THE MAGAZINE OF THE ORTHODOX UNION
VOLUME 74, NO. 4 • $5.50
ERICA BROWN • EFREM GOLDBERG DANIEL FRIEDMAN • JACOB J. SCHACTER • DAPHNA RASKAS JERRY SILVERMAN • STEVEN WEIL
Join hundreds of NCSYers, alumni, staff, advisors, parents and supporters from across the world in a global learn-a-thon to complete Kol HaTorah Kulah (all of Tanach, Mishna and Gamara) and raise $1,000,000 in honor of2 6 # 60th anniversary!
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To sign up to learn or sponsor someone, visit learn.ncsy.org For questions and dedication opportunities, please contact Rina Emerson at firstname.lastname@example.org
S U M M E R 5 7 74 / 2 0 1 4
61 Safeguarding Our Vertical
Mesorah in an Increasingly Horizontal World By Daphna Raskas
10 Q & A with Allen Fagin
By Mayer Fertig 14 The Mizinke Dance: Tradition,
Folklore or Other? Exploring one of the most puzzling rituals at a Jewish wedding By Reuven G. Becker
64 Reclaiming the
Disappearing Center By Daniel Friedman 66 Lessons from Pew
By Jerry Silverman 20 SPECIAL SECTION
THE REBBE 21 An Unparalleled Leader By Jonathan Sacks
HUMOR 68 The Pew Report’s Lesser-Known Cousin: The Phew Report By Dovid Bashevkin
26 Why the Lubavitch Movement
Thrives in the Absence of a Living Rebbe By Jack Wertheimer 30 The Rebbe and the Rav
By Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff 36 The Contributions of the
Lubavitcher Rebbe to Torah Scholarship By Tzvi Hersh Weinreb
DEPARTMENTS 2 LETTERS
V O L . 74 , N O . 4
INSIDE THE OU 76 Deaf-blind Get “In Touch”
with Halachah Our Way’s “Illuminating” New Sefer By Bayla Sheva Brenner 77 Book Launch Held for
Letters from President Clinton THE CHEF’S TABLE 78 Summertime—The Garden of Eatin’!
By Norene Gilletz BOOKS 82 The Unexpected Road: Storied
Jewish Lives Around the World By Rabbi Hillel Goldberg Reviewed by Leah R. Lightman 83 Reviews in Brief
6 PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE
The Holocaust Jew By Martin Nachimson 8 CHAIRMAN’S MESSAGE
Gerald M. Schreck JUST BETWEEN US 70 What Exactly Is It That God Hears?
By David Olivestone
By Gil Student LEGAL-EASE 85 What’s the Truth About . . .
Giving A Levi the First Aliyah? By Ari Z. Zivotofsky LASTING IMPRESSIONS 88 Ora’s Light
By Judy Gruen
40 A Life Unexpected:
Frum and Childless By Bayla Sheva Brenner
72 On and Off the Beaten Track
44 COVER STORY
After Pew: What Will It Take to Save American Jewry?
Cover illustration: Bryan Christie Design LLC
in . . . Yad Vashem—Israel’s National Holocaust Memorial By Peter Abelow
45 Taking Our Cue from Pew
By Steven Weil 50 Jonah’s Sukkah and the Pew Study
By Erica Brown
52 A Wake-up Call
By Efrem Goldberg 58 It Really Matters
By Jacob J. Schacter
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. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY, and additional offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Jewish Action, 11 Broadway, New York, NY 10004.
Summer 5774/2014 JEWISH ACTION 1
THE MAGAZINE OF THE ORTHODOX UNION www.ou.org/jewish_action
Hebrew: The Great Debate g
In Rabbi Seth Mandel’s “The Real Story of Hebrew Pronunciation” (spring 2014), he writes, “As with other languages, Hebrew changed over time.” I disagree. While other languages experienced natural evolution (for example, the evolution of Latin to French), Hebrew was a language in exile for thousands of years, in which it experienced unnatural changes. In exile, which our Sages teach was a punishment for our sins, Jews would drop Hebrew sounds not used in the local vernaculars or they would assimilate Hebrew sounds to local sounds. That is how Ashkenazim lost the ayin, the kof, the thav, et cetera. As a result, the Hebrew spoken in Israel today is bereft of ten of its original twenty-eight consonants. As Rabbi Mandel notes, if one can differentiate between, for example, an ayin and an aleph, one must. Yet, many Jews can now differentiate between such letters. Today there are sound files on numerous web sites that demonstrate the lost sounds. English speakers would have an advantage in picking up several of them, for they can easily distinguish between tav and thav (tav without a dagesh), between a daleth with and without a dagesh (the latter pronounced as the “th” in “them”), between a veth and vav. Israelis, who are accustomed to hearing Arabic, can pick up the other sounds, such as cheth, ayin, teth and kof. Finally, the article contains a few inaccuracies. Not all Sepharadim pronounce the tav without a dagesh as a “t”; Baghdadi Jews pronounce it as “thav,” like the Yemenites and the Greek Sepharadim. There are Sepharadim who distinguish between beth and veth. Rabbi Mandel argues that it is impossible from written records alone to exactly reproduce
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the Hebrew pronunciation from 2,000 or 3,000 years ago. One can, however, come much closer than we do today, and not by relying on written records alone. We have much evidence from the living examples of the Hebrew spoken by Jews in communities around the world (not just the Yemenite and Baghdadi pronunciations), each of which retained certain authentic aspects of our Holy Tongue. We also have evidence from written records and oral evidence from related languages, all distilled by the work of linguists. Even if we cannot be perfect, we can do much better. It is time to heal our Holy Tongue. ARTHUR G. SAPPER Silver Spring, Maryland
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The articles by Rabbis Mandel (“The Real Story of Hebrew Pronunciation”) and Jack Abramowitz (“Fighting the Taf Guys”) were very informative and enlightening. I would like to add to Rabbi Abramowitz’s concerns over the Sepharadic/Ashkenazic confusion. It is my experience that those Ashkenazic day schools that have chosen to teach their young students tefillah and Chumash in the so-called Sepharadic pronunciation have produced students who do not know either pronunciation system. I have heard countless adults daven for the amud and inadvertently switch from one pronunciation to the other. It is not uncommon to hear them pronounce the word “sosuru” (double saf) in Keriyat Shema as “tasuru.” And forget about Kaddish—that is a total mess. I agree fully with Rabbi Abramowitz. Let Ashkenazim be Ashkenazim and Sepharadim be Sepharadim.
RABBI YOEL SCHONFELD Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills Flushing, New York
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ORTHODOX UNION Executive Vice President/Chief Professional Officer Allen I. Fagin Executive Vice President, Emeritus Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb Senior Managing Director Rabbi Steven Weil Chief Communications Officer Mayer Fertig Chief Financial Officer/Chief Administrative Officer Shlomo Schwartz Chief Human Resources Officer Lenny Bessler Chief Information Officer Samuel Davidovics President Martin Nachimson Chairman of the Board Stephen J. Savitsky Chairman, Board of Governors Mark Bane Communications Commission Gerald M. Schreck, Chairman Joel M. Schreiber, Chairman Emeritus Barbara Lehmann Siegel; Dr. Herbert Schlager; Rabbi Gil Student; Michael C. Wimpfheimer © Copyright 2014 by the Orthodox Union. Eleven Broadway, New York, NY, 10004. Telephone 212.563.4000 • www.ou.org Periodicals Postage Paid, New York, NY, and at additional mailing offices.
Rabbi Mandel is correct in pointing out that there is a variety of Hebrew that may be called Yeshivish Hebrew, which developed in the Lithuanian yeshivos. In the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, many bachurim from Poland and Ukraine came to Mir and Volozhin (including Chaim Nachman Bialik). It is unlikely that they were influenced by the dictates of secular Yiddishist prescriptions. It is much more likely that their dialects simply mixed with those of their Lithuanian rashei yeshivos, producing a new variety of Hebrew. This type of mix is known in linguistics as a koine. This word is derived from the name given to the meld of Greek dialects spoken in Eretz Yisrael in ancient times. My memories of teachers who came from the Mir in Shanghai to Australia during and after the Second World War support the notion above that this variety developed well before the Holocaust. MESHULLAM KLARBERG PhD in Linguistics Modi’in Illit, Israel
Rabbi Seth Mandel Responds g
I thank all the letter writers for their thoughtful comments. Due to space constraints, I did not mention the distinctions between Sepharadic pronunciations or other pronunciation systems such as German and Eastern European. Those interested in an exhaustive treatment of the subject should look up “Pronunciations of Hebrew” in the Encyclopaedia Judaica. I also deliberately avoided any prescriptive comments, such as “people should pronounce the soft tav as ‘th.’” (I can just imagine all the enraged townsfolk coming after me with pitchforks for suggesting their pronunciations are not correct!) The point that Hebrew evolved cannot solely be attributed to the fact that it was a language in exile. The Gemara tells us that the residents of Beit She’an did not pronounce the ayin. Similarly, the Samaritans, who never left Israel, don’t distinguish between a heh and an aleph. Rabbi Schonfeld brings up an important linguistic point. Mixing Ashkenazic and Sepharadic pronunciations is comparable to mixing elements from French, Spanish and Romanian, essentially creating a new language. Saying “tasuru” instead of “sosuru” or “taturu” is linguistically inconsistent, loses distinctions important to either tradition and changes the meaning of the word.
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Finally, as Dr. Klarberg concedes, there exists a new variety of Hebrew pronunciation known as “Yeshivish” that no one used in Europe. Although the adoption of Standard Yiddish pronunciation was documented by YIVO, the Yeshivish pronunciation has never been investigated. The arguments for the source being the Yiddish standard pronunciation are twofold: Firstly, not a single rosh yeshivah from Europe whom I have heard speak used Yeshivish Hebrew; they all used the Lithuanian or Polish pronunciation of Hebrew. If Yeshivish Hebrew were the result of the influence of Polish or Galitzianer bachurim in Lithuanian yeshivos, one would expect some of the European rashei yeshivos to have used Yeshivish Hebrew as well. Secondly, Yeshivish pronunciation is exactly the same as the Standard Yiddish pronunciation, which would be very strange assuming, as our letter writer does, that they each developed at different times by different groups.
NCSY at Sixty g
I greatly enjoyed the trip down memory lane with NCSY (“NCSY Turns Sixty,” by Bayla Sheva Brenner, spring 2014) but was disappointed that among those mentioned who were so instrumental in NCSY’s success in its early days, the name of my father, Rabbi Nachman Bulman, a”h, was not included. My father was very involved in the founding of NCSY when he was a rabbi in South Fallsburg, New York, in the fifties and also when he served as rabbi in Danville and later Newport News, both cities in Virginia, in the fifties and sixties. In the past several years, both the Danville and Newport News communities have held fiftyyear reunions that were attended by hundreds of former Virginians, many of whom were active as teenagers in the Virginia region of NCSY—which I remember as the best region there ever was! Most of those former
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teenagers are now grandparents and even great-grandparents. The shuls in those cities are but memories, and the former NCSY members are scattered in all directions, but they boast literally thousands of Torah-observant descendants living all over America and Israel. I have in my possession a letter dated October 9, 2002, that Rabbi Pinchas Stolper, the founding director of NCSY, wrote to my mother, a”h, after my father’s passing: Rabbi Bulman was a major factor in the success of NCSY, especially in the early days when the doubters outweighed the supporters. He influenced thousands of young American kids to turn to the Torah. Rav Bulman was one of the very few and first of American rabbonim who, when exposed to the NCSY phenomenon, believed in it, participated in it, understood its power, and was fully committed to do all he could to insure its success. Rav Bulman’s sessions at conventions, especially at national conventions, which both of you attended many times, were spiritually magical. He had the genius to be intellectual, scholarly, mystical, enthusiastic, warm and demanding; all at the very same time. He knew how to talk to American kids who were without [a religious] background, and to reach them. His stirring and emotional voice, filled with intellect and brilliance, reached deeply into their souls. There was always a certain magic about him. He lives in my mind, in my consciousness, and in the minds and consciousness of the untold tens of thousands on whom he left an indelible and eternal mark. When the former teenagers of NCSY tell their grandchildren about the old days, I hope my father’s name will always be remembered. TOBY KATZ North Miami Beach, Florida
Jewish Action Wins Four Rockower Awards Jewish Action won four Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism for work produced in 2013. The prestigious awards, referred to as the “Jewish Pulitzers,” are sponsored by the American Jewish Press Association, which holds a journalism competition for leading Jewish magazines and newspapers from across the country. The entries are judged by a panel of judges with expertise in journalism, writing/reporting, editing, graphic design and cartooning in both the Jewish and non-Jewish media. Jewish Action won first place for Excellence in Single Commentary in the newspaper and magazine category for “The Decline of the Rabbinic Sermon” by Zev Eleff. The magazine also won first place for The Jacob Rader Marcus Award for Journalistic Excellence in American Jewish History for “The Guru of Kashrut: Rabbi Alexander S. Rosenberg and the Transformation of Kashrut in America” by Professor Timothy D. Lytton. The article “The Courage to Serve: A Chareidi Girl in the IDF” by Fayga Marks, won two awards: first place for Excellence in Personal Essay and second place for Excellence in Writing about Women. The awards ceremony will be held in Washington D.C. in November.
By Martin Nachimson
The Holocaust Jew I
n this issue of Jewish Action, we invited a number of erudite rabbis, thinkers and educators to reflect on the implications of the Pew Research Center’s “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” released this past fall, for the Orthodox community. We cannot simply look at the devastating data regarding escalating intermarriage and assimilation, shrug our shoulders and move on. We have a responsibility and a duty as committed Jews who care about the Jewish future to respond to these findings passionately and effectively. One of the most startling findings of the Pew report, to my mind, is not the 71 percent intermarriage rate, dire as it is. While the rising intermarriage rate is deeply distressing, it was not unforeseen. Anyone familiar with what is taking place on college campuses and in Jewish communities across the country—aside from the few strong Orthodox enclaves—knows that Jewish young people are intermarrying at a dizzying rate and have little tolerance for those who would question their choice. And while the vibrancy of Orthodox life, as indicated in the study, is certainly wonderful, it is also not news. We know this from observing our own flourishing day schools and communities. So which statistic surprised me? A statistic that, while overlooked by many, says much about the state of contemporary American Jewry. The Pew survey asked respondents to answer the following: What is essential to your sense of Jewishness? An astounding 73 percent of respondents said that remembering the Holocaust is essential. Put simply, for the majority of Jewish Americans, being Jewish does not mean believing in God, or keeping mitzvot, or caring about Israel; it means remembering the Holocaust. Is the Holocaust truly a compelling enough reason to be Jewish? Is it enough of a reason to want to remain Jewish? To marry Jewish? To raise children as Jews? I think not. Picture the typical twenty-something-year-old unaffili-
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ated Jew. Will he really conclude that he cannot marry his non-Jewish girlfriend because six million of his people perished in the concentration camps? Is that a realistic expectation? So much of secular Jewish education centers on Holocaust education, on Jewish suffering. Thus, it’s quite understandable why, according to the Pew study, young Jews are fleeing from Judaism, and that one of the fastest- growing segments of the Jewish population is the unaffiliated. What does Judaism offer these young people aside from sadness, grief, memorials and Holocaust museums? Let me be clear: I’m not saying that Holocaust memorials and museums are unimportant; what I am saying is that they do little to stem the tide of Jewish assimilation. We—the Orthodox community—have failed our secular brethren by not educating them about the joy, beauty and optimism in Jewish life. Most of our unaffiliated brothers and sisters have never witnessed the joyful serenity of a Shabbat meal, replete with piping hot chulent, spirited zemirot and intelligent Torah conversation. Most have never been exposed to the deep and lasting satisfaction that comes from living a life that centers on religion, a life punctuated by holidays and rituals, a life rich with meaning and purpose. To be sure, there are periods in the Jewish calendar that commemorate sad, tragic events. In fact, as I write this piece, we are in the midst of Sefirah, a period of time when we mourn the premature death of 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students. In a few weeks from now, we will relive the loss of the Batei Mikdash and enter a national period of mourning beginning with the Three Weeks and culminating in Tishah B’Av. But overall, Judaism is a religion of hope, optimism and happiness. The essence of Jewish life is not the despair and anguish of the Holocaust but the hope, positivity and joy that permeate the teachings of the Torah and gave Jews over the millennia a genuine reason to be Jewish. g
Photo courtesy Yeshiva University
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By Gerald M. Schreck
ot too many readers understand what it takes to come up with an eighty-eight-page full-color thought-provoking magazine, issue after issue, year after year. But since we recently learned that Jewish Action won four Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism for work produced in 2013, I decided to give our readers a rare behind-thescenes look at the generally confidential editorial process. (See the Letters section for a list of the awards.) Incidentally, this is the third year in which Jewish Action has participated in the Rockower Awards competition, sponsored by the American Jewish Press Association (AJPA), and it has been honored each of the three years. The process of conceiving of each issue of Jewish Action takes place in a small conference room at 11 Broadway in downtown Manhattan, the OU headquarters, where the talented members of our editorial team gather around the table to try to come up with meaningful topics that speak to the contemporary Orthodox Jew. The next steps center mostly around our capable editor, Nechama Carmel, and her diligent assistant editor, Rashel Zywica. Articles are assigned to authors and the process of photo research begins. When the articles come in, they are reviewed by the board; suggestions are made. Sometimes the author needs to revise the piece, sometimes the editor rewrites. Once the articles are ready, our assistant editor begins the process of fact checking, making sure all names are spelled correctly, titles are accurate, et cetera. Articles are then edited for clarity, grammar and spelling. Once the articles are fully edited, they are sent to layout where a designer works closely with the editorial staff to come up with winning layouts that accurately portray Gerald M. Schreck is the chairman of the OU Communications Commission.
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the various articles. Each article is then proofread at least two or three times, ads are inserted and finally, the magazine is sent to the printer! This rough outline of the editorial process does not, of course, tell of the hours spent editing and rewriting, of endless phone calls and e-mails between authors and editorial staff, of the thousands of small intricate details involved in getting an attractive glossy magazine to appear in your mailbox. Serving as chairman of the Communications Commission has been extraordinarily rewarding for me personally, not only because I get to work with people who share my passion for the written word, but because I know that for many of us on the team, creating a new magazine each quarter is far more than a job; it is a deeply satisfying calling. A few words about this issue’s cover story: I found many of the Pew report’s findings simply fascinating. I would, however, like to focus on one finding in particular—the Orthodox retention rate. While in earlier generations many who were raised Orthodox chose to leave Orthodoxy, this is no longer the case. The Pew study reported that among those 65 and older who were raised as Orthodox Jews, just 22 percent are still Orthodox. In stark contrast, 83 percent of Jewish adults under 30 who were raised Orthodox are still Orthodox.
Reviewing these findings, I cannot help but reflect on the days of my childhood. My friends and I, growing up in Williamsburg in the shadow of the Holocaust, came of age in the fifties and sixties, when the trend was to abandon Yiddishkeit. It was hard to relate to the rebbes, most of whom were broken Holocaust survivors who spoke Yiddish, and little, if any, English. Denied a childhood themselves, they could not understand our adolescent struggles, aspirations and hopes. Remarkably though, most of my classmates at Torah Vodaath are today fiercely committed Torah Jews. How did we manage to defy the statistics? In my mind, there is one overriding answer: Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Feldberg. An outstanding educator, Rabbi Feldberg, who taught us in the fifth and sixth grades, was a clear thinker and a kind, compassionate rebbe. Most impressive, he understood us. Our only American-born rebbe, he had traveled to Europe to study under the Chofetz Chaim in Radin. It left a tremendous impression on him, and the fact that he consistently radiated ahavat Yisrael was due, no doubt, to the Chofetz Chaim’s influence. Gemara came alive in Rabbi Feldberg’s class, perhaps because he also played sports with us and invited us to his home for get-togethers and Chanukah parties. Everyone wanted to be in Rabbi Feldberg’s class, not only because he would take us to Ebbets Field to watch the Dodgers play each year, but because he loved us, and we knew it. Reading about the 83 percent retention rate in the Pew report and how young people today are choosing to stay within the fold, I wondered how many Rabbi Feldbergs are out there in Jewish education today, and if perhaps they have anything to do with it. Best wishes to all of you for a wonderful summer. g
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By Mayer Fertig
Allen I. Fagin Mayer Fertig, chief communications officer of the Orthodox Union, converses with Allen Fagin, newly named executive vice president and chief professional officer of the OU.
Photo: M. Kruter
ver the past few years, the Orthodox Union has witnessed stunning growth. Multi-faceted and wide-ranging, the OU is today not only a leader in kashrut, certifying over 700,000 kosher products worldwide, it is a leader in youth work, reaching some 20,000 teenagers annually; in synagogue services, representing hundreds of OU shuls across the US and Canada; as well as a trailblazer in political advocacy, social and educational programing for Jews with disabilities, Jewish life on campus and so much more. With the unprecedented growth of the OU, the organizationâ€™s officers and Board determined that a new kind of professional leadership was necessary to steer the OU into the future, and concentrated their search on someone with significant management experience who would best serve the needs of this increasingly complex and expanding enterprise. With his strong management background and intimate involvement with the OU for decades, Allen Fagin, former chairman of Proskauer Rose LLP, was an obvious choice.
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Mayer Fertig: You have been an OU lay leader for decades. Despite the fact that you were a partner in a prestigious law firm, you dedicated so much of your time, energy and resources over the years to working on behalf of the klal. Why? Allen Fagin: I have been involved with the Orthodox Union ever since Shelly Rudoff, a”h, served as president of the Union from 1990 to 1994. Part of the reason I think I became so involved in klal work is because I am the only observant member of my family on both my mother’s and my father’s sides. I have always felt very fortunate to have had a yeshivah education. At the same time, I believe our community has an enormous obligation to reach out to others who have not had the same opportunity. On my wife’s side of the family, I saw remarkable dedication to klal work. For decades, my father-in-law, Max Rosenberg, a”h, served as chairman of the board at Yeshiva Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (Breuers). My mother-in-law’s father, Walter Joseph, a”h, was the first president of Khal Adath Jeshurun in Washington Heights when it was re-established in the United States. I think much of what I learned about being osek b’tzarchei tzibbur I learned from my in-laws, Max and Elizabeth Rosenberg, a”h. MF: How do you find the transition from lay leader to chief professional officer? What have you learned about the OU that you didn’t know before? AF: It’s impossible for most people to realize the scope and breadth of what the OU does, day in and day out. Since I took on this position right before Pesach, I’ve had numerous meetings with the heads of our various departments. To really grasp what the OU does, you need the kind of unique opportunity that I have had: spending several weeks going from program head to program head, from staff member to staff member, learning what each one does every day. We all know, for example, that the OU sponsors this extraordinary youth movement called NCSY. Without spending time understanding how many different programs NCSY runs, how many locations it serves and what these programs accomplish, you can’t get a sense of the enormity of NCSY. And the same is true of every one of our programs. MF: It is no secret that a lot of the OU’s activities are funded by our Kashrut services. Is there something about that that you wish more people knew? AF: I wish people understood that while kashrut does fund a substantial part of our operations, the shortfall between what we spend on programs and our kashrut revenue is huge. And that is just to run our current programs. There are really two gaps here: there is a gap between what we cur-
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A well-known attorney and former chairman of Proskauer Rose LLP, one of the country’s most prestigious law firms, Allen Fagin has, over his almost fortyyear legal career, represented many distinguished companies including Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, UPS, AllianceBernstein, NBC, Met Life and Goldman Sachs, among others. He is a graduate of Ramaz in New York City, Columbia College (1971), Harvard Law School and the JFK School of Government at Harvard, where he received a JD and a master’s degree in public policy. He then served as a law clerk to the Hon. Robert L. Carter, United States district judge in the Southern District of New York. Mr. Fagin practiced law at Proskauer beginning in 1976, where he specialized in employment law, co-chairing Proskauer’s Labor and Employment Law Department for many years. He served as Proskauer’s chairman from 2005 to 2011. During that time, the firm grew to over 750 lawyers and approximately 1,500 employees and opened offices in London, Sao Paulo, Chicago and Hong Kong. A longtime lay leader of the Orthodox Union, Mr. Fagin retired from Proskauer at the end of 2013 in order to devote himself, as he puts it, “with far greater intensity to communal activity.”
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rently spend and the kashrut revenue that we use, which doesn’t begin to cover the full cost of what we’re doing, and then there is an even larger gap of what we could be doing with our existing programs with far greater support. One of the things that I have come to appreciate in the last few weeks is the number of really important programs that we can’t run. There are numerous programs that we can’t expand, campuses or communities where we can’t go—despite the fact that they may be desperate to have us there. This is certainly the case with respect to Yachad/NJCD, our program for individuals with disabilities, it’s true for NCSY, it’s true for our programs on college campuses . . . it’s true for all our programs. Our revenue stream doesn’t begin to cover our budget or to address the enormous unmet needs. MF: Good managers tend to leave their mark on an organization and your experience at Proskauer would seem to indicate that you’re one of those. What are your primary objectives for the OU? AF: A critical part of my job is to import into the Orthodox Union sound management practices, including a robust program of professional development so that every member of the staff feels that he or she is growing and learning. Succession planning, which in many ways is the most important responsibility of any chief executive officer, is another critical goal. This entails seeing to it that every head of a division and program has carefully considered who his or her replacement will be when he or she is no longer in the job. Another important objective is to take all of the OU programs and weave them together so that they form a single tapestry instead of a series of unique programs.
I also intend to work with the OU lay leadership and with professional staff to fine-tune our organizational mission, determine our goals and priorities and put into place an effective system of evaluating objectively whether programs we run are successful and cost effective. We have wonderfully talented lay leaders. Many of them have served in important lay capacities for substantial periods of time. It is vitally important that we continue to develop new leadership talent who will continue to steer the Union into the future. MF: There are so many different things that we do. Who is the OU’s constituency, in your mind? When you think about it, whom are we serving, and do you have any plans or feel a need to adjust our constituency? AF: I believe we have two constituencies. The first is our immediate constituency; we represent the Orthodox world—hundreds of Orthodox shuls and their members and the Orthodox communities that they in turn serve. We serve as a spokesperson for them and provide on a national level and international level many types of services for that community. But we also have a much broader constituency: the rest of Klal Yisrael. Many of our programs are, in effect, outreach programs to the rest of the Jewish world. If there is one significant lesson that we have learned from the results of studies like the Pew report, we know that while demographically the Orthodox community will continue to grow, unless something drastic changes, the balance of the larger Jewish community will shrink. That imposes a huge obligation on us as Orthodox Jews. We must try to address the rapid decline of American Jewry. Each individual must decide what his re-
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AF: From a professional point of view, I was heavily influenced by several of my partners in a variety of respects. I have been enormously lucky to have had several mentors while I was growing as a professional who pushed me, and had confidence in my abilities way before I knew I had them. In a more personal vein, I have been deeply influenced by my wife, Judy, an extraordinary woman—a remarkable wife and grandmother and a phenomenal educator. She was the head of school at Ramaz for many years and now serves, post retirement, as the educational advisor to Magen David Yeshivah in Brooklyn. She’s had an enormous impact on me from the day we met. Probably one of the most significant influences on me religiously was Rabbi Joseph Grunblatt, a”h, of the Queens Jewish Center, who was my rav for many years. Rabbi Grunblatt was one of the most brilliant people I have ever known, whose brilliance was only matched by his sensitivity and menschlichkeit. He also had a serious influence on my understanding of what it means to be an osek b’tzarchei tzibbur. When I was relatively young and had comparatively little time, he asked me to become president of the shul. For a variety of reasons, I was trying to avoid taking that position. I told him my main hesitation was that I wouldn’t be able to sit next to my two young sons—who would sit next to them and show them how to behave in shul, how to daven? He turned to me and said something I did not understand at the time but which I clearly understand now: “They will learn far more from watching you sit at the front of the shul than you can teach them by sitting next to them.” I took the position, but it wasn’t until much later that I realized how very right he had been. g
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sponse will be. There are those who engage directly in outreach, and others who provide financial support to those who engage in such activities. As Modern Orthodox Jews, we in particular have an enormous opportunity and responsibility to influence our coreligionists. We must model appropriate behavior, language and speech. We represent Orthodoxy to unaffiliated Jews who oftentimes have no other contact with religious Jews. I spent forty years at a major international law firm. Many of my colleagues were Jewish, but very few were Orthodox. Given the fact that my colleagues knew I was Orthodox, it was particularly important for me to behave in a way that reflected positively on our community, in a way that was always respectful and welcoming.
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In the “mizinke,” otherwise known as the “broom dance,” the parents of the bride or groom sit together, while family and friends form a circle and dance around them to the tune of an upbeat Klezmer melody, “Di Mizinke Oysgegebn, The Youngest Daughter is Given Away.” Photo: Yehuda Boltshauser/Kuvien
The Mizinke Dance: TRADITION, FOLKLORE OR OTHER? Exploring one of the most puzzling rituals at a Jewish wedding • By Reuven G. Becker •
“Did you get to see the mizinke tantz?” my wife asked me while we were driving home from a wedding. “Yes,” I said. “My friend Shaindy was standing right next to me. She feels it’s taken from the secular Yiddish theatre and adapted from some non-Jewish ritual. What do you think?” she asked. A dance performed toward the end of the wedding, “the mizinke,” otherwise known as the “broom dance,” is increasingly popular in Orthodox circles. In the dance, the parents of the bride or groom sit together, while family and friends form a circle and dance around them to the tune of an upbeat Klezmer melody, “Di Mizinke Oysgegebn, The Youngest Daughter is Given Away.” Often a “crowning ceremony” takes place wherein the mother holds a broom and laurels are placed on the heads of both parents. Admittedly, there is something about the broom sweeping and the donning of laurels that seems foreign to Jewish culture.1 Laurels in particular conjure up images of Greek
gods. Nevertheless, the dance has become quite common at frum weddings. How did the dance become part of the Jewish wedding? I thought it would be valuable to research the matter and learn the facts rather than speculate. I first checked my bookshelves. The two-volume classic Invei HaGefen by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Paksher had no mention of the dance. Neither did Nitei Gavriel: Nisuin by Rabbi Gavriel Zinner nor The Minhagim: The Customs and Ceremonies of Judaism, Their Origins and Rationale by Rabbi Abraham Chill. Pursuing my research, I confronted my first big challenge: how do you spell the word? Is it “muzinke,” “mozinka,” “mizinke” or “mezynke”? I contacted Dr. Paul Glasser, former dean of the Max Weinreich Center for Advanced Jewish Study at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York. YIVO is the preeminent center for the study of East European Jewry and Yiddish. Dr. Glasser spelled the word for me in English (mizinke), and con-
A musmach of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, Rabbi Reuven G. Becker enjoys research, teaching and writing. If you would like to reach the author, please contact email@example.com.
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I decided to focus on Warshavsky and the song. Warshavsky was a famous Jewish folk singer and composer who was mentored by the great Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem. Together they were part of a circle of artists who frequented and performed in the cafes of Kiev. In addition to composing the words and lyrics to the mizinke song, Warshavsky also wrote the beautiful and familiar lullaby “Oyfn Pripetchik.” The mizinke song’s theme is very traditional (see the lyrics in the sidebar to this article)—thanking God for the joyous occasion and ensuring that food is provided for the poor. But I still had no leads about the dance. I contacted Zalman Alpert, reference librarian at Yeshiva University’s Mendel Gottesman Library of Hebraica/Judaica. Interestingly, Alpert told me he had recently researched the topic but didn’t come up with much. “There seemed to be a connection to Ukraine,” he said. “And so I inquired as to whether it was the practice among
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firmed that it is indeed a Yiddish word meaning “the youngest daughter.” He didn’t know the history of the dance, but referred me to Chana Mlotek, YIVO’s music archivist, who has since passed away. “Certainly I know the song,” she said, referring to “Di Mizinke Oysgegebn.” “Lyrics and music composed by Mark (Mordechai) Warshavsky in Kiev, 1901.” “That’s very helpful, but what about the dance?” “I don’t know anything about a dance.” Now that I had the correct spelling of the word, I proceeded to search a number of databases. I entered the word mizinke into the Bar Ilan University Responsa—Global Jewish Database, which contains commentaries, midrashim, hundreds of books of responsa and searchable text of 12,000 articles from various Torah periodicals and collections. This corpus represents more than 3,000 years of Jewish literary creativity. “No results found.” I then tried Otzar HaHochma, another well-respected digital library containing more than 62,000 Judaic books, scanned page after page in their original format. Again, “no results found.”
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Lyrics of “Di Mizinke Oysgegebn” Klezmer, hit the drums Who will cherish me now? Oy, oy, oy, God is great! He has, of course, blessed my house I’m giving my youngest daughter away I’m marrying off my youngest daughter. Stronger! Joyous! You the queen and I the king. Oy, oy, oy, I alone Have with my own eyes seen How God has made me prosperous I’m marrying off my youngest daughter. Stronger! Better! Make the circle bigger, God has brought me good fortune and joy. Rejoice, children, all night long I’m marrying off my youngest daughter. Dear Uncle Yosi and good Auntie Sosi, Sent me, for the groom’s meal, Expensive wine without end From the land of Israel, I’m marrying off my youngest daughter. Motl! Shimen! The poor folks have arrived. Set the nicest table for them Fine wine and fine fish, Oy vey, daughter, give me a kiss! I’m marrying off my youngest daughter. Ayzik! Mazik! Grandma is dancing a kozatzki, Don’t provoke the evil eye—but have a look How she taps, how she steps, Oy, such a simchah, such joy, I’m marrying off my youngest daughter. Itzik, you rascal! Why is your bow silent? Shout at the musicians, Are they playing or are they sleeping? Tear the strings in two, I’m marrying off my youngest daughter. Translation courtesy of Lorin Sklamberg, sound archivist, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.
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Skver Chassidut [that originated in a town called Skver in the Ukraine]. It was not.” I had planned a trip to Israel and looked forward to continuing my investigation there. I asked my relatives in Tel Aviv, a couple of Polish descent, about the custom. (He was a Holocaust survivor from the city of Ruzhan.) Yes, they had both seen the dance at religious weddings in Israel. But she was indignant. “I find it repulsive . . . Can you imagine, a dance to symThe original edition of Warbolize the sweeping of the children shavsky’s songs, including “Di out of the house? I welcome my Mizinke Oysgegebn,” pubchildren into my house with open lished with the assistance of arms.” The custom had not been Sholem Aleichem in 1901. Warpracticed in Ruzhan, a vibrant town shavsky was a famous Jewish of Mitnagdim and Chassidim before folk singer and composer. the war. Courtesy of YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Back in New York, I contacted a senior member of The National Yiddish Theatre—Folksbiene. I asked if the mizinke dance had appeared on the Yiddish screen or in theatre performances; perhaps this could explain its current popularity. “In all likelihood,” he said, “it did occur, as the chasuna [wedding] scene was a common theme and the newly arrived immigrants were seeking to connect and maintain a relationship with the culture they left behind in Eastern Europe. I don’t know offhand of any particular show [that featured the mizinke dance]. Identifying the specific production would be like finding a needle in a haystack. There is no index of the performances. You would have to start by going to the Library of Congress and sifting through all the event announcements and review them one by one.” Back to square one. Friends and acquaintances offered their own theories. “It’s total naarishkeit [nonsense], a Hungarian custom,” said one acquaintance of Polish descent. “We don’t do it. You’re not Hungarian, are you?” “It’s total naarishkeit, a Polish custom,” said another of Hungarian descent. “We don’t do it. You’re not Polish, are you?” No progress. I figured I would try my luck at the New York Public Library, renowned for its expansive research services. Miryem-Khaye Seigel, librarian at the Dorot Jewish Division of the New York Public Library, informed me that the mizinke appears to predate the era of Jewish film and theater in the US. She also gave me a listing of Jewish dance experts I could contact. I called the first name on the list, Judith Brin Ingber, a Jewish dance historian, writer, performer and educator residing in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We spoke and her colleague Helen Winkler from Toronto, Canada, the second name on the list, soon joined our discussions as well.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, Ukrainian wedding celebrations would extend for a number of days and on the last day of the celebration, it was the custom that parents be wheeled on a wagon to the local inn where they would frolic with their friends and family. "Woodcut from a painting," by Heorhii Bilashchenko, dated 1889, shows the parents being wheeled around the village wearing wreaths on the last day of the wedding celebration. Courtesy of the Ukrainian Museum and Library of Stamford, Connecticut/Lubow Wolynetz, curator and librarian
Both women committed substantial time and effort to helping me; they introduced me to a new world of Yiddishists, dance historians, folklorists, ethnomusicologists and Klezmer musicians. But when the smoke settled, Winkler’s statement summed it up: “Dr. Itzik Gottesman, [a folklorist and associate editor of the Yiddish Daily Forward], mentioned that in all of his readings in Yiddish, in European sources, he has never encountered either the mizinke dance or the krensl (crowning) ceremony. Itzik is very knowledgeable, so I thought he would have encountered it somewhere in his experience if it were widely known.” Ingber noted that she and Winkler “both get asked about the mizinke dance more than other dance forms . . . the dance is a wonderful and powerful way to honor parents who are marrying off their last child. However it is done, whether with women sweeping around the mother-of-thebride or with the parents seated in the center of a circle, it’s a heartfelt and important addition to wedding receptions.” Unsuccessful, but still determined to uncover more about the mizinke, I turned to the National Library of Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. My inquiry was directed to a professor of dance history, from whom I received a familiar response: “We have done a very extensive search of material available to us and have not found the source for the custom.” Still, I did notice that the Ukraine was coming up over and over again. If all roads lead to the Ukraine, let’s take them!
Summer 5774/2014 JEWISH ACTION 17
Turning back to local resources, I called the Ukrainian Museum in New York and was put in touch with Lubow Wolynetz, curator of the museum’s folk art collection. She was just completing the finishing touches on an exhibit entitled Ukrainian Wedding Textiles and Traditions. I felt I had finally come to the right address. Wolynetz told me that during the second half of the nineteenth century, Ukrainian wedding celebrations would extend for a number of days; on the last day of the celebration, it was the custom that parents be wheeled on a wagon to the local inn where they would treat their friends and family and frolic with them. But nothing special regarding the youngest child, brooms or laurels. I was disappointed. I had expected a major breakthrough. But a theory was slowly beginning to form in my mind. Based upon the information I had culled, I felt it reasonable to deduce that the mizinke had become a staple at weddings due to one reason: bandleaders. YIVO’s Mloteck had intimated as much when she said that the famous bandleader and Klezmer musician Abe Schwartz had popularized the song in the 1920s. In fact, composer and musician Hankus Netsky, the founder and director of the Klezmer Conservatory Band and chair of the Contemporary Improvisation Department at the New England Conservatory of Music, identifies bandleaders as the source for the custom in his 2004 doctoral dissertation on ethnomusicology.
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Wishing to leave no stone unturned, I e-mailed Dr. Ruth R. Wisse, professor of Yiddish literature at Harvard, for her theory on the matter. Within twenty-four hours, I received a response: “The spread of the mizinke krensl custom in America is due to the bands that perform at weddings. They organize [the mizinke] as part of their routines—without necessarily consulting the families (and occasionally to their great surprise).”2 Independently, Winkler arrived at the same conclusion. And then I received this e-mail from Wolynetz: When the [Ukrainian] wedding celebrations were coming to the end (after a few days), wedding guests would put the parents of the bride or groom on a wagon and take them to the village inn (bar) for the so-called “selling of the parents,” which meant the parents had to buy everyone a drink. If the parents married off their last child (son or daughter) then the guests would make wreaths and place them on the heads of the parents and thus take them to the village inn. In this frolicking way the wedding celebrations would come to the end. She found the information in a Ukrainian magazine published in 1889, which included an engraving illustrating the event. The magazine article was based on the works of a Ukrainian ethnographer, folklorist and scholar, Pavlo Chubynsky (1839-1884), who traveled through Ukrainian villages in the second half of the nineteenth century, collecting folklore information, which he later published. In the 1800s, many village inns and taverns in the Ukraine were owned or operated by Jewish families, she noted. Therefore, every time the parents of the newlyweds came into the taverns wearing wreaths and treated everyone to a drink, the Jewish tavern owners saw this. It is very likely that this is how the custom came to be part of the Jewish wedding. Notes 1. Hankus Netsky states that “The crowning of the bride— unknown to Lithuanian Jews, Lubavitch Chassidim—is also observed by Ukrainian Christians” (Mark Slobin, American Klezmer: Its Roots and Offshoots [Oakland, CA, 2001] p. 71, n. 35). 2. It has been suggested that the custom of the broom is “based on a Cajun tradition for older unmarried brothers and sisters of the bride or groom to dance with a broom at the wedding reception, thus mocking their single status.” This observation supports the notion that bandleaders were indeed promoters of the custom. New Orleans, a center of Cajun culture, is also known as a hub of musical talent. It is reasonable conjecture that bandleaders and musicians from the region performed the mizinke at Jewish weddings. Upon learning the theme, they naturally added the broom to the repertoire, expecting that it belonged with the dance. The wedding party, not knowing differently, accepted the direction from the musicians and found it to be fun and entertaining. Listen to Rabbi Reuven Becker discuss the history of the mizinke dance at www.ou.org/life/arts-media/savitsky-becker/.
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SPECIAL SECTION IN HONOR OF THE LUBAVITCHER REBBE’S 20TH YAHRTZEIT THIS SUMMER, JEWISH ACTION ASKED A NUMBER OF CONTRIBUTORS TO REFLECT ON THE REBBE’S LEGACY AND LASTING IMPACT ON JEWISH LIFE.
Photos courtesy of Jewish Educational Media’s (JEM) Living Archive. JEM is devoted to gathering, preserving and providing access to the photos and audio and video tapes of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. JEM has also embarked on an oral history project about the Rebbe's life, documenting first-person accounts of people's encounters with the Rebbe, as well as tracking down and preserving priceless documents from the Rebbe's largely unknown early life.
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An Unparalleled Leader BY JONATHAN SACKS There have been many great Jewish leaders in history. Some left a permanent mark on the Jewish mind by their contributions to Torah and the poetry and prose of the Jewish soul. Some created new communities, others revived flagging ones; some shaped the entire tenor of a region. But it would be hard to name an individual who, in his lifetime, transformed virtually every Jewish community in the world as well as created communities in places where none existed before. That is a measure of the achievement of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He was not just a great leaderâ€”he was a unique one. I H A V E T O L D T H E S T O R Y of my first encounter with the Rebbe many times, and I mention it only briefly here simply as a reminder of how vast his impact was, and how early it was recognized. In 1968 I was a second-year undergraduate at Cambridge, studying philosophy at a time when being a philosopher with religious faith seemed, at least in Britain, almost a contradiction in terms. So that summer I traveled to America to see if I could meet the leading rabbis and Jewish intellectuals and hear from them how they wrestled with some of the problems I had encountered.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is a global religious leader, philosopher, author of over twenty-five books and renowned speaker. He currently teaches Judaic thought at New York University and at Yeshiva University. Rabbi Sacks served as chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth between September 1991 and September 2013.
Summer 5774/2014 JEWISH ACTION 21
FROM THE REBBE, I LEARNED HOW FAITH IN GOD HELPS YOU HAVE FAITH IN PEOPLE, CHALLENGING THEM TO BECOME GREATER THAN THEY MIGHT OTHERWISE HAVE BECOME.
What fascinated me from the outset was how many of those I met mentioned the Rebbe. Already then, he had assumed almost a legendary stature. It didn’t matter where I went or whom I spoke to, somehow his name would come up in the conversation and it would be spoken of in awe, whether the person I was speaking to was Chassidic or not, Orthodox or not. People seemed to know that there was something special about this man that transcended the normal parameters of religious leadership. I soon found out what it was, when I had the chance to meet the Rebbe in the course of that visit. He was the only person among the dozens I encountered who performed a role reversal in the course of our conversation. Within minutes I discovered that it was not me who was interviewing the Rebbe, but the Rebbe who was interviewing me. He wanted to know about the state of Jewish life in Cambridge, how many Jewish students there were, how many were engaged with Jewish life and what I was doing to increase their number. This was wholly unexpected and life-changing. Here was one of the leaders of the Jewish world taking time— considerable time—to listen to an unknown undergradu-
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ate student from thousands of miles away and speak to him as if he mattered, as if he could make a difference. He was, powerfully and passionately, urging me to get involved. Years later, looking back on that encounter, I summed it up by saying that good leaders create followers. Great leaders create leaders. That was the Rebbe’s greatness. Not only did he lead, he was a source of leadership in others. Time and again I heard similar stories from or about others. There was the philosophy professor who told me that as a young man, he had been drawn to Chabad. He had come to study at 770 Eastern Parkway and wanted to stay there for the rest of his life. After a few years, though, he was summoned to the Rebbe, who told him that the time had come to renew his philosophical studies, to get a doctorate and become a professor, to which end he should go to the most prestigious graduate school at that time: Harvard. How many rashei yeshivah today would tell one of their best students to go back to university and find a permanent place in academic life? Few, I would imagine. But because of the Rebbe, this man was able to influence generations of Jewish students. Then there was the leader of Chabad in a country where there was a sizeable Lubavitch presence. He was in his mid-forties and struck me as rather young to be in charge of so large an organization. I asked him how long he had been in that position. He replied, “twenty-five years.” I knew many people who spoke about the need to encourage young Jewish leadership. The Rebbe did not speak about it; he just did it. He took young people, gave them huge responsibilities and guided them as they grew. That took vision and courage. It also took faith. From the Rebbe, I learned how faith in God helps you have faith in people, challenging them to become greater than they might otherwise have become. Believing in them, he helped them believe in themselves. Another story I came across only indirectly concerned a man I never met but greatly admired, the late Dr. Viktor Frankl, the psychotherapist who survived Auschwitz where he helped many people recover the will to live. When the war was over, he founded a new school of psychotherapy—he called it Logotherapy—based in what he called “man’s will to meaning.” I found his work deeply
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spiritual and deeply Jewish. But Dr. Frankl himself wrote little about his Jewish identity and I suspected that he had little connection with organized Jewish life. A follower of Chabad read one of my books in which I had written about Dr. Frankl, and told me a fascinating story. Evidently the Rebbe knew about his work, and in the 1950s when a woman came to the Rebbe and mentioned she was about to visit Vienna, he asked her to deliver a message to Dr. Frankl. The message was simple and brief: â€œRemain strong. Continue your work with complete resolve. Donâ€™t give up. Ultimately you will prevail.â€? She delivered the message. Many years later the Chabad shaliach in Vienna heard this story from the woman herself who told him that when she visited Dr. Frankl she found him on the brink of leaving Vienna for Australia. His work was out of step with Freudian psychoanalysis, then the dominant school in Vienna, and he found himself isolated and shunned. He had decided to leave and begin again far away when the message from the Rebbe arrived. He was amazed. How did the Rebbe know about his situation? Why did he care? What relationship did the Rebbe have to psychotherapy? And why was he interested in a Jew who had married out and had no connection with the Jewish community? The intervention had its desired effect: Dr. Frankl stayed. In 1959, his book Manâ€™s Search for Meaning was published and became a massive best-seller. He himself became famous and eventually his approach helped change the direction of psychotherapy. When his biography was published, something startling emerged: every day he prayed and put on tefillin. Telling this story, the shaliach adds, â€œIâ€™ve often wondered why the Rebbe took an interest in the success of Viktor Frankl, a secular and intermarried Jew, and sought him out to offer encouragement and support.â€? But that was the Rebbe. His field of vision was vast and he knew that every Jew has his or her part to play in the drama of redemption that is the Jewish task on Earth. There are thousands of such stories. I suspect that everyone who met the Rebbe has one or several to tell. I will mention just one. When I visited the Rebbe ten years after my first visit, we discussed many thingsâ€”especially his concerns about the lack of serious rabbinic training in
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Europe in general and Britain specifically. Toward the end of the conversation, I mentioned that my wife, Elaine, was expecting our second child, and I asked for the Rebbe’s berachah. He asked whether we had any other children already. I replied, “Yes, a son.” In that case, said the Rebbe, your next child will be a daughter. He said this with not the slightest indication of doubt. It was less a blessing than a firm and confident assertion. I returned home. Months passed and the birth drew near. My friends in Lubavitch told me to write to the Rebbe for a berachah. I told them the Rebbe had already given a berachah. Nonetheless, they insisted, write. I did. Days and weeks went by and I received no reply. Finally the moment came when Elaine told me to phone for an ambulance. We heard it pull up in front of the house, and then the door bell rang. I opened it, assuming it was the ambulance driver. To my surprise, it was the mailman with a letter. As Elaine entered the ambulance, I opened the envelope, and there it was: the Rebbe’s blessing. How it happened, I will never know; the mail never came at that time of the day. But stories about the Rebbe are like that. He was a man around whom miracles happened. When, under the impact of that first encounter, I eventually decided to study for semichah, I wanted to demonstrate my gratitude to the person who had led me in this direction. So I devoted much of my spare time that year, 5734, to translating some of the Rebbe’s sichot into English. Eventually they were published as a book, Torah Studies. That was a transformative experience in itself. When you come to translate someone else’s words, you come to know their thoughts quite intimately. I learned much about the Rebbe from those sichot. In particular, I began to see how one theme ran like a connecting thread through many of his speeches—the idea of yeridah letzorech aliyah, a descent for the sake of an ascent. He was constantly engaged in what a psychotherapist would call “reframing.” Yes, the Jewish people had undergone a monumental tragedy during the Holocaust; yes, Jewish life as he found it in America when he became the Rebbe was in a weakened state. Assimilation ran high. So did intermarriage rates. But the Rebbe, with his profound belief in Divine providence, was convinced that descent is the beginning of ascent, disconnection is a call to reconnection and tragedy itself the prelude to redemption. That is how the Rebbe rescued hope and rekindled a fire that seemed almost to have died. One sichah in particular, though, had an electrifying effect on me. It was a talk he gave on the episode of the spies. How, he asked, could ten of these men have had so little faith that they came back and said, “We cannot go forward against those people . . . They are too strong for us!”? They had seen God’s miracles. They had witnessed the greatest empire of the ancient world brought to its knees. They had experienced the Splitting of the Red Sea. Of what were they afraid? Besides which, these were not ordinary men. The Torah goes out of its way to emphasize that they were people of stature, leaders, princes. Surely they should have known that they had nothing to fear.
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The Rebbe’s answer was astonishing. He said that they were not afraid of defeat; they were afraid of victory. They knew they would win. But what would happen to the people then? Here, in the desert, they drank water from a rock, ate manna from Heaven and were surrounded by clouds of glory. They lived in close and continuous proximity to God. There, in the land, they would have battles to fight, a war to win, fields to plant, harvests to gather, an economy to run and a society to sustain. What would happen to their relationship with God? Why exchange a miracle-saturated life for the trials and tribulations of the real world of politics and economics? They were, said the Rebbe, holy people, but they had made a holy mistake. God wants us to be in the world because only then can we bring the Divine presence down. God seeks, in the Chassidic phrase, dirah b’tachtonim, a dwelling place in the lower world. Our task is not to escape to Heaven but to bring Heaven down to Earth. That one essay tells us what made the Rebbe different. At a time when so many other Jews whose homes were in the yeshivah and the Chassidic enclaves were turning inward, he turned outward and sent his shluchim across the world to create thousands of “dwelling places in the lower world.” He knew that we all have a part to play in that process—from philosophy professors to psychotherapists, from politicians to poets—all the tens of thousands of people who sought him out and the hundreds of thousands his emissaries sought out. We are each a candle in the giant menorah that is the Jewish people. We are each a thread in the tallit, each, in the Ba’al Shem Tov’s phrase, a letter in the scroll of the living Torah that carries God’s word to us and to the world. The sages expressed, and Maimonides codified, a remarkable idea: that we should each see our lives, our communities and the world as if they are equally poised between good and bad, as if our next act would tilt the balance, not only for us, but for the world. Can one person really change the world? Anyone who doubts this should study the life of the Rebbe and listen to the testimonies of those whose lives he changed. The Rebbe changed the world by teaching us that we could do so. He is no longer with us, but his message lives on more urgently than ever, summoning us to see the greatness he taught us we have. g
h c t i v a b u L e h t Why s e v i r h T t n e Movem in the Absence e b b e R g n i v i L of a EIMER BY JACK WERTH
ubavitch Chassidism is a movement of many paradoxes. Upon the Rebbe’s passing and with no evident successor in sight, many observers expected the movement to wither; twenty years later, it has never been stronger or more influential. Much has been made of its Messianic wing—those Lubavitchers convinced that the Rebbe is the Mashiach and never really died—and yet its thousands of emissaries work energetically to rebuild Jewish life as if everything depends upon them, rather than on a redeeming Messiah. Though Chabad emissaries eschew a denominational label, referring to themselves as simply Jewish, the warm, welcoming hospitality of Chabad families has altered the way hundreds of thousands of non-Orthodox Jews around the globe perceive Orthodoxy. Meanwhile, some of Chabad’s most scathing Orthodox critics refer to the movement as “the religion closest to Judaism,” even as religious texts produced by Lubavitch rabbis are increasingly studied in all kinds of yeshivot and kollelim. Dr. Jack Wertheimer is a professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He writes on the history of American Jewish religious, communal and educational activities since World War II.
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F ROM AN OUTSIDER’S PERSPECTIVE, the most striking—and surprising—aspect of Lubavitch Chassidism is its resilience in overcoming the loss of its Rebbe, and its ability to rebound without an heir to take his place. Chassidim, after all, have always relied on the guiding hands of tzaddikim, as their leaders were initially called. Only the Breslover sect has managed to continue without a living Rebbe. And yet twenty years after the death of the movement’s revered leader, Chabad1 flourishes and continually extends its reach. The most visible expression of this flourishing is the steady growth in Chabad’s outreach efforts. Currently, 4,000 shluchim, emissaries, are scattered across the globe, up from roughly 1,240 at the time of the Rebbe’s death. In fact, the actual number of emissaries is much higher, since shluchim are all married, and therefore come as married pairs; even their children serve as role models. Lubavitch teens also spend their adolescent years traveling from one center to the next, honing their skills as outreach workers. Thanks to the efforts of these emissaries and their helpers, a Chabad center may be found in every corner of the globe—in cities lacking a sizeable Jewish population, such as Mumbai, Seoul and Kinshasa, and in thriving centers of Jewish life, such as Manhattan, Los Angeles, Jerusalem and Melbourne. Chabad centers provide kosher food, minyanim and Shabbat hospitality to locals and outof-towners; they offer services to Jewish students on college campuses, to families with children with disabilities, to Jews affiliated with other synagogues and to Jews lacking any affiliation. Sixty years after the Rebbe sent forth the first shluchim, their availability is taken for granted by Jews of all stripes. (So much so that an Israeli professor jokingly anticipated that when the first astronauts land on Mars, they likely will be welcomed by a Chabad rabbi.) But to focus solely on the shluchim and shluchot is to overlook the rest of what journalist Sue Fishkoff correctly described as “the Rebbe’s army.” For if the emissaries form the front line, a rear guard of Lubavitchers aid and sustain their efforts. First, there are several hundred back office people who run the organizational enterprise. This includes the staff of Chabad.org, the most visited Jewish web site in the world, which claims tens of millions of hits each year from online readers situated in 236 countries and territories. Other support staffers provide services for Chabad’s rapidly growing network of Hebrew schools, Friendship Circles (a network of support groups for parents of children with disabilities), print publications and educational initiatives. Among the latter is the Jewish Learning Institute, the largest educational program for Jewish adults in the world (with the possible exception of the Daf Yomi enterprise), which currently enrolls over 66,000 teens and adults at some 850 sites around the world, each following a prescribed course of study according to a set timetable. Participants can travel from one city to the next or one country to another without missing a beat. And beyond the staffers, there is a larger movement of Lubavitch Chassidim who derive no income from their
Chabad activities but further the overall effort by volunteering their time and service, offering financial support and spreading the teachings of their movement in all kinds of Jewish settings. Contrary to a common misperception, Lubavitch is far from the largest Chassidic sect. But its impact far exceeds its numerical strength because such a high proportion of its followers volunteer for service either as shluchim or as supporters of the movement’s work. How might we account for this sustained activity so long after the Rebbe’s death? A more cynical take might stress the financial gain involved; after all, the Chabad enterprise provides an income to thousands of families. It would be naïve to dismiss the economic incentives, even as it would be foolish to ignore the sacrifices made by families who choose to live far from centers of Jewish life. One can imagine there are easier ways of earning a living entailing fewer hardships for observant families than a posting in the Congo, South Korea or Siberia. It is far more likely that non-material factors play a more determinative role in driving the Chabad enterprise. One is the continuing inspiration derived by Lubavitch Chassidim from the teachings of the seventh and last Rebbe. Over the past twenty years, an outpouring of his writing has continued unabated, with no letup in sight. These include over 100 volumes of talks he gave at farbrengen (as understood by those who transcribed them at a later time), tens of thousands of his letters published in some thirty volumes and notebooks found in his private office after his death. For his followers—and for many who are not Lubavitchers—these posthumously published volumes continue to spread his teachings of Torah. Many claim to be moved by the depth of learning and the inspiration they offer. As one Lubavitch rabbi put it to me, “those ideas are very much what drive the movement today, and having access to them is obviously very crucial.” A second factor is the fascinating interplay between individual initiatives and movement discipline. The Lubavitch movement is highly decentralized, even as efforts are made to bring about a measure of coordination. The most obvious efforts to coordinate occur at two annual conventions held in New York, one for shluchim and the second, at a different date, for shluchot. Like all conventions, these are centered on the exchange of ideas and the spotlighting of best practices, or at least of new initiatives that seem to be successful. To take one example, a few years ago, before the new social media were omnipresent, a shaliach taught a workshop on the opportunities presented by Facebook. Or to cite a different example of coordinating efforts, the Jewish Learning Institute mentioned above will not permit anyone who has not attended a week-long seminar on how to present a newly developed course to teach its courses. Needless to say, leading officials based in Crown Heights also exert influence behind the scenes. But even as the movement strives to coordinate, it gives enormous latitude to shluchim. The freedom granted to individuals unlocks a good deal of creativity and a spirit of innovation. To cite a few examples, the head of one Chabad Hebrew school had the idea of combining her
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LE BECAUSE OF MANY . . . INNOVATIONS ARE POSSIB N AND EXPERITHE REMARKABLE BLEND OF MISSIO ENCOURAGE. MENTATION THAT CHABAD SEEMS TO interest in karate with the challenge of teaching Hebrew language skills rapidly. She developed a program called Aleph Champ, complete with multiple levels of attainment ranging from white belt to black belt, to motivate students to learn the decoding of Hebrew characters and words in a short amount of time. The national head of Chabad’s Hebrew school network is fully conversant with texts produced by the Conservative and Reform movements, drawing upon these resources when they are useful. And in the realm of cyber innovation, Chabad staff have quickly harnessed the new technologies for their own ends. All of these and many other innovations are possible because of the remarkable blend of mission and experimentation that Chabad seems to encourage—and a fearlessness about learning from others, whether Jews or gentiles. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that this approach to empowerment was fostered by the Rebbe himself. Not only did he experiment with new forms of outreach, such as the much-ridiculed Mitzvah Tanks, he encouraged what in American parlance would be called a “can-do” spirit. As early as 1951 he sought to embolden his followers to abandon their timidity: “Orthodox Jewry up to this point has concentrated on defensive strategies. We were always worried, lest we lose positions and strongholds. But we must take the initiative and wage an offensive.” Given the realities of Orthodox Judaism at the time, his contemporaries might be forgiven had they regarded the author of these words as a madman. And yet he persevered and took as one of his mottos the words of the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, “Think good and it will be good.” The Rebbe exuded a spirit of optimism and confidence that continues to shape the outlook of Chabad to the present day and spurs its innovation and expansion. That expansion, needless to say, is not welcomed universally. Chabad has been sharply criticized by rabbinic leaders of all stripes. Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis have resented the competition, if not outright poaching of congregants, by quite a few Chabad rabbis. “Why do they have to open up shop down the street from us?” is a lament I have heard from all kinds of rabbis, including Orthodox ones. Conservative and Reform rabbis also regard their Chabad counterparts as opportunists, all too eager to run programs in other people’s shuls, but unwilling to reciprocate the invitation to non-Chabad rabbis. And then there is criticism about ways Chabad has upended the business model of synagogues by not charging dues, relying instead on fees for services and voluntary contributions.
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When it comes to the price of seats for the Yamim Noraim or Hebrew school tuition or membership fees, Chabad centers undercut the costs charged by neighboring synagogues. And to add insult to injury, congregations that require a minimum number of years in their Hebrew schools as a prerequisite for celebrating a bar or bat mitzvah in their synagogues discover, to their dismay, that Chabad rabbis will waive such requirements. Within the Orthodox world, this kind of corner cutting evokes the strongest reaction. Because Chabad is engaged in outreach to non-observant Jews, it inevitably runs up against a long list of halachically dicey situations, ranging from accepting children of gentile mothers into Hebrew schools to teaching Torah to gentiles married to Jews; from inviting non-observant Jews to Shabbat gatherings from which they will leave by car to counting non-observant Jews as part of a minyan. And beyond the complicated questions of how to apply Jewish law to non-observant Jews, there is the larger question of ends and means: If, as is the case, the large majority of Chabad outreach—or any other kind of Orthodox outreach—does not result in very high rates of non-observant Jews becoming shomrei mitzvot, what is the purpose of the entire enterprise? For Lubavitch Chassidim, the answer is clear: every Jew has a spark that may be ignited at any time and under unpredictable circumstances. One of the most prominent Modern Orthodox supporters of Chabad efforts tells the following story at his own expense: After running a beginner’s service for the High Holidays, he traveled to 770 Eastern Parkway after the holiday to share his enthusiasm. “Rebbe, you will be pleased to know that we had 180 people for Rosh Hashanah services who came to us with no background.” When the Rebbe did not react, he repeated his words, this time in a louder voice. “We had 180 people for Rosh Hashanah services who came to us with no background.” The Rebbe rebuked him, “How can you say such a thing? How can you say that they have no background? They have a background; they are the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”2 Inspired by such an expansive and generous pan-Jewish outlook, the followers of the Rebbe persevere—and thrive—in his absence. g NOTES
1. The terms Lubavitch and Chabad tend to be used interchangeably. It is probably more correct to refer to Lubavitchers as the adherents of the Chassidic movement, whereas Chabad refers to organized efforts by some Lubavitchers to engage in outreach. 2. Joseph Telushkin relates this incident in “What the Rebbe Taught,” the New York Jewish Week, June 19, 2012.
THE TOURO COLLEGE FAMILY IS PROUD TO SALUTE OUR DISTINGUISHED BOARD MEMBER
Touro President and CEO Dr. Alan Kadish (right) presenting Allen I. Fagin (center) with an honorary degree from the Touro Law Center in 2013, with Touro Law Dean Patricia E. Salkin and Touro Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Krupka.
ON HIS SELECTION AS
EXECUTIVEVICEPRESIDENT OFTHEORTHODOXUNION We wish him every continued success in the newest chapter in his remarkable record of selfless communal service and outstanding professional leadership, profoundly shaped by an abiding sense of Torah imbued integrity. DRALANKADISH President & CEO
DRMARKHASTEN RABBIDONIELLANDER Chairman Chancellor-Rosh HaYeshiva Board of Trustees Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim
DAVIDRAAB Executive Vice President
RABBIMOSHEKRUPKA Executive Vice President
The Rebbe warmly greeting the Rav at a farbrengen the latter attended in honor of the Rebbe’s thirtieth anniversary as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, January 28, 1980.
REBBE RAV and the
BY A A R O N R A K E F F E T- R O T H KO F F
There was a knock on the door when I was visiting my rebbe, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, to express my condolences upon the loss of his mother. It was 1967. It was quite early and I was the only one with the Rav at that moment. I quickly opened the door to the apartment and was greeted by two patriarchal figures, Rabbis Yochanan Gordon and Yisroel Jacobson. I ushered them in and observed the Rav’s face brighten as they entered. They informed my rebbe that they were sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to convey his condolences on the Rav’s bereavement. They were soon engaged in animated conversation
about Lubavitch in the “Alter Heim” (“Old Country”). They discussed the Rav’s formative years in Khaslavichy, White Russia, where his father, Reb Moshe, was the rabbi. The Khaslavichy Jewish community consisted of a large number of Lubavitch Chassidim, and here the young Soloveitchik was exposed to Chabad Chassidic literature and lifestyle. Their influence remained with the Rav for the rest of his life.1 When the Chabad emissaries left, the Rav turned to me and reminisced about the years he spent studying at the University of Berlin, where he first met the future seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. With a sense of admiration, the Rav said to me, “At the University, no one knew about my background and where I was coming from. Everyone knew who the future Lubavitcher Rebbe was!” Years later, I came across pictures of
Rabbi Dr. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff is rosh yeshivah and professor of rabbinic literature at Yeshiva University’s Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Institute in Jerusalem. He is a noted scholar, author and teacher who has taught thousands of students throughout his over fifty years of teaching. He would like to express gratitude to Mrs. Cheri Levy, student liaison, S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program and the RIETS Israel Kollel, for help in preparing the article for publication.
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the Rav and the Rebbe during their Berlin days. My rebbe’s The Rav was able to publicly affirm his esteem for Rabbi appearance was similar to that of most other students, Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn shortly afterwards. On June while the Lubavitcher Rebbe attended university in 14, 1942, at a banquet celebrating the founding of the Chassidic garb. United Lubavitcher Yeshivoth in the United States, the A student of the Rav discussed the Berlin era with him keynote address was delivered by the Rav. In his speech, he at a later period. This student later recapped what the compared the Rebbe to the first-century Tanna, Rav ChanRav recounted: ina ben Dosa. Rabbi Soloveitchik cited the Talmudic pasThe Rav was already in the University of Berlin when the sage which described one of the miracles that occurred for Lubavitcher Rebbe first came there. The Rav showed him Rav Chanina ben Dosa: the ropes when he arrived, and introduced him to R. Once on a Friday eve he noticed that his daughter was Chaim’s derech in learning. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was a sad, and he said to her, “My daughter, why are you sad?” very quiet person during those years.2 She replied, “My oil can got mixed up with my vinegar The Rav was introduced to the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, can and I kindled of it the Sabbath light.” He said to her, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, when the latter visited “Why should this trouble you? He who had commanded his son-in-law in Berlin in 1929 and 1930. Rabbi Schneerthe oil to burn will also command the vinegar to burn.” A sohn wrote: Tanna taught: “The light continued to burn the whole day Regarding Rabbi Y. Soloveitchik, I know him already for until they took of it light for the Havdalah” (Ta’anit 25a). many years. While he was still in Berlin, I was introduced to The Rav declared that Lubavitch Chassidism, under the him by my son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. guidance of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, had also My son-in-law told me about his great in-depth understandsuccessfully demonstrated that vinegar can burn. Despite ing of Torah and how he studies assiduously. I was very dethe obstacles engendered by the Godless Communist regime, Lubavitch Chassidism continued to function lighted to become close to him . . .3 throughout the Russian realm. Similarly, the Rav was confiIn 1941, the relationship between the sixth Lubavitcher dent that the Lubavitch movement could succeed in kinRebbe and the Rav was helpful in enabling my rebbe to sucdling the flames of Torah in the United States. Despite the ceed his father, Rav Moshe Soloveichik, as the senior rosh spirituality impoverished American soil, the vinegar would yeshivah at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. burn.6 Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn sent a letter of support for the Rav, which greatly enhanced During this period, both the Rav his candidacy. It read: and Rabbi Menachem Mendel It is my hope that the great, exSchneerson, who was now the sevcellent, and renowned gaon, Rabbi enth Lubavitcher Rebbe, became acJoseph Dov Soloveitchik, will be setive on the American Torah lected to sit on his father’s chair as educational scene. Rabbi Soloveitchik the rosh yeshivah of the Rabbi Isaac succeeded his father as the senior Elchanan Theological Seminary. It is rosh yeshivah in May of 1941. He reonly fitting and proper that he inmained in this position until illness herit this position. He will bring forced his retirement in December abundant blessings to the Yeshiva of 1985. after the recent loss of its two heads. The Rebbe arrived in the United The eminent gaon has the ability to States on June 23, 1941. He quickly restore the school’s former glory and became instrumental in the estabthrough him solace will be attained.4 lishment of two central Lubavitch orA member of the Rav’s immediganizations: Merkos L’Inyonei ate family declared that this comChinuch (Central Organization for munication was pivotal in the Rav Jewish Education) and Machne Isbeing selected to replace his late farael, a social service agency. Followther. Dr. Haym Soloveitchik related: ing his father-in-law’s death in 1950, In fact, the Previous Rebbe was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerultimately the deciding factor in son reluctantly assumed leadership my father getting the job. The of the movement.7 In the ensuing The Rebbe at two-and-a-half years old in committee was split in their decades, the Rav and the Rebbe Nikolayev, Russia. opinion about my father. One of maintained an indirect but ongoing the members of the committee was relationship. They corresponded beMr. Abraham Mazer, a well-known New York philanthrofore the High Holy Days and the yamim tovim.8 In 1964, pist. He was also a very big supporter of Lubavitch. The when the Rebbe sat shivah for his mother, Rebbetzin Previous Rebbe called Mr. Mazer and asked him to supChana, he was visited by Rav Soloveitchik. The two scholport my father. His vote was the key factor in the commitars soon engaged in a learned discussion of the Sabbath tee’s decision to offer my father the job.5 and Festival status of the mourner before the burial (aninut). This exchange evolved from the Rebbetzin’s death
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Seen between the Rebbe and the Rav is Rabbi Herschel Schacter, the spiritual leader of the Mosholu Jewish Center in the Bronx at the time, who traveled with the Rav to the farbrengen in honor of the Rebbe’s thirtieth anniversary as the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
on Shabbat. The Rebbe later wrote to the Rav, detailing his stance and his understanding of Maimonides’ commentary on this topic.9 The Rav was accompanied to the shivah by Rabbi Sholem Kowalsky. The latter transcribed his conversation with the Rav as they traveled to Crown Heights. Rabbi Kowalsky wrote: The journey from Yeshiva University to Crown Heights took over an hour, affording me lots of time to discuss the Lubavitcher Rebbe with the Rav. During the discussion, I asked the Rav to tell me about the Lubavitcher Rebbe as a person—his imposing character, his personality and his great Torah scholarship, as well as his relationship with him. The Rav told me that he was a great admirer of the Rebbe. He said their relationship began when they were in Berlin where they were both studying at the University of Berlin. During that period they would often meet at the home of the Gaon, Rabbi Chaim Heller. It was in the course of these meetings that a strong friendship developed between the two men, both of whom were destined to become outstanding spiritual leaders of the century. The Rav recalled that the Rebbe always carried the key to the mikvah with him when he attended lectures at the university. “At about two or three o’clock every afternoon when he left the university, he would go straight to the mikvah. No one was aware of the minhag and I only learnt about it by chance,” the Rav said. “On another occasion, I offered the Rebbe a drink. The Rebbe refused, but when I pressured him I understood that he was fasting that day. It was Monday and the Rebbe was fasting. Imagine that,” Rabbi Soloveitchik said to me. “A Berlin University student immersed in secular studies maintains this custom of mikvah and fasting. “These things made huge impressions on me. Additionally, the Rebbe had an amazing memory.” The Rav described the Rebbe’s memory as “gevaldig” (astounding). “In all my life, I never encountered someone with such a memory.”
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Then the Rav proceeded to describe his understanding of the Rebbe’s Torah. “Those of us who emanate from Brisk don’t adhere to the pilpul system perpetuated in Poland,” the Rav said, “but the Rebbe has a gevaldiger comprehension of the Torah. “There were other Jewish students from other communities in the university, studying together with us at the same time. Some of them are considered today to be famous gedolei Torah. In the university they behaved the same way as other university students, but this Jew (the Rebbe) behaved like a Jew from Warsaw or from Russia. Berlin made absolutely no impression upon him at all.”10 Levi Yitzhak HaYerushalmi, a writer for Ma’ariv, the Israeli daily newspaper, had an interview with Rabbi Soloveitchik when the former visited the United States. Their dialogue was published in the October 28, 1977 edition of Ma’ariv. HaYerushalmi raised the issue of the teshuvah movement, which was then becoming more widespread. In his response, the Rav praised the Lubavitch tefillin campaigns. Rabbi Soloveitchik declared: With this act of placing Tefillin upon Jews, the Chabad devotees remind their brethren that they are Jewish. This is praiseworthy. The tyro experiencing the Tefillin performance may begin to wonder what this precept is all about. He may start to question his spirituality. When a member of the Jewish people starts to explore his religious status, we never know how the process will culminate! The Rav then detailed for HaYerushalmi his own experiences as a youngster growing up in Khaslavichy.11 The Rav then continued his evaluation of Chabad activities on the American scene: No other organization could achieve what Chabad has accomplished in America. Chabad has placed Judaism in the public thoroughfare. Even though Chabad adherents are a minority among the American Torah community, its success is highly visible. It has taught the observant Jew to assert “chutzpah.” It has stressed disseminating the Torah to the Jewish people on every street corner. At times I may not agree with some of their methods. Nevertheless, this accomplishment is one of a kind. It has rejuvenated religious Jewry in America. For instance, in the past whenever a Jewish topic arose, the leading newspapers such as The New York Times would quote Reform rabbis. The Torah world no longer existed for these newspapers. Chabad has placed Torah in the headlines of the newspapers, radio and television. There is another aspect of Chabad thinking which I consider very important. They comprehend reality and act accordingly. They open centers for Judaism on college campuses. This is most admirable. Many religious Jews look down upon these Jewish youngsters attending secular universities. Here I totally agree with Chabad. We must recognize the environment in which these Jewish men and women function. Most of these students are not observant, yet they possess a spark of Judaism in their hearts. We must attempt to set alight this flame. In 1980, on Yud Shevat, the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yosef
Yitzchak Schneersohn, Chabad also celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s ascendancy to leadership. The Rav attended this farbrengen in a public display of acquaintanceship with Lubavitch. Among those who accompanied Rabbi Soloveitchik to this event was Rabbi Herschel Schacter, a 1941 graduate of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and the spiritual leader of the Mosholu Jewish Center in the Bronx from 1947 until it closed in 1999. Rabbi Schacter was later interviewed by Jewish Educational Media regarding this
At a dinner for the Lubavitch Yeshiva in 1942. The Rebbe, on the far right, is sitting beside the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. On the far left is Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchick, who delivered the keynote address that evening.
event. The Rebbe entered the beit hamidrash right after the Rav arrived. Rabbi Schacter described the public demonstration of their relationship that night: They came up, they shook hands with each other, and the Rebbe motions to the Rav to walk ahead, and the Rav motions to the Rebbe to walk ahead, so the Rebbe walked ahead. And he sat down. There are a million other people piling in around, but in front, right [at] the front table was only the Rebbe and the Rav, zatzal, and I. They wanted to give me a chair, I said, “No, no, no.” I was standing. . . right behind the Rav, and I did not sit down the whole time. . . The Rav listened very carefully to the Rebbe, and he had said he’s going to be there only for a half hour. An hour passed, then I myself said to him, “Maybe the Rav is not comfortable?” He said, “No, no, no. I want to stay.” I think he was there for close to two hours. The moment he stood up, the Rebbe jumped up. The Rav didn’t wait for the Rebbe to come to him, he went to
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the Rebbe to shake hands and say goodbye, and I walked with the Rav, right behind. And they talked to each other for a few minutes. Very warm. You could see on their faces that these two men liked each other, they really liked one another . . . Those words are not on any manuscript, but I was standing right there, and I heard . . . you can take on my word of honor, that the Rebbe said to the Rav, and he’s looking at me . . . He says, “Du host, Baruch Hashem, voile talmidim! You have wonderful students.” In a hundred years, when I come before the kise hakavod, I am going to remind the Ribbono shel Olam of what these two Geonim said to one another. It [was] very nice, it was very warm. After two, three minutes they shook hands and we started to walk back. And everybody was standing, even those people who were sitting. As soon as the Rebbe got up, everybody got up. And everybody was standing, until . . . we, the two of us, walked through. We walked back to the car, we sat down. I said to the Rav, “Nu, what does the Rav say? What do you say about the Rebbe?” He’s sitting in the front, I can’t see his face. He hesitated for a minute and he says, “Er iz a Gaon. Er iz a Gadol. Er iz a Manhig Yisroel. He is a genius, he is a great man, he is a leader of the Jewish people.”12 The account of this farbrengen quickly circulated throughout the Torah world. For many, it was an ecstatic moment that the Rav and the Rebbe could publicly exemplify the Talmudic aphorism that “the disciples of the sages increase peace in the world” (Berachot 64a). This was particularly on target at this event as both protagonists descended from families that represented different configurations of Torah civilization. Perhaps there was also a basic subliminal thought behind the Rav’s participation. He was expressing his gratitude to Chabad for the additional Torah perspectives they set in motion for him. In a talk he delivered at Lincoln Square Synagogue in 1975, the Rav related: By sheer association I recall an experience from my early youth. Let me give you the background of that experience. I was then about seven or eight years old. I attended a heder in a small town on the border of White Russia and Russia proper. The town was called Khaslavichy; you certainly have never heard of it. My father was the rabbi in the town. I, like every other Jewish boy, attended the heder. My teacher was not a great scholar, but he was [a] hasid, a Habbadnik [a follower of the Lubavitcher Rebbe]. His expertise in the study and teaching of Talmud was then under a question mark. As a young boy, I too questioned his scholarship. I know now that he was not a great scholar. Nonetheless, I have been grateful to him all my life, because he taught me something that no one else taught me. Perhaps there is one exception, my mother. Namely, he instructed me in how to behold a vision. He did not train my mind but somehow addressed himself to my soul and my
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heart. He taught me how a Jew can be imaginative in religious matters. Many people practice Judaism but do so unimaginatively. He taught me how to practice Judaism, Torah, and mitzvot in an imaginative way. He showed us how to see a vision and make it come to life. Not many heder boys knew what a vision was and certainly not how to make a dream real. He taught me how to live Judaism and not just practice it.13 Some two hundred years earlier, it was noted that the Vilna Gaon departed from his city rather than meet with Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Lubavitch. The chasm between their Torah outlooks were too great to be bridged. In 1980, the Rav, a direct descendant of Rabbi Chaim Volozhin, a leading student of the Gaon, embraced the Rebbe, a scion of the “Alter Rebbe.” Fascinatingly, at this historic event in 1980, these two imposing worlds merged into one elevated reality. g Listen to Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff discuss the relationship between the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Rav at www.ou.org/life/inspiration/savitsky-rakeffet/.
Notes 1. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, The Rav: The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Vol. I (New Jersey, 1999), 23-24 and Shulamith Soloveitchik Meiselman, The Soloveitchik Heritage: A Daughter’s Memoir (New Jersey, 1995), 124-125. 2. David Holzer, The Rav: Thinking Aloud (Florida, 2009), 42. 3. Cited by Shaul Shimon Deutsch, Larger Than Life: The Life and Times of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Vol. II (Brooklyn, 1997), 113. 4. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, The Silver Era: Rabbi Eliezer Silver And His Generation (Jerusalem, 2000), 270. 5. Cited by Deutsch, Larger Than Life, II, 116. 6. Shalom Dover HaLevi Wolpo, Shemen Sasson Meichaveirecha, Vol. III (Holon, 2003), 178-179. 7. Chabad-Lubavitch: The Lamplighters (Brooklyn, 1988), 7. 8. Examples of this correspondence are reproduced in Shalom Dover HaLevi Wolpo’s Shemen Sasson Meichaveirecha, 184-188. 9. Ibid., 181-184. 10. Sholem B. Kowalsky, From My Zaidy’s House (Jerusalem, 2000), 274-275. 11. Cf. Rakeffet-Rothkoff, The Rav, 23-24; 255-265. 12. YouTube video entitled “Excerpt: The Rebbe and the Rav,” interview with Rabbi Herschel Schacter by Jewish Educational Media. Circulated in transcript form by Jewish Educational Media. A more negative assessment of this event is attributed to Rabbi Dr. Haym Soloveitchik by Deutsch in Larger Than Life, Vol. II, 119. 13. Cited by Rakeffet-Rothkoff in The Rav, 149-150.
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CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE LUBAVITCHER REBBE
to Torah Scholarship By Tzvi Hersh Weinreb
e live in an age of specialization, which has convinced us that even our greatest leaders excel in only a limited range of activities. It is the rare leader in whom we recognize a wide range of diverse achievements. Even among gedolei Yisrael in our history, we find some who specialized in halachah, others in pilpul and still others in homiletics, or derush. We have come to believe that those who were involved in community affairs necessarily compromised their scholarly pursuits by doing so. And Chassidic masters who combine their Chassidic Torah with Talmudic expertise are often seen as exceptions to the rule. Of course, we are all aware of those rare individuals who possessed a dazzlingly diverse repertoire of Jewish leadership attributes. Beginning in medieval times, the Rambam and the Ramban come to mind. In later generations, the Maharal of Prague, the Ba’al HaTanya and the Chatam Sofer are good examples of men who were great Talmudists, heroic community leaders, gifted teachers and preachers and prolific writers. The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt”l, whose twentieth yahrtzeit we are commemorating this summer (3 Tammuz/July 1), is an example of one such wide-ranging Torah personality. Sadly, however, many see him much more narrowly, focusing on one or another of his many accomplishments, but failing to appreciate the vast range of his contributions to the machshavah and Torah of the Jewish world.
Because his success in certain areas of leadership is immediately apparent, we tend to blind ourselves to other, perhaps less easily discernible, achievements. Thus, all acknowledge his amazing ability to inspire thousands of his Chassidic followers, as well as many who were not part of his community, to devote their lives to outreach in all the far-flung corners of the globe. His command of the entire corpus of Chassidic thought is evident and impressive, as was his ability to convey those teachings to masses of individuals who have no prior exposure to Chassidic thought. Rabbi Schneerson’s written works fill multiple library shelves, and his spoken words have been eternalized in audio and video recordings and in many print volumes. His sensitivity, empathy and compassion for all Jews were directly experienced by thousands who had the privilege of individual consultations with him. His care and concern for every Jew—indeed for every human being—were his essential personal characteristics. His counsel was sage, and often bordered on the miraculous. His political views were explicit, forceful and impactful. Because of all of these phenomenal achievements, and more, many overlook the fact that the Rebbe contributed to traditional Torah exegesis in numerous ways. For the remainder of this essay, I will attempt to describe some of those contributions, while fully aware that my description cannot possibly convey the full scope of his work. I will focus primarily on those aspects of the Rebbe’s scholarly heritage from which I have personally benefited.
Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb is executive vice president, emeritus of the Orthodox Union. In the background, a page of the Reshimot, the handwritten notebooks in which the Rebbe transcribed some of his chiddushei Torah. These notebooks only came to light after the Rebbe’s passing, when they were discovered in a drawer in his room. The entries in these journals date between the years 1928, the year of the Rebbe’s marriage, and 1950, the year of his assumption of the leadership of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Throughout these years—which included his evacuation from Berlin in 1933, his escape from Nazi-occupied Paris in 1941 and his subsequent wanderings as a refugee in Vichy France and Fascist Spain—the Rebbe kept these notebooks with him at all times.
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Commentary on Rashi Rashi’s commentary on Chumash is essential to traditional Torah study. Every committed Jew approaches his study of the weekly parashah through the lenses that Rashi provides. Over the centuries, a number of Torah scholars of the first rank have written commentaries on Rashi’s commentary. Such works are known as “supercommentaries.” The Rebbe left us with a modern-day such supercommentary synopsized by a team of scholars in the form of a readily available five-volume work entitled Biurim LePirush Rashi al HaTorah. This work originated from the Rebbe’s practice of delving into a quotation from Rashi at each of his regular public, multi-hour farbrengen. He attended to issues of textual content, grammar or sequence. The Rebbe would first resolve those issues before continuing to expound upon the subject from a Chassidic, and sometimes musar, perspective. His five-volume work dispenses with the Chassidic material and distills much of the Rebbe’s teachings of what we would call the peshat, or simple meaning of Rashi’s words. The Rebbe paid careful attention to seemingly minor points in the text. By concentrating on those fine details, he was able to extract an array of exegetical treasures. Some of his conclusions have halachic implications, some are keen observations of the linguistic components of Rashi’s choice of words and all are relevant to the personal spiritual service of the reader. I myself have come to rely upon this work in
Neighbors stop to watch the Rebbe arrive at 770 Eastern Parkway, circa summer 1977.
the preparation of my weekly sermons and as material for discussion around the Shabbos table, irrespective of whether those around the table are learned elders or young schoolchildren.
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His counsel was sage, and often bordered upon the miraculous. His political views were explicit, forceful and impactful. The Works of Rambam The Rebbe expected from his followers a great deal in the way of Torah study. He strongly reinforced the study regimens that his distinguished predecessors instituted: a requirement of one masechet of Shas annually, a daily diet of Chassidic discourses and daily portions of Chumash, Psalms and the Chassidic classic Sefer HaTanya. The Rebbe emphasized that this was all in addition to the individual learning required of each person according to Jewish law, as depicted in the Shulchan Aruch’s Hilchot Talmud Torah. Among the Rebbe’s own innovative projects in this regard was his request for the daily study of Rambam. For more advanced students, he required the study of three chapters or, if too difficult, then one chapter daily of Mishneh Torah; for those less knowledgeable, he required the study of a parallel selection of the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot each day. The festive siyum with which the completion of the entire work was celebrated each year was rivaled only by the festivities of the major holidays on the Jewish calendar. But the Rebbe’s emphasis on the Rambam and his teachings did not stop with his insistence upon the study of the Maimonidean text itself. Entire volumes of the Rebbe’s teachings are dedicated to analysis of those texts. My personal favorite remains his commentary on the Rambam’s Hilchot Beit HaBechirah, the Laws of the Holy Temple. The Rebbe recommended that Hilchot Beit HaBechirah be studied during the Three Weeks of mourning prior to Tishah B’Av. In his commentary, the Rebbe combines a profound analysis of the conceptual underpinnings of the Rambam’s text with an appreciation for the spiritual guidance that the student can derive from the Rambam’s treatment of the subject. He achieves the latter by applying his mastery of Chassidic thought to the Rambam’s words. But for the former, he relies upon a surprising “mentor”: the brilliant but often cryptic notes of Rabbi Yosef Rosen, known as the Rogatchover Gaon. It is clear that the Rebbe was heavily influenced in his approach to Talmud study in general, and to the works of the Rambam in particular, by this early twentieth-century genius. The hallmarks of the Rogatchover’s approach are his astonishing bekiut (thorough familiarity with the entire range of rabbinic literature) and a method of study that does not hesitate to use abstract philosophical concepts. Garnered in part from the Rambam’s own Moreh Nevuchim, Rabbi Yosef Rosen uses these concepts as analytic tools to find the underlying themes behind seemingly disparate strands of Talmudic discussion. In my opinion, the Rebbe remains the foremost interpreter of the Rogatchover’s Torah teachings. Most of us, who find the Rogatchover’s writings forbiddingly terse and often inscrutable, are indebted to the Rebbe for making them more accessible.
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Chiddushei Torah and Lomdut The ultimate criterion of rabbinic greatness is, of course, exceptional proficiency in the Talmud corpus. The ability to formulate novellae, to expound with originality upon a wide range of texts—reconciling seeming contradictions and resolving questions of all sorts—is the sine qua non of rabbinic greatness. It is here that the Rebbe’s contributions, although published and available to all, are least known to those outside his circle of followers. The most incontrovertible demonstration of the Rebbe’s lomdut is found in the hadranim, the lectures he delivered at the conclusion of studying Talmudic tractates. The Rebbe delivered 151 such hadranim, eighty-four of which are recorded in the two-volume Hadranim al HaShas, published by Kehot Publication Society. I have two personal favorites: one is the hadran that the Rebbe delivered on the occasion of the completion of the entire Talmud, in which he persuasively argues that a common thread runs through all of the hundreds of disputes between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. The other is his hadran on the tractate Bava Kama. This is a tour de force in which the Rebbe connects the Bavli and Yerushalmi, uses the “Brisker” concepts of cheftza and gavra and ingeniously links the beginning of the tractate with its end—all to elucidate a fundamental principle which underlies the entire 118 folio pages of the crucial tractate.
Derush, or Homiletics
As a pulpit rabbi for many years, and as one who is still frequently called upon to deliver sermons, I have found the Rebbe’s works to be veritable archives of chomer lederush, homiletic material. The thirty-nine volumes of his selected edited sichot, or weekly discourses, and more than two hundred unedited ones, might prove to be too overwhelming a source for busy pulpit rabbis. Fortunately, many of his teachings have been condensed and compiled in a collection about the festivals called Shaarei HaMoadim. I have found those volumes indispensable for preparing and delivering inspiring and spiritually relevant sermons—grounded in a heterogeneous array of sources—to audiences of every possible background. On the occasion of Shevii Shel Pesach, I once delivered a lecture to a distinctly secular audience on the topic of miracles, using the Rebbe’s discourse on the Splitting of the Red Sea from Shaarei HaMoadim as a guide.
The Rebbe as Pastoral Counselor
Most readers would surely concur that an essential component of great Torah scholarship is a rabbi’s ability to use that scholarship to assist those seeking personal guidance. We have interesting manuscript evidence of the Rambam’s skill in this regard; in much more recent times we know of the practical advice that spiritual leaders like the Chofetz Chaim
and the Chazon Ish were able to give those who sought their counsel. I personally benefited from the Rebbe’s advice in a life-changing telephone conversation I had with him more than forty years ago. Thousands of others have benefitted similarly. We have written documentation of these counseling sessions in the multi-volume collection of letters that the Rebbe wrote over the course of his leadership career. This collection is published as Iggerot Kodesh. It amounts to thirty volumes and has scores more in the works. I am drawn to this collection especially because of my training and experience in the field of psychotherapy. A number of major principles of effective counseling emerge from these letters. To name a few: 1. It is important to have clear and achievable goals in life. 2. When those goals are reached, one must immediately set new goals and never complacently rest upon one’s laurels. 3. Study, joy and song are antidotes to depression, as is focusing on helping others. 4. One must cultivate as many friendships as possible, and do so by giving spiritually or materially to the other person. 5. We need much less sleep than we think. 6. One must persist in the face of failure. Failure is seldom total and never final; it is usually a step toward reaching the next level of achievement. 7. One must never compromise one’s religious principles. Such compromise is not effective. 8. Each person has a distinct role to play; both God and one’s fellow man fully rely on him to accomplish it. No one else can do what he is uniquely created to do. The Rebbe tried valiantly to change the orientation of modern psychology from Dr. Sigmund Freud’s approach to that of Dr. Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning. (Dr. Freud and his followers believed that unconscious and dark forces were the essence of man. Dr. Frankl, who was a survivor of Auschwitz, asserted that man’s conscious search for meaning is his essence. The Rebbe personally encouraged Dr. Frankl to persist in his dispute against the Freudians. See Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ article on page 21.) By expanding our view of the Rebbe and increasing our familiarity with his contributions, we get a picture of his unusual significance in Jewish history. More important, we become aware that his teachings remain a vital source of education and inspiration for all Jews, irrespective of one’s background and hashkafic perspective. The Rebbe was not just a rebbe for Chabad Chassidim. He was, and remains, a rebbe for us all. g Listen to Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb discuss the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s scholarship at www.ou.org/life/inspiration/savitsky-weinreb/.
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By Bayla Sheva Brenner
Frum and Childless “. . . and the childless one should not say, ‘Look, I am a shriveled tree.’ For this is what Hashem said to the barren ones who observe My Sabbaths and choose what I desire and hold tightly onto My covenant: In My house and within My walls I will give to them a place of honor and renown, which is better than sons and daughters. I will give them eternal renown, which will never be expired” (Isaiah 56:3-5).
ven though I married later in life, I anticipated having children. I still can’t believe it’s not going to happen. I wasn’t prepared for this. In the child-centered frum world, a childless woman comes face to face every day with reminders of what she lacks—at every school bus stop, supermarket, clothing store, shul, shiur, simchah; in every Jewish newspaper, every magazine and inevitably, every conversation. I longed to speak to others like myself—at once fully connected to the frum community, and galaxies apart. I networked, seeking childless women who had passed the point of trying to conceive. Potential contacts expressed reluctance about approaching the childless friend, neighbor or aunt. They said it was a “touchy” subject. Nevertheless, several women came forward to speak about their journeys. The majority of them chose to remain anonymous. The reasons for their inability to bear children varied. Either they married late or had medical issues. Some exBayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.
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perienced failed adoptions; for others, such a route wasn’t an option. Their common bond was their pain and the hard-won wisdom born from living without that which one wants most. “Since I was very young, I dreamt I was going to have ten kids,” says Bracha Melzer (her real name), in her sixties and living in Brooklyn. “Hashem decided that would not be my path. As difficult as it is to accept, ‘no’ is a full sentence.” Like many of us, Bracha sought medical help and prayed; like all of us, she cried. She says that letting go of the hope of ever having children proved the hardest part. For Chana, fifty-four, married thirty years and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who lost most of his family, [the hardest part] was relinquishing the expectation of continuing the family line. “It was really devastating for me,” says Chana, the only woman in her small Jewish community without children. The sense of urgency hit some of the women while they were still single. “[As I got older,] my dates would always want to know if I could have children,” says Tziporah, a Brooklyn therapist in her sixties who married in her
late forties. “I felt shame associated with it. . . Although I’m no longer ashamed of what Hashem has decided for me,” she says, “I still dream about babies.” Finding Ways to Create Life If frum society defines motherhood as the essence of a Jewish woman’s identity, then who is she without a family to raise? It’s a question we ask ourselves constantly. We have to. Our lives don’t include the thrill of due dates, feeling a baby’s first kick, birthday parties, PTA, bar/bat mitzvot, visiting day, high school plays, chatunot and grandchildren. We have to consciously construct our days—and our nachat. In lieu of the daily demands of motherhood, we experience an unremitting clamor for meaning. And irrespective of what our Plan B is, it has to fill us body and soul, in a way that only something as eternal as giving to others can. The women I spoke with contribute generously to the community as educators, doctors, therapists, life-coaches or youth group leaders. No matter how rewarding the work, at the end of the day, these women remain childless. Keeping one’s spirits up takes continuous effort, coping tools and a lot of spiritual creativity. Although she finds her job as a kindergarten teacher highly gratifying, Yidis, fifty-three and living in New England, admits she struggles every day to stay afloat. “I keep myself very busy,” she says. “Otherwise, I’m smack in the middle of the yetzer hara’s playground. When I find I’m going down the wrong path, I ask myself, ‘What’s my mission now, at this very moment?’” One of those trying moments led to a life-changing brainstorm. Fifteen summers ago, Yidis gazed outside her window to find a large assembly of neighbors, all mothers, on lawn chairs happily chatting as their children played. “I thought to myself, ‘Yidis, you have two choices: you can either go insane or you can do something productive,’” she relates. She chose the latter, launching a Torah learning center for secular and newly frum Jewish women. “You have to pour the angst into something else,” says Yidis. Bracha “refused to wallow in the pain.” A certified lifecoach, she’s also an advocate and group leader for Sister to Sister (a resource and support network for frum single mothers and their children), and she volunteers for an organization that assists parents of children with learning challenges. “I pleaded with Hashem that I should be able to really enjoy children,” she says, “to listen to them, laugh with them, be able to call friends and ask how their children are doing. It takes work, but children are part and parcel of the world, and I don’t want to be shut out of that experience.” Unlike our parental peers, we need to actively seek out opportunities to express our mothering instincts. The childless Jewish woman’s need to nurture finds its way to receptive hearts of children of all ages.
“My husband is the ‘candy man’ at our shul,” says Sarah, an Internet marketer in her sixties, married for twentythree years and living on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “So, I’m Mrs. Candy Man. The kids come in droves. They get upset when we’re away.” Over the years, the couple has hosted scores of grateful single men and women for Shabbat. “We’re well-known in the community for taking people in at the last minute,” says Sarah, who was single for many years. “No one should eat alone.” “I learned from a rebbetzin that there are many ways women can give to the world,” says Tziporah. “[One primary way for me to do so is through] my relationship with my husband. I’ve watched him develop and I feel our love for each other grow. That’s the foundation of my life.” Lessons in Sensitivity Women love to talk about their lives. If they are parents, they talk about their children—incessantly. “It’s not that they are doing it to hurt anyone,” says Chana. “People just don’t take that extra step to stop and think, ‘If I say this, how is it going to affect the next person?’ I just try to listen and push my pain aside.” Leah, a physician and Torah teacher living on the West Coast, finds certain communal gatherings challenging. “A few weeks ago, at our Friday night Tehillim group, someone was kvelling about her large family. The following week, someone else went on and on about a new grandchild. I want to hear about people’s children and grandchildren, but when the gushing goes overboard, it gets very difficult.” Chatunot and bar mitzvot present a particularly uncomfortable social venue for the childless. Caught up in the lifecycle celebration, mothers around each table launch into conversations about pregnancies, schools, seminaries and shidduchim, oblivious to the childless seated among them. “When I find I can’t turn the conversation around, I get up and dance with the children,” says Bracha. “One time I gave one of the little girls a hug and she asked if I had a boo-boo; she felt a tear on my cheek. I said I had something in my eye. I don’t think I fooled her.” Many women turn these trying experiences into lessons in sensitivity. As with any person outside of what the frum society deems the norm, the childless woman learns, albeit the hard way, to become more considerate of other people’s vulnerabilities. “When I’m with friends who are single, I’m careful not to say ‘my husband,’” relates Bracha. “I say his name instead. I think it’s less hurtful.” Yom Tov Without Children Every year before Pesach, Chana pleads with Hashem, “Please don’t let us be alone for Sedarim.” Inevitably, they’re invited out; she finds that it’s a mixed blessing. “Every time we go to someone else’s home, I see them with their large families, together for all the yamim tovim; I get such pangs,” she laments. “I will never have that.” On
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“Children are part and parcel of the world, and I don’t want to be shut out of that experience.” Simchat Torah, while mothers watch their children dancing with their fathers, for the childless woman, it can feel heartbreakingly lonely in the women’s section. “At Purim events, parents and kids get together and I feel like I have no reason to be there,” says Chana. When Pesach comes around, Sarah and her husband opt for programs overseas. They’ve been to Sicily, Sardinia and Puerto Rico and Croatia—among other locations. “We meet a lot of people, hear great Torah lectures.” Others prefer to stay home. “We have a full yom tov table both nights,” says Dassi, an attorney in her fifties living in Manhattan. “Our guests ask the Four Questions in different languages. You can create a whole new way of enjoying the holiday.” Bracha and her husband agree; they invite Russian immigrants and those without spouses to their Sedarim. Sharing the Wisdom As with any chronic “have-not” situation, childlessness could easily thrust women into victim mode. Some choose to see it as an opportunity to exercise their gratitude muscles. Adina Fischlewitz (her real name), a former art teacher from Queens, New York, decided to shift her focus from what she lacked to what she had: free time. “No one gets everything in this life. So I went for what’s most important—becoming the best me.” She attends shiurim regularly, joined a mussar vaad and launched the We Are Doing A-OK project, an initiative involving women doing acts of kindness (A.O.K.) for others in their communities. “It takes looking around you and seeing the thousands of things Hashem gives you,” she says. “You have to get into the kishkes of how blessed you are. Get to know who you are, what you can do, your limitless potential; it’s a constant avodah.” Without the busyness and distractions of parenthood, childless women often develop a heightened awareness of the passage of time. “Children help you forget that you are going to die,” says Naomi, a computer scientist from Manhattan. “You see them as a part of you that lives on. I feel like I have more of a reminder that I’m here by myself and it’s all up to me. [Consequently,] I’ve developed a sense of gratitude for just being alive every day.” Different Path/Unique Purpose A childless woman sees herself on the periphery of mainstream frum life. She was born a woman, with a woman’s
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nature and inclinations, so why does her life look so different from most of her peers? “I don’t know things that other women know,” says Tziporah. “That is probably the most challenging part—not having any idea of what it means to have [a child] grow inside of you, watching him or her grow up and later separate from you. That’s a huge part of the human experience that I don’t know anything about . . . It makes me feel not quite part of the human race.” While vacationing with her husband in Maine, Yidis caught a powerful glimpse of the childless woman’s unique role. We were out in a boat. The tour guide pointed out a black bird, a cormorant. It looked awfully silly standing on a rock with its arms [spread] out, airing out its wings, like it was airing out its underarms. He explained the cormorant is different from other birds; the feathers are not as water resistant as [those of ] other birds. Because of that, it can dive very, very deep. Because it has a heavier structure [denser bones than most other birds], it’s not able to fly as high as other birds; it can only fly over the surface of the water. I thought, “What if this cormorant spent its days looking up at the other birds and thinking: ‘Boy, I can’t fly like that. Look at them soaring and swirling in the upper skies, having a blast. What happened to me?’” If he were to spend his days like that, he’d be one miserable cormorant. But, if he were to say to himself, “Hashem gave me this particular ability to go deeper than any other bird, to go way beneath the surface and to bring up things that no other creature can,” he would have a completely different perspective. A smart cormorant thinks about the gifts God gave him. Not assigned the typical job description of a frum woman, we have to ask God what He wants from us every day, and in every situation. My most intense “God-what-do-you-want-from-me?” moments arise at britot, bar mitzvot and chatunot. It requires Herculean effort to accept my feelings of jealousy and loss, while sharing in the simchah of other families building Klal Yisrael. I focus on the spiritual reality behind my tug-of-war. Here’s my golden opportunity to ace a nisayon and break through to my higher self. I don’t always succeed; the battle continues. As a family therapist, Tziporah sees how parents who seem to “have it all” also need to consciously work each day on becoming the people they are meant to become. “So you
have a large family, a normal Jewish life. Meanwhile one of the children is in trouble at school and your husband cannot help but scream at the kid,” says Tziporah. “We’re all here to maximize who we are.” Sometimes it takes a childless woman to help mothers appreciate their blessings. Zehava is a Brooklyn-based artist in her sixties, originally from the Southwest. One day, she stopped by a local pizza shop for a midday bite. She smiled as she noticed a young mother enter with her four-year-old daughter in tow. Her expression quickly changed as the mother plopped her daughter down and shoved a slice of pizza in front of her, all the while yammering on her cell phone. “The poor girl kept looking up at her mother, then nibbling at her pizza,” says Zehava. She saw another mother walk in with four children and sit at a nearby table. This mother interacted with each of her children, asking them what they wanted, telling them stories and eliciting laughter. “The other girl stared at those kids the entire time,” says Zehava, “like, ‘why can’t I have that?’ Before I left, I went over to the woman on the cell phone and said, ‘Excuse me, I couldn’t help but observe that the entire time you were here with your daughter, you didn’t say one word to her. If you don’t start paying more attention to her, she’s going to need therapy.’ I was rude to her; I was so annoyed. It’s a zechut to have children. I want to put it out there: cherish the gifts you have.” Leaving Their Mark As a ba’alat teshuvah born to Holocaust survivors, I’m baffled and saddened. Instead of reconnecting the shattered link to thousands of years of mesorah and mesirut nefesh, it all ends with me. The majority of the women I interviewed named this as the most difficult aspect of their nisayon. “There are different kinds of pain,” says Bracha. “The kind when you’re married and it doesn’t work out, when you lose a child or when you are [an older single] waiting to get married. For me, [the deepest pain] was the realization that I was the end of the line; there would be no one to carry on after me.” Arianna, in her fifties, asks, “Who will say Kaddish and Yizkor [for me]?” Although we may not see the fruits of our labors in the obvious ways that mothers do, we continue to give birth to positivity despite our seeming void. During the throes of infertility treatments, Bracha consulted with the Bostoner Rebbe. Sensing his compassion, she broke down crying. “He actually laughed,” she says. “I asked him why he was laughing. He said, ‘You have more children than you know how to count.’” His words confused her at the time. Now, she’s no longer confused. “Hashem wants me to make an impact on this world in the best way I know how,” says Bracha. “If someone does a positive act because of my example, then I had a baby. That person who received the kindness is going to take it
forward forever. Like the Rebbe said, I have more children than I know how to count.” Ultimately, after 120 years, whether we’ve had children or not, we all leave this world with only ourselves and the relationship we’ve forged with Hashem. “This journey has drawn me closer to God,” says Tziporah. “The more I trust Him and open up to His will, the less I feel like He’s angry with me and rejecting me. I know that whatever challenge I have today, that’s the one I’m supposed to meet. When I remember to turn it over to Him, the day goes beautifully.” g
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WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO SAVE AMERICAN JEWRY?
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Taking Our Cue from Pew
By Steven Weil
Not all of the news coming out of the Pew Research Center’s “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” released this past October is depressing. The Orthodox population is growing exponentially. We have a high birthrate and a very low intermarriage rate. Moreover, one of the most impressive findings of the Pew report is that 70 percent of the Orthodox population was raised Orthodox. That means that 30 percent, or three out of every ten Orthodox Jews, did not grow up Orthodox but became Orthodox somewhere along the way. Not only is Orthodoxy attracting those from other streams, but our retention rate is remarkably high. It used to be that only 22 percent of American Jews stayed Orthodox. Today, 83 percent of Orthodox Jews stay Orthodox. Although we would prefer to retain 100 percent, no other group in the Jewish community or any other faith community has improved its retention rate like Orthodox Jewry. No doubt, we have a right to feel proud of our accomplishments, specifically the burgeoning day school movement, the vast array of Orthodox summer camps and programs, phenomenally successful youth groups such as NCSY, the limitless chesed organizations in each and every Orthodox community as well as all of the other communal endeavors that have helped make Orthodoxy strong and vibrant as we enter the twentyfirst century. But the truth is that as much as we have accomplished, we haven’t accomplished nearly enough. Among our non-Orthodox brethren, the intermarriage rate has skyrocketed. If we leave out the Orthodox—who very rarely intermarry—71.5 percent of American Jews marry outside of the faith. (This number refers to no form of conversion, that is, when the spouse identifies him or herself as a non-Jew. If we included nonhalachic conversions, the number is significantly higher.) That statistic should make us all feel deeply distressed. Are we not our brothers’ keepers? There are significant parallels between the Pew study and the National Jewish Population Study conducted in 2000. Both studies arrive at the same devastating conclusion: the non-Orthodox Jewish population is heading on a path toward becoming a small fraction of itself. As the Pew report made clear, the largest block of American Jews ages forty and under are unaffiliated. Moreover, most non-Orthodox Jews will in-
Rabbi Steven Weil is senior managing director of the OU.
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Tragically, this will not be the first time in our history that a segment of our people cut themselves off from the Jewish nation. Intermarriage, by Year of Marriage % of Jewish respondents with a non-Jewish spouse … MARRIED IN
termarry; among children of the intermarried, the statistics are abysmal. Only 17 percent of the children of intermarried couples marry other Jews. With a birthrate of only 1.9 children and an astoundingly high intermarriage rate, American Jewry is on a train speeding headlong into self-destruction. This should devastate each and every one of us. Tragically, this will not be the first time in our history that a segment of our people cut themselves off from the Jewish nation. Following the Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the eighth century BCE, the Ten Tribes were exiled to various lands, and they gradually assimilated and disappeared. The Chumash (Parashat Beshalach 13:18) records that when the Jews left Egypt, “vachamushim alu Bnei Yisrael m’Eretz Mitzrayim, and the Jewish people were armed when they came up from the Land of Egypt.” But Rashi notes that the word “chamushim” does not only mean armed; it also means one-fifth. Rashi asserts that the Torah’s use of this particular word comes to teach us that only one-fifth of the Jewish people in Egypt actually left during the Exodus. Imagine, during the greatest moments in Jewish history—the Exodus and the ensuing Revelation at Mount Sinai—a full 80 percent of the Jewish nation stayed behind. They shared no part in the historic Yetziat Mitzrayim, no part in the Revelation at Mount Sinai, no part in the destiny of the Jewish nation. I cannot help but notice disturbing parallels to our situation today. Hashem gave us the miraculous gift of being able to return to our homeland and create a society after two millennia of persecution and dispersion among the nations of the world. At this extraordinary period in history, American Jewry is choosing to not identify with the Jewish people; it is choosing spiritual oblivion. Throughout America, and indeed, throughout the entire Western World—be it Johannesburg, London, Melbourne or Los Angles—in practically every major city where Jews live, a spiritual holocaust is taking place. We are traumatized by the six million lives lost in the Holocaust, but we are losing more Jews today through indifference and inertia. Aside from wringing our hands in despair, what can we do?
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2005-2013 ’00-’04 ’95-’99 ’90-’94 ’85-’89 ’80-’84 ’75-’79 ’70-’74 Before 1970 Overall
58% 58 55 46 41 42 36 35 17 44
The rate of intermarriage among American Jews is 58%. Excluding the Orthodox, the number is even higher, with up to 71% of Jews marrying out of the faith. In other words, seven out of every ten nonOrthodox Jews intermarry. *Based on current, intact marriages. Unless indicated otherwise, all charts and tables courtesy of the Pew Research Center, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” October 2013, www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/jewish-american-beliefs-attitudes-culture-survey/.
WE MUST MODEL ETHICAL AND MORAL LIVING. We can have a profound and lasting influence on our nonreligious brothers and sisters simply by living lives of integrity, decency and honesty—by living genuine Torah lives. We represent the Torah to nonreligious Jews and to the world. As such, the Torah must inform all of the seemingly trivial interactions we have throughout the day. It must guide us in how we conduct our business affairs, how we deal with clients and business associates, how we treat employees and how we pay our creditors. You may recall Aaron Feuerstein, the CEO of Malden Mills, a textile company in Massachusetts. (His brother Moses was president of the Orthodox Union from 1954 to 1966.) A devastating fire destroyed his factory in 1995, and instead of moving production overseas or taking the insurance money and retiring, Feuerstein insisted on paying his employees while his factory was being rebuilt. The story made national news, and he, an Orthodox Jew, became a symbol of moral leadership. Who knows how many unaffiliated Jews were inspired by his ethical example to rethink their Jewish roots and discover their Torah heritage?
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BECOME AN AMBASSADOR FOR ORTHODOXY. We cannot afford to relegate kiruv to the professionals. Each and every one of us must get involved. Of course, we must be cognizant of the fact that we will not reach our spiritually estranged brothers and sisters by being condescending or preachy. Our job is to engage and stimulate. We need to open up new vistas; expose nonreligious Jews to the power and depth of Torah. The Torah, it is often noted, sells itself. Invite your unaffiliated neighbor to share a meal in your sukkah. Bring your nonreligious coworker to your home for Chanukah candle lighting. Give mishloach manot to people who wouldn’t receive them otherwise. (You would be surprised at how great an impression a small bottle of grape juice and a few hamantaschen can make!)
Orthodox Jews Today: How Were They Raised? Conservative 12% Reform 5% Orthodox 70%
*13% Other Includes: 5% Jewish - but with no particular stream/denomination 3% Jews of No Religion 3% Raised in Jewish faith and in some other religion 1% Other Jewish denomination 1% Not Jewish (no Jewish parent and no Jewish upbringing)
One of most impressive findings of the Pew report is that 70 percent of the Orthodox population were raised Orthodox. That means that 30 percent, or three out of every ten Orthodox Jews, did not grow up Orthodox but became Orthodox somewhere along the way. Illustration: Shai Carmel
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There is no impact on an unaffiliated Jew like experiencing a Friday night dinner with an observant family, where he can be a part of the singing, stimulating discussions, four-course meal and warm camaraderie. We should all take an example from Hart Levine. Some years ago, Hart was an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in bioengineering. An Orthodox student, Hart was grateful for the relatively strong Orthodox campus life. But then he noticed something: there were hundreds of Jewish students on campus who were totally uninvolved in Jewish life, who barely knew there was a Hillel on campus. Hart began inviting his fellow Jewish students to join him for Shabbat dinner. He was amazed by the enthusiastic response— some students stayed for hours, refusing to leave. The experience was so different from anything they had ever experienced. They wanted more. Soon Hart began hosting Sedarim and Shabbatonim. He contacted friends on other campuses and they too began inviting friends to Shabbat dinners, to Chanukah candle lighting ceremonies, to Megillah readings. A grassroots movement was launched—known as Heart2Heart— whose success was based on the most simple ideas: warm peer relationships and intimate Jewish experiences. Heart2Heart, which is today sponsored by the OU, is found on fifty-four campuses throughout the world. We must all become Hart Levines. SHARE THE SPIRITUAL WEALTH. Direct your unaffiliated coworker to a dynamic Jewish web site or a thoughtful article on a Jewish topic. Instead of sending flowers or chocolate for a birthday or other occasion, send a book that would pique his interest about Judaism, such as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sack’s A Letter in the Scroll or Dennis Prager’s Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism. OUR SHULS SHOULD BECOME “BIG TENT” SHULS. I’ve mentioned this idea previously in these pages, but it bears repeating: The synagogue is not simply a place to pray; it is a place to reach out to the broader community. If we are to make inroads in the war against assimilation, shuls can and must become true kehillot, warm and welcoming to all Jews. Each of our shuls should strive to become more inviting, more relevant and more inclusive. Shuls must also begin to think “outside of the shul walls.” For many unaffiliated Jews, a synagogue is way too intimidating. Hebrew is as familiar to them as Cantonese. So while they would not enter an Orthodox shul, they might attend events held in a neutral, nonthreatening venue such as a Torah class at a Starbucks or law office or a “Lunch and Learn” at a restaurant. We must provide portals of entry, and engage Jews both inside and
outside of the synagogue. Our rabbis need to see themselves as rabbis of the communityâ€”not just rabbis of those who pay duesâ€”and congregants need to understand the role a rabbi plays to all Jews and not just to members of the â€œclub.â€? ENCOURAGE YOUNG PEOPLE TO ATTEND JEWISH CAMPS, TO GO ON BIRTHRIGHT. It is well known that attending a Jewish camp can help solidify oneâ€™s Jewish identity in a powerful way. Encourage your nonreligious friends and coworkers to send their children to a Jewish camp or summer program. Such an intense Jewish experience can literally be life changing. NCSY, for example, runs a plethora of camping and summer experiences that are designed for unaffiliated kids and instills in them a deep and abiding appreciation for Judaism. Similarly, a trip to Israel can have an incredible impact on a young person. At the OU, we run Israel Free Spirit, the fourth-largest Birthright trip organizer in North America. We have seen firsthand how Birthright can help strengthen Jewish identity and bring Jewish young adults closer to their Jewish roots. This year, we will be bringing some 1,200 young people to Israel on Israel Free Spirit. For many of these participants, this trip will be the first time they will experience a Shabbat, the first time they will enter a synagogue. BECOME A PARTNER WITH THE OU. Each year we spend millions of dollars in an attempt to bring Jewish teens and young adults closer to Torah. Through our vast network of Jewish culture clubs found in more than 200 public schools, our array of meaningful camp and summer experiences, our NCSY regions reaching 20,000 Jewish kids each year, our Birthright trips and so much more, we are investing in the Jewish future. After the Pew report came out, I had the opportunity to bring our senior staff to meet with Professor Steve Cohen, the preeminent American Jewish sociologist, who served as a senior consultant to the Pew report. (Dr. Cohen partnered with the OU and RCA in giving a webinar to our rabbis.) His message to us: American Jewry needs the totalityâ€”not just rabbis and kiruv professionalsâ€”of the Orthodox community to reach out and engage the unaffiliated in a very serious way. Unfortunately, we will most likely not be able to stop all 71 percent of non-Orthodox American Jews from intermarrying and ultimately from leaving the Jewish people. But maybe we can stop 5 or even 10 percent, possibly more. If we begin to fully appreciate the enormity of the task ahead and the immense responsibility that we, as Orthodox Jews, have toward our Jewish brothers and sisters, we can try to prevent another Ten Lost Tribes and avoid another vachamushim alu Bnei Yisrael. g
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Jonah’s Sukkah and the Pew Study By Erica brown
IN ONE OF OUR MOST THEATRICAL BIBLICAL TEXTS, A PROPHET GETS SWALLOWED BY A LARGE FISH AND THEN SPIT OUT WHEN HE RECOMMITS HIMSELF TO HIS DIVINE MISSION.
ut the Book of Jonah does not stop there. Jonah goes only one day into a city the expanse of a three-days’ journey, touts a five-word prophecy in Hebrew and an entire wanton city reforms—from the sack-cloth-wearing animals to the king of Nineveh. It must have been a spectacular sight and surely goes down as a “world record” achievement for the most successful prophecy in history. Think of Jonah and imagine—for a moment—that he held in his hand the recent Pew report on the American Jewish community. The report has its own predictive and prophetic
quality, distilling from the past and projecting a picture of a mostly grim future through offering us the likely trajectory if Jewish life continues to move in a particular direction. Findings on the Orthodox community were called into question because of the very small sample that was polled. On the one hand, we can celebrate the 83 percent Orthodox retention rate in the eighteen- to twenty-nine-yearold category that Pew attributed to us, until we look at the darker side of that statistic—nearly 20 percent of Orthodox young adults are dropping out. Jonah would be upset. When we travel back in time—to the last chapter of the book—Jonah was not happy with Nineveh’s transformation and complained to God, citing Moses’s language in Exodus describing God’s attributes. God was indeed compassionate and merciful, but Jonah left out the word “truth” from his formula of Divine descriptors. The truth,
Jonah believed, was that Nineveh’s repentance was only superficial, the veneer of change without authentic commitment. Jonah would rather die than live in a world where God’s truth was absent. God called him on it: “What right do you have to be angry?” You cannot feel indignant when someone else changes, particularly when you benefited from the grace of second chances. When the future looks bleak because of the way we imagine it, it is easy to drown ourselves in pessimism and retreat. We try to save ourselves when saving everyone else looks like too big a task. This is exactly what Jonah did. “Jonah went out east of the city and sat down. He made a shelter for himself and sat in its shade, waiting to see what would happen to Nineveh. Then the Lord God made a plant grow over Jonah to give him some shade, so that he would be more comfortable. Jonah was extremely pleased with the plant . . . .” Jonah left Nineveh without having traversed the entire city. In his despondence he built a
Dr. Erica Brown is the scholar-in-residence at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Her most recent book is Happier Endings: A Meditation on Life and Death (New York, 2013).
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sukkah—a personal booth to seal himself off from his assignment and enjoy his own material comfort. Perhaps Jonah could still see Nineveh from his perch, or maybe the walls of his sukkah were too opaque. In his sukkah east of Nineveh, Jonah reviewed the Pew report. Intermarriage is trending. Jewish education is having less impact and on fewer Jews. Organizational nonprofit life is less appealing. Synagogue membership is decreasing. Responses to the findings are coming out regularly with a “woe is to us” handwringing and a “what should we do?” knee-jerk rush to fix our problems. Jonah finished the report, furrowed his brows in consternation and, with an “I told you so” smirk, strengthened the walls of his temporary hut. The Orthodox response to the Pew findings should not be directed to the relatively small slice of the report that deals with the Orthodox community, especially because the sample size was perhaps too insignif-
Orthodox Retention, by Age Among those raised as Orthodox Jews by religion who are now age… 18-29
% who are currently…
Orthodox Jews by religion
Conservative Jews by religion
Reform Jews by religion
Jews by religion – other denom.
Jews by religion – no denom.
Jews of no religion
Among those 65 and older who were raised Orthodox, 22% are still Orthodox. In stark contrast, 83% of Jewish adults under 30 raised Orthodox are still Orthodox. *Figures may not sum to 1oo% due to rounding.
vest in Jewish education on every level. Virtually every aspect of neglect and loss that, not surprisingly, surfaced in the Pew report has not impacted the Orthodox community. The only thing stopping us is the thickness and opacity of the walls put
Few Orthodox people even bothered to read the Pew report. icant to constitute accurate and compelling findings. Instead, we in the Orthodox community need to read the entire report and come out of our sukkah. We need to learn more about the American Jewish community at large and ask what we can do to strengthen in-marriage, community building and Jewish education for those who do not share our denominational commitment—precisely because we are the best equipped to do so. We have richer and better Jewish education than the overwhelming majority of American Jews. We have tight-knit synagogues that take prayer, Israel and Jewish identity seriously. We shine at building communities based on chesed and responsibility. We in-
up between ourselves and the larger American Jewish community. We tend to see ourselves as the inheritors of European Jewish life rather than descendants of a textured American Jewish history. The subject is rarely taught in our day schools. Few Orthodox people even bothered to read the Pew report. Many who did concluded that it was someone else’s problem as opposed to our shared and collective responsibility. We have become so fragmented that the identity hemorrhaging that is currently taking place is regarded as an “I told you so” phenomenon rather than a remarkable opportunity for change and a religious challenge. Returning to the statistic about
Orthodox drop-out rates, perhaps if the Modern Orthodox community engaged in more kiruv to the larger Jewish world that desperately needs what we have in abundance, our own kids would stay within the fold. In the words of one Chassidic rebbe, outreach is like throwing a ball. Sometimes someone else catches your ideas; sometimes they hit a wall. But when they hit a wall, they also bounce back, and you catch them yourself. At the age of eighteen, Mormon kids devote themselves to two-year missions to engage others. This may or may not work as an outreach tool, but it has a more profound consequence—it strengthens the spiritual life of its ambassadors at a critical time of personal and religious development and decision-making. Jonah is the only Biblical book to end with a question. It is a question that perhaps God is still asking us. How long will we sit in a sukkah, closed off from others who need us, thinking about our own institutions and their viability and affordability and close our eyes to the larger Jewish world that can benefit from what we have? We can only truly reverse the gloom and doom if we are willing to share our immense blessings and if we regard outreach as an urgent and sacred responsibility. g
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The Pew Report:
A WAKE-UP CALL By Efrem Goldberg
THIS PAST OCTOBER, TWO MESSAGES VITALLY IMPORTANT TO THE JEWISH COMMUNITY WERE DELIVERED IN THE SAME WEEK. At the United Nations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an impassioned speech and addressed what he described as nothing short of an existential threat to the State of Israel—Iran. Elsewhere, the Pew Research Center reported the results of a survey of American Jews, revealing nothing short of an existential threat facing American Jewry—assimilation. While the solution to the threat posed by a nuclear Iran is neither simple nor easy, it is attainable— preferably through diplomacy or, if not, through military action. However, one can neither negotiate with, nor drop a bomb on, the devastating statistics and distressing portrait painted by the Pew report. More creative, coordinated and systemic solutions will be needed if we are going to reverse the clear trends that are emerging regarding the state of American Jewry and our future. Alarmingly, the survey found that among the non-Orthodox, the intermarriage rate is currently at 71 percent. More than one in five American Jews describe themselves as having no religion, 22 percent of American Jews say they never attend religious services and 62 percent report that being Jewish is primarily a matter of ancestry and culture. More than a third of American Jews responded that believing in Jesus as Messiah is compatible with Judaism. Forty-two percent said that they believe having a good sense of humor is part of what it means to be Jewish; 19 percent said observing Jewish law is an essential part of being Jewish. Much of the analysis and many of the articles about the survey have addressed the revelations regarding the different Jewish denominations. The survey found that “One third (35%) of all U.S. Jews identify with the Reform movement, while 18% identify with Conservative Judaism, 10% with Orthodox Judaism and 6% with a variety of smaller groups, such as the Reconstructionist and Jewish Renewal movements. About three in ten American Jews. . . say they do not identify with any particular Jewish denomination.”
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the senior rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue, an OU shul in Boca Raton, Florida.
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The survey points to the struggles of the liberal movements that are hemorrhaging members—and perhaps relevance—rapidly. It is easy for the Orthodox community to read the survey and react with a sense of triumphalism, but that would be a horrible mistake, for several reasons. First, it is abundantly clear that the struggle of the other streams of Judaism is not a result of a migration to Orthodoxy. The reality is quite the opposite—those who have left those denominations are leaving Judaism altogether. I cannot articulate it better than Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, rosh yeshivah of Yeshivat Har Etzion, who wrote in the 1982 spring edition of Tradition: Nor do I share the glee some feel over the prospective demise of the competition. Surely, we have many sharp differences with Conservative and Reform movements, and these should not be sloughed or blurred. However, we also share many values with them—and this, too, should not be obscured. Their disappearance might strengthen us in some respects, but would unquestionably weaken us in others. And of course, if we transcend our own interests and think of the people currently served by these movements—many of them, both presently and potentially, well beyond our reach or ken—how would they, or Klal Yisrael as a whole, be affected by such a change? Can anyone responsibly state that it is better for a marginal Jew in Dallas or in Dubuque to lose his religious identity altogether, rather than drive to his temple? Secondly, if the undeniable trend of American Jewry is a shift toward secularism and assimilation, the burden on the traditional community to preserve, sustain and promote authentic Judaism is perhaps greater than ever. We cannot afford to feel triumphant or content when we have a sacred mission and a holy mandate to fulfill.
Intermarriage, by Denomination Among married Jews, % whose spouse is…
Not Jewish %
Rates of intermarriage vary considerably among the major US Jewish denominations. Virtually all Orthodox respondents who are married have a Jewish spouse (98%) and most married Conservative Jews have Jewish spouses (73%). Half of Reform Jews who are married have a Jewish spouse. Among married Jews who are not affiliated with any denomination, 31% have a Jewish spouse. *Figures may not sum to 1oo% due to rounding.
Lastly, and most importantly, if you read the survey, you will see that it provides much for the Orthodox community to reflect upon. It found that many who were raised Orthodox no longer affiliate with Orthodoxy. Frankly, we didn’t need the survey to notice that Orthodox communities are struggling mightily to raise inspired Jewish teens and young people. Many Orthodox youth, including those currently enrolled in Orthodox schools, unabashedly admit to eating out nonkosher, texting on Shabbos, not putting on tefillin and to a general disaffection with the observant lifestyle and its rigorous demands. Their attitude is, “if doing these things doesn’t ‘do anything’ for me— and they don’t—why should I observe them?” We must articulate a compelling answer to that question and
many of their other questions if we are going to inspire our young people to proudly carry the torch of Orthodox Judaism forward. If nothing else, this survey indicates that the Jewish American landscape is changing rapidly—and not for the better. America has been a better host country to the Jewish people than any other country in our history. The freedom it provides and the rights it grants us make this the most blessed land in which a Jew can live, outside of Israel. But clearly freedom, liberty and autonomy come with great costs, such as the seductive urge and invitation to assimilate into the greater culture and lifestyle around us. Avraham Avinu, the founder of ethical monotheism and the father of our people, when purchasing a
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grave for his wife, described himself as “ger v’toshav anochi imachem, I am a stranger and a resident together with you.” Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l, explains that in this introduction Avraham captured the tension that every Jew is destined to live with forever. On the one hand, we are toshavim, residents and inhabitants of the great countries in which we live. We function as active citizens, participating in the fullness of the society around us. And yet, at the same time, we must remain geirim, strangers: different, apart, distinct and dissimilar. Ger v’toshav—we are to simultaneously be part of, and apart from, the
ance is off, our equilibrium between ger v’toshav, stranger and resident, is out of alignment—this time in the opposite direction. The Pew report is a sobering wake-up call, a harsh and stark reminder that if we succumb to the allure of finally being toshavim, finally being fully accepted and integrated residents, we stand to lose our identity as geirim, as Jews, and we will find ourselves fully assimilated, believing that having a good sense of humor is a meaningful part of being Jewish. The truth is that the trend toward secularism and universalism is not uniquely Jewish. While elsewhere in
perhaps we should spread our wings further and deeper into the general American culture and try to bring our ancient and timely wisdom to the world around us? The Pew report yields two clear conclusions and mandates for our Orthodox community. First, we must focus our energies and resources on outreach, recognizing that it is up to us to plug the dam that has turned from a slow leak into a full-fledged flood of intermarriage and assimilation. Kiruv must not be the domain of rabbis and outreach professionals alone. If we are to move the needle on these statistics, we will need to make outreach a communal imperative and
We cannot focus all of our efforts on outreach, inviting Jews in through the front door, while our own children are sneaking out the back. general world around us. Striking the proper balance and equilibrium between our dual identities and roles is the mission of the Jew at every time and in every place that he or she has ever lived. There have been periods in our history in which we didn’t need to work hard to remember that we are different. Through anti-Semitism, persecution and oppression, our hosts have often reminded us that we are geirim, we are not the same. As much as we tried to blend in and assimilate, we were denied the opportunity to be toshavim, equal residents and citizens. Indeed, the imbalance which tilted toward being geirim, toward being different, was our default status for the bulk of our history, particularly in exile. And yet, at this moment in history, while we are blessed to live in this great country, a truly exceptional place that has afforded us extraordinary opportunity, once again our bal-
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the world sectarian groups are at war to protect what makes them different and distinct, the movement in America seems to blur and erase boundaries and differences altogether. The implicit message communicated in popular culture and often articulately taught on college campuses across the country is that we are all the same. The force of universalism is pervasive in this country, and the results of the Pew report make it clear that it has penetrated into all segments of the Jewish community, including the Orthodox. Exploring the topics of Jewish exceptionalism, what it means to be a Jew and why being a ger, being different, matters, is clearly a necessary component of the solution to this existential threat. Should we, like Noach, retreat to insular arks and protect ourselves and our families? Should we create isolationist communities shielded from the foreign influences of the secular world? Or
mandate incumbent on every Orthodox individual and family. The great economist Milton Friedman taught that if you want to know the values and ideals of a company or organization, don’t listen to what they preach but examine their budget and see how they allocate their funds. Will the call for “someone” to do kiruv remain lip service alone, or are our shuls prepared to put a line item for outreach in their budgets, with specific and adequate allocations for staff, programs and follow up? Will outreach be relegated to ancillary organizations and individuals, or are we willing to change the culture in mainstream Orthodox shuls to be more welcoming, warm and open to the uninitiated? Would a stranger who wanders into our shuls be greeted warmly, find a yarmulke easily and have the page numbers announced or displayed regularly? Or will he feel lost, unwelcome and too intimidated to
Essentials of Jewish Identity, by Denomination Remembering Holocaust
Leading ethical life
Sense of humor
Being part of Jewish community
Observing Jewish law
Eating Jewish foods
Working Being Caring for justice/ intellectually about equality curious Israel
Roughly seven-in-ten US Jews (73%) say that remembering the Holocaust is an essential part of what being Jewish means to them. Nearly as many say leading an ethical life is essential to what it means to be Jewish (69%). Eight-in-ten Orthodox Jews (79%) say observing Jewish law is essential to what being Jewish means to them. This view is shared by just 24% of Conservative Jews, 11% of Reform Jews and 8% of Jews with no denominational affiliation.
stay or return in the future? At the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS) in Florida, we are incredibly proud to have a dedicated outreach rabbi as part of our rabbinic leadership team. Rabbi Joshua Broide brings limitless energy and passion to working with the unaffiliated, but he relies on our members to make introductions and referrals. Through sermons, classes, our literature, our web site and our budget, our members understand that reaching out to the 120,000 Jews in the Boca Raton area is a core value and responsibility for our BRS community. They are constantly reminded that to make a dent in the 92 percent assimilation rate in our area, they will need to get involved in reaching out to a coworker, neighbor or friend and invite them to a beginner’s program or class or, most meaningfully, to their homes. Twice a year BRS runs S.O.S.— Share One Shabbos—asking all of our members to invite someone who has never experienced an authentic Shab-
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bos meal into their homes, the most authentic and effective venue for inspiring an inexperienced Jew. If they can’t think of someone to invite, we are happy to provide them with guests. Hundreds of families have participated and the results have been outstanding. Through personal follow up, some have become observant and moved into our neighborhood. Many have taken further classes or started attending Rabbi Broide’s Friday Night Live program. Most, at least, had a positive experience with encountering Orthodoxy up close and tasting what Shabbos is all about. Many mistakenly assume that rabbis, rebbetzins and educators are best positioned to succeed at outreach. While we may have more technical knowledge and be more comfortable in the role of teacher, we cannot compare with the power of a genuine and sincere relationship between an “ordinary” Orthodox Jew and someone Jewishly inexperienced. Don’t be hesitant or afraid. The Orthodox commu-
nity could easily touch the lives of tens of thousands of secular Jews every year if we simply make it a priority and recruit all of our members to get involved. The second mandate that emerges from the Pew report is the need to focus our efforts on retention by revisiting how we interact with, educate and inspire our youth. We cannot focus all of our efforts on outreach, inviting Jews in through the front door, while our own children are sneaking out the back. The observance of and compliance with an Orthodox lifestyle that we took for granted with our children in the past are no longer a given, and we need to think creatively of ways to model and inspire passion within those who represent our future. Let us pray that with our renewed efforts coupled with siyata d’Shmaya, Divine assistance, a Pew survey a decade from now will report a thriving, flourishing Jewish people steeped in Jewish values and Torah. g
The Pew Report:
IT REALLY MATTERS By Jacob J. Schacter
Many words have been spoken and much ink has been spilled about the Pew report. This report—both in general and with regard to many of its specific points—has been dissected, discussed, debated, examined, analyzed and questioned. And, from my perspective, two points are clear. One, it matters. It is not about yenem, someone else. It is about us, our people. The Orthodox community needs to pay close attention to the findings. The
Orthodox community in the United States needs to pay more attention— serious attention—to what this report presents about American Jewry, our Jewry. Second, I see this report as an indictment of Orthodoxy. Yes, our intermarriage rates are very low (2 percent); the median age of those who identify as Orthodox is the lowest (40, compared to the median age in the net Jewish population, 50); our fertility rates are the highest (4.1, more than double the overall Jewish average of 1.9); our retention rate in the 18- to 64-year-old categories is the highest, and there are other signs of our significant success. However, it graphically highlights just how much we have failed to meaningfully engage and impact the broad spectrum of acheinu Bnei Yisrael in this country. But first, as always, a Torah thought. All aspects of the mishkan are described in great detail in the second half of Sefer Shemot—not only once, but twice. The text focuses on the structure of the mishkan, its vessels and the garments worn by the priests who ministered within it. The Torah de-
Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter is university professor of Jewish history and Jewish thought and senior scholar at the Center for the Jewish Future, Yeshiva University. He is a contributing editor to Jewish Action.
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scribes, in great detail, the curtains, the beams and the pillars, the ark, the altars, the menorah and more. But there is one very small segment of the mishkan’s structure, often ignored and overlooked, that is highlighted by an interesting Midrashic passage on a verse at the beginning of Parashat Pekudei. The midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Pekudei #415) relates that after the work of the mishkan was completed, Moshe invited the Jewish people to make an accounting. “Thousands of shekels were collected and thousands of shekels were spent,” he said. “Let us make sure that all the money was allocated appropriately and that both sides of the ledger match with one another.” All the Jews gathered around, continues the midrash, Moshe commenced the audit and, lo and behold, when he was finished, he was 1,775 shekels short. The money was raised but he could not account for how it had been spent. He began to panic and was afraid that his honesty would be suspect and that his integrity would be impugned. He even expressed the fear that the Jews would accuse him of embezzling the funds! Once again Moshe feverishly scanned the entire structure of the mishkan, searching for something he might have missed. Finally, God “enlightened” him and drew his attention to the tiny little hooks that held the mishkan’s pillars together, the “vavin la’amudim.” Here he found the objects for which he had spent that money (Shemot 38:28). At that moment, concludes the midrash, the Jewish people were appeased and the potential problem was averted. Why is the midrash drawing our attention to these tiny hooks or links or hinges? It would appear that it is trying to highlight the hooks or the links or the hinges, sometimes tiny and sometimes easily overlooked, that connect either pillars to one another or, I would suggest, Jews to one another. In Hebrew, the letter “vav” means “and,” linking two objects or people together. The Midrash, I believe, teaches us the power of the vav, the connections. It is never about us as individuals; it is always about “us and,” in ever-larger concentric circles—us and our families, us and our communities, us and the Jewish people, us and the larger world in which we live and us and the Ribbono shel Olam. The Rema in Yoreh Deah (273:6) notes that there is a hiddur for every column (amud) of a sefer Torah to begin with the letter vav, and he refers to this by a name with which we are now familiar, vavin la’amudim. Every new
The Orthodox tend to have larger families, suggesting their share of the Jewish population will grow. Orthodox
U.S. general public 2.2 All U.S. Jews
Among adults ages 40-59
The average number of children born to Orthodox Jews (4.1) is about twice the overall Jewish average (1.9). column of our lives, every pillar of our existence, needs to be animated by the lesson of the letter vav. Furthermore, the Torah tells us that after Cain killed Abel, “And God appointed a sign (ot) for Cain” (Bereishit 4:15), colloquially referred to as “the mark of Cain.” What, exactly, was the mark of Cain? The Midrash informs us that it was not simply a random mark but it was, literally, an ot, a letter, and it refers to the Hebrew letter “vav.” Why this letter, of all possibilities? The late Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the Lubliner Rav, one of the greatest scholars and communal leaders of the twentieth century, explained that Cain, the person who was only concerned about himself and who could have the temerity to say to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Bereishit 4:9) had to be taught for the rest of his life the lesson of the letter “vav.” Emblazoned on his forehead for all eternity is a reminder that it is him and. His concerns had to transcend only himself; he needed to see himself as linked to others. Indeed, he was his brother’s keeper. And, finally, on what day was Adam created? He was created on “yom vav,” not to be understood only as “the sixth day” but, perhaps more profoundly, as “and day.” Already at the dawn of creation, the first human being ever created was taught that as the universe will unfold with him at its center, it will never be about him alone; it will always be about him and. Indeed, in a real sense, all of us Jews must consider ourselves as bound by the lesson of the letter “vav,” each one of us standing not alone but committed to “me and,” not only to ourselves but also to those who exist beyond and separate from us. Those wonderful hooks or connectors that held together the structure of the mishkan represent the connectors that need to hold together all Jews. What happens to
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The growing insularity of American Orthodoxy is a tragedy because we carry on as if we are all who matter. Jews across America matters to us because we are connected to them. We are one people. The growing insularity of American Orthodoxy is a tragedy because we carry on as if we are all who matter. I was deeply upset and saddened to hear that one of the prominent members of our community stated publicly on various occasions that the Pew report is not all that alarming because committed Jews were, historically, always a minority and that this report simply describes the most current iteration of that phenomenon. While this may be historically true, it dare not absolve us of the responsibility to do what we can to raise the level of engagement of other Jews with Judaism, one by one by one. This effort needs to be included in the list of the current priorities of the contemporary Orthodox community. The picture painted in this report is not a pretty one. One-in-five American Jews describe themselves as having “no religion”; among Jews who were married since 2000, nearly 60 percent are intermarried; only 31 percent of American Jews are members of a synagogue—any synagogue!; only 26 percent of American Jews say that religion is very important in their lives (compared with 50 percent of Americans in general) and there is more. And all this happened as Orthodoxy was, thank God, growing in numbers and intensity. The good news is that many of our synagogues are filled with shomrei Shabbat Jews, and the bad news is that many of our synagogues are filled with shomrei Shabbat Jews. Where are the non-shomrei Shabbat Jews going on Shabbat morning? What are we doing to make them feel comfortable in our shuls? Yes, our batei midrash boast shelves full of the latest Machon Yerushalayim Minchat Chinuch, Mosad HaRav Kook’s Torat Chaim Chumash, Mishnah Berurah Menukad, Tur veShulchan Aruch HaBahir, the Metivta U’Velechtecha BaDerech Talmud Bavli HaMevo’ar (Mahadurat Zichron Moshe) and the Talman Shas. And this, indeed, is wonderful (if they are being used). But where is the “yarmulke box” or the “doily box” in our lobbies? We simply have failed to demonstrate the beauty, meaning and warmth of Judaism not only to one in six of our children in the 18 to 29 age category who are not religious (one of the findings of this survey), but to millions and millions of Jews across the country. The reason is not because our “product” is faulty; it is because we have not made this a priority. Shame on us that this disaster is taking place under our own noses. We, partially, need to bear some of the responsibility.
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Orthodox Jews and Jews who do not identify with any denomination are younger than Jews overall...
Median age of adults Orthodox
All U.S. Jews
46 U.S. general public
Orthodox Jews (median age of 40) are substantially younger than Conservative Jews (55) and Reform Jews (54). I have a number of practical suggestions we should be considering, each one worthy of significant attention. We should be placing more JLIC couples on campuses (the Orthodox Union, in partnership with Hillel, administers the Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus [JLIC], a program that helps Orthodox students navigate the college environment), and we should be establishing (once again) afternoon Hebrew schools in our shuls for those children in our broader communities who are not attending a day school. And here’s a simple suggestion that wouldn’t cost much: The OU should spearhead an effort to arrange for all of its constituent synagogues (100 percent participation) to urge all their members (100 percent participation) to devote one Friday night in the next six months to invite nonaffiliated family members, neighbors, business associates or others to their homes for a Friday night Shabbat seudah. Educators should be commissioned to prepare a simple “how-to guide” to Friday night in the home with talking points on how to present Kiddush and lechem mishneh, how to explain the meaning of various zemirot, why bentching consists of multiple paragraphs and themes and more. And, I venture to add, no one will be surprised when it will soon become clear that our families themselves will benefit so much from this more mindful Shabbat experience. With the lesson of the vav, and with the letter vav at the top of the amud of our communal priorities, we will have a chance to change the face—even if only slightly— of the American Jewish community—our community. The need is urgent. The time is now. g
SAFEGUARDING OUR VERTICAL MESORAH
By Daphna Raskas
he unbroken historical chain from Sinai to the present day is described in the beginning of Pirkei Avot: “Moshe received the Torah and handed it down to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets handed it down to the Men of the Great Assembly.” Similarly, Maimonides, in his introduction to the Mishneh Torah, provides a generation by generation account of the names of all those in the direct line who transmitted this tradition beginning with Moshe Rabbeinu up until Ravina and Rav Ashi, the rabbis who compiled the Babylonian Talmud. Clearly, the mesorah, the transmission of the religious tradition, has been passed down vertically from generation to generation within the Jewish people. The mesorah assumes this method of vertical transference of the Torah from parent to child, within families and across generations since the time of Moshe. And yet, as Orthodox Jews in the Information Age, we live in an increasingly horizontally connected world that threatens to disrupt the vertical transference of Torah and the centrality of Torah in our lives. How do we ensure the vertical transference of the mesorah in a
IN AN INCREASINGLY HORIZONTAL WORLD
world in which our kids are so connected to the outside world 24/6? Witness what occurs the moment Shabbat is over in most Orthodox households. How many members, from the very youngest to the oldest, are checking e-mail or otherwise engaged online? Not so long ago, parents could contain the external influences in their children’s lives by deciding which schools and camps they attended, which television shows and movies (if any) they were exposed to and by giving them a curfew. The only way kids could engage with the outside world when at home was by means of a telephone that was attached to a wall. Today our children have unlimited and constant interactive exposure to the outside world in the palms of their hands, with their iPhones and iPods. They do not need to leave home to engage with the outside world. True, we can put parental controls and limit the use of the Internet, but there is no mistaking the fact that they and their friends are exposed to the outside world in a multitude of ways that is virtually beyond our control once we allow computers into our homes. The centrality of the home is competing for attention with the outside world in ways that we have never encountered before.
Dr. Daphna Raskas is a consultant to nonproﬁt organizations in the Greater Washington area.
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THE ZIONIST PHILOSOPHER AHAD HA’AM ONCE FAMOUSLY OBSERVED THAT “MORE THAN THE JEWS HAVE KEPT THE SHABBAT, THE SHABBAT HAS KEPT THE JEWS.” 62
All of this has implications for the vertical transmission of the mesorah. In a world where everyone is so busily connected horizontally with the external world, how can we ensure that the vertical transmission of the mesorah continues uninterrupted and with the same steadfastness as it has for thousands of years? Vertical transmission depends on the idea that one is willing to be a follower of something or someone. For thousands of years, the Jews have kept the mesorah, observing halachah by accepting and following the chain of command which began with Moshe and the God-given Torah. Today, increasingly, people have moved away from vertical chains of command in business, sociology, as well as in their avoidance of religion. Management experts now speak of horizontal leadership based on trust, a move away from top-down vertical leadership based on command and control. Sociologists speak of an increase in horizontal identity formation with peer groups based on common interests and how these connections compete with vertically formed identities. Americans as a whole are increasingly avoiding religious affiliations. Part of this appears to stem from a move away from accepting the vertical transference that characterizes religion. Americans no longer simply accept the beliefs or causes of their parents and ancestors. Instead, they appear to be increasingly invested in peer groups with whom they share other interests. The Pew report indicates that one in five individuals who identify as Jews describe themselves as having
Education and Income, 2013 % who… Have household Are college income of graduates $150,000+ %
U.S. general public
Upwards of one-fifth of all Jews from all of the major denominations say they have household incomes of $150,000 or more.
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no religion. This is about 1.2 million Americans and it represents 0.5 percent of US adults. Moreover, 62 percent of American Jews say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture and not religion. Clearly, for the majority of American Jews, the mesorah, the vertical transference of Jewish religious tradition, holds little value. Only 19 percent of Jewish adults surveyed said that observing Jewish law is essential to what being Jewish means to them. While the “good news” for the Orthodox community is that the falloff from Orthodoxy appears to be declining and is now only 17 percent among 18 to 29year-olds, this means that we are still losing almost 1 in 6 individuals in this age group who came from homes where the transference of the mesorah was presumably a high priority. So how do we ensure the continued vertical transference of the mesorah while living in our modern horizontally oriented world? The way we always have—by placing a strong emphasis on Shabbat observance and continuing our strong tradition of Torah learning. The Zionist philosopher Ahad Ha’am once famously observed that “More than the Jews have kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jews.” Never has the expression seemed more accurate than in the Information Age. Shabbat forces us to disconnect from the Internet and the outside world and provides us a twenty-five-hour respite in which to reconnect weekly, uninterrupted, with one another, with our community, with our mesorah and with our Maker. Traditional Torah learning—either shiurim or chavruta learning—strengthens our communal connections as well. Our religious learning can and should be enhanced by the worldwide web during the week and yet still remain in its original form, steeped in text. Nicholas Carr, in his book The Shallows, asserts that printed books focus our attention and promote deep and creative thought while the Internet encourages rapid, distracted sampling of many small bits of information. We have become more adept at scanning and skimming, but, according to Carr, we are losing our capacity for concentration and reflection. Traditional Torah learning on Shabbat and during the week not only helps us preserve cognitive skills, it helps us preserve the vertical transmission of the mesorah in the manner of our fathers. If we continue to emphasize the importance of observing Shabbat and studying Jewish texts, we will hopefully maintain the transference of the mesorah even in these times. If we wish to go one step further and strengthen the transference of the mesorah so that the next Pew survey yields more encouraging results regarding the future of American Jewry, we need to prioritize extending ourselves outside of the American Orthodox community to warmly encourage other Jews to join us in these fundamental mitzvot. g
Works d TwobyClassic d Renowned Historian RABBI AARON RAKEFFET-ROTHKOFF
Reclaiming the Disappearing Center
By Daniel Friedman
onservative Judaism has long prided itself on being the happy medium between Orthodox and Reform Judaism. The recent Pew report has shown, however, that save for a few committed souls, much of its traditional base has drifted away. In a world of increasing secularization, many former adherents are no longer comfortable with the Conservative appellation and have opted instead to identify with the Reform campâ€” synagogue affiliation notwithstanding. Over the years, the response of Conservative Judaism to its declining appeal has been to push the halachic envelope further and further. While there was a time in America when a Conservative synagogue and service were quite indistinguishable from many an Orthodox synagogue and service, the introduction of unprecedented innovations such as egalitarianism and same-sex marriage has undoubtedly widened the chasm between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism. And yet, not all within the Conservative camp have welcomed these innovations with open arms. When Conservative Judaism began ordaining women, a number of members broke with the movement and began the Union for Traditional Judaism (UTJ). And when the question of same-sex marriage arose, a number of synagogues seceded from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
It is time for us to open our arms to our traditional coreligionists. Many are yearning for a place back within the classical fold and it is our duty to figure out how to open our doors to these sincere souls and congregations who yearn to be part of the mesorah that has kept our nation strong for three millennia. Long before the days of polarized Judaism, there was a time when it was par for the course to work with Conservative congregations with the hope that they would become normalized to Orthodox practice. There are many such stories, where Orthodox rabbis entered Conservative congregations with the blessings of their teachers and institutions. Certainly not every such story culminated in success, but for some reason Orthodoxy has long since shied away from the challenge.
Many of those on the right of Conservative Judaism hold less radical views than those on the left of Orthodoxy. And in addition to the congregations, there are certainly many rabbis ordained by the Conservative movement who would welcome the opportunity to be acknowledged by their Orthodox counterparts. These individuals feel lost in a movement which they sense has forsaken them as it slowly but surely cedes traditional practice to the will of the people. And while their voices are falling on deaf ears in the Conservative movement, they would be a welcome addition to the honest halachic debate that prevails in Orthodoxy. In fact, many of those on the right of Conservative Judaism hold less radical views than those on the left of Orthodoxy. The Metivta of UTJ does not ordain women, nor does the Canadian Yeshiva & Rabbinical School. While it goes without saying that this regularization process would entail confirmation of their halachic and hashkafic knowledge and commitment, are we having the conversation? The Orthodox community dare not be smug about the latest report on the state of American Jewry. The Pew report is only as useful as our response to it. Our responsibility extends to all our brothers and sisters. In a world of alarming assimilation rates, let us join forces with those who believe in what we believe and strive for what we strive for. g
Rabbi Daniel Friedman is rabbi of Beth Israel Synagogue in Edmonton, Canada, an OU shul.
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YACHAD/NJCD, AN AGENCY OF THE ORTHODOX UNION, IS DEDICATED TO ENHANCING THE LIFE OPPORTUNITIES OF INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES, ENSURING THEIR PARTICIPATION IN THE FULL SPECTRUM OF JEWISH LIFE.
By Jerry Silverman
n the months since the Pew report was released, our community has debated its significance and how we should respond. The survey continues to produce a wide range of provocative proposals and views, making me deeply optimistic that we not only have the will, but the means, to address the survey’s challenges. One key finding is that younger non-Orthodox Jews are less connected to Jewish life and less interested in engaging. The numbers alone add up to an existential crisis facing the nonreligious community. The Orthodox community faces a slightly different but no less daunting challenge—the fact is that some of its members are leaving. I am deeply concerned that the spiraling costs of living a Jewish life and educating our children Jewishly will only increase this migration further. These challenges compel us to unite as a community and consider creative new strategies. We also need to face the fact that such approaches may require new funding. I believe that when we come together as a community, our potential remains unlimited. Recently, Michael Siegal, chair of the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America, and I proposed four areas where we should intensify our focus in order to help connect younger Jews to the community. First, free Jewish early childhood education for every family. Based on the success of programs like PJ Library, a Jewish Head Start could bring many more Jewish families along the path to involvement. Second, we cannot ignore Jewish camp as a particularly effective engagement channel. Research shows three things: Jewish camp, day school and Israel experience programs engage young Jews. We should triple the
Jerry Silverman is president and chief executive oﬃcer of the Jewish Federations of North America.
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The Orthodox community claims an 83 percent retention rate–but that still means a large number of Orthodox Jews are opting out. It’s time we look seriously at the high cost of Jewish life as a significant factor.
number of non-Orthodox kids in Jewish camps to 30 percent of the population. Next, Birthright Israel stands out as a highly effective Jewish engagement program, bringing more than 350,000 young Jews to Eretz Yisrael and imbuing them with a new sense of Yiddishkeit. However, we have not consistently and effectively re-engaged with Birthright alumni. Birthright has compiled an incredible database of past participants, but other institutions need access to the information to better connect with these newly inspired young Jews. Finally, we must focus our thinking on areas in our country where our population is concentrated yet, ironically, suffers more tenuous ties to Jewish life. We need to consider these areas as “Jewish Development Zones” and redouble existing successful programs like those we outlined above to better engage the unaffiliated. In addition to these four proposals, the Government of Israel recently launched its World Jewry Initiative, which takes a bold new approach. The initiative seeks to build Jewish identity in the Diaspora, because ultimately, a stronger Diaspora means a stronger Jewish State. These plans contend with the larger challenge of the non-Orthodox community in the US and elsewhere, but we also face a serious challenge in the religious community. Yes, according to the Pew survey, the Orthodox community claims an 83 percent retention rate—but that still means a large number of Orthodox Jews are
opting out. It’s time we look seriously at the high cost of Jewish life as a significant factor. When Orthodox day schools cost $20,000 to $35,000 a year, not to mention the price of annual synagogue membership and camp fees, you have to consider how this is affecting young couples and families. Formal Jewish education is a beautiful privilege. My wife and I sent our five children to Jewish day schools. However, we also need to conceive of more experiential Jewish learning, to ensure that young Jews who may not have the opportunity to attend formal Jewish schools still enjoy the beauty of Jewish life. Informal and innovative programs, camps and other initiatives could significantly increase the variety of experiences available to young Jews. Across our community we have built great institutions and developed highly effective programs that address many needs. Now it’s time that we come together as a more united community, to take a holistic look at the bigger picture which Pew has presented. The survey, in a way, is a gift—a major opportunity to take a new look at some of the most effective tools we’ve developed and to use them in daring new ways. We must unite around a shared sense of mutual responsibility, of kol Yisrael arevim zeh lah zeh. We may not agree on every question, or on any one answer, but there is no doubt that by coming together, by uniting as one people and working toward a common goal, we can build a more secure and vibrant tomorrow, for our entire community. g
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The Pew Report’s Lesser-Known Cousin:
The Pew Report By Dovid Bashevkin
Much attention has been focused on the largely “We’re number one! dire implications to be gleaned from the Pew reWe’re number one!” port, which has led to the neglect of a lesser-Excerpt from an Orthodox study known, but perhaps equally valuable, report commissioned to analyze the Pew report. issued simultaneously: The Phew Report. Commissioned by Rabbi Mordechai Leiner of the Young Israel of Izbica, the report serves as a positive cushion for some of the negative predictions in the Pew report. So that the positively exciting results of the Phew report are not left unnoticed, we have highlighted some of the findings: • The Orthodox Jewish community, based on the report, is comprised of 29 percent Modern Orthodox, 18 percent Modern Orthodox Machmir, 67 percent Chassidic, 34 percent Yeshivish and 89 percent hopelessly confused. (Overall, just 74 percent realized this is mathematically incorrect.) • Only 5 percent of Jews under the age of 30 assimilated due to longwinded expositions of the Pew report. • 70 percent of Modern Orthodox Jews were able to correctly identify the color of the cover to Halakhic Man by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. • Though only 11 percent of Modern Orthodox teens knew that Avodos was not in fact a Talmudic tractate, over 96 percent were convinced that floor hockey is a real sport. • Only 33 percent of those surveyed could name the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch, but 84 percent correctly identified each element in the acronym F.L.O.P.
Undoubtedly, some of the results of the report may be concerning. However, overall, the report sheds remarkable light on the Orthodox community’s ability to remain almost eerily calm in the face of escalating assimilation. As part of the study, the Phew report ranked the top ten issues facing Orthodox Jewry. Below are the responses, ranked in order of what respondents thought most important to least important. 1. Tuition 2. Children shouldn’t marry someone, you know, “too Modern.” 3. Israel 4. Do those Kupat Ha’Ir berachos work? Seems enticing.
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin is the director of education for NCSY. He is pursuing a doctorate in public policy at The New School in New York. Aside from his academic and professional pursuits, he prides himself on usually being fleishig. For more of his ideas, follow him on Twitter @dbashideas.
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5. Children shouldn’t 8. Accessibility to sushi marry someone, you know, 9. Affordable Pesach “too Yeshivish.” programs 6. Is Starbucks kosher? 10. Is Inwood really one of 7. I heard someone is start- the Five Towns?? Are you ing a new Sukkos program. sure? Shouldn’t the fifth be Does it have a web site? West Hempstead?
To be sure, the Phew report paints a very different, perhaps more nuanced picture, of what is essential to Judaism within the Orthodox community. % saying __________ is an essential part of what being Jewish means to them: Not owning a television (but watching on Hulu)
Not buying retail jewelry
Flexible use of the word “by” (i.e. “I’m staying by his house)
Not going to movies (but watching on Netflix)
Interestingly, the Phew report found few discriminating variables among different Orthodox subgroups. Based on the multiple regression performed by the Bratslav Institute for Statistical Research, the results of which have been reproduced below, the only reliable predictor to differentiate one Orthodox subgroup from the next is percentage of waking hours spent being fleishig.
AGGREGATE AVERAGE % OF WAKING HOURS SPENT BEING FLEISHIG
Modern Orthodox Yeshivish Chassidic
13% 45% 84%
Surely there is much more to be learned and examined in the Phew report. Whatever your interpretation, it clearly offers a much needed respite from the dire picture of the Pew report. As young and old, rich and poor, milchig and fleishig wipe their collective brow, the Orthodox community is united in its heartfelt sigh: “Phew.”
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By David Olivestone
(The writer of this piece thinks he should probably have opted to remain anonymous, since he is afraid that his friends, who are already not allowed to talk to him in shul, will not talk to him at all after they read this.)
"hrat . . . it’s about time you showed up!”
What exactly is it that God hears when we daven and simultaneously chat a little with the person next to us in shul? Here’s what Ashrei might sound like to God when the shul-goer also has other things he or she needs to say. God, of course, has no problem understanding the mixture of Hebrew and English. But to simplify things for the Jewish Action reader, we present the entire piece in English.
appy are those who dwell in Your House; they will always praise You, selah Happy are such people; happy are the people whose God is the Lord. A song of praise of David. I will exalt You, O my God, the King, and oh, it’s about time you showed up! I will bless Your name, and if you wait till I move my Chumash, you can sit here, forever and ever. Every day I bless You, and no one’s using that siddur, so you can take it, and praise Your name forever and ever. The Lord is great, and look who’s here! Abba brought you to shul? He’s greatly to be praised; His greatness is unlimited. He’s a great Abba, lets Ima sleep. One generation will praise Your works to another—such a big boy!—and tell of Your mighty deeds. You walked all the way to shul? On the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wonderful deeds I will meditate, and here’s a candy. Hey, did you see the paper? They speak of the power of Your awesome deeds. Awesome game. I will talk about Your greatness; great is the only word for the Yankees these days. They recite the record—they’re now 53-35—of Your great goodness, and sing—oh no, that new gabbai is asking Chaim to daven Shacharit—of Your righteousness. The Lord is gracious and merciful; God have mercy on us! Slow to anger; he’s as slow as molasses, and great in loving-kindness. The Lord is good to all, and by the way, you’re a good
David Olivestone, former senior communications officer of the Orthodox Union, now lives in Jerusalem where he davens in a very quiet shul.
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guy. His mercy extends over all His works, because that stock tip you gave me last Shabbat really paid off. All Your works shall acknowledge You, Lord, and I’ve really got to thank you. Your devoted ones shall bless You, but don’t let it go to your head. They shall talk of the glory of Your kingship, and will you look at those two talkers over there! They speak of Your might—from the moment they arrive, right up to Adon Olam. To inform men of His mighty deeds—and new leadership, that’s what this shul needs—and the glorious majesty of His reign. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom . . . how long has Shimmy Cohen been president? Your dominion is for all generations. Forever! The Lord supports all who falter; wait, I dropped my siddur, and picks up those who are bent over. Got it. All lift their eyes to You in hope—do you think I might get an aliyah one of these days?—and You give them their food at the right time. At least there’s a kiddush today. You open Your hand, and satisfy every living thing with favor. I hope they have some decent Scotch. The Lord is righteous in all His ways, but you gotta take what the One Above gives, right? And He is kind in whatever He does. You know why I daven here? The Lord is near to all who call on Him, because there’s a lot of kavanah in this shul, to all who call on Him in truth. Truth is, God runs the world, you know? He fulfills the wishes of those who respect Him, and we gotta be serious about our davening. He hears their cry and saves them, but how many people understand that? The Lord looks after all who love Him— Shush yourself!—but all the wicked He destroys. Hey, they’re at Az Yashir already; how did I get so far behind? My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord and let all creatures bless His holy name forever and ever. We will bless the Lord now and forever. Praise the Lord. Let’s daven! g
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By Peter Abelow
On and Off the Beaten Track in. . .
The Yad Vashem Campus in Jerusalem. Photos: Yossi Ben-David/Yad Vashem Museum
ISRAEL’S NATIONAL HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL am writing this article while seated on a train in Poland, traveling between Warsaw and Krakow. Watching the Polish countryside zip by from my comfortable first-class seat, my mind keeps drifting back to the millions of Jews who rode on these same tracks over seventy years ago, crammed into cattle cars on their way to imminent death in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. I decided to devote this column to writing about the Yad Vashem Museum while on this trip through
Peter Abelow is a licensed tour guide and the associate director of Keshet: The Center for Educational Tourism in Israel. Keshet specializes in creating and running inspiring family and group tours that make Israel come alive “Jewishly.” He can be reached at 011.972.2.671.3518 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Poland, where more than three million Jews lived prior to World War II; ninety percent of the prewar Jewish community perished at the hands of the Nazis. (Among them were my relatives who lived in Warsaw and Lomza.) In the twenty-some years I have been privileged to be a tour guide in Israel, I have frequently given tours of Yad Vashem. But there is no question that after this trip, my tours of the museum will never quite be the same. I understand now in a much more profound way why visiting Yad Vashem is imperative for both Jews visiting Israel as well as for those who live here. It is a place one should visit and revisit. The museum’s messages are as pertinent today as they were when Yad Vashem was one of the first national institutions created by the fledgling State of Israel in the early 1950s, and we dare
not live our lives without a constant awareness of their ongoing relevance. The new Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem opened in 2005. At the main entrance to the exhibit hall, one first encounters documentary footage depicting prewar Jewish life in Eastern Europe, when the possibility of a Holocaust was inconceivable. The opening film manages to capture the richness of Jewish life—religious and cultural, a mosaic of the breadth of Judaism in prewar Europe. One of the most meaningful scenes shows the children of a Religious Zionist youth organization singing “Hatikvah” in the 1930s in Munkatch, Hungary. The museum, designed to personalize the experience of the Holocaust, features a central walkway with exhibition galleries on each side. The walkway design creates, as the Yad Vashem
web site describes it, “a visitor’s route dictated by the evolving narrative, with a beginning, middle and end.” Visitors are “forced” to view the galleries in order, reminiscent of victims who had no choice but to experience the nightmare of the Holocaust as it happened. Each gallery aims to personify the experience through diaries, photographs, artifacts and testimonies. The images at the beginning of the walkway—life before the horror of the Holocaust descended upon European Jewry—are always visible, although they fade farther and farther away as the visitor proceeds chronologically from the 1930s into the 1940s. Soon they become part of the past, always there in the background but so far from the new reality of ghettos, starvation, disease, transports and death camps. Before entering the memorial museum, I frequently ask my groups: “At what point in time should a museum begin the Holocaust story?” Some of the visitors say with images of life in Europe prior to the war; some suggest 1933, the year that Hitler rose to power. Others propose the year 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland, launching World War II and bringing over three million Jews into the clutches of the Nazis. Yad Vashem chose to remind us in the first exhibit hall that anti-Semitism is not a twentieth-century phenomenon but has accompanied us throughout history, often driven by church doctrine. Yad Vashem also challenges us to confront critical issues: How do ordinary “good” people suddenly transform into monsters who can participate in the systematic dehumanization, marginalization and murder of fellow human beings? What was it like for the Jews of Germany in the 1930s after the Nuremberg Laws officialized anti-Semitism as the policy of Nazi Germany? Why didn’t they leave? Where would they go? One particularly poignant display highlights the tragic story of the St. Louis, a boat that
The museum, designed to personalize the experience of the Holocaust, features a central walkway with exhibition galleries on each side.
set sail for Cuba in 1939 with 938 Jews on board, who subsequently discovered that their entry visas had been rescinded. The boat then sailed the 90 miles to the Florida coast where the United States summarily refused them entry as refugees. Eventually, not finding a port to disembark, the boat returned to Europe, where many of the passengers who had looked at freedom just over the rails perished at the hands of the Nazis. On the museum wall, there is a quote from the Australian ambassador at the Evian Conference, held in 1938 to determine the plight of the Jewish refugees, which reads, “Australia does not have a racial problem, and we have no desire of importing one now.” The next gallery, on the opposite side of the central corridor, depicts the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, and the overnight shift in the
fate of Polish Jewry. Photos depict the public humiliation of Jews as smiling Nazi soldiers look on and the various discriminatory practices against Jews, including the wearing of Magen David armbands, the confiscation of Jewish property and the preparations to force Jews into ghettos. Cross the corridor once again and we experience the horror of deportations to ghettos and the appalling situations that confronted the victims once there. In Warsaw, approximately 400,000 Jews, including my great-aunt and her family, were forced into an area of 1.3 square miles. Disease, starvation and death became daily occurrences. I have always been particularly moved by an exhibit in the museum that tells the story of the Lodz Ghetto where the head of the Judenrat, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, was compelled by the Nazis to give up the
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The Hall of Names at Yad Vashem is a memorial to each and every Jew who perished in the Holocaust—a place where the six million may be commemorated for generations to come. The main circular hall houses the extensive collection of “Pages of Testimony”—short biographies of each Holocaust victim.
children and elderly for deportation in order to save the remaining Jews in the ghetto. For me, the most powerful element in the museum is the personal testimony: some one hundred video screens show survivor testimonies and short films. I once heard a guide explain, correctly I believe, that the Holocaust is not about six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis. It is about one story, told six million times in six million different ways. The museum is about giving back names and identities to those who were reduced to striped uniforms and numbers. These personal testimonies reveal not only enormous suffering but also stories of “righteous
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gentiles” who, risking their own lives, sheltered Jews and shared their limited rations with them. The galleries take us through a continuing succession of events: the invasion of Russia in June 1941 in which Nazi troops were accompanied by killing units, whose job was to round up Jews and kill them; the Wannsee Conference where leaders of the Reich determined that gas chambers were the best and most efficient way to kill mass numbers of Jews; the deportations to the death camps; and finally, the liberation. Throughout, we are accompanied by the heartrending stories of those who actually witnessed the events being depicted. There are Holocaust museums in
the US and around the world. Most conclude the story of the Holocaust with the liberation. The final gallery at Yad Vashem is unique. It tells of the survivors’ efforts to find their way to Eretz Yisrael, often aided by the Haganah who packed ships such as the Exodus with refugees and attempted to smuggle them past British blockades and bring them home. What the British referred to as “illegal immigration” was called “clandestine immigration” by Jews, because there cannot be anything illegal about a Jew seeking to live in the Land of Israel. And then, before emerging for the last time in the central corridor, we hear the strains of “Hatikvah.” The video clips are the same ones we saw at the beginning— the youth in Munkatch singing of the eternal dream of the Jewish people to be a free people in “Eretz Avoteinu,” the Land of our Forefathers (today the text is slightly different—to be a free people “beartzeinu,” in our land), echoing a 2,000-year-old dream. The final documentary footage, the last image after our brief visit back in time to the cataclysmic years of 1939 to 1944, is of David Ben-Gurion, standing at Independence Hall on May 14 (5 Iyar), 1948 and reciting for the world to hear: “Accordingly we, members of the People’s Council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and the Zionist Movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz-Israel and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel to be known as the State of Israel” (www.knesset.gov.il /docs/eng/megilat_eng.htm). Yad Vashem ends where modern Israel begins. It contains messages that must be repeated frequently, lest we fail to retain our feelings of gratitude for the gift of modern Israel and our sense of responsibility to preserve the memories of those who perished at the hands of the Nazis. g
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By Bayla Sheva Brenner
Liad Kuhl, of Charleston, West Virginia, who is deaf and blind, uses tactile sign language to communicate. Photo: Sheryl Cooper
Deaf-blind Get “In Touch” with Halachah
Our Way’s “Illuminating” New Sefer
Inside the OU
e all, to some degree, communicate through touch. For the Jewish deaf-blind, it’s the only way. They literally “speak” and “listen” into each other’s hands. This raises serious halachic questions. What if the signers are opposite genders; are they obligated to keep the laws of negiah? Can spouses use tactile signing and still honor the laws of family purity? To address these and other she’eilot concerning this population, Our Way for the Jewish Deaf and Hard of Hearing, a division of the OU’s National Jewish Council for Disabilities (NJCD), is publishing Halachos for the Jewish Deaf-blind. Our Way provides social, educational and recreational programs for Jews who are deaf and hard of hearing. The book, compiled by Rabbi Shimon Taub, a noted Torah scholar from Brooklyn and author of The Laws of Tzedakah and Maaser, A Comprehensive Guide (Brooklyn, 2001), is the first of its kind. “One might think that because the deaf-blind have so many challenges, they should be absolved from keeping halachah,” says Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, director of Our Way. “That would be tantamount to saying, ‘It doesn’t matter what you do, and you’re not really part of the [Jewish] family.’”
Bayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.
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Many deaf-blind Jews suffer from a rare genetic disorder called Usher syndrome, characterized by deafness and gradual vision loss. According to Estie Rose, genetic counselor at Yeshiva University’s Program for Jewish Genetic Health, two types of Usher syndrome are more common in the Ashkenazic Jewish population than in the general population. Usher syndrome type IF has a carrier frequency of about one in 141 in the Ashkenazic Jewish population, and type III has a carrier rate of about one in 107 in the Ashkenazic Jewish population. Carriers of Usher syndrome do not exhibit any symptoms of the condition; however, if two carriers of the same type of Usher syndrome get married, with each pregnancy there is a one in four chance of having a child with Usher syndrome. Carrier testing through a simple blood test is affordable and accessible, and is recommended prior to pregnancy. The Gemara states that a cheresh, defined as a deafmute (i.e., an individual who can’t communicate) lacks the ability to develop the maturity required to understand his obligation in mitzvah observance, and is therefore exempt from that responsibility. With the advent of sign language and, more recently, electronic communication devices, posekim question whether the exemption still applies to deaf and deaf-blind individuals. “If a person doesn’t have a means of communication, he can’t develop normal thinking patterns, a sense of responsibility and appropriateness,” says Rabbi Mordechai Shuchatowitz, the father of four hearing-impaired children and rabbi of Agudath Israel of Greenspring in Baltimore, Maryland. He is also the author of the two-volume The Toras Hacheresh Guidebook: A Practical Guide to the Use of Electronic Hearing Devices on Shabbos and Yom Tov (Our Way, 2003). “But now they can overcome that disability and become bnei da’at [capable of fulfilling mitzvot].” Rabbi Taub’s guide, with text in both Hebrew and English, explores the most common halachic issues pertaining to the deaf-blind. It also sends out the crucial message that they are full-fledged members of Klal Yisrael. Rabbi Taub and Rabbi Lederfeind toured the Helen Keller National Center in Long Island for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults to meet deaf-blind individuals and observe firsthand how they live and function. After discerning their specific challenges, Rabbi Taub compiled a list of potential halachic issues. Aside from the question of physical contact, he explores the halachic ramifications of using a walking stick on Shabbat, bringing a guide dog into shul and using assistive technology on Shabbat and yom tov, among other issues. “There is nothing new to Torah,” says Rabbi Taub, who conferred with Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, a senior halachic con-
sultant for the OU, while composing the guide. “Even when the biggest posekim come up with kulot [leniencies], they are not creating them; they are extrapolating what was already there and applying it to the current situation.” Drawing on Rambam’s position on the laws of negiah, Rabbi Taub explains that, under very limited circumstances, touching may be permitted where there is no intent for physical pleasure. However, Rabbi Taub stresses that when a deaf-blind individual seeks to hire an SSP (a trained paraprofessional who, via tactile signing, fosters interaction between the deaf-blind individual and his surroundings, e.g., informs him who is in the room, who is speaking, when to sit down for lunch, et cetera), he or she should make every effort to find someone of the same gender. The leniency only applies when there is no other option. “The point is to try to find heterim within halachah,” says Rabbi Taub. “The average person doesn’t have to rely on kulot. But
when dealing with people who have no other form of communication, there are kulot that one would be permitted to rely on.” Our Way plans to e-mail copies of the guide to their deaf-blind members, as well as send hard copies to OU shuls and community leaders across the country. Braille editions will also be available. “We’re trying to create an awareness that this population exists,” says Rabbi Lederfeind. To further that goal, he included a section in the guide describing how a shul can make itself accessible to deaf-blind mitpallelim. “It’s a small and scattered population,” says Rabbi Lederfeind. “[Consequently], it has been greatly underserved by the Jewish community.” He hopes this groundbreaking book, which is expected to be published later this summer, will help change that. To obtain the book, contact email@example.com or 212-613-8234.g
Book Launch Held for Letters to President Clinton n January, a book launch for Rabbi Menachem Genack’s latest book, Letters to President Clinton: Biblical Lessons on Faith and Leadership, was held at Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City. At the launch, Rabbi Genack, CEO, OU Kosher, conversed with Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel, and renowned Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, about the close relationship he had with President Clinton for over two decades. Rabbi Genack, referred to as “Bill Clinton’s rabbi” by the former president in the introduction to the book, engaged in an ongoing correspondence with the president, sending him divrei Torah on leadership to guide and inspire him. The book, which is essentially a collection of those letters and President Clinton’s occasional responses to them, also includes letters by prominent thinkers such as Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Rabbi Lord
Inside the OU
Rabbi Menachem Genack (right) and Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik discussing the new book. Photos: M. Kruter
Jonathan Sacks, Cynthia Ozick and Roald Hoffmann, Nobel laureate in chemistry, among others. Former Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) also attended the launch and offered remarks in honor of the occasion. Letters to President Clinton: Biblical Lessons on Faith and Leadership, published by Sterling Ethos and OU Press,
Moshe Genack, Rabbi Genack’s son, introducing former Senator Joseph Lieberman, who is seated next to his wife, Hadassah.
was recently selected as a finalist of the 2013 National Jewish Book Awards by the Jewish Book Council. g
Summer 5774/2014 JEWISH ACTION 77
By Norene Gilletz
ummertime is the best time to buy fresh produce at the peak of its season, when flavor is optimum. Farmers’ markets are the perfect place to find a super selection of ripe flavor-packed locally grown fruits and vegetables that are fresh from the fields. Juicy tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, leafy salad greens, fresh herbs, sweet golden corn, big juicy melons . . . the choices are absolutely incredible. Your local supermarket shelves are also overflowing with seasonal fresh produce. It’s easy to be inspired by nature’s beautiful bounty!
GRILLED CHICKEN, RED PEPPER AND MANGO SALAD Yields 4 servings Leftover grilled chicken breasts make a wonderful addition to this scrumptious salad. Make an extra batch or two of chicken breasts the next time you cook on the grill. Freeze or refrigerate the extras in a single layer in resealable freezer bags. Thaw, slice, enjoy!
4 grilled chicken breasts (see recipe on the next page) 6 cups mixed salad greens 1 firm ripe mango, peeled and sliced 2 red bell peppers, halved and thinly sliced 1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced 2 medium carrots, grated 12 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Norene Gilletz is the author of nine cookbooks and divides her time between work as a food writer, culinary consultant, spokesperson, cooking instructor, lecturer and editor. Norene lives in Toronto, Canada. For more information, visit her web site at www.gourmania.com or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Dressing: 3 tablespoons balsamic or rice vinegar 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 teaspoon Oriental sesame oil 2 tablespoons orange juice 1 tablespoon honey 1 clove garlic, minced Salt and pepper to taste Cut grilled chicken breasts crosswise into 1/2-inch strips. Wash salad greens and dry thoroughly. Arrange salad greens on individual dinner plates. Arrange chicken strips on top of greens. Top with mango, red peppers, onion, carrots and tomatoes. (If preparing the salad in advance, cover and refrigerate until serving time.) Dressing: In a glass jar, combine vinegar, olive oil, sesame oil, orange juice, honey and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cover tightly and shake well. Drizzle the dressing over salad and serve. CHEF’S SECRET Time-Saver Tip: Wash and dry salad greens in advance. Wrap in paper towels or a clean kitchen towel and place in a large resealable bag until needed.
GRILLED CHICKEN BREASTS Yields 4 servings Make an extra batch or two of chicken breasts. The first night, serve grilled chicken hot from the grill for dinner along with Grilled Corn, Red Pepper and Snap Pea Salad (see page 80). Refrigerate or freeze the leftovers. Slice the leftover chicken across the grain and use it in the Grilled Chicken, Red Pepper and Mango Salad. 4 boneless, skinless single chicken breasts 1/2 cup Shake-It-Up Vinaigrette (below) Combine chicken breasts and vinaigrette in a resealable plastic bag. Marinate for at least a half hour (or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator). Remove chicken from marinade. Discard leftover marinade. Preheat barbecue or grill. Grill chicken 4 to 6 minutes per side, depending on the thickness. Chicken is done when it springs back when lightly touched. It should register at least 165°F on an instant-read thermometer. Note: May be served hot or cold.
SHAKE-IT-UP VINAIGRETTE Yields about 1 cup This luscious, low-calorie dressing also does double duty as a quick marinade for chicken, beef, fish or vegetables. Dress it up, dress it down, it’s a winner all around.
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 1/3 cup red wine vinegar 1/3 cup orange juice (preferably fresh) or 3 tablespoons orange juice and 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard 1 tablespoon honey 2 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper Combine all the ingredients in a jar, cover tightly and shake very well. Mixture will thicken as you shake it. Store in the refrigerator. Remove from the refrigerator a few minutes before you need it. Shake well. Note: This will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. CHEF’S SECRET Instead of combining the salad dressing ingredients in a jar, add the oil, then the vinegar, then the juice to a 2-cup glass measuring cup. No need to empty between additions. You’ll have 1 cup of dressing. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk well, using a mini whisk or fork. Variations: • Substitute canola, walnut or grapeseed oil for olive oil. • Use rice, balsamic or white wine vinegar instead of red wine vinegar. • Instead of orange juice, use mango or pineapple juice. • Instead of honey, use maple syrup, brown sugar or granular Splenda. • Add 1/2 a teaspoon dried thyme, basil or rosemary for an herbflavored version. If desired, add 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or coriander. Add 1 shallot, minced, as a flavor booster.
Grilled Chicken, Red Pepper and Mango Salad
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GRILLED CORN, RED PEPPER AND SNAP PEA SALAD Yields 8 servings This is a fabulous way to serve corn when it’s in season. No barbecue? No problem! Just boil the corn and sauté the peppers in a little oil.
Dressing: 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon honey 2 cloves garlic, crushed Salt and pepper to taste
Dressing: 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 2 tablespoons rice vinegar 2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves Salt and pepper to taste
Cook quinoa in boiling water in a covered saucepan for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand covered for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Transfer quinoa to a bowl, cover and refrigerate while you prepare the remaining salad ingredients. Combine the chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, bell pepper, green onions, parsley and basil in a large salad bowl. (You can chop them very quickly in a food processor using a steel blade. Work in batches and use quick on/off pulses. Do not overprocess.) Add the chickpeas, olives and 1 cup feta cheese to the salad. Add cooled quinoa and mix gently to combine.
Preheat barbecue. Brush corn and bell peppers lightly on all sides with oil. Grill corn and peppers on all sides until slightly charred, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the barbecue and let cool. Cut corn off the cob with a sharp knife. Cut peppers into long narrow strips. Cut snap peas open lengthwise along their ‘seam’ so the tiny peas are exposed. Combine corn, peppers and snap peas in a large salad bowl.
Dressing: Combine balsamic vinegar, olive oil, honey and garlic in a glass jar. Add a dash of salt and pepper, cover tightly and shake well. Pour dressing over quinoa mixture and toss to combine. Add additional salt and pepper, if needed. Remember, feta cheese is salty! Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup feta on top as a garnish. Serve chilled.
Dressing: Measure olive oil in a glass measuring cup. Add rice vinegar and maple syrup or honey and stir to combine. Add dressing and basil to the salad. Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Serve chilled. Note: Leftovers will keep for 2 days in the refrigerator.
Variations: • Instead of quinoa, substitute whole wheat or regular couscous. Combine couscous with 1 1/2 cups boiling water in a large bowl. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes, until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork. • Instead of chickpeas, substitute red kidney beans or black beans. Instead of feta cheese, substitute goat cheese.
6 ears of corn on the cob (discard husks) 2 red bell peppers, halved and seeded Oil for brushing 1 1/2 cups sugar snap peas
QUINOA, CHICKPEAS AND FETA SALAD Yields 4 main dish servings
WATERMELON AND FETA SALAD Yields 8 servings
This scrumptious salad is ideal for a hot summer day. What a wonderful way to showcase the bounty of summer’s harvest! 1 cup quinoa (white or red) 2 cups water 1 large cucumber, chopped (do not peel) 4 firm ripe tomatoes, chopped 1 red or green bell pepper, chopped 5 or 6 green onions (scallions), chopped 1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped 1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped 1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and well-drained (about 1 1/2 cups) 1 cup black olives, pitted 1 cup crumbled feta cheese plus 1/2 cup additional feta for garnish
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This refreshing summer salad will be a ‘feta’ in your cap! The combination of sweet watermelon and salty feta cheese is a perfect pairing. In Middle Eastern countries, eating watermelon with salt is quite common. 6 cups mache, mixed salad greens or baby spinach leaves 6 cups cubed seedless watermelon (about 1/4 of a small watermelon cut into 1-inch cubes) 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese 1/3 to 1/2 cup Shake-It-Up Vinaigrette (see earlier recipe) Wash the salad greens and dry thoroughly. Place the salad greens in a shallow oval or round bowl or platter. Tuck the watermelon cubes among the greens. Scat-
ter the sliced onion on top and sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. Prepare dressing as directed and refrigerate. At serving time, drizzle the dressing over the salad but don’t toss. Serve immediately. Notes: • Mache is also known as field salad, lamb’s lettuce or corn salad. It has a mild, nutty flavor. You can substitute arugula, Boston, bibb or red leaf lettuce. • If you have time and patience, use a mini ice cream scoop or melon baller and make small watermelon balls.
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GRILLED PINEAPPLE Yields 4 servings of 2 slices per person Many supermarkets sell pineapple already peeled and cored. Other fruits can also be grilled successfully—try peaches, nectarines or mangos. 1 ripe pineapple, peeled and cored Cooking spray or canola oil Core and slice the pineapple into circles about 3/4-inch thick. You should have about 8 slices. Spray the slices lightly with cooking spray on both sides or brush lightly with oil. Place the slices on a hot grill and cook on medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes per side until just heated through and grill marks appear. Serve immediately.
PINEAPPLE STRAWBERRY KABOBS Soak wooden skewers in water for 20 minutes to prevent them from burning on the grill. Chop a pineapple into 2-inch chunks and push onto the presoaked skewers, alternating with whole hulled strawberries; you should have about 3 pineapple chunks and 3 strawberries on each skewer. Drizzle lightly with honey or maple syrup and grill over medium heat for 5 to 6 minutes, turning occasionally, until the edges of the pineapple are golden brown. Serve warm.
Watermelon and Feta Salad
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GRILLED STRAWBERRIES Place firm ripe hulled strawberries in a bowl; drizzle lightly with balsamic vinegar and maple syrup or honey. Let stand 10 minutes, then thread onto the presoaked wooden skewers. (To keep the strawberries from spinning around when you turn them over, it’s best to double-skewer them.) Grill over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes, turning occasionally, until the strawberries are almost tender and grill marks appear. They’re delicious over ice cream! CHEF’S SECRET Ripe for the Picking: Pineapple must be picked ripe because the starch won’t convert to sugar once it has been picked. If pineapple isn’t quite ripe enough when you buy it, store it at room temperature for a few days to reduce its acidity. Copyright January 21, 2014.
Photos: Doug Gilletz
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By Leah R. Lightman
The Unexpected Road: Storied Jewish Lives Around the World By Rabbi Hillel Goldberg Feldheim Publishers Israel, 2013 228 pages Reviewed by Leah R. Lightman
here is no question that the Orthodox Jewish community in the second decade of the twenty-first century is in search of “inspiration.” Note the growing number of Jewish organizations, web sites, seminars and lectures devoted to inspiration. The plethora of titles falling under this genre abounds, including Rabbi Hillel Goldberg’s newest book, The Unexpected Road: Storied Jewish Lives Around the World. Executive editor of the Intermountain Jewish News, an award-winning family-owned weekly newspaper in Denver, Rabbi Goldberg observes and listens with a keen journalistic mind, capturing the universal in the particular. (Full disclosure: Rabbi Goldberg is a contributing editor to Jewish Action.) An expert on the Musar Movement, Rabbi Goldberg earned his doctorate in Jewish intellectual history from Brandeis University and has published Hallel HaCohen (Hebrew) on the Vilna Gaon’s understanding of the laws of mikvah as well as several books on the Musar Movement. His travels over a period of more than forty-five years have afforded him countless opportunities to speak and interact with other Jews and gather their stories—many of which he published in The Unexpected Road. Each chapter of The Unexpected Road stands alone and tells yet another story. Because of the range of styles and settings, which span forty-two cities Leah R. Lightman is a writer living in Lawrence, New York, with her husband and family.
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across the globe, there is an unevenness to the book which sometimes makes it difficult to follow. Clearly some chapters are stronger than others, but there are outstanding chapters which will, no doubt, appeal to readers both young and old. In one chapter, Rabbi Goldberg recounts how he researched and tracked down names and dates of about two hundred previously unknown relatives. He then presented his children with a family tree. He goes on to tell how years later, in a serendipitous taxi ride, his son met up with a young man by the name Yitzchak Zev Marcus. Rabbi Goldberg’s son replied, “You mean Yitzchak Zev HaLevi!” He had remembered the name because of the family tree. Turns out, they were related. Another chapter tells the riveting life story of the late Rebbetzin Menucha Etel Nekritz who volunteered to go to Siberia during World War II. The Nekritzes fled Bialystok, Poland to a small town near Vilna, which was under Soviet control. The Soviets ordered Rabbi Yehuda Leib Nekritz, along with other Jewish men who refused to accept Soviet citizenship, to evacuate to Siberia, indicating that the women would join them later. Refusing to leave her husband, Rebbetzin Nekritz convinced the Soviet officer to allow her and her two daughters to accompany the men. (This ended up saving their lives; the women and children who stayed behind fell into the hands of the Nazis.) The Nekritzes lived in a small hut, and there was little food available. The temperature constantly hovered about forty degrees below zero. A mikvah was a practical impossibility. During the day, Rabbi Nekritz was forced to engage in backbreaking labor; at night, he taught Torah to the few young men with him. The Rebbetzin cooked for the men with whatever little food there was. Despite the risk, Rebbetzin Nekritz never tried to dissuade
her husband from teaching Torah. They were further endangered by their refusal to work on Shabbat. The Nekritzes remained in Siberia for the duration of World War II, after which they came to America. Reading how the Rebbetzin, even in the midst of dire poverty, managed to maintain her regalness and dignity was deeply moving. In the face of extraordinarily difficult circumstances, she emerged with ever-stronger yirat Shamayim and emunah. It is no coincidence, I’m sure, that many of the Nekritz descendants and their spouses are luminaries in the Torah world today. Some of the stories reveal blatant Hashgachah pratit. In a chapter entitled “Tuvia Ariel’s Story ‘7-4-0-1,’” the protagonist, Tuvia Ariel, undergoes several transformations, most dramatically from nonreligious to shomer Torah u’mitzvot and from able-bodied to amputee. Ariel lived on a kibbutz before he has an accident that leaves him handicapped. Years later, Ariel, now working as a taxi driver, notices a number on the arm of one of his passengers, an American in Israel on business. From his kibbutz days, he recalls an Auschwitz survivor with a number on his arm: 7-40-1. Without a word, Ariel drives the American to the kibbutz he had left after his accident. He reunites his passenger with the Auschwitz survivor; they were long-lost brothers. How did Ariel know? The number on the passenger’s arm was 7-4-0-2. The Unexpected Road is a compilation of the fascinating people and the stories that have inspired Rabbi Goldberg over the decades. Having lived in Jerusalem, Denver and Atlanta, Rabbi Goldberg has had many varied and interesting experiences and has much to share. While Rabbi Goldberg’s stories are compelling—some more so than others— his writing is always enjoyable. g Listen to Rabbi Hillel Goldberg discuss his new book at www.ou.org/life/inspiration/savitskygoldberg/.
By Gil Student
The Laws of Cooking and Warming Food on Shabbat By Mordechai Willig Maggid and Yeshiva University Press Jerusalem; New York, 2013 479 pages
here are certain tricks of the trade to being a rabbi. Only one in a million can have every halachah at his fingertips. The rest must simply prepare themselves for possible inquiries. One of the most popular training secrets is now available to the English-reading public. For many years, Rabbi Mordechai Willig, a senior rosh yeshivah at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), has been teaching the laws of cooking on Shabbat to advanced rabbinical students. Among the requirements of RIETS ordination is a series of lectures by leading scholars on key issues of practical halachah. These are, essentially, survival courses for the common, complex situations these rabbis will face that are not covered by the standard curriculum. Rabbi Willig’s is among the most memorable lectures. Cooking has changed dramatically since the days of the Talmud. The sages throughout the centuries have debated how to apply the Talmudic rules of cooking on Shabbat to the technology of their times. The different views grow in number and complexity as we apply them to contemporary technology, which is another step removed from the Talmud. Navigating this maze is a significant challenge, yet rabbis must have decisions ready to teach their congregants, who face these issues every week. A book for the average layperson would merely lay out the rulings. Rabbi Willig, speaking to the advanced stuRabbi Gil Student is book editor of Jewish Action.
dent, provides the background and the logic, points out and resolves contradictions and reaches practical, nuanced conclusions. With his gift of clarity, he makes the hard work of mastering this complex topic seem easy. As additional tools for students, this book includes comments and different views from Rabbi Willig’s RIETS colleagues, Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger. It also includes extensive primary source material in Hebrew and Rabbi Willig’s Hebrew essays on the subject. The result is an authoritative English book about cooking on Shabbat with additional tools for further study, an opportunity to briefly join the world of rabbinic training. Journey of Faith: A Comprehensive Commentary on Sefer Bamidbar By Yonasan David Arenias Shaarei Torah Publications, 2013 640 pages
ikraot Gedolot, the classic set of Chumashim containing a plethora of rabbinic commentaries, was not designed by a classroom teacher. Approaching the page can be intimidating. Setting aside the difficulties of deciphering the varieties of Hebrew script and writing styles, the reader still faces the assumption that he is already familiar with the Biblical text. The commentaries, each in its own style, immediately make complex points about translation, interpretation and plot. A teacher would structure the lesson differently, providing background and a structure for proceeding from point to point. Rabbi Yonasan David Arenias has published a Chumash that redesigns the book. Journey of Faith takes readers through Bamidbar as a teacher would. First comes an introduction to
a passage, explaining what happened earlier in the text and any further background necessary. Then comes an aided translation, based on Rashi. The running commentary contains summaries of great commentarial debates, differing perspectives on key issues and a few inspirational points to further satisfy the soul. Journey of Faith is a competent commentary. The book summarizes the classical commentators, including many not in the Mikraot Gedolot, such as Ralbag and Malbim. But the commentary contains no original insights nor ideas from modern commentators such as Shadal, Nechama Leibowitz or the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Arenias utilizes midrash that explains the text, often assuming that background as historical. But this does not prevent him from also drawing from the well of great literalist commentators like Ibn Ezra and Rashbam. Rabbi Arenias surveys the classical commentaries, distinguishing between their ideas rather than the all-too-common homogenization. This is a reader-friendly commentary, specially designed for maximum pedagogical impact. Rabbi Arenias uses language that is accessible but not simplistic. Additionally, shaded margins contain brief summaries of the commentary for quick reference. The lessons flow smoothly as Rabbi Arenias takes you step-by-step through the ages, engaging with the text and commentators. A Synagogue Companion: Insights into the Torah, Haftarot, and Shabbat Morning Prayer Services By Hayyim Angel Institute of Jewish Ideas and Ideals Distributed by Kodesh Press New York, 2014 350 pages
abbi Hayyim Angel is a wonderfully creative teacher of Tanach who has attempted something very daring in his latest book. The multiple books he has published in the past ex-
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plore complex themes across the Bible. He utilizes commentaries throughout the ages but pays particular attention to recent studies, including critical academic works. He will take any perceptive insight that fits into the Orthodox view of the text, regardless of its source. Those books are Biblical analyses for advanced students by a master teacher. In A Synagogue Companion, Rabbi Angel attempts something completely different. Rather than addressing the advanced student, Rabbi Angel reaches out to the average synagogue attendee with deep literary insights into the holy text. This is a challenging task. He must balance the needs of his intended audience with the sophisticated methodologies and sources he uses. Yet he succeeds marvelously in this astonishingly simple yet profound book. On each parashah, Rabbi Angel writes a few short essays using primarily modern techniques of commentary to explain key themes and passages. With his exceptional clarity, he offers popular adaptations of critical and literary studies that are appropriate for synagogue reading (presumably in between aliyot). Because he is so meticulous at listing his sources, the reader sees the breadth of his reading and the humility of his writing, quoting web sites and scholarly journals that are insightful, even if outside mainstream scholarship. The result is stunning—thoughtful insights and ethical lessons that are relevant because they reflect timely concerns yet textually sound because they emerge from rigorous analyses. The book concludes with similar studies of haftarot and, remarkably, prayer. Rabbi Angel applies these same methods of textual study to the prayerbook, enlightening and inspiring toward more meaningful tefillah. A Synagogue Companion is the rare commentary that offers profound insights for everyone, regardless of background, as long as they are interested in the synagogue texts.
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Not to Forget: The Story of Harry Reiss and the Creation of the Rockland Center for Holocaust Studies By Marion Reiss MP Press, 2013 212 pages
y generation was raised in the shadow of the Holocaust, as children and grandchildren of survivors. Not only at family gatherings but in school, year after year, we encountered the horrors in the multimedia curricula developed to ensure that we never forget them. However, as the data from the Pew study on American Jews clearly shows, this intensive Holocaust education is not enough to forge a lifelong Jewish identity. Individuals need more than historical memories, however powerful, to guide life-altering decisions such as whom to marry and where to settle down. Marion Reiss’ Not to Forget, a book about her husband Harry Reiss’ extraordinary efforts to build and maintain the Rockland Center for Holocaust Studies, shows in painstaking detail the enormous price of such memorials, both in millions of dollars and in vast communal resources of talent and time. Is the communal benefit of these museums worth the cost if they do not sufficiently energize the next generation? If they provide comfort and a sense of continued purpose to survivors, an immeasurable benefit, then they are certainly worthy. But as time takes its inevitable toll and the generation of survivors moves on to the Next World, we must consider whether Holocaust museums serve any other purpose. Not to Forget is not a book about the Holocaust. It is about the generation after, who struggled to digest the enormity of its horrors and the need to move on as a community for the sake of survival. They grew up with suburban comforts, raising children in safe and happy homes, thriving professionally and socially. That generation’s bravery took the form of remembrance—upholding the sacred memory of the victims, struggling to find lessons from the tragedy, adamantly refusing to escape from the shadow of the Holocaust. Harry Reiss’ noble ef-
forts in creating and sustaining the Rockland Center for Holocaust Studies serve as both a memory for those who were victims and a testament to the nobility of those who were not. The Making of a Halachic Decision By Moshe Walter Menucha Publishers Brooklyn, 2013 231 pages
ow do rabbis decide halachah? To a large degree, it depends on what they were taught. But how do the greatest scholars of a generation make their way through the bookshelves full of different views? The answer lies in the introductions to the classical works on halachah, in which the leading lights explain their methods. In a unique volume, Rabbi Moshe Walter, rav of the Woodside Synagogue Ahavas Torah in Silver Spring, New York, offers readers a glimpse behind the curtain. He explains the different methods used to arrive at a halachic decision, dividing the field into two approaches. Some, like the Vilna Gaon, follow the primary texts as they understand them. Others, like the Beit Yosef, rely heavily on precedent and follow the majority of select authorities. Interestingly, Rabbi Walter quotes Rabbi Shlomo Heiman in the name of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik as instructing a rabbi to do both: follow the primary texts but make sure that takes you to the established precedent. The second section of this book is more about who may answer halachic questions. Who has authority in which situations? Rabbi Walter compiles the laws guiding a questioner in asking a halachic question and of a rabbi in answering it. The English discussion is supplemented with key Hebrew texts, including introductions to important halachic codes. This book will not teach you how to be a posek, a halachic authority; you will need a few decades of intensive study for that. It will, however, provide you with fascinating insight into the often opaque process of halachic decision making. g
By Ari Z. Zivotofsky
Aleksandar Todorovic / Shutterstock.com
WHAT’S THE TRUTH ABOUT . . .
Giving a Levi the First Aliyah? Misconception: If there is no Kohen, it is preferable to give the first aliyah to a Levi. Fact: Most authorities rule that it is equally acceptable to call upon a Levi or Yisrael in place of a Kohen, while some prefer to give it to a Yisrael. Background: The Torah is read publicly on Shabbat morning and afternoon, Monday and Thursday mornings, the mornings of major and minor holidays and fast days and on the afternoons of fast days (Mishnah Megillah 4:1-2).1 The minimum number of aliyot is three. On Rosh Chodesh and Chol Hamoed, four people are called up; on yom tov five; on Yom Kippur six and on Shabbat seven.2 On Shabbat, additional aliyot may be added (SA, OC 282:1),3 although the number should stay within reason.4 Concerned that the order of aliyot could lead to dissension, Chazal established a standardized sequence for aliyot whereby the first aliyah is always given to a Kohen, the second to a Levi and all subsequent aliyot to Yisraelim Rabbi Dr. Ari Z. Zivotofsky is on the faculty of the Brain Science Program at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
(Mishnah Gittin 5:8; SA, OC 135:3). Assuming there are sufficient Yisraelim in shul, the current Ashkenazic practice is to not give a Kohen or Levi any of the later aliyot except for Maftir, or, if additional aliyot are added on Shabbat, the very last one known as “achron” (MB 135:24, 36-37).5 Sepharadic practice is to give a Kohen or Levi subsequent aliyot as well (SA, OC 135:10; Yalkut Yosef 135:31). The first aliyah is given to honor the Kohen in fulfillment of the verse, “You must strive to keep him [the Kohen] holy [v’kidashto], since he presents the bread offering to God” (Vayikra 21:8). The verse is explained (Gittin 59b) to mean that the Kohen should be honored with speaking first, making a berachah first, bentching first and being given a preferred portion (SA, OC 201:2). There are four ways to understand Chazal’s interpretation of the verse:6 Some view the obligations as Biblical in nature; others see them as rabbinic obligations with the verse being an asmachta; others rule that in the time of the Temple the obligations were Biblical while today they are rabbinic and finally, some say that the Biblical obligations only apply to the Kohen Gadol but the rabbis extended them to all Kohanim. The Rambam
(Klei Hamikdash 4:1; Sefer Hamitzvot 32) rules that “all Jews should treat him [the Kohen] with great honor; they [the Kohanim] should be first in all matters of kedushah, should speak first, bless first and take the good portion first.” The honor due a Kohen seems to be linked to his unique status of being eligible to perform the sacrificial rites in the Beit Hamikdash. Therefore, a Kohen who defiled his status by violating a Kohen-related law (such as marrying a divorcee) would not be honored with the first aliyah even if he is the only Kohen present. He may, however, be called up for an aliyah as an ordinary Yisrael.7 Regarding a Kohen who trained to be a doctor, which inevitably led to his becoming tamei, there are various opinions.8,9 Whether or not a Kohen who is a ba’al mum (has a physical blemish that would disqualify him from working in the Temple) must be accorded honor and receive the first aliyah is the subject of debate as well.10
Status of a Scholar A Kohen cannot voluntarily forgo the honor of receiving the first aliyah, nor can he be forced to relinquish it. Chazal do not seem to ascribe a special
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status to a talmid chacham in the hierarchy of aliyot. The Rambam appears to be troubled by this. He writes in his commentary (Gittin 5:8) that “it is widespread that the Kohen gets the first aliyah even if there is a [greater] talmid chacham [present], but this is something with no foundation in the Torah at all and is not mentioned in the Talmud, and I do not know where this stain came from.”11 Nevertheless, he accepts the practice of giving a Kohen the first aliyah even if he is an am ha’aretz and even in the presence of a talmid chacham (Hilchot Tefillah 12:18). That is how the Shulchan Aruch (135:4) rules and the commentators (e.g., Taz) explain that such is the intention of the Talmud when it discusses how to honor a Kohen (Gittin 59b). Even if a much greater talmid chacham is present, the Kohen cannot be bypassed (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 23:9; MB 201:13; MB 135:9; Chayei Adam 31:1718), certainly not on Shabbat and yom tov, and preferably not on Mondays and Thursdays either (Tur, OC 135).12 In addition to giving a Kohen the first aliyah, there is a requirement, even in the absence of the Beit Hamikdash, to give preference to a Kohen in other areas. Nonetheless, he may forgo the honor due him (Rema 128:45) and, for example, permit someone else to lead bentching.13 It is sometimes preferable to honor a talmid chacham over a Kohen in areas other than aliyot, unless the Kohen is also a talmid chacham, even of a lesser stature (Rema, OC 167:14; MB 201:12; Shach, YD 246:14).
Exceptions If there is a need for additional aliyot, such as at a brit, 14 the Kohen may step out of the shul, thereby allowing Yisraelim to get the first two aliyot. If he refuses to do so (or if there are exactly ten men), a Yisrael may be called up and the gabbai should say “Ya’amod ploni af al pi sheyaish kan Kohen” (Kaf Hachaim 135:14; Yabia Omer 6; OC 23; c.f. Iggerot Moshe 2; OC 34). The precedent for this is an oft-cited story in which the Maharik relates that in his time (fifteenth century), the custom in many shuls in France and Germany was to auction off the first aliyah in Bereishit. Large sums of money would thus be raised, serving to honor the
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Torah as well as to fund many communal needs. If a non-Kohen bought it, Kohanim would leave the shul. One time, a Kohen refused to leave and demanded to be given the aliyah. The Maharik ruled that the custom was acceptable, and the obstinate Kohen could be ignored (c.f. Beit Yosef, OC 135; Peri Chadash 135:3; MA 135:7).
In the Absence of a Levi If a Kohen is present but there is no Levi, the same Kohen who received the first aliyah (not another Kohen) gets called up again to receive the second aliyah (SA, OC 135:8).15 If the Kohen who got the first aliyah mistakenly thinks there is no Levi and starts to recite the berachah for the second aliyah, he must continue with the aliyah (SA, OC 135:7).
In the Absence of a Kohen A topic of major debate among halachic authorities is what to do if there is no Kohen. In the gemara (Gittin 59b), Abaye states that in the absence of a Kohen, “nitparda chavilah, the bundle has come apart,” i.e., the normal sequence of Kohen, Levi, Yisrael does not apply. There are three interpretations of Abaye’s statement. Rashi (Gittin 59b, s.v. “nitparda”), in his first explanation, explains that the Levi’s kedushah derives from his service to the Kohen, and in the absence of a Kohen, the Levi has no special status.16 Based on this, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 135:6) rules that in the absence of a Kohen, a Yisrael should be called for the first and for all subsequent aliyot. According to this view, in the absence of a Kohen, a Levi may not be called for the first aliyah,17 lest people erroneously conclude that he is a Kohen or that it is a Torah obligation to honor him over a Yisrael. He should not be called for subsequent aliyot because although there is no obligation to give him precedence with regard to aliyot, he does have a certain kedushah. It would, therefore, lower his status to be called after a Yisrael (AH, OC 135:11; Bach 135), and it may cause latecomers to erroneously think that the first person was a Kohen (Mishnah Berurah 135:23). The second explanation, found in Rashi and quoted by the Rema (135:6), is that once there is no Kohen, there is
no specific order for aliyot (AH, OC 135:12). According to this view, in the absence of a Kohen, the first aliyah may either go to a Levi or a Yisrael. Preferably it should be offered to the greatest talmid chacham present, whether a Levi or a Yisrael (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 23:9). The third explanation is that the Levi does take precedence (OC 135:12).18 While the first aliyah should go to the greatest talmid chacham present, if a Levi and Yisrael are of equal status, the Levi takes precedence. Note that no one suggests that in the absence of a Kohen the first aliyah must go to a Levi, irrespective of his status as a talmid chacham. Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl rules that “ein kapeida, there is no preference.” 19 Whether a Levi or Yisrael is called up in place of the Kohen, the gabbai must state that he is receiving the aliyah “bimkom Kohen, in place of a Kohen” (MB 66:26). Rav Eliyahu Bechor Chazzan in Neveh Shalom (5a-b, #3-4) testifies that when he was chief rabbi of Alexandria (1888-1908), the custom was to give a Levi preference for the first aliyah when there was no Kohen present. He cites other authorities who also acted accordingly. The Bach (OC 135) suggests that because of the halachic debate, it is preferable not to call a Levi for the first aliyah. 20 The Kaf Hachaim (135:40) includes a list of authorities who prohibit calling a Levi for the first aliyah when there is no Kohen and suggests following this position unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as if the Levi is a chatan. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, OC 3:19) rules that the halachah follows the Rema, who says that if there is no Kohen, one may call either a Levi or a Yisrael for the first aliyah. A fascinating incident occurred in 1664 in Germany, as recorded by Rav Yair Chaim Bacharach.21 One Friday evening, a member of the community died, and because the roof of the home containing the body was connected to the shul roof, Kohanim could not enter the shul that Shabbat. The town rabbi, Rav Moshe Shimshon Bacharach, instructed that seven Yisraelim be called up; he did not want to give a Levi the first aliyah. Although it was pointed out
to him that the Shulchan Aruch and many others permit giving a Levi the first aliyah, he refused to do so, and insisted that Yisraelim get all the aliyot. Subsequently, he clarified that if a Levi has a chiyuv or is more learned than everyone else present, he may receive the first aliyah. If a Yisrael is called up in place of a Kohen, then a Levi may not be called immediately after him (OC 135:6; Kaf Hachaim 135:40). However, some say he may get the fourth or even the third aliyah (Yabia Omer 6; OC 24). If a Levi is called up instead of a Kohen, the gabbai should say “Af al pi shehu Levi” (Yabia Omer 6:24). Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, a Levi, would often refuse the first aliyah when there was no Kohen present, despite being the greatest talmid chacham present (Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Nefesh HaRav , 130; Rabbi Aharon Ziegler, “Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik,” Jewish Press, April 7, 2000). He felt that it was improper to ignore the opinion of Rashi that once the “bundle is separated,” the Levi should not receive the first aliyah. The Levi’s honor derives solely from his service to the Kohen. Thus, in the absence of a Kohen, he lacks special standing. Unfortunately, while the halachic authorities clarified who should receive the first two aliyot, they did not resolve how to handle subsequent aliyot, which can lead to disputes (AH, OC 136:2). There are various categories of individuals who are regarded as “chiyuvim,” i.e., those obligated to receive an aliyah, such as grooms, new fathers, bar mitzvah boys and those observing yahrtzeits. Local custom dictates which chiyuvim take precedence (e.g., MA 282; Biur Halachah 136; AH, OC 136:3; Ben Ish Chai, Year 2, Toldot: 7 and Sefer Hagabai, ch. 22, p. 173-176). The Rambam (Letters [5732 ed.], p. 150) describes what he calls “an almost inescapable disease of the soul” in which people have an inflated self-image, which can lead to conflict. By determining the order of the aliyot, Chazal strove to preserve harmony and avoid machloket, since no aliyah is worth fighting over and “deracheha darchei noam v’chol netivoteha shalom, Her
[the Torah] ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace” (Mishlei 3:17).22 g Notes 1. The establishment of these readings is attributed to both Moshe and Ezra (Bava Kama 82a; Yerushalmi Megillah 4:1; Rambam’s Hilchot Tefillah 12:1; AH, OC 135:1; MA, OC 135: introduction). 2. On days with a Haftarah and four or fewer aliyot, the last oleh reads the Haftarah. On days with five or more, an additional person is called up for the “extra” Maftir aliyah and he reads the Haftarah. Thus on Shabbat there is really a minimum of eight people receiving aliyot. 3. The mishnah (Megillah 4:2) implies that aliyot may be added on yom tov and Yom Kippur, and that is how the Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 12:16) and the Tur (OC 282, see Beit Yosef 282, s.v. “u’motzi’in”) rule. 4. Be’er Haiteiv 282:3; MB 282:5. 5. The Mishnah Berurah (135:37) cites an opinion that one can repeat the sequence, i.e., Kohen, Levi, Yisrael and then again Kohen, Levi, Yisrael. 6. See Rav Efrayim Fischel Weinberger, Yad Efrayim (Tel Aviv, 5736), 17:19, p. 176 for a summary and sources. 7. SA, OC 128:40-41; MA128:57; Iggerot Moshe, OC 2:33. 8. Former Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger (Miyam Hahalachah 2:49) cites the Shvut Yaakov 2:2 on this topic. In that responsum, Rav Yaakov Reischer (eighteenth century) discusses whether to give the first aliyah to a Kohen whose son has apostatized and rules that the father is not held responsible for his son’s actions. He says nothing about a Kohen doctor. 9. The Melamed L’ho’il (Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman, d. 1921, 1:31) writes that if after being informed of his error the Kohen does not repent, he should not be given the first aliyah. Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook (Shu”t Orach Mishpat, #29, cited in Sefer Hagabai, p. 182, n. 10) says that if he is otherwise religiously observant he should be judged favorably and leniently based on minority opinions. But he should be told to be careful about corpse tumah in the future. 10. See Minchat Chinuch #269; Aruch Hashulchan 128:72 and Avnei Chaifetz by Rabbi Aaron Lewin, p. 71. 11. In a responsum, the Rambam (no. 135; Blau ed. 1986 [vol. 1, p. 255], was critical of talmidei chachamim who permitted someone of lesser stature to receive an aliyah instead of them. A similar position is stated in Shu”t Rivash 204. 12. See Shu”t Ketav Sofer 36 about a Kohen forgoing his honor for the sake of the congregation.
13. The non-Kohen must receive explicit permission from the Kohen; it is not enough to say by rote “b’reshut . . .” (MA 167:33). Other factors may also play a role in who leads bentching. Kaf Hachaim suggests (184:42) that it is preferable that the person have a pleasant voice, and the Magen Avraham (193:104) suggests that he have a loud voice. 14. Although note that a resident with a chiyuv takes precedence over a guest (see Biur Halachah, OC 136). Regarding a Kohen forgoing the first aliyah on a Monday or Thursday in favor of a ba’al simchah, see Iggerot Moshe 2:34 and Yabia Omer 6:23:3. 15. Note that Shoel U’Maishiv (Mahadura Shtita’a 26) thinks that this arrangement is not ideal and that in the absence of a Levi it is preferable to give two Yisraelim the aliyot. On whether to actually do this, see Iggerot Moshe, OC 3:20. 16. Sefer Hachinuch 269 implies that it is because of the mitzvah to honor a Kohen that the Levi gets the second aliyah, and if there is no Kohen, then the order is no longer relevant. 17. While this position is held by many, some suggest that the Shulchan Aruch does not agree with this but is simply saying there is no preference. 18. The Aruch Hashulchan understands the Rema as agreeing with this third explanation. 19. Rav D.A. Spektor, Sefer Hagabai (Kiryat Arba, 2005), 166, n. 10. 20. Some authorities maintain that in the absence of a Kohen, a Levi is given priority over a Yisrael in other areas where a Kohen is honored, such as leading bentching (Yerushalmi, Gittin 5:9 based on Devarim 31:9; MB 201:13; Kaf Hachaim 167:101; cf. Tur, OC 201). The MA (201:4), following a long discussion illustrating that a Levi gets priority in leading bentching, notes that the introduction to bentching commonly used in his community (seventeenth-century Poland) included the following phrase: “B’reshut haKohanim vehaLeviim.” Rav Ovadia Yosef, in introductory comments to a recent edition of Neveh Shalom (par. 5), cites the Zohar as saying that even nowadays a Levi has more kedushah than a Yisrael. The dominant view, however, seems to be that a Levi does not have a special status independent of the Kohen and, as such, is not given priority to lead bentching (AH 201:4; Ben Ish Chai, Korach:14). 21. Minhagim D’kehillah Kedoshah Vermiza l’Rav Yuzpe Shemesh, with additions by Rav Yair Chaim Bacharach, Hamburger and Zimmer ed. (Jerusalem, 5748), 41-42. 22. See MB 53:65 that one should not fight over any mitzvah.
Summer 5774/2014 JEWISH ACTION 87
By Judy Gruen
O R A’ S L I G H T
n the mikvah’s waiting room, I am engrossed as I watch my dear friend Jenna, clad in a long robe, face the rabbis who have overseen her geirut process. They ask: Do you realize this step is irrevocable? Do you believe the Torah, both Oral and Written, was given by God at Mount Sinai? Is there anything that you have learned which you feel you are not capable of committing yourself to observe? Jenna resolutely answers “yes” to the first two questions and “no” to the last one. They ask what she has chosen as her new name. For years, Jenna had treasured the image of the Almighty who is The Light—and has been from the beginning of Creation. In the privacy of the mikvah room, she steps into the water as Jenna and rises as Ora, a new light in Israel. I am moved to tears by the drama of this transformative experience, humbled by her dedication and determination. Ora and I became fast friends after meeting at shul four years earlier. She had decided that she wanted to become Jewish and moved into our neighborhood “to be taken seriously” by the Orthodox community. Even as a young child, Ora displayed the kind of tenacious questioning that revealed a Jewish neshamah. Born to non-practicing Christian parents, she asked her mother when she was seven years old to explain God and Heaven to her. “You make your own Heaven and you make your own Hell,” her mother told her. “The rest is up to you. Go figure it out for yourself.” “I was outraged by her answer,” she recalls. “I knew it couldn’t be true.” Craving religious direction, in high Judy Gruen writes the Mirth and Meaning blog at www.judygruen.com. Her latest book is Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping (CreateSpace, 2012).
I JEWISH ACTION
school Ora became a self-described “Bible thumper,” for a time involved in an evangelical Presbyterian church. Yet she regularly challenged the ministers: Why would anyone change God’s original law? If God wants us to pray to Him, why would we pray to someone else? At twenty-two, she broke her engagement to a Catholic man, unable to accept what she considered an idolatrous creed. By her mid-twenties, her written list of “problems” with Christian theology totaled fifty-eight. She stopped calling herself a Christian and began calling herself “God-focused.” In a bookstore she discovered Rabbi Maurice Lamm’s book Becoming a Jew. “I started reading it . . . and tears started streaming down my face. I realized there was a whole group of people who believed as I did. I never even knew that was a possibility.” At twenty-nine, after more than twenty years of communicating with God in her own way, she finally found an address where she could connect with Him communally and more intensely. The first Orthodox rabbi she approached about conversion lessons turned her down flat. She knew to expect this, yet it still stung. I have known many converts since choosing a Torah-observant lifestyle more than twenty-seven years ago, but Ora became part of our family, showing me up close the quiet determination and faith of an aspiring Jew. She became a “big sister” to my daughter, helping her with homework, talking to her for hours, doing craft projects with her. She shared with us many Shabbatot and holidays, stayed with the kids when my husband and I went away, helped me cook and lived with us for brief stints as she recovered from two foot surgeries. I was struck by watching her daven. Her siddur was marked with dozens of tiny colorful sticky tabs indicating which tefillot were for weekday, Shab-
bat and yom tov. She studied assiduously in preparation for her weekly classes and told me about the halachot and hashkafot she was learning—many of which were new to me. Ora and I both chose a Torah-centered life, but as a ba’alat teshuvah, I never had to prove my knowledge to become accepted in my community. Watching Ora’s path and occasional frustrations with the process, I gained renewed appreciation for the gifts of a Torah life, and understood better why the Torah repeatedly emphasizes the care and kindness we owe to geirim. They have earned their status in a way many born Jews have not. After more than three years of study, a miscommunication about a meeting with the vaad overseeing her geirut prompted them to drop her from the program. Ora insisted on a meeting and brought letters of support from other rabbis. We were both nervous. Ora is normally very deferential to authority, but she told the vaad that they could not allow a technicality to keep them from converting her. “This is about my knowledge and sincerity [regarding] living a life of mitzvot. How much can one Jewish soul accomplish in a moment? How many missed opportunities are you going to allow to slip by as an eager Jewish soul waits?” Ora heard one of the rabbis gasp. “But what about that cast on your foot?” he asked. “You can’t go into the mikvah with that!” Ora beamed brightly: “It’s Velcro!” Her geirut was completed two weeks later, right before Pesach. Today Ora is married to an Orthodox rabbi and military chaplain, currently stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where they are raising three beautiful sons. Knowing Ora has not only enriched my life with a special friendship, but has helped me appreciate what it means to have been born a Jew. g
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Since ancient times, the Jewish Quarter, located in the Old City of Jerusalem, has been home to a devout Jewish population.
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