CELEBRATING HERITAGE & TRADITION AT YOUR HOLIDAY TABLE SINCE 1932.
KOSHER FOR PASSOVER & YEAR-ROUND USE
AND FOR DESSERT T R Y F O X â€™ S U - B E T.
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JEWISH HISTORY Remembering the 1929 Hebron Massacre As told to Toby Klein Greenwald and Bayla Sheva Brenner SPECIAL SECTION Frum Dating in the Digital Age By Rachel Schwartzberg Singles and the Shabbat Experience By Leah R. Lightman On Being an Orthodox Never-Married Woman By Tikva A Polite Request for Basic Sensitivity By Dovid Bashevkin Marriage Then . . . and Now By Faigy Grunfeld COVER STORY The State of Orthodox Belief Bringing God into the Classroom By Bayla Sheva Brenner
Emunah at Work: Maintaining Spiritual Equilibrium in the Workplace By Janet Sunness JEWISH THOUGHT Thoughts on “Rupture and Reconstruction”— Twenty-Five Years Later By David Brofsky
02 08 12 18
LETTERS PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE Fragmentation, Loneliness and Jewish Identity By Mark (Moishe) Bane FROM THE DESK OF ALLEN FAGIN Reflections of an Oma and Opa: The Joys—and Opportunities— of Grandparenting CHAIRMAN’S MESSAGE By Gerald M. Schreck
82 86 91 100 108 110 112
LEGAL-EASE What’s the Truth About . . . Invitations to a Brit Milah? By Ari Z. Zivotofsky THE CHEF’S TABLE Simple, Scrumptious Summer Fare By Norene Gilletz INSIDE THE OU Compiled by Sara Olson INSIDE PHILANTHROPY Compiled by Marcia P. Neeley BOOKS Jewish Law as a Journey By Rabbi David Silverstein Reviewed by Asher Meir Illuminating Jewish Thought: Explorations of Free Will, the Afterlife, and the Messianic Era By Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank Reviewed by Mordechai Schiffman LASTING IMPRESSIONS On the Lookout for Kiddush Hashem By Steve Lipman
Editor’s Note: Transliterations in the magazine are based on Sephardic pronunciation, unless an author is known to use Ashkenazic pronunciation. Thus, the inconsistencies in transliterations are due to authors’ preferences.
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Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
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WHY GENETIC COUNSELING IS IMPORTANT I am writing in response to your article “Direct-to-Consumer DNA Testing: What Does Halachah Say?” (spring 2019). As a genetic counselor who has dedicated her career to helping the Jewish community navigate genetic health issues, I could not be more pleased with how supportive the authors are of genetic counselors. As the article mentioned, whether one is screening for reproductive purposes or for personal health, results should be given by a genetics professional and should not be merely e-mailed to the client, as is done by direct-to-consumer DNA testing companies. Without proper genetic counseling, those with negative results are likely unaware that the test is inadequate, and I shudder to think how many cancer diagnoses were made on individuals who were misled to believe they were in the clear. I would also like to point out that those with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry are ten times more likely to have a mutation in a BRCA gene, regardless of their family history of cancer. I would suggest that anyone with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry consider BRCA testing. People who learn they carry mutations have options for cancer screening and risk-reducing surgeries, and can share this information with relatives who might also be at risk. Many genetic counselors understand the potential implications such information might have on marriageability and medical halachah and will discuss options for testing in an empathic and respectful way. When I was studying at Stern College for Women, I was one of a handful of students interested in the field of genetic counseling. Today, I am proud to say that I am part of a growing community of Orthodox genetic counselors. Thank you for making your readers aware that we can be informative and supportive to anyone in need. Estie Rose North Woodmere, New York Genetic Counselor, JScreen BRINGING BACK FOND MEMORIES I read with particular interest David Olivestone’s article on Dr. Philip Birnbaum and the Hebrew Publishing Company (HPC) (“A Most Obscure Best-Selling Author: Dr. Philip Birnbaum” [winter 2018]). My grandfather, Chaim Alter Segal, z”l, worked for the HPC for almost fifty years, beginning in the 1920s. He calculated and arranged a 150-year Hebrew/English calendar and worked on the Tikun Mayer and Tiferes Dovid siddurim. Dr. Birnbaum acknowledged my grandfather (among others) in the early edition of Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem. As a child I visited the HPC many times and had the privilege of meeting Dr. Birnbaum on a few occasions. In its day, the HPC certainly played an important role with its vast array of religious and educational books and materials, which assisted the American Jewish community for many years. Thank you, Mr. Olivestone, for bringing back fond memories. Michael Lipstein Brooklyn, New York
Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
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A BIKUR CHOLIM ROOM OF THEIR OWN I’m writing with regard to R. Rosenfeld’s essay, “Our ‘You People’ Community” (winter 2018), which describes the tremendous advantages of Bikur Cholim rooms. Rofeh International, based in Boston, has been working with hospitals in the area, trying to build relationships so that we can also benefit from Bikur Cholim rooms, found in many New York City hospitals. Our main goal is to set up such a room in Boston Children’s Hospital, which is visited by countless Jewish families, both from the local area and out of town. Rosenfeld’s article illustrated how beneficial Bikur Cholim rooms are to the families of patients, as well as the potential they have to make a kiddush Hashem. We plan on using the article as part of our presentation to Boston Children’s Hospital. We hope to turn this dream into reality and thereby somewhat relieve the burden facing many families dealing with medical crises. Michael Hirsh Program Director, Rofeh International Boston, Massachusetts DISAGREEING WITH CHAZAL I was very impressed by the cover story “Mining Tanach” (winter 2018). Rabbi Eliyahu Krakowski’s thorough treatment of “Why Isn’t Tanach Studied More?” was most informative, and I enjoyed the articles by Rabbis Yaakov Ariel and Netanel Wiederblank dealing with how we are to view the interpretations of Chazal and the limits of Biblical interpretation. The point was made that often, when a Rishon’s interpretation of a pasuk ostensibly differs from that of Chazal’s, it is not really a contradiction because the Rishon maintains that Chazal were working on a derash plane, whereas he is dealing on a peshat plane. I would like to point out that numerous times there really is another opinion within Chazal, with which the Rishon’s view is consistent. Thus, when a Rishon begins by saying “Chazal say ‘xyz,’” he means one of the Chazal says it, not that it is the consensus of Chazal. On the other hand, this does not deny that Rishonim, such as Ramban and Rashi, sometimes do explain the peshat level of pesukim differently from all known shittot of Chazal. In footnote fifteen of Rabbi Wiederblank’s
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TheYIEP@gmail.com | 917-209-8204 | www.theYIEP.com marvelous article, he lists for consideration examples of traditional commentators who explain Scripture in ways that deviate substantially from Chazal. One of those examples is Rambam’s understanding that angels did not visit Avraham when he was sick; rather, the episode took place in a dream. The fact is that Rambam did not see himself as differing from Chazal. Rambam held that Chazal could not have thought that there can be an interaction involving seeing, talking and eating with angels, since angels are by definition incorporeal, so the only way a human can interact or even perceive the presence of an angel is through connecting to the Heavenly world of spiritual existence and developing receptors capable of beholding the spiritual realities happening in Heaven—i.e., prophecy or prophetic dream. Indeed, Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 2:42) cites Rabbi Chiya HaGadol (see Abarbanel’s commentary), who also maintains that this episode of three angels visiting Avraham was a prophecy.
well as the rest of the congregation) rose and recited: He who gives salvation to kings and dominion to princes, whose Kingdom is an everlasting kingdom—may He bless: Our Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth Philip, Duke of Edinburgh . . . These opening words to the prayer are known by heart by all who attended shul in the United Kingdom. One of my great pleasures as a child was going to visit old family members to leaf through the Routledge machzorim on the bookshelves in their homes (in the United Kingdom, up until fairly recently, no one had a Birnbaum, Koren-Sacks or ArtScroll machzor). When my brother and I opened the dusty books, we turned the brittle yellow pages until we reached the “Prayer for the Royal Family,” and we looked to see who was on the throne when it was printed. Which member of the House of Windsor might it be? Elizabeth? Edward VIII? George VI? George V? Could it possibly be so old that Queen Victoria was the monarch? These machzorim, containing liturgy thousands of years old, were also veritable treasure troves of royal history. For me, and I am sure many others, this short prayer for the monarch is something that will be remembered for the rest of my life. Benjamin Reisman Neve Tzuf, Israel TAKING THE PLUNGE I had been thinking about removing the Internet from my home for a long time. Having read Bayla Sheva Brenner’s inspiring article “Pulling the Plug: Life without the Internet” (summer 2018), I decided to take the plunge. I now use the Internet at an Internet office. And when I’m home, I focus! It is just so magical and freeing. I had the article framed and placed over my desk in my home office. Leba Friedman Jerusalem, Israel
Zvi Lampel Passaic, New Jersey
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As a child growing up in England, the Prayer for the Government was perhaps the pinnacle of the Shabbat morning service. Once the haftarah was read, the rabbi and chazzan, dressed regally, stood on the bimah, while the wardens in their top hats and pressed three-piece suits (as 6
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Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
FRAGMENTATION, LONELINESS AND JEWISH IDENTITY By Mark (Moishe) Bane
or decades, rabbis and community leaders have decried the “shtiebelization” of American Orthodoxy. The fragmentation of the Orthodox community has been maligned as a product of a narcissistic focus on personal tastes and self-centered preferences. Arguably, it has produced a litany of problems, including disunity, disregard for broader communal needs and institutional inefficiencies. Orthodox communal segmentation is expressed in many ways, the most conspicuous being the rarity of communities gathering en masse for Mark (Moishe) Bane is president of the OU and a senior partner and chairman of the Business Restructuring Department at the international law firm, Ropes & Gray LLP.
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5779/2019
Shabbos morning davening. Large shuls are replaced by shteiblach, or by living room or basement minyanim. Each minyan caters to a particular want. Some initiate a minyan to congregate only with others of similar age or yeshivah background. Others seek a particular manner of tefillah—slower or quicker, starting later or earlier, more singing or less. Even surviving cornerstone community shuls often find their main sanctuaries half empty on Shabbos morning, as groups of members demand their own minyanim, often under threat of breaking away to open yet another independent shul. The proliferation of shuls—new schools are often the same—is often economically wasteful. New edifices are frequently acquired or built, notwithstanding a local abundance of empty pews. Non-financial communal benefits are also sacrificed. Old and young no longer daven side by side, nor do the scholarly and the less educated. Forfeited, too, is a sense of communal unity that is necessary to nurture a commitment to the greater good of the Jewish community as a whole. Socially, the community is also divided into almost imperceptibly distinct segments, imposing social demarcations that are seemingly gratuitous. Shidduchim most starkly reflect this social fragmentation. Long forgotten is the era in which the threshold question regarding a
suggested shidduch was whether he or she was shomer Shabbos. Singles and their parents now assign increasingly narrow labels to both themselves and to prospective dates, accepting or rejecting suggestions based on the slimmest of social and cultural distinctions. Similar to many public policy considerations, however, communal fragmentation cannot be viewed through the lens of black and white. While elements of shtiebelization are counterproductive, others are actually very attractive. If we fail to acknowledge these benefits, we risk forfeiting them in our efforts to mitigate the drawbacks. Inevitable Response to Significant Communal Growth Notwithstanding its challenges, fragmentation constitutes a healthy, constructive and inevitable response to the substantial growth of American Orthodoxy, and even contributes to our retaining an Orthodox identity. Loneliness is one of our more intense emotional vulnerabilities. It is ameliorated through family and friendships, but we also long for nurturing and meaningful communal affiliations. People go to great lengths hoping to connect with others, ranging from joining country clubs and civic groups to associating with gangs and hate groups. It is both natural and healthy to aspire to belong to an
intimate community segment within which to feel comfortable and at home. In today’s digitized, impersonal world, we frequently feel like an outsider even when surrounded by familiar people. So we yearn for the warmth and kinship of being in “a place where everyone knows your name.” Due to its significant growth, American Orthodoxy, particularly in high-density neighborhoods, no longer provides a sense of communal intimacy. We must therefore construct smaller community segments with which to connect. If we fail to find a warm social connection within Orthodoxy, we may find it elsewhere, such as with our school or workplace colleagues, or with non-observant individuals sharing our hobbies, political or civic affiliations or sports interests. Over the past two years, my wife and I have spent many Shabbosim in towns throughout North America. We have found that even when
there is significant diversity among communal members, smaller Orthodox communities experience far less fragmentation. In these modest Orthodox communities, an individual is validated and develops a sense of belonging merely by being an observant Jew. Contemporary Threats to American Orthodox Identity Over the generations, we have encountered many challenges to our Torah-centric identity. Tragically, for many Jews these challenges have been insurmountable. Currently, thank God, we do not confront forced conversion or widespread poverty, mass population displacement or the allure of idolatry. But we now face other formidable challenges that threaten Orthodoxy in our day, including: 1. Unprecedented social integration: In America, societal barriers have dissipated. Not only does society
encourage and welcome our integration, but we enjoy remarkable success in almost every public sector—from academia to commerce, from the sciences to politics. While integration introduces many advantages and opportunities, it can also weaken one’s Jewish identity and commitment—even for a staunchly religious individual. We often focus on halachic challenges in the workplace and elsewhere, but pay minimal attention to the impact of secular influences on our values, attitudes and lifestyle. In my own experience, I developed great respect and affection for my law firm colleagues, notwithstanding our rather disparate religious perspectives. I noticed that while my values and aspirations did not change, through the countless hours spent together over the years I became increasingly familiar with, and eventually even sympathetic to, my colleagues’ divergent values, goals
Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
and attitudes. With great subtlety, the prism through which we look at the world begins to shift. Changes occur in how we assess issues and events, and how we see others. Ultimately, this evolving prism also alters how we view ourselves, where we belong and with whom we identify. 2. Technology: We embrace the opportunities afforded by technology, but we also recognize its dangers, including easy access to pornography and heretical theology, and unconstrained editorial and informational content. We also fret about technology’s impact on one’s attention span, relationship development and time management. We pay little attention, however, to its threat to Orthodox Jewish identity. Observant Jews have tried to defer entry into secular society until first spending years of full immersion in Orthodox schools, camps and youth groups. With the advent of technology, actual full immersion in Orthodox life is no longer possible. Our children now have access to all that secular society has to offer. Moreover, with ease they may now also actively interact with others outside our community. Naively confident that such access does not extend to our own children, we parents are generally clueless about our children’s unmonitored online and gaming use, and certainly with relationships they may have initiated. Instead of religious immersion, the entire world is now our children’s playground. 3. Parental ambivalence: While a day school education is integral to developing children’s Orthodox identity, their deeper, sustained identity is inculcated at home. Imbuing children with pride in Torah observance and esteem in their Jewish heritage is a fundamental parental responsibility. Parents who relinquish the infusion of children’s religious identity to educators, rabbis or youth group leaders are conveying the message to their children that developing a religious identity is not a high priority. Children’s identities may be formed accordingly. 4. The Degradation of Structured 10
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5779/2019
Identity: We currently confront an evolving progressive movement that seeks to eliminate identity distinctions within society. The apparent objective is to allow each person to define him or herself. In this context, the label of citizenship is viewed as arbitrary and unfair, and thus national borders are less significant. Gender identity is seen as illusory and should be designated exclusively by one’s own personal preference. Religious identity is considered spurious, if not offensive. Therefore, faith should be ignored as a factor when society balances people’s competing interests. In a society that denigrates religious identity, it is challenging for us to emphasize and elevate the retention of Orthodox identity as a primary value.
aspirations. When a combination of these and other factors draw numerous people together, kinship and camaraderie often emerge, leading to the formation of a small community segment. The group’s members understand that this association serves as a proxy for their connection to, and identification with, the broader Torah community, and contributes significantly to each individual’s commitment to the Orthodox lifestyle. In addition, identifying with a group of similar observant Jews is an anchor that preserves the prism of Torah and mitzvos through which to view life. “Segment” members appreciate the invaluable benefits they enjoy by being part of a cohesive group. They, therefore, jealously guard the group’s
American Orthodoxy, particularly in high-density neighborhoods, no longer provides a sense of communal intimacy. Fragmentation Sustains Orthodox Identity Family relationships, mitzvah observance and Torah study frame and sustain our Orthodox identity. But even these may not suffice to combat contemporary challenges. A necessary addition may be developing and retaining strong, personal social associations with others sharing Torah values and religious commitment. When we are young, these social bonds are established in school, camp, yeshivah or seminary and youth groups. When we are older, establishing such bonds becomes more difficult, though equally important. Meaningful and lasting social associations are most effectively developed among individuals and families sharing significant commonalities. Therefore, in identifying observant Jews with whom to create communal bonds, we tend to focus on the most easily identifiable similarities such as age, background, lifestyle, interests, culture and religious
composition, hoping to prevent inappropriate interlopers from diluting the commonality that is the foundation of their bond. Similarly, strategic efforts are undertaken to solidify and preserve their collective identity. When members live in close proximity, their bond is solidified through collective social gatherings, and often by establishing their own minyanim, schools and chesed organizations. A Chassidic rebbe’s tish and a Torah study Yarchei Kallah are prominent examples. When living in different locales, the bond is preserved by adopting similar practices and styles, such as how they daven, their approach to Torah study, and the manner by which they celebrate life cycle events. Occasionally, multiple community segments liaison with each other upon discovering that they share core values and a common lifestyle. Certain segments have thereby grown substantially. It is not surprising when these expanding segments eventually experience segmentation themselves.
Strategic Approaches to Fragmentation Strategies can be employed to realize the benefits achieved through fragmentation, while also mitigating its downsides. The approach will differ, of course, for a community already dealing with fragmentation or a community trying to prevent it. 1. A Fragmented Community: A fragmented community can retain collective unity by deliberately identifying opportunities for members of the various segments to gather in expression of their joint values or to pursue collective objectives. Events such as the OU’s annual TorahNY, a day of Torah study at Citi Field, is one such example, as is Birkas Kohanim at the Kosel on Chol Hamoed, or the Daf Yomi Siyum HaShas organized by Agudath Israel. These gatherings serve as reminders of the unifying forces among disparate segments. Similarly, segment leadership can reinforce the unifying factors among segments by conveying respect and appreciation for other segments’ positions or behavior. Moreover, children should be taught the same by example. 2. Non-Segmented Communities: Certain communities have not yet encountered significant segmentation. Fragmentation may be avoided if the benefits of fragmentation are otherwise provided wisely and strategically. For example: * Rather than attempt to stifle new minyanim, distinct educational forums, or individual cultural expressions, anticipate the need and request or initiate them. By doing so, these new initiatives are more likely to be embraced as part of the broader community, rather than be perceived as a rejection of the balance of the community. * Segmentation reflects the need to belong to a social group that is smaller and provides camaraderie and a sense of belonging. Encourage the formation of many smaller groups within the community. A group may revolve around any cause or interest, such as chesed efforts, support of Israel or other political causes, or even recreational interests. Regardless of the group’s focus, if participation provides a sense of bonding and belonging, the push for segmentation may be satisfied. * An even more impactful social group is one created to learn Torah. The success of the Daf Yomi program is partially attributed to its social dimension, as are Kinyan Hamasechta, Daf Hashavua and the OU’s Semichat Chaver program. For quite some time, women’s learning groups have also been created. * Segmentation may sometimes reflect a sense of insignificance by certain individuals within the broader community. For example, younger community members may feel that their voices are not heard, or a community culture may be so dominant that those who do not thrive within that culture feel like outsiders. Although it is impossible to address all groups with those feelings, often no effort is made to address any such group. Even a mere acknowledgement of the need, along with modest effort, may prevent those who harbor these feelings from breaking away to form a distinct segment.
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FROM THE DESK OF ALLEN I. FAGIN
REFLECTIONS OF AN OMA AND OPA:
THE JOYS—AND OPPORTUNITIES— OF GRANDPARENTING the obligation to teach Torah to one’s grandchildren is codified by Rambam (Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:2)1 and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 245:3). Chazal placed a substantial emphasis on the inter-generational transmission both of Jewish knowledge and attachment. The The Perspective of Chazal on the Talmud (Kiddushin 30a) emphasizes Infl uence of Grandparents how important this obligation is Grandparents hold an important with the following teaching: position in the family hierarchy; they Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: Anyone are the glue that bonds families together, who teaches his son’s son Torah, the a source of strength for their children verse ascribes him credit as though and grandchildren, and the pillar he received it from Mount Sinai, as upon which future generations rest. it states: “And make them known to Grandparents are tasked with a religious obligation and are bequeathed your children and to your children’s children,” and juxtaposed to it is the a sacred responsibility: to preserve phrase in the verse: “The day you stood and to transmit the masorah that before Hashem, your God, at Horeb.” they received from their parents Simply understood, the Talmud and grandparents to subsequent teaches us that one who transmits our generations of young women and men. tradition to the next generation is doing We are commanded to remember something so extraordinary, it is as the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai, though he himself stood at Har Sinai. and instructed to convey this to Interestingly, Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer future generations (Devarim 4:9-10): HaLevi Eidels (1555-1631), in his Only take heed and guard yourselves commentary Chiddushei Maharsha, carefully, lest you forget the things that suggests that the Talmud’s phrase “the you saw with your own eyes and lest verse ascribes him credit as though he they depart from your heart as long received it from Mount Sinai” is actually as you live; and make them known to referring to the grandchild. The Talmud your children and to your children’s is therefore to be understood as follows: children: The day you stood before If one teaches Torah to a grandchild, it Hashem, your God, at Horeb . . . is as though the grandchild received the From this verse we derive that there Torah at Har Sinai. We did not actually is a Torah obligation for grandparents stand at Har Sinai and witness the to not only teach their own children Revelation of God to His people. We about the Jewish tradition but to teach therefore rely solely on the testimony of their grandchildren as well: “Make our ancestors about that seminal event. them known to your children and Thus, when a grandparent recounts the to your children’s children.” Indeed, we, however, paid sufficient communal attention to the role of grandparents and grandparenting in the inculcation of Jewish learning and tradition—a process often referred to as sharsheret hadorot?
y the time this article is printed, my wife and I will have savored the enormous zechut of attending the first wedding of a grandchild, our eldest. Reflecting the Yekke traditions of my in-laws, aleihem hashalom, our grandchildren call us Oma and Opa. They range in age from three to twenty-four and each one, in his or her unique way, brings us boundless joy and pride. At this moment of extraordinary happiness and gratitude to Hashem, we pause to reflect on the role of grandparents in contemporary Jewish life, and on the challenges and opportunities inherent in such a role, both within and outside of the Orthodox community. To date, much of the research on the development of religious values has, understandably, centered on millennials and parents. Have Allen I. Fagin is executive vice president of the OU.
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How often do we find ourselves “making appointments” to visit with our grandchildren as their lives and ours become ever more complicated? story of Har Sinai to a grandchild, the grandchild is able to connect to that moment, tapping into an unbroken chain of transmission, which had its genesis in that historic event. This beautiful explanation of the Maharsha highlights the unique position of a grandparent with regard to the transmission of Torah and the Jewish tradition. Simply receiving a Jewish education from one’s parents is often insufficient to firmly instill within a child the depth, grandeur and historic dimension of our masorah. It is the ability to connect with generations past that gives a child a more robust understanding of the longevity of our tradition and the unbroken chain of the masorah that extends back to Sinai. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt”l, notes (Chumash Mesoras HaRav, Bereishis, p. 353) that Yaakov Avinu merited that his second name, Yisrael, became the generic name for the Jewish nation. Moreover, Yaakov is referred to a number of times in the Torah as “haZaken—the old one,” and in Talmudic and Midrashic literature he is often called “Yisrael Sava.” In what manner did Yaakov distinguish himself so that his name became the generic name for an entire people, and that he, in particular, was called Zaken? Rav Soloveitchik offers the following insight: Yaakov was the first patriarch to establish direct communication with his grandchildren. He was the first to make a solemn declaration, an historic pronouncement, which is responsible for the sense of closeness we still have with the past, thereby laying the foundation for the dialogue of the generations. He literally conquered time and space when he said to Joseph, “Now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt, before I came to 14
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maternal grandparents lived in our home. I was indeed fortunate to have known and been influenced by three of my grandparents; countless Jews of my generation never knew their grandparents, many of whom perished in the Holocaust. My Zeide taught me the aleph bet before I entered kindergarten. Kibbud av va’em was something I witnessed daily, up close and in real time. you in Egypt, are mine. Ephraim and Today, not only do families not Menashe shall be mine, no less than reside in the same neighborhood or Reuven and Shimon” (Bereishit 48:5). city, but many are scattered across Yaakov was the first of our forefathers the country (indeed, often across to assume direct responsibility for the globe in ever more dispersed influencing the spiritual development locales), separating generations by of future generations. The Torah barriers of distance and time zone. tells us (Bereishit 48:20): Economic factors impact as well. As “And he blessed them that day, family size in the Orthodox community saying, ‘By you shall Israel invoke grows, and the cost of housing and blessings, saying: May God make tuition escalates, grandparents are you like Ephraim and Menashe.’” often called upon to help with these This blessing became the blessing rising costs and the resulting efforts with which parents traditionally may have cascading consequences on bless their children each week, and retirement planning, charitable giving it symbolizes the steadfast linkage of and other spending decisions. Changing generations that has kept our people patterns of leisure time activity—both spiritually connected with the Borei for grandchildren and grandparents— Olam throughout the millennia. And can also severely strain the ability to it is this blessing that has ensured create or enrich inter-generational the fulfillment of the words of bonds. How often do we find ourselves the Prophet Yeshayah (59:21): “making appointments” to visit with And this shall be My covenant with our grandchildren as their lives and them, said Hashem: “My spirit which ours become ever more complicated? is upon you, and the words which I It would be wise to consider whether have placed in your mouth, shall not the nature of our activity has shifted depart from your mouth, nor from the from life’s simple interactions (like mouth of your children, nor from the a walk in the park, a game of chess, mouth of your children’s children—said cooking and baking) to perhaps more Hashem—from now on, and for all time.” exciting but less interactive endeavors? Likewise, we may ask whether the very The Challenges of Grandparenting nature of our communications (with Our communities are anchored in the our grandchildren and, indeed, with concept of “binareinu uvizkeineinu one another) has undergone seismic neileich—with our youngsters and shifts. E-mail, social media and with our elders we shall go” (Shemot video “chats” allow for grandparental 10:9). Inter-generational influence interaction, particularly across long is at the core of our family life. But distances and time zones. But have contemporary circumstances have they replaced the comfort of tender challenged that fundamental tenet in moments and the warmth of Bubbe dramatic and ever more complex ways. and Zeide’s hug or pinch on the cheek? Changing family dynamics and A recent article in the New York shifting residence patterns make Times by Nellie Bowles, a reporter the historical paradigm of a nuclear covering tech and Internet culture, family residing under one roof a referred to human contact as a “luxury good”—a direct response to lives thing of the past. Growing up, my
One vineyard. One Or Haganuz.
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increasingly dominated by electronic media and virtual experiences. As the proliferation of technology companies and the dazzling array of hardware and software they produce come to dominate our culture at an ever-increasing pace, human interactions correspondingly diminish. In a society built around increasing isolation, the warm embrace of parents—and grandparents—becomes ever more important to the education of our children and to the transmission of traditions and values that have preserved us as a people throughout the millennia. Each of these dynamics has wrought profound changes in the role and nature of grandparenting and has created unique challenges—and opportunities—for Jewish family life.
Development and director of the Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, will be hosting a symposium in June, in conjunction with the Jewish Grandparents Network, on “Jewish Grandparenting in an Age of Complexity and Change.” The symposium follows on the heels of the first national study of Jewish grandparents conducted by the Jewish Grandparents Network in partnership with seventeen national organizations and federations. While the full study has not yet been released, several key findings have already been shared in published media reports. The survey reveals five broad groupings of grandparents in the general Jewish population, based on their levels of Jewish engagement and
Jewry? How are we, as Torah-true Jews with a passion for Yiddishkeit and a commitment to areivut and the spiritual development and fulfillment of every Jew, to react to such statistics? Is there a programmatic response that can be formulated that will tap into the wellspring of life experiences represented by this growing demographic? Can we find ways to spur the growing cadre of Jewish grandparents to convey their heritage to their progeny? As always, our readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and suggestions. On Motzaei Shabbat, at the conclusion of Havdalah, our family has the minhag of singing Shir Hamaalot (Tehillim 128). As I struggle, usually unsuccessfully, to stay on key, I am constantly reminded of the beauty of this berachah, and of its eternal message that the bonds of family and heritage continue to sustain us as they have throughout our long history. . . . Your children will be like olive saplings around your table. So shall the man who fears Hashem be blessed. May Hashem bless you from Zion; may you share the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life. And willingness to pass on Jewish values. may you live to see your children’s Almost two in three grandparents children and to see peace with Israel. report doing little to pass on Jewish My rav for so many years, Rabbi practices to grandchildren—23 percent are “engaged secularists” (engaged as Joseph Grunblatt, zt”l, offered a grandparents, but not modeling Jewish wonderful insight into the blessing of faith or practice); 20 percent are “wistful U’re’eh banim l’vanecha. Most outsiders” (family dynamics interfered understand this berachah to be a prayer with the ability to be more involved); for long life—a desire to achieve and 21 percent are “non-transmitters” sufficient longevity to see a third or (neither Jewishly engaged nor interested fourth generation. But more profoundly, in passing on Jewish practices to their said Rabbi Grunblatt, this berachah is grandchildren). Only 36 percent fell that one merit to see his children grow into the category of “joyful transmitters” and participate in the transmission of (feel it is important to transmit Jewish values to their progeny, Jewish values and beliefs) or “faithful maintaining the unbroken links in the transmitters” (want their grandchildren chain of our masorah. May we all be to have a strong connection to zocheh to the enjoyment of such Judaism and to marry Jews). abundant nachat. What are the implications of this data for Jewish life in America and Notes beyond? Are these findings surprising, 1. “Just as man is obliged to instruct or are they yet another manifestation his son, so is he obliged to teach his of the declining importance of Jewish son’s son, for it is said: ‘And make them observance (or even tradition) in the known to your children and to your children’s children’” (Devarim 4:9). lives of the majority of American
As family size in the Orthodox community grows, and the cost of housing and tuition escalates, grandparents are often called upon to help with these rising costs . . . The Role of Grandparents in the Non-Orthodox World Writing in Mosaic several years ago, Professor Jack Wertheimer referred to grandparents as “American Jewry’s great untapped resource.” Professor Wertheimer cited a survey of Birthright Israel alumni which found that “connection to Jewish grandparents is an important predictor of a wide variety of [positive] Jewish attitudes and practices in later years.” In the non-Orthodox world, many grandparents are eager to play (and are capable of playing) an active role in the lives of their grandchildren as role models and guides in Jewish living. A large number of grandparents take their grandchildren to services, often filling in for parents who are unaffiliated or who attend synagogue irregularly. Unfortunately, many others are far less involved. Dr. Erica Brown, associate professor at the George Washington University School of Education and Human 16
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By Gerald M. Schreck
o you recall the sensation of opening a letter (not a bill or fundraising letter)? There is something very appealing about holding an old-fashioned handwritten letter in one’s hands. The experience of opening up the envelope, unfolding the letter, feeling the texture of the page, reading the words—written in the writer’s own handwriting—engages our senses in a way that e-mail and texts can’t. When I first came on board as chairman of Jewish Action some fourteen years ago, we would receive handwritten letters from time to time. Nowadays, of course, most of our “Letters to the Editor” come in via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the web site (https://jewishaction.com/ contact-us/). And I readily admit: perusing the Letters to the Editor is one of my favorite “jobs” as chairman. Reading the feedback from readers from different parts of the country— and indeed, the world—and from all walks of life, gives me as well as the editorial staff insight into what our readers are thinking and feeling about a particular issue, whether it’s homeschooling or shul Kiddush clubs 18
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or the ongoing affordability issues facing most Orthodox families today. From the serious issues (childhood obesity; half-Shabbos) to the scholarly (halachah and reproductive medicine) to the more lighthearted (the rise of the Orthodox comedian), we love hearing the thoughts, impressions and reactions of our readers. Not every letter can make it into the print version, of course. We are selective due to space constraints and more significantly, because we try to ensure that the letters we publish are substantive and leave our readers with a new or fresh idea. A longstanding policy of ours is not to publish anonymous letters—unless there is a truly compelling reason to do so (a letter writer involved in a bitter divorce discusses the challenges, for example). We feel that letter writers (who must submit their full name and address) must be willing to stand by their thoughts and not hide behind the cloak of anonymity. But our Letters to the Editor section is more than just a window into what contemporary Orthodox Jews are thinking. It is also a historical record for future generations. Unfortunately, Orthodox Jews are notoriously bad at keeping records. In a 2012 Jewish Action article entitled “In Search of American Jewish History,” historian Zev Eleff quoted Yaakov Jacobs, editor of the OU’s Jewish Life magazine, who bemoaned the Orthodox Jewish community’s tendency to disregard its own history. Mr. Jacobs wrote: “American Orthodoxy has no sense of history. Records are not kept; documents go astray; historic figures who make significant contributions to the rebirth of Orthodoxy . . . are quickly forgotten.” Mr. Jacobs himself seemed to have kept meticulous records (we still have copies of Jewish Life, the predecessor to Jewish Action, dating back to the
1940s). Following in his footsteps, we try to take history seriously as well— at least our own history. At the OU’s downtown Manhattan headquarters, a large file cabinet situated next to the Jewish Action office contains hard copies of the magazine going back to fall 1985, our inaugural issue. (Currently our online issues only go back to the year 2000—some articles from issues prior to 2000 are online as well but not complete magazines. One of our goals is to make all of the issues available online, but it is a huge—and expensive—undertaking.) Occasionally, we get requests from researchers and historians who want to come browse our archives. And it’s not surprising why they come: if you randomly read the Letters to the Editor section, you get a real sense of what Orthodox Jews thought and cared about in the eighties, the nineties, in 2000 and in 2019. How did the Orthodox Jewish community react to the fall of the Soviet Union? To 9/11? To the Disengagement from Gaza? To Hurricane Sandy? To the Recession of 2008? One need but look through the Letters section of Jewish Action to find out. Letters have always offered historians a wonderful window into any given age, a personal and colorful perspective on the past. And despite the fact that letters to the editor today are no longer written in longhand, do not arrive via snail mail and are, for the most part, more informal and written more hastily, they still provide valuable insight into who our readers are and what they are thinking. And no doubt, one day they, too, will be cherished by future historians of American Jewish life. So thank you again for your comments, thoughts and ideas. They count! Gerald M. Schreck is chairman of the Jewish Action Committee.
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Remembering the 1929 Hebron Massacre
The eastern road to Hebron, called Mar Saba, circa 1920. Courtesy of the G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection/Library of Congress 20
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This summer marks the ninetieth anniversary of the 1929 Hebron Massacre that claimed sixty-seven lives. During the two days of rioting, which started on August 23, 1929, Arab mobs, armed with axes and knives, went from house to house in the “Jewish ghetto” in Hebron. Scores of Jews were maimed, in addition to the murdered. Of the victims, twenty-four were young yeshivah students. In 1924, Yeshivas Knesses Yisrael, the famed Slabodka Yeshiva, known as the “mother of yeshivas,” had relocated to Hebron from the Lithuanian town of Slabodka. Founded by Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, one of the most important leaders of the Musar movement, the yeshivah attracted students from all over the world. By 1929 there were close to 200 students, making it the largest yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael at the time. The Massacre in Hebron, which was then under British rule, brought the centuries-old Jewish presence in the city to an abrupt end. Below are accounts from survivors of the Massacre, as told by their descendants.
Pictured: The communal gravesite dug in the shade of olive trees for the victims of the Hebron Massacre. Courtesy of the G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection/Library of Congress
Rabbi Moshe Gold (1912-1956)
By Bayla Sheva Brenner
Rabbi Moshe Gold
Courtesy of Rabbi Chaim Gold
Descended from a long line of talmidei chachamim, Rabbi Moshe Gold, a survivor of the Hebron Massacre, was one of the early students of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. His father, Rabbi Zev, served as the rav of a shul in Williamsburg, New York, where Rabbi Binyamin Wilhelm (Rabbi Yisroel Belsky’s grandfather), the founder of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, was a congregant. In those days,
most of the Jewish immigrants in America were reticent about sending their children to yeshivah; it was considered “un-American.” Rabbi Zev had other ideas. He took his young son Moshe, then six years old, to visit all the Jewish homes in the neighborhood and announced, “My son is going to yeshivah. Your son is coming with him.” Along with Moshe, these students formed the original nucleus of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. In 1921, when Moshe turned nine, the family moved to Eretz Yisrael. When he was a teenager, a conversation with a group of bachurim who were Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
Rabbi Menachem Krakowski on the Massacre The maggid meisharim and moreh tzedek of Vilna, Rabbi Menachem Krakowski, delivered this sermon in the Great Synagogue of Vilna on the 23rd of Av, 1929, five days after the Massacre in Hebron (Arzei HaLevanon [Vilna, 1936], 117-118). Translation by Rabbi Eliyahu Krakowski, great-grandson of the author We are gathered within the ancient and holy walls of this synagogue, which remember the persecutions of the Jewish people, which remember too the years of Tach v'Tat [the Chmielnicki Massacres of 1648-1649]. We will restate what is stated in our Torah: “O nations, acclaim His people! For He will avenge the blood of His servants, wreak vengeance on His foes, and cleanse the land of His people” (Deut. 32:43) . . . To speak of our new kedoshim [martyrs] . . . it would be impetuous on my part to claim to be able to understand their value; these are souls whose value cannot be understood so quickly. Rather, this is what I must say to you: We read in this week’s Torah portion, “For you are a holy people unto the Lord your God.” We have had many kedoshim in our history, martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the sanctification of God’s name, for the covenant between Israel and our Father in Heaven . . . There have also been martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the Torah, for its study and for its honor, so that it should not be desecrated by those who have risen to desecrate it and those who carry its banner. Such martyrs we have had throughout our history, but kedoshim who sacrificed their lives for the sanctity of our Land, for the honor of our Land and for the sanctity of the Temple—such kedoshim we have not had for two thousand years, since the time that the oppressor robbed us of our Land and desecrated our Temple. Our sages have taught us: “He who did not mention the Land [of Israel], the covenant, and the Torah did not fulfill his obligation” . . . We have had kedoshim for the sake of the covenant and for the Torah, but we were missing kedoshim for the Land. Now these youths have completed it. They gave their lives for the sanctity of the Western Wall, the remnant of our most precious place, and for the sanctity of the Land and its honor. After two thousand years, we have before us reincarnations of the heroes of yesteryear who fought till their last drop of blood on behalf of their Land.
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attending the Hebron Yeshiva made a profound impression on him. He came home and told his father, “I want to go learn in Hebron.” What follows are the words of Rabbi Chaim Gold, seventy-seven, a former rebbe at Manhattan Day School for over fifty years and the son of Rabbi Moshe Gold—as told to Bayla Sheva Brenner On erev Shabbos, August 24, 1929, the talmidim in the Hebron Yeshiva knew that something was going on. Tensions were brewing; they heard the talk among the Arabs in the street. But no one could have envisioned how catastrophic it would be. Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini had spread rumors that the Jews intended to conquer the Temple Mount and to desecrate or destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Arab population was riled up. Around the time of Kabbalas Shabbos, a pogrom began. All night long, bloodthirsty Arabs ran through the streets in search of Jewish victims. My father and his roommates barricaded the doors and windows of the home in which they lived. At dawn things seemed to quiet down. My father wanted very much to check on his rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein1 and daven with him. (Whenever my father spoke about the years during which he was privileged to learn in Hebron, he talked of how he revered Rabbi Epstein, from whom he had received semichah at the tender age of seventeen; Rabbi Epstein didn’t give semichah easily. When Rabbi Epstein passed away, my father tore keriah.) Although the bachurim didn’t hear anything going on in the streets, they were afraid that this was a ploy and they warned my father not to go outside. My father, however, insisted on checking on his rebbe and left the house. As it turned out, all the boys in the house where my father had been hiding were slaughtered. When an Arab attacked a rebbe, a young bachur threw himself onto his rebbe, crying out, “You gave me life!” The young man was killed while saving his rebbe’s life. My father reached the rosh yeshivah’s house. The Arabs pounded the door of Rabbi Epstein’s home with a battering ram. When the the battering ram broke through the door, it hit him in the face and knocked out one of his teeth. As this was happening, the British chief of police of Hebron rode past them, down the block. The rioters quickly dispersed. The yeshivah boys had pleaded with him on Friday afternoon to prevent the probable violence—however, he did nothing to stop it. The police chief’s wife even knew Rebbetzin Epstein. Prior to the
Massacre, the Jews had very good relations with the Arabs in the area, and the yeshivah made sure everyone got along. [Eliezer Dan Slonim, one of the leaders of the Hebron Jewish community, was close friends with the local Arabs. Nevertheless, the Arabs slaughtered his entire family. Only his toddler son Shlomo survived.] At some point, my father was wounded. His body was thrown together with a pile of corpses. Later, a reporter, trying to identify the murdered boys, searched their pockets for identification. He came across my father’s name and recorded it on a list of the murdered. My grandfather, who was traveling in Europe at the time, noticed someone reading a newspaper with a headline publicizing the terrible pogrom. He grabbed the newspaper and saw my father’s name listed among the murdered. It was then that my grandfather suffered his first heart attack—ultimately, he learned that my father had survived.
Tensions were brewing; they heard the talk among the Arabs in the street. But no one could have envisioned how catastrophic it would be. As bizarre as it sounds, the British actually detained and imprisoned the Hebron survivors. My great-uncle, my grandfather’s younger brother (Rabbi Dr. Henry Raphael Gold, who subsequently became the first frum psychiatrist in the US) was in Eretz Yisrael at the time. After Shabbos, when he heard what had transpired, he went to the American Consulate and prevailed upon the American officials to intervene and free his nephew. The Americans contacted the British officials in Hebron, who said they would try to release my father. A short while later, they called to report a glitch: “The young man
won’t leave unless all of the boys are let go, and we’re not going to do that.” My great-uncle then told the consulate, “Listen, that’s the American way. You stick up for your friends; you don’t abandon them! Are you going to penalize them for doing the American thing?!” The consulate got back on the phone insisting that the British release them all. Years later I showed a documentary film of the Hebron Massacre at Manhattan Day School, where I was teaching. The footage included a convoy of cars leaving Hebron to Yerushalayim with all of the survivors. I paused the film and told my students
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that it was because of my father that the convoy left for Yerushalayim. The British governor of Palestine was a “menuval,” a disgrace. Later, after the Massacre, there was a meeting of certain dignitaries including the British governor. He was introduced to Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook and extended his hand. Rav Kook refused to shake his hand, saying, “They are hands covered with blood [of those murdered in Hebron].” When I was learning in Eretz Yisrael many decades later, my father came to visit me. I had found the Sefer Zikaron that the Hebron Yeshiva had published for the first yahrtzeit in one of the bookcases in my grandfather’s house. It included a brief biography and photo of each boy who was murdered. I showed it to my father. As he went through page by page, he cried bitterly. He was almost speaking to the faces. He saw his chavrusa and his two roommates, all of them brutally murdered. That entire day he cried, reliving the experience. After the Massacre, my father could no longer remain in Eretz Yisrael. He wanted to go learn in the Mirrer Yeshivah in Poland, even though my grandfather preferred that he return to America [the family had temporarily moved back to the US]. Dov Katz [later the author of a series of books on the Musar movement], who was a student of the Hebron Yeshiva, was engaged to my father’s sister. He survived because he was away visiting his kallah on the Shabbos of the pogrom. My father told Dov, “Don’t let my father know I went to Mir until I send a telegram that I’m settled in the yeshivah and I’m okay.” My father notified his future brother-in-law that he had arrived, but my grandfather was worried about him and traveled to Poland—a journey via ship that took several weeks. When my grandfather arrived in Mir, he asked the mashgiach, Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz, who was zealous about not letting the boys leave the yeshivah, for permission to take my father to the Chofetz Chaim for a berachah. Reb Yeruchem granted permission because of the trauma my father had experienced and the 24
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titled To Rise Above–The Amazing Life of HaRav Dov Cohen zt”l: A Journey to Greatness Against All Odds ). In the winter of 1903, Zahava Golda Leah Cohen, a young mother of three, left her home in Lithuania with her children and boarded a steamship to America. Her husband, Reb Yehuda, had made the trip nearly three years before. His plan was to find work, save up enough money to support his family, and head back home. The long separation proved too much for his wife. The plans changed. The family eventually settled in Seattle, Washington, where Reb Yehuda worked in a clothing store, rising from salesman to manager, Notes and then opening his own successful 1. One of the leading talmidei chachamim establishment. Unfortunately, the of the twentieth century, Rabbi Moshe “Land of Opportunity” offered little Mordechai Epstein (1866-1933) served in the way of Jewish community or as rosh yeshivah of Yeshivas Knesses education. Most of their fellow Jewish Yisrael in Slabodka and in Hebron. immigrants opted for assimilation over Torah observance. Only a small Bayla Sheva Brenner is an awardnumber of Jewish immigrants clung winning freelance writer and a to Yiddishkeit, and many of their regular contributor to Jewish Action. offspring abandoned it altogether. Mrs. Cohen lost many nights’ sleep watching her children embrace the secular life of the society around them. Descended from a line of erudite Torah scholars, she was not willing to leave to chance her dreams of her youngest son Dov becoming a ben Torah. In the summer of 1925, when Dov, known as “Benny,” was just thirteen years old, his mother took him on a long journey eastward across the United States, then across the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar to Eretz Yisrael, the Holy Land. Courtesy of the Cohen family At first Benny attended a religious Rabbi Dov Cohen high school in Tel Aviv, where he Courtesy of the Cohen family learned both secular and religious studies. But his Gemara teacher, Rav Yosef Ze’ev Lipowitz, suggested to his mother that they consider (1911-2005) a fledgling yeshivah in Hebron, Yeshivas Knesses Yisrael, launched By Bayla Sheva Brenner in 1924 by Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slabodka. The yeshivah Rabbi Dov Cohen, who passed away at catered to advanced Torah scholars. the age of ninety-four, was one of the Benny stepped into the yeshivah’s Hebron Yeshiva students who survived main room, which was filled with the Massacre. His story is told in Vayelchu Shneihem Yachdav (in Hebrew, 200 bachurim learning musar. He picked up a sefer and watched. The recently translated into English and privilege of being blessed by that tzaddik. When the two of them arrived at the home of the great gadol in Radin, the gabbai told them that the Chofetz Chaim wasn’t feeling well and might not be up to seeing visitors. My grandfather told the gabbai that the young bachur with him was a survivor of the pogrom in Hebron. When the Chofetz Chaim heard that, he came out and grabbed hold of my father, hugging him and tearfully reciting a verse from Yeshayah HaNavi, “A feather plucked from the fire!” He then gave the young bachur a berachah. My father never forgot that meeting.
Rabbi Dov Cohen
musar seder ended, and Maariv began. He joined the chorus of voices. He later wrote in his journal: “Suddenly, there was a moment’s silence; you could hear a pin drop . . . I literally jumped out of my seat from the thunderous noise. ‘Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad!’ The walls were trembling . . . I knew there would be no turning back . . . my decision was final. I was staying right here.” And there, the boy from Seattle, one of the youngest bachurim in the yeshivah, exulted in the intensive learning and warm camaraderie—until the horrific tragedy that blew his world apart. Benny was seventeen at the time of the Massacre—most of the talmidim were in their twenties. Since there were no dormitory facilities, he rented a room from an Arab. During the height of the Massacre, when the mob came to his home, the Arab landlord told the rioters that there were no Jews in his home. [There were courageous Arabs who saved Jews during the pogrom, as some of these stories attest.] He advised his young Jewish tenant to hide. And Benny’s life was spared.
Rav Kook refused to shake [the British governor’s] hand, saying, “They are hands covered with blood [of those murdered in Hebron].”
Excerpt below from To Rise Above–The Amazing Life of HaRav Dov Cohen zt”l: A Journey to Greatness Against All Odds (Feldheim, 2017): 282-294 That Shabbos morning, I walked from my lodgings to the Lazarovsky home . . . Looking out my window, I watched as carloads of Arab sheikhs traveled toward Me’aras Hamachpelah, heading for the large mosque there. We davened Shacharis in the Lazarovsky home, too frightened to step outside. We read the Torah portion from a Chumash, as we did not have a Sefer Torah with us. By the time we reached Mussaf, everyone was terrified. We had a gut feeling that something terrible was about to take place. I could see the hill across the valley . . . Hordes of Arab peasants were trekking down the hill, heading straight for Hebron. There must have been hundreds of them, maybe even thousands. They spilled into the streets, singing war songs.
Rabbi Dov and his friends near the tree known as Eshel Avraham (the Tree of Avraham Avinu) in Hebron. Aside from Rabbi Dov, all the bachurim in the picture were murdered in the 1929 riots, Hy”d. Standing on the wall: Alter Sher. Sitting on the wall: Moshe Aharon Rifs (right) and Rabbi Dov (left). Standing on the ground, right to left: Yisrael Mordechai HaCohen Kaplan, Shlomo Yagel (son of Rabbi Shabsai Yagel, rosh yeshivah of Slonim) and Elchanan Zelig Ruch. Courtesy of the Cohen family
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to give up. They headed to the house next door; the Arab landlord lived in that house. They wanted to go up to his roof, jump onto our roof, and break into the house that way. Without losing a moment, I jumped from our roof to the Arab landlord’s roof and began speaking convincingly, begging him not to acquiesce to their request. Using the little Arabic that I knew, I managed to communicate with him . . . He agreed not to let the mob into his house . . . His children, however, did not follow their father’s example. They screamed out to the mob, “There’s a Yahud here; there’s a Yahud here!” I stood near the Arab’s window, trying to figure out what to do. The Arab mob noticed me and brought their hatchets down on the door ...the Arab (landlord) assured me ...“You’ve nothing to worry about.” One-and-a-half-year-old Shlomo Slonim, the The argument between “my” Arab son of Eliezer Dan Slonim and sole survivor and the mob intensified . . . the of his immediate family, photographed with landlord told me to find a hiding his aunt. Photo: The Central Zionist Archives place. I looked around . . . One of the pits used for household needs in Mrs. Lazarovsky enjoined us to sit his home seemed to be an excellent down and eat the Shabbos meal. But hiding place. The opening led to before she had even finished her sentence, a place that was something like a bloodcurdling shouts pierced the air. cellar. I moved aside the boards that Thousands of bloodthirsty Arabs began covered the opening and crawled stampeding toward the Jewish homes. inside, replacing the boards after me. We heard banging and more One of my friends had somehow screaming . . . residents . . . ran managed to enter the Arab’s house outside, hoping to find shelter in the as well. When he couldn’t find municipality’s nearby health clinic. me, he began to worry. I removed Unfortunately, once outside they some boards and told him to join met up with the raged masses. . . As me. Then another escapee arrived, they ran back to the house, they tried and another. There were now four catching the attention of the policemen or five of us hiding in the pit. who stood nearby, but the policemen The pit was a long, underground didn’t move a muscle . . . Meanwhile, passage that ran under the the rioters had filled the house. They street. We continued walking, the pounced on the head of the family sounds of the crazed mob . . . right and killed him with their knives. on top of us . . . We also heard From our post on the top floor, we ear-splitting shrieks and cries . . . heard loud banging on the front After waiting in the pit for a few hours, gate . . . Had our turn come? The we realized that the storm had abated fear was tangible. Every person in the . . . We decided to leave our hiding place house shook uncontrollably . . . With and return to the Lazarovskys’ home. superhuman strength . . . I hoisted There was not a living soul on the street. a long, heavy bed on my back and The Shabbos table was still set… placed it on the space between the Mrs. Lazarovsky’s two sons had front door and the inner steps leading been murdered . . . one of their young daughters, Devorah, and up to the second floor, where we were his father in law, Reb Aryeh Leib all hiding . . . the Arab rioters refused 26
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Guttelevsky, were also murdered— three generations at once. By Rabbi Dov Cohen’s son, Rabbi Tzvi Cohen, seventy-four, who lives in Bnei Brak—as told to Bayla Sheva Brenner My father lived with Hebron constantly. In every aspect, he conducted every moment of his life according to the musar teachings of Hebron and Slabodka. It was as if he never left the Yeshiva. [He studied in the Yeshiva for three years before the pogrom and seven years afterward until he married.] My father constantly lived with the miracle that saved his life. He wasn’t always eager to talk about surviving the Massacre, but if people (including his grandchildren) approached him wanting to hear the story so that they could pass it on to future generations, he would agree to tell it. At every family gathering, he would publicly thank Hakadosh Baruch Hu for saving him. He felt that Hashem was with him, as if he had seen the Shechinah. When he told the story of the pogrom, you felt you were there. When the British evacuated the residents of the area after the pogrom, my father, because he spoke English, served as the translator between the British authorities and the Jewish community. Whatever wasn’t stolen or destroyed was collected and held by the British. The Hebron survivors worked together to contact the families of the victims and return their loved ones’ belongings. While still a bachur at the yeshivah, my father was like a mashgiach. When the surviving bachurim came to the relocated yeshivah in Yerushalayim, he officially became an assistant to Rabbi “Twelve Victims in Holy Land” cries a front page headline of the Los Angeles Times on August 26, 1929.
Copyright © 1929. Los Angeles Times. Used with permission
Yehuda Leib Chasman, the mashgiach, spiritual mentor, of the Hebron Yeshiva. When Rav Chasman passed away, my father became the mashgiach. Over the years, my father kept in touch with the other survivors. Whenever they met one another, it was like a meeting of brothers. When my father took ill and needed a blood transfusion drawn directly from the body of a donor into his, one of his fellow Hebron survivors volunteered to do it. This achdus was part of the chinuch that had been ingrained in them with the Slabodka teachings, that every talmid was to be regarded as a brother, and to always seek to care for and help one another. This was the primary message my father transmitted to our family: that we must work for the betterment of the Jewish people. Each of my siblings, in his or her own way, is involved in klal work—giving shiurim, writing sefarim, heading a beis din, providing premarital guidance. Over the years, my father would take us to the site of the Massacre. Other Hebron survivors would accompany us. They would recount the history of each of the buildings and what happened during the attack in each place. We would visit the mass grave in Hebron. I have in my possession the Shas my father used in the Hebron Yeshiva. My father’s descendants wrote To Rise Above: A Journey to Greatness Against All Odds. More than a history book, it’s a book of musar, the story of how a young man so far away from home was able to rebuild after such a horrific tragedy. Before the State of Israel was founded, my father initiated an organization to launch shiurim in multiple neighborhoods. In the State’s early years, he served as rav of a shul in Yerushalayim. He went on to write sefarim and was appointed the first rabbi of the Israeli Air Force. He used to cry for his rebbeim and comrades who were brutally murdered. He understood that the ways of Hashem are hidden. He surmised that Hashem saved him for a reason and made a commitment to dedicate the rest of his life to serving Klal Yisrael, learning Torah and performing mitzvos.
us gifts, and was very loving. Even He felt he was saved though he died forty-three years ago, to this day there are many by God for a reason, people who still remember him, his former students. that Hashem had put including My grandfather came to the Hebron Yeshiva as an older bachur. He was him on a mission already a talmid chacham in nigleh and nistar [revealed and hidden of the Torah], had semichah to give, so he did aspects and was a rav in Springfield, Illinois. was a very spiritual person who boundless chesed He applied whatever he learned to himself. One year, while learning for the rest of his life. about the Churban and kedushat Eretz
Rabbi David Winchester
Courtesy of the Hebrew Theological College
Rabbi David Winchester (1898-1976)
By his grandson, Moshe Kaganoff, as told to Toby Klein Greenwald Moshe Kaganoff was a young child when his grandfather died, but as the oldest grandchild he has special memories of his grandfather. His family and friends have filled in details over the years. In 1929, when the Massacre took place, my grandfather, Rabbi David Winchester, was learning in the Hebron Yeshiva. He survived the Massacre and married in the late 1930s. He was relatively older by the time he and my grandmother had children—my uncle was born in 1939 and my mother in 1944. He was a wonderful grandfather. He took me to many places, bought
Yisrael, he was inspired to travel to Eretz Yisrael and learn in Hebron. At one point, there was a very contagious typhus outbreak in the Yeshiva. It was decided to place the ill bachurim in quarantine; they were placed on the roof because the belief was that fresh air would be good for them. When the rosh yeshivah, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein, heard about this, he asked, “How do these bachurim eat?” The students told him, “Food is prepared for them, we knock on the door and leave the food there and the sick bachurim open the door and eat.” The rosh yeshivah replied, “That’s good for the bachurim who are well enough to get up, but what about those who can’t get out of bed?” No one had an answer. The rosh yeshivah went up to the roof to assess the situation and he discovered my grandfather there, feeding the boys who couldn’t get out of bed, despite the danger to himself. The next time my grandfather came to shiur, the rosh yeshivah stood up for him for the incredible chesed he was doing. The Massacre in Hebron happened shortly after my grandfather arrived, perhaps within his first year there. I heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Sender of Chicago that during the pogrom, while the Arabs were stabbing Jews, my grandfather tried to save people. For his efforts, he was stabbed multiple times and left bleeding; he had many scars. Even a few Arab children participated in the Massacre. My grandfather told us that when he was on the roof after he was stabbed, he Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
Excerpt from an article by Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner, later to become the rosh yeshivah of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, in memory of those who perished in the Massacre. In it, he notes the especially heavy casualties suffered by the American students, presumably because the attack took place after the yeshivah term had ended when most other students had returned home (Pachad Yitzchak: Iggerot uMichtavim, pp. 257-259). Rabbi Hutner studied in Yeshivas Knesses Yisrael both when it was located in Slabodka and after it moved to Hebron. His life was spared as he was away for the weekend. He was selected to edit the Sefer Zikaron for the martyrs of the yeshivah. Translation by Rabbi Eliyahu Krakowski . . . A special place is occupied by the American contingent, who received a double portion of the cup of tragedy from which we drank at the end of 5629 . From the land of gold and silver they came to the City of the Patriarchs, in order to dedicate their best years to the formation of their characters. "What report did they hear so that they came?" A combination of two words: SlabodkaHebron . . . They heard and they came, and they dedicated themselves with all their ability to the great task of improvement [aliyah], in order to return to their native land suffused with Torah and yirah, to bring light and warmth to their surroundings, to awaken the hearts of the young to follow in their path, with great dignity and great strength. More than once did it seem that with the smiles on their faces they must have recognized the bliss that would be their future life. So did they grow and flourish, blossom and bear fruit, on the fountains of Torah and yirah, flowers of grace, nobles of Israel in whom is our glory and our pride . . . And suddenly, in the middle of the sunshine of the day, the axe was waved, the feller had come up . . . There is no word in the mouth and no utterance on the tongue. "But, lo, O Lord, You know it altogether" (Psalms 139:4).
Yeshivas Knesses Yisrael in Hebron. Though many mistakenly think that the yeshivah building is the tall building bearing a sign with its name, in fact, the shorter, one-story building on the left is the yeshivah. The ground floor of the taller building served as the Beis HaMusar, a room designated for musar study, while the top floor was the Alter of Slabodkaâ€™s home. Courtesy of the Cohen family
A large Torah scroll lies in a jumbled heap on the floor of a shul in Hebron desecrated by Arab rioters.
Courtesy of the G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection/Library of Congress 28
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pushed his body against the floor in order to stop the bleeding, and he pretended he was dead so they would leave him alone. A little Arab child called out in Arabic, “The Yid is alive!” and they went back up to stab him again. After nearly bleeding to death, he remained in Bikur Cholim Hospital for six months recuperating. He felt he was saved by God for a reason, that Hashem had put him on a mission to give, so he did boundless chesed for the rest of his life. He would give his coat away to someone who needed it. Everything he had he gave away. Chicago’s Hebrew Theological College, where he taught Gemara, began giving his paycheck directly to his wife so there would be food in the house. My grandfather lived just to give to others. I remember one Pesach at home in the 1970s that was scary. At the Seder, my grandfather went into a trance and began describing the Massacre. He kept repeating the Arabic chant the attackers were yelling as they went from house to house looking for Jews. He was reliving it. My grandfather was very frum. But he was a nistar. He didn’t have a beard, he dressed modern, didn’t wear his tzitzit out . . . He fasted every Monday and Thursday. He wanted to be known only as “Mr. Winchester,” not “Rabbi.” He was close to the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, and when my grandfather passed away [the Satmar Rav said] he was one of the lamed vav tzaddikim. He was also close to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. In the 1930s my grandfather was very upset about the fact that there was a lack of observance of chalav Yisrael in America. He used to go to a farm to supervise the milking and bring home chalav Yisrael milk, which my grandmother would boil in order to pasteurize it. He would go to the prisons to make sure that prisoners had kosher food. There were homeless people in my grandfather’s house; every “nebbech” in society was welcome. Our next-door neighbor [here in Israel] remembers that her father used to go to America to collect money and he would go to my grandfather. All my grandfather’s money went to others; he gave it all away and had tremendous debts. It is well known that he would secretly drop off money and Shabbos and yom tov food packages at people’s doorsteps and run away. Well before the existence of popular chesed organizations, he was a one-man chesed operation. In terms of his own behavior he was very frum, but he never imposed anything on anyone else. He treated other people only with chesed.
Toby Klein Greenwald, a regular contributor to Jewish Action, is a journalist, playwright, poet, teacher, and the artistic director of a number of theater companies. She is the recent recipient of the Lifetime Achievement award from AtaraThe Association for Torah and the Arts for her “dedication and contributions in creative education, journalism, theatre and the performing arts worldwide.”
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What Does It Mean to Be Single and Orthodox in America Today? The OU’s Center for Communal Research recently launched a series of multi-disciplinary studies exploring the “Shidduch Crisis” —research aimed at providing actual data to better explore many of the questions and suggestions presented in this issue. Our research—which involves surveys as well as in-depth interviews and anthropological investigations into what it means to be single and Orthodox in America today—fundamentally explores two broad, intersecting issues. The first is the “Shidduch Crisis” as it’s usually understood, namely the perceived sex-ratio imbalance favoring men, producing a growing population of single women. We’re looking at whether it’s even real; and if it is, for which specific sub-populations is it particularly pronounced. We will also explore whether it is due to the pyramid birthrate combined with later marriage for men than women or to male attrition. The second issue concerns the significant psychological and existential effects of the “Shidduch Crisis,” such as desperation, anxiety and stress. For many singles, the desire to partner is profound; yet, their lack of control over a complex and multifaceted system of social, cultural and economic expectations is profoundly fraught. How does the “Shidduch Crisis” affect health, consumer practices, household budgets, et cetera? We will also explore the role of the single in the family-centric Orthodox society: What place is there for those among us who cannot find a partner? Are they immediately, perhaps inescapably, stigmatized for a circumstance that is sometimes beyond their control? We look forward to engaging you in our research and welcome your thoughts, questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. —Matt Williams, Director OU Center for Communal Research 30
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Illustrations: Yosef Itzkowitz
FRUM DATING in the DIGITAL AGE
By Rachel Schwartzberg
o Molly Abikzer, meeting her husband Joey was truly bashert. Molly is Ashkenazi; Joey is Sephardic. Three years ago, she was living in St. Louis and he was in Los Angeles. Though Molly and Joey are Orthodox and in their thirties, they had not even one mutual Facebook friend. (This despite the fact that Molly has 2,000 Facebook friends!) “It was like God said, ‘How am I going to get you two together?’” she says. “His answer: JSwipe.” In recent years, the Internet and smartphones have changed how people do virtually everything in recent years, from Torah learning to grocery shopping. Not surprisingly, technology has affected how people meet and date—and the frum world is not immune to this drastic shift.
Love at First Swipe? JSwipe is one of several online platforms Orthodox Jewish singles use to meet. The mobile app, created in 2014, pushes one suggestion at a time to members—profiles are usually heavy on photos—and they can swipe right if they are interested, or left to pass. If both people swipe right, it’s a “match” and they can begin to chat through the app. Ahuva,* a single in her mid-thirties, who considers herself on the right end of the Modern Orthodox world, stays abreast of what’s popular among young people because of her job working with young professionals. “When I first went on JSwipe four years ago, it was *All singles’ names and identifying information have been changed.
Social media gives an ersatz experience that something is happening . . . when nothing is happening.
pretty new, so there were only a few Orthodox options,” she says. “I was done swiping in a few minutes.” Now, says Ahuva, who lives on the Upper West Side, JSwipe is being used by quite a few of her friends. “There’s less of a stigma attached to dating apps.” While many single people agree that designed the app to offer “an platforms like JSwipe inject an element alternative option” for people burnt of fun into online dating, there is out by dating. “It’s a platform to skepticism within the Orthodox help them find their life partners as community whether a “swiping smoothly and painlessly as possible,” culture” is likely to nurture focused says Yossi. The app guides users relationships leading to marriage. Even through an extensive sign-up process, Abikzer admits her success with JSwipe including a series of multiple-choice may be somewhat of an anomaly. questions about themselves. “Their In contrast, JWed—formerly known responses enable the app’s advanced as Frumster—positions itself as a A.I. to ‘understand’ each person in a dating site for “marriage-minded” meaningful way,” explains Yossi, and Jews. Created in 2001, it was one of the deliberately lengthy questionnaire the first dating sites for the Orthodox also filters out non-serious daters. community. Members create a profile “Forj then matches users based on and browse others within selected sophisticated algorithms, which are criteria. They can decide who to designed for long-term compatibility.” contact, and if or when to take the Shira explains that she and Yossi conversation from online to an are passionate about creating a in-person date. With about 10,000 platform combining cutting-edge active users at any given time, the site technology with relationship claims to have made more than 3,180 compatibility research marriages “and counting.” According that feels “fresh, to CEO Ben Rabizadeh, the site’s sweet relevant and also spot is singles in their thirties and dignified,” she says. forties, and members’ locations are “Being on Forj is like representative of the English-speaking having an intuitive Jewish population worldwide. best friend who really gets you, Sarah is a nurse in her thirties and who can scan the globe to who lives in a small Midwestern handpick your most compatible city. She uses JWed and has also matches.” The Teichmans report been a member of SawYouAtSinai, nearly 15,000 app users, who range an online platform that connects from age eighteen to seventy-plus; members with matchmakers who Forj’s largest cohort is between scour the site’s database and make twenty-four and thirty-four. suggestions of potential shidduchim. Though artificial intelligence Sarah appreciates the autonomy in shidduchim is new, society as offered by JWed. “I prefer to use JWed a whole has gotten used to online and have personal choice in who dating. In fact, in 2016 Psychology I’m connecting with,” she says. And, Today estimated that by 2040, 70 she adds, with JWed, as opposed to percent of people will have met JSwipe, the “more robust profiles their significant other online. give you a chance to see more of “Everyone tries online dating at the person,” and decide to connect some point,” agrees Rabizadeh of based on “less superficial factors.” JWed. “Originally, our members were A newcomer to the online Jewish outside major demographic areas dating scene is Forj, which uses . . . people who for some reason were artificial intelligence to recommend matches to its users. Los Angeles-based not ‘mainstream.’ Now it’s a fully acceptable way to meet people.” founders Yossi and Shira Teichman
Dr. Efrat Sobolofsky is the director of YUConnects, which is hosted by SawYouAtSinai and uses the same service model and technology with a focus on Yeshiva University alumnae. She has observed this community’s sanction of online dating in the years since YUConnects began in 2008. Dr. Sobolofsky reports the recent celebration the site’s 351st engagement—a couple who met through YUConnects and discovered they live in the same Manhattan apartment building. Opting for Tradition Of course, online dating has not penetrated the entire Orthodox world. Shaya Ostrov, a therapist based in Far Rockaway, New York, notes that in general, the Chareidi sectors prefer a more traditional approach to dating. They have not taken to online dating, as they are less comfortable with Internet use overall; although he adds, “Even Chareidim use dating sites like SawYouAtSinai as they get older, when they feel they have used up the pool of people they know.” Rachel, who considers herself “Yeshivish,” is a divorcee with three children who lives in Brooklyn. In her late thirties, she refuses to use online dating sites. Having been burned once, she is too scared of possible dates “misrepresenting themselves.” Ostrov, the author of several books including The Menuchah Principle in Shidduchim, Dating & Engagement, recognizes that online dating sites offer the value of connecting people with individuals they may Rachel Schwartzberg works as a writer and editor and lives with her family in Memphis, Tennessee. Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
not have otherwise connected with. But from his perspective, “it offers no effectiveness in relationship development.” Moshe, who considers himself right-wing Modern Orthodox and is in his mid-twenties, has plenty of friends who use JSwipe, YUConnects and SawYouAtSinai. Yet he personally feels the best way to meet someone is at a “singles Shabbaton or just organically through friends.” Right now, he’s not on any dating sites but he’s also in a serious relationship (yes, he met the young woman at a singles event). Overall, though, he views using algorithm-based technology to find dates as positive. “The broad range and variety of dating sites are perceived by the Modern Orthodox community as a whole as a boon,” he says, “which is not the case in the Chareidi world.” While twenty-nine-year-old Avi, who considers himself Modern Orthodox, has many reservations about online dating sites, he sees the potential in them. “It’s good for a lot of people because, frankly, it’s hard to be set up,” says the New Jersey native. “These sites give you direct access to tons of people.” That being said, the only dating site he belongs to is YUConnects, which he describes as “more of a ‘Why not?’ than anything else.” Rabbi Reuven and Shira Boshnack founded JLIConnections to help their students.
Matching OU-JLIC Singles Launched in 2018 by OU-JLIC, JLIConnections is a great new way for OU-JLIC students and alumni to find their bashert. High-tech but without the impersonality of most dating sites or apps, JLIConnections draws upon the successful matchmaking technology of SawYouAtSinai, while providing students with a personal OU-JLIC shadchan. Found on more than twenty campus throughout North America and Israel, OU-JLIC places Orthodox educator couples on college campuses to help students navigate Jewish life on campus. “OU-JLIC is a good place to meet someone coming from a similar background, with similar interests and life experiences, all of which can be very useful when looking for a spouse,” said Rabbi Reuven Boshnack, who spearheaded the program with his wife, Shira. The Boshnacks have served as the OU-JLIC educators at Brooklyn College for the past twelve years where they have been heavily involved in setting up their students. “So much of the OU-JLIC programming is relationship-driven. JLIConnections offers the human touch, not a shadchan who is essentially a stranger but your OU-JLIC educator.” To learn more, visit jliconnections.com.
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Bringing Dating To You Opportunities to meet people online can be particularly beneficial to singles faced with limited options. For example, David is divorced and lives in an out-of-town community, sharing custody of his son. It is not an option for him to relocate to New York—widely recognized as the epicenter of frum dating—in the hope of meeting someone. “Online dating sites are a game changer for me,” he says. “There just aren’t shomer Shabbat single women in my age group where I live, and I can’t just pick up and go to a different city at any time.” Sarah has noticed that, in addition to the challenge of living in a city with few Orthodox singles, people stop thinking of suggestions once one reaches a certain age. “My dating life wouldn’t exist if not for online,” she says simply. Ahuva agrees. “Using these apps makes me feel like I’m doing my hishtadlut.” Dr. Sobolofsky notes that dating sites have actually been a major asset in organizing in-person events for singles, which adds an additional opportunity for people to meet and network. “Through a growing database of online members, we can more easily invite a group of singles in a given age group and location to an event in their neighborhood,” she says. “Screen”—ing Your Dates Of course, access to more people can be a double-edged sword, and some platforms—as well as many of their users—are vigilant to avoid unpleasant encounters. For example, Forj takes several steps to verify users’ identities, from their profile picture to their gender and location, as well as their Jewishness. All profiles on JWed must be approved by the site before they are posted. “Honestly, a surprising number of profiles never see the light of day,” says Rabizadeh, often because the potential user isn’t Jewish. “We also monitor the site to catch profiles that slipped past or those flagged by user feedback.” As an added precaution, Sarah asks for references before moving from online to real-life dating. “My people are going to contact his people,” she says, “because when you meet online, no one you know is vouching for him.” Many people will, however, check
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Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
notes, everyone is preoccupied with making sure they don’t let on how much they know about each other. Additionally, some fear that the endless options offered by dating sites and apps serve to increase “pickiness” and may make daters who are already somewhat commitment-phobic even less willing to commit. As Ostrov puts it, “Never have so many people dated so many people, and and yet find themselves alone.”
with their friends online says Dr. Sobolofsky, who asserts that checking references has changed drastically in an age of social media. “They’ll ask friends of friends they find on social media.” It is rare, singles say, to not find someone who knows someone who is familiar with a prospective date. Jonathan, a thirty-two-year-old attorney in New York City, confirms that everyone checks out potential dates on social media, which he feels can be helpful in determining if a potential shidduch is suitable or not. “Social media only says so much about a person,” he says, “but sometimes there can be clear indications that someone just isn’t a good match.” While it can be convenient, Avi feels that the common use of social media to “check out” a potential date isn’t always so positive. “[It] gives access to everything about everyone,” he says. During a date, he 34
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5779/2019
Social Media and Shidduchim The Pew Research Center has been tracking social media adoption in the US since 2005. Back then, 5 percent of Americans used at least one social media platform. By 2018, that number had grown to 69 percent of the public, or as high as 86 percent in certain demographics. Pew reports that Facebook is the most widely used, but social media also includes Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube and WhatsApp. As a full-time shadchan for Connections, the shidduch division of Gateways, Fayge Rudman works with singles over age twenty-five from across the spectrum of Orthodoxy. She sees a clear connection between the rise of social media and the growing challenges in dating for frum people. “The number-one thing that has changed is that it’s all picture-based,” she says of her twenty-plus years of experience with shidduchim. “People see pictures and say no right away. They get the gorgeous headshot provided by the prospective date, but then they look on Facebook and see real-life pictures. Getting a ‘yes’ for the first date has become much harder.” She adds, however, that getting a couple to the second date—and beyond—is pretty much the same as it has always been. From a parent’s perspective, Linda agrees that dating seems to be based more on externals. She tries to network for her thirty-three-year-old son and compares it to when her other children got married several years ago. “Social media allows people to say no very quickly,” she says. “Rather than getting to know someone at
face value, you’re getting to know them only at Facebook value.” Avi suggests social media, especially Instagram, is detrimental to dating in a deeper way. “Everyone is trying to look perfect,” he says. “Because everyone is always ‘having the time of their lives,’ it has created an ‘olam sheker [a false world].’ It’s not accurate and I think it creates unrealistic expectations.” Avi adds that it can be difficult when a shidduch “doesn’t work out, and you still see the person constantly on social media.” That level of connectedness, he says, “isn’t helpful to anyone.” From his years of experience “trying to help people date well, get married and stay married,” Ostrov believes the damage of social media is significant for singles. “Digital media is a cold media,” he says. “It offers no emotional continuity or caring. People get hurt and disappointed and feel left out. But it’s hard to make room for a real relationship when they’re so deeply involved [in a social community]. A relationship is a two-person experience, when they share their lives and express vulnerability in a safe way. None of this can exist on social media. [Social media] gives an ersatz experience that something is happening . . . when nothing is happening.” Of course, it’s not all bad news. Many point to the good that has come out of these social platforms. “WhatsApp is very impactful for dating,” Jonathan notes. “A lot of matchmakers have WhatsApp groups, and so do many singles. Lots of ideas [for shidduchim] come up that way. I’ve gotten calls with suggestions from those.” In fact, Jonathan is more likely to accept a suggestion for a shidduch from a WhatsApp group—where the people know him personally— than from online dating sites. Many programs aimed at singles frequently use social media to reach people. Additionally, individuals and organizations use social media to create vibrant online communities that may serve as both valuable support and networking opportunities, particularly for those who share certain circumstances, such as divorced singles.
The Texting Tangle Online messaging is a staple of dating sites, but ironically, this type of communication may complicate relationships as much as it facilitates them. “When it comes to dating, texting is detrimental because there are no rules,” says Avi, the New Jersey native. “There are accepted norms, but one person’s assumptions could be different from someone else’s.” Avi feels that texting adds unnecessary stress to dating relationships. “It used to be you would go on one date a week, maybe two,” he says. “Now, it’s constant maintenance. At 11 pm, I’m brushing my teeth and wondering, ‘Do I have to text her good-night?’ Or worrying, ‘Why isn’t she responding?’” He adds that people tend to feel comfortable saying things via text that they wouldn’t say in person. “It creates fake intimacy that isn’t meaningful,” he explains.
Ostrov believes that texting is destructive to relationships. “It is an impulse-driven medium,” he says. “You cannot use texting, or even e-mail, to solve problems. You can only create problems.” He reports that people come to him when an engagement has been damaged or broken. “They show me long threads of texts,” he says. “It started with a question, and forty texts later it’s a fight. You think you can use texting to cut to the chase. But the hole gets deeper.” Rudman from Connections notes that for dating couples, texting between dates can be a real problem. “Anything can go wrong,” she says. “It’s too much; it’s not enough. Or, sometimes, they text so much there’s nothing left to talk about on the date.” “Texting breaks down the ability to communicate,” says Linda. “It’s an efficient way to make plans or a grocery list. It’s not good for conveying emotions.” Jonathan, the New York
Online dating sites are a game changer for me,” he says. “There just aren’t shomer Shabbat single women in my age group where I live, and I can’t just pick up and go to a different city at any time.
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Rather than getting to know someone at face value, you’re getting to know them only at Facebook value. attorney, concurs. “Speaking on the phone or in person, you can pick up on nuance,” he says, which is vital in dating. “There’s less of a chance for mixed messages in a phone conversation than in a text message.” Dr. Sobolofsky has noticed that in-person conversations are more awkward for some people as they become more comfortable interacting online. “It seems that because of technology, there are those who are hesitant now to approach someone and start a casual conversation,” she says, which used to be the norm. “Some may prefer first to text the other person before making a first phone call or approaching them directly.” All told, however, Dr. Sobolofsky believes the new possibilities offered by technology lead to many positive results. “It’s definitely a tech-savvy world,” she says. “People are connecting in so many more ways.” David, the divorced dad, embraces everything technology has to offer in dating. “For me, it’s great,” he says. “I’m dating someone now who lives in a different city. I couldn’t do it without texting and video chat. We check in several times during the day, and we Facetime to say good-night. It helps to be connected in a way we couldn’t be connected otherwise.” Sarah, the nurse, tries to maintain her sense of humor as she navigates the ambiguities of online dating. “Right now,” she says, “I’m ‘corresponding’—what do you even call it? We haven’t met yet!—with someone I met on JWed. We have been talking on the phone and texting for several weeks.” As she prepares for her first video chat with him, she remains cautiously optimistic, not unlike what one might expect before a first date. “Every bit of technology in this world can be used for good or bad,” Sarah says. “If it aids and assists in bringing two people together, then it’s being used in an amazing way.” In the two years since her wedding, Molly Abikzer freely shares her JSwipe success story to encourage singles to take advantage of online dating platforms. “Technology allows for a medium where you can meet someone or connect two people who you may may not otherwise have thought of outside of your computer,” she says. “It’s one more vehicle for Hashem to allow people to find their soulmates.” 36
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Illustrations: Yosef Itzkowitz
SINGLES and the SHABBAT EXPERIENCE By Leah R. Lightman
habbat has always been a centerpiece of Jewish life—a time of joy, rest and spiritual rejuvenation that can nourish us in so many ways. But like so much of frum life, Shabbat tends to be family-centric, causing many singles—whether divorced or never married, in their twenties or in their fifties—to feel unsupported, on the periphery of the community and burdened with having to “make Shabbat plans” week after week. *All names and identifying information have been changed. 38
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5779/2019
Building a Shabbat Support System One of the reasons Chava,* a twenty-five-year-old Orthodox single, was drawn to Far Rockaway, a leafy New York City neighborhood with a suburban feel, is because she wouldn’t have to worry about where to spend Shabbat. “What really ‘sold’ me on moving to the neighborhood was that through Sh’eefa (a local organization), I have met families who want to host me along with my friends,” she says. “This gives us a built-in Shabbat support system—which is the way we want Shabbat to be—with families that enjoy hosting singles and want to meet people like me.” Sh’eefa, located in the Five Towns near Far Rockaway, offers ongoing shiurim and social opportunities for women of all ages. In most communities with significant frum single populations, there are invariably a handful of gracious families known for opening their homes to singles each week, serving the traditional comfort food
of Shabbat: fresh, piping hot potato kugel and cholent, and other Shabbat delights. “In my neighborhood, there are two or three families that host singles,” says Batsheva, an attorney in her mid-thirties who lives in Brooklyn. “They will host five men and five women per meal. Sometimes I go there. Of course, they are hoping for a shidduch to materialize [from these meals] but in the meantime, they are doing a tremendous chesed for singles.” Making Shabbat Happen Some singles welcome the opportunity to meet people on a regular basis, and they develop tight bonds with local families. Over time, these bonds can grow into deep, rewarding friendships and can serve as a gateway for expanding their social networks and finding their bashert. But there are other benefits too. Ronit, a thirty-something attorney living in Los Angeles who is considered a “mover-and-shaker” for helping
other singles make Shabbat and yom tov meal plans, “loves” meeting new families in her community. “Watching a healthy interaction between a husband and wife, getting to know the children and how their minds work—honestly, it keeps my ‘muscles’ alive so when I have my own home, it won’t be unfamiliar to me. The benefits of being with families for Shabbat more than outweighs the awkwardness of inviting myself.” “I have amazing friends in my community,” says Devora, a single mom of four, who eats out for Shabbat day meals. “It’s not easy to have an extra five people over. I know that and I appreciate what my friends do for me week after week.” Some singles, however, have a hard time forging social ties. Going to shul can be a social venue, but it doesn’t always work for everyone. “You would be surprised how many people see me in shul every week, know I live alone, and yet it
The benefits of being with families for Shabbat more than outweighs the awkwardness of inviting myself. Leah Lightman is a freelance writer living in Lawrence, New York with her family.
Yosef Itzkowitz is an artist, author and poet. His published work can be found on Amazon, under the name Yosef Paper. He is currently studying illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and can be reached at email@example.com.
Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
What We Can Do To Help Shouldn’t the Jewish community play a greater role in making sure Shabbat is a joy and a blessing for everyone, marrieds and singles alike? Below are some tips we can all try to incorporate into our shuls, our communities and our lives.
Each shul can: • Engage in some kind of introspective process, and assess: Are we doing enough for this target population? • Sponsor programs for singles to help them network and make them feel part of the community. • Offer monthly meals for singles. “This should happen even if singles have to pay and even if it is only once per month,” says Batsheva. Why? Because it is an important way to communicate to singles, “We are thinking of you. Here’s an option for a Shabbat meal that is comfortable, warm and inviting.”
Each individual can: • Think: is there a single I should be inviting over for a meal? • Keep singles in mind—in the workplace, in shul and in other social settings. • Become a singles advocate: each single should have one individual—a close friend or relative—who “advocates” for him or her. In other words, the advocate sees it as her role to help get the single married—to that end, she networks for that single, finds new suggestions and opportunities for him or her and overall takes on a sense of achrayut to help get that individual married. Some of the suggestions above are from Singles Uniting Network (firstname.lastname@example.org).
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5779/2019
doesn’t dawn on them to invite me for a Shabbat meal,” says Shifra, who is in her late forties and lives in the heart of Brooklyn. “People are busy with their own lives.” “When people say ‘call me when you want to come over,’ that’s not a real invitation,” says Bracha, a single mom of two. “An invitation should be a real invitation.” Some singles I spoke with confessed that they often find themselves on Thursday night without Shabbat plans. And not for lack of trying. “It’s hard to meet people—both singles and families,” says Ahuva, a social worker in her late twenties who moved from the Midwest to the East Coast. Building a Shabbat support system can be especially daunting for one who recently moved from “out of town” and lacks local family and a strong social network. “Shabbat and yom tov are especially difficult when you don’t know anyone,” she says. Planning for yom tov can prove to be even more challenging, since families tend to go away or host large numbers of guests from out of town. “Yom tov can definitely feel more isolating,” says Shifra. Ironically, singles in smaller Jewish communities often fare better than those in large cities, where it’s easier to get lost in the crowd. While the New York area is saturated with Orthodox singles, South Florida, for example, lacks a robust frum singles community, and therefore, singles are “forced to watch out and take care of one another,” says Ben Zion, a medical resident in his early thirties. And while it’s uncomfortable to pick up the phone and invite himself over for a Shabbat meal, it’s better than eating by himself. “Who wants to spend Shabbat alone?” he says. When asking for an invite, getting a “no” can make an uncomfortable situation even more uncomfortable. And yes, there have been times when Ben Zion has called families for Shabbat hospitality and the answer has been “no, not this Shabbat.” But he doesn’t take it personally. “I’ve learned that when a family cannot have me, it’s because they are genuinely otherwise busy. It’s not about me.” Shabbat Guest Burnout Even for those who enjoy a wide social network, being a Shabbat guest year after year, decade after decade, gets tiring. “How long can you be a guest at someone else’s table?” asks Shifra. After a certain point, it’s no longer enjoyable to constantly be on someone else’s schedule—listening to other people give divrei Torah and to other people sing zemirot, says Aviva, an accountant living on the Upper West Side, who is in her fifties. Tired of being a guest, Aviva decided to make her own Shabbat meal and invited a friend over. She was genuinely surprised by how much she enjoyed the physical labor of Shabbat preparation: shopping, cooking and preparing for the meal. “There was a sense of anticipation,” she says, “that I don’t have when I’m a guest. I was waiting for the food to be ready, for Shabbat to come.” “Shabbat guest burnout” tends to afflict singles who have done the Shabbat guest routine for too long and have grown weary of being subjected to an endless array of parashah sheets and to Shabbat table conversations to which they
t have little, if anything, to contribute (summer camps for tweens, the latest sale on kids’ shoes). “There are times when I have felt families could be more sensitive to my being an older single,” says Batsheva. “I would love to listen to my own children’s parashah sheets and there is nothing on the horizon indicating that that is going to happen for me. I’ve pondered how to make families more sensitive to the needs of singles. I don’t have any answers. But I still want to put the thought out there.” Many singles prefer spending Shabbat with other singles—creating, in essence, their own community. Each Shabbat, dozens of meals are coordinated by singles for singles throughout the Upper West Side, Washington Heights and other single-heavy neighborhoods. Every Sunday, Maury, a twenty-nine-year-old medical resident who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and his roommates sit down to plan the following Shabbat—do they make it an “in” Shabbat, where they host male and female guests, or do they go out to a singles meal? “If we stay in, we plan the menu and divide up the shopping, cooking and baking,” he says. When he first moved to the area, Maury deliberately sought out roommates who would share his priorities: “All three of us have careers that are time-consuming. But we love Shabbat and need one another to make it happen.” They make no secret of the fact that through the Shabbat meals, they are scouting for potential dates in the hope of finding the “right one.” Has it worked? So far not really, admits Maury. “But we are meeting new people almost all the time, and through the new people, we are meeting more new people.” Ensuring Shabbat is an enjoyable and spiritually uplifting highlight of the week requires work, self-knowledge, planning—and a budget. Hosting meals for large groups of people is not an inexpensive endeavor. But for Maury, the cost of Shabbat entertaining is something which he factors into his life. “It costs to entertain. But that expense goes a long way in ensuring that Shabbat is a meaningful experience.” Shifra makes a point of inviting families who have hosted her so she can “repay them” for their ongoing hospitality. “I don’t want it to be a one-way street,” she says. “Nine out of ten times my married friends are hosting me; why can’t I host them every now and then?” And since some families with kids don’t get invited out much, Shifra says, they really appreciate the invitation! “They enjoy coming to me. It’s something different for them.” When Ronit, the attorney from Los Angeles, had a “big” birthday, she wanted to celebrate with single and married friends alike. She opted to host a Shabbat luncheon in a shul social hall with over 120 people. “It was wonderful to give back to others on a Shabbat for all the Shabbatot I had received,” she says.
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JEWISH ACTION Summer 5779/2019
socially unpopular, option: staying home. “I’m not interested in the let’s-meet-at-a-singles-meal, which abound on Shabbat,” shares Miriam, an actuary in her fifties who resides on the Upper West Side. Since Miriam and her roommate are good friends and enjoy each other’s company, they often spend Shabbat together. “We elect to make Shabbat ourselves, attend shul and then have our Shabbat seudah with the food we have prepared together.” Shifra, who has lived for decades in the same apartment building in Brooklyn and has lots of social connections there, admits that there are times she just wants to stay home alone. She will sing Shalom Aleichem, make Kiddush and read a devar Torah to herself at the table. “People are horrified when they find out I ate the meal by myself,” she says. “But why should I have to go out all the time? I’m a family of one. Of course, I’d rather be married, but that’s the reality of my life right now.” And then there is a small segment of singles who, tired of making plans week after week and unable to deal with figuring out where to go yet again, are resigned to having a Shabbat-less Shabbat. They purchase minimal takeout, light candles, daven (not necessarily with a minyan) and then spend Shabbat holed up in their apartments. On his blog, Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, of the Boca Raton Synagogue, recently addressed this very issue in a piece entitled “Being Single Should Not Have to Mean Eating Alone”: As a result of an event in the parsha last week, we refrain from eating the sciatic nerve, the gid ha’nashe. Why? Before going to meet Esav, Ya’akov Avinu went back to retrieve “ forgotten items” and he ended up wrestling [with] the Angel of Esav the entire night. We commemorate the injury Ya’akov sustained by abstaining from eating from the place where he was wounded. Normally, when our people triumph over an enemy, we commemorate the event by eating, not by abstaining, so why the prohibition of gid ha’nashe? The Chizkuni explains that this mitzvah doesn’t correspond to our triumph, but rather reminds us how Ya’akov got injured in the first place. “Vayivaser Ya’akov levado, Ya’akov was all alone,” and as a result he was vulnerable and exposed and ultimately attacked. The mitzvah not to eat the gid ha’nashe reminds us of our obligation to make sure a Jew is never alone again. The “Shabbat-less Shabbat” phenomenon reveals more than just the solitude of single life. “It points to a certain level of communal indifference to singles,” says Batsheva. “Yes, there are families in every community who will reach out to singles and include them in their Shabbat and yom tov plans. But more families in every community need to do this.”
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ON BEING AN ORTHODOX NEVER-MARRIED WOMAN 44
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5779/2019
hile much has been written about the “Shidduch Crisis” over the years, one subgroup within the category of singles deserves greater attention: Orthodox women past childbearing age who are emotionally healthy and have not given up the quest to find a mate. These women face a number of unique challenges. As if social isolation and loneliness (many live alone), childlessness and the failure to actualize the dream of being a wife and mother weren’t enough to negotiate, they are often pressured, judged, misunderstood and subtly pathologized by well-meaning relatives, friends and matchmakers, both professional and lay. Consider my recent conversation with Surie, the matchmaker assigned to me on an online Jewish dating site (identifying information changed to protect privacy): Surie: “I just e-mailed you a match but was so excited, I wanted to call. Joseph is 5’9”, slim, nice looking, friendly and still has all his hair. Four of his five lovely children are married. His seventeen-year-old lives mostly with his mom and is going to learn in Israel next year.” Me: “Thanks so much for thinking of me. Where does he live?” Surie: “Kansas. He’s in nursing homes. He was laid off from his job as administrator a few months ago, not his fault; they were downsizing and he had nothing to do with that fraud allegation.” Me: “Fraud allegation?” Surie: “Don’t worry about that, it’s nothing. Anyway, he speaks four languages, Hebrew, English, Yiddish and Aramaic. With his gemara kop, he’ll find a job in no time. Me: “Is he divorced or widowed?” Surie: “The divorce is messy and there is a custody battle for the seventeen-year-old who now spends alternate Shabbatot with him. He
also has grandchildren, bli ayin hara, nearby in Colorado and he wants to be close by. Oh, just one thing: you would need to commit up front to relocate, but that’s not a problem, is it?” Me: “Of course I would move for the right person, but uprooting and moving away from my own support system is daunting. Just saying, if I’m working and he isn’t, why is a move to New York off the table? All of his children are almost out of the house. I appreciate that his grandchildren are nearby, but what about my siblings and nieces and nephews?” Surie: “Of course, I understand, but don’t forget how critical a man’s parnassah is to his ego! Joseph is also really close to his rav and is the shul gabbai. You wouldn’t want a ben Torah to relinquish that, would you? Look at it this way, Kansas may not be the largest Jewish community, but you could make a great contribution there and learn with the women and be a frum role model. Me: “Uh, I don’t know . . . ” Surie: “Listen, I have your best interests at heart and I’ll tell you the unvarnished truth. Guys are worried about starting with a never-married woman! They don’t quite buy that you just have not yet met the right one. They wonder what deep-rooted psychological issues have blocked you from settling down. Also, they feel that a never-married woman can’t truly be as giving as one who’s had children. You have no idea what level of self-sacrifice childrearing entails. He’s worried about your priorities. And while we’re on that, sweetie, can I give you some advice? Tell him you are a child advocate, not a lawyer—that can be intimidating.” Me: (speechless) . . . Surie: “I didn’t want to say, but your age also was an issue. He is flooded with suggestions. But I told him you are still slim and look good, so he should put you at the top of the list. He gave in, but wants you to meet him somewhere between New York and Kansas for the first date. Jump on the opportunity! It’s a big trip to New York, you know, and your schedule is more flexible.”
As years and decades go by and the elusive dream of becoming a wife and mother remains just that, many older, never-married women begin to ask themselves what went wrong. Me: “Uh, but wait, didn’t you say he’s unemployed? I’d have no problem going to Kansas for dates if this were to take off. I don’t expect him to do all the traveling. But his unwillingness to come to New York for a first date is unsettling. You mentioned that he learns; I’m sure he’s familiar with the gemara: “It is the way of a man to pursue a woman and it is not the way of a woman to pursue a man.”1 Surie: “You have to understand, in our day we all made our compromises and sacrifices. Exactly who do you think is out there at this stage of the game? Are you sure you really want to get married!?” The above scenario illustrates just a few of the obstacles faced by Orthodox never-married women past childbearing age. As the years go by and they remain single, they fail to develop what psychologist Naomi Rucker calls a “primary intimate bond,”2 which provides exclusivity, loving mutuality and enhanced capacity for communication. In the absence of this relationship, women experience the “primary relational void.”3 “A viable life partner amplifies the resources brought to bear in any given life situation and provides relief from the harshness of life,” observes New York psychologist Joan Lavender.4 “Unremitting singlehood makes an eloquent statement through the painful presence of an absence.” Or, as so pithily stated in Kohelet 4:9, “Tovim hashenayim min ha’echad—two are better off than one.” For single women in their thirties and forties, the combination of the relational void and their ticking biological clock often propels them
HOW YOU CAN HELP
DO: • Realize that just because a single woman is successful and happy, that does not mean that she has given up hope of getting married. • Constantly ask everyone you meet for match suggestions. • Ask yourself whether on some level you negatively judge a never-married woman and how it may unwittingly play out in your interactions with her. Are you uncomfortable with how your friends may perceive her? Do you feel resentment when she does not accept suggestions that are actually unsuitable, because you would be so happy and relieved for her to find someone? DO NOT: • Keep telling the single never-married woman that because of her age, the pool of available men is limited and she should therefore make compromises others would shun. • Tell a single that because she has so much going for her, of course she will get married; being accomplished and psychologically healthy does not necessarily increase the odds of meeting the right one. • Imply that her never-married status reflects underlying psychopathology. • Push her to accept a suggestion; if disinterested, she likely has a good reason. Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
As if social isolation and loneliness, childlessness and the failure to actualize the dream of being a wife and mother weren’t enough to negotiate, they are often pressured, judged, misunderstood and subtly pathologized. to settle on a mate even in light of marked doubt about the man’s suitability. To quote one friend the night before her engagement, “You don’t think I’m making a big mistake, do you? He’s nice, and I can have children, and my parents aren’t getting any younger. They deserve some nachas.” For many older singles, however, the biological clock has stopped ticking, rendering an often important incentive to marry—having biological children—moot. Moreover, they often do not need the financial support of a spouse, another major factor many women consider when they decide to marry. The good news— and bad news—is that women are freer to focus primarily on personality and compatibility, which is liberating in a sense, but also limiting. As years and decades go by and the elusive dream of becoming a wife and mother remains just that, many older, never-married women begin to ask themselves what went wrong. According to developmental psychologist Bernice Neugarten,5 all societies have a “social clock,” a conscious or unconscious consensus that dictates the age norms by which events should occur. People who do not achieve milestones within this time frame feel that they have failed to live up to their family’s or society’s expectations, and often judge themselves harshly when they see others achieving them on time. As time progresses and singlehood 46
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persists, they watch normative lifecycle events pass them by. Attending at this point, not their friends’ weddings but their friends’ children’s weddings, the well-meaning “im yirtzeh Hashem (God willing) by you” of yesteryear is now replaced with, “Oh, I did not realize you are still interested in dating; you just seem so upbeat and together, I assumed by now you made peace with your situation.” Never-married Orthodox women may enter therapy in the hope that if they work through their issues, they will find a mate. Yet, all too often, despite growing, evolving, maturing and productively contributing to society, they remain single. In the Orthodox Jewish community, women, no matter how successful and accomplished, are nonetheless viewed as tragic figures if they have not married and had children. Worse, well-meaning relatives, friends and matchmakers often pathologize this subgroup. This can result in “micro-traumas,” or small, subtle psychic hurts that accumulate to compromise self-worth.6 By the time an older single woman is fortunate enough to finally find a life partner, she faces potential complications that a younger single likely won’t encounter. The available pool of men comprises primarily divorcees and widowers. After being independent for so long, she must adjust to marriage, while also forging relationships with potentially
unreceptive stepchildren. She often leapfrogs into step-grandmotherhood, without having experienced motherhood. True not just of a never-married single but also of any woman who marries a man with children from a previous marriage, her husband’s attention is understandably divided between his own children and his new wife. Orphaned children who are still grieving may resent their father marrying. She is expected, for the sake of the children, to move into the original marital home, at least for a while, so as not to further upend the children’s lives. Yet, notwithstanding the scenario depicted above, most people are well-meaning and earnestly want to see their older, never-married friend or relative find a shidduch. For specific ways one can ameliorate some of the challenges that seem to characterize the process for the older never-married Orthodox Jewish single woman, please see the sidebar on page 45. Finally and most importantly, I must express my heartfelt and deep appreciation to the countless dedicated community members who devote hours of their time to the often thankless and frustrating chesed of matchmaking. Most have the best motivations and are upset, as am I, that I have not yet found my bashert. I have not given up and I hope they don’t either. Notes 1. Kiddushin 2:2. 2. N. Rucker, “Cupid’s Relational Misses: Relational Vicissitudes in the Analysis of Single Women,” Psychoanalytic Psychology 10, no. 3 (1993): 377-391. 3. Ibid. 4. J. Lavender, “The Phenomenology of the Relational Void: Probabilities and Possibilities” in Loneliness and Longing: Conscious and Unconscious Aspects, edited by B. Willock, L. C. Bohm and Curtis R. Coleman (London, 2012): 121. 5. B.L. Neugarten, “Adaptation and the Life Cycle,” The Counseling Psychologist 6 (1976): 16-20. 6. M. Crastnopol, Micro-trauma: A Psychoanalytic Understanding of Cumulative Psychic Injury (Psychoanalysis in a New Key Book Series) (New York, 2015).
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A Polite Request for Basic Sensitivity By Dovid Bashevkin
I dated for close to a decade. During that time, I got all sorts of questions, speculations and unsolicited advice related to marriage. I wrote this piece about eight years ago in response to what I felt was communal insensitivity in how I was being treated. Thankfully, I have since married, but the message, I believe, is still relevant. Think about how (and where!) you talk about dating and romance to those who are not married. Hopefully, together we can build a more empathic community. Rebecca is carefully perusing the cereal shelves in her local supermarket. Bran flakes vs. life cereal. These little routines help her take her mind off the difficult period she and her husband are going through. They have been trying to have children for three years, but unfortunately, God has not yet blessed them with a child. It’s especially hard for Rebecca, living in a community with so many young couples who already have several children. While examining
the nutritional facts on the cereal box, she is granted momentary respite from her otherwise anxiety-ridden concerns. Until she is interrupted. “Rebecca? Hi! How are you?” The voice is that of a friend from college, though in recent years the two have drifted apart. “So . . . how’s life?” Rebecca smiles. “It’s great, thank God. I’m finishing up school at Hunter and my husband has been working at KPMG.” Rebecca knows this is not the answer her friend is looking for. “But . . . (empathetic pause). How’s everything else?” It is becoming more and more difficult for Rebecca to continue smiling. “Good, really good.” “I know that you and Josh have been having trouble having kids.” Rebecca’s stomach knots up. She knew the conversation was going there. She’s unsure what bothers her more—the distant friend asking a too-personal question, or the indiscreet location for a conversation
Dovid Bashevkin is director of education for NCSY and a member of the Jewish Action Editorial Committee. His most recent book is Sin-a-gogue: Sin and Failure in Jewish Thought (Boston, 2019).
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that warrants the intimacy of a living room rather than a supermarket aisle. As her friend continues, Rebecca struggles to hold onto her smile, and nods through the barrage of questions and unsolicited attempts at consolation. “It must be so hard . . . Are you really trying? Do you or your husband have issues? I know a rabbi… ” Rebecca turns to her friend, who is eagerly awaiting a response to the sage advice she has just dispensed, and mumbles, “Thanks so much.” * * * Baruch is a father of four with a wonderful wife. Life had always gone well for him, but nearly a year ago he was laid off and he now has mounting debt. The longer he remains unemployed, the more hopeless he becomes of ever finding a decent job. Simcha, a close friend of his, just made partner in a top-ten firm. Baruch is genuinely happy for his close friend, but the prominence of Simcha’s promotion makes his unemployment all the more glaring. Simcha is planning a small kiddush in shul this coming Shabbos to celebrate his promotion. Although Baruch is nervous about it, he is determined to attend the kiddush to celebrate with his close friend.
At the kiddush, Baruch has an unsettling feeling that people are thinking, “Oh wow, I can’t believe he came. This must be so hard for him.” The truth is, they are right. It is hard. After giving Simcha a hug and a mazel tov, Baruch turns around to leave. Hoping to make a quiet exit and return to his family, he is stopped by several people. “Im yirtzeh Hashem by you . . . Im yirtzeh Hashem by you . . . ” He feels as though a consolation firing squad has selected him for execution. An older friend then takes him aside. “Baruch, you should know that the situation you’re in is really a berachah.” Frustrated by his friend’s insensitivity and unable to think of a coherent response, Baruch mutters, “Im yirtzeh Hashem by you....” * * * I know what you’re thinking. These scenarios are not applicable to singles. Frankly, I agree with you. Singles have a very different struggle than couples trying to have children. And the struggle to have children is surely quite different than the challenges of finding employment. The point of this essay is not to illustrate an equivalency between life’s vast array of obstacles, but rather to encourage similar thought and sensitivity when approaching anybody having difficulties in life. The moment we begin engaging in the game of “who has it worse?” we have abandoned our responsibility to view each individual’s problem as deeply unique and personal. Leave it to God to award the prize for “who had it worse.” In the meantime, we can try to make it better. Everyone has setbacks in life. Different people have different starts and different journeys during their otherwise productive and successful lives. Some get laid off, some struggle with having children, others take longer to get married. Each deserves sensitivity, privacy and dignity. This can be achieved with a healthy dose of common sense and a brief period of thought before speaking. Don’t be so quick to assume that it’s the single’s fault for his or her predicament. Just as some people try unsuccessfully to have children, others try but are unable to find a suitable partner. Trust me. Some people happily marry later in life and the only thing that stopped them from finding a partner sooner was mazel, not a personality/commitment/pathological disorder. Make sure your words of encouragement were solicited (explicitly or implicitly), and when having a conversation try not to keep gravitating to the setback your friend, acquaintance, or person you met in the supermarket is experiencing. Despite what you may think, she or he doesn’t necessarily want to talk about it. Don’t refer to something as a “berachah” unless you’d really wish it upon yourself. When you’re a good friend to others, they’ll be there in your times of difficulty. Im yirtzeh Hashem by you oif simchos!
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“The Wedding II” by Vyacheslav Braginsky. Copyright © Alexander Gallery (ATV Gallery INC). www.alexandergallery.biz
Marriage T Then...and Now By Faigy Grunfeld We tend to think that marriage today is a radically different affair from marriage of the past. Perhaps the dominant narrative about Jewish marriages of the past is that they were primarily utilitarian and characterized by strict traditional gender roles. But that’s not necessarily the case. With a more focused lens, a new image of Jewish marriage of the past emerges, one that is surprising in its similarity to contemporary marriages. 50
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he history of Jewish marriage is somewhat tricky being that marriage is, of course, private. The myriad issues that do become public are often the exception, not the rule. For example, rabbinic responsa (rulings) are important sources for historians when studying a period in Jewish life, particularly the Middle Ages. But when it comes to marriage, responsa tend to reflect the problematic and conflicted marriages, rather than the harmonious and loving ones. There is no way to truly survey the relationship between Jewish spouses historically, but anecdotal evidence paints an interesting contrast to some of the common stereotypes. The memoir of Glückel of Hameln, a seventeenth-century Jewess from Germany, describes the deep admiration and love she and her husband had for each other. She writes that they constantly consulted with each other, and how her husband, on his deathbed, told those who asked for instructions regarding his business: “My wife knows everything. She shall do as she has always done.”1 Perhaps the most tragic line in the memoir is when Glückel reflects: “I truly believe I shall never cease from mourning my dear friend.”2 The writing here Faigy Grunfeld teaches English and history. She lives in Detroit, Michigan with her family.
is particularly intriguing, as many would assume that referring to a spouse as a “friend” resembles twenty-first-century, rather than seventeenth-century, language. Was Glückel’s marriage representative of Jewish marriages at the time? Historians believe that many features of Glückel’s life are characteristic of the average seventeenth-century Jewess, so perhaps her marriage was not particularly unique. Furthermore, Glückel does not speak about her relationship as if it were an aberration. Of particular interest are some of the documents discovered in the Cairo Geniza, a storeroom in an old shul in Fustat, Egypt that contains over 300,000 historical documents. In the Geniza, a handful of letters from husbands to wives were discovered, reflecting a camaraderie and unity that one might not expect. The following are two examples of such letters. Both were written by Jewish men living in the Muslim Empire during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The contents are even more surprising, considering that the Jews living in Muslim lands tended to have stricter and more conventional gender roles than those living in Ashkenazic countries.3 (Unlike the Ashkenazim, Sephardim maintained polygamy throughout this period; however, supporting two wives was expensive, so it was not very prevalent.4) Sephardic men were quite eloquent in expressing appreciation of their wives. One husband, after being abroad for many months, wrote the following: Now I know how good your doings are, although I have no mouth to express this in words . . . I am sure you are well, but my well-being is bitter, because of my separation from you. Another beseeches his wife to uproot their family and move to a new city, where he believes he can earn a proper living: I am writing to you, my lady, my dear, crown of my head and my pride, may I never be deprived of you . . . please do not neglect me . . . there remains no one who loves and encourages me except you.5
While these personal letters do not provide conclusive evidence of what Jewish marriages of the past were like, they should make us rethink the misconception that husbands were traditionally authoritarian or emotionally disconnected from their wives. Investigating a Match in the Middle Ages While there were no dating algorithms or shidduch résumés centuries ago, the notion of investigating a prospective match is just about as old as the institution of Jewish marriage itself. Glückel’s memoir, describing seventeenth-century Central European Jewry, offers an excellent example of what happens when the job is sloppily done. When one of her daughters was to be engaged, Glückel’s husband Chaim was already traveling to sign the agreement with the future mechutanim when Glückel received a letter urging her not to go ahead with the shidduch because the prospective groom “had many character flaws.” Because Glückel couldn’t reach her husband in time, he signed the engagement contract before receiving this information. Then ensued a couple of anxious years during which Glückel boldly wrote to her mechuteneste-to-be that they had heard concerning reports about her son, and could they please send him for a visit so she, Glückel, could discredit the reports with her own eyes, to which the lady tartly responded “Come see him yourself!” The two families agreed to meet at an inn between their two towns and—surprise! The young man was just wonderful. The reports had gotten it all wrong. The couple married and lived happily ever after. But it could have all gone another way, which is why parents have always made it their business to conduct thorough inquiries. Marrying for money was frowned upon, as the Talmud says: “Do not marry a woman who is from a higher socioeconomic status than yourself, lest you be rejected by her.”6 Some families, however, in the Middle Ages, tried to keep the family money “in the family.”7 The father of a scholarly
son would often seek out a daughter from a rabbinic family, because such a young woman would be more likely to replicate in her new home what she had seen done by her parents.8 Medieval Women Entrepreneurs In the Middle Ages, daughters’ betrothals occurred as early as the age of eight or nine, with marriages following at about age eleven or twelve, for boys of nearly the same age; the trend was related to economic considerations. Tosafot explains: Our life in the Diaspora is becoming harder; consequently, if a person is now in a financial position to give his daughter an adequate dowry, he is apprehensive lest after the lapse of some years he will be in no position to do so and his daughter will remain unwed forever.9 Interestingly, despite the severe economic hardship that was the day-to-day reality of most Jews in those days, Jewish women were not completely dependent on men for financial stability. Medieval documents indicate how the vast majority of women were active in the workforce. The Ashkenazic woman could not tie herself to her hearth, willingly or unwillingly, for she was a vital partner in her husband’s business. In this role, she had many responsibilities outside of her home. This prompted the Maharshal (sixteenth century) to comment, “Our women now conduct business and represent the husband.”10 This reality no doubt impacted marriages and gave women a certain amount of independence and freedom. Halachic rulings of the time reflect this trend, granting women greater financial responsibility and permitting them to travel alone and to conduct business with gentile men.11 It was not uncommon for Medieval women to have their own side businesses, and it was also acceptable for them to keep the profits for themselves.12 Interestingly, widowhood was a particularly distinctive position in Medieval Ashkenaz, afflicting a large number of women, as husbands were often older than their wives and had shorter life spans. Widowed Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
women had unique economic and social freedom, often inheriting their husbands’ estates, which they used to build new and successful businesses. Glückel of Hameln did just this by opening a sock factory upon her husband’s death, and by traveling to local fairs to sell her products. Gitl, another successful businesswoman, was given a vote of confidence in her husband’s will: She is to deal in all business that there is according to her desire and will . . . because she is the lady of the house, dominant and ruling over the entire estate and business for all of her days.13 This is not to suggest that all widowed and divorced women were financially secure. Once widowed or divorced, it is likely that women saw a dip in their finances, but this is a point of contention among historians.14 In Search of Marital Bliss Another common misconception is that divorce was stigmatized and therefore very rare. Historians such as Avraham Grossman and S.D. Goitein contradict this, suggesting divorce rates of more than 20 percent in Medieval Jewish society.15 Records from fifteenth-century Nuremberg actually indicate that close to a third of couples got divorced.16 There are some rabbinic denunciations of this
practice, and there is evidence that divorces were instigated by both men and women. Grossman argues that women’s involvement in finances gave them greater independence and less of a need to remain in difficult marriages.17 Apparently the search for marital bliss and compatibility is not a purely modern phenomenon. The Kollel Wife—a twentieth-century phenomenon? The “kollel” wife is not a twentieth-century development. Women supporting their husbands so that they can pursue their Talmudic studies is a fairly old practice. Eleazer of Worms, the thirteenth-century Rokeach, pays homage to his wife Dulce in a eulogy he wrote after she was murdered by Crusaders. Dulce supported her husband as a moneylender, pooling funds from neighbors to loan to others. She also produced Judaica items. Her husband describes in his writings: “She was like the merchant ships, feeding her husband, enabling him to study. The women who saw her paid tribute to her good merchandise.”18 In the nineteenth century, there are many examples of Talmudic scholars leaving their families to study in some of the big European yeshivot, while their wives ran businesses. In fact, scholarly families would often
ask if a potential bride was literate in Russian and Polish, to ascertain whether she would be able to conduct a successful enterprise with the locals.19 Rabbi Eliyahu Dovid Rabinowitz (the Aderet), who was the rav of Ponevezh in the nineteenth century, had a six-year period of “kest” (full board provided to the couple by either set of parents so that the young man could continue his Talmudic studies free from financial worries). However, after this period, the Aderet’s wife opened a shop while he traveled to study. He wrote: “I headed for exile in a place of Torah to cling to the profession of my fathers, may they rest in peace.”20 He studied away from home for four years, and then rejoined his family, securing a post as a rav. Rabbi Naftali of Amsterdam, a student of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, was supported by his wife, who ran a bakery as a source of income. However, in a series of letters to his peer Rabbi Yitzchak Blazer, Rabbi Naftali describes his concern regarding his wife’s strenuous work. His letters also convey his loneliness and longing for his family.21 Some wives of scholars even undertook the gargantuan task of supporting their families and caring for their elderly parents. The “kollel life” of the past was tremendously challenging
Meet the Shadchan Historically, the shadchan was generally a pious individual, but often he tended to verge into colorful territory, traveling from place to place with a mental file cabinet of names and stories. Memoirs reflect on this eccentric, minstrel-like figure, who was often learned for if he was less than so, desirable families would be closed to him. (His fee was usually 2 percent of the dowry.) Author Chaim Shapiro, who documented his memories of the shtetl world in the early 1900s, reminisces how the shadchan was beloved, revered, hated and absolutely needed. Shapiro writes: “Shtetl folk knew how to distinguish between hard fact and guzma (exaggeration). They could tell where the core of truth ended and the embroidery began. If they chose to accept everything that was said, it was because they wanted to.”22 Apparently, because exaggeration was expected, the shadchan was compelled to exaggerate further in order to make a potential match truly stand out. 52
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and demanded astonishing levels of perseverance and mesirat nefesh from young couples. These brave young men and women rose to the occasion, setting a precedent for later generations to follow. Were Jewish marriages of the past so very different than contemporary marriages? Seemingly not. Although different periods saw different norms, camaraderie, deep friendship and mutual respect seem to characterize marriage of today and yesteryear. Notes 1. The Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln, trans. Marvin Lowenthal (New York, 1960), 151. 2. Ibid., 152. 3. This distinction is documented by Medieval travelers such as Rabbi Petachiyah of Ratisbon: The Travels of Rabbi Petachiyah of Ratisbon, trans. Dr. A Benisch (London, 1856). 4. Menachem Brayer, Jewish Women in Rabbinic Literature (Hoboken, 1986), 10. 5. Emily Taitz, et al., The JPS Guide to Jewish Women (Philadelphia, 2003), 69. 6. Yevamot 63a. 7. Judith R. Baskin, “Jewish Women in the Middle Ages,” Jewish Women in Historical Perspective, Second Edition, ed. Judith R. Baskin (Detroit, 1998): 97. 8. S.D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society (Berkeley, 2003), 152-5. 9. Tosafot on Kiddushin 41a. 10. Taitz, The JPS Guide to Jewish Women, 149. 11. In Even HaEzer, the twelfth-century work by Rabbi Eliezer of Mainz, section 115, states the following: In these days women are legal guardians and vendors and dealers and lenders and borrowers, and they pay and withdraw and collect and deposit money, and if we say they cannot swear or affirm their business negotiations, then you will forsake these women and people will begin to avoid doing business with them. 12. Elisheva Baumgarten, “Medieval Ashkenaz (1096-1348),” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia, 1 March 2009, Jewish Women’s Archive, https:// jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/medieval-ashkenaz-1096-1348. 13. Moshe Rosman, “Poland: Early Modern (1500-1795),” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia, 1 March 2009, Jewish Women’s Archive, https://jwa.org/ encyclopedia/article/poland-early-modern-1500-1795. 14. See Cheryl Tallan, “Medieval Jewish Widows: Their Control of Resources,” Jewish History 5, no. 1 (1991): 63-74; Avraham Grossman, Pious and Rebellious (Waltham, Massachusetts, 2012), 247; and Baumgarten, “Medieval Ashkenaz (1096-1348).” 15. Grossman, Pious and Rebellious, 246. 16. Baumgarten, “Medieval Ashkenaz (1096-1348),” 4. 17. Grossman, Pious and Rebellious, 247. 18. S. Feldbrand, “Appendix,” From Sarah to Sarah (New York, 1976). 19. Immanuel Etkes, “Marriage and Torah Study among the Lomdim in Lithuania in the Nineteenth Century,” in The Jewish Family: Metaphor and Memory, ed. David Kraemer (New York, 1989): 166. 20. Ibid., 164. 21. Ibid., 167-168. 22. Chaim Shapiro, Once Upon a Shtetl: A Fond Look Back at a Treasured Slice of the Jewish Past (New York, 1996), 124.
תשעה ב'אב תשע"ט
SUNDAY AUGUST 11 2019
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RABBI STEVEN WEIL Senior Managing Director, OU The Longest Day: Reliving Two Millennia of Tragedy @ Beth Jacob Atlanta PARTICIPATING SHULS: CONGREGATION ARIEL, CONGREGATION NER HAMIZRACH, CONGREGATION NETZACH ISRAEL, NEW TOCO SHUL, THE KEHILLA, YOUNG ISRAEL OF TOCO HILLS
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THIS PROGRAM IS DEDICATED BY RICHARD & DEBRA PARKOFF IN MEMORY OF RICHARD’S PARENTS
Avraham ben Yitzchak Hakohen, a”h and Rochel Bluma bat Yehoshua, a”h A V A I L A B L E O N L I N E A L L D AY
Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
A group of young Jewish day school graduates—all of whom were raised in Orthodox homes— were recently asked about their belief in God. Not a single one could explain why he believes in God or why believing in the Torah differs from believing in any other belief system. Imparting emunah has never been a simple matter. But in the post-modern age of Instagram and ever-present distractions, instilling in our youth a deep and abiding faith that will guide them through the inevitable vicissitudes of life is more challenging than ever. How can we bring God into the classroom, into our homes, and most importantly, into our children’s hearts and minds? In this symposium, we asked a diverse group of prominent rabbis and educators to respond to one or more of the following questions.
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1. We tend to identify Jews as Orthodox by their behavior rather than by their beliefs. (For example, we refer to an individual as a “shomer Shabbat” or a “shomer mitzvot,” rather than a “ma’amin” or a “ye’reh Hashem.”) Is having emunah integral to being a Torah Jew, or is observance of halachah far more critical, and thus deserving of more attention and education? 2. Have we sufficiently taught the underpinnings of our faith to our children? If not, is there a valid reason for this? Do our schools emphasize knowledge of and skills in Tanach, Gemara and halachah without providing students with a foundation in the fundamentals of Jewish belief? Is there a reason why our educational institutions in the past focused on the practice of Yiddishkeit more than the tenets of emunah, and if so, are the reasons still applicable? 3. What are the challenges when it comes to imbuing our students with emunah in this post-modern, technological era? Do we need to teach it differently in contemporary times? What would you tell a student experiencing a crisis of faith? 4. Do you have suggestions for how to introduce the concepts of emunah into the contemporary American Orthodox experience? How should a teacher or rabbi intent on doing so begin?
Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
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Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
Ahron Lopiansky There are oversimplified slogans that tend to come back to haunt their formulators. For the longest time, we have proclaimed religious superiority over Christianity and Islam with the following formula: “Those religions are all about believing, with action a mere appendage. Believe in Yeshu; believe in Muhammad and his teaching, and you will be saved. Judaism is about what you have done and accomplished. Even if you ‘believe,’ if you have transgressed and not accomplished you will go to Gehinnom.” This slogan was transmuted into the following caricature: “Judaism has no beliefs, just action.” This is nonsense for two reasons. One has to do with the faith part of the equation, and one has to do with the action part of the equation. The Mishnah in Sanhedrin clearly states that one who denies that the resurrection of the dead is alluded to in the Torah has no place in the World to Come. When seen through the perspective of the preceding mishnayos, it is clear that the Mishnah is telling us that the denial of techiyas hameisim is worse than all the previous sins—for those sins are punishable by death, yet the sinner does not lose his share in the World to Come. Similarly, we have terms like min, apikores and kofer, which may be subject to various specific interpretations but are clearly sins of disbelief or misbelief. Even avodah zarah, arguably the “worst sin,” which requires an act in order to be judged, is at its core a question of belief. The actions that constitute avodah zarah are all acts of reverence; they are means of expressing a false belief. Thus, to say that Judaism does not mandate beliefs borders on the absurd. 58
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But I would like to go a step further and say that good deeds—despite the fact that they are good—are not mitzvos! Let us look at the core definition of a ger toshav—a gentile who has not converted to Judaism but has accepted and fulfills the Seven Noahide Laws. He is considered a righteous person and has a share in Olam Haba. The Rambam [end of Hilchos Melachim 8] qualifies this with the following: “This is only if the person has accepted these mitzvos because Hashem commanded them in the Torah and taught us through Moshe that Noahides are obligated in this. But if he did it because it seems reasonable, he is neither a ger toshav, nor of their righteous, nor of their wise people.” Here we have a scene of two people acting and committing to act the same way, yet one is righteous and wise; the other is not. The difference lies in the underlying belief of the individual performing the mitzvah. How do we understand the individual’s belief or lack thereof? Let us imagine three people standing on the beach doing the exact same act: waving a white towel. One person is desperately trying to dry the towel before he goes home. The second one is chasing away annoying insects. The third one is surrendering to the enemy. The exact same physical act— but three very different actions! Hilchos Shabbos is replete with examples of the concepts of “eino miskavein” (an action done without intent), “eino tzericha legufa” (an action not needed for its result), “misasek” (preoccupied or unaware), et cetera. This is because a human being is a “bar daas” (creature of intellect); therefore, all of his actions are expressions of understanding and intention. A human act is never seen solely in physical terms but rather as an expression of its cognitive context. This understanding of the complete picture of a mitzvah is almost explicit in our daily mission statement of Kerias Shema. Shema consists of two paragraphs that seem redundant. The first is called “accepting the Yoke of Heaven”; the second is “accepting the Yoke of mitzvos.” They are not synonymous; they are complementary.
The first paragraph provides the context for our world of mitzvos: acknowledging an all-encompassing God who is the sole Moral Force, and Whose moral proclamations are the source of all mitzvos. And only then do we commit ourselves to the fulfillment of the mitzvos themselves. Rashi (Bamidbar 15:23) cites a Sifri that conveys this very point: “This teaches us that he who admits to serving idols is as if he denies all of Torah.” This obviously is referring to one who observes all of Torah, but his beliefs are ascribed to some other system. The pasuk is teaching us that those mitzvos are no longer considered mitzvos. I would like to clarify one point. I am not suggesting that rabbis or educators administer a “faith test” to determine who believes and who does not. In any case, making a big splash tends to exaggerate people’s positions. What should, however, be taken from the above is the following: 1. An unequivocal understanding that mitzvos are first and foremost a Divine command, and they lose their identity as such if there is no “metzaveh” (Commander). 2. Most people are complex. Total believers and total non-believers rarely exist as such. 3. Every Jew has a “point of belief” deep inside. The more we involve the person in the world of mitzvos, and the more he lives Yiddishkeit, the more likely his “beliefs” will fall into place. Indeed, let us encourage keeping mitzvos, for as the Sefer HaChinuch writes (mitzvah 16), one’s inner self is affected greatly by his external actions. But let us never cease to remind ourselves that the world of mitzvos is preceded by the world of kabbalas ol Malchus Shamayim! Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky is rosh yeshivah of the Yeshiva of Greater Washington–Tiferes Gedaliah. Rabbi Lopiansky is a prolific author, having written more than twenty works on Torah thought, liturgy and philosophy, and lectures widely both nationally and internationally.
Netanel Wiederblank Rambam begins the Mishneh Torah by declaring that we must “know (leida) that there is a First Being Who brought into being all existence.”1 How are we meant to know? While the matter certainly is debated, many Jewish thinkers emphatically argued in favor of seeking proof for the existence of God, if one is capable of doing so. Thus, Rabbi Bachya ibn Pakuda declares, “It would show want of zeal for anyone to rely on tradition alone who can obtain certainty by method of rational demonstration.”
How do the scientific and philosophical advancements of the modern era affect this search? Some maintain that while belief in God remains compelling in the modern world, it should no longer be based on the types of proofs that were once offered to establish the existence of God. In the modern world, the religious person should seek other means to know that God exists. It should be stressed that this group of thinkers would not agree that science or philosophy have refuted religion in any way. There is nothing in modern science that disproves the existence of God. However, we can no longer turn to science and philosophy, as we once did, to prove the existence of God. Not all contemporary religious philosophers and scientists accept the above concession. A second school of thought argues that we can still turn to science and philosophy to demonstrate that belief is the most
reasonable worldview, insofar as it alone can explain everything we observe. While the arguments they offer may lack the elegance of the Medieval syllogistic proofs, they are nevertheless powerful evidence for God’s existence. The brevity of this forum does not allow us to fully develop these arguments; however, let us briefly consider the impact of contemporary science upon faith. Instead of conceding that modern physics dispenses with the need for God, the opposite case can be made. Until the middle of the twentieth century, one could deny that the existence of the universe was proof that God exists, by simply claiming that the universe always existed. However, with powerful scientific evidence supporting the Big Bang theory, this is no longer plausible. Accordingly, with universal scientific acceptance that our universe is not eternal, it is easier than ever
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The lesson a child learns when seeing his or her mother shedding a tear while lighting Shabbat candles goes much farther than a lesson in philosophy.
to corroborate the existence of God. Indeed, with all that modern science has taught us, there still are many questions that cannot be fully answered without resorting to God. First and foremost, why does anything exist? What started the process that caused our universe to come into existence? The Big Bang theory does nothing to answer these questions. Rather, it describes the process by which our universe developed following the Big Bang. What triggered the Big Bang in the first place is not addressed. Likewise, the theory of evolution does nothing to address these questions. Rather, it seeks to explain how life on earth could naturally evolve from simpler building blocks. It does not consider the root of existence. Significantly, these scientific gaps are not minor holes, but major questions that science does not appear to be on the verge of answering. Suggestions, such as Dr. Stephen Hawking’s idea in The Grand Design (p. 180), that matter can spontaneously generate, are not only farfetched but simply kick the can down the road, as they leave one wondering who created the magnificent laws that allowed 60
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our universe to burst into existence. (The above presentation is a bit of an oversimplification. In my forthcoming book, Illuminating Jewish Thought: Faith, Philosophy, and Knowledge of God, I elaborate on the strengths and weaknesses of this argument.) However, even if science plays a role in belief, emunah must stem from much more than science. Knowing that God exists differs from religion, because even if we could definitively demonstrate God’s existence, it would not serve as the basis of a passionate relationship with the Ribbono Shel Olam. Indeed, the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 39:1) records that even though Avraham arrived at awareness of God’s existence through a teleological argument, it did not end there. Belief in God yielded a conversation, and ultimately a relationship, with the Master of the universe. Thus, Rambam (Yesodei HaTorah 2:2) writes that contemplation of God’s wondrous universe must leave a person on fire— filled with an intense desire (ta’avah gedolah) to intimately know God. Consequently, we must couple scientific and philosophical investigation with Torah study and experiential activities that cultivate such a bond.
That there are so many non-believing practicing Jews is tragic. Not only is emunah of paramount importance, but many Rishonim (e.g., Rambam, Introduction to HaChelek and Ramban, Introduction to Iyov) presume that observance of mitzvot is of little value when it does not stem from belief. How then can educators and parents transmit emunah? Partly through traditional educational models, including texts, classes, and discussion—studying works like Kuzari and openly considering the implications of science upon faith is crucial. We must show both children and adults that science and philosophy have not disproven the existence of God. Mostly, however, transmission of faith occurs through living a life of emunah. The lesson a child learns when seeing his or her mother shedding a tear while lighting Shabbat candles goes much farther than a lesson in philosophy. If we live a life of emunah, with all that it entails (no small task), then with God’s help our children will follow in our path. Notes 1. Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (Al HaTeshuvah, p. 196; On Repentance, p. 131) adds that the word “leida” should not be translated as “to understand,” as if to imply that a person is obligated to philosophize about the nature of God’s existence. We cannot understand God. Rambam does not maintain that there is a mitzvah to be a philosopher or theologian. What then does “leida” mean? Rabbi Soloveitchik suggests an unconventional understanding of the word—the mitzvah mandates constant awareness of His existence: “a level of consciousness never marred by inattention.” Clearly, an extraordinary level, but one towards which we must strive. Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank is a maggid shiur at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) and rabbi at the Yeshiva Community Shul (Shenk Shul) in Washington Heights.
Shira Smiles Migratory birds have a homing instinct that enables them to return to the very tree they left months earlier. Likewise, every Jew has an innate sense of direction towards Hashem, notes Rabbi Moshe Wolfson,1 mashgiach ruchani of Mesivta Torah Vodaath and rav of Beis Medrash Emunas Yisrael in Brooklyn. This hereditary belief, stemming from Avraham Avinu, is part of the deepest recesses of an individual’s soul. Therefore, the mitzvah of emunah, according to the Rambam, is not to believe in Hashem (we already believe!); rather, it is to nurture this innate emunah. Dovid Hamelech teaches us “Re’eh emunah,”2 we must take care of this emunah, cultivate and guard it. Just as the physical body needs a balanced diet to keep it in shape, one needs to have a healthy spiritual diet as well. Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, Hy”d, notes that the source of the prohibition against believing in heresy is learned from the pasuk, “Do not follow after your hearts and your eyes.”3 The obvious question is: shouldn’t it say, “Do not follow after ‘your minds,’” rather than ‘your hearts’? Rabbi Elchanan gleans from the word usage in this pasuk that the reason people don’t believe is not because of an intellectual doubt but rather that the desires of one’s heart blind a person from believing. The desire to pursue physical pleasures is so strong, it blocks one from accessing and acting upon his or her innate emunah. In our technological world that is bent on the pursuit of pleasure, is it any wonder that our emunah has become weakened? Acknowledgement of these two principles is key in the educational arena. Educators often shy away from topics of emunah, afraid they won’t know how to answer students’ questions. A teacher needs to know that inherently the students believe; it is the fabric of their souls, as natural as breathing. Indeed, Rav Matisyahu Salomon warns against using “proofs” as it relegates emunah to the level of
logic and opens the possibility that one could just as easily “disprove” what he hears.4 Emunah is something far deeper than our minds; it reaches to the very essence of our spiritual depths. The teacher’s mission is to fan the existing flame of emunah and allow it to ignite within the student. Elementary school teachers should focus on making Hashem real in the lives of their students. The Chazon Ish recommended telling hashgachah pratit (Divine Providence) stories to enable students to feel emotionally connected. Likewise, having students share hashgachah stories at the end of the week encourages making
Likewise, having students share hashgachah stories at the end of the week encourages making Hashem’s presence a reality in their lives. Hashem’s presence a reality in their lives. Teachers could also introduce “gratitude journals” and encourage daily entries. High school students should have a course in the six constant mitzvot; there are excellent books that explore these mitzvot and their relevance.5 There are new innovative curricula now being created to help teenagers explore and strengthen the basic fundamentals of faith. This should be coupled with an approach to teaching Tanach in which lessons gleaned are clearly applicable to the students’ lives. “Devarim hayotzim min halev nichnasim el halev.” Teachers should realize that at the same time that they are teaching their students’ minds, they need to be igniting their
own hearts. Students need to see that their teachers feel a genuine simchah for their Judaism and are passionate about what they teach. This will perhaps have the farthest effect in fanning the flames of emunah. The Gemara in Makkot6 notes that the Nevi’im distilled the 613 mitzvot into smaller categories to enable people to have an easier time focusing on serving Hashem. Chavakuk taught that the main mitzvah upon which to focus is “Tzaddik be’emunato yichyeh—the righteous person shall live through his faith.”7 It is imperative that adults, not only children, work on strengthening this mitzvah. Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein, the famed mashgiach of the Ponevezh yeshivah, noted that any day he did not work on this mitzvah was not counted as a day of his life. Books like Living Emunah, by Rabbi David Ashear, help people to begin developing a mindset of emunah that can impact their lives on a daily basis. Children need to see that their parents take their Judaism seriously, and that the enticements of life pale in comparison to the spiritual dividends of a religious life. When Hashem is alive in a child’s home, He becomes more alive and vibrant in the child’s heart. Notes 1. Wellsprings of Faith, Rabbi Moshe Wolfson, p. 10. 2. Tehillim 37:3. 3. Bamidbar 15:36. 4. As quoted in The Heart of Emunah by Rabbi Reuven Schmelczer, pg. 237. 5. The Six Constant Mitzvos by Rabbi Yitzchak Berkowitz; Constant Connection by Rabbi Yitzchak Coopersmith. 6. Makkot 24. 7. Chavakuk 2:4.
Shira Smiles is a mechanechet at Darchei Bina Seminary in Israel. She teaches at the OU Israel Center in Yerushalayim, as well as at other adult education venues in Israel and abroad. She is the author of a five-volume set: Torah Tapestries on the Parsha (New York, 2010-2015). Hundreds of her shiurim can be heard at YUTorah.org or at Naaleh.com.
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The Emunah Continuum The following piece contains a story, told with permission, from a painful time in our lives. It does not accurately reflect current feelings. By Aliza Bulow There are times when I have felt alone in my emunah journey. The Shabbos morning after our baby granddaughter died, my husband and I sat on the couch quietly reviewing the events of the week when I remarked, “It’s time to go to shul.” He looked at me and scowled. “I’m not going.” “Wow, you sound angry.” “I am angry. How could Hashem do that to our daughter? How could He kill an innocent baby?” “Okay,” I ventured, knowing from decades of Torah teaching and guidance that this was not the time to bring up platitudes, “you don’t have to go. But I think I will.”
Menachem Schrader The so-called crisis in emunah may well be exaggerated, or more likely, misunderstood. I would like to focus on two points in this regard: the nature of emunah per se, and the impact of religious leadership on emunah through their actions and personality. 1. Our Torah does not begin with a proof of the existence of God. It 62
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As I slipped out the door, I wondered, “What just happened there?”
3) He runs the world. 4) He runs the world for the good. 5) He runs my world for the good.
Both of us were sad. Our daughter waited four years for this pregnancy. We were so happy that Hashem was “catching her up” with twins. But then one was born very sick. After two weeks of exhaustive efforts, tremendous hope and almost constant prayers, she died before she got a chance to live.
My husband was stuck right before the “for the good” part of the continuum. Hence, the silence. But he also knew I felt differently.
I walked alone. In a way, I consoled myself, my husband’s silence added up to a strong expression of emunah. He wouldn’t be mad at something he didn’t think existed, or at something that had no agency. It must be that he believes that Hashem exists and that Hashem made a choice and took his granddaughter. As I thought about how my understanding differed from my husband’s, I envisioned an “Emunah Continuum”: 1) There is a God. 2) He created the world. starts by taking God for granted as the Creator. Proofs and arguments about God and Torah appear nowhere in the Torah itself. The Torah is a paradigm that Orthodox Judaism takes for granted. Belief in God and His Torah is a work in process. The term used by the Rishonim, “ketanei emunah” (those of minimal belief), indicates that emunah is not a checklist. Belief is not a “yes-or-no” question. Belief is qualitative, and is indicated much more by activity than by proclamation. It is the study of Torah generally, and observance specifically, that brings people to fall in line with the belief in the principles upon which their study and practices are based (see Parashat Tzitzit, Ramban end of Parashat Bo and Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 17).
Of course I was sad. Watching a child lose a child is heartbreaking, apart from the tragedy of losing a grandchild. But I trust Hashem. I know that He knows what He’s doing, even if I can’t understand it, and even if I don’t like it. As I watched my daughter daven so earnestly for her daughter in the weeks after the birth, I wanted to prepare her for what might lie ahead. I didn’t want her to get lost in the common misunderstanding that trusting Hashem means believing that it will all work out “well.” I reminded her that Hashem and Elokeinu, the two names for God in the Shema, have very different connotations: Hashem expresses our perception of chesed; Elokeinu expresses our perception of din (judgment), but both are Echad (One), flowing from the It’s not that emunah is the backbone of our mitzvah observance but that our mitzvah observance impacts our emunah, which in turn encourages us to be more observant, thereby fortifying our emunah further. Fluidity is intrinsic in emunah. Here is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle as applied to emunah: “The more we know about and focus on the state of belief of an individual or community at any moment, the less we know about the direction and velocity that individual or community is moving in and towards.” The question of direction is much more important than the question of one’s current state. A youngster who is currently lacking in belief, but wants and expects to go to Israel or a university where he will
same source and leading to the same destination. Trusting Hashem means knowing that He knows what He’s doing and that it’s ultimately good, even when it doesn’t make sense to us and even when we don’t like it. Nevertheless, in the privacy of my own tefillot, now that “what might lie ahead” already lay in the past, it was hard for me to say the Shema without tears. I arrived in shul still contemplating. I was sure that most of the people around me, indeed most Orthodox Jews, would say that they agree with the components of the “Emunah Continuum.” But then how could a butcher sell treif meat as kosher? How could people lie or cheat to hurt another’s business? Is it due to a lack of emunah? Would a frum Jew in prison say he doesn’t believe in God? I realized that the “Emunah Continuum” is not just horizontal; it has vertical planes as well. One might believe some, or all, of those elements on the continuum, solidify his commitment through a strong environment or community, will not be measured properly based on current state of belief. 2. A crucial matter regarding emunah is its direct connection to emunah in the human beings who are expected to represent God and His Torah in this world. The Maharal explains that chillul Hashem is always based on talmidei chachamim (Derech HaChaim). The various scandals involving charismatic rabbinic figures that have come to light these last past twenty years, both in the United States and in the State of Israel, have taken their toll on the confidence Orthodox Jews worldwide have in their religious leadership. This, together with the tendency of
but the level of belief may need to be deepened and solidified. Even then, the path between belief and behavior is not always straight; nevertheless, it’s so much harder to walk when emunah is weak. How can the necessary depth be acquired that will turn belief into knowledge?
Trusting Hashem means knowing that He knows what He’s doing and that it’s ultimately good, even when it doesn’t make sense to us and even when we don’t like it. The path flows in both directions: belief can lead to behavior, and behavior can affect belief (“ha’adam nifal kefi pe'ulatav— man is driven by his behavior”; see Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 16). That’s why I find “na’aseh v’nishma” helpful as a daily choice. First do it, then understand it. So I say the Shema even if I cry, I wash even when my hands are clean, and I dress in accordance with some rabbinic leaders to defend or protect the rabbis accused, rather than concerning themselves with protecting the congregants and students of these rabbis from their abuses, has resulted in a general decrease in the dignity of the rabbinate in the eyes of the Orthodox Jewish community. Our core beliefs (emunah!) are in people. Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein tells us in Mevakshei Panecha that he had religious problems as a youngster. He did not resolve them. He dealt with them in the following way: “No doubt Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik and Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner are aware of these difficulties. Either they have answers to these problems, or they do not feel these problems are severe enough to bring essential doubt to
halachah even when it draws attention. Behaving according to the Torah keeps me anchored and grants me insight. But what really pulls me deep into the continuum is knowing that even emunah itself is not a one-way street. I believe in Hashem, and He believes in me too. He knows that whatever lies ahead, I can do it. That’s why He gave me another day. For that reason, I start every morning with an expression of double emunah: after thanking Hashem for returning my soul to me with all the tools I need for the day, I continue with “rabbah emunatecha—great is Your emunah.” That’s referring to Hashem’s emunah. In me. I don’t walk alone. Even if I don’t understand it, even if I don’t like it. I trust Hashem and He trusts me. We’re in this together. Aliza Bulow is the founder and director of Core, providing chizuk for frum women. She attended Michlelet Bruria, served in the IDF in the early 80s, and has been a Torah educator and mentor ever since.
Torah” (quote from memory). What this comes down to is that Rabbi Lichtenstein believed in Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik and Rabbi Hutner, and thus in God and the Torah they taught. If our teachers, men and women alike, inspire personal confidence in our community, young and old alike, belief will move in the direction of fullness and certainty in God and His Torah. To the extent that they prove themselves to be unworthy of this trust and confidence, belief will wither. “Vaya’aminu baHashem uv’Moshe avdo.” If people do not have the confidence that their leaders are honest, true, sincere and have their religious and personal best interests in mind, they will not only stop believing in their leaders, they will stop believing Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
in the Torah the leadership claims to stand for, with all that that implies. Emunah is a process rather than a checklist, and we should be working on direction rather than measuring absolutes. The moral quality and honesty of our religious leadership will greatly impact the potential for advancing us in the right direction, rather than chas veshalom setting us back. And the encouragement of a Torah-true way of life based on Tanach and Chazal, including Torah with derech eretz in its contemporary form, will likely lift the Jewish people’s attitude towards Hashem and His Torah. Rabbi Menachem Schrader is the founding director of the OU’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (OU-JLIC). He has a BA in philosophy from Yeshiva University, an MA in history from New York University, and he received semichah from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). In 1981, Rabbi Schrader and his family moved to Israel and have been living there since.
Ayala Berney We cannot assume emunah is just going to seep in from the environment. In years past, emunah in Hashem was discussed at the Shabbos table; it was absorbed at home via osmosis. For the most part, this is not the case anymore. Therefore, schools need to teach emunah and make it part of the curriculum. I attended Prospect Park High School in Brooklyn when Rabbi
Yoel Kramer served as principal. He know what God wants from us? exposed us to the Ikrei Emunah The Torah is the Divine Word that of the Rambam, which I found guides us in living Godly lives. fascinating. A few years later, The last foundation is the when I became a teacher, I created recognition of reward and punishment. a curriculum teaching these We have to be accountable to principles—a curriculum that has ourselves, to God and to our nation. evolved over the past thirty-five years. We need to understand that we People crave purpose, mission do make a difference and that our and meaningfulness in their lives. actions reverberate for eternity. They don’t want to live a life of What I’m actually introducing to my haphazardness, where nothing students is their own greatness. When has any purpose. When you offer they become aware of their purpose, students truth, it speaks to them. their mission, and their responsibility In my classroom, we open up to the world and to our nation, it’s very Ramchal’s Derech Hashem and exciting for them. Instead of feeling Rambam’s Hilchos De’os. These works insignificant, they feel empowered. are a salve to the soul, infusing my By the time we complete the course, students with a sense of meaning my students have a thick binder full and purpose. When you work on a of sources from the Rishonim and 1,000-piece puzzle, the first thing you contemporary commentators. Some assemble is the rim, the outer parts, of my students take their binder with and then you can fit all the other pieces them to seminary and refer back to inside. Emunah is the framework, it. One student told me about a friend after which you can connect all of hers who lost a close relative. She the other pieces: Chumash, Navi, went to be menachem avel and took her Jewish history, halachah, et cetera. binder along to give her friend chizuk. In teaching Ikrei Emunah, I have Another student told me that she three goals: my students should was coping with a difficult family develop a relationship with Hashem; situation and struggling with making believe in the truth of Torah; and a decision about which college to have a sense of accountability for attend. She took out a card I had their actions. These are the three handed out that read: “Any nisayon foundational principles of emunah. I’m going through is coming from The first foundation is that God the One Above. I realize that [all that created the world and continues to happens to me is part of] my designer sustain the world; He is non-corporeal, life, designed by the Master Designer.” and Infinite and All-Knowing, I teach my students that in and only to Him do we direct our examining the minute details of their prayers because He is the only One lives, the wonderful as well as the Who can really effect anything. difficult parts, they should stop and say, The second principle is the truth “Hashem, I know that this is happening of Torah; we look to the Torah because it’s Your design.” Hashem as the Word of God. How do we doesn’t expect you to love the nisyonos;
The decline in trust in authority in real life can also make it difficult for some to accept God as an absolute Authority. Furthermore, technology reinforces our inability to be still, to be alone with our thoughts; yet stillness is such an important prerequisite for connection with God. 64
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He knows it’s painful. Nevertheless, we need to say to Him, “Even though I’m not sure what to do with this situation, I recognize that it’s from You.” Ayala Berney is the principal and founder of Pe’er Bais Yaakov, a high school for girls that opened two years ago in Rockland County, New York. Mrs. Berney speaks nationally on topics including emunah and chinuch.
Jay Goldmintz I don’t know if students struggle with emunah more today than years ago, but I do see a greater desire for
connection. Any number of reasons or symptoms point to a decrease in passionate commitment to Judaism: • Having bucked the trend for decades, the United States has joined other Western countries in seeing a decline in identification with institutional religion. The increase in the desire and tolerance for personal choice (one gets to choose the version of news he wants to listen to or the gender he wishes to be) makes religious absolutes harder to accept. The fact that religion is on the decline in this country is not only an issue for Orthodox Jews. See David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith. • The concomitant rise in individualism (versus religion’s focus on something bigger than oneself), the emphasis on one’s needs versus those of the community, and the value placed on individual expression can
all be challenges to maintaining a religious worldview. The challenge is exacerbated by technology, which overtly and subtly reinforces these values (that are antithetical to a Torah lifestyle). The incessant selfie postings, for example, can lead to a heightened sense of individualism and an increased sense that it’s okay to be me and to express myself in the way I feel most comfortable even if that goes against the norms of community. The decline in trust in the authority of what one reads on the Internet, to say nothing of the decline in trust in authority in real life, can also make it difficult for some to accept God as an absolute Authority. Furthermore, technology reinforces our inability to be still, to be alone with our thoughts; yet stillness is such an important prerequisite for connection with God. I do not wish to lay blame on technology but only to suggest that, like other Continued on p. 68
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Bringing God into the Classroom Why did God create me? Why do we have to keep Shabbat? Do my tefillot really matter? If God is so loving, why is there so much suffering? These are questions often left unanswered in many Jewish high schools. Until recently.
By Bayla Sheva Brenner
hanks to Kivun, a two-year-long Jewish philosophy curriculum designed for tenth and eleventh grades, students in Jewish schools throughout the US and beyond are delving into classical works on Jewish thought, exploring these and other hashkafic topics in a systematic way. Through guided discovery of sources and classroom discussions, Kivun (Hebrew for compass) encourages students to ask questions, aimed at providing them with a profound understanding of Judaism and a deep, personal connection to Hashem and Torah. Rebbetzin Leah Kohn, founder of the program and director of the Jewish Renaissance Center, a Manhattan-based educational venue for women, realized the need for such an initiative some years ago. Because of her expertise in outreach, she was getting phone calls from Jewish day school educators on a fairly regular basis. “Teachers would send high school girls who had questions to me,” says Rebbetzin Kohn. “I realized they didn’t know how to handle the questions. These young women were not looking to [leave the derech haTorah], but they were thinking individuals and they wanted answers.” Jewish schools tend to stress mastering skills and accumulating knowledge, and can at times overlook the need to teach the 66
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fundamentals of Jewish thought. “Students know the commentators; they know how to translate a Ramban, but when it comes to the basics—What does it mean to be a chosen people? What does bechirah chofshit really mean? —they can’t answer,” says Rebbetzin Kohn. “These are not provocative questions; they’re fundamental questions.” And teachers, although committed to and passionate about teaching Yahadut, are not always equipped to provide the in-depth answers
Hashem, Rav Eliyahu Dessler’s Michtav M’Eliyahu, Rav Elchanan Wasserman’s Ma’amar al Emunah, the Netivot Shalom, the Maharal, Meshech Chochmah and other works. In June, Rebbetzin Kohn arranges a five-day teacher-training seminar to help educators prepare for the upcoming school year. Currently taught in forty-five high schools throughout the world, the curriculum is found in schools across the Orthodox spectrum. Since it was founded in 2013, Kivun has trained teachers
“These are not provocative questions; they’re fundamental questions.” students are seeking. Rebbetzin Kohn set out to fill this gap. “Usually when people speak about the need to teach emunah, it’s in response to those going off the derech,” says Rebbetzin Kohn. “The point is to provide students with a foundation that makes Yiddishkeit precious to them. Otherwise, what will be left for the next generation? Just a set of rules.” The Kivun curriculum is comprised of thirteen units covering a broad range of topics including the purpose of Creation, the role of the Jewish people in the world, reward and punishment, and Olam Haba. Each unit, which includes a student workbook and teacher source material, culls from classic Jewish philosophical sources including the Ramchal’s Derech
worldwide, exposing hundreds of educators to the program. While currently the program is used in all-girls’ schools, Rebbetzin Kohn has begun marketing the curriculum to boys’ yeshivot. “Even the students who aren’t the most intellectually or religiously oriented tell me, ‘I loved what we learned. I shared it with my mother,’” says Leah Lustiger, an eleventh-grade teacher at Bnos Leah Prospect Park Yeshiva in Brooklyn, who taught the program this past year to her class. “It’s not a lecture where students are scribbling notes the whole time. It’s something they’re excited about.” Bayla Sheva Brenner is an awardwinning freelance writer and a regular contributor to Jewish Action.
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Continued from p. 65
forces of modernity, technology has its pluses and its minuses which we ignore at our spiritual peril. • The increased concern with materialism can also lead to a decreased focus on spiritual matters. • Our community’s increased focus on halachic observance, which is laudable and exemplary, has, in some circles, led to a preoccupation with the letter of the law to the exclusion of its spirit. That may work well for those with an already deep and abiding relationship with God, but it would be a mistake to assume that all individuals know how to draw the spiritual meaning along with that observance. In short, we cannot rely on society at large or on our own community to contain the inevitable questions that come with normal religious development. Instead, we need to be proactive and intentional in educating our children about passion and connection. How do you “teach” emunah? I am not sure it can be taught in the traditional understanding of that term. One can certainly answer questions, address doubts, deepen a student’s knowledge and the sophistication of his understanding; but these are all mostly cognitive tasks. A personal relationship with God and with Judaism requires something additional. How does one teach love, friendship or connection to someone who has never experienced these things? Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik often lamented that despite his teaching abilities, he was unable to convey the passion of personal religious experience to his students. Yet, taking a cue from the Rav’s electrifying examples of
self-disclosure, one can help guide people toward their own experience and relationship with the Divine. I believe it means, in part, talking about God more in the classroom, sharing what our observance, our prayer, and our faith mean to us. This is not something that comes easily to all religious educators—no one really spoke to us that way very much when we were growing up or when we were training to be teachers. In schools we need to focus more on teaching kids and not just on teaching texts. Personal connection should flow organically out of personal interaction with the texts of the masorah. Teachers should be trained to enable students to personalize the Torah they learn within the existing curricula, without having to rely solely on Shabbatonim or out-of-class discussions. Parents, too, need to begin to parent more religiously—with intentionality. While we generally do not take a laissez-faire attitude when parenting our children intellectually, emotionally or socially, we similarly need to take a much more proactive posture when transmitting spirituality as well. One cannot leave it up to the schools. Indeed, all of the research points to the fact that family is the most influential factor in the religious development of children and adolescents. Rabbi Dr. Jay Goldmintz teaches at Maayanot Yeshiva High School in New Jersey, does professional development in tefillah and religious education, and is the author of the OU Life blog “The Soul of Parenting” and the award-winning Koren Ani Tefillah Siddur series.
Research points to the fact that family is the most influential factor in the religious development of children and adolescents. 68
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Sharona Kaplan Belief, by definition, can’t be taught because it exists beyond knowledge. Things we know with certainty do not require us to believe anything. But concrete, empirical data can only take us so far. It’s at that point where knowledge stops that belief begins. It is also impossible to teach belief because it is something personal, owned by each individual. It is not an independent body of knowledge that can be gifted to another; rather it is something experienced, individually felt and cultivated over time. Rabbi Menachem Nissel, a well-known teacher and lecturer, explains that the reason our primary statement of faith is introduced with the verb “Hear [O Israel]” is because the process of acquiring faith is exactly that: a process. It therefore most resembles our sense of hearing, the only one of our senses that is not instantaneously experienced. Hearing requires patience, as letters form words, which then build sentences, which then communicate ideas. Belief, similarly, requires patience, as an individual receives input, listens and, over time, pieces it all together to form a bigger picture. An educator can offer input by sharing some of the building blocks of our belief system in the form of historical narratives, spiritual content and broad-reaching philosophies. He can even elucidate the Thirteen Principles of Faith. He can, most importantly, model what it means to be a believer, sharing the lens with which he views the world and sensitizing students to recognize Divinity in their own lives. Yet it is up to the student to hear, absorb, apply and ultimately own their emunah. This is in contradistinction
These students often question their belief in their parent or rabbi, upon which their emunah hinged, and as they mature they seek to personally own their beliefs, not simply rely on the belief of others. to halachah, which is quantifiable and objective. Halachah can be concretized, taught and learned. In the early years of students’ development, there are likely some who actually believe in God while the majority, most likely, believe in the masorah, trusting the educator or parent who taught them about God. The task faced during the college years is the personalization of beliefs, as students leave their incubated, simpler environment and have their belief system challenged in a more colorful, multi-dimensional environment. These students often question their belief in their parent or rabbi, upon which their emunah hinged, and as they mature they seek to personally own their beliefs, not simply rely on the belief of others. The personalization of belief happens with sophisticated thinkers. It utilizes the knowledge they’ve gleaned and experiences they’ve had, and solidifies it with exploration and conversation that create a lens, which ultimately transforms the way one perceives life. Most importantly, acknowledging that belief begins where knowledge ends validates the need for a “leap of faith” amongst all believers, which may initially feel irrational and uncomfortable. Yet, sometimes it is exactly that acknowledgement that is the key element, as it offers a license to begin believing before one fully believes, enabling every individual to embrace the process which, over time, will unfold to offer a personal, founded, compelling system of belief.
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Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5779/2019
Emunah at Work: MAINTAINING SPIRITUAL EQUILIBRIUM IN THE WORKPLACE By Janet Sunness
ith the rise of the “Me Too” movement, there’s been much coverage in the secular press about sexual harassment in the workplace. According to a 2018 online survey, more than 80 percent of American women in the workforce1 have experienced some form of sexual harassment. Furthermore, between 2010 and 2015, through the EEOC’s administrative enforcement prelitigation process employers have paid out almost $700 million to employees claiming sexual harassment before the cases even went to court.2 Since sexual harassment is so widespread, it poses a significant challenge for women in the workplace, including, of course, Orthodox women. (Men can be challenged Janet Sunness, MD, is medical director of the Richard E. Hoover Low Vision Rehabilitation Services at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. She gives lectures on Tanach, Judaism and women, and other topics in the Baltimore area, and is a frequent contributor to the Jewish Press, Where What When and other publications. This essay is adapted from a lecture Dr. Sunness delivered at Maalot, an accredited women’s seminary and college in Baltimore.
in this area too but statistically, women are far more at risk.) While certain mitzvot may feel like a challenge to observe in the workplace, in many ways they protect us and help us maintain appropriate boundaries at work. Tzeniut, the laws of modesty in dress and behavior, distinguishes us. Yichud (the prohibition against being alone with members of the opposite sex) protects us from what could turn into difficult situations. But not all spiritual challenges in the workplace are overt. In fact, there are perhaps dozens of situations that take place on a daily basis in the workplace that can compromise one’s spiritual equilibrium: the lashon hara at the water cooler, petty stealing (i.e., taking paper or pens from work to use at home or for your own purposes, et cetera) and other integrity issues. While there’s an opportunity to make a tremendous kiddush Hashem in the workplace, there are real challenges that test one’s religious identity and commitment. Many years ago, Lady Amalie Jakobovits, a”h, wife of the late Chief Rabbi of England Lord Immanuel Jakobovits and mother of Dr. Yoel Jakobovits, a prominent physician in Baltimore, mentioned that she had davened every day when her
son Yoel was in medical school that he overcome the spiritual hurdles. There is, however, a more subtle challenge facing the religious personality in the workplace that few recognize: the all-consuming nature of many professions often stifles one’s religious development. How does one retain one’s spiritual focus and even bring kedushah, a sense of sanctity, to one’s role at work? In a famous responsum, Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner once guided a young man who was preparing to leave yeshivah and go out into the workforce. The young man asked how he should deal with the fact that he would now be leading a double life. Rabbi Hutner responded that working and being a Torah Jew should not be considered as leading a double life, but should be viewed as leading a broad life, analogous to two different rooms in the same house. One must take his spiritual life with him when he enters the workplace. In order to achieve this, it is, of course, important to bear in mind what not to do in the workplace: As mentioned above, do not legitimize petty stealing. Do not take paper or pens from work for personal use. Don’t spend time on private phone calls (unless it’s your lunch hour). Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
Don’t compromise your standards. Recently, in an effort to boost camaraderie, a book club was started at work. The first book to be read was authored by one of the administrators’ friends, and free copies were to be provided for all participants. I signed up. When I received the book, I realized that there was hardly a single page I felt comfortable reading. I returned the book and explained that I could not read it. My colleagues understood and respected my decision.
Sometimes your attitude alone can make a kiddush Hashem among your patients or colleagues.
Do not speak or listen to lashon hara. If you can’t stop the gossip or redirect the conversation, just walk away. This is a great means of protection for yourself as well; have no doubt that anything you say will be repeated, and by not indulging in gossip you will protect yourself from being a target one day. On the flip side, below are suggestions of what one can do. One of the most important ways to lead a life of kedushah even when immersed in secular pursuits is by davening every day. Focusing on the berachot you recite during the day, after eating or when saying Asher Yatzar, is a concrete way of proclaiming to yourself that your spiritual self is with you in the office as well. Being mindful while saying Birchot HaTorah is also very relevant. The blessings we recite in the morning on learning Torah essentially instructs us to busy ourselves throughout the day with words and concepts of Torah—not to leave it at home when we go to work. Learning Torah at some point during the day is very helpful in retaining spirituality in the workplace. With the plethora of online Torah materials available (including shiurim on OUTorah. org!), one can easily make time for Torah during a break or lunch hour. Play fair. When I was doing a shomer Shabbat internship, we were working just as hard as the other non-Sabbathobservant interns, but their schedule was constrained to accommodate us. For example, they would have to work every Friday and Shabbat, every yom tov, et cetera, while we did not. Most
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interns in the shomer Shabbat program expressed their gratitude, but there was one intern who took advantage of the system, and this caused a great deal of ill will among the interns who were working on the regular schedule. Sometimes your attitude alone can make a kiddush Hashem among your patients or colleagues. In my role as an ophthalmologist and low-vision specialist, I often care for people with very poor vision, for whom there is currently no treatment. I try to give them a dose of optimism and I often mention Hashem (i.e., thank God you don’t have that). There are also circumstances in which I do specialized testing to determine if a patient has severe progressive retinal degeneration. I often daven for the patient before I administer the test, when the outcome of the test is not yet known. Judging people favorably, as Pirkei Avot advises, is critical in the workplace. It’s easy to become angry and impatient when you have obligations and deadlines, but it is worth stepping back and viewing your coworkers or employees in a good light. For example, as a physician it is very important for me to get the referring doctor’s notes before I see a patient. There are times when the notes are not in place. It would be easy for me to lose my temper and criticize my secretary whose job it is to obtain the notes. I try not to. Oftentimes, when I look into the particular situation, I discover that the secretary has called the referring doctor’s office several times to get the notes in question and is as anxious as I am to have it in place. Know that the work is not yours to complete. I gave birth to my second child during my ophthalmology residency. It was a very stressful time. I was trying to nurse my newborn baby while maintaining my on-call schedule at a hospital that was forty-five minutes away from my home. When I discussed with someone how stressed I felt, he advised, “Lo alecha hamelachah ligmor, you are not required to complete the task.”
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We have to view our lives not as an eitheror situation but as multidimensional, which includes work, family, and our spiritual lives. Our task while working at our jobs is to be simultaneously dedicated to God and to our families.
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5779/2019
There are two mishnayot from Rabbi Tarfon that appear at the end of the second chapter of Pirkei Avot. The first, very well-known mishnah is: “Hayom katzar vehamelachah merubah, the day is short and the work is abundant . . .” One should live with the sense that there is a vast sea of Torah for us to acquire. This should motivate us to work hard. But one might argue that since we will never be able to accomplish everything, why even try? The mishnah that follows continues: “He [Rabbi Tarfon] used to say, ‘Lo alecha hamelachah ligmor, it is not up to you to complete the task, but you are not free to desist from it.’” The second mishnah is regarded as the necessary response to the first. The first mishnah is supposed to stir us to action but can also lead to a sense of frustration and futility. The work to accomplish is greater than a man could do even if he lived a thousand years. So why should one even start to work, knowing that he cannot finish? In the second mishnah, Rabbi Tarfon responds to this paradox and expresses profound ideas that have great implications for our own lives today. We are not obligated to complete the work. We are merely obligated to engage. The Chofetz Chaim emphasizes that not only are we not obligated to complete the work, but it is not even in our hands to accomplish. We must make the effort but achievement and success are up to God. Limit the stress. In one of his books, Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells of a young student, new to the yeshivah, who was the chazzan one day and raced through the davening. When he finished, the rosh yeshivah took him aside and said, “You should know that ‘v’nastem v’ein rodef etchem’ is a kelalah (curse).” The Tochachah (rebuke) in the Torah includes “and you will flee with no one pursuing you” as a curse. In everyday life, too, we must try not to pressure ourselves beyond what is good or healthy for each of us individually. Emotional equilibrium requires a sense of tranquility, at least to the degree this can be attained. I have found in my working life that if
I feel satisfied and not overly stressed, things fall into place at work and at home. But if I get too stressed or too frustrated at work, it carries over to the home environment and things more easily fall apart. It must be a priority in life to keep ourselves healthy and reduce stress to the extent possible. Finally, keep in mind that your goals in life may be different from those of your coworkers. I applied for my residency in ophthalmology in 1977, a different era. It was right after I had my first child. I had done very well in medical school and in my elective rotation in ophthalmology, and I had every expectation that I would be accepted into the school’s residency program. But I was not. Two other members of my class were accepted, and their credentials were not as good as mine. I called up the chairman of the Ophthalmology Department and asked him why I was not accepted. He explained, “We want every resident to become a dedicated ophthalmologist, and in your case we weren’t sure that family considerations wouldn’t intervene.” Of course, today no one would be allowed to say this. Nevertheless, we have to view our lives not as an either-or situation but as multi-dimensional, which includes work, family, and our spiritual lives. We may have to stagger things, reduce our workload in certain phases of our lives and assume more as we are able to. Our task while working at our jobs is to be simultaneously dedicated to God and to our families. Notes 1. https://www.npr.org/sections/. thetwo-way/2018/02/21/587671849/a-newsurvey-finds-eighty-percent-of-womenhave-experienced-sexual-harassment. 2. https://mnnow.org/the-economic-costsof-sexual-harassment-in-the-workplace/.
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Thoughts on “Rupture and Reconstruction” TWENTY-FIVE YEARS LATER The impact of the Internet and other contemporary developments on halachah By David Brofsky
lmost twenty-five years ago, I attended a public address by my professor of Medieval Jewish history, Dr. Haym Soloveitchik, on the topic of Orthodoxy in America. As I recall, Dr. Soloveitchik mesmerized the audience as he demonstrated that he was not only a brilliant historian who could turn obscure legal sources into a clear and meaningful historical narrative, but he was now one of the most penetrating and insightful sociologists of the generation. This lecture appeared in
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Accounting for Fundamentalisms: The Dynamic Character of Movements (Chicago, 1994), and an expanded version was published in Tradition (28:4), titled “Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy.” Dr. Soloveitchik affirmed that which many had long thought about Orthodoxy in the second half of the twentieth century—“the nature of contemporary spirituality has undergone a transformation”—and he set out to understand what he called “the swing to the Right,” including the
tendency towards halachic stringency. He observed that the Orthodox community had turned towards texts for halachic guidance and abandoned the practice of relying upon traditions passed from parent to child. Dr. Soloveitchik posited that from the beginning of the twentieth century and continuing after World War II, the Holocaust and the destruction of European Jewry, contemporary religion lost its roots or, more precisely, what he called “a mimetic tradition,” a phrase which from that day on entered the Modern Orthodox lexicon. In the
past, not only values but also religious practice was conveyed by living example, and not through texts. The absence of a continuous tradition, or masorah, led to religious insecurity; people now turned to detailed texts, as opposed to their parents and elders, to learn how to observe Jewish law and live an observant lifestyle. Of course, this phenomenon is not new. Rabbinic tradition has turned towards accessible halachic compendiums numerous times, specifically after a break in religious continuity. For example, halachic treatises, such as the Maharil (Rabbi Yaakov Moelin), were written during the century after the Black Plague (fifteenth century) in order to restore tradition, and halachic codes, such as the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Chayei Adam and the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, were written in the first half of the nineteenth century in order to create it. Dr. Soloveitchik’s essay was widely acclaimed and also criticized.2 Some felt that he drew his conclusions from too narrow a segment of Orthodoxy; others felt that he was overly critical of the Chareidi religious experience. His romanticization of post-war American Jewry was also somewhat jarring in light of his own description of their (lax) religious observance, and one almost gets the impression that he does not share the excitement felt by others towards the explosion of Torah learning, scholarship and religious observance throughout the second half of the twentieth century. Over the past twenty-five years, the Orthodox world has seen numerous challenges and changes, expansion and retreat. I often felt that while Dr. Soloveitchik may have brilliantly described what he observed during the second half of the twentieth century, the Orthodox world experienced major changes in the years following the publication of his essay. First, just a few months after the publication of “Rupture and Reconstruction,” Sir Tim Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium, and the world began to change in ways which we have yet to understand fully. Second, the mid-to-late 1990s saw the emergence
of a spiritual renewal, dominated at first by Neo-Chassidus, and later by other intellectual and religious trends. Therefore, Dr. Soloveitchik’s thesis must be reevaluated based on subsequent developments. The Impact of the Internet on Halachic Research and Practice Dr. Soloveitchik describes the proliferation of halachic compendiums serving the public, which seeks to learn how to meticulously fulfill the halachah through studying the written word. In a deeper sense, these books replace the traditional family or communal masorah. In the absence of a clear family or communal custom, the Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchatah or the ArtScroll Halachah Series, determines personal, family and communal halachic standards. Twenty-five years later, the publication of these books continues. However, the transition from custom to text took a giant step forward with the proliferation of halachic resources on the Internet, which has changed the dynamic of halachic pesak and observance. Alongside the massive amounts of Jewish content, including materials relating to the Bible, Jewish philosophy and history, and the State of Israel, there is a vast amount of halachic resources available on the Internet. Over the past twenty to twenty-five years, almost all halachic questions, relevant, contemporary or obscure, have been written about and published on the Internet. Articles, halachic guidelines and online question and answers (she’eilot u’teshuvot) are available at the touch of a finger.3 Many have expressed their concern about this phenomenon. Internet responsa are often short and terse, lacking nuance, depth and sources. This accusation has often
been directed at Internet responsa authored by well-known Israeli rabbis, such as Rabbi Shlomo Aviner. In addition, and possibly more troubling, while there are numerous genres of halachic material on the Internet, common to almost all is the lack of quality control and the potential for unknown authors to appear side by side with experienced halachic authorities. The credentials of those who write books are readily available, and major publishing companies usually only print the works of qualified scholars. On the Internet, however, there are no rules; anyone and everyone can be a posek. Almost all opinions bear the same weight, and almost all responders enjoy the same gravitas. Even more troubling is the phenomenon of asking halachic questions to the collective hive mind, with virtually no regard for experience or expertise. However, while this is largely true, a patient and skilled Google-researcher may uncover a wealth of information, much of which may have been inaccessible or unavailable before the Internet. Some note an interesting paradox: As the Internet encourages greater religious autonomy, and mere Google-searches produce halachic answers, many rabbis report that they are asked even more questions than in the past. Similar to the phenomenon of patients challenging doctors with Internet-based medical and diagnostic information, rabbis are now challenged by and expected to relate to other opinions found online. The availability of halachic information not only empowers the questioner but also leads to more questions and more precise and diligent mitzvah observance. Numerous teachers and congregational rabbis in America and Israel are known to answer hundreds, if not
Rabbi David Brofsky is an author and educator. He has taught Talmud and halachah in yeshivot and seminaries in Israel, including Yeshivat Har Etzion, Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim, Midreshet Lindenbaum and Midreshet Torah V’Avodah. He writes a weekly halachah shiur for Yeshivat Har Etzion’s Virtual Beit Midrash (VBM) and is the author of Hilkhot Tefilla (New Jersey, 2010) and Hilkhot Moadim (Jerusalem, 2013). Rabbi Brofsky lives in Alon Shevut, Gush Etzion with his wife Mali and their four children.
Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
In the past, not only values but also religious practice was conveyed by living example, and not through texts. The absence of a continuous tradition, or masorah, led to religious insecurity; people now turned to detailed texts, as opposed to their parents and elders, to learn how to observe Jewish law and live an observant lifestyle.
thousands, of questions, both privately and in WhatsApp groups that host these discussions. This phenomenon is worthy of a separate study. In recent years, the Internet has become the venue for certain halachic discussions. For example, the increased popularity of women’s megillah readings and hakafot on Simchat Torah may be attributed to the availability of halachic sources and online support and encouragement found on social media. Similarly, more radical practices such as partnership minyanim and the ordination of women have been almost exclusively discussed online. Due to the speed and venue of these discussions, proper rigor and peer review are absent or ineffective, and the Internet has enabled the boundaries of “masorah” to be stretched, if not breached and redefined, in a manner which Dr. Soloveitchik could not have predicted. Therefore, we might conclude that in the age of the Internet, when halachic material is readily available in all languages and levels of understanding, the scope, methodology and impact of masorah have been altered. Not only 78
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do people no longer follow a mimetic tradition passed on from parent to child, they do not adhere to familial or communal standards. Those who provide halachic rulings and guidance on the Internet become the new chains in the masorah. One might even say that the Internet threatens to completely replace tradition, as one’s practice may be determined by halachic authorities (or just ordinary Facebook users) from around the world, from different communities and religious ethnicities.4 As religious communities grow farther from the days of a mimetic tradition, this appears to be the natural next step. Neo-Chassidus5 and “Commitment vs. Connection” Dr. Soloveitchik concluded his essay by describing how Jews today have lost “the touch of His presence, [and] they seek now solace in the pressure of his yoke.” While Jews of Eastern Europe felt “God’s palpable presence and direct, natural involvement in daily life,” contemporary Orthodox Americans generally prefer adherence to the halachic minutia, especially
through the observance of stringencies, “maximum-position compliance.” Only a few years after the essay was published, a new trend or movement, later known as “Neo-Chassidus,” began to take root in Israel and later spread to America. This phenomenon is characterized by a greater engagement with the inner, spiritual aspects of the Torah, or as some would say, with God. Of course, this turn to the inner, spiritual and even mystical side of Judaism also has its historical precedents, whether in the Chassidei Ashkenaz of twelfth- and thirteenth-century Germany or the Chassidus of eighteenth-century Poland and Eastern Europe. Some, however, detected a lack of halachic commitment alongside this search for spiritual meaning.6 In response to this quickly spreading socio-religious movement, Rabbi Yehuda Amital, zt”l, then rosh yeshivah of Yeshivat Har Etzion, delivered (and later published) an address titled “Commitment vs. ‘Connection’: The Current Crisis of our Youth” (Yeshivat Har Etzion, 2003). Rabbi Amital described the “search for avodat
education and spirituality through Hashem that is meaningful and Shabbatons, singing, dancing, and relevant, here and now.” He noted the other opportunities to “connect” and “dryness and lack of spirituality that “experience” Judaism—a seemingly characterize[s] the great majority of Religious Zionist synagogues” and how welcome addition to the traditional “dry” religious studies curriculum. “the sense of obligation has weakened However, some observed that while over the years, if not disappeared years ago students brought closer altogether.” Finally, he spoke of liberal to religion sought to learn more individualism, experience without Torah, and to meticulously adhere commitment, and selective connection, which he was witnessing. Rabbi Amital to the details of the halachah, in recent years there isn’t necessarily a was fully aware of the reasons why correlation between closeness to God Neo-Chassidus was taking root and and halachic observance.7 Although identified the risks and aspects he I believe that the “commitment vs. found dangerous and incompatible connection” phenomenon in Israel with a traditional religious outlook. fundamentally differs from that in What appears to be a similar America,8 in both cases, a “rupture” phenomenon also developed in of masorah leads to a thirst for America as well. Since the mid-1990s, religious connection, not necessarily high schools, summer camps and accompanied by commitment.9 Israeli yeshivot and seminaries have One might view the development changed radically. One high school described above as contradicting Dr. principal once remarked to me, “I Soloveitchik’s thesis. He portrays run a summer camp with APs.” He referred to the emphasis upon informal a generation turning to the written
word to compensate for the absence of a firm, mimetic tradition, and I describe an erosion of authority, and youth looking for inspiration without necessarily searching for commitment. However, I believe that in essence both phenomena stem from the same source that Dr. Soloveitchik identified—a “rupture” in the tradition. While one generation attempts to reconstruct its lost masorah by turning inwards towards halachic texts, clinging to “the yoke,” another generation doesn’t feel the lack of a masorah, doesn’t consider itself connected or bound to the past, and therefore seeks not to reconstruct but to create and to connect, even if at times it lacks the sense of obligation and continuity. This religious trend, which erupted shortly after the publication of Dr. Soloveitchik’s essay, is not reflected in or predicted by “Rupture and Reconstruction,” but may be attributed to a similar cause and is also worthy of study.
Many Voices, One Future
/OrthodoxUnion Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
On the Internet, however, there are no rules; anyone and everyone can be a posek. Almost all opinions bear the same weight, and almost all responders enjoy the same gravitas. Dr. Soloveitchik’s description of the centrality of the masorah to religious life, whether a “ruptured masorah” or even an “absent masorah,” continues to contribute to our understanding of contemporary Orthodoxy in the age of the Internet, when “masorah” is more complex than ever. While those looking to restore a ruptured masorah may turn to texts and meticulous mitzvah observance, those who feel very little connection to a tradition may seek spiritual and religious meaning without necessarily feeling bound by or committed to the halachah. Masorah may also be more complex in the twenty-first century than ever before as parents, teachers and communal norms are replaced by knowledge gleaned from the Internet. It is our responsibility to understand and be aware of these trends, as we strive to strike the proper balance between tradition and innovation, and commitment and connection. Dr. Soloveitchik’s framework may continue to challenge and guide us for generations to come. Notes 1. I would like to thank Mrs. Mali Brofsky, Dr. Yoel Finkelman, Mr. Joseph Kaplan and Rabbi Reuven Tradburks for their helpful comments and insights. 2. See, for example, Hillel Goldberg, “Responding to Rupture and Reconstruction,” Tradition 31: 2 (winter 1997). See also Isaac Chavel, “On Haym Soloveitchik’s ‘Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodox Society’: A Response,” The Torah U-Madda Journal 7 (1997): 122-136, and “Clarifications and Reply,” Haym Soloveitchik, ibid., 137-149. 3. See Rav Aryeh Katz, “Darkhei Shu”t Chadashot (Telefon, Internet uMeseronim)—Yitronot, Chesronot uMaskanot,” HaMaayan, Tevet 5775. 4. Some do note a different, opposite 80
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trend: People are able to reconnect, or deepen their connection to their German, Sephardic, Chassidic or other traditions through online resources and virtual communities. In addition, others note that the plethora of available information has empowered those promoting more liberal halachic positions, as it becomes more apparent which practices are source-based and those which may be primarily based upon tradition. 5. For a relatively recent perspective, see Barbara Bensoussan, “Rekindling the Flame: Neo-Chassidus Brings the Inner Light of Torah to Modern Orthodoxy,” Jewish Action (winter 2014). 6. Rabbi Ariel Evan Mayse, in an article to be published in the next volume of the Orthodox Forum Series, “Contemporary Uses and Forms of Hasidut,” ed. Shlomo Zuckier (Urim, 2019), “The Development of Neo-Hasidism: Echoes and Repercussions,” describes the roots of this movement. He writes: Neo-Hasidism emerges from a twofold disappointment with the contemporary world. It reflects a lack of confidence in the secular world and the ideals of progress and modernization. Literature, philosophy, science, and technology hold wisdom and can greatly improve our lives, but these fields do not provide sufficient answers to the deepest questions of religion and existence for the seekers drawn to neo-Hasidism. This ironic “disenchantment” with the secular is all the more profound in the post-Holocaust world. But neo-Hasidism is also a response to the lack of spirituality or lack of intellectual and theological openness in the modern Jewish religious world. He later describes its attempt to penetrate traditional Orthodox communities. Neo-Hasidism found little traction in Orthodox circles where halakhah is the defining feature of Jewish life and its practice is considered the summum bonum of religious experience . . . The turn toward theology and spirituality at the expense of engagement with (and practice of) halakhah in some neo-Hasidic circles has surely pushed members of the Orthodox community— including those who follow Isaiah
Leibowitz and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik—to become more deeply entrenched in their single-minded focus on the study and practice of Jewish law . . . This renewal, in its infancy in America, is readily visible in Israel, where yeshivot of all kinds have now incorporated the study of Hasidic texts into their curricula. Some of these schools have even embraced aspects of Hasidism—and indeed, a particularly nationalistic form of neo-Hasidism—as a core part of their spiritual identity and ethos. The climate for spiritual renewal in Israeli culture was set by mystically-inclined writers like Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, but neo-Hasidic writers and teachers such as Rav Shagar have also played an important role. In his conclusion, he suggests that “Neo-Hasidism embraces the centrality of ritual and halakhah but brings values such as personal experience and cultural transformations into consideration when formulating a legal decision. Most importantly, however, neo-Hasidism reminds us that Jewish practice and observance, the duties outlined by the halakhah, should be understood as leading the worshiper to God. Halakhah is thus best understood not as law per se, but as halikhah—a sacred path of obligation that brings us into the presence of the Divine. Hasidic and neo-Hasidic approaches to halakhah are grounded in the ideals of spiritual creativity, compassion, and personal integrity, values that deepen rather than undermine commitment.” 7. We may even point to Yeshiva University’s appointment of a “mashpia,” Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, in 2013 as another example of this phenomenon. His responsibilities included bringing Chassidus to the Yeshiva, holding a monthly farbrengen and offering religious inspiration. 8. In this context it is worth noting a unique trend in Israeli Religious Zionist communities of enriching and enhancing religious and spiritual life, including Shabbat, holidays and life-cycle events (brit milah, weddings and even funerals) with soulful music and singing. In the twenty-first-century Israeli religious experience, Dr. Soloveitchik’s “mimetic vs. text” discussion seems to be absolutely irrelevant; the phenomenon described above is a new expression of authentic, wholesome and sincere religiosity. 9. In addition, in recent years, post-modernism has swept through the Western world, undermining traditional hierarchies of authority and further undermining the “yoke,” which was once central to the religious experience. This trend quite possibly poses one of the greatest challenges to Torah educators in our day.
Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
WHAT’S THE TRUTH ABOUT . . .
Invitations to a Brit Milah? By Ari Z. Zivotofsky
Misconception: Similar to what is done for bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings, the parents of a newborn son customarily invite their friends and relatives to join them at the brit milah celebration.
that the brit meal include meat (Magen Avraham, OC 249:6).4 A ramification of it being a seudat mitzvah is that participants may eat meat and drink wine at the meal during the Nine Days (Rema, OC 551:10). Sha’arei Teshuvah (551:33) quotes Fact: There is a centuries-old custom Rabbi Isaac Zekel Etthausen (d. 1763; not to “invite” guests to a brit and Shu”t Ohr Ne’elam, 9) who states that the accompanying meal but rather the meal for a timely brit is a Biblical to merely “inform” them when obligation. This differs from the and where it will be taking place. positions of Shu”t Beit Yaakov (73), who says it is a rabbinic obligation, Background: There is a long-standing and the Gra (OC 640:6), who says that tradition to make a festive meal on 1 unlike a wedding feast there is no the day of a brit milah (Shulchan 2 Biblical obligation and no “simchah Aruch, YD 265:12). This meal is requirement.” The Shulchan Aruch regarded as a seudat mitzvah, and (YD 265:12) calls the seudah at a brit a there is a custom to have a minyan “custom.” Biur Halachah (249: muttar) present (Rema, OC 551:10; Rema, YD says it is a mitzvah to have a seudah 265:12). The Chochmat Adam (d. 1820; at a brit, but there is no obligation to 149:24) reports that the Gra would make it. Thus, the opinions regarding rebuke those with financial means this feast range from a Biblical who skimped and did not make a obligation to no obligation whatsoever. respectable meal, and the Kitzur Regarding the meal for a delayed Shulchan Aruch (163:8) echoes those brit, Ohr Ne’elam says that because sentiments.3 Rabbi Yekutiel Yehudah there’s no Talmudic source for the Halberstam, the Sanz-Klausenburg meal, meat may not be served during Rebbe, wrote that it is obvious that the the Nine Days. Sha’arei Teshuvah repast requires bread, by definition strongly disagrees and argues that as of it being a halachic seudah (Divrei Yatziv, YD 2:163:2). Some posekim insist long as the brit was not inappropriately delayed, the meal is considered a seudat mitzvah. The Mishnah Berurah Rabbi Dr. Ari Z. Zivotofsky is a (249:12; 568:20) and Magen Avraham professor of neuroscience at (249:5) explain that because a brit Bar-Ilan University in Israel. needs to be done as soon as possible, 82
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any time is regarded as on time and therefore the meal for a legitimately5 delayed brit is still considered a seudat mitzvah.6 The Shach on the Torah (61b; on Shemot 18:12) holds that one should also make a meal for the brit of a ger. There are a variety of reasons offered for the festive meal accompanying a brit milah. Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (chapter 29) finds an allusion to the need to make a feast on the day one is privileged to circumcise his son, from the pasuk, “And the child [Yitzchak] grew and was weaned, and Avraham made a great feast on the day that Yitzchak was weaned [higamel]” (Bereishit 21:8). Rabbi David Luria (the Radal, d. 1855), comments that the seemingly extra words in the pasuk allude to a feast that was made in honor of Yitzchak’s brit, in addition to the one made when he was weaned.7 Tosafot (Shabbat 130a, s.v. sas) explains that the allusion is based on the homiletical interpretation of the word “higamel”—the numerical value of heh plus gimmel is eight, and “mal” is Hebrew for circumcised— which suggests that Avraham made a great feast when Yitzchak was circumcised on the eighth day. Rabbeinu Bechaye on the Chumash (Bereishit 17:13) finds additional meaning in the meal at a brit by relating it to the halachot of a korban. A sacrifice can only be brought after
an animal is eight days old; the sacrificial act involves blood and it is the consumption of the korban (a seudah) which achieves atonement. Thus Rabbeinu Bechaye posits that a circumcision—an act involving blood performed when the boy is eight days old—should be accompanied by a meal. In Talmudic times, a religiously significant feast was made for a brit, as evidenced by the fact that Rav Chaviva is recorded as reciting the joyous blessing, “she’hasimchah b’m’ono—in Whose abode is this celebration” at a brit celebration; however, the Gemara says that the halachah is not in accordance with Rav Chaviva because the infant’s pain detracts from the joy (Ketubot 8a).8 The Gemara (Pesachim 113b) lists seven types of people whose actions lead to them being “excommunicated from Heaven.” The Gemara then says that in addition to those seven, “some say” that one who does not join in “feasting with a group celebrating a
mitzvah” should also be included in this list. Rashbam and Tosafot both cite a brit milah or a wedding of a bat Kohen to a Kohen as examples of group celebratory mitzvot that would fall into the category of “feasting with a group celebrating a mitzvah.”9 Tosafot also points to a midrash that states that one who participates in the feast of a brit is spared from the judgment of Gehinnom. The Rema (YD 265:12) quotes as halachah this strong condemnation of one who absents himself from a brit meal, but lessens the severity somewhat with the wording “as if excommunicated.”10 Commenting on this halachah, Pitchei Teshuvah (YD 265:18) cites Shu”t Makom Shmuel (80; p. 85b) who quotes Sharvit Zahav who states that his teachers would object to a shamash going from house to house to invite people to a brit because of the possibility that someone would not attend and then be considered excommunicated, God forbid (Rabbi
David Lida, d. 1697, Central/Eastern Europe; his own commentary to his work on circumcision, Sod Hashem; p. 15a in 5574 ed., p. 46 in 5762 ed.).11 Rather, he preferred that people should simply be informed when and where the brit will take place. At around the same time, Rabbi Yaakov Culi (d. 1732) wrote similarly (Me’am Loez, Bereishit 17:9 [p. 141-2 in English ed.]) in Turkey: “If a person is invited to a circumcision feast, he must rush to attend. If he refuses, he is considered as if he were excommunicated from on High. . . . Furthermore, if a king invites a person to a feast, he cannot refuse to go. The same is true of this feast, where Elijah is the host. Some people say not to invite them, since something might come up, preventing them from attending.” Rabbi Yaakov Emden (d. 1776, northern Europe) similarly wrote (Migdal Oz, 9:16:5) that one should not invite an individual to a brit if you know he can’t come, because of
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Regarding invitees, it is considered meritorious to attend a brit. geneivat da’at and because it can result in his being “as if excommunicated.” Essentially, this Gemara in Pesachim is stating that if one refuses to attend a festive meal that is a seudat mitzvah because he regards it as a waste of time, he deserves excommunication because of his disrespect for observing mitzvot. This would not apply if, for example, he has a valid reason not to attend, as seen below. Tosafot (Pesachim 114a s.v. v’ein) says that excommunication only applies if there will be “upright people in attendance.” He draws support for this from the Talmudic statement (Sanhedrin 23a) that the pious of Yerushalayim would only attend a feast if they knew who else would be in attendance, and the Rema (YD 265:12) incorporated this ruling of Tosafot. The Aruch HaShulchan (YD 265:37) mentions the custom of not inviting guests to a brit and notes that unfortunately, in his day, not attending a brit after being invited was not much of a concern because it was likely there would be unworthy people at the meal; nonetheless, he encourages attending a brit. Biur Halachah (170 s.v. lo) observes that people today are not careful about the halachah of sitting among upright individuals and not among the unscrupulous; on the contrary, he encourages upstanding and honorable people to sit with others who may be less so, and positively influence them.12 Rabbi Rachamim Nissim Yitzchak Palagi (son of Rabbi Chaim Palagi; 1813–1907, Izmir) limits the obligation to attend a brit. He cites, for example (Yafeh La’lev 265:12 ), that the obligation may only apply if there is no minyan without his presence, although the Shlah, quoted by Magen Avraham (249:6), seems to disagree with this. Rabbi Palagi also observes (Yafeh La’lev 265:12 ) that in his time, people would 84
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often not attend a feast at a brit even if invited, and he states that it was explained to him that many parents feel compelled to issue invitations due to social etiquette, but often truly prefer that not everyone attend. In explaining the Gemara’s reference to excommunication, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, OC 2:95) notes that there is no such consequence for not attending a wedding feast. He then states that although the Gra seems to question why it only applies to a brit, the Rema maintained that it applies exclusively to a brit. Rav Moshe felt that there is an obligation for one to attend a wedding (maybe even uninvited) and bring joy to the bride and groom, whereas he felt that no such obligation exists with regard to a brit. The excommunication in the case of a brit, Rav Moshe states, is not because of the obligation to attend every brit but because you are rejecting participating in a mitzvah that you were personally invited to participate in. Rav Moshe is quoted (Masoret Moshe, ed. Rabbi Mordechai Tendler, 5773, p. 321, item 251) as saying that excommunication is the consequence only if one received a personal invitation, but if there was a general invite, such as an announcement after the ceremony that everyone is invited to the seudah, it is less of a concern. Nonetheless, he says, it is preferable to simply announce, for example, that the meal will be in the social hall. Simply having something else important to do may be a sufficient reason to not attend a brit even if one was invited. Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner (Shevet Halevi 8:217) says that it is obvious to him that if one needs to perform another mitzvah or to learn Torah, he is exempt from this obligation. He would personally make sure to take a food item from a brit to eat at home.13 Similarly, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer
4:YD:19) maintained that one need not sacrifice talmud Torah to attend a brit or wedding. In a similar vein, Kaf HaChaim (Rabbi Yaakov Chaim Sofer, d. 1939; 90:67) and Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (Salmat Chaim, 5767, OC 213) say that one is not among the excommunicated if the reason he absented himself from the seudat mitzvah was in order to daven with a minyan. Rabbi Shabtai Ish Lifshitz adds (Brit Avot 13:11) that if one is working to support his family, he is not obligated to attend a brit seudah. Rabbi Halberstam (Divrei Yatziv, YD:2:163:1) quotes Yismach Moshe (YD 265:12) who, based on a careful reading of the text, says that actually there is no mention of an obligation to attend the brit celebration, but rather criticism is leveled at one who is at the event and does not participate. Based on the words of the Rema, Rabbi Moshe Kalphon Hacohen (Djerba, d. 1950; Shoel VeNishal, 7:YD:209), reaches the same conclusion as his Chassidic contemporaries—that excommunication only applies if one is at the event and does not participate,14 but one is not obligated to attend a brit. Rabbi Yitzchak Tzvi Leibowitz (d. 1944; Simla L’Tzvi commentary to Shulchan Ha’ezer 9:1 [68a]), seems to apply this obligation to weddings as well. But he asserts that getting an invitation mailed weeks before the event does not trigger this obligation; it is only obligating if one is invited the day of the event. Similarly, Me’am Loez suggests inviting people the day before but not the day of the brit. To summarize, for hundreds of years, both Ashkenazim and Sephardim15 had the custom to not directly invite guests to a brit milah repast. Despite the fact that it is not mentioned in the Talmud or early sources, posekim encourage following this practice. It is not, however, a prohibition to invite guests to a brit. Moreover, if “invitees” might misinterpret the general announcement inviting everyone to a brit as an indication that their presence is not really desired, it may be better to simply invite directly. Furthermore, at the brit itself, it is preferable to not directly invite people to the meal in
case the participants do not eat. Regarding invitees, it is considered meritorious to attend a brit. However, if one has someplace important to go—be it to learn Torah, earn a living, or engage in some other mitzvah—he can skip the simchah.16 Attending a brit should not be viewed as a burden. On the contrary, it is an opportunity to join with a family as they welcome a new Jewish member into the covenant and to demonstrate that Jews perform mitzvot, particularly brit milah, with joy and love along with their community. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel is quoted as saying (Shabbat 130a) that any mitzvah that the Jews accepted with simchah, such as milah (based on Tehillim 119:162), they still do with simchah. Rashi explains that we demonstrate simchah by joining in a festive meal. It is more than 2,000 years since Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel made that statement, and brit milah is still performed today with simchah as a community celebration. Notes 1. The Magen Avraham (568:10) says that the custom in his community is to make the seudah the night following the brit. Yafeh La’lev (265:12 [70, 72]) maintains that the meal should specifically take place during the day and not at night. The Me’am Loez (Bereishit 17:9) says that if the feast is delayed until night, one has not fulfilled his obligation. Some have a custom to make another seudah on the third day after the brit. (Hanhagot Maharshal:50 says that this seudah is a mitzvah while the Peri Megadim [Mishbetzet, OC 444:9] views it as a custom.) The Magen Avraham (640:13), disagreeing with Nachalat Shiva, says that the meal some make the evening before the brit to which the mohel, sandek and friends are invited is a custom and not a seudat mitzvah. The Sha’arei Teshuvah (551:33) discusses whether meat and wine are permitted at the pre-brit meal or at the meal three days after if they happen to fall during the Nine Days. 2. Rabbi Ratzabi (Shulchan Aruch haMekutzar, vol. 5, YD 159:12, n. 54) quotes an opinion that the feast should be in the same location as the brit. 3. From an historical perspective, it is interesting to note that Rabbi Yechiel Michel HaLevi Epstein (d. 1908; Aruch HaShulchan, YD 265:37), a Lithuanian posek who was personally from a wealthy
family, observed that in his locale it was the rare individual who actually made a feast but rather, because of the extreme poverty suffered by most Jews at the time, the majority simply served treats such as “lekach” (honey cake or sponge cake). 4. For a thorough discussion of whether meat is required, see Rabbi J. David Bleich, “Fish or Meat at a Brit Milah Repast,” Tradition 35, no. 2 (2001): 55-60 (reprinted in Contemporary Halakhic Problems, vol. V [New York, 2005]: 393-402). Maharsham (9:86) prefers “real” meat and not fowl. The Chatam Sofer (Shu”t, OC 69), in discussing a Shabbat morning brit, says that serving dairy foods suffices and that meat or wine is not required. Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvot V’hanhagot, 2:485) suggests that because nowadays the seudah is often in the morning, the practice of not serving meat is justifiable. This might imply that for an afternoon brit, he believes meat is preferred. Rabbi Menashe Klein (Mishneh Halachot, 14:272) cites a story that the Divrei Chaim of Sanz once told a man that his son was not a talmid chacham because at his brit, dairy foods were served. Rabbi Bleich (footnote 29) terms similar stories “strange and questionable.” 5. For example, a brit was delayed because the baby was sick. To delay a brit for convenience sake is deemed wrong by the posekim. 6. This was also the opinion of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichot Shlomo, Tishah B’Av, 15:15 and n. 60 [p. 447]), who opined that the Chayei Adam also took this position, as did the Mishnah Berurah in 559:38. 7. Commentators note that it is no longer customary to make a feast when a child is weaned, yet Avraham did so for Yitzchak and Channah did so for Shmuel (I Shmuel 1:24). In the latter case it was because that is when she brought Shmuel to the sanctuary and dedicated him to the service of God. Regarding the former, Rabbeinu Bechaye (Bereishit 21:8) writes that upon Yitzchak’s weaning, Avraham began teaching him Torah. 8. Some commentators claim this is why some people do not say Shehecheyanu at a brit. The Rashba rejects this, arguing that this reason only applies to the blessing of “she’hasimchah b’m’ono” (Beit Yosef, YD 265 s.v. shadar). 9. Rabbeinu Chananel seems to have a different understanding of the Gemara’s ambiguous statement concerning “feasting with a group celebrating a mitzvah.” Rabbeinu Chananel understands this to refer to Kiddush.
10. The Divrei Yatziv (2:163:1) quotes his ancestor, the Yismach Moshe, in suggesting that the Rema wrote “as if excommunicated” because in his view, the halachah only applies to the seven categories initially enumerated in the Gemara. Nonetheless, the Yismach Moshe says that one should take seriously the Gemara’s exhortation about not joining a seudat mitzvah. The Divrei Yatziv points out that there is actually a version of this gemara, found in Ein Yaakov, that, similar to the Rema, states “as if excommunicated.” 11. The posekim all seem to discuss not attending a brit when invited, but do not discuss the same for a wedding. Furthermore, there is no such custom not to invite to a wedding. Many posekim note this incongruity. (See e.g., Teshuvot V’Hanhagot 2:649 and Otzar Haposekim [commentary to EH 64:4 in sections 16:13-21]). 12. Similarly, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach points out (Halichot Shlomo, vol. 3, 9: n. 444 [p. 327-8]) that the language of the admonition “not to sit at a meal with others unless one knows who will be joining them,” teaches that an upright person should actually participate in a seudat mitzvah, but he should be appropriately prepared for the crowd who will be in attendance. 13. Me’am Loez recorded that his father was accustomed to fast by day, so he would take some fruit or cake home from a brit to break his fast. 14. Most understand “not joining in feasting with a group celebrating a mitzvah” to refer to “not eating.” But the Chazon Ish is reported (Ma’aseh Ish, 5762, 5:107) to have explained that the Gemara uses the word “mai’saive,” which literally means “to sit,” and thus all that is required is to remain at the meal, not to eat. Thus, the Chazon Ish often did not eat anything at britot where he served as the sandek. It should be noted that the Rema does say “eat” in place of the Talmudic “sit,” and that the Talmudic “mai’saive” usually refers to reclining at a meal. 15. Yemenites never had such a practice and do explicitly invite to a brit milah. Rabbi Yosef Kapach explains how the invitation would be spread (Halichot Teiman 5747, 164-5). See also Rabbi Yitzchak Ratzabi, Shulchan Aruch HaMekutzar, vol. 5, YD 159:13 and Zohar Amar “Hazmanah l’Brit Hamilah b’Nussach Yehudai Teiman,” Mesorah l’Yosef 6 (5769): 289-294. 16. Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, Peninei Halachah; Mishpachah-Likutim 3; Brit Milah, 7:11. Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
THE CHEFâ€™S TABLE
SIMPLE, SCRUMPTIOUS SUMMER FARE By Norene Gilletz
Black Rice with Mango, Pomegranate and Avocado
Reproduced from The Silver Platter: Simple to Spectacular by Daniella Silver and Norene Gilletz, with permission from the copyright holders ArtScroll/Shaar Press Publications, LTD 86
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ummer is a fabulous time to gather around the table with family and friends. Plan ahead, keep the cooking easy, and choose fresh produce that is popping up at farmers’ markets and roadside stands.
The following selection of colorful, brain-boosting dishes is easy to prepare, focuses on including nutrition-packed vegetables at each meal, and is perfect fare for the Nine Days or anytime at all.
Sesame Salmon Sheet Pan Dinner
Adapted from The Brain Boosting Diet: Feed Your Memory by Norene Gilletz and Edward Wein, Ph.D. (Whitecap) Yields 10 servings Easy prep, easy clean-up! Sheet pan dinners are an excellent solution for time-starved cooks. So versatile, so delicious, and so many options—see my notes below. Asian Dressing/Marinade 2 teaspoons minced garlic 1 teaspoon minced ginger (optional) 1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari (preferably low-sodium) 1/4 cup rice vinegar 1/4 cup canola oil 2 tablespoons honey (or to taste) 2 tablespoons sesame seeds 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil Salmon 4 cups sliced mushrooms 2 red bell peppers, cut in thin strips 1 yellow bell pepper, cut in thin strips 1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 large salmon fillet, with skin (about 3 lb) Salt and freshly ground black pepper 1/3–1/2 cup black or white sesame seeds (or a combination) First, create the marinade by combining all ingredients in a jar, covering tightly and shaking well. (The
marinade can be made in advance and refrigerated until needed.) Next, line a large baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Spread mushrooms, peppers and onion in a single layer at one end of the prepared baking sheet and drizzle with oil. Place salmon, skin-side down, at the other end of the baking sheet. Lightly sprinkle salmon and vegetables with salt and pepper. Drizzle with marinade and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Let stand for 30–60 minutes. Preheat oven to 425°F. Bake, uncovered, for 15–18 minutes. Salmon will be glazed and golden and vegetables will be tender-crisp when done. Cool slightly. Transfer salmon carefully to a large serving platter using a wide spatula. Surround salmon with vegetables. Serve hot or cold. Norene’s Notes • Well-Dressed: The Asian Dressing/Marinade is excellent on your favorite salad. It also works well as a marinade for chicken, beef or tofu. • The Daily Catch: This is also delicious with rainbow trout, orange roughy, red snapper fillets, pickerel, or halibut. Reduce temperature to 400°F and bake for 10–12 minutes, until fish flakes when gently pressed with a fork and vegetables are tender. Vegetables may require an extra few minutes of cooking. • Veggie Heaven: Roast other
Norene Gilletz, the author of twelve kosher cookbooks, is also a food writer, food manufacturer, consultant, spokesperson, cooking instructor, lecturer, cookbook editor and podcaster. Norene lives in Toronto, Canada.
quick-cooking vegetables, such as asparagus or broccoli spears, French green beans (haricots verts), sliced zucchini, or halved baby bok choy along with the fish. Portobello or other types of mushrooms are a tasty addition. • Go Nuts! Instead of sesame seeds, use slivered almonds, chopped cashews, walnuts or pistachios.
Adapted from The Brain Boosting Diet: Feed Your Memory by Norene Gilletz and Edward Wein, Ph.D. (Whitecap) Yields 8 slices Most pizza crusts made with riced cauliflower don’t taste great, and they definitely don’t resemble pizza at all. Great news, the search is over! Carolyn Cohen of Toronto shared her recipe for Cauliflower-Crusted Pizza, which I’ve adapted slightly. Cauliflower Crust: 1 medium cauliflower, florets only (4 cups finely riced cauliflower) 1/2 cup spelt flour (or any flour you like) 1/2 cup almond meal/flour 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 1 large egg 1/2 cup finely grated reduced-fat mozzarella cheese 2 tablespoons olive oil, for brushing Toppings: 1 cup (approx.) shredded mozzarella cheese, either smoked or reduced-fat 12 cherry tomatoes, quartered (approx.) 1 big handful of spinach (approx. 3/4 cup) 10 fresh basil leaves, roughly torn Place an oven rack in the second lowest position and preheat oven to 425°F. Heat a large, rimmed baking sheet in the oven as it preheats (see Carolyn’s Tip, below.) Cauliflower Crust: In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, pulse cauliflower florets for 25–30 seconds, until they resemble rice. Measure 4 cups riced cauliflower into a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
a damp paper towel and microwave on high power for 4 minutes. Transfer cauliflower to a clean kitchen towel and let cool. Wrap up cauliflower in the towel and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Transfer cauliflower to a large bowl. Add spelt flour, almond flour, salt, and garlic powder; stir well. Add egg and cheese and work dough with your hands so that everything is evenly distributed. Remove hot baking sheet from the oven and place on a heatproof surface. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and brush with olive oil—be careful; the baking sheet is very hot! Spoon cauliflower mixture onto the parchment-lined sheet and carefully spread it out. (Tip: If you place another piece of parchment paper on top and press down, it will help keep your hands clean!) Flatten crust into an oval or round shape, creating a nice, raised edge. Bake crust for 12–15 minutes, until golden and set. Toppings: Remove pan from the oven and add toppings, starting with cheese. Bake 10–12 minutes longer, or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Cut into 8 wedges and enjoy. Norene’s Notes • Carolyn’s Tip: Carolyn uses a cast iron flat-top sheet and preheats the oven to 500°F, using this temperature throughout the recipe. Her baking times are slightly shorter. Never use parchment paper at temperatures over 425°F as it will burn. • It’s in the Bag! Riced cauliflower has gone mainstream. It is available at many supermarkets and specialty stores. No prep, easy cleanup! • Gluten-Free Option: Replace spelt flour with gluten-free flour (e.g., chickpea flour, gluten-free oat flour, or all-purpose gluten-free flour). • Nut-Free Crust: Omit almond meal and increase grated mozzarella to 1 cup. • Top It Up! Add a handful of broccoli florets, sundried tomatoes, 88
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roasted red peppers, zucchini, and/ or diced red onion. Crumbled feta or goat cheese and/or grated Parmesan cheese also make tasty toppings.
Black Rice with Mango, Pomegranate and Avocado
Adapted from The Silver Platter: Simple to Spectacular by Daniella Silver and Norene Gilletz (ArtScroll) Yields 6-8 servings Dark, unique and unexpected, this fabulous dish will wow the guests at your next dinner party. The bright, tropical colors of the fruit contrast beautifully with the black rice, making a stunning presentation. Salad: 3 cups lightly salted water 1 1/2 cups black rice, rinsed and drained 2 ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted, and diced (about 2 cups) 3/4 cup pomegranate seeds 4 scallions, thinly sliced 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil 1 ripe Hass avocado Dressing: 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil 1/3 cup pomegranate or orange juice 2 tablespoons honey or agave 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add rice; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 35–40 minutes. The rice should be tender but slightly chewy. Remove from heat; let stand, covered, for 10–15 minutes. Transfer to a large serving bowl; let cool. Add mangoes, pomegranate seeds, scallions, and basil to the serving bowl. Dressing: Combine ingredients for dressing in a glass jar; seal tightly and shake well. Shortly before serving, peel, pit, and dice avocado. Add avocado and dressing to rice mixture; toss gently to combine. Serve at room temperature.
Norene’s Notes • In China, black rice was called “forbidden rice,” as it was considered the finest grain and served only to the royal family. • How to seed a pomegranate: Score around the middle of the pomegranate, but do not cut through. Twist to separate pomegranate into two halves. Invert one half in your palm over a bowl, seeds facing down. With a wooden spoon, firmly tap the skin several times to release the seeds into the bowl. Pick out and discard the white pith. Repeat with second pomegranate half. Seeds will keep fresh for 2–3 days in the fridge in a covered container. • Instead of mangoes, substitute 2 (11 oz/312 g) cans mandarin oranges, well-drained.
Leek and Goat Cheese Frittata Adapted from The Silver Platter: Simple Elegance by Daniella Silver and Norene Gilletz (ArtScroll) Yields 6 servings
2 tablespoons butter 3 large leeks, white and light green parts only, trimmed and thinly sliced 2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tsp) 8 large eggs 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt 1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper 1⁄2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves or pinch dried thyme 4 oz goat cheese, crumbled Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat the bottom and sides of a 10-inch glass or ceramic quiche dish with nonstick cooking spray. In a large nonstick skillet, heat butter over medium heat until melted and sizzling. Add leeks and garlic; sauté for 6–8 minutes, or until softened. Let cool slightly. In a large bowl, whisk eggs together with salt, pepper, thyme, and goat cheese. Add leek mixture; stir gently to combine. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish. Bake, uncovered,
FOR BEGINNERS AND EXPERIENCED LEARNERS ALIKE…
for 30–35 minutes or until top is set and edges are golden brown. Serve hot or at room temperature. Norene’s Notes • As-You-Like-It-Frittata: Add 1 red bell pepper or 1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced. Instead of thyme, use 1 tablespoon basil. It is also delicious with 1 cup grated Cheddar or Swiss cheese. If desired, top frittata with sliced cherry tomatoes for the last 10 minutes of baking. • Frittata Muffins: Spray 12 muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray. Prepare frittata mixture as directed. Spoon about 1⁄3 cup mixture into each muffin cup. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 20–25 minutes, until set and golden. A perfect grab-and-go breakfast! • For a lower cholesterol version, substitute 2 egg whites or 1⁄4 cup egg substitute for each egg.
Chocolate Blueberry Blobs
Adapted from The Brain Boosting Diet: Feed Your Memory by Norene Gilletz and Edward Wein, Ph.D. (Whitecap) Yields about 30 pieces These blobs are “berry” easy to make and, as an added bonus, berries will boost your brainpower. Kids and adults alike love these scrumptious, gluten-free treats. What a decadent way to eat your blueberries! 2 cups fresh blueberries 8 oz good-quality dark chocolate, broken up into chunks Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Rinse blueberries and pat completely dry. Meanwhile, place chocolate into a clean, dry bowl, and place it over a saucepan of simmering water. Melt over medium heat, stirring occasionally. (Alternatively, melt chocolate in a glass bowl in the microwave for 1 minute on medium power and stir well; microwave 30–60 seconds more.) Let chocolate cool to lukewarm before gently mixing in blueberries with a rubber spatula. Continue gently mixing until berries are well-coated with chocolate. Drop blobs of the chocolate mixture from a teaspoon onto the prepared baking sheet about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. Store in the refrigerator for 1–2 days. Norene’s Notes • Variation: Use a combination of equal parts blueberries and pomegranate arils. • Berry Important! Dry blueberries thoroughly before adding them to melted chocolate. If any moisture gets into the chocolate it will seize (get thick and lumpy). Don’t use frozen blueberries! • Dark Secret! Instead of dark chocolate, substitute 1 1/3 cups chocolate chips and 2 teaspoons canola or grapeseed oil.
OU TORAH offers a wellspring of Torah-study opportunities, including:
GEMARA – featuring daily Daf Yomi shiurim from Rabbi Moshe Elefant and Rabbi Shalom Rosner, plus many other series, including Daf HaShavua, Daf in Halacha, Jewish History in Daf Yomi by Dr. Henry Abramson, the OU’s Mishna Yomit. and many more! PARSHA – Review the weekly Torah portion with
insights from Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi Ari Kahn, Rabbi Bernie Fox, Mrs. Shira Smiles, Rabbi Shalom Rosner, the OU’s Shnayim Mikra, Rabbi Yitzchok Gutterman on Rabbeinu Bachaye, Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein on Meshech Chochmah, Rabbi Moshe Davis on Bechor Shor, Rabbi Reuven Sassoon on Sodot HaParsha and many others!
HALACHA – Get caught up in matters of Jewish
law with Mishnah Brurah Yomi by Rabbi Aaron E. Glatt, MD, Mishnah Brurah Iyun Chaburah by Rabbi Ephraim Glatt, Esq., A Responsum a Day by Rabbi Dr. Gidon Rothstein, Rabbi Ari Enkin’s Dalet Amot of Halacha, HaShoneh Halachos 2: Mishneh Torah, five new Halacha series from Rabbi Aryeh Kerzner, and many more areas of halacha!
MACHSHAVA – Explore the world of Jewish
thought with a wide array of series, including Rabbi Moshe Hauer on Maharal, Unlocking the Messages in Chazal by Rabbi Shai Finkelstein, Derech Hashem by Rabbi Mendel Kessin, Halachic and Hashkafic Issues in Contemporary Society by Rabbi Anthony Manning, Mesillas Yesharim by Rabbi Shmuel Silber, The Jewish Ethicist by Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, Rabbi David Ashear on Emunah, and many, many more!
NACH– Learn the books of Neviim and Ketuvim (Prophets and Writings) with the OU’s Nach Yomi, Rabbi Shalom Rosner on Nach, Rebbetzin Pearl Borow on Nach, Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz on Mishlei, and other engaging series! ...and many other areas of study! Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, editor
VISIT OU TORAH at ou.org/torah /outorah
Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
SAVE THE DATES
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2019 Indoors at Citi Field, Queens, NY
ONE Torah. TWO Countries. TWO Dates.
YERUSHALAYIM SUNDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2019 Ramada Jerusalem Hotel, Israel
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5779/2019
INSIDEthe PROGRAMS OF THE ORTHODOX UNION
OU Compiled by Sara Olson
AROUND THE OU
First-Ever NCSY/Yachad Chesed Mission
ver the past twelve years, New Jersey NCSY has run close to ninety chesed missions. This past March, however, it ran its first-ever joint New Jersey NCSY/ Yachad mission, giving participants the opportunity to learn about chesed and inclusion all at once. Yachad/NJCD is the OU’s program that addresses the needs of Jewish individuals with disabilities and ensures their inclusion in every aspect of Jewish life. During the five-day mission, students from Ma’ayanot School for Girls in New Jersey, NCSY advisors and a number of Yachad members traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, where they worked with Habitat for Humanity on homes being restored from damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. In addition to sanding and painting shutters and building a fence, they toured the Lower 9th Ward to visit the kevarim of sifrei kodesh that were destroyed by the hurricane.
This trip was an amazing bonding experience for both Yachad and NCSY participants, and a powerful lesson in the value of chesed. —Rabbi Ethan Katz, Director, New Jersey NCSY
Beginning this summer, the NCSY Disaster Relief Missions Initiative, led by Rabbi Ethan Katz, Director of New Jersey NCSY, is being expanded beyond New Jersey to include many more teens from across North America and to reach more communities in need. Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
Focusing on Women’s Growth Orthodox Jewish women raising children often have busy, hectic lives, leaving little time for focusing on spiritual growth.
Ask Your Campus Rabbi— Via WhatsApp? “Can I make Kiddush on bread?;” “Can I ask my non-Jewish classmate for his notes after yom tov?;” “If I put a new mezuzah cover on a scroll that was already fixed to the door, do I make a blessing?” These are some of the questions posted on Shu”T WhatsApp, a halachic question-and-answer group administered by Rabbi Joe Wolfson, OU-JLIC Educator at NYU. With over 250 members, the group, similar to OU-JLIC WhatsApp groups at Brandeis University, Santa Monica College and Brooklyn College, enables students to pose general halachic questions and learn from the answers to others' questions and the answers. “The power of the group lies not so much in the simple learning opportunity, but in the clear demonstration dozens of times a day that there are so many students who really care about halachah in the downtown New York City community,” said one NYU student. Rabbi Wolfson will be opening a second Shu”T group to account for the demand, as the original group has hit the maximum number of allowed members. 92
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This was the conundrum facing Aliza Polstein, Program Director at the Chicago Torah Network (CTN) in Illinois. When she heard that Rabbi Phil Karesh, Midwest Regional Director of OU Synagogue and Community Services, was looking to develop an impactful program for the community, Polstein saw an opportunity. After months of work, this past March the OU and CTN presented Soul Purpose, a two-day spiritual Ahuva Meystel (left) and Aviva Abramowitz retreat for married women. were among nearly fifty participants at the first annual Soul Purpose event. Attended by over fifty women in Palatine, Illinois, the retreat featured panel discussions and interactive workshops led by educators, psychologists, life coaches and rebbetzins. “We need to ensure that women have continuing opportunities to grow religiously,” says Rabbi Karesh. Monthly events and weekly chaburahs were planned to keep the spiritual momentum going and Rabbi Karesh hopes to bring Soul Purpose to communities across the country starting next year.
Building a Better Workplace Talent Management Specialist Shalom Orlian and Human Resources Manager Josh Gottesman of OU Human Resources have turned Friday into a day at the office you don’t want to miss. One Friday every few weeks, the HR Department selects relevant TED TalksTM to present to OU employees, providing new ideas, strategies and practices to boost professional skills and foster a better work environment. The TED Talks have included Israeli music conductor Itay Talgam, who uses other conductors’ body language to highlight different styles of leadership; Daniel Pink, an expert on workplace motivation; Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, who explained the value of introverted traits in leadership; and Amy Edmonson, who discussed psychological safety at work. “We want all of our employees to be in the driver’s seat of their careers,” says Orlian. “These Friday meetups are an engaging and thoughtful way to explore the changes we all can make to improve our workplace experience and develop our careers.”
The OU contingent at the Women’s Leadership Workshop in Manhattan.
OU Women Develop Leadership Skills This past May, thirty women employees across OU departments attended the American Management Association’s Women’s Leadership Workshop at its Manhattan offices. The one-day training seminar focused on how women can further their careers and develop better communication standards at work. Through workshops and discussion, participants explored common struggles women face in the workplace, such as making sure their contributions are heard and valued, and how to say no while still being a team player.
Easing the Path for Aveilim
“I learned to be conscious of how I am speaking,” says Marketing Coordinator Rachel Leff. “The words I choose are important, but so are my pitch, gravitas and body language.” “I really appreciated the opportunity to network with women from other companies from across America and brainstorm together,” adds Women’s Initiative Program Manager Eliana Sohn. This is the second year the OU has participated in this event, thanks to the sponsorship of the OU’s Women’s Affinity Group, which seeks to foster the hiring, training and promoting of women within the organization, as well as forging an inclusive, enjoyable workplace.
Male aveilim often wish to serve as shaliach tzibbur as a merit for their loved one during the year of mourning; however, this can be daunting, especially for those unfamiliar with the text or the nussach. The OU Department of Synagogue and Community Services, as part of its Nussach HaTefillah Initiative, recently produced the Aveilut Tefillah Kit. This beautifully designed kit, meant to be sent by community chevrot kadisha or chesed committees to the homes of aveilim, contains easy-to-read materials explaining the halachot of aveilut as well as a flash drive with recordings of the tefillot that an avel would be expected to lead. The recordings (currently available for Nussach Ashkenaz) are sung by Cantor Chaim Dovid Berson, Director of the Nussach HaTefillah Initiative. “People experience enough anxiety after losing a loved one; davening for the amud adds another set of worries—how quickly or slowly should I daven, and what if I make a mistake? This kit gives aveilim the tools to reduce that anxiety,” says Cantor Joel Kaplan of Congregation Beth Sholom on Long Island, New York, who developed the kit with Cantor Berson. To obtain the kit, available free of charge to all synagogues, contact Judi Steinig at firstname.lastname@example.org. Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
ADVOCACY WRAP-UP At the Teach NYS Annual Mission to Albany, students gather in the Assembly Chamber of the New York Capitol Building to watch democracy in action. Photos: Tom Semeraro
Teach NYS Brings Over $40 Million in Additional Funding to Nonpublic Schools including Yeshivot and Day Schools
hanks to the work of Teach NYS, a division of the OU’s Teach Coalition, the New York State 2019-2020 budget includes a 100 percent increase for the historic STEM reimbursement program (now totaling $30 million); an additional $25 million in security funds (for a total of $40 million); and a 3.6 percent increase in the CAP/MSR programs. Collectively, Teach NYS was instrumental in bringing over $40 million in additional funding 94
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to nonpublic schools beyond what was included in last year’s budget. “This is significant and unprecedented growth,” says OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin. “But it’s the result of months of diligent, grassroots advocacy work—bringing elected officials into yeshivot, planning lobby days in specific areas, hosting legislative receptions for community influencers to meet their representatives, and the Teach NYS
Mission to Albany.” In March, more than 700 yeshivah and day school students, faculty, parents, school officials and lay leaders joined Teach NYS for its annual Mission to Albany to advocate for increased funding for nonpublic school education. Currently, 450 day schools and yeshivot receive funding from Teach NYS’ efforts.
In 2018-2019, 14 more schools joined the Teach Coalition from New York, New Jersey, and Florida, bringing the total number of schools in the Coalition to about 100 .
Students from the Hebrew Academy of Five Towns and Rockaways meet with New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky.
At the mission, Assemblymembers Simcha Eichenstein (D-Brooklyn), Nily Rozic (D-Queens) and Daniel Rosenthal (D-Queens) discuss their transition from yeshivah day school to Assemblymembers and how they are making a difference for the Jewish community.
New York Attorney General Letitia James tells the day school students, who hailed from more than fifty schools in New York City, Long Island and Westchester, how they can truly change the world if they decide to act on their passions and beliefs.
JOIN YACHAD JOIN IN OUR MISSION OF INCLUSION JOIN FOR A FUN WEEKEND WHILE MEETING NEW FRIENDS JOIN US ON MEANINGFUL SHABBATONS WITH INDIVIDUALS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS For more information please contact Avi Feder at email@example.com or visit yachad.org/advisor
Students from Midreshet Shalhevet in Long Island meet with their Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages.
Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities, is dedicated to enhancing the life opportunities of individuals with disabilities, ensuring their participation in the full spectrum of Jewish life. Yachad is an agency of the Orthodox Union.
Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
NEW POSITIONS & PROMOTIONS The OU Center for Communal Research welcomes Channah Cohen as Lead Applied Researcher. A former OU-JLIC Educator at Queens College in New York, Channah is an educator at heart and enjoys the human side of research. She deeply believes that research, when applied with sensitivity and intelligence, can create lasting change to real-world problems in contemporary Orthodox life. Channah earned a bachelor’s in psychology from YU’s Stern College for Women and holds a master’s degree in adult learning and leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University.
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JEWISH ACTION Summer 5779/2019
Michelle Shain joins the Center for Communal Research as Assistant Director. A Social Scientist with a passionate commitment to the well-being of the Jewish community, Dr. Shain spent over ten years at Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, where she was involved in ongoing research about the impact of Birthright Israel, among other projects. Dr. Shain holds a bachelor’s in anthropology and Near Eastern and Judaic studies from Brandeis University, a master’s from the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a doctorate in social policy from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Political Strategist Nika Milbrun recently joined Teach NYS, a branch of the OU’s Teach Coalition. Nika brings a decade of campaign and state government experience to Teach NYS, where she will oversee the organization’s grassroots advocacy initiatives, manage the state and city lobbying teams and engage with legislators to help secure government support for nonpublic schools across New York. Nika holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from St. John’s University. Teach Florida welcomes Ruchie Gross-Berger as the new Miami/ Dade Field Director. Ruchie will be responsible for engaging supporters to adovcate and promote safe and affordable nonpublic schools. Ruchie comes to Teach Florida after six years at Miami’s JCS Kosher Food Bank, where she served most recently as Program Coordinator. Ruchie holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Touro College and lives in Miami Beach.
WOMEN IN ACTION
Bringing Emerging and Experienced Female Torah Scholars to the Public
his past Shavuot marked a year since the OU Women’s Initiative (WI) Scholars Program was first launched—a program that introduces both emerging and experienced female Torah scholars to the broader public. Providing high-level Torah scholarship, the Scholars Program brings Torah programming to shuls across the country, inspiring communities to deepen their religious and communal engagement.
One such WI scholar is Tal Attia, an OU-JLIC Torah Educator at Brandeis University who served as a scholar-in-residence at Congregation Shaare Tefilla in Dallas, Texas at WI’s “Standing Together at Sinai” program. Fresh from Jerusalem, Attia, a graduate of Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim and Stern College, spends her days delivering high-level shiurim and spiritually mentoring Orthodox students at Brandeis University. After serving as a scholar-in-residence in Dallas, Attia was invited to speak at Congregation Beth Israel Abraham Voliner in Kansas City, Missouri. “Last year, I was a new OU-JLIC educator, and having just moved from Israel I had not yet found opportunities to teach Torah outside of the Brandeis/Boston community,” says Attia. “By inviting me to partake in the Standing Together at Sinai program, the Women’s Initiative helped me expand my reach, empowering me to teach Torah to so many more women.” This year's pre-Shavuot program, “Counting Towards Sinai”—a series of scholar-in-residence programs during the weeks of Sefirah—highlighted the growth opportunity between Pesach and Shavuot and featured female scholars in more than twenty-five communities across the United States and Canada including Rachel Besser, Blima Zelinger Maged, Debbie Stone and Dr. Rivka Blau. Other Scholars programs include a Simchat Torah morning shiur by local scholars, Shabbat Shuva programming and a monthly Rosh Chodesh Virtual Lunch ‘n Learn shiur. To date, more than 100 female Torah scholars, both emerging and experienced, have been introduced to communities across North America, from Vancouver, BC to Newton, Massachusetts. Tal Attia Photo: Tali Wohlgelernter
For more information about the Scholars Program and other WI programs, visit ou.org/women.
Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
NEW FROM OU PRESS COMING SOON
Torah Beloved: Reflections on the Love of Torah and the Celebration of the Holiday of Matan Torah
Some people take that childish attitude with regard to the study of the Torah as we commence Genesis once again: the same stories, the same laws, not a single change . . . But that is a childish attitude. If our By Rabbi Norman Lamm attitude is mature, if we approach Edited by Daniel Gober Torah with respect, with awareness OU Press of its depth, and with love, then the new cycle of parashot means for us or they are our life and the the anticipation of new discoveries, length of our days; on them will we meditate day and night.” novel insights, great ideas we have not yet been introduced to. These words about the Torah, Torah Beloved introduces readers which we recite every night, to some novel insights and great represent the attitude of Judaism ideas, not only about learning toward the act of studying Torah— Torah but about loving Torah. it is not merely an intellectual exercise or one mitzvah among many others, but the value and meaning of our lives. Torah Beloved, NEW! a collection of sermons relating to Shavuot, the giving of the Torah and the love of Torah, expresses the Jewish attitude with the eloquence and felicity for which Rabbi Dr. By Rabbi Norman Lamm is renowned. Asher Bush One brief excerpt, from a sermon OU Press given on the first Shabbat of abbi Asher Bush, spiritual the yearly Torah reading cycle leader of Congregation Ahavat gives a sense of Rabbi Lamm’s Yisrael of Wesley Hills, New ability to convey an essential York, and a veteran Jewish studies message with wit and verve: teacher at The Frisch School in Reading or studying Torah with love Paramus, New Jersey, has written also sensitizes you to the novelty and extensively on halachic topics surprise that are latent within Torah, both in Hebrew and English. Shoel to the unpredictably delightful ideas B’Shlomo, his second major work waiting to be conjured up by love on halachic subjects, contains over and intelligence. A year or two ago, eighty teshuvot (halachic responsa) there appeared a book edited by Eric in Hebrew on subjects in Orach Marshall and Stuart Hample which was a collection of children’s letters to Chaim and Yoreh Deah. Unlike most halachic works published in the God. One of them, most appropriate to United States, this is not merely a this Sabbath, when we recommence the cycle of the Torah, reads as follows: guidebook or collection of rulings of leading rabbis. The work consists Dear God: of original rulings composed in the Maybe you can write some style of classical responsa. The sefer more stories because we’ve deals with a wide range of questions already read everything you on contemporary topics including have written more than once. health and medicine, Shabbat, yom Thanks in advance.
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5779/2019
Reading or studying Torah with love also sensitizes you to the novelty and surprise that are latent within Torah, to the unpredictably delightful ideas waiting to be conjured up by love and intelligence. tov, kashrut and mourning. He addresses topics including the use of a therapy dog on Shabbat, getting a manicure on Chol HaMoed, and when to start aveilut when participating in a funeral via Skype or telephone. Some of the responsa deal with halachot which seem to receive less attention in the contemporary world than they should, such as standing for the elderly, honoring one’s older brother, and reciting extra prayers on Shabbat for Israel in times of crisis. Others deal with some of the more contentious issues facing our community, such as whether pidyon shevuyim (the obligation to redeem a fellow Jew from captivity) applies to those who have broken the law. Rabbi Bush’s methodology involves analyzing each topic from its earliest sources in the Mishnah and Gemara, tracing it through the Rishonim and various posekim through our own time. The sefer contains haskamot from both Rav Hershel Schachter and Rav Mordechai Willig, leading Torah figures of our generation with whom Rabbi Bush has interacted extensively. Named in memory of Rabbi Bush’s father and the late Rav Shlomo Kahn, Shoel B’Shlomo is a testament to the commitment of the many devoted Jews who care deeply about Torah and who ask about observing and following it correctly.
Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
Compiled by Marcia P. Neeley
PHILANTHROPY Portrait of Philanthropy
CONNIE KANTER By Pnina Baim
onnie Kanter, CEO of the Samis Foundation, has always been interested in new ways to engage with Judaism. A graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, who also earned an MBA from the Booth School of the University of Chicago, Connie volunteered to serve on the boards of the Jewish Federation of Seattle and Seattle Hebrew Academy. Over the years, she slowly found herself, a Reform Jew, becoming more observant. Her future husband, Chuck Broches, attracted to the daily practice of Daf Yomi, was moving towards traditional Judaism as well. In time, they married and had two children, Simon and Mimi, whom they sent to Seattle Hebrew Academy. Connie worked in the financial sector, eventually becoming Chief Financial Officer for Seattle University. After Chuck’s untimely passing, Connie decided to take a sabbatical and spend time with her children. Mimi had been on NCSY’s Next Step Israel Internships, a competitive internship program in Israel for teens. Connie joined Mimi for Yom NCSY, an event where thousands of participants in various NCSY programs join together for an evening of inspiration. “I welled up with emotion,” Connie recalled. “The spirit, the energy, it was remarkable. Everyone was so excited about what they were doing.” Shortly after, in March 2019, Connie was appointed CEO of the Samis Foundation after serving on its board. The Samis Foundation funds Jewish education in Washington State, specifically causes in Israel and disaster relief globally and accepts grant proposals by invitation only. The Foundation works collaboratively with different organizations; Eli Genauer, who was both National Vice President of the OU as well as a board member of the Foundation, was instrumental in bringing the two organizations together. “Connie is a gem of a person, and the Foundation has always been a partner and a friend of NCSY,” says Rabbi Steven Weil, Senior Managing Director of the OU. “We have been looking at addressing the needs of teens in different ways, including teen engagement and funding Israel travel. NCSY, with its strong Israel programming and informal educational outreach, is a natural partner,” says Connie. The Foundation decided to provide stipends for
teens to participate in The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey (TJJ), an all-inclusive Israel summer trip geared towards public school students. These stipends lower the cost of the program and allow more families to participate. “The young men and women who have participated in TJJ had a cathartic, life-changing experience,” says Rabbi Weil. “We could never have provided that without the largesse of the Samis Foundation.” Connie is especially passionate about providing opportunities for teens to engage with Judaism in an informal way. Providing funding for NCSY staff to go into public schools through the Jewish Student Union (JSU) is another way to expose teens to various trips and programming. Along with the NCSY programming, the Samis Foundation is also working with OU Israel, recognizing the challenges facing families who make aliyah with teens. The Foundation recognizes the role NCSY could play to help families make a smooth transition. This partnership brings together the Samis Foundation’s key elements of Israel philanthropy, along with immigration and a focus on teen engagement. “I have great gratitude to be here at the Samis Foundation, working with such meaningful partners as the OU and NCSY. We are just thrilled to be part of it,” says Connie.
We invite you to join us and make a difference. Contact Arnold Gerson at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ou.org/giving. 100
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5779/2019
NCSY supporters pose with Scott Rogowsky, formerly of HQ Trivia, who hosted Midwest NCSY’s The Q, the ultimate live trivia experience. From left: Ely Cooper, Dan Keener, Scott Rogowsky, Ronna Cooper and Shana Keener.
THE ULTIMATE TRIVIA EXPERIENCE
n lieu of a traditional fundraising dinner, Midwest NCSY flew in Scott Rogowsky, noted comedian and former host of the wildly popular mobile game show HQ Trivia, to preside over The Q, a live trivia experience. Rogowsky brought his trademark wit to the event, which was held in Skokie and drew 300 participants, including 100 new, young donors. Funds raised from the evening will be used to underwrite local NCSY programming and provide scholarships for summer trips to Israel. For more photos of The Q, visit ou.org/philanthropy.
By Merri Ukraincik
his past February, top professionals from the OU Institutional Advancement Team shared their tried-and-true tips for success while demystifying the fundraising process for members of the OU’s Impact Accelerator. Created to support new ventures addressing communal challenges, the Impact Accelerator provides early-stage funding, mentorship and training for the selected group of nonprofit leaders. Held at the OU’s New York offices, the three-day fundraising seminar focused on the basics of fundraising, a critical ingredient for growing nonprofit businesses. “We needed to learn how to close a gift,” says Reva Judas, who founded NechamaComfort more than thirty years ago to support families of all Jewish backgrounds through the trauma of miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss, but only Chief Institutional Advancement Officer Arnold recently incorporated it as a nonprofit. “The fundraising seminar taught us how to Gerson presents on the best fundraising use our passion for what we do to solicit the funding we need.” techniques at the recent seminar. Photo: Josh Weinberg
The OU Impact Accelerator’s vision is to serve as a hub for Jewish innovation within the Orthodox world.” —Jenna Beltser, Founding Director For more photos of the Impact Accelerator’s fundraising seminar, visit ou.org/philanthropy. Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
OU, IN PARTNERSHIP WITH KEDEM, SENDS $200K IN GRANTS TO FOOD PANTRIES FOR PESACH
his past March saw the launch of Kosher Food Lifeline (KFL), a new OU department to help existing food pantries, Tomchei Shabbos programs and related social service agencies throughout the United States provide nutritious kosher food to Jews in need. The department’s inaugural program was conducted in partnership with Kedem, a leader in the specialty food world with a focus on kosher, gluten-free and all-natural foods. Utilizing the OU’s annual Maot Chitim fundraiser, KFL directed a total of $200,000 in grants during the Passover season to fifty-three food pantries across the country, who used these funds exclusively for the purchase and shipment of discounted Kosher-for-Passover food items from Kedem. This enabled pantries to provide their constituents with free Passover foods in advance of the holiday. “This is the first time a national program, at this scale, has addressed the needs of kosher food pantries,” says Allison Deal, founding director of KFL. “We aim to increase efficiency, eliminate waste, bring prices down, and help these agencies provide more nutritious, proteinGershon Wolf, co-founder of Aishel Avraham food pantry in Henderson, Nevada, stands rich kosher food to those who need it most.” behind a table of foodstuffs provided by Kedem for the Pesach season. “Financial strains within the Jewish community Photo: Michal Grodko Photography cannot be understated,” said OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin. “As the OU tackles affordability issues on a number of fronts, we recognize the thousands of American Jews who struggle each day to put nutritious kosher food on the table. We must work together to support the remarkable work of kosher food pantries, Tomchei Shabbos and other organizations that help to fill these needs. We thank Kedem for generously partnering with us on this critical program.”
Financial strains within the Jewish community cannot be understated.” —Allen Fagin, OU Executive Vice President
Volunteers unload Passover food supplies at the Jewish Family Services of Dallas, Texas.
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JEWISH ACTION Summer 5779/2019
CHANGING THE WORLD— ONE SURFER AT A TIME
CSY’s ReSurf, a global ambassador program that teaches teen volunteers leadership and social entrepreneurship skills, recently broke down social barriers in Long Beach, New York. Through a UJA-Federation of New York $10,000 grant, 100 New York NCSY ReSurf Club ambassadors teamed up with the Long Beach Martin Luther King Center and Skudin Surf Camp to help underserved youths in the North Park community. For the day, ReSurf donated new surfboards and brought in a worldrenowned street artist to work with the youth to paint the boards and launch the very first-ever MLK Surf Team. “It’s so important for Jewish teens to find purpose and meaning in their lives,” says ReSurf Founder Oran Bendelstein, who has a passion for surfing and for Jewish outreach. ReSurf refurbishes used, donated surfboards and ships them to surf clubs that service underprivileged youth.
Teens from New York NCSY’s ReSurf club and the Long Beach Martin Luther King Center pose with the surfboards they painted as part of the UJA-Federation of New York’s MLK Day of Service. Photo: Josh Weinberg
We’re looking for teens who want to be leaders.”—Oran Bendelstein, ReSurf Founder
ver this past year, student-led crowdfunding campaigns on eight OU-JLIC campuses have collectively raised over $155,000 to date for OU-JLIC. Campaigns included Brooklyn College’s Fifth Annual Shushan Auction, Cornell’s Dodgeball Tournament, and the Annual Toppings Fundraiser involving four West Coast universities. Now in its nineteenth year, OU-JLIC fosters an ongoing commitment to the Torah lifestyle by providing a warm and welcoming home for Jewish students on campus. Its network of Torah Educators are on more than twenty campuses in the US, Canada and Israel.
$43,467 Campuses raise over $155,000 for OU-JLIC $30,344
UCLA, SMC, CSUN, and Western University
$15,026 $8,000 Rutgers University
$9,780 Cornell University
$12,248 Queens College
Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
MARKING DECADES OF IMPACT
early 500 friends of NCSY attended the second Annual NCSY Gala, held at Marina Del Rey in the Bronx, New York. Raising $430,000, the event also featured the annual Ben Zakkai Scholarship Reception and showcased NCSY’s incredible life-transforming work.
The NCSY Gala provided a powerful glimpse into the most effective Jewish teen engagement organization in the world.”
—Jeff Korbman, NCSY Director of Development For more photos of the NCSY Gala, visit ou.org/philanthropy.
Distinguished Alumni Awardees Rabbi Elie and Dr. Naama Weinstock celebrate at the NCSY Gala with Rabbi Elie’s brother, Rabbi Yosef Weinstock (left). The Weinstocks both participated in NCSY as teenagers, and Rabbi Elie served in various professional capacities in NCSY early on in his career.
Rebbetzin Shirley Pelcovitz receives a gift at a special presentation honoring the legacy of her late husband, Rabbi Ralph Pelcovitz, zt”l. A leading voice in the development of today’s contemporary NCSY, Rabbi Pelcovitz served on NCSY’s Youth Commission and hosted NCSY Shabbatons at Congregation Kneseth Israel in Far Rockaway, where he served as pulpit rabbi. Rabbi Pelcovitz was also inducted posthumously into the Ben Zakkai Honor Society. From left: Dr. David Pelcovitz, Rebbetzin Pelcovitz, and International NCSY Director Rabbi Micah Greenland. Photos: The Visual Image
Guests of Honor Genie and Stephen Savitsky enjoying the evening. The Savitskys were recognized for the decades of impact they have made transforming people’s lives, as well as setting a vision for organizational change, especially during the time that Stephen was both the Chairman and President of the OU.
Dr. Aviva and Gershon Distenfeld receive the Ohavei Chesed Award for their trailblazing efforts supporting NCSY’s chesed missions. From left: OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin, OU President Mark (Moishe) Bane, the Distenfelds, New Jersey NCSY Director Rabbi Ethan Katz, and Rabbi Greenland.
We invite you to join us and make a difference. Contact Arnold Gerson at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ou.org/giving. 104
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5779/2019
Thank you for your generous annual support of our vital programs. YACHAD - Inclusion for people with disabilities SEIF OU-JLIC - Supporting Jewish life on college campuses NCSY - Life-changing teen empowerment and inspiration program OU ISRAEL - Outreach to at-risk youth, support for soldiers and olim ISRAEL FREE SPIRIT BIRTHRIGHT ISRAEL - Connecting Jewish youth with Israel and their heritage THE PEPA & RABBI JOSEPH KARASICK DEPARTMENT OF SYNAGOGUE & COMMUNITY SERVICES Educational content, programs, consulting for synagogues and communities THE WOMENâ€™S INITIATIVE - Creating and promoting inspirational and educational programming for women TEACH COALITION - Fighting for Jewish schools to receive fair government funding OU ADVOCACY CENTER - Promoting Jewish interests in the halls of government OU TORAH - Providing a broad array of Torah study opportunities JEWISH ACTION - The OU's insightful and inspirational quarterly publication OU IMPACT ACCELERATOR - A mentorship program for growth and early-stage funding for Jewish nonprofit entrepreneurs. OU PRESS - Publishing insightful and compelling works on Jewish texts
Members of the OU BENEFACTOR CIRCLE lead through their philanthropy. We applaud them all for their commitment, including those whose names remain anonymous. We invite and encourage you to join them in making a difference.
OU.ORG/BENEFACTOR To learn more about the OU Benefactor Circle or to become a member, please call Arnold Gerson, Chief Institutional Advancement Office at 212.613-8313 or email email@example.com. Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
Thank You Ambassador $250,000 & OVER
THE AVI CHAI FOUNDATION ARIELA BALK IN HONOR OF THE MENDEL BALK YACHAD ADULT COMMUNITY CENTER DR. SHMUEL AND EVELYN KATZ STEPHEN AND NATALY NEUWIRTH IN MEMORY OF ANNE SAMSON A"H
$100,000-$249,999 MARK (MOISHE) & JOANNE BANE SHERRY & NEIL COHEN ROBERT AND MICHELLE DIENER MR. AND MRS. JACK FEINTUCH ELLIOT P. AND DEBORAH GIBBER ALAN & BARBARA GINDI BECKY & AVI KATZ MORDECAI & MONIQUE KATZ THE KOHELET FOUNDATION THE JEWISH FEDERATION OF GREATER LOS ANGELES DAVID AND DEBRA MAGERMAN THE JEWISH FEDERATION OF METROPOLITAN CHICAGO RAPHAEL AND RIVKA NISSEL ERIC AND GALE ROTHNER RUDERMAN FAMILY FOUNDATION MORIS & LILLIAN TABACINIC UJA-FEDERATION OF NEW YORK JOYCE AND JEREMY WERTHEIMER
$50,000 - $99,999 ALLEN AND DEANNA ALEVY DANIEL & RAZIE BENEDICT AARON AND MARIE BLACKMAN FOUNDATION THE CAYRE FAMILY GERSHON AND AVIVA DISTENFELD FOUNDATION FOR JEWISH DAY SCHOOLS, GREATER PHILADELPHIA RABBI MANFRED AND LISELOTTE Z"L GANS CHESSED FUND J. SAMUEL HARWIT & MANYA HARWIT-AVIV CHARITABLE TRUST RICHARD HIRSCH KITTY & ANWAR HOORY Z"L JEWISH FEDERATION OF NORTHERN NEW JERSEY
ETTA BRANDMAN KLARISTENFELD & HARRY KLARISTENFELD IN MEMORY OF JUDY LEFKOVITS MR. DAVID LICHTENSTEIN CHUCK AND ALLEGRA MAMIYE MAYBERG FAMILY FOUNDATION EITAN AND DEBRA MILGRAM GENIE AND STEVE SAVITSKY THE SHAMAH FAMILY LARRY AND SHELLY RUSSAK JOSH AND ALLISON ZEGEN
$25,000 - $49,999 MR. RAANAN AND DR. NICOLE AGUS HOWARD AND CHAYA BALTER LEWIS AND LAURI BARBANEL SABY & ROSI BEHAR HARRY H. BEREN Z"L MAX & ELANA BERLIN BRIAN & DAFNA BERMAN JUDI AND JASON BERMAN VIVIAN AND DANIEL CHILL DR. BENJAMIN AND ESTHER CHOUAKE THE CONDUIT FOUNDATION CRAIN-MALING FOUNDATION: WWW.CRAINMALING.ORG DRS. ROBERT AND KAY FAGUET FALIC FAMILY FOUNDATION GREATER MIAMI JEWISH FEDERATION HOWARD TZVI AND CHAYA FRIEDMAN RALPH S. GINDI FOUNDATION SHANA GLASSMAN FOUNDATION EVE GORDON-RAMEK DR. EPHRAIM AND RITA GREENFIELD ARI AND ALISON GROSS JAMES AND AMY A"H HABER DR. ELLIOT & LILLIAN HAHN MR. & MRS. ROBERT HARTMAN LANCE & RIVKIE HIRT ALISSA AND SHIMMIE HORN DR. ALLAN AND SANDY JACOB PAUL AND CHAVI JACOBS JEWISH FEDERATION OF S. PALM BEACH COUNTY BENYAMIN AND ESTI KAMINETZKY RABBI MARK & LINDA KARASICK KARMELA AND JERRY KLASNER ALBERT LABOZ JEFF AND MARCI LEFKOVITS MICHAEL AND ANDREA LEVEN FAMILY FOUNDATION IRIS AND SHALOM MAIDENBAUM AZI & RACHEL MANDEL MRS. FEGI MAUER MERIDIAN CAPITAL MARTIN AND ELIZABETH NACHIMSON HENRY AND MINDY ORLINSKY MARTHA AND GEORGE RICH FOUNDATION
MALKI AND J. PHILIP ROSEN JAMES AND LOREN ROSENZWEIG ROBBIE AND HELENE ROTHENBERG SAMIS FOUNDATION LOUIS AND STACY SCHWARTZ YITZCHOK AND BARBARA LEHMANN SIEGEL BARRY & JOY SKLAR DAVID AND AMY STRACHMAN MICHAEL AND ARIANNE WEINBERGER THE WEININGER FOUNDATION INC. THE WEISS FAMILY, CLEVELAND, OHIO ESTHER AND JERRY WILLIAMS MR. JERRY & MRS. SARA WOLASKY MASA YEHUDI
$18,000 - $24,999 MR. AND MRS. LIOR ARUSSY DENNIS AND DEBRA BERMAN MARCUS AND DORIS BLUMKIN PETER & LORI DEUTSCH SHIMON AND CHAYA ECKSTEIN LINDA AND MICHAEL ELMAN JUDITH & ALLEN I. FAGIN MARK & CHERYL FRIEDMAN JOAN & PETER HOFFMAN ED & ROBYN HOFFMAN/HOFFMAN CATERING JACK ALBERT KASSIN MICHAEL AND ELISSA KATZ DANA AND JEFFREY KORBMAN STEPHEN AND EVE MILSTEIN JACK A"H AND GITTA NAGEL YEHUDA & ANNE NEUBERGER ISABELLE AND DAVID NOVAK MARC PENN ALLEN & MIRIAM PFEIFFER THE REFUGEâ€”A HEALING PLACE HENRY AND GOLDA REENA ROTHMAN STEPHEN AND JESSICA SAMUEL GEORGE AND IRINA SCHAEFFER TOBY MACY SCHAFFER MORRIS AND RACHEL TABUSH DAVID & GILA WEINSTEIN GEORGE & JONI WHITE
$10,000 - $17,999 ALISA ABECASSIS DANIEL AND LIORA ADLER MR. AND MRS. EMANUEL ADLER AARON AND TAMMY ATTIAS IRA AND SHERI BALSAM YALE & ANN BARON MR. AND MRS. ISAAC BERMAN DAVID AND CHEDVA BREAU JO AND JONAH BRUCK
We apologize any omissions. JEWISH ACTIONfor Summer 5779/2019If you wish to be acknowledged, please contact Elaine Grossman at firstname.lastname@example.org
"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." â€• Winston Churchill
DR. MOSHE AND BRYNDIE BENARROCH VANESSA AND RAYMOND CHALME THE CHARLES CRANE FAMILY FOUNDATION COMBINED JEWISH PHILANTHROPIES MR. SHELDON J. DAVID MICHAEL AND ALIZA DAVIS FRED AND SUZAN EHRMAN RINA AND RABBI DOV EMERSON DRS. GILAT AND YOSSI ENGLANOFF MARTIN AND LEORA FINEBERG MARK AND CHAVA FINKEL EZRA AND RACHELI FRIEDBERG ARNOLD AND ESTHER GERSON THE RALPH S. GINDI FOUNDATION MARY JO ROBINSON AND GORDON GLASER MURRAY AND BATSHEVA GOLDBERG RABBI BEN AND AVIVA GONSHER RABBI MICAH AND RIVKIE GREENLAND ABE AND RONIT GUTNICKI MR. AND MRS. DAVID HARTMAN THE HIDARY FAMILY MR. NATE HYMAN JEWISH FEDERATION IN THE HEART OF NEW JERSEY DR. AND MRS. BERNARD KAMINETSKY MORRIS AND SONDRA KAPLAN RABBI JOSEPH KARASICK ALICE AND JACOB KLEIN LAWRENCE AND EVELYN KRAUT SCOTT AND AVIVA KRIEGER JONAH & FRAN KUPIETZKY KIM AND JONATHAN KUSHNER MRS. SHIRLEY LEVY VIVIAN AND DAVID LUCHINS JEFFREY AND ADRIA MANDEL DAVID AND MICHELLE MARGULES MR. AND MRS. SHALOM MENORA STUART AND FRANCES MILLER MR. & MRS. ASHER DAVID & MICHELLE MILSTEIN GILA AND ADAM MILSTEIN DANIEL AND JESSICA MINKOFF ETAN & VALERIE MIRWIS & FAMILY ALEXANDER AND YOCHEVED MITCHELL CAL AND JANINE NATHAN AARON AND AHUVA ORLOFSKY AVI AND ALISSA OSSIP THE OVED FAMILY ISRAEL AND NECHAMA POLAK THE RABBI NATHANIAL AND SHIRLEY POLLACK MEMORIAL FOUNDATION DANIEL AND LEYLA POSNER PROSKAUER ROSE LLP RALPHS GROCERY COMPANY IAN AND CAROL RATNER DR. JAY AND MARJORIE ROBINOW MATTHEW ROSENBLATT MENACHEM AND RENA SCHNAIDMAN JOSEPH SHAMIE LOUIS SHAMIE MR. BARUCH SINGER THE HERBERT SMILOWITZ FOUNDATION MR. AND MRS. DAVID SOKOL
WILLIAM SOLOMON RABBI SHLOMO & MINDY SPETNER DR. AND MRS. ETHAN SPIEGLER RONALD AND BETH STERN TALK N SAVE ISAAC H. TAYLOR ENDOWMENT FUND DR. AND MRS. SHIMMY TENNENBAUM GARY AND MALKA TORGOW TRAVEL INSURANCE ISRAEL IRA WALDBAUM FAMILY FOUNDATION STANLEY & ELLEN WASSERMAN THE WEIL FAMILY JESSICA AND LENNY WEISS TOVA AND HOWARD WEISER SUSANNE AND MICHAEL WIMPFHEIMER DRS. YECHIEL AND SURI ZAGELBAUM MR. & MRS. ALAN ZEKELMAN
$5,000 - $9,999 ADM/ROI ASHFORD HOSPITALITY JAIMIE AND GERSHON BALLON SAMUEL AND RACHEL BARATZ MICHAEL & SUSAN BAUM MR. HARVEY BELL DR. AND MRS. YITZHAK & ELLEN BERGER MR. AND MRS. JULIUS BERMAN CAROL LASEK AND HOWARD BIENENFELD YEHUDA AND FAIGIE BIENSTOCK MR. AND MRS. TOMER BITTON RABBI GLENN & HENNI BLACK HARVEY & JUDY BLITZ ENID AND HAROLD H. BOXER ENDOWMENT DR. AND MRS. STEPHEN BRENNER CCS FUNDRAISING HIMAN BROWN CHARITABLE TRUST PACE & AILEEN COOPER STEVE DORFMAN LEA & LEON EISENBERG ROBERT EISENBERG MRS. MARGARET FEDER RABBI DAVE & CHANI FELSENTHAL ARYEH AND DORIT FISCHER RON & LISA ROSENBAUM FISHER STEPHEN & ROZ FLATOW JOSEPH & RACHEL FOX SURA & BERT FRIED DR. STAN AND MARLA FROHLINGER ANDREW AND YVETTE GARDNER LAWRENCE & JUDITH GARSHOFSKY MR. AND MRS. ERNIE GOLDBERGER JERRY AND ANNE GONTOWNIK GOLDIE AND I. DAVID GORDON AARON AND MICHAL GORIN FREDA GREENBAUM DR. EDWIN & CECILE GROMIS ROBYN & SHUKIE GROSSMAN NORMA HOLZER
DR. DAVID AND BARBARA HURWITZ THE JACOBY FAMILY JEWISH COMMUNITY FEDERATION OF RICHMOND STUART KARON AND DR. JODI WENGER RABBI ETHAN AND DEBORAH KATZ IRA AND RONA KELLMAN DAVID AND ROBERTA KIMMEL MR. ROBERT KORDA AVI AND RAVITAL KORN JOSEPH AND HANA KORNWASSER MARC & RENA KWESTEL DAVID AND FAYE LANDES JOSHUA & BRYNA LANDES ALLAN & CAROLYN LIEBERMAN DAVID AND JUDITH LOBEL JOSEF LOEFFLER DR. MARIAN STOLTZ-LOIKE AND DR. JOHN LOIKE NOAH AND ARINN MAKOVSKY JENNIFER & DROR MICHAELSON JAY AND JOYCE MOSKOWITZ SHARONA & IRWIN NACHIMSON ANNA BAUM & BARRY NOVACK TERRY & GAIL NOVETSKY PEOPLE'S UNITED INSURANCE AGENCY LARRY AND ANDREA PORTAL MR. AND MRS. DAVID PORUSH RICHARD AND ORA RABINOVICH NORMAN & LINDY RADOW REGALS FOUNDATION DRS. CRAIG AND JACKIE REISS SARA AND LAURENCE RICHARDS GAIL & BINYAMIN RIEDER IRA AND DEBRA ROSENBERG YITZHOK AND TAMAR ROSENTHAL YECHIEL & NOMI ROTBLAT JOSHUA & ALYSE ROZENBERG ZVI & SHARONNE RUDMAN MILTON AND SHIRLEY SABIN DAVID AND ROSLYN SAVITSKY TAMMI AND BENNETT SCHACHTER STANLEY AND ETHEL SCHER JERRY & BARBARA SCHRECK MALI & STEVE SCHWARTZ SHLOMO AND GITTY SCHWARTZ ANDREW AND STEPHANI SEROTTA MRS. MARGIE SHABAT RUTH SHANKER JAYNE SHAPIRO DR. MORRIS AND SHARON SILVER MICHAEL SMITH JAIME & MARILYN SOHACHESKI AVI AND DEENA STEIN MR. AND MRS. ABRAHAM J. STERN DR. DAVID AND DOROTHY STOLL AARON AND ARIELLA STRASSMAN ABRAHAM SULTAN MATT TEICHMAN TAL TOURS JOSHUA AND LESLIE WANDERER ESTHER AND BARUCH WEINSTEIN WILF FAMILY FOUNDATION JORGE AND TAMMARA WOLDENBERG FRAN & DAVID WOOLF
Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
Jewish Law As A Journey: Finding Meaning in Daily Jewish Practice By David Silverstein Menorah Books Jerusalem, 2017 296 pages
Reviewed by Asher Meir
abbi David Silverstein’s new book, Jewish Law as a Journey: Finding Meaning in Daily Jewish Practice, has an admirable goal—to help make the observance of everyday halachot meaningful and to encourage the reader to use the mitzvot as an opportunity for spiritual growth and connection. An outgrowth of the author’s course on the philosophy of Jewish law at Orayta, a yeshivah in Jerusalem, the book explores religious practices including putting on tefillin, engaging in prayer and washing one’s hands before eating bread, along with more transcendent mitzvot such as ethical living and loving God. For all of the mitzvot he covers, Rabbi Silverstein, the sgan (assistant) rosh yeshivah at Orayta, offers textual background as well as a variety of approaches regarding the rationale. The author’s premise is that “in its ideal vision, Jewish law demands that a person understand the rationale behind the mitzvot, and therefore be spiritually transformed by the Rabbi Asher Meir is the author of Meaning in Mitzvot (Jerusalem, 2005), which delves into the deeper meaning of our daily halachic practices and The Jewish Ethicist (New Jersey, 2003) which discusses ethical dilemmas from a halachic perspective. He currently works as a policy economist at the Kohelet Policy Forum.
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5779/2019
divine messages imbedded in mitzvah observance.” The term “rationale,” which is central to Rabbi Silverstein’s approach, can be used to denote the motivation leading someone to a particular course of action; it can also be used to describe a rational basis which is inferred or constructed. The same ambiguity applies to the term “ta’amei hamitzvot,” which the author translates as “the reasons for the mitzvot” but could also be translated as the “taste” or the “emphasis” of the mitzvot. Rabbi Silverstein clearly uses “rationale” and “ta’amei hamitzvot” to imply the meaning discovered within the commandments as opposed to that which justifies observing them. He discusses the “larger religious messages inherent in traditional Jewish observance” and “an increased focus on the search for meaning.” Likewise, he makes it clear that “the reasons themselves are not why we observe the law.” The author does not imply that there is a distinct, discernible objective which God intended to achieve with each mitzvah. Rather, he aims to show how each particular ritual, as well as mitzvah observance in general, is ideally suited to inculcate and cultivate certain spiritual values, ideals and states of consciousness. The author does not shrink from pointing out the dangers of overemphasizing meaning; “Overemphasis on meaning can generate a halakhic model that is self-centered and ultimately rooted in the ego,” he writes. “A commitment to halakha that is exclusively rooted in meaning fails to affirm the central roles of trust and confidence in developing
a meaningful relationship to G-d.” Written for an Orthodox English-speaking audience, the book is thoroughly documented with many footnotes, and includes many insights from well-known contemporary figures, including Rabbi Dr. Yakov Nagen, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. One point that deserves mention is the almost complete lack of Chassidic sources. In the book’s nearly 300 pages, I was able to find only five instances where an explanation was a based on a Chassidic source. This is surprising in light of the fact that the early Chassidic rebbes particularly emphasized the inner aspect of Torah. Rabbi Silverstein strives to “cite a broad spectrum of source material, referencing both traditional as well as academic works, thus providing a maximally holistic vision of halakhic ideals,” necessarily resulting in an eclectic work. Below are two examples illustrating Rabbi Silverstein’s approach to understanding mitzvot: In the chapter on the requirement to wear a kippah, the author opens with the traditional turban worn by the High Priest and the Malbim’s
explanation that it was meant to induce feelings of humility. This is followed by the Talmudic story centering on Rabbi Nachman bar Yitzchak, whose mother made sure his head was always covered in his youth to ensure that he retained the fear of Heaven; the Talmudic story notes that when the boy’s head was uncovered, his baser instincts began to take control of him. Rabbi Silverstein states that by the time of the Rishonim, head coverings for men seem to have become universally mandatory in Jewish communities. He views this as the does carry a certain cost in terms of period when head covering for men personal expression, yet nevertheless shifts from being a practice rooted remains paramount. He cites Rabbi in piety to one rooted in religious Feinstein’s ruling that praying with a identification. In this regard, he minyan is preferable even if it comes cites the Terumat HaDeshen, who at the cost of learning Torah. To stress emphasizes the role of head covering the importance of a minyan, Rabbi as a symbol of religious identification, Silverstein cites the Talmudic passage and Rabbi Israel of Bruna who in which Rabbi Natan asserts that justifies placing a ban on those who “God does not despise the prayers of habitually go about bareheaded. the congregation;” he mentions the The author goes on to cite Rabbi benefit of having Jews of varying Moshe Feinstein, who discusses spiritual levels join together for prayer. the question of whether or not one Then quoting the Chofetz Chaim and should wear a kippah and identify the Kuzari, he introduces the idea of as a Jew even while transgressing; “spiritual teamwork,” the notion that Rabbi Feinstein concludes that as public prayer is not just a compilation long as one is not engaged in an act or an intensification of private prayers, of absolute chillul Hashem, a kippah but a unique collective endeavor. should be worn even in compromising In light of the story in Berachot situations. He then quotes Rabbi which refers to one who neglects Ovadia Yosef who states that even in participating in a minyan as a “bad a community where all are known to neighbor,” Rabbi Silverstein suggests be Jews, such as in modern Israel, a that such conduct cultivates a kippah must still be worn as a sign that self-centered posture. He goes on one is committed to keeping mitzvot. to quote Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak The author also explores the HaKohen Kook, who emphasizes the meaning behind praying with a content of the prayers: lone prayer minyan, a discussion he opens with tends to focus on the needs of the the Talmudic story of Rabbi Akiva, individual and neglects praying for the who would say brief and subdued needs of the community. Thus, Rabbi prayers with the congregation and long Silverstein asserts that public prayer compels us to be constantly aware of and histrionic ones by himself. The the presence and needs of others. story demonstrates that public prayer
In its ideal vision, Jewish law demands that a person understand the rationale behind the mitzvot, and therefore be spiritually transformed by the divine messages imbedded in mitzvah observance. After briefly summarizing the halachic views regarding the obligation of public prayer, the chapter then shifts to the unique importance of praying in a synagogue. The author mentions the ruling of Rabbeinu Yonah that even private prayers should preferably be recited in shul. Explaining why he included men-only mitzvot in his book—such as wearing a kippah and tzitzit and praying in a minyan—he writes: “Some of these rituals are traditionally performed only by men, but I decided to include them nonetheless since the values they underscore are relevant to all Jews.” This explanation could equally justify including some women-only or women-oriented mitzvot such as candlelighting or reciting the blessing She’asani Kirtzono. Including mitzvot that shed light on the distinct spiritual ideals of men and women would have been a valuable addition. Jewish Law as a Journey is an excellent resource for the committed Jew to obtain thoughtful, well-documented insights into how we can infuse our everyday mitzvah practices with greater consciousness of their larger spiritual meaning and the realization of the Torah’s spiritual and ethical ideals.
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Illuminating Jewish Thought: Explorations of Free Will, the Afterlife, and the Messianic Era By Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank Maggid Books Jerusalem, 2018 594 pages
Reviewed by Mordechai Schiffman
arely does a book embody the essence of the author’s persona as much as Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank’s new sefer, Illuminating Jewish Thought: Explorations of Free Will, the Afterlife, and the Messianic Era. This is great news for anyone who craves vast knowledge through a prism of clarity and humility. Rabbi Wiederblank, only a few years my senior, was already a cornerstone of Yeshiva University’s beit midrash during my years studying at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). He was someone you went to if you were interested in an in-depth analysis or obscure sources on any given topic of Gemara, halachah or hashkafah. He has the rare blend of being approachable, comprehensive and comprehensible. In an ever-continuing effort by RIETS to improve and perfect its semichah program, Rabbi Wiederblank was asked to deliver a Friday morning series on Jewish thought for semichah Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Schiffman is the assistant rabbi at Kingsway Jewish Center and a licensed psychologist practicing in Brooklyn and Manhattan. His writings on the intersection of Torah and psychology can be found at PsychedForTorah.com.
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5779/2019
students. The current volume of Illuminating Jewish Thought, which focuses on free will, the afterlife and the Messianic era, is the first of three books to be generated from this set of shiurim. Not many people could strike the delicate balance of presenting such weighty topics in a clear, yet not overbearing, fashion. This is not a whitewashed, watered-down, simplistic or monolithic presentation. Rather, it is a nuanced, in-depth look at a diversity of viewpoints, with a refreshing range of authors quoted. Besides the usual Medieval titans of Jewish philosophy, such as Rabbi Saadia Gaon, Rambam, Ramban, Ralbag, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi and Rabbi Yosef Albo, among others, there is also a host of later thinkers from all different categories of thought, including Maharal, Ramchal, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner (the Izbitzer), the Tanna Rabbi Tzadok, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and more. After reading the spectrum of opinions with analysis, one walks away comforted that there may not be conclusive, cookie-cutter answers to these complex questions. Illuminating Jewish Thought is geared for educators and laypeople alike, although it isn’t exactly bedtime reading. The book reads like a shiur or guided study session, with primary sources quoted and translated in full. The goal is for the reader to grapple with the text, rather than be told what the text says. This serves as the book’s strength as well as its potential weakness, depending on
the nature of the reader. Readers who get excited about ideas and enjoy grappling with fascinating subject matter will love the fact that Rabbi Wiederblank goes off on intriguing tangents (one particular excursus takes up forty pages!); anticipates most questions one may have on the topic; and addresses them with numerous sources. However, if you are looking for a quick rundown of opinions, this book is not for you. Perhaps a second version of the book with paraphrases instead of full sources, summaries of the main concepts, and use of footnotes for the more tangential elements would be a helpful companion piece either for review or for those who want the core ideas but aren’t interested in studying it in depth. Although Rabbi Wiederblank dabbles with academia by occasionally quoting historians, philosophers, psychologists and scientists, the book is not meant as an academic treatment of any particular subject. As he points out in the preface, the sources are generally lumped together by topic in an ahistorical manner and are not analyzed based on the historical or broader philosophical approach of the given
commentators. While such an endeavor was clearly not within the purview of the book, I sometimes found myself wanting a second level of analysis where such distinctions were taken into account. Some of the topics addressed in the free will section that may pique your interest include how to reconcile free will with Divine foreknowledge (seven answers are presented), understanding the problem of evil, the role of nature and nurture in decision-making, whether people can control and change anything about themselves, and Pharaoh’s seeming lack of free will (another seven answers). In presenting the concepts of the afterlife, Rabbi Wiederblank first deals with the issue of the proper motivation one should have while performing mitzvot, and how the physical reward and punishment mentioned in the Torah don’t seem to jibe at first look with the spiritual rewards we conjure up when thinking about the World to Come. He then addresses the fundamental dispute between Rambam and Ramban as to how to understand Olam Haba, how they differ in their understanding of the role of body and soul and the ramifications for techiyat hametim. The section finishes off with an explanation of the concepts of Gan Eden and Gehinnom, including an elucidation as to the usage of these concepts in recent works to help mold character. The final section of the book explores the concept of Mashiach, starting with sources in Tanach. It then goes on to explain the importance of believing in Mashiach, as well as practical questions of how to identify Mashiach and the problem of false Messiahs. Debates as to what will happen during the times of Mashiach are addressed as well, including whether there will be any fundamental shifts in human nature or the natural order and whether sacrifices will be brought. Finally, sources as to when Mashiach will arrive are analyzed, including the significance of the year 6,000 and the concepts of Mashiach ben Yosef, Gog U’Magog and the role of the State of Israel in the redemptive process. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in mining the vast literature of Jewish sources on topics that cut to the core of who we are as humans and what the Jewish vision for the ultimate future looks like. It can be used for self-study, book clubs, prompts for deep discussions at the Shabbat table, or even as a template to deliver classes. With a plethora of material on multiple thought-provoking topics, Illuminating Jewish Thought is sure to be an important addition to any library.
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ON THE LOOKOUT for KIDDUSH HASHEM By Steve Lipman
don’t remember the details about the stranger I met on a street in Passaic one summer erev Shabbat about two-and-a-half decades ago, but I remember thinking I’d never been prouder to be a Jew. I was staying with friends on what was then the outskirts of this fast-growing Orthodox community in New Jersey. While taking a walk, I stopped to say good evening to someone I had never met, my friends’ middle-aged neighbor, out walking his dog. Noticing my kippah, he deduced that I was part of the Orthodox people in whose midst he lived. He started telling me his life story, mostly about his interactions with Jews. He’d grown up in New Jersey. He told me stories, one after another, of various kindnesses extended to him, his family, his friends and his non-Jewish acquaintances through the years by Jews. Unprompted acts of chesed. He couldn’t praise Jews enough. His words brought tears to my eyes, partly out of pride in Am Yisrael, partly out of shame for not living up to the standards the man was describing. I couldn’t pull myself away from the stranger. I didn’t want to cut off his flow of shevach; I didn’t want to be rude. I returned to my friends’ apartment and told them what had just happened—I had just heard about generations of Jews who had succeeded in living a life of kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God’s name in public. As Tishah B’Av approaches and I think back to that time, I realize that the man in Passaic alerted me to the dual meanings of kiddush Hashem: serving as a living example of His attributes, and, God forbid,
dying for His sake, as countless Jews have done through the centuries. That man also made clear to me the diverging consequences of our actions—earning the admiration of the non-Jewish world, or, God forbid, bringing destruction upon ourselves, as in the case of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, whose blood feud two millennia ago led to the destruction of the Second Temple and the death of hundreds of thousands of Jews at the hands of the Roman occupiers in Jerusalem. We, too, often fall short of our spiritual ideals; unfortunately, we hear too many stories of chillul Hashem these days, and the ubiquitous Internet and social media are eager to share our failings. So I am always on the lookout for kiddush Hashem. I search the media and ask my friends for inspirational stories. Stories such as these: Rabbi Ephraim Simon, the Chabad rabbi from Teaneck, New Jersey, who donated a life-saving liver and kidney to strangers. The 150 members of Toronto’s Jewish community who turned out at a moment’s notice last winter in below-zero weather for the funeral of a man they didn’t know, a ninety-year-old Holocaust survivor who had only one living relative. The members of the Student Government at Touro’s Lander College for Men in Queens, New York, who organized an “appreciation breakfast” one Sunday morning in honor of the school’s dedicated maintenance workers, handling all their responsibilities that day, serving breakfast and doing the cleanup, and giving
We invite our readers to send in their own stories of kiddush Hashem to firstname.lastname@example.org.
the crew gifts and thank-you notes. The phone message received during the Christmas season by B&H Photo Video, a major Chassidic-owned photo and electronics supplies store in Manhattan. After being unable to place an online order on B&H’s web site one Friday night, the customer contacted the store. “A week before Christmas,” the caller said, “you expect everyone to gladly take your money. However, after some confusion (and looking up what Shabbat is), I understood the reason [for the web site being closed] and gained a level of respect and admiration for your company. You may have lost sales from impatient people who went elsewhere, but not from me. You have gained a customer for life, because I know that your pride in how you celebrate your faith trickles down into other areas of your business.” These stories speak well of how we, as a community that purports to follow God and His halachah, are conducting ourselves; how we are representing ourselves to the world at large; and how we have learned the lessons of our exile that began 2,000 years ago, which we will mourn on Tishah B’Av. The Torah commands us to sanctify God’s name (Leviticus 22:32). It is not enough merely to avoid chillul Hashem. I try to keep this in mind when I’m out in public. Everyone can see my kippah. If I raise my voice, if I’m rude to someone, people aren’t only judging me, they’re judging all (Orthodox) Jews. Years ago I gave my seat on the subway to an elderly Chinese woman. “Yutai,” I heard her say to the woman sitting at her side. (“Yutai” is Mandarin for “Jewish.”) People are watching us. Sometimes we read the results online, sometimes we see them on the evening news. Sometimes these stories spread only among a small circle of friends. Sometimes we hear them while walking down the street on a summer’s night in Passaic. Steve Lipman is a staff writer at the Jewish Week in New York and a frequent contributor to Jewish Action. Summer 5779/2019 JEWISH ACTION
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