over 2,600 hospitalized patients throughout all fifty states in the US. Fifty-seven deaths have been confirmed to date, mostly in young people. First recognized by the CDC in August 2019, EVALI causes symptoms ranging from shortness of breath to fever, and results in severe, sometimes fatal, lung infections. As medical professionals around the country noticed these symptoms in patients who had been previously healthy, they realized these patients shared a common risk factor: all of them vaped. The EVALI outbreak is of grave concern, as over 25 percent of US high school students report using e-cigarettes in the last thirty days. Many suggest the figure is actually much higher and is likely to continue rising.
According to Rav Yechezkel Landau, the Noda B’Yehuda . . . assuming significant risk purely for recreational or sport purposes is forbidden.
While it is not fully known what causes this potentially fatal syndrome, vitamin E acetate and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) have been present in almost all cases. THC is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis, also known as marijuana, a drug made from the cannabis plant. (The liquid in e-cigs may contain nicotine, flavored glycerin or THC, in addition to other chemicals.) What does halachah say about recreational vaping with THC-containing products? In a teshuvah (responsum), the Noda B’Yehudah, Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, zt”l (1713-1793) (Yoreh De’ah 10) discusses whether it is halachically permissible for a Jew to be a hunter. He exposits that pursuing predatory animals is dangerous by definition and is therefore prohibited. However,
Rabbi Aaron E. Glatt, MD, serves as assistant rabbi of the Young Israel of Woodmere in New York and chairman of the Department of Medicine, Mount Sinai South Nassau. He is also clinical professor of medicine at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
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for purposes of livelihood, it is permissible to put oneself at some degree of risk. This serves as the basis for permitting a Jew to be a policeman or fireman or serve in any other profession that involves some personal risk. However, to assume significant risk purely for recreational or sport purposes is assur (forbidden). In a landmark teshuvah in Iggerot Moshe (Yoreh De’ah, vol. 3, siman 35), Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l (1895-1986) states that it is clearly forbidden to smoke marijuana. He provides eight reasons why this is so: 1. It physically destroys the body. The data we have today on EVALI is strongly consistent with this statement. 2. It distorts one’s thinking. 3. One under the influence of THC cannot properly observe the mitzvot and likewise will be unable to daven properly. Indeed, if he does pray, he hasn’t fulfilled his obligation of tefillah and would have to repeat the davening afterwards. 4. Marijuana causes desires for many inappropriate behaviors. I have personally cared for a number of patients whose addictions resulted in tragic sequelae. Unfortunately, numerous families have broken up, have lost livelihoods and had their lives shattered because of substance abuse. 5. It will cause a person to become a thief and prey upon humanity. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this too many times, as people who are unable to fund their habits commit crimes and various other improprieties to obtain illegal substances. While this is not a problem for every user, it is potentially a very serious concern. 6. It causes parents tremendous pain and suffering. 7. It causes a Jew to transgress the positive commandment to
be “a special people and a holy nation (mamlechet kohanim v’goy kadosh).” It is a tremendous chillul Hashem when a police officer or nurse comes to me and says “one of your people” is inebriated or high and is disrupting the emergency room or hospital ward. 8. It can lead to many other transgressions. Experience tells me that this is too often the case. Vaping with regulated nicotine products in a controlled setting under the guidance of a medical professional may be a potentially life-saving therapy for patients highly addicted to cigarettes. Such usage may have a role for select patients who have been unable to stop smoking despite trying several other medical modalities. This strategy has actually worked out well in the United Kingdom, but has not
really taken hold in the US. For someone not trying to kick a severe smoking habit, and certainly for someone not yet addicted to nicotine, e-cigarettes are potentially very dangerous. Nicotine is highly addictive, meaning it causes one to crave a smoke or vape. Nicotine is also a toxic substance, and can affect many different systems in the body, including increasing the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke. Many e-cigarette users can get more nicotine from vaping than they would from a regular cigarette. The US surgeon general reported that e-cigarette use among high school students has increased dramatically, especially among those who have never smoked regular tobacco. The CDC states: “E-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women . . ."
Thus, I believe that most, if not all, contemporary posekim would say that vaping is an outright issur (prohibition) and certainly a breach of the commandment to “preserve one’s health.” It is eminently clear that the current medical state of the art is that vaping with THC-containing compounds or nicotine is very dangerous. And while not every concern raised by Rav Moshe for marijuana use applies to THC-containing e-cigarettes, no one can predict how he or she will be affected by vaping. It is absolutely impossible to guarantee that the first vaping puff will not lead to horrific consequences, and therefore, from both a medical and halachic standpoint, no one should start vaping. One who has already begun vaping should seek professional help immediately.
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THE NEXT FRONTIER IN JEWISH LAW:
With the emerging field of artificial intelligence (AI) becoming increasingly relevant to our everyday lives, Jewish Action hosted a conversation between Rabbi Dr. Ari Z. Zivotofsky, a professor in the Neuroscience Program at Bar-Ilan University and a longtime columnist of Jewish Action, and Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon, rabbinic head of the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT), to understand some of the implications of this technology and its impact on halachah. In addition to his role at the JCT, Rav Rimon serves as a rav in Alon Shevut Darom and teaches classes in halachah at Yeshivat Har Etzion. He also teaches at the Herzog College and at the Beit Midrash for Women in Migdal Oz. Rav Rimon was awarded the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism on Yom Yerushalayim in 2014 for his monumental project JobKatif on behalf of the Jews of Gush Katif. As part of his work at JCT, Rav Rimon is opening a beit midrash that will research the application of halachah to the newest technological developments. Special thanks to Dr. Naomi and Rabbi Dr. Ari Z. Zivotofsky for assisting in the preparation of this article.
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abbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky: Webster’s Dictionary defines artificial intelligence (AI) as a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers. In recent years, there have been tremendous developments in this area. Computers can actually learn, to the point that they can extrapolate and deduce. AI uses computer algorithms to arrive at conclusions, such as medical decisions, often without direct human input. Will AI limit the role of doctors by making predictions and diagnoses? Halachically speaking, can we rely on a computer to make medical decisions?
Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon: This is an excellent question. As you mentioned, there has been extraordinary progress in this area, and AI has become increasingly intelligent over time. In 1997, IBM’s chess-playing program Deep Blue beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov. The principles of the game were programmed into the computer, which masterfully won the match by blindly searching through
millions of moves. Some two decades later, Google’s AI subsidiary DeepMind devised AlphaZero, a machine-learning algorithm. Given no (“zero”) human input aside from the rules of chess, it beat the world’s best chess-playing computer program after continuously playing chess against itself for a mere four hours; it played the game millions of times and learned from its mistakes. AlphaZero is regarded as the best chess player in the world— human or computer—and when playing, it actually displays evidence of insight, a new kind of artificial intelligence. Nowadays, AI no longer just acquires knowledge; it arrives at conclusions on its own (mevin davar mitoch davar). AI is no longer just feeding information into one big database. As you see with AlphaZero, there is actual learning going on. There’s no question that AI is becoming increasingly sophisticated and is able to perform human activities with greater speed and efficiency, often at a lower cost. In the healthcare system, AI is being used to spot lesions on mammograms, and AI systems are
Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon giving a talk on AI and halachah at the OU’s Torah New York 2019 event held this past September at Citi Field. Photo: Kruter Photography 38
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being developed to diagnose whether or not one will develop Alzheimer’s disease or other diseases later in life. Scientists are also working on developing algorithms that will help them make decisions about cancer treatment. A doctor may know how to interpret X-rays and can be well versed in the most current research, but computers have access to far more data and therefore arrive at much more precise conclusions. Based on the trajectory of today’s research, one can envision that there will come a day when artificial intelligence will be making most medical decisions. Nevertheless, computers are not infallible, and a doctor has something that AI lacks—human intuition. RZ: Can AI help us perform mitzvot? What about teaching a robot to do nikkur achorayim (the removal of certain large blood vessels, cheilev [prohibited fats] and the gid hanasheh [sciatic nerve] after a kosher animal is properly slaughtered and inspected)? What about teaching a robot to check articles of clothing for traces of shatnez? Do you see a problem with this? RR: I don’t see why checking for the presence of shatnez—wool and linen mixed together in an article of clothing—would be a problem, since it’s a technical process. No special kavanot (concentration of the mind in performance of a religious act) are required. Furthermore, nowhere in the Torah is it written that a human being must do the checking. Similarly, a robot should be able to do nikkur achorayim; however, the actual shechitah (the Jewish religious and humane practice of slaughtering animals) must be done by a God-fearing Jew. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 2:11) rules that shechitah is only acceptable if it is done by a human being. Thus it should be clear that shechitah may not be done by a robot. See also siman 7:1 where the Shulchan Aruch explicitly states that shechitah may not be done by a machine that is not directly operated by a human.
Could a computer check the sharpness of the shochet’s (ritual slaughterer) blade? The chalif, the knife of a shochet, is his most important tool. It must be exquisitely smooth and exceedingly sharp. The Shulchan Aruch states that one must check the knife b’kavanat halev (with mindful concentration) twelve times (YD 18:9). A laser could be used to check the sharpness of the knife but cannot serve as the the final arbiter because a human being has to do the checking. A laser, can, however, issue a warning to the schochtim indicating the knife is too dull. RZ: Video cameras are used for certain aspects of kashrut supervision. For example, on a dairy farm, they are used to verify that the milk produced is cow's milk and that it was not extracted in violation of Shabbat, et cetera. If a robot could be programmed to learn what’s important in a kosher kitchen,
such as not mixing meat and milk and using only kosher-certified products, would it be acceptable to use robotic mashgichim? RR: Generally speaking, there is no requirement that a mashgiach has to be physically present. The halachah wants to ensure that a proprietor does not do anything improper. The halachic requirement is “mirtat,” which means that the proprietor has to be afraid that he will be caught and will suffer the consequences if he tries to do something improper. Assuming a robot is observing and recording what is taking place, and a human is monitoring the cameras, I think that would be acceptable. But a human being must be monitoring, because if there are no consequences [for violating kashrut standards], what’s the point of the robot? RZ: Our discussion until now centered on today’s technology.
Let’s spend a few minutes discussing future technology. A new technology, known as brain-computer interface or BCI, enables users to interact with computers via brain activity or “thinking” only. One use of BCI is to enable people with paralysis and other disabilities to control robotic arms or other devices by thinking about such actions. While it seems like science fiction, the wiring together of brains and computers is actually a reality and companies have invested millions of dollars in moving progress along in this area. It is very likely that one day our brains might be able to interact with our smartphones or tablets—and we will be able to turn an oven or light switch on simply by thinking about it. The question is, can one theoretically fulfill a mitzvah simply by thinking about it? Conversely, can one violate Shabbat by merely thinking about doing a
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forbidden act? In a BCI world, is “thinking” defined as “doing”? RR: The well-known Shabbat zemer “Mah Yedidut” states, “Chafatzecha assurim, v’gam lachashov cheshbonot/ hirhurim mutarim, ul’shadeich habanot—[On Shabbat] your non-Shabbat desires are prohibited, as is performing business calculations/ but pleasant thoughts are permitted, even making matches for the daughters.” The question is—what types of “thoughts” are permitted on Shabbat? There are several Torah sources that define thought. One such source is found in Tosafot in Masechet Gittin 31a, which discusses separating terumot and ma’aserot (tithes) by “thought” on Shabbat. Can one actually separate terumot and ma’aserot simply by thinking about it? Is thought considered an action? There is a machloket Acharonim on how to understand this Tosafot. According to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach it is forbidden to separate terumot and ma’aserot in this manner [on Shabbat]. Thus, according to his view, thought is equivalent to action. Based on this, I don’t think BCI would be permitted for general use on Shabbat; however, if we’re talking about an individual
who is paralyzed and BCI [can enable him to move his limbs on Shabbat], perhaps there is room for discussion. RZ: What about fulfilling positive mitzvot through brain-computer interface? For example, can one use BCI to lift the arba minim or even to give a ring to a woman in order to betroth her? RR: Since one can be mekadesh (betroth) a woman even through a shaliach, using BCI for this purpose may not be a problem. However, using BCI to fulfill a positive commandment is another matter. On the one hand, an individual using BCI has not actually performed an action because the computer is an intermediary directing his hand or artificial limb. On the other hand, the individual’s thoughts are controlling the movements, and perhaps that suffices to fulfill the mitzvah. I believe that with regard to the issue of fulfilling a mitzvah via BCI, each and every mitzvah would have to be discussed and evaluated separately. RZ: We’ve touched upon the connection between AI and almost all four parts of Shulchan Aruch. We spoke about kashrut, marriage
Even if a robot were to think on its own, would we be able to rely on it for mitzvot that require the involvement of a human being? 40
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and Shabbat. What about nezikin [tort law] in Choshen Mishpat? Let’s assume, for example, that a self-driving car causes harm to property—or, God forbid, kills someone. Although there may have been a human in the car, an autonomous system—AI—was in full control of the vehicle. Who is responsible? The “driver”? The programmer? The owner of the vehicle? The company testing the car’s capabilities? The manufacturer? RR: I was actually asked this very question after a self-driving vehicle did indeed kill someone. According to a teshuvah of the Rosh, it is understood that when a person is controlling a steering wheel in a conventional car, it’s as if he is holding a sword. Therefore, if he turns the wheel and kills someone, he is held responsible. The case is classified as “adam hamazik,” an individual who caused harm. It then needs to be determined whether the driver killed the individual by accident—in which case he would be liable for the Torah’s punishment of exile in an ir miklat [city of refuge]—or if he did so intentionally—in which case, according to the Torah, the beit din would determine his punishment. With regard to a self-driving car, however, the car is in control, and therefore the halachic category of adam hamazik does not apply; rather, the category of “mamon hamazik,” property that causes damage, applies. This is similar to a case where a bull gores a person and injures him, which is classified as “mamon shehizik.” Assuming the autonomous car has the status of mamon shehizik, who
is going to take responsibility? It would seem that the owner of the car would have to take responsibility, since the car is his property. However, unlike the cases of mamon hamazik discussed in the Gemara, the owner of the vehicle could argue, “Why am I to blame? There is someone out there who programmed the car.” One could counter that as the owner, he was obligated to ensure that the programmer’s work was up to standard, and if he did not do so and his property caused harm, he is accountable. The underlying question here is how halachah defines the basis of the owner’s responsibility for damage caused by his property. Is an owner inherently responsible for damage caused by his property, unless there are circumstances beyond his control? If this is so, he would be responsible for damage caused by a self-driving car, unless he can prove there were extenuating circumstances. Or is he
only responsible for damages that were caused due to negligence on his part, e.g., he didn’t take sufficient security measures to ensure his animal or property would not cause damage? In that case, it would have to be determined that there was some degree of negligence. RZ: Do you see a future where a robot or computer will be comparable to a human being? Could a robot, for example, join a minyan?
human for the purposes of joining a minyan. And even if it were to write in the most beautiful manner and in the most precise way, it could not write a sefer Torah. This is because for such mitzvot, the Torah requires a Jewish person with da’at (understanding). Even if a robot had sechel (intellect/ brainpower), it would be lacking da’at. A robot can never attain the status of a human being, and therefore it cannot perform these religious functions.
RR: Currently, there is a debate in the scientific community as to whether or not we can actually develop the technological know-how to manufacture a robot that will be able to think on its own. Some scientists believe this will happen; others say it will never come to be. Even if a robot were to think on its own, would we be able to rely on it for mitzvot that require the involvement of a human being? I don’t think so. A robot could never be considered a
RZ: What about future smart homes and Shabbat? Smart homes exist even today, but as AI becomes even more advanced, it will most likely fulfill residents’ wishes before they are even aware of them, presenting new halachic questions. Imagine entering your dining room in a future smart home. Your smart home has learned all about you and is aware that you entered the room. It knows the kind of music you prefer and
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starts playing your favorite songs. After a few minutes, it recognizes that you are thirsty and prepares a cup of coffee. Eventually there may be sensors all over the home—sensors in the refrigerator will detect that you are running low on breakfast foods and will place an order online; sensors in the medicine cabinet will check if you have taken your pills, et cetera. How will we deal with all of this on Shabbat?
On Shabbat, you say no to your computer, no to your phone, no to the Internet; but through Shabbat you open doors to yourself, to your soul, to your family and to Hashem. 42
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RR: In order to explore this question, let’s begin with sources in the Gemara that deal with “davar she’eino mitkaven,” unintended consequences of a permitted action. In Beitzah 23b, the Gemara presents a disagreement between Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yehudah. Rabbi Shimon says: A person may drag a bed, a chair or a bench on the ground [on Shabbat], provided that he does not intend to make a furrow. Rabbi Yehudah says: No vessels may be dragged. Rabbi Shimon permits one to drag a bed, since the furrow that is created is a davar she’eino mitkaven; he had no intention to plow. This is similar to another Gemara that discusses one who sees a gazelle in his house. If he closes the door, he traps the gazelle, which is forbidden on Shabbat. Is he allowed to close the door? The Rashba (Chiddushei HaRashba, Shabbat 107a) responds with the following: In Yerushalmi [13:6], it appears that from the outset they permitted him to lock his house, along with the gazelle which is in it, in order to protect his home. This is because even though doing so will trap the gazelle inside, since he needs to protect his home it is permissible, as long as he did not only intend to trap the gazelle. It would appear that intent plays a pivotal role in determining whether or not an act constitutes a violation of Shabbat. Let’s look at a more contemporary illustration of this principle: Say your neighbor has a light sensor in his front yard and if you pass by the house, the sensor will detect movement and the light will go on. Can you pass by your neighbor’s house on Shabbat? Rabbi Shmuel Wosner writes (Shevet Halevi 9:69) that as long as your intention is not to go there to turn on the light, it is permissible. Now let’s examine our original question of smart homes and sensors on Shabbat. The fact that AI sensors are continually learning about you even as you move around your home on Shabbat, does not necessarily constitute a violation of Shabbat (since it is an unintended consequence of your actions). However, suppose you go downstairs to your kitchen on Shabbat morning and after a few minutes the shutters suddenly open and the coffeemaker begins preparing coffee because your smart home “recognizes” that at that particular time and temperature you like the shutters open and a coffee ready—that would be problematic. This is because AI is doing a forbidden melachah (cooking), as a result of your activity. There is, however, a greater concept at play here that should be discussed. There are certain activities that the rabbis forbade on Shabbat, even though they are Biblically permissible, because they have the potential to destroy the nature of Shabbat. A religious man I know has a very successful Internet reputation management business. One Shabbat, a client in New York was desperate to reach him. It was an “emergency.” She e-mailed him and did not receive a response. She texted him. He didn’t respond. She called him. He didn’t answer.
After Shabbat, when he saw her urgent messages, he returned the call. Aggravated, she asked him, “Why didn’t you answer my calls? I lost thousands of dollars today!” He explained to her that it was Shabbat. “I have Sunday as my day off, but when there’s an emergency, I respond,” she said. “Our Shabbat is different. I can’t answer e-mails,” he replied. “But I texted you!” “I can’t text on Shabbat.” “But I called you!” “I can’t answer calls on Shabbat.” “So what do you do on Shabbat?” asked the woman, intrigued. “We go to the synagogue, we pray, and we eat a meal with our family,” he replied. “Okay,” she said, “but a meal takes twenty minutes.” “No,” he explained. “Our Shabbat meal can take two hours—we sit together with our children, we sing, we talk, we discuss ideas.”
The woman was taken aback. “From time to time,” she said, “I try to gather my family together for a meal so we can have some quality time, but even if I finally succeed in getting everyone to sit down together, my husband is busy with his phone. Then one child gets a WhatsApp message and is distracted. Another child gets a text and leaves the room. Shabbat seems like an amazing invention. Can you please give me the formula for Shabbat?” In truth, while it can sometimes seem as if halachah closes doors, it actually opens up massive gates, allowing one to enter areas that would otherwise be inaccessible. A teenager once told me that by 4:00 pm on Shabbat afternoon he could no longer hold out without his phone. I told him, “You have a serious problem if you cannot be alone with yourself for twenty-four hours. Shabbat is your savior.” On Shabbat, you say no to your computer, no to your phone, no to the Internet; but through Shabbat
you open doors to yourself, to your soul, to your family and to Hashem. I believe in the derech of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook who embraced progress and felt that technological advancements are positive overall, for the world and for Klal Yisrael. Nevertheless, the fallout of being available all the time is not a positive development; it means that one is always distracted and never focused. We must be wary of turning Shabbat into a yom chol. It is up to our generation’s posekim to assess technological advances and to determine what is allowed and what is forbidden, and when heterim are detrimental to upholding the sanctity of Shabbat. Shabbat is the only time we close all our doors and stay focused on the truly important things in our lives. In today’s modern times, Shabbat is more necessary than ever.
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RABBI TZVI ORTNER:
The Solution-Finder The Chassid behind the effort to make “smart” kitchens Shabbat and yom tov-friendly By Merri Ukraincik
nce upon a time, refrigerators were simple appliances, both in terms of what they did and how they operated. To use them on Shabbat, one just had to unscrew the light bulb. Today’s refrigerators—and indeed the rest of the appliances in the modern kitchen—are sophisticated machines, powered by a multitude of hidden computers, sensors and motors that present halachic hurdles unimaginable decades earlier. Some refrigerators can have as many as seven or eight computers on board. Rabbi Tzvi Ortner, the OU’s first director of halacha and technology, remains undaunted. “These are challenges awaiting solutions,” he says, a belief that has fueled his work in the area of technology and halachah for ten years. Known as a solution-finder at OU Kosher, Rabbi Ortner, who joined the organization Merri Ukraincik is a writer and the author of I Live. Send Help: 100 Years of Jewish History in Images from the JDC Archives (New York, 2014).
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in 2017, now leads the effort to make smart kitchens entirely Shabbat and yom tov-friendly. “Rabbi Ortner is well positioned to not only come up with the problems [with modern-day appliances] but to come up with the solutions as well,” observes Rabbi Eli Gersten, who works for OU Kosher as the recorder of pesak and policy. Born in Lod, Israel, where his father served as the city’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Ortner moved to the US after marrying his wife Rivky. He learned in kollel at Yeshiva Machzikei Hadas Rabbinical College in Brooklyn and completed yoreh yoreh semichah at the Rabbinical Court of Karlsburg in Boro Park, where he studied Jewish law in fields ranging from infertility to technology. He is a prominent rav, serving as mara d’atra of Congregation Chevra Linath Hazedek in Kensington, Brooklyn since 2018. Though he holds a master’s degree in educational leadership, Rabbi Ortner has long been interested in practical halachah and its impact on the way Jews live. Highlighting how today’s kitchens pose challenges to Shabbat observance, he authored
the Machshevet HaTzvi, a halachic responsa series, and launched Lemaaseh Publications to explain the ins and outs of new technologies as they come on the scene. For several years Rabbi Ortner worked directly with manufacturers to find solutions to help consumers, which led to his co-founding Halachic Tech USA in order to professionalize those efforts. It was his work at Halachic Tech USA, a company that researches, evaluates and makes recommendations on various products based on halachic sources, that brought him to the attention of OU Kosher COO Rabbi Moshe Elefant. Rabbi Elefant was looking to fulfill the vision of Senior OU Posek Rabbi Yisroel Belsky zt”l, who foresaw how technological advances in our kitchens would increase the potential to be mechallel Shabbat and yom tov. He wanted the OU to develop safeguards to protect consumers but recognized early on that halachically compliant solutions rested in the hands of manufacturers. Enter Rabbi Ortner, whom Rabbi Elefant calls “the perfect match for the position, a talmid chacham with a serious
Rabbi Tzvi Ortner (center) meeting with GE staff during the development of the Shabbos Keeper. All images courtesy of ZMAN Technologies
halachic background and a firm grasp of cutting-edge technology.” “Rabbi Ortner takes the initiative to build relationships with manufacturers that will make a difference as technology becomes increasingly intrusive in our lives,” says Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO, OU Kosher. “We needed someone like Rabbi Ortner to let us know what the issues are and devise solutions,” says Rabbi Gersten. Rabbi Ortner, who is a Belzer Chassid and wears
traditional Chassidic clothing, can effortlessly review engineering plans and educate companies about any concerns. “Not too many people can fill this role,” says Rabbi Gersten. “Rabbi Ortner has what it takes.” In 2018, the Shabbos Keeper was developed through a partnership between the OU, GE Appliances and ZMAN Technologies, a device that is a game-changer for the Shabbat-observant consumer looking to buy a refrigerator. While a
refrigerator’s Sabbath Mode must be set weekly—a task easy to forget on a busy Friday afternoon or erev chag— the Shabbos Keeper, preprogrammed with a Jewish calendar covering the next thirty years, is preset to deactivate all lights and other electronic bells and whistles for the duration of
Key Features of the Shabbos Keeper • Pre-programmed Shabbat and yom tov dates and times • Low energy light stays on for the duration of Shabbat and yom tov • Electronic ice maker and water dispenser are automatically deactivated on Shabbat/yom tov • No forgetting refrigerator switches, lights or Sabbath Mode • No computer messaging and reading affected by users during Shabbat and yom tov use Available through geapplianceparts.com or zmantechnologies.com.
Developed by the OU, GE and ZMAN Technologies, the pocket-sized Shabbos Keeper is programmed with a Jewish calendar through the year 2050, and makes refrigerator use on Shabbat and yom tov 100 percent worry-free.
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Shabbat and yom tov. All gadgets previously available on the market were “a patch or a Band-Aid that risked invalidating your warranty,” says Rabbi Elefant. By contrast, the Shabbos Keeper, a pocket-sized device that connects to a refrigerator through a data port, provides a total solution that makes using the refrigerator on Shabbat and yom tov 100 percent worry-free. The Shabbos Keeper, which interfaces directly with 150 GE refrigerator models, is currently available through geapplianceparts. com or zmantechnologies.com. Rabbi Elefant considers Rabbi Ortner a “key force” behind the development of the Shabbos Keeper. Working closely with CEO of GE Appliances Kevin Nolan on a solution to make GE refrigerators compliant for Shabbat and yom tov use, Rabbi Ortner made countless trips to the company’s Kentucky operations for a year while development was in
progress. “[After we developed the product] there was non-stop testing for an entire year to ensure the quality of the product,” Rabbi Ortner says. While Rabbi Ortner agrees strongly with Rabbi Belsky’s insight that solutions must be found on the manufacturer level, he stresses that “it’s both a communal and an individual responsibility to see to it that it happens.” He encourages consumers to ask about Sabbath mode when shopping for major appliances. He also notes the importance of closing the huge gap between what is available in Israel, where it is rare for large kitchen appliances not to have Sabbath mode, and what is available in the US. Currently, only one fully certified refrigerator exists on the American market, which is one of the reasons the Shabbos Keeper is so important. Finding a truly Shabbat-compliant product is more complicated than the average consumer
would imagine, he points out. “There’s still a vast lack of information and choice, and this is where we hope to have the biggest impact.” What else is on the horizon for Rabbi Ortner and the OU? A boiler that makes it possible to wash dishes on Shabbat with hot water, and outside the kitchen, a Shabbat-friendly CPAP machine. A pilot release of a Shabbos Keeper for a few GE oven models is planned for March 2020. The device will resolve the major pitfalls of Shabbat and yom tov use by disabling all sensors, as well as the temperature controls and the feature that turns the heating element on and off with the opening and closing of the oven door. “As appliances become increasingly sophisticated and less Shabbat-friendly, we will need more of Rabbi Ortner’s solutions,” says Rabbi Gersten. “What we’ve seen so far is only the beginning of what he and the OU will be able to bring to the Jewish community.”
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Faith Family and
When a Child Leaves the Fold
In the essays that follow, we asked contributors: How should parents respond when their child is no longer religious? We learned that when dealing with a child who leaves the Torah way of life, there are no pat answers. Everyone we spoke to stressed that every individual and every situation is unique. “It’s nearly impossible for me to give you an algorithm that will meet every family’s needs and issues,” said Rabbi Shmuel Gluck of Areivim, a community organization based in New York that guides struggling teenagers toward an independent and productive adulthood. None of those we interviewed—whether parents, mental health professionals, rabbis or educators—claimed to be an expert, and no one offered quick fixes or a sure-fire formula for success. What they did offer were words of comfort, healing and advice. Ed. Note: Tolerance, compromise, flexibility and understanding are all important components in any attempt to maintain a relationship with a child who has left the path of halachic observance. It is important for us to listen to what these children are telling us they need. However, the precise degree of such tolerance in any given case raises extremely complex issues of both halachah and family dynamics and must be discussed with a competent and sensitive rav. We offer here only the most general of guidelines.
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How should parents respond when their child is no longer religious? 1. Set a balance between love and limits David Pelcovitz, as told to Leah Lightman What are the “ingredients” needed for the religious observance of children to reflect that of their great-grandparents? Studies have shown that there are three core elements that best predict the intergenerational passing of the baton of religion. First, there is an ongoing warmth and connection between parent and child. This factor also often exists in cases of children who return after having left the fold. Call it the parent’s ability to metaphorically “hold the child’s hand.” Parents can grow their connection with their children by giving them their complete and undivided attention for a few minutes each day. Listen to them share their thoughts without being distracted. Envelop them with connection. Are the televisions, computers, phones and other media off during dinnertime? Parents should spend time with their children and get to know them at every stage. Second, there is a consistent message of connection, despite the parents not always condoning or allowing what a child does or wants to do. According to Chazal, the authoritative parent pushes away with the left hand while using the right hand to draw the child closer. It’s important to tell your children “no.” The Midrash tells us that parents who set limits for their children will be loved by their children. There must always be a balance between love and limits. A child’s need to find his own way in the world must also be taken into account. Children can’t 50
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always internalize their parents’ teachings if they stay at home. Sometimes they need to go off and even test things a bit so they can learn to do things their own way. The third predictor is the marital couple. Parents don’t have to think alike; they have to think together. There are times when one child is struggling and requires more of the parents’ attention and resources than the other children. The Kotzker Rebbe said: There is nothing as unequal as the equal treatment of children. It is not easy for kids to see a sibling getting “more” from their parents. The key is not to argue with them. Hear them out. Let them emote. Validate and create space. Ultimately, parenting is an art. Dr. David Pelcovitz is the Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus chair in psychology and Jewish education at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration at Yeshiva University and an instructor in pastoral counseling at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.
Leah Lightman is a frequent contributor to Jewish Action. She lives in Lawrence, New York, with her family.
2. Love your child unconditionally Ruchi Koval The experience of having a child leave the Orthodox way of life is one of the most emotionally difficult occurrences in an Orthodox family—both for the child and for his or her family members. The
question posed is, “How should parents respond?” But I think a more important and deeper question is, “How should parents and siblings think about the defection?” Often the initial reaction is shock, horror and fear. Leaving the Orthodox fold does not occur in a vacuum. It is generally just one symptom of a much bigger issue—the child is often depressed and anxious. He or she is not succeeding or feeling valued at school. A child who leaves is a child in pain in his current setting. It is usually a last resort after months or years of trying to stay, of behaving in risky ways to numb the pain, and of going underground with chillul Shabbos and kashrus and other breaches of Yiddishkeit. Every child who leaves has a reason, and that reason will be different for each one. My husband and I have a number of children who no longer identify as Orthodox, and each one is different with a different journey and a different story to tell. The bottom line is that each child felt deeply unhappy and lonely in the frum environment and could not bear staying. Leaving is painful. It is a symptom of something deeper or of a combination of factors. And that is the most important mindset to hold—for parents, siblings and community members. And so a thinking parent must ask himself: How does our Torah teach us to respond when someone is in pain? How do we respond to emotional turmoil? As a religion of chesed, the answer is obvious. We must respond with kindness and with love. We must respond with trust and with acceptance. We must respond with inclusion. We must give the benefit of the doubt and give the child space to navigate the journey. I think many parents coping with a child leaving Yiddishkeit, us included, struggle with two aspects: One, doesn’t acceptance look like approval? And two, what kind of message does this acceptance send to the other kids at home? I remember our daughter coming downstairs in a very short skirt. I met her eyes and told her she looked beautiful. We went out together with my head held high. Do I think for one moment that my daughter, who grew
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Leaving the Orthodox fold does not occur in a vacuum. It is generally just one symptom of a much bigger issue . . . Every child who leaves has a reason, and that reason will be different for each one. up in my home for nearly two decades, thought that I suddenly changed my hashkafah on short skirts? I can assure you she did not. The message she got was, “My mother loves me even more than she dislikes my skirt. My mother sees past my skirt to my inner self.” It makes absolutely no sense to tell a child something she already knows. If I disapprove of her skirt, or even tell her—very nicely—that she should respect our wishes and dress accordingly in our home, I simply drive a wedge between us and strengthen the idea that other places and other people are more loving and more accepting than I. She’ll definitely still wear the skirt—just not in front of me. So now she’ll hide her lifestyle from me. What have I accomplished? A final point I want to mention is the importance of emunah and self-care. When a family is in crisis for any reason, it must strengthen itself in emunah— that Hashem runs the world, that He tests us because He loves us and not because we are bad people, that He sees all our efforts and all our tears. This may be achieved via a rav, a network of friends, shiurim, tefillah or any other avenue. A parent of a child in crisis is, like any other primary caregiver, subject to burnout and exhaustion. We must care for ourselves physically and emotionally so that we will have the ability to care for the precious souls Hashem has entrusted to us.
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Strategies for Siblings: What should a parent do if there are other children at home? Moshe Benovitz Religious imperatives and behaviors are generally divided into two categories: those designed to strengthen the relationship between man and God and those meant to impact the social arena— mitzvot between man and his fellow man. Within these broad categories, certain commandments necessitate interacting with items, such as a mezuzah or tefillin, while others entail interacting with people. The reality is that it is far easier to fulfill a mitzvah properly when it involves inanimate objects than when it involves human beings. Volumes of halachic discourse and debate notwithstanding, it is relatively simple to ascertain the right way to grasp an etrog. Yet each human interaction presents an ever-changing kaleidoscope of variables and a myriad of potential pitfalls, regardless of the best intentions. All the more so with intense relationships, such as close friends, spouses, and especially between parents and children. In much of Jewish law, it is rare to encounter diametrically opposed approaches with equal legitimacy. However, in matters of parenting and social discourse, where it’s challenging to determine what’s right, it is as common as it is unsettling. So without any pretense of having easy or comprehensive answers, here are a few contextual guidelines in response to the heartrending issues raised in this symposium. We do not always have the luxury of confronting quandaries in a 52
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vacuum. The child in question deserves individual and unique parental engagement, but there are limits to this. It is fair to assume that other children will, and should, change the equation. At the same time, there can be better and worse ways to consider the influence on other household members. As parents, we have a natural inclination to protect. We may apply that instinct toward an often futile effort to shield the other children from harsh realities. In most circumstances, this will fail. Moreover, the closer to home these painful experiences are found, the less simple it will be to distract siblings from them. And there is not much of a middle ground. If we make the religious crisis taboo, we will not only fail to insulate, but we will also isolate our children and leave them to make sense of the turmoil on their own. There is an alternative. And it directly correlates with the more constructive consideration of the rest of the family. We are constantly educating our children. From infancy, they learn from us and about us. More than anything else, they implicitly learn our values and priorities. We model for them how those principles allow us to cope with challenges and address life’s curveballs. The scenarios we are discussing need not have been chosen or desirable in order for them to present teachable moments; these moments happen irrespective of our wishes or consent (much like the original religious rejection). Our children will be observing our reactions and discovering our values throughout. If that is the case, it would seem that two conclusions can be drawn. First, we are, as always, playing to a crowd. This is an integral concept in family life. Whatever approach we choose will send loud messages to everyone around us. There is no whisper quiet enough or mansion
large enough to conceal our thoughts and feelings from this audience. Second, once we accept that we are “having the conversation,” let’s actually have it. It does not need to be limited to innuendo, guesswork and implication. We can sit with our children and talk to them using age-appropriate language. We can even be honest about our own vulnerabilities and uncertainties. They will sense them anyway. Why not use the opportunity to discuss the situation and connect? Rabbi Moshe Benovitz is the managing director of NCSY, a rebbe at Yeshivat Reishit Yerushalayim and the longtime director of NCSY Kollel. He lives with his wife and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.
Ruchi Koval When parents are still raising other kids, having a child at home who is no longer religious is admittedly thorny. Siblings can easily feel resentful and threatened. They may feel embarrassed in front of their peers. Parents have to set an emotional tone of calmness and love in the home. They also have to make sure the frum kids are getting love and attention, because parents, myself included, can sometimes go overboard trying to make the nonfrum kids feel good, to the extent that they neglect the emotional needs of the siblings. We’ve tried hard to take our kids out one-on-one on small outings and trips to give each one the time and space they need to be seen, heard and valued. But it’s also important for parents to recognize that they cannot manage their kids’ relationships and can’t be responsible for every inter-sibling interaction that takes place—just as we can’t assume responsibility for all of that in typical families (what are those?). What I have learned is this: a child who has a sibling who has left Orthodoxy will not necessarily be
motivated to follow in her sibling's footsteps just because the parents are treating the off-the-derech sibling with acceptance. Most kids want to be similar to their peers and families. Often seeing a sibling in crisis will actually disincentivize a child from wanting to follow, especially if the sibling is in crisis in other ways, such as involvement with drugs, alcohol, or risky relationships. Parents have to truly be "chanoch l'naar al pi darko" and trust that each child will follow the journey his or her soul needs. Emunah is paramount here, and we can't parent from a place of fear or shame. Ultimately Hashem runs the world, and we have a very small piece of the picture. Daniel Kalish, as told to Nechama Carmel When parents have a difficult child, they should recognize one fact: Hashem knows what you need. Hashem gave you that challenging son, and He gave the siblings that particular sibling. Parents often worry: How is this struggling child going to affect the other kids? Your other children will see how much you love this child who is struggling and how much you care, and that will have a positive impact on them. No child wants to be a nachas machine. (“My Mommy and Daddy love me because I give them nachas.”) The siblings will look to see how you treat the child who’s difficult. Let’s assume you have two children—a goodygoody and a troubled child. When you show understanding and compassion to the troubled child and connect to him no matter what, you are conveying a message to the goody-goody as well: my love runs deeper than any nachas you bring me. The “good” child receives a very deep message. On the other hand, when we reject the struggling child—even if we do so for the sake of protecting the “good” child—I think we actually hurt the [latter]. Because we’re essentially saying, “I love you but only until a certain point.” And that message is a bad message for all of our kids to hear. Rabbi Daniel Kalish is menahel of Yeshiva Ateres Shmuel of Waterbury in Durham, Connecticut. Nechama Carmel is editor-in-chief of Jewish Action.
Tzvi Wohlgelernter I was sitting in a car repair shop learning with a student when an elderly gentleman approached us. He said he did not normally do this, but he felt compelled to share his story with us. (I assume this had to do with the fact that we were wearing kippot and learning Torah.) He began by describing how his parents struggled with observing the Jewish laws. His mother’s parents were very upset by this, as they were “very religious.” When he was five years old, the extended family was at his grandparents’ house for the Seder. When it was time to search for the afikoman, all the grandchildren eagerly jumped out of their seats. However, as the young boy tried to rise, his grandfather put his hand on him and made him sit down; he was told that he wasn’t allowed to participate as his parents were no longer observant. This led to a big fight between his parents and grandparents, and he had no relationship with his grandfather since. Today he is ninety-two years old and the pain of that event still sits with him.
There is ultimately one factor we cannot control: the fact that our children are their own people, with their own experiences, minds, hearts, souls and, of course, free will. While a child may not observe Judaism in the same way as his parents, or even in extreme cases where the child is completely disconnected religiously, there is always hope of reengaging with Torah and mitzvot. And it is important to understand that religion is not a zero-sum game. Children crave the love of their parents. It is our responsibility as parents to love all our children unconditionally. The mishnah in Avot states (1:12): “Hevei mitalmidav shel Aharon . . . ohev et habriyot umekarvan laTorah—Be of the disciples of Aharon… loving your fellow men and drawing them near to the Torah.” Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook explains: The mishnah says to love your fellow Jew and bring him closer to Torah, not to love him in order that he should become closer to Torah. If this is true of a non-relative, how much more so of our own children. Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
This is not to say that parents have to condone the rebellious actions of their child, but the child must feel that the parents still love him or her as a person. How does a parent show love despite the pain he might feel at his child no longer being religious? It is crucial that the child feel comfortable coming home in general, but especially during Shabbatot and chagim. My experience in a secular college campus has shown that those students who do not go home because they no longer “fit in” will not have a chance to experience a Shabbat or chag at all if they do not have an opportunity on campus or are not motivated to seek it out. A parent also needs to find common ground to talk about with his or her child outside the scope of religion. This demonstrates that the parent is interested and engaged in the child’s life. At the same time, it is important to remember that children appreciate honesty. It is completely acceptable for a parent to tell his child that there are boundaries that have to be kept in the house. If the parent is open and respects the child, even while not supporting all of his choices, the child will naturally want to reciprocate that love and respect. Rabbi Tzvi Wohlgelernter is the OU-JLIC educator at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He has semichah from Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh and Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, as well as from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. He is a certified psychotherapist at the Family Institute of Jerusalem.
Ron Yitzchok Eisenman Many formerly religious Jews have told me how much they resent their parents, siblings, relatives or teachers perpetually telling them, “I know you’ll come back one day. I have no doubt.” There is nothing to be gained by repeating these overtly patronizing clichés. Similarly, I don’t like the condescending term “not-yet-frum.” 54
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Remember to . . . By Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman
• Accept your child who is no longer religious for who he or she is. • Celebrate the relationship and cherish time spent together. • Take pride in your child’s accomplishments and achievements. • Know that the future is in Hashem’s hands, but appreciate the present—Hashem’s gift to us.
This term and all similar boilerplates are meaningless and pretentious quips that never bring anyone back to Judaism. In fact, they clearly invalidate the lifestyle of the person with whom you are speaking. Love must mean acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t mean agreement or affirmation of the lifestyle choice of the child; however, it does mean ceasing and desisting from constantly belittling and speaking disapprovingly of the irreligious individual’s lifestyle. Picture the following: A child who is no longer religious returns home after a long absence. The parent embraces his child with a loving hug. The parent who claims he has “unconditional love” for his child is now put to the test. He must welcome his child to the Shabbos table even as he notices her cell phone protruding from her pocket. He must accept the fact that his child no longer eats kosher and not remain in denial. In order to remove the tension and emotional turbulence in the home, parents must work on accepting who their child is. One cannot claim to love his child unconditionally but refuse to accept—notice I didn’t say endorse— his lifestyle. One can simultaneously accept someone’s behavior while not approving of it. However, one cannot openly resent his child and his behavior and simultaneously claim that he loves him unconditionally. Recently, a relative of mine who is a rav in Williamsburg told me that even in his insular Chassidic community there are instances of intermarriage. When I expressed my total shock at how a former Chassid could engage in such a betrayal, he related the following story. A young Chassidic man who had
left the fold was dating a non-Jewish woman. The young man’s mother came pleading with my relative to intervene with her son and at the very least “knock some sense into him” by convincing him not to marry a non-Jew. The rav met with the wayward son and asked him—in Yiddish of course—“Maybe at this point in your life you are not frum. However, why marry a non-Jew? There are plenty of nice non-observant Jewish women in New York. Why break your mother’s heart?” At this point the young man said with decisiveness, “Ich vil nor chasunah huben mit ah shiksa—I specifically want to marry a non-Jewish woman.” The rav asked, “Why is that?” The young man replied emotionally, “If I marry a non-Jew, my children won’t be Jewish and my mother will stop ‘tcheppering’ [badgering] me. I’ll finally have some rest from her.” The story reinforced in me the realization that the constant badgering and nagging by his mother was certainly counterproductive. Indeed, it eventually led to an intermarriage. We must first and foremost focus on repairing and reconciling relationships. This is the be-all and end-all in responding to the child who has left the Orthodox fold; all the rest is commentary. Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman is the rav of Congregation Ahavas Israel in Passaic, New Jersey, and a professor at Lander College for Women in Manhattan.
3. Respect, Respect and Respect Daniel Kalish, as told to Nechama Carmel A parent should never lose his belief in the inherent goodness of his child. I’m not saying this casually. I know a family where the father is a highly successful individual who is extremely self-disciplined. Yet he was blessed with a son who suffers from ADHD and who is therefore impulsive and often out of control. This father’s challenge is to learn to accept his son with his particular limitations—he has to have an expansive view and believe in the goodness of his son despite the stark differences between them. I’m very opposed to parents using the word “disappointed.” The word implies that you now view the person differently, as if everything you previously thought about him or her was wrong. But should a mistake really destroy our view of our child? At one point, a student at the yeshivah took a rebbe’s car without permission. Unfortunately, he ended up wrecking the car. The rebbe was angry, rightly so, and gave the student well-deserved musar. However, despite the fact that he was upset, the accident did not cause the rebbe to view the student differently. His belief in the fundamental goodness of the talmid did not change because of one bad mistake, an incident of poor judgment. The bedrock of chinuch is respect. In fact, when I look for a rebbe [for the yeshivah], I look for someone who respects his students. “Don’t children have to respect adults?” some parents will ask. Of course they do, but a child who is respected respects others. Shlomo HaMelech says in Mishlei (9:8): “Al tochach leitz pen yisna’eka—Do not rebuke the scoffer, for he will hate you.” The question is asked on this pasuk: aren’t we obligated to give musar to everyone who needs it? Why are we exempt from giving reproof to the scoffer? Maharam Schick explains that what the verse really means is: Don’t rebuke someone whom you perceive to be a scoffer. For
if you do, he will end up hating you. In order to give honest rebuke, you must view the individual as an inherently good person. There’s a pure person, a ben Avraham there. I can’t emphasize the importance of this principle enough. This is no simple feat. When a child is guilty of causing enormous stress in the home, it inevitably changes our view of him. The flaws frustrate us and there’s a lot of emotion. What do we do? As parents we need to work on ourselves to perceive this child’s goodness and positive qualities despite the aggravation he or she might cause, often on a daily basis. And then we can start having an impact on him or her. We all make mistakes. The goal for all of us is to have an ayin tov, to see the essential goodness in all people, and especially in our children. And I’m not talking about the child’s potential, but where he is now. It’s no coincidence that Avraham Avinu was the greatest impactor in history. He had an ayin tov. He saw the good. “Kol mi sheyeish bo sheloshah devarim hallalu hu mitalmidav shel Avraham Avinu . . . ayin tovah . . .—Whoever possesses these three qualities is among the disciples of our father Avraham . . . a good eye . . .” (Avos 5:19). This is essential in chinuch. Reish Lakish was a bandit and yet Rav Yochanan looked at him and said, “Chelcha l’Oraisa—your strength is perfect for Torah.” He saw his essential goodness. We must work on having an ayin tov.
4. Invest in the Relationship Daniel Kalish, as told to Nechama Carmel Every child yearns for a connection with his or her parents. In Tehillim 92:2 it says: “Tov lehodos laHashem,” which we are accustomed to translating as, “It’s good to thank Hashem.” The general understanding of the pasuk is that just like it’s good to eat pizza and it’s good when the Mets win the game, it’s also good to thank Hashem. But I understand it somewhat differently. What is the essence of good? Lehodos laHashem, connecting to our gratitude to Hashem, having a relationship with Hashem. If we want to know what tov is, we also need to see how the Torah defines its opposite—what’s not good. “Lo tov heyos ha’adam levado—it is not good for man to be alone” (Bereishis 2:18). If aloneness is lo tov, clearly the essence of tov is connection and relationship. A crucial role of parents and rebbeim is to create and maintain connection and relationship. How is a relationship made? I’m not saying anything terribly original here, but we must make time. Often parents will tell me, “My child is not interested in a relationship. He pushes me away.” Persevere. A persistent parent will figure it out. Find Continued on page 58
When a family is in crisis for any reason, it must strengthen itself in emunah—that Hashem runs the world, that He tests us because He loves us and not because we are bad people, that He sees all our efforts and all our tears. Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
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something that interests your child and make it your interest. Quality time and good conversation—about topics other than his struggles!—should never be underestimated. Take, for instance, a child who is hyperactive. He’s struggling in school. He’s stressed out about the rules, about certain aspects of Yiddishkeit like prayer. A good conversation with his parents—these high-energy kids are often the best schmoozers—is worth gold. So much validation, so much encouragement can be conveyed in a good conversation. If you know how important it is to form a relationship with your children, you will get creative. One father I know, who was never interested in sports, now goes to ball games with his son; another father cracks jokes. I recall a parent once telling me, “I’m going skiing with my son. What should I ask for in return?” That was one of the saddest questions I ever heard. Spending time with your child is not a business deal. Take your child skiing because you want quality time together. In exchange, you will have quality time, quality conversation, relationship and connection. I know parents are genuinely busy and there are financial and other pressures, but having a relationship and a connection with your children must be a priority. It’s one of the most powerful things we can give to our families. The more we stick to the above two principles of relationship and respect—and these are principles, they’re not tricks—the more likely it is that your child will come back. He’ll come back and he’ll do well.
5. Allow for Individuation Yael Wedeck To begin with, it seems that some basic examination of why we become parents is in order. Aside from fulfilling the Biblical obligation to be fruitful, and 58
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We must first and foremost focus on repairing and reconciling relationships. This is the be-all and end-all in responding to the child who has left the Orthodox fold; all the rest is commentary. satisfying basic maternal and paternal yearnings, each individual enters the world of parenting with his own unique set of expectations, hopes and dreams. Some questions we need to ask ourselves are: Do I believe that my children should be a reflection of me? Should their ideals and choices mirror mine? How important is it for my children to identify and develop their own interests and talents? How do I relate to them when they express themselves in ways that feel alien to me? Do I sometimes experience a sense of shame from their behaviors? As parents, we do so much for our children. Our daily lives include countless small and large tasks to assure that their health and well-being are provided for. Our moments are filled with multiple encounters with their minds, bodies and souls. It can be difficult under these circumstances to see our children as unique beings who have their own paths to forge as they grow. Since we have invested so much in them, we sometimes feel that they are extensions of us. However, as they grow older, this feeling may no longer be viable. An important developmental task is individuation. Somewhere in adolescence, every teen feels the need to separate from her parents—to identify herself in a way that is experienced as unique. This can feel like a rejection of all that a parent has done for his child and prove to be very painful for some parents.
If we understand the importance of this stage in moving toward healthy adulthood, it can lend some perspective as a child starts to differentiate. The rejection parents feel when a child leaves the fold is often heightened by what they may experience from the community when a teen starts to remove the vestiges of his upbringing from his external appearance. In those early stages of recognizing that a child seems to be changing, there can be a strong sense of fear and loss. Fear of otherness, fear of the possibilities and consequences that lie down the road, fear of isolation from the community, loss of a sense of family wholeness and unity and a loss of dreams for the future of the child. Giving oneself the time and space to experience a full range of feelings is crucial. Every person responds to challenges in vastly different ways. Tuning in to and accepting our own emotions and reactions can help us be open to the feelings of all members of the family who need support. Caring for and understanding ourselves is a first step toward developing one’s approach to the individual child and the new family dynamic. Yael Wedeck, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in private practice and co-founder of WorkAtIt, a program that helps struggling teens in the Metro New York and Northern New Jersey area find a practical way forward.
Continued on page 62
In Their Own Words
What message would you most want to get across to parents whose children have left Orthodox Judaism? Jewish Action posed this question online to hundreds of formerly Orthodox Jews. Below are some of the most common responses, compiled by someone who himself left the Orthodox community.
1. Love and respect your child even though you do not approve of his or her decisions. This was the single most common and emphasized response. Understandably, you feel extremely pained and saddened by his decisions—but your child is still your child. He still very much wants a relationship with you, just as he wanted it before, and he wants you to love and respect him. On a more practical level, if you want your child to have any chance of returning to Judaism in the future, then rejecting him, or cutting him off, is the complete opposite of what you should be doing. Instead, you should be showering him with love and showing him just how beautiful and warm religious life can be. And what about your grandchildren? Do you want to have a positive relationship with them, and do you want there to be some chance of them returning to Judaism? Then fill their memories with loving interactions with their grandparents and positive experiences of Judaism, not fights between their parents and grandparents over religious issues. 2. Do not attack. “Don’t you know how much this is hurting us?!” “How can you abandon the religion your grandparents died for?!” Manipulating through guilt, repeatedly blaming the child, and harping on the pain the child is 60
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causing will not improve your relationship and will almost certainly not help your child come back on the derech. 3. Remember that your child is hurting too. Your child is most likely experiencing pain and uncertainty, just as you are. Most of all, she is hurting because she is worrying about losing her relationship with you. She knows how painful this is to you and hopes you can see past your disappointment and still maintain a relationship. 4. Reasonable boundaries are fine, but too many can ruin your relationship. It’s okay to set certain boundaries that you feel are necessary, for example, that your child not violate Shabbat while in your house, or that she should not try to convince your other children to violate halachah in any way. But at the same time, remember that your child also has her own needs. If you set too many restrictions, you will end up doing more harm than good. If you insist that your child never meet you anywhere without dressing in a fully religious way, or that she can’t talk to your other children, most likely all you will do is further alienate your child. He or she may even decide to stop having a relationship with you entirely. Where exactly you draw the line between your requirements and
your child’s requirements needs to be an ongoing discussion between you and your child. Sometimes a good family therapist might be in order. 5. Your child is still the same good, moral person you raised him to be. Do not speak to your child as if his friends and new lifestyle are an immoral abyss of hedonism and depravity. This is condescending and offensive and, perhaps more importantly, reflects a refusal to accept your child as he is. 6. You are not a failure. Your children are not clones of you, nor should they be. Sometimes that results in them ending up on a different path than the one you had hoped for. But that is not a reflection on how well you “succeeded” as a parent. Perhaps you are terribly embarrassed by what your neighbors or relatives will think. What will this do for your other children’s shidduch prospects? But embarrassment is not a good reason to reject your child. You must have told your children to ignore what other people say and just do what’s right! In this case, prioritizing your relationship with your child is what’s right. 7. It’s a journey. Maintaining a relationship with your child who is no longer religious can be difficult, and it requires a lot of effort on both sides. It takes time, but it can be done. Sure, there are lots of things to work through. Will you be able to have your children over for a Shabbat or yom tov meal? What will you talk about? It will be painful and it will take effort, but your child is still your child and your relationship with him or her is certainly worth it.
Continued from page 58
Tal Attia The question of how to handle children leaving the fold resonates in a way that is far too complex and individual to satisfyingly respond in general terms. That said, having learned Torah with, hosted Shabbat meals for, and spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours cultivating relationships with emerging Orthodox adults, I’ve come to identify a few factors that may be helpful for families navigating this question. Fact: Our children are not extensions of us. This is perhaps the toughest factor to internalize. We can live as passionate Jews, aspire to a “Torah personality,” sacrifice our time, energy and assets for our community. We can strive to raise our children with awe of God, to
instill in them love of Torah, to engage their minds and hearts soulfully and intellectually, to educate them in the ways of halachah and to equip them with a fluency in learning. However, there is ultimately one factor we cannot control: the fact that our children are their own people, with their own experiences, minds, hearts, souls and, of course, free will. I frequently see students struggling with emotional disconnection from parents over life choices. Ironically, the most critical moments of reconnection boil down to a disjunction: They are not their parents and their parents are not them. Children’s choices should not be a threat to parents’ identities. Fact: Life is comprised of millions of choices, not just one. For better or for worse, life is complex. Identities are multifaceted. Relationships and spirituality are dynamic. Few choices single-handedly, or permanently, define our children’s commitment to God, halachah, community and Torah.
In my time on campus, I’ve received calls from parents who feared their children were going “off the derech.” In such cases, I’ve encouraged parents to zoom out and look at the larger picture and longer-term trajectory of their child’s engagement with Judaism. Fact: Ownership is critical. Intentionality is a critical developmental element of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. For our children to thrive as Jewish adults, and for them to cultivate the next generation of Jewish souls, they need to have taken ownership of their Judaism. Sometimes the journey to that point of ownership is circuitous. Sometimes that point of ownership looks different than our own. Those nuances are healthy. If we want our children’s Torah life to be sustainable well after they leave the nest, it is important to recognize their experiments and choices as a step toward leading intentional Jewish lives.
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Fact: Acceptance does not equal approval. When loved ones do make the intentional, pervasive, and long-standing choice not to live by Torah values, distinguishing between approval and acceptance is pivotal. Whereas approval is a value statement, acceptance is a warm hug. Humans are multifaceted. We have the capacity to help others feel loved and essentially validated, even while fundamentally disagreeing with their opinions or disapproving of their choices. Expressing disappointment and dissent in the context of love and support can prove critical in maintaining a strong family bond, which, in the long run, is one of the most important things we can do to nourish our children’s neshamot. Tal Attia is an OU-JLIC educator at Binghamton University in New York. She has worked for Ayeka Center for Soulful Education, and as program coordinator for Counterpoint Israel and the Run4Afikim program for Israeli at-risk youth.
6. Don’t Play the Blame Game Ron Yitzchok Eisenman When parents realize their son or daughter is no longer religious, they often go through a “who-is-to-blame” phase. Parents will ask: Is my child struggling religiously due to my unsuccessful parenting? Is the school to blame for not dealing properly with my child? Was my child a victim of abuse or trauma? Human beings are complex. Rarely can anyone pinpoint one single cause that brought about a child’s going off the derech. If we as parents point the finger of blame in every direction or we begin to live in a state of perpetual guilt, blaming ourselves for our child’s life choices, we are setting the stage for helplessness, which is ineffective at best and destructive at worst. As opposed to focusing on “who is to blame?”, we should focus on “how can we rebuild?”
Parents can certainly be introspective in order to discover how to improve themselves going forward as they navigate the uncharted waters of dealing with a child who is no longer religious. However, they should never allow healthy introspection to dissolve into a state of despair, which can easily occur when parents feel they are to blame for their child’s lack of religious observance. The goal of such introspection is to discover how to more constructively deal with the child who is now outside the fold. First and foremost, parents must solidly anchor the relationship between themselves and their child.
7. Never Give Up Shmuel Gluck, as told to Leah Lightman My staff and I work one-on-one with most of the kids [who are struggling]. That’s not to say there aren’t group events or meetings. But connecting with the individual person is perhaps the most important thing that can happen. I emphasize this to parents all the time. Staying connected to your child will help you navigate and overcome a lot. Although I don’t usually agree to interviews, I accepted this one because I want parents to know that there is hope and there’s a lot they can do. Daven. Consult your posek. Seek help. And never give up. Rabbi Shmuel Gluck is the director of Areivim, a community organization based in New York that guides struggling teenagers toward an independent and productive adulthood.
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
THAN JUST A PERFORMANCE WWW.E I TANK AT Z . C O M | 7 1 8 . 7 7 0 . 7 9 7 3 | I N F O@ E I TA N KATZ . COM
By Judy Gruen
Sharing Insider Culture with the Outside
Judy Gruen is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. Her latest book is The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith (2017).
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
vi Hershcovich, a Montreal-based marketing professional by day and comedy writer by night, had been searching online for a particular routine by one of his favorite comedians, Wendy Liebman, when he found her on Twitter. He made an account and began conversing with several comedians he liked. In the process, “I discovered Twitter was a perfect place to drop original, frum humor content,” he says. Posting as @cholentface, Hershcovich is doing what a growing number of other Orthodox Jews are doing on this social media platform: mining humor from the excesses, peculiarities and ironies that abound in Orthodox life. For example, @cholentface: *gazing at the horizon with my son* ME: *squinting into the distance* Kid, one day the rain will stop and we’ll finally be able to take down our Sukkah. And that day will be a Shabbos. And @cholentface: I feel like it’s kinda hypocritical of the Marvelous Middos Machine to put out a song about Zerizus and then release their next album twenty-five years later. A former Lubavitch shaliach who had been stationed in Stavropol, Russia for two years, Hershcovich launched his first humor escapades back in yeshivah with an underground humor paper, the Loshon Hara Daily. Over the years, he has written satires, screenplays and stand-up routines for other people. With a growing fan base on Twitter (4,700+ followers), he’s beginning to get stand-up gigs for himself. Realizing the gap between the material he posts and the knowledge base of some of his fans, Hershcovich channels his inner shaliach and sends out automatic welcome messages to new followers, inviting them to ask him questions about content they do not understand. He also uses Twitter to share very entertaining
yet touching stories (via multiple tweets) about unexpected encounters he had with Jews in Russia. If you haven’t checked out the frum Twitterverse, you’ll be in for some good laughs, but you really need to be part of the “oylam” to understand the inside humor. Jokes and pointed observations abound about the dating world, stereotyped wardrobe and accessories of new yeshivah rebbes (including photos of thick-soled black shoes, a white shirt, an old-fashioned briefcase and a circa 2000 cheap watch), Jewish food obsessions, the competition to get into the best yeshivot and seminaries and assorted other pressures that are unique to the frum world. The GIFs that are increasingly de rigueur for popular tweets transform what might otherwise be a pareve statement into something hilarious. For example, Ari D (@aridPT) posted three GIFs next to one another, each of a young Tom Cruise running for his life in one of his action movies. The tweet: *me rushing to wrap up my tefillin before the gabai klaaps the bima to start r”c mussaf* Those wading into this frum new world will feel like strangers in a strange land unless they have some notion of what the Siyum HaShas is, have seen a beit midrash at full tilt, and get the jokes by Rejected Feldheim Books (@FeldheimRejects), whose entries include: UH-NUH... UH-HUH: The Language of Washers Simchas on a Budget: How to Throw a Passable Bar Mitzvah for Under $70,000 Explaining Mevushal Without Hurting Anyone’s Feelings Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin, the director of education for NCSY and a popular presence on Twitter (4,000+ followers), posts as @dbashideas. He’s enthusiastic about the benefits of having Orthodox Jews joking and commenting on this platform. “Until frum Twitter came along, frum Jews on social media were mostly stepping outside their culture and into someone else’s world,” he says. “Now, there is both an insider-outsider culture, where insiders can appreciate and interact with others who share their passions and concerns. It
oddities, has a cumulative effect on its also creates a niche that increases readers, and not a good one,” he wrote. the value of the insider culture.” “It can make people feel self-conscious Others see more risk than reward. in their avodas Hashem when they In a column published in Mishpacha ought to be filled with nothing but magazine in November 2019, columnist unself-conscious pride and joy.” Eytan Kobre articulated his concern A few on frum Twitter have about the direction of humor in the noticed the uptick in humor and frum world. While acknowledging that questioned whether it is at the cost humor fulfills a basic human need, he of serious discussion. As one tweet wrote, “We have a well-placed concern said, “FrumTwitter used to be a over engaging in leitzanus (scoffing), which is un-Jewish, prohibited behavior, space of shared Jewish thoughts and educational ideas, interesting articles as stated by Chazal (Megillah 25b), and and occasional jokes. At this point, my depending on its topic, humor may timeline is basically taking any viral also involve lashon hara, halbanas video/meme and turning it into niche panim [shaming someone], and other satire of the Orthodox community.” prohibited types of speech.” Kobre Naturally, this led to an immediate pointed to a risk in joking about our lives as if it is just another lifestyle, albeit slew of counter-tweets, pointing out that while the number of jokes about one “replete with all the most heimish, frum life may be on the rise, so are mehadrin trappings of ritual and Torah and Talmudic Twitter accounts, custom and celebrations and foods and including several related to Daf Yomi. all the rest, but a lifestyle nonetheless, a The man who goes only by his initials sociological phenomenon supplanting of A.Y. and whose Twitter handle is a monumental spiritual odyssey.” @aimhumor, believes that overall, frum Engaging in “a steady diet of Twitter helps bring a little achdut to dissection of Jews’ religious life, the Jewish world. His clever takes on combing one area after another in frum life have brought him more than search of their giggle-producing
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2,600 followers and he knows that they comprise a broad spectrum of Jews from the left to the right. Because of that, A.Y. says, “I feel I have found my voice and try to mix it up, with both frum jokes and some more general Jewish jokes. I think it brings us all together, and I like having an impact on that.” For example, @aimhumor: How many shadchanim does it take to change a lightbulb? I don’t know, haven’t gotten an answer yet. Awkward Bochur, otherwise known as @endimem_music, scored a lot of mileage from a slew of tweets about Dovy, “a cliché bar mitzvah bochur character” who is suffering under the welter of overbearing
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
relatives whose inflated expectations all but ruin the milestone: @endimem_music: *Uncle with nasty breath going in for the kiss* *Hands Dovy shnayim mikra set and shakes his hand too hard yanking his arm violently* Dovy *dies a little bit inside* Jewish humor has long been notable for its sharp elbows and fearlessness at staring down dangers from both the inside and the outside. During a spate of violent attacks against Jews in New York, @aimhumor tweeted: Everyone’s been talking about carrying pepper spray but I’m gonna keep carrying my PAM spray that’s not aligned with the red dot. And when a web site called CampusReform announced that the
Dickinson College student government voted to ban Sabra hummus because it was an Israeli product, @dbashideas posted a screenshot from the announcement and tweeted: I’m sympathetic to calls to boycott Sabra hummus. Very poor consistency. Too pasty. Not Torah true. Not what we fought for over all these years. Twitter in general is known as a medium where rhetorical smackdowns and the “cancel culture” hold sway. Among frum Twitter, it’s not uncommon to find jokes and remarks that reveal a certain cynicism, negativity and concern about serious, growing issues. For example, one finds many tweets related to the topic of going off the derech. Naturally, people have personal frustrations with some aspects of the frum community, but some jokes provoke arguments. A.Y. says he tries to stay away from all that, and just be one of the nice, funny guys. “We have to be careful about what we post on Twitter, because it’s a very public place. I’ve deleted tweets which I felt didn’t live up to a certain standard. There is both a potential chillul Hashem standpoint and even a safety standpoint.” Love it, hate it or indifferent to it, frum Twitter is growing by leaps and bounds. So far, most active frum tweeters are men, but women are tossing their metaphorical sheitels into the ring. Two of the most active women opt for anonymity. The woman who posts as @_ nishei_, a young married woman who describes herself as “Orthodox and a little modern,” wants the freedom to say what she wants without repercussions and “without embarrassing my in-laws.” @_nishei_: Do you ever become fleish at lunch time and then hate yourself for the rest of the day? And @_nishei_: Last night I treifed up a fork and just threw it out instead of waiting 27 months to never kasher it. Her profile picture—a female face, fully pixelated—points to her annoyance over the erasure of women’s images from most religiously right-wing publications. While also staying anonymous, @vivushit has jokingly proclaimed herself the president of frum Twitter in her bio. She is a recent joiner Continued on page 70
But then things spiraled downward. My mother was diagnosed with end-stage cancer and told she had only weeks to live. Terrorism in Israel was claiming lives every week. Then terrorism hit home on the day I was scheduled for my first speaking engagement— September 11, 2001.
The Serious Business of Laughter By Judy Gruen After months of careful planning, my first book, a humor diary called Carpool Tunnel Syndrome: Motherhood as Shuttle Diplomacy was published. I had been a journalist for many years, but I could hardly contain my excitement over this career milestone. I couldn’t wait to share my in-the-trenches stories of the funny side of motherhood with a wide audience.
My goals as a humor writer suddenly seemed embarrassingly trivial, even self-absorbed. I asked my rabbi: Should I focus on serious writing because of the serious times we lived in?
received an e-mail that staggered me. It was from a woman who had read an excerpt from my book in Woman’s Day magazine while in a doctor’s waiting room. “I want you to know you saved my life today,” I read in total disbelief. “I was so depressed by my medical condition that I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep fighting. You made me laugh, and it made all the difference.”
“Absolutely not,” he said. “We need to laugh now more than ever. Your work is important.”
The notion that a short column of light humor had “saved her life” seemed like an impossible overstatement, but she believed it. That was all that mattered. I never again doubted that writing for laughs was, in its own way, serious business.
Even though humor had been a balm in my own life during dark times, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that my work was superficial. Then I
This piece was adapted with permission from a longer article that appeared in Los Angeles’ Jewish Journal in June of 2019: jewishjournal.com/columnist/299911/ laughter-is-serious-business/.
I n L ov i n g M e m o r y o f D r. L e o n a r d I . K r a n z l e r Z ' L
P.R.A.Y. TALKING DURING DAVENING IS A DIRECT
TALKING IS DISRESPECTFUL TO THE TORAH
VIOLATION OF THE SPIRIT OF PRAYER
AND THE PERSON READING IT
TALKING IS AN AFFRONT TO HASHEM
TALKING MEANS YOU ARE INCONSIDERATE
TALKING DISTURBS YOUR NEIGHBORS TALKING DURING DAVENING IS A BAD EXAMPLE TO CHILDREN
TO THOSE AROUND YOU TALKING WHILE THE CONGREGATION PRAYS IMPACTS THE COMING OF MASHIACH
TALKING CAN INTERRUPT THE CHAZAN'S KAVANA C O M M E N T S / D O N A T I O N S : A R O N 1 4 3 6 @ YA H O O . C O M
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see us. Humor allows us to see incongruities—as Sarah, giving birth at ninety, saw when she named her son Yitzchak, a name denoting laughter.
The Spiritual Power of Humor By Steve Lipman Most Jews would consider Yom Kippur the most spiritual day on the Jewish calendar. A period of prayer and penance and abstinence, it is, Chazal say, ki’Purim, a day like Purim, which is a holiday of frivolity, practical jokes and laughter. The rabbis recognized that laughter is holy, just as modern science recognizes laughter as a catharsis with many medical benefits. A good belly laugh, doctors say, is good medicine. Many hospitals welcome “clown doctors,” trained entertainers who roam the halls to take the minds of the patients, and their loved ones, off of their situations. In the Nazi camps and ghettoes, prisoners looked forward to a joke that could, temporarily, relieve their daily horrors. Humor enables us step back from an immediate problem and see ourselves from another perspective, as others
In the Torah outlook, laughter has a spiritual power. By laughing, especially at the darkest moments in our lives, and by helping other people laugh, we bring in some light, along with the recognition that the problem of the moment isn’t as big, or as permanent, as it may seem. By laughing, we emulate God—“He who sits in Heaven laughs” (Psalms 2:4). The Torah and Talmud are replete with stories that reflect this concept. The rabbis who were walking with Rabbi Akiva on the Temple Mount after the destruction of the Second Temple were understandably confused. They had just witnessed a fox darting through the ruins of the Holy of Holies, bringing them to tears. And Rabbi Akiva was laughing. The fox reminded Rabbi Akiva of the prophecy that after the future Churban, after Zion would be “plowed as a field,” old men and women would once again “sit in the streets of Jerusalem.” In other words, Jerusalem would be restored. The presence of the fox was an indication that Zion was "plowed as a field." Seeing the fox restored his hope that the remainder of the prophecy would be fulfilled as well—that old men
Steve Lipman, a frequent contributor to Jewish Action, is the author of Laughter in Hell (New Jersey, 1991), a study of the role that humor played as a form of spiritual resistance among victims of the Third Reich.
Continued from page 68
with a goal “to show Jews at large who we really are and how normal and approachable we can be. And within the frum community, to show balance within observance, using humor.” Several of @vivushit’s tweets focus on shidduch issues, such as: @vivushit: Headlining a short, embedded video of a Chassidic man in Jerusalem spray painting giant black “X’s” over posters displayed in 70
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his neighborhood, she writes: me going through the shadchan’s suggestions. With its popularity booming, Bashevkin sees the frum social media world as “building a new repository for the Jewish community.” Conversations that previously might have remained closed in the back of the beit midrash or over coffee now have broad berth, inviting one and all to get in on the conversation, or the joke. Additionally, he sees an opportunity for a kiddush Hashem element.
and women would sit in the streets of Jerusalem. When he saw the fox, Rabbi Akiva's faith was strengthened. And he laughed. Which did not diminish his sorrow at the destruction he witnessed. But he saw the big picture. Laughter isn’t just the tool of stand-up comics. It’s the tool of rabbis trying to deliver a theological message. Rabba famously began his Talmudic lectures with a funny story. It’s the tool of people showing concern for other people. Eliyahu HaNavi pointed to two nondescript men in a crowded marketplace as examples of individuals destined for the World to Come. “They are jesters,” he explained. “They cheer up people who are sad.” For academic scholars who study humor, it is no joke. Jay Feinberg was seriously ill about thirty years ago, and Lorraine Weiss, an Orthodox woman in Brooklyn, wanted to boost his spirits. She decided to call him every Friday, in the middle of her erev Shabbat chores, and tell him a joke. “This is the first joke anybody has told me since I’m sick,” Feinberg told Weiss. Feinberg underwent a successful bone marrow transplant. He paid it forward, visiting other patients and making them laugh. Feinberg then founded the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, which has facilitated thousands of transplants— and helped save hundreds of lives—in the Jewish community. Nothing is more spiritual than that.
“Outsiders don’t just see us talking politics,” he says. “They see us using humor as a point of social cohesion. Chassidim, Modern Orthodox and all those in between are bonding together over our shared humor.” As for finding the balance between what could be leitzanus versus healthy, respectful frum humor, he recently tweeted this distinction: Constructive humor is spiritual; destructive humor is cynical. Learning the difference takes work, patience and graciousness.
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THE STORY OF THE
Synagogue Chumash By Yosef Lindell
The Ferrara Bible, the first printed Spanish translation of the Chumash by ex-converso Solomon Usque, was originally published in 1553. The title page here is from the 1661 edition. Courtesy of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania
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hen you walk into shul on Shabbat morning, which Chumash do you choose? Do you take one with Hebrew only, or one with English translation and commentary? Do you use the ArtScroll? Something else? How much thought do you put into your choice? Obviously, every shul Chumash contains the same Torah, but each edition has its own flavor. It’s worthwhile to consider how they differ, for the story of the Chumash is the story of how the timeless Torah continues to be presented in new ways. First, what is a Chumash? In the Mishnah (Yoma 7:1 and others), the word chumash refers to a chomesh—one-fifth of the Torah (i.e., one book). Over time, however, the word came to mean what it does today, an abbreviation for Chamishah Chumshei Torah—a single book or codex containing all five-fifths of the Torah. The codex, or bound book, was invented around the year 300 ce, but we do not have any Chumashim that old; the earliest ones we have today are from around 1,000 years ago. Chumashim were not widely available in the Middle Ages, as only wealthy individuals could afford a scribe to write the manuscript. Although they were not produced exclusively for synagogue use, many medieval Chumashim contain haftarot or even Shabbat davening, suggesting that they were intended to be used in shul. The invention of the printing press (in the
fifteenth century) made Chumashim more affordable and widespread. A Survey of Translations In today’s user-friendly shul Chumashim, translation is a central component. Surveying these translations will help us understand the differences between the editions available today. The Mishnah in Megillah (4:4) recounts the ancient practice of oral translation: after the Torah reader completed one verse, a designated individual would recite the Aramaic targum, or translation, aloud. The Gemara (Megillah 3a) traces this practice all the way back to Ezra’s public reading of the Torah (Nechemiah 8:8). Some targumim, most famously Targum Onkelos, are largely literal renderings of the Torah. Others, such as the one commonly known as Targum Yonatan ben Uziel, are far more midrashic, expanding upon the Torah’s narrative with interpretation and even lengthy additions. Beyond Targum, the Torah has been translated into the vernacular of nearly every land that Jews have called home. The Greek Septuagint was probably completed a few hundred years before the Common Era. There is also Rav Saadiah Gaon’s tenth-century Arabic Tafsir. The ex-converso Solomon Usque’s 1553 Ferrara Bible was the first printed Spanish translation of the Torah. And the noted scholar and commentator Rabbi Samuel David Luzzatto, or Shadal, published a translation of the Torah into Italian in 1858. Translation did not take hold with the same fervor in Yiddish-speaking parts of Europe. Despite an oral tradition for translating individual Hebrew words in the Torah into Yiddish dating back to the Middle Ages, few full Yiddish translations were attempted. One notable exception, the 1544 Taytsch Chumash, which was spearheaded by a Christian Hebraist publisher, was nearly unreadable due to an over-literal approach to translation that used Hebrew instead of Yiddish syntax. It sold few copies. Later Yiddish versions were called Chumash mit Chibbur, which was more of a running
Yiddish commentary than a literal translation, with the interpretive portion frequently paraphrasing Rashi. More popular than any translation was Tz’enah Ur’enah, a free-flowing midrash on the Torah by Yaakov ben Yitzchak Ashkenazi. Tz’enah Ur’enah, first published around 1600, was reprinted hundreds of times in the following centuries. The popularity of Chumash mit Chibbur and Tz’enah Ur’enah demonstrates that for many traditional Jews, Chumash and Rashi were inseparable, and rabbinic exegesis and commentary were part and parcel of what the Torah really means. It is in this very traditional milieu that Moses Mendelssohn made waves in 1783 with the first-ever German translation of the Torah. At first glance, Mendelssohn’s work, called Netivot haShalom, doesn’t look so different from the classic Mikraot Gedolot. Mendelssohn’s Be’ur commentary, for example, is in Hebrew and draws exclusively from traditional commentaries. But Mendelssohn also used Hebrew characters for the German translation, suggesting that he wanted traditional Jews to learn German and integrate into German society as he had. Indeed, Mendelssohn’s Chumash aroused the ire of some in the rabbinical establishment. By the time Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch published a new German translation with his own extensive commentary in 1867, many more Jews spoke German, and Rabbi Hirsch saw a need to counter the growing Reform movement and to impart traditional values to an assimilating German Jewry.
Unlike Mendelssohn’s commentary, Rabbi Hirsch’s is original, synthesizing his unique approach to Jewish thought, the meaning of mitzvot, and the etymology of Biblical language. Rabbi Hirsch’s commentary is particularly striking because it is one of only a handful of Torah commentaries written in the vernacular up until his time. Contemporary Chumashim English translation followed a different path. For quite some time, English-speaking Jews were content to use slightly modified versions of the seventeenth-century King James Bible—such as David Levi’s 1787 Bible or Michael Friedlander’s 1884 Jewish Family Bible—which remove overtly Christian renderings. Even the 1917 Jewish Publications Society (JPS) translation, which set the standard for scholarly English translations by Jews, relied on the King James instead of starting from scratch, and remains highly similar to it in substance and style; many verses are nearly identical. Perhaps Jewish dependence on the King James speaks to how faithfully its translation hews toward literalism and how well it captures the rhythm of the Hebrew. But not everyone was comfortable with the King James. Isaac Leeser, the nineteenth-century American communal leader, writer, and editor of the Occident, deplored Jewish reliance on “a deceased King of England, who was certainly no prophet, for the correct understanding of the Scriptures.” In 1845 he published his own Chumash, which includes
The story of the Chumash is the story of how the timeless Torah continues to be presented in new ways. Yosef Lindell is a lawyer, writer and lecturer living in Silver Spring, Maryland. He has written about shul Chumashim for the Forward and Lehrhaus. He has a master's in Jewish history from Yeshiva University and his essays have appeared in the Atlantic and other popular and scholarly venues.
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his translation (ironically still quite similar to the King James) and a short commentary that largely paraphrases Rashi. Leeser’s Chumash was widely used in English-speaking synagogues until the early twentieth century. You won’t find Leeser on the shul bookshelf anymore. But you will probably still find the Hertz Chumash. British Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz’s 1936 one-volume Pentateuch And Haftorahs was revolutionary. Although Rabbi Hertz used the JPS translation, he composed (with assistance) a wide-ranging English commentary highlighting traditional and modern scholarship that defends the Torah from Biblical criticism. The Hertz Pentateuch was the standard shul Chumash in American synagogues, Orthodox or not, until the 1980s and beyond. The Conservative movement used it nearly exclusively until 2003. This is not to say that there were no alternatives to the Hertz Chumash. In 1947, the publisher Soncino released another English Chumash with the JPS translation, but instead of Rabbi Hertz’s commentary it includes summaries of comments by Rishonim such as Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ramban and others. It was also quite popular, and you might still find it on the shelf. In 1983, Dr. Philip Birnbaum, famed for his “Birnbaum Siddur,” published a Chumash translation with a terse commentary, but I’ve never seen his Chumash in shul. Rabbi Hirsch’s commentary was excerpted and translated into English by Gertrude Hirschler in 1987, exposing synagogue goers to Rabbi Hirsch’s thought (although without the linguistic elements). The Hirsch Chumash is still widely used in shuls today, and has gone through several editions. More significant from a translation perspective was Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s The Living Torah Chumash. First published in 1981 and then in a Hebrew-English edition in 1985, it was the first Chumash intended for shul use not shackled to the King James’ archaic language and flowery style. The Living Torah is light on commentary, but features a modern English translation and includes English subheadings to 74
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editors rely solely on traditional guide the reader topically. The Living Torah translation is refreshingly commentaries, and believing that colloquial, but perhaps at the expense Rashi most closely reflects Chazal’s of being sufficiently literal. For example, understanding of the Torah, prioritize Rabbi Kaplan translates “yom hasheviyi” his commentary over others. Likewise, in Parashat Bereishit as “Saturday.” the far-less-popular 1999 Margolin It was ArtScroll’s 1993 Stone Edition Edition Torah from Feldheim of the Chumash that set a new standard. Publishers (which does not include a In many contemporary middle-ofcommentary) emphasizes Onkelos and the-road and Modern Orthodox shuls, Rashi in its translation, explaining that it now dominates the shelves. An a purely literal rendering of the words attractive faux-leather volume with (if there is such a thing), is counter to charts, pictures, a new translation and the purpose of translation, which is to a commentary anthologized from a elucidate the text according to Chazal. wide range of traditional commentaries, The return to Rashi is most the Stone Chumash rapidly replaced pronounced in two one-volume shul the aging Hertz Chumash. Chumashim published by different arms of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. The 2006 Gutnick Edition, published by Kol Menachem, calls Rashi “basic to the understanding of the text of Chumash,” and states that each comment of Rashi, no matter how “elaborate it may be, is required in order to understand the literal meaning of Scripture.” Thus, its translation follows Rashi, and the commentary also focuses heavily on Rashi. This edition also includes many insights from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who believed that Rashi was of supreme importance for understanding the Torah and spoke frequently about Rashi in his sichos. The other Chabad Chumash, published by Kehot in 2015, goes even further and adds—or in its words, “interpolates”—ideas based on Rashi’s commentary and Midrash into the translation itself. Although the Chumash uses bold text for the literal translation and plain for the additions, it is hard to separate the Tz’enah Ur’enah, a free-flowing midrash on layers from one another, and there the Torah, was reprinted hundreds of times is far more commentary than pure after being published ca. 1600. This 1877 Vilna edition was rescued from the Nazi translation. This format harks back to Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (EER) the Yiddish Chumash mit Chibbur of unit and returned to YIVO by the US Army centuries prior which, as noted, also after World War II. Courtesy of the Library of wove Rashi into the translation. the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York
Return to Rashi But the Stone Chumash is not an updated version of the Hertz. It does not attempt to engage Biblical critics, and in fact, its editors saw no need to draw on non-Jewish or non-religious sources at all. Instead, ArtScroll’s
A New Emphasis on Peshat The editions that emphasize Rashi give short shrift to a more peshat-based approach that is experiencing a resurgence in Modern Orthodox communities. Enter the 2018 Steinsaltz Humash from Koren, a translation of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s Hebrew
Torah commentary. The Steinsaltz Humash does not rely primarily on Rashi; its translation and commentary is guided by Rashbam, Ibn Ezra and others who rigorously pursue peshat. As a nice touch, the Chumash also includes color diagrams, pictures and maps. However, the Chumash uses the “interpolated” format of the Kehot Chumash despite its very different agenda, interweaving Rabbi Steinsaltz’s commentary with bolded translation, and thus suffers from some of the same drawbacks. While Rabbi Steinsaltz’s use of bolded translation and plain-text explanation is similar to the format of his Talmud translation, it is more suited to the Talmud, since the terse and cryptic language of the Talmud requires more explanation. In summary, recent editions have tried to make learning Chumash a more effortless, enjoyable and enriching experience, with features such as commentary and pictures.
Beyond Targum, the Torah has been translated into the vernacular of nearly every land that Jews have called home. Although it is axiomatic that the full and authentic meaning of the Written Torah can only be understood through the mesorah of the Oral Law preserved and transmitted by our Sages, our tradition recognizes a value in studying the syntax and structure of the text without the prism of commentary. The abundance of such commentary, especially when incorporated in the translation, makes this peshat endeavor impossible. Where will the shul Chumash go from here? The ArtScroll Chumashim remain dominant in synagogues,
and have held up well over the years. It’s unclear whether any of the newer entries will make much headway; shelf space is limited. But new Chumashim continue to be published nonetheless. I cannot conclude without mentioning Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ long-awaited edition, which perhaps will mark something of a return to the language and style of the Hertz Chumash. The Chumashim available in shul are different from one another. They have changed and will continue to change. But the next time you walk into shul, you can make an informed choice.
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WHAT’S THE TRUTH ABOUT. .. DAVENING FACING PICTURES, MIRRORS OR REFLECTIVE SURFACES By Ari Z. Zivotofsky
Misconception: One may daven facing a mirror, reflective window or family pictures. Fact: Even with one’s eyes closed, one should not daven facing a mirror, nor should one daven facing pictures of people or a reflective surface such as a glass breakfront or a window at night. Background: There are many halachot governing the physical setting in which one prays. For example, the Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 5:6) writes that there should be windows or openings facing Yerushalayim in the room in which one prays. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 90:5) rules that one should not pray in an open area such as a field [or street], in an “unclean” area (OC 90:26), or within eight tefachim [handbreadths; about two-and-a-half feet] of a shul entrance (OC 90:20). Additionally, while praying, one should not face drawings on clothes or walls (OC 90:23) or stand immediately behind one’s teacher (OC 90:24). Must a Shul Have Windows? As mentioned, the Rambam requires one to daven in a room with windows, which Rashi (Berachot 34b, s.v. chalonot) explains enables worshippers to look heavenward and thereby focus their Rabbi Ari Z. Zivotofsky is a professor of neuroscience at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
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attention on God. The Prisha (OC 95:5), quoting the Terumat Hadeshen, explains Rashi’s words to mean that quick glances heavenward could help one have kavanah, but that one should pray looking downward and not stare out the window.1 The Prisha further notes (OC 90:4) that the talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah explained that the windows are beneficial when praying, not for the purpose of looking heavenward but rather to provide good air and light that will enable one to settle his mind and pray with focus. In the Kesef Mishnah (Hilchot Tefillah 5:6), Rabbi Yosef Karo (author of the Shulchan Aruch) quotes a responsum of the Rambam (Teshuvot HaRambam; see the Blau edition, vol. 2 , p. 216) that the requirement to pray in a room with windows applies only to a private house and not to a shul;2 however, in the Shulchan Aruch (OC 90:4) Rabbi Karo implies that a shul should also have windows. The Mishnah Berurah (90:8) explicitly states that a shul should have windows.3 Driven to Distraction Regarding the rule about not davening facing pictures, Rabbi Karo in the Beit Yosef (OC 90, s.v. v’katav) quotes the Abudraham (Dinei Shemoneh Esrei, s.v. v’amrinan nami), who cites a responsum from the Rambam (no. 20 of the Freimann edition ; no. 84 in the Yosef edition ). There the Rambam states that when one finds
himself facing a picture while davening, the custom is to close one’s eyes to avoid being distracted. In a similar vein, the Rema (OC 90:23) writes that siddurim should not be illustrated, in order to avoid distractions. The inclination to illustrate siddurim—and rabbinic opposition to it—has been around a long time. When asked if it is proper to include drawings of animals and birds in machzorim, Tosafot (Yoma 54a, s.v. keruvim) responded that drawings are improper, as the one praying will look at the images and not direct his attention to his Father in Heaven.4 The Kaf Hachaim (Rabbi Yaakov Chaim Sofer; OC 90:137) advises that in order to avoid being distracted during prayer, it is best if one looks into a prayer book or closes one’s eyes. Anything that is likely to distract—drawings and images being just one example—should not be in one’s line of vision during davening. Piskei Teshuvot (712-713), provides examples, stating that one should not daven near a shul bulletin board or a bookcase, as these are likely to draw one’s attention away from the prayers. The Magen Avraham (OC 90:37) states that pictures should not be painted on the walls of a shul5 unless they are above the worshippers’ line of vision, defined as above three amot (Aruch Hashulchan, OC 90:28). In response to a question about hanging a portrait of Theodor Herzl in a shul, Rabbi Malkiel Tannenbaum (d. 1910; Shu”t Divrei Malkiel 6:2:3) ruled that one should not hang portraits in shul in general. Based on this ruling, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, the current Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, opined (Yalkut Yosef, 5750, vol. 2, 150:13-14) that portraits of gedolim should not be hung in the sanctuary but rather in the lobby.6 Rabbi She’ar Yashuv Cohen (1927-2016), the former chief rabbi of Haifa, noted that there are different customs regarding this matter; he observed (personal letter, July 9, 2001) that the large guest room of his esteemed teacher Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook was lined with portraits of gedolim and was used as a shul. For Rabbi Cohen, that served
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as sufficient proof that it is acceptable to adorn a shul sanctuary with portraits. Rabbi Ben-Zion Abba Shaul (1924-1998) ruled that praying facing pictures of people is prohibited even with one’s eyes closed because it could appear as if one is bowing to the image (Ohr L’Tzion, fn. to 2:7:11). This issue often arises when davening in homes (for example, in a house of mourning7), in which family portraits are present. Mirror, Mirror on the Shul Wall The question of davening in front of a mirror does not appear in the halachic literature until the sixteenth century, but is subsequently cited by innumerable halachic authorities.8 The earliest source to discuss the prohibition to pray opposite a mirror seems to be Rabbi David Ibn Zimra, the Radbaz (1479-1573; Radbaz 4:107[=1178]9).10 He inter alia takes it as a given—buried deep in a lengthy responsum about images and statues on shul walls—that one may not daven facing a mirror11 because, he asserts, it could appear as if one is bowing to oneself.12 This, he says, is similar to the prohibition against davening behind one’s rebbe, in order to avoid the appearance of bowing to him. Because of this concern, Elya Rabbah (OC 90:28), Be’er Haitev (90:30), Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Gantzfried; 18:8), Kaf Hachaim (Sofer; 90:138), Mishnah Berurah (90:71), Yaskil Avdi (YD 19:4), and Rabbi Haim David Halevy (Makor Chaim, vol. 1, p. 220) all concur that davening in front of a mirror is prohibited even if one were to close his eyes. Concern about appearing as if bowing to one’s own reflection comes up in another halachic context as well. The halachah (Chullin 41b; Shulchan Aruch, YD 11:3) states that one may not slaughter an animal over a bucket of clear water lest others suspect him of slaughtering the animal to the image in the reflection. Rabbi Chaim Benveniste (1603–1673; Shayarei Knesset Hagedolah, Hagahot Beit Yosef 90:10) agrees with Radbaz about not permitting one to daven in front of a mirror. He adds a second rationale for the prohibition, which is that it could be distracting. The Machatzit Hashekel (OC 90:37) concurs that a 78
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reflected image is no different than any other image and can be a distraction. Maharsham (Rabbi Sholom Mordechai Schwadron [1835-1911]; Da’at Torah, OC 90:23) rejects the Radbaz’s rationale for not davening in front of a mirror because, he argues, when one bows in front of a mirror, the image bows back. Therefore one is obviously not bowing to the image. Rather, he said, the problem with davening in front of a mirror is that it can be distracting; and therefore, if there is a need, one may daven in front of a mirror with his eyes closed. Rav Ovadia Yosef was not convinced by this argument, but agrees that when one has few options, one can rely on this leniency (Yabia Omer 4: YD 35:3). The halachah of not davening facing a mirror has little relevance in shuls, where mirrors are not commonly found, but is important when davening in a home. According to some sources, the custom to cover the mirrors in a shivah house developed in order to avoid this halachic issue, as prayers are traditionally held in a house of mourning.13 This halachah might also apply to mirror-like objects, i.e., picture frames, breakfronts, windows, glass mechitzot and shiny objects. As noted, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 90:4)—based on the Gemara (Berachot 31a, 34b), which in turn is based on Daniel 6:11—rules that one should pray in a house with windows. But at night, if one davens facing an uncovered window, it will often appear as if one is facing a mirror. In the last century or so, posekim have addressed this topic as well as other related questions, including pictures with glass frames and Shiviti signs (decorative, often glass-covered signs featuring the phrase from Tehillim 16:8, “Shiviti Hashem l’negdi tamid—I have set Hashem before me always”) usually placed in front of the amud or on the wall next to the aron. Rabbi Ben-Zion Abba Shaul (Ohr Letzion 2:7:11) rules that one may daven in front of a reflective window or reflective glass at the chazzan’s shtender with one’s eyes closed or looking to the side. However, he rules, one may not daven in front of pictures of animals or people, even with one’s eyes closed. But, he adds, pictures that one is familiar with, such as the images on a parochet
or the photos in one’s own home, are not distracting and thus one may pray in front of them, even with one’s eyes open. Rabbi Shalom Perlow (d. 1925) writes (Mishmeret Shalom 15:1) that unlike most shuls, in his father’s shul (Rabbi Baruch Mordechai Perlow [1818-1870], the second Koidanover Rebbe) there was no glass-covered Shiviti sign at the chazzan’s amud. He surmises that one reason was because of the halachah that one may not daven facing a mirror. Two recent popular works on the laws of prayer, Tefillah Kehilchatah (Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Fuchs, chap. 5, n. 38) and Ishei Yisrael (Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Pfeuffer, chap. 9, n. 66) state that one should not daven facing a glass window at night (one could, however, simply lower the blinds). In personal conversations, Rabbi Hershel Schachter (on June 22, 2001), Rabbi David Avraham Spektor (rav in Givat Sharret, Beit Shemesh, on June 22, 2001), Rabbi Rothenberg (rav of Toldos Aharon Chassidim in Beit Shemesh, on June 19, 2001), Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch of Maaleh Adumim (relayed via Rabbi Dov Frimer, September 16, 2001) and Rabbi Efraim Greenblatt (author of Rivevos Efraim, on July 3, 2001) all stated that there is no distinction between a mirror and a reflective window.14 Rabbi Yitzchok Margareten reports that the rosh yeshivah of Telshe in Cleveland, Rabbi Chaim Stein, was known to avoid davening opposite the windows of the beit midrash for this reason. Similarly, it is reported that the Steipler Gaon did not daven in front of a window and advised those praying in the “Lederman” shul in Bnei Brak not to daven opposite the shiny reflective pillars on the sides of the aron kodesh because it was similar to davening opposite a mirror (Orchot Rabbeinu, vol. 1, pp. 184-185). Rabbi Shmuel David Munk (Pe’at Sadcha, 5761, 2:30) opines that one can indeed daven in front of reflective surfaces in which the reflection is not clear. Citing his proofs for this, he writes that firstly, he reads the Mishnah Berurah (90:71) to be referring specifically to a mirror. Secondly, he understands the rule forbidding slaughtering an animal over a bucket of water to apply only when the reflected image is recognizable.
Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner (Shevet Halevi 9:21:1) opines that a chazzan may daven opposite a glass-covered Shiviti sign because the Radbaz prohibited only an actual mirror which one uses specifically to view one’s reflection. Since everyone knows the Shiviti sign is not used for that purpose, there is no concern that one’s bowing will be misinterpreted.15 It is interesting to note, however, that Chazal did not rely on this leniency when they forbade slaughtering an animal over a pail of clear water. Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin (personal letter, 9 Elul 5761) also ruled that a window is not the same as a mirror. Rabbi Henkin argued that since a window is not designed to be a mirror, one would not assume that he is bowing to himself while praying and facing a window. He writes that in order to avoid becoming distracted while praying in front of a window, one may simply close his eyes. Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch (personal letter, Tammuz 5761) also felt that if the object in question was not originally designed as a mirror there is no custom to be stringent. Rabbi She’ar Yashuv Cohen (personal letter, July 9, 2001) states that there is no similarity between facing a reflective window and a mirror. Nonetheless, when facing a window, he advises davening with one’s eyes closed or looking into a siddur so that one’s concentration is not disturbed. Rav Ovadia Yosef was known to close the blinds when davening facing a reflective window (Yalkut Yosef, She’erit Yosef, 5756, vol. 2, p. 90, n. 42), but said that it was not absolutely required. In addition, in a brief letter (Ohr Torah, Tevet 5746, vol. 213, p. 153) Rav Ovadia writes that davening opposite windows or glass-covered Shiviti signs in which the reflection is not clear is not halachically problematic. To summarize, there appears to be some disagreement about how to view reflective surfaces that are not actual mirrors. The halachic authorities were concerned with two issues: appearance (i.e., how would the act of bowing in front of a mirror appear to others) and concentration. How the halachic authorities ruled often depended on the quality of the reflected image 80
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produced by the particular surface. The poorer the quality of the reflected image, the more likely the posekim took a lenient position. The rule first introduced by the Radbaz regarding not davening opposite a mirror16 is part of a larger body of laws about the proper environment for prayer, which, for the most part, is intended to assist a person in maintaining proper kavanah while davening. Notes 1. Similarly, the Magen Avraham (90:4) writes that while one should be looking downward during davening, if one lost his focus he should look out the windows heavenward for inspiration. 2. Indeed, the Rambam included this requirement in chapter five, which deals with rules of prayer, as opposed to chapter eleven, which deals with synagogue etiquette and architecture. 3. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 90:4) says that “it is good” for a shul to have twelve windows. As long as at least one window faces Yerushalayim, it does not matter in what direction the other windows face (Mishnah Berurah 90:9). 4. Later on in this very long Tosafot, they discuss whether or not such illustrations would violate the prohibition of “making an idol” stated in the Ten Commandments (Shemot 20). 5. Adorning the walls of shuls seems to be a very old practice. The Mordechai (Rabbi Mordechai ben Hillel HaKohen, ca.1250-1298, Germany, Avodah Zarah 840) was asked about davening in a shul with paintings of birds and horses on the walls, and he reports that the shul in Cologne, Germany was instructed to remove drawings of lions and snakes from the walls. 6. Professor Marc B. Shapiro related (Seforim blog, March 11, 2013, n. 21) that as a high school student he hung up a large poster of Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman in his classroom. The principal asked him to take it down, explaining that it was improper to have a portrait on the wall because a minyan was held in the room. 7. Rabbi David Cohen, rav of Congregation Gvul Yaavetz in Brooklyn, New York, has creatively suggested (personal letter, July 11, 2001) that in a beit avel it may be less problematic because everyone knows it is common to have family portraits in a house; thus, one wouldn’t assume that one who
is praying is bowing to the image. 8. This is not discussing the general question of a man looking in a mirror. The Shulchan Aruch rules (YD 156:2; YD 182:6) that a man may not preen himself in front of a mirror because of the prohibition of wearing women’s clothing (Devarim 22:5), which includes engaging in feminine behavior. The Shulchan Aruch (YD 156:2), based on Tosafot (Nazir 59a, s.v. gevul), rules that there is a prohibition only if the man is using the mirror for beautifying purposes, and thus it is permitted for purposes such as not cutting himself while shaving. The Rema (ibid.), based on the Ran (Avodah Zarah, ch. 2), says that if local custom is for men to use a mirror there is no prohibition. An application relevant to shuls is whether one can use a mirror to adjust one’s head tefillin. The Sanzer Rebbe (Rabbi Chaim Halberstam, Shu”t Divrei Chaim, OC 2:6; quoted approvingly by the Tzitz Eliezer 12:6) felt strongly that it was unnecessary, and called using a mirror to check the tefillin placement “divrei borut—the ways of the unlearned.” Rabbi Menashe Klein (Mishneh Halachot 11:29, 11:30) also felt that because Jews have been putting on tefillin without a mirror for three thousand years there is no need to start now, particularly in light of the potential prohibition of using a mirror, and he noted that this is especially true in shul. Others say that because mirrors are no longer used exclusively by women, there is no problem with a man using one (Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Vayishma Moshe, vol. 1 , p. 35). Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer 3:OC:1:20; Yechaveh Da’at 6:49) ruled similarly that today it is common practice for men to use mirrors and therefore a man may use a mirror to groom himself, and in particular in today’s environment it is important that religious Jews look dignified. Shu”t Beit She’arim (OC:28) relates that he heard that Rabbi Velvel Soloveitchik of Brisk and his descendants use a mirror to verify that the tefillin is in the correct location. The story is told that in 1934 when Rav Velvel was in the resort city of Krenitz, not far from Sanz, he was informed by the locals about the position of the Divrei Chaim and responded: “I would rather be called a boor but know that my tefillin are properly located” (Uvdot VeHanhagot LeBeit Brisk, vol. 3 , 179-180). The Lubavitchers have a tradition that Rabbi Schneur Zalman of
Liadi once received a silver snuffbox as a gift and he detached the cover and thereafter used it as a mirror to adjust the tefillin on his head (Likkutei Sichos, vol. 3 [Yiddish], 853-854). 9. This is in the recent, complete edition (1972). Many of the earlier sources, e.g., Rabbi Chaim Benveniste’s Knesset Hagedolah give the reference simply as 106 or as in the Be’er Haitev, 1:106. Note that the first edition, published in 1651, had only 300 of the Radbaz’s over 3,000 responsa, and in there it is number 107. That was the only edition available to the Knesset Hagedolah and to Rabbi Yehudah Ashkenazi of Tiktin (d. 1743; Be’er Haitev), as the next (complete) edition did not appear until 1749, and thus “106” is a simple typo for what should have been 107. 10. A possible reason this law was not mentioned earlier relates to the development of quality mirrors. Ancient mirrors were made out of polished metal, like the mirrors donated to make the laver in the mishkan (Shemot 38:8). The invention of glassblowing in the fourteenth century increased the popularity of glass mirrors; however, the reflections were still not clear or sharp. Perfectly reflective mirrors were introduced in the late seventeenth century. And it was not until 1835 that Justus von Liebig developed the silvered-glass mirror, a process that finally enabled mirrors to be manufactured on a much larger scale, and for the first time in history ordinary people could buy a mirror (Charles Panati, Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things [New York, 1987], 11, 229-230 and http://www.mirrorhistory.com/). 11. The Maharsham (Da’at Torah, OC 90:23) suggests that even the Radbaz would agree that one may daven facing one’s shadow because that is not a real image. 12. In a situation where it is inappropriate to bow, e.g., a person with a cross is in front of him or one is in a Christian hospital with a cross hanging on the wall, then one should continue to daven without bowing at the usual places (SA, OC 113:8) or face in a different direction (even though one might not be praying toward Jerusalem) (MB 94:30). 13. This would, of course, not explain why mirrors in the bathrooms and bedrooms are also covered. For four additional explanations of this custom, see Maurice Lamm, The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning (New York, 1969), 102-104. See also Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, Teshuvot v’Hanhagot 2:585 and Yabia Omer 4:YD:35:3. For a detailed history of covering mirrors in a shivah house, see Zvi Ron, “Covering Mirrors in the Shiva House,” Hakira 13 (spring 2012): 271-283. 14. Rabbi Schachter related that when they davened in the room where he used to give his shiur, they would pull the blinds over the windows to avoid this problem. 15. This might be similar to the ruling cited by the Rema (OC 90:24) that if a person and his teacher have regular places in a shul, one may daven behind his teacher since there is no concern that it might appear as if he is bowing to his teacher. 16. One’s reflection, be it from a mirror or a window, can be distracting. Thus it should be avoided during prayer. But at other times one’s reflection may serve a positive spiritual purpose. The Gemara (Sotah 36b) records that Yosef HaTzaddik refrained from sinning after “the image of his father appeared to him in the window.” Why in the window and not merely in his imagination? This can be understood to mean that he saw his own reflection in the window and, since he resembled his father, Yosef saw in that reflection a reminder of Yaakov Avinu and his teachings.
“Michigan is the perfect place to explore.”
HILLEL CAMPUS LEADERS MISSION 2019
LEARNING LEADS TO ACTION ~Talmud Kiddushin 40b
Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
No-Fail Turkey Roast Photo: Baila Gluck
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
THE CHEF’S TABLE
A LIGHTER SIDE OF PESACH COOKING By Naomi Ross
could easily go through fifteen dozen eggs over the course of Pesach. Indeed, schmaltz and eggs are the basis for some of my fondest Pesach memories! That said, a week without chametz doesn’t mean a week without flavor, or a week of eating that you’ll regret. Healthy choices and lighter versions of crowd-pleasing dishes are within reach. Here are a few that I’m happy to share to enhance your holiday table.
No-Fail Turkey Roast Yields 6 servings It doesn’t have to be fancy to be tasty; it just has to be cooked right. Basic spices will enhance this perfectly moist turkey breast. 1 (2½-3lb) white meat turkey roast (boneless breast with skin) 2 tablespoons white wine 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon black pepper 1 teaspoon garlic powder 1¼ teaspoons paprika ¾ teaspoon thyme 1 tablespoon honey Preheat oven to 450°F. Place turkey roast in a medium roasting pan skin-side up.
Combine all remaining ingredients in a small bowl, whisking until well blended. Rub mixture evenly all over roast to coat. Roast uncovered for 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°F. Cover with foil (and insert meat thermometer probe). Continue to roast until turkey’s internal temperature reaches 160°F. Remove from oven and tent foil over turkey, allowing it to rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing. To serve, remove netting, slice and place on platter. Drizzle pan juices over sliced turkey. Cook’s Note: The internal temperature of the roast will continue to rise by 5-8 degrees after it is removed from the oven—this is called “carry-over cooking.”
Naomi Ross is a cooking instructor and food writer and the culinary director at Apron Masters Kitchen in Woodmere, New York. She teaches classes throughout the tristate area and writes articles connecting good cooking and Jewish inspiration. Follow her at @cookingconcepts on Instagram or visit her website at: www.koshercookingconcepts.com.
Braised Red Cabbage and Apples Yields 8-10 servings This is a perfect do-ahead dish, as the cabbage’s intense flavors will improve and develop when made a day ahead. Cabbage will keep up to five days when covered and chilled. 3-4 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 medium or 1 very large sweet onion (Vidalia or Maui), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced 1 small head (1½ lb) red cabbage, shredded or sliced ¼ inch thick 2 Fuji apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped 1½ cups dry red wine (such as Merlot or Cabernet) 1 cup water ½ cup red wine vinegar ¼ cup sugar 1½ teaspoons salt or more, to taste ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more, to taste Heat oil in a wide and heavy 6- to 8-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté for 5 minutes or until translucent. Add cabbage and apples, continually stirring until completely coated with oil and cabbage is slightly wilted, about 10 minutes. Add wine, water, red wine vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for an hour or until cabbage is tender and has absorbed a good amount of the liquid. Season to taste with salt and pepper or more sugar, if necessary.
Matzah Brei Cups Dairy, Yields 10 cups A cuter, lighter, baked version of the fried classic. For a lovely serving presentation, fill with your choice of suggested toppings (see next page)! 2 sheets matzah Boiling water 1 tablespoon melted butter (plus more for greasing pan) 1 egg, beaten 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar ½ teaspoon kosher salt ½ teaspoon cinnamon Preheat oven to 375°F and grease a standard-size muffin pan liberally with butter. Place matzah sheets in a large mixing bowl and use your hands to break up matzah into very small pieces. Pour boiling water over broken matzah and stir to soak pieces. Drain matzah in a colander or sieve and return drained matzah to mixing bowl. Add 1 tablespoon melted butter, beaten egg, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon; mix to blend. Divide mixture between 10 cups (out of 12) in muffin pan. Use your fingers or the back of a small spoon to press mixture into an even layer on the bottoms and up the sides of each muffin cup. Place pan in center of preheated oven; bake for 13-14
Espresso Meringue Cookies Photo: Baila Gluck
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
minutes or until matzah brei cups appear browned and slightly crisp. Remove pan from oven and cool. When cooled, run the tip of a knife around the rim of each cup. Slide a small offset spatual or knife under each matzah brei cup to loosen the bottoms. Transfer cups to a baking sheet. (This can be done in advance). Before serving, place baking sheet in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes to warm and crisp exterior of matzah brei cups. Remove from oven and fill with your choice of suggested toppings—mix and match as you like (see box below) or use the Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote Yields 6-8 servings 2 lbs strawberries (2 quarts) 1 lb rhubarb, woody ends trimmed and sliced into ½-inch pieces Juice of ½ a lemon (about 2-3 teaspoons) ¾ cup sugar or more, to taste 1/3 cup water (or white wine) Bring all ingredients to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes, until all fruit is tender and liquid is thickened and syrupy. Season to taste, adding more sugar as necessary. Remove from heat and cool. Chill before serving.
Preheat oven to 250°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar with an electric mixer (fitted with the balloon whisk attachment) on medium speed until whites are foamy. Increase speed to high, beating until soft peaks form. Slowly add in the sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, beating for 15-30 seconds after each addition. Add the espresso and vanilla; continue to beat until the meringue forms very stiff, shiny peaks when the beaters are raised. Working quickly, drop the mixture by large spoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing them 1-2 inches apart. Top each meringue with optional coffee beans and dust with cocoa. Bake for 1 hour or until the surfaces of the meringues feel dry and you can pick one off the parchment without any sticking. Turn off oven, prop the door open slightly with the handle of a wooden spoon, and allow meringues to cool gently in the oven for 1 hour. Transfer to a serving platter. Cook’s Tip: For best results, use fresh room-temperature egg whites.
Wishing you and your family peace and joy this P assover.
Classic: sour cream, preserves/jam Gourmet: Greek yogurt, Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote, caramelized apples Indulgent: whipped cream cheese, cinnamon sugar and fresh berries
Espresso Meringue Cookies Yields 18-24 cookies Crispy on the outside, slightly chewy on the inside, the perfect meringue is fat-free and awaits your delight this Pesach! 4 large egg whites ¼ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar 1 cup sugar 1½ tablespoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract Cocoa for dusting Optional: coffee beans
Stores located in CT, MA, NH, NY, PA and VT. To find a location near you, please visit pricechopper.com. Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
INSIDEthe PROGRAMS OF THE ORTHODOX UNION
Compiled by Sara Olson Goldberg
AROUND THE OU
Semichas Chaver: The Newest Revolution in Torah Learning
Rabbi Shlomo Amar, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim, with Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, Av Beit Din of the Beit Din of Yerushalayim (seated), addressing Semichas Chaver participants at the siyum held at OU Israel’s Torah Yerushalayim event in October. Photo: Moshe Biton
This past November, the OU’s Semichas Chaver Program (SCP), an innovative learning initiative, opened twenty-eight new locations in the US, as well as in Canada, Israel, Australia and the United Kingdom, bringing the total number of locations to fifty-three worldwide, and welcoming more than 700 new participants. Founded in 2017 by Rabbi Elyada Goldwicht, SCP is a fast-paced,
interactive learning program for men with a focus on the practical meaning of halachah. Each shiur includes thought-provoking questions and a dedicated segment on the philosophical underpinnings of a given topic. Upon completion of each topic and the successful passing of a written exam, every member receives a certificate signed by Rabbi Hershel Schachter, OU Posek and Rosh
Yeshivah at YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary; Rabbi Shlomo Amar, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim; and Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, Av Beit Din of the Beit Din of Yerushalayim. To learn more about SCP, or to find a program near you, visit semichaschaver.com. Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
Communities Fair a Smashing Success Nearly 2,000 people attended the OU’s Seventh International Jewish Community Home and Job Relocation Fair this past November, showcasing a record-breaking sixty-three communities, representing nineteen US states and several Israeli cities. Attendees at the fair, held at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan, learned about the amenities, schools, local infrastructure and potential employment opportunities of the participating communities. Special workshops for first-time homebuyers as well as Nefesh B'Nefesh-sponsored sessions for those contemplating aliyah were offered as part of the program.
From left: Pepa and Rabbi Joseph Karasick Department of Synagogue and Community Services Director Rabbi Adir Posy; OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin; and Director, Community Programs/Fair Coordinator Rebbetzin Judi Steinig at the fair. Photo: Zush Photography
Each of these communities share . . . the desire to grow in an environment rich in educational facilities, active synagogue life and a supportive communal infrastructure. It was a matchmaking festival made in heaven. —Allen I. Fagin, OU Executive Vice President
Jewish Scholars Participate in Torah LA Weekend Eleven synagogues and four Jewish day schools brought together more than 3,500 community members for the OU’s annual Torah Los Angeles weekend. The four-day learning event featured inspiring Torah sessions delivered by a blue-ribbon list of scholars from across the country. Scholars included keynote speaker Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Rabbi Steven and Rebbetzin Yael Weil and Rabbi Abraham and Rebbetzin Dr. Adina Shmidman, among others.
In the span of just several months, the OU is proud to have hosted three communal-wide learning events—in Jerusalem and on both coasts in the US. —OU President Mark (Moishe) Bane 88
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue in Florida, speaking at Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles (YULA) on Sunday morning during the Torah LA weekend. Courtesy of Lew Groner
Non-Profit Security Grant Boosted, Combating Anti-Semitism Editor’s Note: This piece reflects NSGP funding as of January 2020; the situation is in flux as Congress seeks to address rising anti-Semitism.
In a landmark bipartisan decision on December 20, Congress increased funding for the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) to $90 million. This represents a 50 percent increase compared to last year’s $60 million funding level, and will help keep America’s synagogues, Jewish day schools, and other houses of worship and nonprofits safe against terror attacks. The NSGP provides grants of up to $100,000 to nonprofits so they can improve building security by acquiring and installing items ranging from fences, lighting and video surveillance to metal detectors and blast-resistant doors, locks and windows. The funding may also be used to train staff and pay for contracted security personnel. The OU Advocacy Center helped spearhead the federal grant program in 2005 and works with members of Congress and other political leaders year-round to increase annual funding. The new
OU Advocacy Center Executive Director Nathan Diament (second from left) joins Senator Chuck Schumer and other leaders at a press conference in New York City on December 30.
allocation brings the total funding for the NSGP, since inception, to $419 million. The Department of Homeland Security, which administers the grant program, has disbursed grants to more than 4,000 institutions across the country. Days after Congress approved the $90 million increase—and in the wake of several anti-Semitic attacks including at a Monsey home during Chanukah—OU Advocacy Center
Executive Director Nathan Diament joined Senator Chuck Schumer at a press conference in New York City to call for quadrupling NSGP funding for 2020 to $360 million. Several other legislators have since joined this push, with Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin and Representative John Sarbanes of Maryland speaking out at a January press conference in Baltimore alongside Mr. Diament.
Achdut in the Wake of Tragedy In the aftermath of the tragic shooting at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City in December, Rabbi Joe Wolfson, OU-JLIC Educator at NYU, and fifteen of his students visited the close-knit Satmar Jewish community in Jersey City to show their support and express their grief. In addition to paying a shivah visit to store owner Moshe Ferencz, whose wife Leah Mindel was murdered, and visiting the widow of murdered store employee Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, the group met with Rabbi Avraham Rubin, the rav of the community. “Bnei Yisrael is compared to an onion . . . which is made of many layers . . . but has a common root,” said the Rav. “With you [college students] coming to visit [the Satmar community], we know that there is a common root that holds us all together, and that the bullets didn't just strike at individual Jews, but at all of Israel.”
The bullets didn't just strike at individual Jews, but at all of Israel. —Rabbi Avraham Rubin
Rabbi Avraham Rubin, Rav of the Satmar community in Jersey City, speaks with NYU students. Courtesy of Rabbi Joe Wolfson Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
Photo: Eli Dreyfuss
NCSYers Join Siyum HaShas A joyous celebration of Daf Yomi kicked off NCSY’s annual premier learning program for public school teens, held in Long Branch, New Jersey in January. Three hundred and fifty NCSYers from regions across the US, as well as from Canada and Argentina, joined the 90,000 celebrants at MetLife Stadium in New York for the Thirteenth Global Siyum HaShas, marking the completion of the seven-and-a-half-year Daf Yomi cycle. “There is nothing quite like the recognition for our teens that they are part of a massive world Jewish community as we all celebrate our shared connection to Torah and to one another. That came alive for them in a dramatic way at the Siyum,” said Rabbi Micah Greenland, NCSY International Director. The five-day learning program, known as Aspire: NCSY Yarchei Kallah, is held annually in December. Parallel learning programs were run in Danbury, Connecticut and Chicago, Illinois.
Impact Accelerator Announces Second Cohort Following a pitch night this past November by ten finalists in front of the Accelerator Board and OU senior leadership, four Jewish nonprofit ventures have been selected from over eighty applicants to join the OU Impact Accelerator’s Second Cohort. The non-profits are: Daily Giving – enabling every Jew to easily perform the mitzvah of tzedakah every single day, this dollar-a-day initiative supports over forty deserving Jewish charities worldwide.
Communities Confronting Substance Abuse – bringing awareness, education and prevention programming regarding substance abuse and addiction to Jewish communities. Ani Tefillah – producing a tefillahenhancement curriculum that imbues prayer with deeper meaning for school-age children. Chinuch Yehudi – educating the 750,000 to 1,000,000 Israelis in the United States about the critical
importance of a Jewish day school education, and assisting parents in transferring their children to Jewish schools. Acceptance into the OU Impact Accelerator invites these four ventures to participate in a cohort of Jewish nonprofit entrepreneurs addressing communal challenges. The six-month program is built on mentorship-based growth and early-stage funding. To learn more, visit: ou.org/accelerator.
Advancing Communal Research Since its inception in 2018, the OU Center for Communal Research (CCR) has been at the forefront of leading a conversation about the importance of research in the Jewish community. Director Matt Williams and Assistant Director Michelle Shain have been traveling around the country speaking on a variety to topics related to Jewish studies and social science. The department presented at NYU’s Religion and America Symposium, the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting; and the Association for Jewish Studies Conference, to name a few. 90
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
Courtesy of OU-JLIC of Queens College
WOMEN IN ACTION WI Launches “Torat Imecha” Nach Yomi Series The OU (WI) recently launched “Torat Imecha,” a Nach Yomi learning initiative. This series, complementing the OU’s Shoshana Grossman Nach Yomi program, consists of a daily audio shiur on the books of Prophets (Nevi’im) and the Writings (Ketuvim) at the pace of a chapter a day. The shiurim, presented by women scholars and educators, are geared toward learners of all levels who would like to participate in the two-year study cycle. The series also includes an introductory video for each sefer in Nach, presented by noted international speaker Rabbanit Shani Taragin. “Building on the overwhelming response to our Rosh Chodesh Initiative, and our Selichot, Shavuot and Simchat Torah programming, we are taking Torah learning to the next level,” said WI Director Rebbetzin Dr. Adina Shmidman. “We are creating Nach Yomi content by women to engage and inspire the community in a powerful way.”
Since its launch in January, over 4,600 participants from thirty-seven US states and twenty-six countries have signed up for the program, including Hong Kong, Peru and Serbia. Torat Imecha is dedicated by Etta Brandman Klaristenfeld, Chair of the WI, in memory of her aunt Malka Nussbaum, Malka Esther Bat Tzvi Yoseph. To subscribe to the series, visit: go.ou.org/tija.
This series presents a world-class roster of female scholars who will teach Nach Yomi from their perspective, bringing nuance and erudition to the participants in these exciting new shiurim. —Allen Fagin, OU Executive Vice President Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
NEW POSITIONS & PROMOTIONS Welcome to . . . . . . Shari Weisenberg, Senior Director of Marketing, OU Marketing and Communications. Among other responsibilities, Shari will be charged with leading and servicing the marketing needs of NCSY. She brings over twenty years of marketing experience to the OU, having led product launches, global campaigns, content creation, social media and PR for media and technology companies such as Microsoft, Verizon, Sundance and NBC Universal. She holds a bachelor’s in communications from Boston University.
. . . Josh Berkman, Director of Communications, Teach Coalition. Josh
Berkman comes to Teach Coalition with a wealth of experience in Jewish communal and private sector communications. Most recently, he was a vice president at Rubenstein Public Relations, where he implemented high-impact, media-driven communications programs for clients including the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the World Values Network. He has also spearheaded media relations and marketing for the Jewish Agency for Israel, American Jewish World Service and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Josh holds a bachelor’s from Northwestern University and a master’s in journalism from Columbia University.
. . . Ari Greene, Director of Development, NCSY New York. Serving as a member of NCSY New York's senior leadership team, Ari will lead the region’s fundraising campaigns and further its mission through development, community engagement and working collaboratively with all stakeholders. Ari has a strong background in recruiting, business development, relationship building and sales. He holds a bachelor's in marketing from Yeshiva University.
. . . Rabbi Shay Schachter, Rabbinic and Halachic Advisor, Yachad.
Rabbi Schachter will provide ongoing religious guidance to Yachad, including deciding relevant halachic matters, enhancing the spiritual growth of Yachad participants, staff and volunteers, and helping develop religiously appropriate content for Yachad programming. He currently serves as the Rosh Bais Medrash at the Young Israel of Woodmere. Rabbi Schachter received rabbinic ordination from YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, with additional ordination from Rabbi Asher Weiss of Jerusalem, and holds a master’s in Jewish education and administration from YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education.
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
. . . Raquel Selevan, Director,
Yachad New Jersey. While Raquel's passion for Yachad began in high school as the head of the Yachad club, her true love for Yachad developed during her summers as the Director of Yachad in Camp Lavi. Her community work has included serving as a Morah at Manhattan Day School and as the Youth Director of West Side Institutional Synagogue.
. . . Rami Strosberg,
Director, Yachad Israel. Rami’s main areas of focus will be on strategy for growth in Israel, supervision of professional staff and volunteers, and developing relationships with Yachad members, their families and the yeshivot and seminaries in Israel. Rami earned a bachelor’s in psychology at Yeshiva University, followed by a master's in Jewish education from YU's Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and semichah from YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Rami served most recently as the Founding Head of School at Westchester Torah Academy.
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. . . Yoel Sterman on his new role as
Director of Development, Yachad Israel. Yoel previously served as Director of Yachad Israel.
Learn more at YACHAD.ORG or 212.613.8229 Yach ad is a prog ram of th e Orth od ox Union Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
NEW FROM OU PRESS
HaRav relates that this chiddush was developed by the Brisker Rav and the Rav’s father, Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik, during World War I, when the two brothers spent Pesach together at Rabbi Moshe’s home in Chaslavitch. Due to the war, there was not enough wine available for each of those present to drink four cups, and the question arose as to the best method to fulfill the mitzvah. The two brothers discussed the question, and Edited by Rabbi with their characteristic Menachem Genack acuity came up with a OU Press and new understanding of Maggid Books the constituent parts of the mitzvah of the Four Cups. The Rav was a link in a glorious he Haggadah and the Passover tradition, as the above anecdote story were themes the Rav, demonstrates, but he was also a Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, highly innovative thinker who built returned to time and again in his upon the teachings of his forebears decades of teaching and writing. and developed his own profound Haggadat Mesorat HaRav, based on philosophy. Haggadat Mesorat the English Haggadah The Seder HaRav offers a glimpse into the Night: An Exalted Evening, presents a originality and brilliance of the comprehensive commentary of the Rav’s teachings as he uncovers Rav on the Haggadah for the first new dimensions of meaning and time in Hebrew. The commentary significance in the Haggadah. includes additional insights of the Rav not present in the English edition. Drawing from the entire corpus of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s writings and lectures as well as from published Hebrew works of the Rav and newly translated material, Haggadat Mesorat HaRav was expertly edited by the Rav’s devoted student Rabbi Menachem Genack. The result is a highly readable and literate Hebrew commentary. By Rabbi Ari D. Kahn OU Press One of the teachings contained within this Haggadah adds the historical backdrop to a chiddush abbi Ari Kahn’s The Crowns on known from the work of the the Letters represents a major Rav’s uncle, Rabbi Yitzchak Zev achievement in the study of Soloveitchik, the Brisker Rav. The the lives of our Sages, as well as in Brisker Rav explained that there are the study of rabbinic Aggada. This two components to the Four Cups at work is an immensely learned and the Seder: the recitation of blessings deeply creative interpretation of over the cups and the demonstration many fundamental aggadot relating of freedom that drinking them to the intellectual biographies of the represents. Haggadat Mesorat Tannaim and Amoraim, including
Haggadat Mesorat HaRav
COMING SOON FROM OU PRESS
The Crowns on the Letters: Essays on Aggada and the Lives of the Sages
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
Hillel and Shammai, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Resh Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan, and many others. Additionally, it covers aggadot dealing with major themes in Jewish thought, including the nature of the Oral Law, mysticism and its perils, the messianic era, teshuvah and Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi Kahn presents close readings of Talmudic and Midrashic sources about events in the lives of the Sages, together with the gamut of interpretations, especially those of Kabbalistic and Chassidic commentators, to arrive at original and compelling conclusions. His insights shed light on the Talmudic narrative as well as on broader philosophical questions. The title of the book is drawn from the well-known episode in which Moshe Rabbeinu is brought to Rabbi Akiva’s study hall to witness the latter's interpretation of the “crowns” God has tied to the letters of the Torah. Basing himself on the works of the kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria and others, Rabbi Kahn delivers a tour de force addressing the interconnected lives of Moshe Rabbeinu and Rabbi Akiva, the relationship between tradition and creativity, and the question of theodicy raised by Rabbi Akiva’s death. Other chapters similarly engage such fundamental issues through the lens of the lives of the Sages. In fact, one insight which emerges from this work is the interconnectedness of these two realms: Jewish thought as expressed in the Aggada, and the lives of the Sages. Rabbi Kahn’s work suggests that understanding the Torah of the Sages requires understanding their lives and personalities because the Torah they revealed was rooted in their souls. Full Hebrew sources are included to enable readers to study the source material on their own. For all those interested in rabbinic lives and rabbinic Aggada, The Crowns on the Letters is essential reading.
PHILANTHROPY Portrait of Philanthropy
THE GLAUBACHS: DREAMING BIG By Pnina Baim
rogressive” and “innovative” are key elements that Drs. Felix and Miriam Glaubach look for when deciding whether to support a program. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the visionary couple is behind NCSY’s newest revolutionary initiative: the Shevet Glaubach Fellows. “Miriam and I are honored to be part of an NCSY program that brings young men and women closer to Hashem, and that strengthens our hopes and our people. This is exactly what Jewish homes need,” says Dr. Felix Glaubach. Having received a donation of $5 million from the Glaubachs, NCSY is embarking on the creation of a unique fellowship program to train the next generation of Jewish leaders. “This project is instrumental,” says Rina Emerson, NCSY Managing Director. “The Glaubachs are people who are looking at the long-term impact and want to affect leadership. NCSY has struggled with structuring advisor training and retainment in an organized and meaningful manner. The Shevet Glaubach Fellows project will enable us to do it.”
Compiled by Marcia P. Neeley
Influential donors, the Glaubachs, who live in Bal Harbour, Florida, are supporters of Yeshiva University, Shaare Tzedek Hospital and the Miriam Glaubach Center at Nishmat, among other important causes. “They are very hands-on, invested donors,” says Lauren Bardos, Director of OU Women’s Leadership Initiatives, Southern NCSY. “They really care because they have vision. They are looking for programs that will create lasting change in the Jewish world and leaders for tomorrow.” Having met on a blind date more than sixty years ago, the Glaubachs have spent decades investing in the Jewish community. The couple raised a beautiful family of six children, establishing a warm, loving family where the focus was on chesed and Jewish values. These values were not always easy to uphold, such as the time Felix, while serving in the US Army, was threatened with a court-martial for leaving the base on Friday in order to be home before Shabbat. While building their growing family, Miriam worked as a nurse and Felix was an orthodontist. Together with Felix, Miriam decided to launch a home care agency, Personal Touch Homecare. The agency was a family project with Miriam involved in every detail—including personally visiting homebound clients to show the aides how to maintain a kosher kitchen. Felix oversaw the marketing, and the children were brought into the
The Glaubach family with NCSY and OU leadership at NCSY StaffCon this past September. Back row, from left: NCSY International Director Rabbi Micah Greenland; Chair of the OU Youth Commission Avi Katz; and OU Chief Institutional Advancement Officer Arnold Gerson. Front row, from left: Director of OU Women’s Leadership Initiatives, Southern NCSY Lauren Bardos; Member of the OU Youth Commission Freda Greenbaum; Esther Muschel (née Glaubach); Dr. Miriam Glaubach; Dr. Felix Glaubach; Baruch Glaubach; OU President Mark (Moishe) Bane; OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin; and Southern NCSY Director Todd Cohn. Photos: Josh Weinberg 96
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
business as well. Starting out forty years ago with three patients, the agency today services thousands. “Miriam has the ability to do many things,” says Freda Greenbaum, Member of the OU Youth Commission who is a longtime friend. “But what she loves are the things most connected to Judaism and Jewish families.” As Miriam is passionate about Jewish programming for women, Freda invited her and her daughter Tammy to a mentorship event for NCSY women. Miriam and Tammy were amazed at the level of intellectual energy in the room. This ignited a spark, and the Glaubachs soon realized NCSY could help them effect significant and dramatic change. “My parents are visionaries who create change. If you want to dream, dream big,” Tammy told NCSY leadership who were in discussions with the Glaubachs about various funding opportunities. “Dr. Felix Glaubach is a man of conviction who knows exactly what he wants,” says Rabbi Ben Gonsher, Southern NCSY Chief Relationship Officer, “yet he impresses all of us with his creativity, flexibility and openness to new opportunities.” After several possibilities were explored, the Shevet Glaubach Fellows project was born. The fellowship will select the best from among the advisors to nurture and develop future Jewish leaders. “I learned from Dr. Glaubach what makes for a successful transformational project,” says Rabbi Gonsher. “Working with Dr. Glaubach has been great fun—he thinks on a grand scale.” “This program brings young people together so they can build a stronger and greater community,” says Dr. Felix Glaubach. The Glaubachs are extremely proud of their children, Baruch, Esther, Tammy, Shulamit, Simeon, and Yonatan. They brought their children into every part of the planning of the Shevet Glaubach Fellows project, discussing the various developments as they arose. Some of the Glaubach children are currently on the project’s advisory board so that they can be involved in implementing their parents’ vision and overseeing the initiative for years to come. “The Shevet Glaubach Fellows will transform our ability to strengthen and grow our pool of NCSY advisors and to train them better to inspire thousands of teens in their own path to a fuller Jewish life,” adds OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin. “We want our children to understand our goals for the project so they can continue to fulfill them,” says Dr. Felix Glaubach. “My wife and I want to convey to our children how we give our philanthropy and build our legacy together. There is tremendous satisfaction in giving tzedakah. It gives us so much chizuk to be involved in such a cause.”
“My wife and I want to convey to our children how we give our philanthropy and build our legacy together. There is tremendous satisfaction in giving tzedakah. It gives us so much chizuk to be involved in such a cause.” —Dr. Felix Glaubach
We invite you to join us and make a difference. Contact Arnold Gerson at email@example.com or visit ou.org/giving. Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
NCSYers enjoying camelback riding on a TJJ outing. Photo: Josh Weinberg
HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS FUND TEEN SCHOLARSHIPS FOR ISRAEL TRIPS
hrough a generous legacy gift of $50,000 from a living trust fund established by a couple who survived the Holocaust, Southern NCSY will be able to provide between five and seven additional scholarships to send students from Ben Gamla Preparatory Academy in Hollywood, Florida, to Israel this coming summer. A total of twentyone teens from Ben Gamla, the only Hebrew charter high school in the United States, will participate in NCSY’s flagship summer program, The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey (TJJ). Taking public school teens on a once-in-a-lifetime journey through the land of Israel, TJJ combines the best of touring and fun with social action, political advocacy and Torah study, strengthening teens’ ties to Israel.
YACHAD AWARDED GRANT TO FIGHT SOCIAL ISOLATION
his past November, Yachad New England won the top prize— an $80,000 grant—at the Northeast Arc’s third annual Arc Tank Competition in Boston. One of four winners chosen out of nearly 100 submissions from across the US and around the globe, Yachad’s “4-A Club” (Autism, Aging, Alexa, Access) will combat social isolation in older adults with autism by adapting Alexa technology for low-verbal and non-verbal users. “The technology is out there. We want to bring it to a very marginalized population,” said Liz Offen, Director, Yachad New England. Northeast Arc and the Changing Lives Fund together seek creative ways to give people with disabilities equal opportunities and equal access to resources.
“Yachad is helping build bridges between individuals with autism and the technology that can improve their lives.” —Liz Offen, Director, Yachad New England 98
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
From left: Philanthropist Steven P. Rosenthal, Northeast Arc Chief Executive Officer Jo Ann Simons, Yachad New England Director Liz Offen, and Yachad Director of Operations Becca Zebovitz. Photo: Andrew Browning
FOUNDATION FUNDS NEW NCSY CHAPTER
ontinuing its generous support of Denver’s Jewish teen programs, the Rose Community Foundation granted $60,000 to underwrite the new Southeast Denver NCSY Chapter. Led by the newly appointed Director Rabbi Yonatan Nuszen, this expansion will provide learning experiences and activities to more Jewish teens, helping them forge a deep and abiding interest and connection with the Jewish community and with Israel. With the help of the Rose Community Foundation, over the past three years NCSY has established a vibrant, visible chapter in Denver, growing from an average membership of approximately 150 teens in 2017 to 300 in 2019. “The Rose Community Foundation has truly been a backbone for the growth of the Jewish community here in Denver,” said Rabbi Yisrael Katz, Denver NCSY Director, Southwest NCSY.
From left: Denver NCSYers Maddie Kasztl, Eliana Fishman and Yael Polotsky. Courtesy of Yisrael Katz
A SEFER TORAH FOR YACHAD
hanks to Ken Saibel, Yachad’s Director of Institutional Advancement, and his family, Yachad is going to have its very own sefer Torah. Ken and his wife Mindy, who were honored at the New Jersey Yachad Gala in January, inaugurated The Debby Cohen z”l Ahavat Chesed Fund, whose first campaign is the dedication of a sefer Torah for Yachad. The Torah will be housed at the Yachad/NJCD’s IVDU boy’s school, located in Brooklyn. It will travel to Yachad functions and events, including Shabbatons. The fund and campaign are in honor of Mindy’s mother Debby, who had a deep love of Torah and spent her entire professional career as a teacher of individuals with special needs. To sponsor a parashah or any part of the Torah, visit yachad.org/SeferTorah.
Photo: Abbie Sophia Photography
We invite you to join us and make a difference. Contact Arnold Gerson at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ou.org/giving. Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
Portrait of Philanthropy
GUSTAVE AND CAROL JACOBS
together in the Jacobs’ home discussing the different pressing issues of the day, culminating in Gus being appointed the OU representative in Europe. Once the family returned to the States, Gus continued his activism with the OU, becoming deeply involved in enhancing kashrut standards in America. “Gustave and Carol were pioneers of kashrut in America, ensuring that for generations to come Jews in America, and subsequently around the world, have easy access to quality kosher food,” says Rabbi Avi Berman, Executive Director, OU Israel. “Kashrut spoke to my father,” says Aviva. Gus was a board member of the Yeshiva High School of Queens, which his children attended. “After the fall of the Soviet Union, many Russians moved to Queens and were lacking even the most basic knowledge of Judaism. Our mother By Pnina Baim became involved in the communal efforts to teach the ongtime OU leader Gustave Jacobs, who passed students about kashrut, Shabbat, the holidays, whatever away in 2016, spent his life committed to building they needed,” says Aviva. and strengthening klal Yisrael. A man who overcame Carol was also devoted to every need of the Jewish much adversity, Gus was a young teen during World War community; she helped start the women’s chevra kadisha II. His family fled their hometown of Cologne, Germany, of Queens and was an active participant until her passing eventually ending up in Switzerland, in 1983. where, through Gus’s ingenuity, he A few years later, Gus married entered university in Geneva. Upon Henriette Belfer, a woman with moving to the United States, he met a big heart who was involved in his wife Carol. The couple married many charitable causes as well. In and had two girls, Aviva and Judy. recognition of their dedication to Both Gus and Carol, who was also a supporting OU efforts, in 2006 the OU German refugee, had been deprived dedicated the Henriette and Gustave of a formal Jewish education, and Jacobs Chair in Kashrut Education. In spent the rest of their lives making 2011, the OU honored Gus with the up for that loss. “Gus was extremely Lifetime Achievement Award at its committed to Jewish education,” annual dinner. says Rabbi Steven Weil, OU Senior Gus passed away in 2016, and Managing Director. “He invested a lot his children are continuing their in education because he felt that his parents’ legacy of philanthropy and generation would rebuild Torah in dedication to the klal. Thanks to the both the United States and Israel.” vision of Aviva and Joseph Hoch Gus began selling Japanese and Judy and Mark Frankel, this pearls, a business that resulted in past fall, OU Israel established The the family spending a few years in Gustave and Carol Jacobs Center Geneva. As there weren’t any Jewish for Kashrut Education. Focusing schools, Carol obtained a yeshivah on helping Anglo olim and tourists Gus Jacobs high school’s curriculum understand the complexities and hired a tutor to teach of kashrut in Israel, the “Gustave and Carol were pioneers of their girls in the afternoon. Center will sponsor shiurim, “Our mother always said workshops, videos, and kashrut in America, ensuring that for education never stops,” says other initiatives, including a generations to come Jews in America, kashrut curriculum created Aviva. Since Geneva did not have and subsequently around the world, have specifically for seminary and much Jewish infrastructure, yeshivah students. easy access to quality kosher food.” Jewish visitors would often “The Jacobs Kashrut eat at the Jacobs’ home. —Rabbi Avi Berman, Executive Director, OU Israel Center is a concrete One notable visitor back in realization of my parents’ the sixties was Rabbi Dr. Simon Raphael Weiss, the then legacy,” says Aviva. “Their passion for Jewish education, executive vice president of the OU, who was a staunch strengthening kashrut and helping their fellow Jews is advocate of Jewish education. The two spent a Shabbat embodied here in this partnership with the OU.”
PIONEERS IN THE WORLD OF KASHRUT
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
Thank you for your generous annual support of our vital programs. YACHAD - Inclusion for people with disabilities SEIF OU-JLIC - Supporting Jewish life on college campuses NCSY - Life-changing teen empowerment and inspiration program OU ISRAEL - Outreach to at-risk youth, support for soldiers and olim ISRAEL FREE SPIRIT BIRTHRIGHT ISRAEL - Connecting Jewish youth with Israel and their heritage THE PEPA & RABBI JOSEPH KARASICK DEPARTMENT OF SYNAGOGUE & COMMUNITY SERVICES Educational content, programs, consulting for synagogues and communities THE WOMENâ€™S INITIATIVE - Creating and promoting inspirational and educational programming for women TEACH COALITION - Fighting for Jewish schools to receive fair government funding KOSHER FOOD LIFELINE - Assisting kosher food pantries to help the needy in their communities OU ADVOCACY CENTER - Promoting Jewish interests in the halls of government OU TORAH - Providing a broad array of Torah study opportunities JEWISH ACTION - The OU's insightful and inspirational quarterly publication OU IMPACT ACCELERATOR - A mentorship program for growth and early-stage funding for Jewish nonprofit entrepreneurs. OU PRESS - Publishing insightful and compelling works on Jewish texts
Members of the OU BENEFACTOR CIRCLE lead through their philanthropy. We applaud them all for their commitment, including those whose names remain anonymous. We invite and encourage you to join them in making a difference.
OU.ORG/BENEFACTOR To learn more about the OU Benefactor Circle or to become a member, please call Arnold Gerson, Chief Institutional Advancement Office at 212.613-8313 or email email@example.com.
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ETTA BRANDMAN KLARISTENFELD AND HARRY KLARISTENFELD IN MEMORY OF JUDY LEFKOVITS MR. DAVID LICHTENSTEIN ESTATE OF ETHELYN LIEBLICH CHUCK AND ALLEGRA MAMIYE MAYBERG FOUNDATION EITAN AND DEBRA MILGRAM GENIE AND STEVE SAVITSKY THE SHAMAH FAMILY JOSH AND ALLISON ZEGEN
MICHAEL AND ARIANNE WEINBERGER THE WEININGER FOUNDATION INC. DAVID AND GILA WEINSTEIN THE WEISS FAMILY, CLEVELAND, OHIO ESTHER AND JERRY WILLIAMS MR. JERRY AND MRS. SARA WOLASKY
MARK (MOISHE) & JOANNE BANE SHERRY & NEIL COHEN ROBERT AND MICHELLE DIENER MR. AND MRS. JACK FEINTUCH ELLIOT P. AND DEBORAH GIBBER ALAN & BARBARA GINDI THE GUSTAVE AND CAROL JACOBS CENTER FOR KASHRUT EDUCATION BECKY & AVI KATZ MORDECAI & MONIQUE KATZ THE KOHELET FOUNDATION THE JEWISH FEDERATION OF GREATER LOS ANGELES DAVID AND DEBRA MAGERMAN THE JEWISH FEDERATION OF METROPOLITAN CHICAGO RAPHAEL AND RIVKA NISSEL ERIC AND GALE ROTHNER RUDERMAN FAMILY FOUNDATION MORIS & LILLIAN TABACINIC UJA-FEDERATION OF NEW YORK JOYCE AND JEREMY WERTHEIMER
LEWIS AND LAURI BARBANEL SABY AND ROSI BEHAR HARRY H. BEREN Z"L MAX AND ELANA BERLIN BRIAN AND DAFNA BERMAN JUDI AND JASON BERMAN VIVIAN AND DANIEL CHILL DR. BENJAMIN AND ESTHER CHOUAKE THE CONDUIT FOUNDATION CRAIN-MALING FOUNDATION: WWW.CRAINMALING.ORG DRS. ROBERT AND KAY FAGUET FALIC FAMILY FOUNDATION GREATER MIAMI JEWISH FEDERATION HOWARD TZVI AND CHAYA FRIEDMAN RALPH S. GINDI FOUNDATION SHANA GLASSMAN FOUNDATION EVE GORDON-RAMEK ARI AND ALISON GROSS JAMES AND AMY A"H HABER DR. ELLIOT AND LILLIAN HAHN ROBERT AND DEBRA HARTMAN ALISSA AND SHIMMIE HORN DR. ALLAN AND SANDY JACOB PAUL AND CHAVI JACOBS JEWISH FEDERATION OF S. PALM BEACH COUNTY BENYAMIN AND ESTI KAMINETZKY RABBI MARK AND LINDA KARASICK KARMELA A"H AND JERRY KLASNER ALBERT LABOZ JEFF AND MARCI LEFKOVITS MICHAEL AND ANDREA LEVEN FAMILY FOUNDATION IRIS AND SHALOM MAIDENBAUM AZI AND RACHEL MANDEL MRS. FEGI MAUER MERIDIAN CAPITAL HENRY AND MINDY ORLINSKY MARTHA AND GEORGE RICH FOUNDATION MALKI AND J. PHILIP ROSEN JAMES AND LOREN ROSENZWEIG ROBBIE AND HELENE ROTHENBERG SAMIS FOUNDATION STEPHEN AND JESSICA SAMUEL LOUIS AND STACY SCHWARTZ YITZCHOK AND BARBARA LEHMANN SIEGEL BARRY AND JOY SKLAR DAVID AND AMY STRACHMAN
MR. AND MRS. LIOR ARUSSY DENNIS AND DEBRA BERMAN MARCUS AND DORIS BLUMKIN THE CHARLES CRANE FAMILY FOUNDATION PETER & LORI DEUTSCH SHIMON AND CHAYA ECKSTEIN LINDA AND MICHAEL ELMAN JUDITH & ALLEN I. FAGIN MARK & CHERYL FRIEDMAN LANCE AND RIVKIE HIRT JOAN & PETER HOFFMAN ED & ROBYN HOFFMAN/HOFFMAN CATERING JACK ALBERT KASSIN MICHAEL AND ELISSA KATZ DANA AND JEFFREY KORBMAN STEPHEN AND EVE MILSTEIN JACK A"H AND GITTA NAGEL MARTIN AND ELIZABETH NACHIMSON YEHUDA & ANNE NEUBERGER ISABELLE AND DAVID NOVAK MASA ISRAEL JOURNEY MARC PENN ALLEN & MIRIAM PFEIFFER THE REFUGE - A HEALING PLACE HENRY AND GOLDA REENA ROTHMAN GEORGE AND IRINA SCHAEFFER TOBY MACY SCHAFFER MORRIS AND RACHEL TABUSH TRAVEL INSURANCE ISRAEL GEORGE & JONI WHITE
$250,000 & OVER
THE AVI CHAI FOUNDATION ARIELA BALK IN HONOR OF THE MENDEL BALK YACHAD ADULT COMMUNITY CENTER DRS. FELIX AND MIRIAM GLAUBACH DR. SHMUEL AND EVELYN KATZ IN MEMORY OF ANNE SAMSON A"H
$100,000 - $249,999
$50,000 - $99,999 MR. RAANAN AND DR. NICOLE AGUS ALLEN AND DEANNA ALEVY HOWARD AND CHAYA BALTER DANIEL AND RAZIE BENEDICT AARON AND MARIE BLACKMAN FOUNDATION THE CAYRE FAMILY GERSHON AND AVIVA DISTENFELD FOUNDATION FOR JEWISH DAY SCHOOLS, GREATER PHILADELPHIA RABBI MANFRED AND LISELOTTE Z"L GANS CHESSED FUND DR. EPHRAIM AND RITA GREENFIELD J. SAMUEL HARWIT AND MANYA HARWIT AVIV CHARITABLE TRUST RICHARD HIRSCH KITTY AND ANWAR HOORY Z"L JEWISH COMMUNTIY FEDERATION AND ENDOWMENT FUND JEWISH FEDERATION OF NORTHERN NEW JERSEY
$25,000 - $49,999
$18,000 - $24,999
$10,000 - $17,999 ALISA ABECASSIS DANIEL AND LIORA ADLER EMANUEL AND HELEN ADLER AARON AND TAMMY ATTIAS IRA AND SHERI BALSAM YALE AND ANN BARON MR. AND MRS. ISAAC BERMAN HARVEY AND JUDY BLITZ DAVID AND CHEDVA BREAU JO AND JONAH BRUCK DR. MOSHE AND BRYNDIE BENARROCH VANESSA AND RAYMOND CHALME COMBINED JEWISH PHILANTHROPIES MR. SHELDON J. DAVID A"H MICHAEL AND ALIZA DAVIS FRED AND SUZAN EHRMAN RINA AND RABBI DOV EMERSON DRS. GILAT AND YOSSI ENGLANOFF MARTIN AND LEORA FINEBERG MARK AND CHAVA FINKEL
"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." â€• Winston Churchill
EZRA AND RACHELI FRIEDBERG ARNOLD AND ESTHER GERSON THE RALPH S. GINDI FOUNDATION MARY JO ROBINSON AND GORDON GLASER MURRAY AND BATSHEVA GOLDBERG MR. AND MRS. DAN GOLDISH JOSEPH AND LAURA GOLDMAN RABBI BEN AND AVIVA GONSHER RABBI MICAH AND RIVKIE GREENLAND ROBYN AND SHUKIE GROSSMAN ABE AND RONIT GUTNICKI MR. AND MRS. DAVID HARTMAN THE HIDARY FAMILY MR. NATE HYMAN THE JACOBY FAMILY JEWISH FEDERATION IN THE HEART OF NEW JERSEY DR. AND MRS. BERNARD KAMINETSKY MORRIS AND SONDRA KAPLAN RABBI JOSEPH KARASICK DR. EZRA AND LAUREN KEST DAVID AND ROBERTA KIMMEL ALICE AND JACOB KLEIN LAWRENCE AND EVELYN KRAUT SCOTT AND AVIVA KRIEGER JONAH AND FRAN KUPIETZKY KIM AND JONATHAN KUSHNER DANIEL AND AMANDA NUSSBAUM LAIFER MRS. SHIRLEY LEVY VIVIAN AND DAVID LUCHINS JEFFREY AND ADRIA MANDEL DAVID AND MICHELLE MARGULES MR. AND MRS. SHALOM MENORA STUART AND FRANCES MILLER MR. AND MRS. ASHER DAVID AND MICHELLE MILSTEIN GILA AND ADAM MILSTEIN DANIEL AND JESSICA MINKOFF ETAN AND VALERIE MIRWIS AND FAMILY ALEXANDER AND YOCHEVED MITCHELL CAL AND JANINE NATHAN AARON AND AHUVA ORLOFSKY AVI AND ALISSA OSSIP THE OVED FAMILY DREW AND CAREENA PARKER IN MEMORY OF RABBI RAPHAEL PELCOVITZ Z"L, FROM THE PELCOVITZ FAMILY ISRAEL AND NECHAMA POLAK THE RABBI NATHANIAL AND SHIRLEY POLLACK MEMORIAL FOUNDATION DANIEL AND LEYLA POSNER PROSKAUER ROSE LLP RALPHS GROCERY COMPANY IAN AND CAROL RATNER YARON AND LISA REICH DR. JAY AND MARJORIE ROBINOW MATTHEW ROSENBLATT KENNETH AND MINDY SAIBEL ETHEL AND STAN SCHER MENACHEM AND RENA SCHNAIDMAN JOSEPH SHAMIE LOUIS SHAMIE MR. BARUCH SINGER THE HERBERT SMILOWITZ FOUNDATION MR. AND MRS. DAVID SOKOL WILLIAM SOLOMON
RABBI SHLOMO AND MINDY SPETNER DR. AND MRS. ETHAN SPIEGLER RONALD AND BETH STERN TALK N SAVE ISAAC H. TAYLOR ENDOWMENT FUND DR. AND MRS. SHIMMY TENNENBAUM GARY AND MALKA TORGOW IRA WALDBAUM FAMILY FOUNDATION STANLEY AND ELLEN WASSERMAN THE WEIL FAMILY JESSICA AND LENNY WEISS TOVA AND HOWARD WEISER SUSANNE AND MICHAEL WIMPFHEIMER DRS. YECHIEL AND SURI ZAGELBAUM MR. AND MRS. ALAN ZEKELMAN
$5,000 - $9,999 ADM/ROI ARIEL TOURS, INC. ASHFORD HOSPITALITY JAIMIE AND GERSHON BALLON SAMUEL AND RACHEL BARATZ MICHAEL AND SUSAN BAUM MR. HARVEY BELL DR. AND MRS. YITZHAK AND ELLEN BERGER RABBI JULIUS AND DOROTHY BERMAN CAROL LASEK AND HOWARD BIENENFELD YEHUDA AND FAIGIE BIENSTOCK MR. AND MRS. TOMER BITTON RABBI GLENN AND HENNI BLACK ENID AND HAROLD H. BOXER ENDOWMENT DR. AND MRS. STEPHEN BRENNER CCS FUNDRAISING HIMAN BROWN CHARITABLE TRUST JEREMY AND HILDA COHEN PACE AND AILEEN COOPER STEVE AND CHAVI DORFMAN LEA Z"L AND LEON Z"L EISENBERG ROBERT EISENBERG MRS. MARGARET FEDER RABBI DAVE AND CHANI FELSENTHAL ERROL AND PAT FINE ARYEH AND DORIT FISCHER RON AND LISA ROSENBAUM FISHER STEPHEN AND ROZ FLATOW JOSEPH AND RACHEL FOX SURA AND BERT FRIED DR. STAN AND MARLA FROHLINGER ANDREW AND YVETTE GARDNER LAWRENCE AND JUDITH GARSHOFSKY MR. AND MRS. ERNIE GOLDBERGER JERRY AND ANNE GONTOWNIK GOLDIE AND I. DAVID GORDON AARON AND MICHAL GORIN FREDA GREENBAUM DR. EDWIN AND CECILE GROMIS DOV AND LAURA HERTZ NORMA HOLZER DR. DAVID AND BARBARA HURWITZ JEWISH COMMUNITY FEDERATION OF RICHMOND NATALIE AND DAVIDI JONAS CHAIM AND SURI KAHN STUART KARON AND DR. JODI WENGER RABBI ETHAN AND DEBORAH KATZ
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Wine, Whisky and Halachah: A halachic overview to the laws of wine and whisky, including scotch whisky matured in sherry casks By HaRav Shraga Kallus and Rabbi Avraham Chaim Slansky Feldheim Publishers New York, 2017 198 pages
Reviewed by Eli Gersten
t this time of year, with the upcoming obligation to drink the Four Cups at the Seder, the OU Kosher hotline is generally inundated with hundreds of callers asking a variety of questions about one topic in particular: wine. While the kashrut of wine has always been complicated, Rabbi Shraga Kallus and Rabbi Avraham Chaim Slansky expertly elucidate this subject in their book Wine, Whisky and Halachah. Rabbi Kallus, well known as an expert in halachah, has delivered thousands of shiurim on halachic topics, which are available online. His shiurim delivered at the Second Seder Kollel in Jerusalem form the basis of this sefer. The halachic rulings are clearly presented and some contain charts. Source texts and detailed references are provided for those who want to delve deeper. Wine, Whisky and Halachah explores the intricate laws and reasons for the prohibition of drinking stam yeinam, wine which may have been poured for an idolatrous service. [In Mishnaic times, a popular pagan ritual consisted of pouring off a little wine Rabbi Eli Gersten works for OU Kosher as the recorder of pesak and policy. He lives with his wife and children in Passaic, New Jersey.
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from every bottle in honor of an idol. Because it was difficult to know with certainty which bottles of wine were used for an idolatrous service, the rabbis decreed that wine produced by a non-Jew, or even kosher wine left unattended with a non-Jew, is forbidden because it may have been used for idolatrous purposes.] The book features questions such as: When does the handling of wine by gentiles affect the wine’s status? And, exactly who affects the status of the wine? Interestingly, the answers to these questions may surprise some readers. The various differences of opinion are explained in a clear way without overwhelming the reader. Case scenarios are also provided, with guidance on how the halachot should be applied. For example: what should a chatan do if a non-observant Jewish photographer pours wine that is not mevushal (cooked wine is not subject to the strictures of stam yeinam) during his chuppah? Should he refuse the wine and risk embarrassing the photographer or should he drink the wine? (The authors make a strong case that it is permissible to drink the wine to avoid embarrassing a fellow Jew.) One important point addressed in the sefer could benefit from further clarification. The authors discuss whether pasteurized wine qualifies as
mevushal. They present two important arguments as to why the modern pasteurization process does not meet the criteria of changing the wine’s status to mevushal. Firstly, they cite Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s position that the pasteurization process causes almost no change in the quality of the wine; because of this, Rav Auerbach contends that pasteurized wine cannot be considered mevushal. Secondly, they cite the ruling of Rav Ben Zion Abba Shaul, who asserts that pasteurization does not make the wine mevushal because the cooking process according to him would require that the quantity of the wine be diminished in some way. Because pasteurization takes place in sealed pipes, the quantity of the wine is not diminished. Unfortunately, the authors fail to present any arguments as to why pasteurization could be considered acceptable in rendering the wine mevushal, except to note that “the accepted practice in the world is to be lenient. This is clear as all the hechsherim write that wine is mevushal even when it is merely pasteurized.” In the summary section, the authors make their own position clear: Despite the fact that this leniency is universally accepted among kosher certification agencies, they do not feel it is justified. I have two concerns regarding the authors’ position. First, at the very least, they should have noted the explanation of Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer, YD 8:15) who addresses their concern regarding the modern pasteurization process. Similarly, OU posekim Rav Yisroel Belsky, zt”l, and ybl”c Rav Hershel Schachter also ruled that this process suffices to render wine mevushal, and their halachic views should have been included as well. The authors incorrectly surmise that Rav Moshe Feinstein would not have accepted this leniency. However, the modern pasteurization process was used in Rav Moshe’s days as well, and it is well known that he approved of pasteurized wine qualifying as mevushal.
When noting the strict positions of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Ben Zion Abba Shaul, the authors should have made it clear that one who is lenient in this matter is following the accepted ruling (of course, it is meritorious to be stringent). Second, the authors state “it is not necessarily the correct approach to buy mevushal wine and allow non-Jews free access to deal with the wine.” This is inconsistent with their halachic ruling on the pasteurization process. If they truly believe mevushal wine does not have the status of mevushal, then it should be treated as non-kosher since presumably it was already handled by non-Jewish workers. It is often the case that once wine has the status of mevushal, non-Jewish factory workers are allowed to touch it. Therefore, if one wishes to be stringent, one should only buy non-mevushal wine, so as to be sure that the wine was not handled improperly at any point in the wine-making process. The second half of the book deals with another very popular topic: the kashrut of whisky. Whisky aged for many years in wooden casks yields a deep, smooth flavor. Often, however, these casks were previously used to age sherry, a type of wine. When non-kosher sherry is matured, the taste of the wine is absorbed into the walls of the cask. Subsequently, if whisky is aged in the same cask, the whisky will absorb the taste of the sherry. According to some posekim, one can be lenient in such a case and rule that the whisky is kosher as the wine is only absorbed into a thin layer of the barrel. And since wine is nullified into other beverages at a ratio of one to six, we certainly have enough whisky to nullify the sherry. Even assuming that the sherry is absorbed into the entire thickness of the cask, some posekim maintain that as long as the sherry is not detectable in the taste of the beverage, that serves as a basis for nullification. However, the approach that the authors follow is very similar to that of Rav Belsky (and is the position followed by OU restaurants and caterers), which is that one should not rely on leniencies when it is known that the whisky was stored in wine barrels. The authors provide an extensive list of 250 Scotch whiskys and their carefully researched halachic status, demonstrating how such information is easily available to anyone who wishes to find out whether a particular whisky was aged in a sherry cask. In fact, the OU certifies more than twenty Scotches. Sherry is considered a fortified wine, i.e., wine alcohol has been added to it, such that it contains roughly double the regular alcohol level of wine. There is a halachic difference between wine and wine alcohol. Wine alcohol is absorbed into the entire thickness of the barrel and is only nullified in sixty parts. It is questionable whether sherry should be treated as a wine or as a wine alcohol. If the latter, there would be very little basis for permitting one to drink whisky aged in sherry casks. Especially at this time of year, when questions about the status of wine are most pertinent, I highly recommend this well-researched sefer to anyone interested in the complex and often confounding halachot of wine.
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Jewish Ideas in Morality and Religion By Sol Roth Ktav Publishing House New Jersey, 2018 248 pages
Reviewed by Gidon Rothstein
ears ago, I read an account of a concert in which Buddy Rich, a famous drummer, opened for Frank Sinatra. The author of the account groaned, not believing a drummer could fill twenty minutes, only to be held in thrall along with the rest of the audience by Rich’s virtuosity. Rich closed with a long, challenging piece, after which Sinatra walked on stage, looked over at Rich, back at the audience, and said, “There’s something to be said for sticking with a thing.” I was reminded of this story while reading Jewish Ideas in Morality and Religion by Rabbi Dr. Sol Roth, professor at Yeshiva University and the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, as well as rabbi emeritus of Fifth Avenue Synagogue. His four previous books all have the phrase “The Jewish Idea of ” in their titles (his first book, the lone one without this phrase, is titled Science and Religion). Rabbi Roth clearly cares about ideas and believes they can help us build our most authentic Jewish lives. And, as Sinatra said, there’s something to be said for sticking with a thing,
because Jewish Ideas in Morality and Religion trucks in ideas, and trucks well, clearly and illuminatingly. The author makes his dedication evident in the Introduction, where he concedes that some themes recur throughout the book. Among those, he mentions the proposition, “Mankind desperately needs a substantial increase in rationality.” It is a powerful point, a reminder that we are supposed to think before we act and are well advised to purify our emotions and instincts in the forge of reason, to ensure that we choose our paths carefully in line with what calm and sober thought tells us. Rabbi Roth’s devotion to ideas is not an indication that he lives inside his mind. His next recurring theme is: “Judaism gives priority to human action over human thought.” With all the religion’s devotion to study and thought, “action is the superior good.” He does not seek to analyze ideas as a sterile intellectual exercise; he comes to share those which will fuel our best choices, if we allow them to. And he gives us many such ideas.
Rabbi Dr. Gidon Rothstein teaches Daf Yomi at the Young Israel of Scarsdale and online for the Webyeshiva. He is the author of Jewishly themed fiction and non-fiction works, including the forthcoming The Making of the Messiah, 2048. He lives in Riverdale, New York. 106
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Of the almost 250 pages in the book, I found I had folded the flaps on more than thirty, containing points I wanted to be able to easily find the next time I picked up the book. I will not share all thirty, but a few will serve as fitting examples of how readers can expect to find themselves enriched and enlightened should they make the good choice to read this book. I noticed the presence and prominence of the first idea on my own, it being impossible to avoid tripping over. The author himself called attention to its ubiquity, which he justified as a function of its “foundational importance”: the principle of the Covenant. For Rabbi Roth, covenants—especially the Jewish people’s covenant with Hashem—are not deals or transactions. Covenants create unconditional commitments, with mutuality of obligation rather than reciprocity. Should one party to a covenant fail to live up to his/her/their obligations (as the Jewish people have, many times), the other side may have the right to react in various ways (such as Hashem allowing invaders to destroy the Temple and exile the Jewish people). Reactions within a covenant are different than abrogating it, which can never occur, in Rabbi Roth’s view. The changed vocabulary has already enhanced my experience of my relationship with Hashem, and with people with whom I have covenants as well. The idea’s deceptive simplicity might blind us to its power. Jews must keep the Torah and must act as Hashem wants, regardless of their decisions about belief or their judgments about how well Hashem, as it were, is keeping His side of the bargain. By the same token, no amount of wrongdoing on our nation’s part can tear us loose from our connection to Hashem, or absolve Hashem completely of His connection to us. However Jews construct their lives and world, the covenant will always be part of the picture, whether they choose to notice it or not. The unavoidable obligations of our
covenant should not be mistaken for a life as a drone, doomed to the drudgery of acting as some distant God commanded. In his discussion “Wisdom—Its Religious Component,” Rabbi Roth speaks of “reverence, the intense experience of a relation with God” as the best basis for “the claim that the acquisition of wisdom is the means of achieving the summum bonum” (the highest good, the ultimate goal of life). Moreover, Rabbi Roth reminds us that achieving the summum bonum brings a joy even more intense than experienced in healthy relationships between spouses; when watching children carry forward cherished values; or in encounters with a revered rabbi and teacher. The highest joy comes from relationship with God. While I gravitate toward delineations of how to serve and relate to God, the book casts a wider net as well, with insightful and enlightening sections on Individual and Social
Values, such as freedom and peace. At the end of the chapter “Justice and Love: Which Has Priority?”, Rabbi Roth suggests a role for each—justice leading to laws which help resolve conflict, love leading to “spontaneous acts of generosity” that foster social connections and attachments. I have long thought that too many of us, Jewish or not, focus too much on law as the sole organizing principle for life and society, so I cheered when the author made this point, which cannot be made too often. We need laws, but we also need to remember that following the law does not, and cannot, constitute the whole of an exemplary or even good life. We must also act lifnim mishurat hadin, a phrase which Rabbi Roth translates as “beyond the line of the law,” for reasons he explains in a chapter of that name. Great is my temptation to run through the Table of Contents, unpack the titles of each chapter and give over
the basic sense of what is taught in each one. But I will include only one more, the closing chapter, “Morality in War: Civilians in the Context of War,” in which the author takes a clear-eyed view of how exceptional war is in terms of morality, how delicate the project of defining an innocent civilian and an enemy. As the experiences of the Israeli Army over the past forty years have shown, these crucial questions matter, particularly when dealing with an enemy who purposefully and deliberately blurs the lines, seemingly in the hopes of catching soldiers killing civilians, some innocent, some not. Almost eight years ago, Steven King published a short story titled “Herman Wouk Is Still Alive” (unfortunately he passed away last year at the age of 103). Rabbi Roth, a relative youngster at almost ninety-two, is very much also still alive, still patiently calling us to ideas which shape our actions and enliven our service of our Creator.
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Pshuto Shel Mikra By Harav Yehuda Copperman Translated by Immanuel Bernstein Mosaica Press Beit Shemesh, Israel, 2019 756 pages (2 vols.)
Reviewed by Yitzchak Etshalom
abbi Dr. Yehuda Cooperman (also spelled Copperman) was best known, in his over fifty years of leadership, as the founding visionary of Michlalah-Jerusalem College, the flagship seminary for serious textual Torah study for women in Israel. Rav Cooperman was an organizer, administrator (and fundraiser) as well as an accomplished teacher. Additionally, he gained a formidable reputation in the area of scholarship. Not only was he a master at conveying the words of the Torah, he was also adept at analyzing, researching and explicating the words of Tanach and Chazal, as well as early and latterday commentators. He was particularly taken with Rabbi Meir Simchah of Dvinsk (d. 1926) and his classic Meshech Chochmah, on which Rav Cooperman wrote a comprehensive, five-volume commentary that is a staple of many Jewish bookshelves. Pshuto Shel Mikra is a new rendition of an earlier work by Rabbi Cooperman titled Kedushat Pshuto Shel Mikra (Mossad HaRav Kook, 2009; 2 volumes). In this new work, Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein, Rav Cooperman’s longtime study partner, has translated and adapted the original sefer and added a few pieces from Rav Cooperman’s other works to give a more well-rounded view of Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom is rosh beit midrash at Shalhevet High School and chair of the Bible Department at YULA High School for Boys in Los Angeles.
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his approach. (It would have been helpful to include a brief biography of this visionary of Jewish education.) Rav Cooperman’s stated purpose in publishing Kedushat Pshuto Shel Mikra was to demonstrate that the words of Chazal, midrashim and the comments of a number of Rishonim accord with a careful, nuanced reading of the peshat of the text. Whether peshat means “literal interpretation,” “contextual meaning,” “original intent” (the way the text was intended at the time of its giving) or some combination of these—there is little question that midrashei Chazal (and most critically, midrashei halachah) seem to veer away from that meaning. How often has a talmid challenged his rebbe in a high school Gemara shiur regarding a challenge or support invoked by the Gemara from a verse: “But that’s not what the pasuk means!” Rav Cooperman’s objective in much of what he taught and in this sefer was to show his students and readers that with a carefully guided reading, based on understanding the methodology of how the Torah expresses itself, we can see that the final halachah squares with the “Pshuto Shel Mikra.” He emphasized that by looking at the particular idioms of Tanach— the “signon hamikra”—and working with the assumption that Chazal saw the text in the same nuanced way, we can bridge the seeming chasm between midrash and mikra. Rav Cooperman’s world of study is a completely enclosed and synchronous one, working with the text as if it were all composed at a single time, outside of and unaffected by history. He uses midrashei Chazal to explain midrashei Chazal. This is, perhaps, a weakness in the approach, and one that will limit those who are persuaded by his arguments. They will be limited both by their inability
to respond to challenges from outside of that viewpoint, as well as in their own breadth of understanding. Nonetheless, for those who view the text of the Torah as ahistorical and unimpacted and uninformed by external considerations—such as philology, cultural influences, world history, et cetera—this will be a delightful read. It is important to note that Rav Cooperman does not shy away from challenging issues, whether textual or ideational. Just to whet our appetites, here are a few gems: Commenting on the statement in Shemot 6:20 that Amram married his aunt (a post-Sinaitic prohibition [see Vayikra 18:12]), Rav Cooperman cites the commentary of Ba’alei haTosafot who note that “since Moshe was born from his father’s aunt, therefore the punishment of karet [spiritual excommunication] was not written in connection with the ervah of an aunt, out of respect for him.” He interweaves a perceptive explanation of this comment (and expands it to include the problem of Yaakov’s marriage to two sisters) with earlier comments of Ibn Ezra and Rabbeinu Bachya; he then cites Abarbanel’s objection that since these prohibitions were given at Sinai, we wouldn’t expect a punishment meted out to anyone who “violated” them prior to that point. Addressing
this, Rav Cooperman builds on an approach proposed by the Maharal that even though these great men lived before the giving of the Torah, and therefore were not technically obligated to observe the commandments, their stature demanded that they observe those laws that they knew through Ruach Hakodesh would one day be prohibited. Assuming that the mitzvot, in all of their details, were known to the Avot and other generational leaders in Egypt, we then view their having married an aunt or two sisters as a “heter,” a “permit” to violate an ideal (which was, in any case, permitted to them). He then boldly avers that “the heter reflects the madreigah” and that not everything permitted to the commoner is permitted to someone of great standing. In this mini tour-de-force, the author demonstrates both erudition and near-encyclopedic knowledge of the relevant commentators, spanning the entire post-Biblical corpus of commentary. In one of his chapters on Parashat Bo, Rav Cooperman addresses issues of literary structure. Commenting on Shemot 12:15, “For seven days you shall eat matzah but on the first day you shall destroy chametz from your houses, for anyone who eats chametz will be cut off from Yisrael, from the first day until the seventh day,” he points out the awkward syntax at the end of the verse which implies that karet is a punishment that lasts seven days! Invoking the Ketav VehaKabbalah by Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (clearly one of his favorite nineteenth-century commentators), he introduces the notion of a parenthetical clause (ma’amar musgar) in the Torah. Rabbi Mecklenburg reads Shemot 12:15 as follows: Topic A: “For seven days you shall eat matzah” (Topic B: “but on the first day you shall destroy chametz from your houses”); Explication to Topic A: [the reason for eating matzah]—“for anyone who eats chametz will be cut off from Yisrael”; (Explication to Topic B: [the time frame for destroying chametz] “from the first day until the seventh day.”) At the end of this chapter, Rav Cooperman also introduces Ibn Ezra’s approach, which sees numerous
It is important to note that Rav Cooperman does not shy away from challenging issues, whether textual or ideational. verses as chiasms (a literary structure patterned as A-B-B-A and so forth, although curiously he doesn’t use that term), and he uses Ibn Ezra’s commentary on Shemot 17:7 as an example: “He called the place (a) masah and (b) merivah over the (b) quarreling [riv] of Bnei Yisrael and over (a) their testing [nasotam] Hashem.” One final example highlighting Rav Cooperman’s breadth and depth—and innovative approach— is his explanation of a seemingly trivial verse in the beginning of Sefer Devarim. Moshe begins his farewell speech with a recap of the history of the past year of travel, recounting the travels on the East bank of the Jordan River, most of which are detailed in the narrative in Parashat Chukat. In Devarim 2:13, Moshe quotes Hashem as commanding them: “kumu ve’ivru lachem et nachal Zared—arise and cross over the Zered ravine.” Rav Cooperman poses a question which a sensitive reader of Tanach, especially one who has been sensitized by deep engagement with midrashei Chazal and Rashi’s commentary, would ask: what is the purpose of the word lachem (for you) in this verse? He then takes us back to perhaps the most famous instance of this phenomenon, “lech lecha” (Bereishit 12:1), and notes Rashi’s comment there—“lecha: for your benefit and for your good.” Rav Cooperman asks why Rashi does not comment on lachem here in Devarim (in fact, the word lachem is completely omitted in the dibbur hamat’chil). He then cites the Maharal (again demonstrating his deep familiarity with the supercommentaries on Rashi) and, with a brief apologia, disagrees with the Maharal and proceeds to
present an elegant presentation which Rav Cooperman refers to as “Torat Rashi”; to wit, Rashi’s overall goal in writing his commentary. He maintains that even though Rashi’s method was to resolve peshuto shel mikra (note: what this means is subject to serious debate. See Ibn Ezra’s comments near the beginning of his Safah Berurah; Sarah Kamin’s work Rashi: Pshuto Shel Mikra uMidrasho Shel Mikra [Jerusalem, 2000] has a clear, comprehensive presentation of the issues and approaches), Rav Cooperman maintained that Rashi’s broad goal in composing his commentary was to “bequeath to the Jewish People a body of knowledge that contains the information and outlook of ‘Torah culture’ which Rashi feels is essential and indispensable for a person who learns Chumash” (p. 649). Based on this, he argues that Rashi’s omitting a comment on lachem in Devarim 2:13 is because he didn’t have an answer that would be “appropriate to include in his peirush” (ibid.). Even though much of his energy is focused on Rashi’s commentary and his use of midrashei Chazal, Rav Cooperman had many major mainstream commentators (within what the twentieth century considered to be “mainstream”) at his fingertips, and utilized them wisely and effectively to build his methodologic arguments as well as his defense of the harmony between Torah Shebe’al Peh and Torah Shebichtav. The translation is consistent and clear, and Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein is to be applauded for doing a yeoman’s job of presenting his chavruta and teacher to those in the English-speaking world who did not have the merit of attending Michlalah (or of marrying one of Rav Cooperman’s thousands of talmidot). Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
REVIEWS IN BRIEF
By Gil Student WIDEN YOUR TENT: Thoughts on Life, Integrity & Joy By Rabbi Micha Berger Mosaica Press Beit Shemesh, Israel, 2019 395 pages
abbi Shimon Shkop was one of the great roshei yeshivah of Europe. A student of Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, he had a brilliant mind and clarity of expression that left a lasting impression in yeshivah study halls. When Reb Shimon’s yeshivah was forced to close during World War I, he wrote a two-volume sefer titled Sha’arei Yosher on the most difficult subjects in Jewish monetary law. This sefer incisively and insightfully explains the views of great halachic authorities throughout the ages, using Reb Shimon’s conceptual approach, a uniquely philosophical variant of his teacher’s Brisker method. Sha’arei Yosher, now a staple of yeshivah libraries, contains an often overlooked introduction analyzing the commandment to be holy: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 19:2). What does God’s holiness have to do with our attempts to be holy people? How do we achieve this daunting task? Reb Shimon offers a characteristically unique and brilliant approach to answering these questions. According to Reb Shimon, the commandment to become holy “includes the entire foundation and root of the purpose of our lives.” In Widen Your Tent, Rabbi Micha Berger translates this introduction and provides a lengthy expansion Rabbi Gil Student writes frequently on Jewish issues and runs Torahmusings.com. He serves as Jewish Action's book editor.
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and commentary on Reb Shimon’s ideas so that contemporary readers can understand the full context and scope of Reb Shimon’s ethical project. To Reb Shimon, holiness lies not in withdrawal from society and worldly pleasures, but in active involvement in community. If every single act in our lives is dedicated either directly or indirectly to helping others, we will be set apart—holy, as God is holy. This attitude does not limit the relevance of ritual commandments or focus on the self. Rabbi Berger invokes the teachings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe and many others to explain Reb Shimon’s approach to mitzvot and musar. In this book—full of Talmudic examples and conceptual explanations, comfortable to yeshivah students yet accessible to novices—Rabbi Berger details a complete worldview built on determined self-improvement, dedication to excellence in Torah learning and devotion to communal service. Widen Your Tent excites the intellect while challenging the reader to become a better Jew.
they must provide guidance on these elemental parts of our daily lives. Leading the way, Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman, a rosh yeshivah at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University, generated a breakthrough in halachic literature to fill this vacuum. Using his vast breadth of knowledge in the gamut of Torah
This is one of the most important books on Jewish speech available today.
genres, and thorough research of sociological literature on the subject, he presents a conceptual view of lashon hara, forbidden speech, that explains how people communicate today and what Jewish law and **** ethics have to say about it. Section headings include: “The Fallibility of Memory,” “The Illusion of Confidence,” FALSE FACTS “Confidence Biases and Disproportionate AND TRUE Influence,” “Confirmation Bias,” “The RUMORS Online Disinhibition Effect” and more. Combining Jewish law and By Rabbi Daniel an understanding of contemporary Z. Feldman social interaction, this is one of the Maggid Books most important books on Jewish Jerusalem, 2015 speech available today, showing not 356 pages just how to apply the laws, but why echnological advances lie all around they are more relevant now than ever. People are quick to point out us in nearly every aspect of our lives. that the laws of lashon hara can be Perhaps more than other aspects, our methods of communication are wrapped abused to stifle constructive criticism. Indeed, despite the severity of sinful tightly with new technologies. For good reasons, rabbis generally find themselves lashon hara, a modern society cannot function without open lines of playing catch-up on the ethical communication. How can we vote implications of new developments. But
without knowing about the candidate? How can we choose a school for our children without knowing the relative quality of education in different schools? In a chapter titled “Contemporary Culture: Journalism, the Internet and Politics,” Rabbi Feldman explores the implications of his opening remarks that, on the one hand, “to become informed and to inform others regarding these areas, especially in a democratic society, seems to be well within the bounds of purposeful and necessary speech.” But on the other hand, “this justification does not detract from the vigilance and sensitivity required by the precepts involving lashon hara.” The existence of permitted negative speech does not permit all negative speech. The Internet age does not permit lashon hara but demands proper understanding and application. Much of the laws of lashon hara depend on the reactions of the speaker and listener. Combining the insights of musar giants and contemporary psychologists, Rabbi Feldman describes the biases, subjectivities and feelings that define our interactions with others and form the framework of the laws of lashon hara. As communication technologies experience one revolution after another, not only do they not defy the laws of lashon hara, but they demonstrate the eternal need for ethical guidelines. **** ETERNAL FIRE OF SEFER VAYIKRA By Rabbi Aaron Sonnenschein ArtScroll/Shaar Press Brooklyn, New York, 2018 500 pages
he Book of Vayikra is an intimidating course of study with its discussion of a wide variety of sacrifices, impurities and laws of holiness. We can’t really relate to these laws that have not been observed for two thousand years. Some of us are confused by the different terms and concepts when they appear in the weekly Torah reading. Instead of gaining an understanding of the overall picture, we focus on key verses and phrases for which we find clever or inspirational interpretations. In other words, we give up on truly understanding the Book of Vayikra. Rabbi Aaron Sonnenschein has produced a remarkable commentary designed to teach Vayikra to the layman. He collected the peshat commentaries for translating the verse and supplemented them with halachic background and detail. In this way, the reader learns not just the meaning of the verse but the context of the laws. Vayikra should not be an obscure book. At one point in time, these laws were implemented and almost anyone visiting Jerusalem could see how they were practiced. Although we cannot do that today, Eternal Fire of Sefer Vayikra offers an accessible and organized explanation of what
each set of laws entails and how they can be followed. For example, in the Talmud, we find that the geography of the Temple is very important. Where something occurs in the Temple courtyard—east, north, et cetera—is very significant. However, these terms don’t always appear in an easily recognizable way. When there is a textual cue, Rabbi Sonnenschein explains the implications for where a specific act should take place—such as the slaughtering of a sacrifice, which is done “before Hashem,” meaning in the east courtyard, north of the altar (Vayikra 1:26). Even when there is no textual hint, he explains the procedure so we can visualize the actions and movements of the priests as they performed the service. The topic of blemishes (nega’im) is particularly difficult to master. The terminology seems like a list of synonyms. Rabbi Sonnenschein divides the topics, defines the terms and summarizes the discussions of medieval and modern halachic authorities. After completing this work, the reader might not emerge as an expert in the laws related to sacrifices and impurities, but he will have a grasp of the subject. Eternal Fire demystifies Vayikra by breaking it down into discrete topics, and providing the broader halachic context in accessible language and a pleasant format so the reader can gain an understanding of the elusive of the Five Books of Moses. JAmost 3.75x5
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Spring 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION
MILK for PESACH
osher for Passover food is now so abundant, thanks largely to OU Kosher, that we take it for granted. Of course, it wasn’t always so. In England, where I grew up, the years of the Second World War (1939-1945) were a time of hardship and deprivation. Food, clothing and many other items were often in short supply and were rationed due to the war effort. Orthodox Jewish housewives would trade the bacon, ham and other treif foodstuff coupons in their ration books with their non-Jewish neighbors for coupons for butter, eggs and other items they could use. In 1940 most young children were evacuated out of the larger cities when the German Blitz began. They were billeted with families in the safety of the countryside while bombs fell night after night on London and elsewhere, injuring and killing tens of thousands and destroying large swaths of homes and businesses. Many Jewish children, often to their dismay, found themselves placed in non-Jewish homes. The foster parents, however well-meaning, had probably never met a Jew before, but at the very least usually realized that serving the children bacon for breakfast would not make them feel at home. To its credit, the organized Jewish community realized that it was faced with an unprecedented, multi-faceted problem and struggled to meet the challenge, although understandably not always with great success. Besides trying to make kosher food supplies available wherever Jews were then to be found, great efforts were made to continue the children’s Jewish education, which was obviously vital given the circumstances in which many of them now lived.
JEWISH ACTION Spring 5780/2020
By David Olivestone Since they had three small sons aged eight, four and one (I was born later, toward the end of the war), my parents were evacuated with their family and were able to find a tiny house in Bovingdon, a small Hertfordshire village about thirty miles outside London. They were probably the first—and last—Jews ever to live there. During the week, my father worked in London in a factory making parachutes for the Royal Air Force, often also serving as a nighttime fire warden, directing the fire brigade to where fires had broken out due to the bombings. He would come to Bovingdon for Shabbat, bringing whatever kosher food he could obtain. Two frum teenage German refugee sisters were also living with my parents. They had come to England in the Kindertransport program and were placed in a Jewish group home. Since the home had no facilities for Pesach, the girls were sent to stay with a Jewish family for the week. But on arrival at their hosts, they very quickly realized that the home was not really kasher l’Pesach, and they telephoned the director of the group home asking to be placed elsewhere. His initial reaction was that it would be impossible to find another host family so close to yom tov, whereupon the girls told him that he had better send two hearses right after Pesach as they would perish from starvation by that time. Somehow, my parents were contacted, and the girls ended up living with them for over two years. My father was able to get matzot and some Pesachdik ingredients for my mother to cook with, but was faced with the challenge of how to obtain fresh milk. So he took a very tall glass vase and kashered it for Pesach. (This is not done much these days, but in Europe it was common for glassware to
be kashered by soaking it in cold water for three days, changing the water every twenty-four hours.) He put the vase into my brother’s baby carriage and wheeled it off to a local farm. So that he could be certain the milk would be kasher l’Pesach, he asked the farmer to milk directly from one of his cows into the vase. Whatever he might have thought of this request, the farmer was quite willing, but he had a problem. How would he know how much milk my father was taking and therefore how much to charge him? He proposed using his one-pint milk dipper to fill the vase with water, counting the number of pints it contained. For my father, this raised a red flag. Even though he was quite aware that there was only a remote possibility that this procedure would make the vase—and the milk— chametzdik, he was taking no chances and had to come up with another plan. He suggested to the farmer that they first fill the vase with water, and then pour it from the vase into the dipper as many times as it would take. The problem was solved, and the milking commenced. When the vase was full my father paid the farmer and trundled it back home with its precious cargo, and the family had milk for yom tov. But when Chol Hamo’ed came they needed more milk. Off went my father to the same farmer with the big vase in the carriage. Once again, he asked him to follow exactly the same procedure and to milk straight from the cow into the vase. “Righto,” said the farmer in his agreeable manner, “but does it have to be the same cow?” David Olivestone, a member of Jewish Action’s Editorial Committee and a frequent contributor to the magazine, lives in Jerusalem with his wife Ceil.
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