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SUMMER 5773/2013


VOLUME 73, NO. 4 • $5.50


C OMEDY The Rise of the Orthodox Comic


Parenting: The Tough Questions Remembering Rav Elyashiv Beyond Quadriplegia

Jewish Action



Editor Nechama Carmel

Literary Editor Matis Greenblatt

Juggling Work & Family g

I found the recent cover story (“Striking a Balance: Work & Family” [winter 2012]) to be informative and the profiles extremely impressive. However, with the exception of one or two women, the interviewees tended to be career women rather than working moms. Most women I know work because they have to, and while they may enjoy what they do, their work does not rank ahead of their families. The daily struggles and the guilt that working moms often face were not adequately portrayed in the profiles. My critical comments aside, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about women who manage to have successful careers while retaining their commitment to Torah.


I was thrilled to see working mothers as the focus of your recent issue. However, I was disappointed that one of the women took a swipe at stay-athome mothers. Women need to support one another in our various life choices. Some stay-at-home mothers are home because they cannot afford to go to work; others are home because that is where they want to be. In my community, it is the stay-at-home mothers who enable the community to function. They coordinate shul events, help serve school lunch and oversee the lice checks in schools. When we belittle each other’s life choices, we belittle each other’s lives. I support my friends and their different approaches to life, work and parenting; it would benefit our entire community if we all did the same. DANIELA WEISS-BRONSTEIN Great Neck, New York


The women featured in your cover story are successful and accomplished. Each has a strong support network which often includes a supportive and flexible spouse, a housekeeper and other outside help. But the twenty-first-century family does not always reflect the traditional makeup portrayed in the profiles. There are many successful Orthodox women who are single parents. Notwithstanding the many struggles they may face, these women are often successes both personally and professionally. Your article should have also included single mothers who juggle work and family and are able to provide a home with Jewish values for their children. DEBRA WEINER-SOLOMONT, MSW Jerusalem, Israel

JUDITH WEISS New York, New York



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Does having a full-time working mother negatively impact an Orthodox Jewish family? According to the women profiled in the winter issue of Jewish Action, the answer is an emphatic “no.” The women describe schedules that made serious demands on their time, and they seem to think that those choices didn’t affect their families and their children. It would have been interesting— and to my mind, far more informative—to ask the family members of these superwomen how they viewed the fact that their mom/wife was working so hard. Were they really as okay with it as their mothers/wives seem to think? At the very least, the article should have featured women who are stay-athome moms as well. What sacrifices

Assistant Editor Rashel Zywica Contributing Editors Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein • Dr. Judith Bleich Rabbi Emanuel Feldman • Rabbi Hillel Goldberg Rabbi Joseph Grunblatt • Rabbi Sol Roth Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter • Rabbi Berel Wein Editorial Committee David Bashevkin • Binyamin Ehrenkranz Mayer Fertig • David Olivestone • Gerald M. Schreck Rabbi Gil Student • Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb Advertising Director Carrie R. Beylus • 212.613.8226

Advertising Coordinator Eli Lebowicz Subscriptions 212.613.8146 Design KZ Creative ORTHODOX UNION Executive Vice President Rabbi Steven Weil Executive Vice President, Emeritus Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb Senior Director of Institutional Advancement Paul S. Glasser Chief Financial Officer Shlomo Schwartz Chief Human Resources Officer Lenny Bessler Chief Technology Officer Samuel Davidovics Chief Communications Officer Mayer Fertig President Martin Nachimson Chairman of the Board Stephen J. Savitsky Chairman, Board of Governors Mark Bane Communications Commission Gerald M. Schreck, Chairman Joel M. Schreiber, Chairman Emeritus Barbara Lehmann Siegel; Dr. Herbert Schlager; Rabbi Gil Student; Michael C. Wimpfheimer © Copyright 2013 by the Orthodox Union. Eleven Broadway, New York, NY, 10004. Telephone 212.563.4000 • Periodicals Postage Paid, New York, NY, and at additional mailing offices.



30 minutes 7-15 minutes Va aries

INGREDIENTS 2 Grow and Behold Pa stured Beef Steaks 1 tbsp cocoa powder 4 tsp cumin 2 tsp allspice 4 tsp black peppercor ns, crushed sea salt (to taste)


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does that lifestyle entail? How hard is it really? What are the ramifications of making that choice? Perhaps then your cover story “Striking A Balance” would have been somewhat more balanced. RABBI REUVEN SPOLTER Yad Binyamin, Israel

Ed. Note: We received a flood of letters in response to Fayga Marks’ article about her experience as a Chareidi woman in the IDF. Most were positive, but some readers felt that the article presented only one side of a complex story. We plan to address their concerns by publishing an alternative point of view in an upcoming issue.

A Chareidi Woman in the IDF g

Though some might argue the point, I imagine that Fayga Marks made a kiddush Hashem in many ways (“The Courage to Serve: A Chareidi Woman in the IDF” [spring 2013]). However, a red flag was raised at the end of her article where she writes, “Since I was discharged over a year ago, I haven’t gotten used to being back in Chareidi society. I never truly fit in here.” I certainly hope that she is able to meld back into a Torah-true lifestyle. Otherwise, the experiment will have been a failure. Whereas for most bnos Yisrael such a decision would be considered foolhardy, Ms. Marks obviously has special abilities uniquely qualifying her for the path she took. Whether such boldness should be presented to readers of Jewish Action as an ideal to be emulated is certainly debatable.

AARON SUBAR Monsey, New York g

Fayga Marks’ story is touching and inspirational on so many levels. I am deeply impressed by her individuality and fearlessness. Our nation would be blessed to have more fearless young women like her. Ms. Marks’ story gives young women the confidence to go out into the secular world with the assurance that they can remain firm in their religiosity and inspire others as well.

BRIE REICH Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel g Fayga Marks’ story brought tears to my eyes. This kind of kiddush Hashem, personal sacrifice and ability to cleave to Hashem while connecting with other Jews who are different than oneself will hasten the arrival of Mashiach. I hope she gets the opportunity to speak about her experience to audiences around the world.

RACHEL MOORE Neve Daniel, Gush Etzion



Summer 5773/2013


Complete Tisha Bâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Av Service

Commentary by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

Translations by Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb Äľ Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Edited by Rabbi Simon Posner


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Share a meaningful Tisha Bâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Av Experience e erience


By Martin Nachimson

Getting Started: The View from the West Coast

hen a new president of the Orthodox Union assumes office, he inevitably feels a sense of awe over being chosen to lead such an extraordinary organization and assume the responsibility of providing direction, guidance and strength to its various constituencies. The key constituency, of course, is the klal, the Jewish people. OU presidents must always bear in mind the organization’s motto: “Enhancing Jewish Life.” That message guides our every action; it is our motivation, our strength. At the outset, I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, my friend and colleague, Dr. Simcha Katz. The OU that existed in January 2010 when he took office is not the OU we see today. In terms of programming, and the staff to implement this programming, the organization has grown enormously. Our array of youth and kiruv initiatives, including the NextGen programs of NCSY, Jewish Student Union (JSU), the Heshe & Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC), Heart to Heart, OU Birthright and Alumni Connections, has made it clearer than ever where the future of the Jewish people lies. When I started getting involved with the OU, my first love was NCSY, so these developments are very important to me. But when the next generation takes over—and we are grooming them for that—they will most likely remember Dr. Katz’s presidency as the time when the affordability of Orthodox life, particularly regarding the cost of yeshivah and day school education, became the OU’s number-one domestic priority. Dr. Katz dramatically expanded the Institute for Public Affairs, adding staff to work with Nathan Diament to do locally what he does nationally. As a result, the OU is making an impact in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Louisiana,




Summer 5773/2013

Texas and California in the state houses on legislation to relieve the tuition burden on yeshivah families. Dr. Katz noted early in his term that the “tuition crisis” was fretted about for years, but now it is time for action to replace talk. To that end, he changed the playing field, and for that, his presidency will always be remembered with great respect. In his future involvement with the OU, I know that Dr. Katz will remain in the forefront of guiding the OU’s efforts to make Orthodox life more affordable for our families, with all its implications for shalom bayit, for viability of yeshivot and day schools and for “Enhancing Jewish Life.” Just as Dr. Katz built on his predecessors, I will build on mine. Since I am not from New York (full disclosure: I admit that I was born in Brooklyn before heading to Los Angeles, after the Dodgers prepared the way for me), I may be unique in the ranks of OU presidents, but because the Orthodox Union is an international organization, my outlook will always be as broad as possible. Perhaps we will have some leadership meetings in Los Angeles rather than in New York; perhaps the particular needs of the West Coast will become somewhat more prominent on the OU agenda, just because of my familiarity with them. That is natural. But there will be no major changes in the priorities of the OU. As mentioned, we are an international organization. We send our NCSY summer programs all over Europe in addition to Israel; we have an NCSY region based in Chile that also serves Argentina; we have ties with organizations working to rebuild Jewish life in Germany; our kashrut department offers kosher education programs that attract participants not only from Israel but from Europe and even Australia. Speaking of Australia, we have an ASK OU pro-

gram supported by the Harry H. Beren Foundation of New Jersey that provides a monthly shiur via Skype to a kollel in Melbourne. In my former positions as chair of the OU’s Youth Commission and the Synagogue Standards Commission, I have logged many airline miles visiting programs and shuls across North America. I have seen the OU’s work all over the country and, of course, in Israel. Certainly as new issues come to the fore in the years ahead the OU will respond. Right now, however, I would sum up our major priorities as the affordability of Orthodox life, the strengthening of our communities and the synagogues serving these communities, the strengthening and protection of Israel—both through our work with the various branches of the United States government and through our programs at the Seymour J. Abrams Jerusalem World Center—the focus on NextGen and kiruv from NCSY up to Alumni Connections, the advances in our development efforts to support OU Kosher in funding our agenda, the Inclusion of those with disabilities into the full life of the Jewish people through the wonderful work of Yachad and Our Way, the promotion of Torah education through the publications of OU Press and combating Jewish unemployment through the work of the OU Job Board. Regarding OU Kosher, the OU symbol is internationally respected as the gold standard of kashrut excellence. We must always remember that the same standard of integrity that we have come to expect from our kashrut division’s hashgachah must be reflected in every aspect of the OU’s lay and professional conduct. We promise nothing less. I look forward to working with lay leaders, staff, synagogues, community and political leaders and with whomever I will come into contact in the years ahead, sharing with them one goal—“Enhancing Jewish Life.” I invite you to work with me to benefit the klal. May we all go from strength to strength and by doing so, celebrate this kiddush Hashem. g


Summer 5773/2013 JEWISH ACTION 7


e recently celebrated Shavuos, a holiday on which we rejoice in the giving of the Torah not just to a nation, but to 600,000 individuals. As Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes, according to the Maharsha, 600,000 people means there are 600,000 ways to interpret and understand the Torah. This notion of diversity is fundamental to Jewish life and to Jewish learning. Walk into any yeshivah and witness the vigorous debates taking place; this attests to the multifaceted, multilayered and complex nature of the Torah. Debate and argumentation leshem Shamayaim—for the sake of discovering truth—have been the hallmark of the Jewish people for thousands of years. Jewish Action has always encouraged debate and dialogue for the sake of fostering greater unity and respect. While Jewish Action is the family magazine of the Orthodox Union, our mission, as stated in each issue, is not to present the opinion of OU leaders but to “provide a forum for a diversity of legitimate opinions within the spectrum of Orthodox Judaism.” Jewish Action’s refreshing honesty—its willingness to present both sides of a debate—is, I believe, one of




Summer 5773/2013

By Gerald M. Schreck

its greatest strengths. When, for example, we addressed the topic of social media, we published a symposium featuring rabbis and educators with vastly differing opinions—those who fully embrace the social media revolution to those who passionately reject it. Similarly, when we ran a piece on Orthodox life on campus, we presented the story of a student who became Orthodox on campus as well as the story of one who experienced significant challenges to his religious way of life. Our approach is neither to oversimplify nor to shy away from difficult topics. We respect our readers too much to tell them what to think. We present the issues and let our readers decide for themselves. Does our approach alienate certain readers? Inevitably it does. But we believe that “shivim panim laTorah”— “there are 70 faces (facets) to Torah”—must be our guiding principle if our publication is to genuinely reflect the full breadth of contemporary Orthodox Jewish life. We received a flood of letters in response to an article we published in the last issue about a young Chareidi woman serving in the IDF. While many of the writers extolled the soldier for her obvious courage and the impressive kiddush Hashem she made, others felt that the article did not address the serious concerns that the religious community in Israel has about women joining the IDF. As we noted in our Letters section, we hope to correct this oversight by exploring this complicated topic more fully in an upcoming issue. Our jam-packed summer issue is perfect reading during long Shabbos

afternoons. As we approach the first yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, we offer a talmid’s personal reminiscences of the tremendous posek as well as articles on some of his halachic decisions on public policy issues and on the latest medical technologies. We also feature an article exploring the little-known relationship between Rav Elyashiv and Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook. In a moving piece by OU Senior Writer Bayla Sheva Brenner, we read about the incredible courage of Rabbi Yehuda Simes, whose life was turned upside down two years ago when his car swerved off the road, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Rabbi Simes, the dean and co-founder of NCSY’s Torah High Ottawa and his remarkable life partner, Shaindel, teach us about patience, faith and optimism. On a lighter note, we meet some of the rising stars in the world of frum comedy, including Yisrael Campbell, whose former Off-Broadway show tells the story of his spiritual journey, and David Kilimnick, who opened a frum comedy club in Jerusalem. Additionally, in a special section, parenting experts seek to answer some of the toughest questions facing parents today. Topics include raising confident children, instilling emunah and discussing sexuality, to name a few. Of course, this issue also includes our usual array of articles on books, food, Israel and more. Please keep in mind that our editorial doors are always open, and we love to hear from you! So send us your comments at or e-mail us at Wishing all of you a restful and enjoyable summer! g

From the Desk of RABBI STEVEN WEIL, Executive Vice President

True Leadership eadership has always been a buzzword among the self-help gurus. Books, seminars and training sessions abound, aimed at helping people hone their leadership skills and effectively learn how to take control of their professional and personal lives. And while it is always helpful to learn from the CEOs, psychologists and motivational speakers who have dominated this market, we should not overlook the leadership lessons found in our own history. As the melech is the pinnacle of leadership, let us examine the stark contrast between the first two kings chosen by God and anointed by the prophet, who set the bar for all future leaders of Bnei Yisrael and from whom we can glean the most fundamental lessons for any kind of leader. Shaul was a fitting choice to be the very first king. He was a man of solid character, from a fine family, of imposing height and impressive stature, all tempered with his sincere trademark humility. Shmuel HaNavi, who anointed him, was clearly invested in his success and it did not take long for Shaul to win the acceptance of the people, even the initial skeptics. Dovid, second to take the throne, was an unusual choice. He was the black sheep of his family who questioned the legitimacy of his birth and in their shame, relegated him to the fields as an out-of-sight shepherd. When Shmuel came to Yishai’s home in search of the next king, Dovid was only brought out as an afterthought at the prompting of the prophet. His biological father didn’t understand the potential of his youngest son; his heavenly Father obviously did. In the course of their reigns, both Shaul and Dovid made mistakes for which they paid dearly. Shaul did not follow Hashem’s command on two separate occasions—once in battle against the Pelishtim and again during the war with Amalek. He was punished by hav-




Summer 5773/2013

ing the malchut taken away from his lineage. Dovid sinned by having an inappropriate relationship with Batsheva and by arranging for the death of her husband to cover it up. He was punished with the death of the son born to him and Batsheva and with terrible tragedies befalling three more of his children. Why did Shaul lose the kingship when Dovid secured it for eternity? What leadership qualities did Dovid possess that made him the paradigmatic ruler, and what qualities did Shaul lack that disqualified him from passing the mantle of kingship onto his descendants? Chazal teach that there are two approaches to understanding the divergent paths of these two great men. The first approach is that Dovid learned early on that he could not count on the support or approval of others. Because he was a descendant of Ruth the Moabitess, he was not fully accepted by his community. He had what Chazal call a “kuppa shel shratzim,” the equivalent of skeletons in the closet, and that set him apart from everyone else. Dovid grew up expecting not to be popular or beloved. He was not subject to the whims of the people or to popularity polls. The royal decisions he made were motivated by God’s will and God’s approval, because he knew from life experience that that was what truly mattered. That is what made him such an effective leader. Shaul was different. He was unquestionably a righteous man, but he knew how comforting and reassuring it was to have the support and confidence of his people. Tragically, he chose the will and approval of the people over Hashem’s explicit commands—both in battle against the Pelishtim when he was supposed to wait for Shmuel to arrive but instead capitulated to the fears of the people, and in battle with Amalek when he was commanded to destroy everything but gave in to the people who wanted to preserve the choicest livestock. A leader must

have the ability to do what is expected of him, what is right, even if it will make him unpopular. Chazal also focus on both leaders’ response to sin. It would appear as if Dovid’s offense was much greater. Even though Dovid was not technically guilty of adultery or murder (Batsheva had the conditional divorce all soldiers gave to their wives, and Uriah refused a direct command of the king and was therefore deserving of the death penalty as a moraid bemalchut), nevertheless he was guilty of serious improprieties that no Jewish king should engage in. Shaul’s mistakes were much less scandalous and much better intentioned—to assuage the fears of the people and to offer sacrifices that would be pleasing to God. But according to this approach, the offense is not the issue—rather, it’s each king’s response when confronted with his failing. Shaul tried to justify his actions—he had a difficult time understanding that he had done something wrong. Dovid, on the other hand, simply uttered two words: “chatasi laHashem, I have sinned before God.” Rather than trying to excuse what he had done, he engaged in teshuvah that has become an archetype for anyone needing to repent. It is a given that leaders will make mistakes. The difference is how they respond to their failures. Taking responsibility and seeking to change and improve is the hallmark of a great leader. Many of us assume positions of leadership. In our professions, our communities and our families, others look to us in some way or another for guidance and direction. Real leadership transcends successful habits, tipping points or how much we have gotten done before breakfast. Through the tragedy of Shaul and the triumph of Dovid, we see that serving our people means serving God first. We see that we must own up to our failures. Leadership is not just a buzzword; it is about being worthy of the position of influence and authority, being mindful and reverential of the responsibility and appreciating the far-reaching consequences of failure or success. g


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By Bayla Sheva Brenner

WhatDoes GodWant of MeNow? Rabbi Yehuda Simesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; Courageous Journey Bayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.



Summer 5773/2013

On the night of June 20th, 2010, a horrific car accident left Rabbi Yehuda Simes paralyzed from the neck down. Crushed by the ceiling of his minivan, he suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury. Had the lesion occurred just one millimeter lower, he wouldn’t have made it. popular rebbe at Hillel Academy in Ottawa, Ontario at the time, Rabbi Simes is today not only making it, his spirit has emerged even stronger. Three years since that harrowing night, Ottawa’s revered rebbe, who is also dean and co-founder of Torah High Ottawa, NCSY’s innovative Jewish studies program for public high school students, keeps defying the experts’ expectations. Despite his quadriplegia, he breathes and swallows on his own, no longer relies on a feeding tube and continues to work diligently to increase his range of motion. More challenging than his daily physical therapy regimen is the daily struggle to remain optimistic and hopeful, which keeps Rabbi Simes working overtime on his emunah.

Rabbi Yehuda Simes and his wife, Shaindel Photo: Issie Scarowsky


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But Rabbi Simes is determined to ace every daunting “quad moment” (when he falters while attempting to do something he could easily do prior to the accident). His efforts appear to be paying off. Despite his dependence on a “power chair” and 24/7 homecare, Rabbi Simes considers his life blessed, and in the most important ways—richer.

“hatov u’meitiv” (God is good and does good). “You’ve never seen a berachah like that before,” recalls Shaindel, who was seven months pregnant the night of the accident. “We were both bawling; the fact that this baby was born healthy and that my husband made it to the birth—there was just so much to be thankful for.”

Rabbi Yehuda Simes with his students at Torah High of Ottawa. Photo: Ottawa Jewish Bulletin

“Every person in this world has struggles,” Rabbi Simes told a rapt audience of community members at Torah High Ottawa’s fifth anniversary celebration in June 2011, twelve months after the accident. “Problems make you stronger, more loving, more understanding. I firmly believe that everything God does is good. You look at me, and it doesn’t look too good, and it doesn’t feel too good, but it’s good.” Amid the family’s painful new reality came moments of great joy. While Rabbi Simes was still in Ottawa Hospital’s ICU, just a few floors away his wife, Shaindel, gave birth to a baby boy. The ICU and the birthing unit joined forces to make it possible for him to be there when his new son entered the world. As soon as little Alter Chanoch Henoch was placed in his father’s lap, Rabbi Simes recited the berachah



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Despite his dependence on a “power chair” and 24/7 homecare, Rabbi Simes considers his life blessed, and in the most important ways—richer. Despite the initial shock, tears and setbacks, Rabbi Simes won’t allow himself the luxury of looking back. “I could be negative, but I prefer to focus on the fact that this world is here to help us grow,” he says. “I don’t think anyone should deny the suffering they have in their hearts, but then turn it into something positive. There is not an iota of doubt in my heart that this is what I need to be a better person. God puts each of us here to do the best we can with everything in our path. If

God believes in me, than I have to believe in myself.” Rabbi Simes views each day as a chance to start fresh, to start anew. “When we wash al netilat yadayim every morning, Hashem returns our souls to us; we are considered a new creation,” he says. “I just go forward.” Shaindel admits that moving forward requires a lot of patience. “For a long time [after the accident] there was me, and there was ‘my shadow,’” she says. “I would show up at my daughter’s Chumash party, a family Chanukah luncheon, my students’ graduations, but didn’t feel like I was really there. My brain told me, ‘Be happy, your daughter is getting her Chumash today.’ I smiled for the pictures, but didn’t feel like it was me.” Last spring, she experienced an unexpected emotional shift at her elder daughter’s high school graduation—the first public event she and her husband attended together since the accident. “I felt focused and totally in the moment; I really enjoyed myself,” says Shaindel. “Granted, the scene looked a little different; instead of my husband walking beside me, he was in a wheelchair beside me. After the graduation, we went out for ice cream. To be sitting outside at ten o’clock at night eating ice cream with the family was so normal, so real, so ourselves. We realized we could focus on ourselves as people first. I’ve come to a place of acceptance that I never thought I would come to two years ago.” Rabbi Simes pushes himself to do more and depend on his wife less. “It was a huge milestone when I was able to use my right elbow to press the big button [on the wall] that opens up doors for wheelchairs,” he says. “To actually go to an appointment by myself without an assistant doing that for me, it felt unbelievable, like total independence. Now I have to use that accomplishment to go even further.” Individuals from the community take turns coming to the Simes’ home each day to help Rabbi Simes put on tefillin and get him his siddur. After that, Rabbi Simes says he’s “good to go” with his davening, now that he is able to turn the pages on his own—another triumph.


The Hebrew School Hit By Bayla Sheva Brenner hy would thousands of secular Jewish teenagers gladly give up their afterschool chill time for two-and-a-half hours of Hebrew school? Try easy high school credits, unlimited kosher pizza and a chance to win a Mazda3. Call it incentive; call it bait—Torah High is working. The brainchild of Rabbi Glenn Black, CEO of NCSY Canada, Torah High, launched in 2003, continues to excite public high school students across North America about being Jewish. In a teen-engaging, nonthreatening setting, Torah High students are taking Jewish philosophy, ethics, history, Hebrew language and creative arts while earning high school or college credit. Currently, Torah High is found in Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton and Vancouver in Canada, as well as in Los Angeles, Portland, Chicago, Cleveland, Seattle and Minneapolis (Miami and Edmonton, Canada are in the works). Students also get to ask any question they’ve ever had about Judaism. “Before attending Torah High, I had no idea what being Jewish meant to me,” says Binah (nee Nicole) Gruz, from Thornhill, Ontario. “I was sixteen and didn’t have much direction; I felt no real purpose. Today, being Jewish is the most important thing in my life.” Gruz, now twenty-two, has been studying at a seminary in Israel since graduating high school. At Torah High, students don’t just learn about Judaism—they live it. Participation in “Jewish-life ex-


periences” translates into more credit hours. “With scores of Jewish learning hours, plus time spent at NCSY Shabbatonim and Purim celebrations, you’ve got the makings of a life-transforming experience,” says Rabbi Black.

Add some good food to the afterschool mix and you’ve captivated teens, body and soul. Fresh bagels, doughnuts, cereal and plenty of chocolate make up the tantalizing fare at Torah High Chicago. Weekly classes are held either at Starbucks or a local kosher restaurant. The program in Seattle offers teens coveted internships at major local tech startup companies, along with basic training in coding, accounting and finance. In an effort to attract Canada’s unaffiliated youth, Rabbi Black uses a creative marketing approach, running advertisements in movie theaters, on highway billboards and city buses. But, he reports, the most effective marketing tool continues to be word of mouth. Since its inception, 4,500 credits have been issued and more than 500,00 Torah

hours have been learned at the Toronto program alone. Rabbi Black attributes Torah High’s rising popularity to its “dynamic NCSYtrained teachers.” “I challenged the rabbis at Torah High,” says Matan Hazanov, twenty-three, who attended Torah High as a teen and who just returned to Ontario after studying at Yeshivas Aish HaTorah in Yerushalayim. “I asked them: ‘How can we know that God exists? Why would He allow His people to suffer? What about the divisions within the Jewish community here and in Israel? Why keep Shabbat? Why is keeping kosher significant?’ They didn’t look down on me because I wasn’t religious, which surprised me. They were open to my questions. It gave me the motivation to continue.” After attending a few classes, it wasn’t just for the credit anymore. “I enjoyed the learning,” says Hazanov. A few years back, Rabbi Black also started reaching out to Torah High parents, offering parent/teen workshops where families discuss Jewish topics of interest and community Shabbatons. He also began linking Torah High families with observant families for Shabbat seudot. “Engaging both generations is a healthier kiruv approach,” asserts Rabbi Black. “The parents become an active part of their children’s Jewish growth process.”


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Torah High Gets High Marks abbi Black maintains that even Torah High students who haven’t made lifestyle changes are deeply affected by their exposure to genuine Torah learning. “We have seen success in students who didn’t make changes in high school, yet go on to other outreach programs in university,” says Rabbi Black. “We have two categories here, the ‘practically frum’—those who take on the mitzvot—and the ‘attitudinally frum’—teenagers who acknowledge the value of observant Jewish life and would like to actually live it but are not supported at home. If you were to ask both types of kids what they want their Saturdays to look like in ten years, they would say they want it to look like Shabbat. These teens want to grow. The challenge is to help them maintain that desire.” To that end, Torah High partners with the OU’s Heshe & Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC), which places rabbinic couples to serve as Torah educators on local college campuses, as well as Aish HaTorah’s Jerusalem Fellowship program, which takes university students to Israel each summer. Encouraged by the program’s success, Rabbi Black aims to reach between 1,500 to 2,000 more teens per year, and to continue launching programs across North America and beyond. “If there’s an opportunity to start another Torah High, we are 100 percent committed,” says philanthropist Don Ghermezian from Riverdale, New York, who helped finance a few Torah Highs. “I hope that Torah High will be mekarev thousands of kids who otherwise would have no connection to Judaism. It is definitely proving it can.”

R Everyone’s Pain— Everyone’s Growth Rabbi Simes and his wife attribute both the physical and spiritual gains to the constant flow of generosity and concern expressed by the Ottawa Jewish community. The day after the accident, community members organized a massive prayer service, as well as weekday and Shabbat meals, babysitters, household help and drivers for the family. The Simes family asked that individuals enhance their Shabbat observance as a merit for Rabbi Simes’ recovery. Those who responded first to this request were Rabbi Simes’ staunchest fans—his students. “I tried not turning on lights on Shabbat in his honor,” says Abigail Freeman, twenty, a student at McGill University who attended Torah High Ottawa. “He’s an amazing teacher; he didn’t lecture. He asked our opinion and he always listened, valuing what we said.” She made sure to visit him before going off to university. “He asked me about my summer and the college courses I would be taking. He was sitting in his wheelchair, not able to move, talking to me about me,” she says. “That was typical Rabbi Simes, always positive, caring about others, continuing his life as best he can with his belief in God and Judaism.” Tobin Kaiman, twenty-four, another Torah High Ottawa graduate, currently serving in the IDF, concurs. “Most people in his condition tend to fall into depression,” he says. “Watching him



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daven, you could see how connected he is to God, before and after the accident. I would like to emulate that. If it weren’t for Rabbi Simes, I wouldn’t be on this [Torah-observant] path.” Originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, Rabbi Simes, shy by nature, began his teaching career upon graduating from Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim of Queens, New York. He taught at Yeshiva Central Queens and at Yeshiva Tifereth Moshe, both in Queens.

In 2002, Rabbi Simes and his family moved to Ottawa, following the Yeshiva’s philosophy that a rebbe “should serve as a big fish in a small pond.” He quickly became one of Hillel Academy’s most beloved teachers. His infectious passion for Judaism and his genuine love for every student earned him Ottawa’s prestigious GrinspoonSteinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education in 2007, as well as the admiration of everyone he encountered.

Just How Effective Is Torah High? Recently, an independent study assessed the impact of Torah High programs, and found significant positive changes in students’ attitudes and beliefs toward Judaism:

Rabbi Yehuda Simes teaches his seventh grade class at the Ottawa Jewish Community School, formerly the Hillel Academy. Photo: Nicola Hamer/Ottawa Jewish Bulletin






• 60 percent of respondents were more inclined to date a Jewish man/woman. • 64 percent of students said they were likely to get involved in Jewish life on campus. • Close to 70 percent of students felt more strongly about providing their future children with a Jewish education. • More than 60 percent of students reported that since enrolling in Torah High, they are more likely to visit Israel. • 74 percent felt a greater connection to Torah and Torah values as a result of Torah High.

“He’s a master of communication,” says Bram Bregman, executive director and co-founder of Torah High Ottawa. “He thinks about how the other person will hear his words. Every lesson is interactive, engaging and well-organized. Kids look forward to his classes. His teaching tenet is: if it’s not working, it’s not them; it’s me.”

Moving Out —Moving On As Rabbi Simes’ daily schedule becomes more predictable, questions arise about how the new reality will affect the rest of the family (they have nine children, k”ah). “After the injury, we were all focused on healing my body,” Rabbi Simes says. “They didn’t think that much about the need to heal themselves,” he says. “They had to come to an understanding about what this new life means for the entire family—that it’s their trauma as well. With everybody putting in the effort, my relationship with the children has become much more normalized. They have done wonderfully, beyond what anyone could have imagined.” Their youngest child, who turned two in September, enjoys a very different kind of interaction with his father than his brothers and sisters had at his age. “His fa-

ther can’t pick him up, but he can sit on his Abba’s lap and stroke his face and give him a hug,” says Shaindel. “When his Abba calls him over for a berachah on Friday night, he comes running and holds his head just at the right position so that my husband can reach him. If my husband and I truly believe that this is what’s supposed to be, then we are going to be okay with it. And

His question is not “Why did this happen to me?” Rather it’s “What does God want of me now?” if the children see that we’re okay with it, then they will be too.” This past July, the Simes family left their split-level home for a new, completely wheelchair-accessible house. “Everything is on the first floor,” says Shaindel. “My son asked me, ‘You mean Abba can come in the kitchen?’ He hadn’t been in the kitchen for two years. We have an elevator to the basement, where he could give shiurim. And now we have room for exercise therapy machines. We felt that we were on the brink of a new beginning.”


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The couple with two of their children. The younger child seen above was born soon after the accident. Photo: Issie Scarowsky

Grateful to begin a “new chapter in their lives,” Rabbi Simes has begun teaching again. He is also a guest speaker at Torah High Ottawa once a month. “Just months ago, he was asking, ‘What am I going to do now?’” says Shaindel, who has also returned to teaching at Torah Academy of Ottawa. “We don’t take things for granted. Simple things take on so much more meaning. The kids had a function at school and we were able to go; I now cook for Shabbat. You have to really live each day and see that each one has its opportunities.” Rabbi Simes no longer speaks to his classes about the accident and how it affected him. “They can draw their own conclusions from what they see, which is pretty obvious,” he says. “It’s a huge challenge not to focus on myself, thinking about my own body. Once I started looking outward, I saw so much chizuk around me; it’s just up to us to find it.” Rabbi Simes’ bold attempts to reenter the world serve to intensify his relationship with God. “I feel closer to Hashem, without a doubt—much closer,” he says. “I’m asking for His help



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more and more; it’s tremendously calming. When davening in the past, I focused on the difficulties. I now realize that there is a fine line between davening for health and going overboard and thinking about it all the time; it impeded my moving forward. I feel siyata d’Shmaya; it’s unbelievable how often He’s there helping me.” A number of months ago, while attending a Jewish Unity Live event, a community-wide Torah learning celebration run by JET (Jewish Education Through Torah) in Ottawa, Rabbi Simes learned that reentry into society doesn’t necessitate putting one foot in front of the other. At the close of the evening, the participants got up to dance. “I went in circles in my wheelchair and everyone stood around me clapping,” Rabbi Simes says. “I didn’t like that; it shouldn’t be about me. I joined the outside circle and by controlling the speed of my chair and maneuvering it to go along with the dancers, I participated. I am a person, not a quad.” As he did before the accident, Rabbi Simes continues to reach out to help others. “Any Jew who meets him—from

the most unaffiliated or even anti-Orthodox—are inspired by him. He’s such a kiddush Hashem,” says Bregman. “It’s his kindness, the way he speaks to people with such understanding. He gets letters and e-mails from both Jews and nonJews. His question is not ‘Why did this happen to me?’ Rather it’s ‘What does God want of me now?’ That incredible attitude is what inspires others.” Known for their guest-filled Shabbat table, the Simes couple look forward to opening their home again. “When my husband made Kiddush for us for the first time since the accident, I felt like I was getting a glimpse of what the future could look like,” says Shaindel. “There were times when I asked myself, is it worth the struggle? But I knew I wouldn’t go down without a fight. I was going to do whatever I could to make this work. My husband and I have a whole future ahead of us. And I’m proud to be there beside him along this journey.” g To listen to interviews with Rabbi Yehuda and Shaindel Simes, visit and




Experts Weigh In



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By Simi Yellen, as told to Barbara Bensoussan

How Do We Raise Confident, Happy Children?

his isn’t called tough love; it’s called real life. In the real world, nobody is going to smooth everything over for your children all the time. The biggest gift you can give your children is to allow them to work through less-than-ideal situations. Let them develop the psychological muscles they need to cope with hard challenges. Too many kids today grow up without having acquired the ability to work hard to accomplish a goal. A fourth grade class was assigned a rebbe who had a reputation for being difficult. The students’ parents handled the situation differently. One set of parents coddled their son. They righted any wrongs, brought their complaints to the administration and basically shielded their child from dealing with the situation. Another set of parents told their son, “Not every rebbe is easy to deal with, but in life, not every boss is easy either. Your job is to learn as best as you can despite the circumstances.” They made it clear that whining and complaining his way through the year was not an option. They didn’t coddle him, but when the year was over, they praised him for having gotten through it so well. The lesson carried over into the months that followed. If his sister annoyed him, his parents would remind him, “Hey, you just got through ten months with a hard rebbe; this is nothing for you!” Having endured a difficult situation allowed their son to build character, and gave him the confidence that he could handle other bumps on the road of life.

Many parents think that you can build a child’s self-esteem simply by showering him with constant compliments. Others believe that a child will gain self-esteem by feeling successful all the time; hence, they bend over backwards to make sure that happens. For example, if the homework is too hard, they’ll call the teacher to ask for an easier assignment. These strategies only backfire in the end. They hinder rather than help a child develop real self-esteem. If a child never faces challenges, he’ll never learn how to push himself or how to function in less-than-ideal situations. If you constantly set a child up to win, he will never learn to lose. But knowing how to lose is an important life skill.


Simi Yellen has been positively transforming homes for over a decade through her teleconference parenting classes and private consultations. Her new tenweek series entitled “Raise the Bar Parenting” empowers parents to raise respectful, responsible and cooperative children through curtailing arguing, chutzpah and other negative behaviors. Barbara Bensoussan has worked as a university instructor and a social worker, and currently writes for Jewish newspapers and magazines. Her most recent novel is A New Song (Southfield, Michigan, 2007).


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IF THERE’S NO STAGE ON WHICH A CHILD CAN SHINE, THE PARENT HAS TO BUILD HIM ONE. Parental love is a necessary ingredient in instilling self-esteem—as essential as flour in a cake recipe. If a child doesn’t receive enough time, attention and affection, and a sense that her parents believe in her, it will be hard for her to feel confident—even as an adult. It’s not so much about the reality of the situation as it is about the child’s perception of the situation. A person who felt emotionally deprived as a child may make bad decisions in life because she may misinterpret attention—including inappropriate forms of attention—as love. She may grow up seeing herself as unworthy or inferior, and will see every deficit as evidence of her unworthiness. For example, a child with a positive self-image who’s not good at sports can still feel okay about himself knowing that he’s good at other things; a child with low self-esteem will see his failure in sports as part of a larger picture of inadequacy. Since our children spend most of their day in school, if a child isn’t a strong student, it’s incumbent upon his parents to find other areas in which he can excel. If there’s no stage on which a child can shine, the parent has to build him one. Identify your child’s strengths and find an arena where they can be displayed, allowing him to feel worthwhile. For example, I know a few boys who are in charge of the local shul’s seudah shelishis, a meal attended by hundreds of people. They know they have a responsibility; if they don’t come, congregants won’t have a seudah. There are other children who



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raise tzedakah for various causes or who work with younger children, helping them with homework, et cetera. A young boy I know is dyslexic, which makes it difficult for him to read and process information. His father researched if any of the gedolim were dyslexic, but couldn’t find such a role model for his son. When it became clear that his son probably wouldn’t be a gadol hador, his father began pointing out the names of benefactors prominently displayed on the walls of neighborhood yeshivos. He would tell his son, “You see these men? They’re businessmen. It’s because they’re so successful in business that we’re able to have a kollel.” He showed his son that there’s more than one way to be a successful and influential Jew. Another parent had a child with disabilities related to language processing. Whenever the child would make an insightful comment, the father would say, “You’re smart as a whip!” The child internalized that he has the ability to understand things well and is very bright. He viewed his language-processing deficiencies as a problem to work on, but he didn’t perceive himself as being dumb as a result of his learning difficulties. Parents’ attitudes toward grades also make a big difference. You can communicate to your child that effort matters much more than grades. You can say, “Your 75 means much more to us than another child’s 95, because we know how much effort you put in. Hashem’s in charge of the results, any-

way.” The truth is that bright kids sometimes don’t learn to work hard, and it doesn’t serve them well later on. As mentioned earlier, a child needs to learn about hard work and effort. Parents can also model the right way to deal with tough situations by openly discussing their own struggles with tasks or difficult people. We want our kids to be happy. But what people often don’t realize is that happiness is a by-product, not a goal. You can make a crying child happy by giving him a lollipop, but that’s just a short-term fix. In the end, you do him a disservice by depriving him of the opportunity to learn how to deal with disappointment. You create a self-centered child with a sense of entitlement, who will be more unhappy in the long run when things don’t go his way. Real happiness is ultimately based on spiritual satisfaction, on doing the right thing and having simchah shel mitzvah. Mitzvos and good deeds produce intrinsic satisfaction that doesn’t require rewards like lollipops or stars on a chart. One of my clients was recently on her way into the house laden with packages when one of her children surprised her by offering to help. When they finished, this boy—whose teacher is big on charts and stars— asked her, “Mommy, will you give me a star?” She answered, “No, but you’ve got something better than a star.” The child asked, “What’s that?” “You have good middos,” the mother replied. “Ah,” the child said, nodding wisely. “Yes, that’s much better.” g

PRAYERS FOR THE WELFARE OF THE STATE & FOR THE WELFARE OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL Sources and Halakhot By Rabbi Avraham Steinberg The prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel, like the country for which it is recited, is often at the center of controversy. Rabbi Avraham Steinberg presents a balanced, intellectually honest, fascinating analysis of the history and philosophy of the prayer.

TO MOURN A CHILD Jewish Responses to Neonatal and Childhood Death Edited by Jeffrey Saks and Joel B. Wolowelsky This poignant and powerful anthology consists primarily of personal accounts written by parents and other family members who have experienced the death of a child. In addition, there are essays by rabbis and healthcare professionals together with selections from traditional Jewish sources. An eloquent testimony to the strength of the human spirit and the redemptive power of Judaism.

BIRKAS YITZCHAK Chidushim U’veurim al HaTorah By Rabbi Menachem Genack Covering all Five Books of the Torah, Birkas Yitzchak contains Rabbi Menachem Genack’s illuminating and creative insights on parshat hashavuah. A prize student of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav, Rabbi Genack includes many of the Rav’s gems of wisdom in his book.


Books of Jewish Thought and Prayer that Educate, Inspire, Enrich and Enlighten


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By Yocheved Debow



s Orthodox Jewish parents, we strive to convey our commitment to halachah to our children. Imparting these values requires time and thought, and we therefore send them to schools which offer a thorough Jewish education. However, in the area of sexuality and relationships, about which most children—and particularly adolescents—show curiosity and interest, and about which the halachah has clear opinions, we, and the schools we send our children to, often choose to be silent. This silence itself communicates an important message. Not talking about sexuality, especially when it is so much talked about in movies and the media, gives an implicit message that Judaism is at the very least uncomfortable about sexuality or, worse, has nothing positive to say on the subject. In addition, there is no avoiding the automatic association that when parents


Dr. Yocheved Debow holds a doctorate from Bar-Ilan University’s School of Education. Her research focuses on sexuality and intimacy education in the Modern Orthodox community. She is the author of Talking about Intimacy and Sexuality: A Guide for Orthodox Jewish Parents, published by Ktav and OU Press. Dr. Debow currently teaches at Midreshet Moriah and is the academic principal at Midreshet Emunah v’Omanut. She resides in Alon Shevut, Israel, with her husband, Rabbi David Debow, and their six children.



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refuse to talk about these topics, children perforce conclude that sexuality is bad and shameful. In order for our children to view a Torah lifestyle as being relevant to them, they must experience Torah as addressing issues that concern them. Talking about sexuality and relationships from a halachic perspective helps our children appreciate the wisdom and relevance of Judaism to these significant aspects of their lives, and by extension, to their lives in general.

Why do we hesitate? We often fail to educate in these areas because we feel ill-equipped to approach them properly. The topics of sexuality and intimacy can be complex and awkward. However, if we do not provide a thoughtful, open, honest forum for discussion, our children will look for information and a value system elsewhere. Sometimes we invoke the idea of tzeniut, modesty, and use it as an excuse to avoid discussing such topics with our children. While tzeniut is a core value and certainly applies to the way in which we converse with our children about these topics, we cannot escape the fact that our children’s environment is already quite heavily saturated with sexuality. Choosing not to talk to our children about these issues will not advance the cause of tzeniut

but, to the contrary, will succeed in promoting the values of the general culture and its anti-tzeniut stance as the children’s sole source of sexual values. Openness and honesty are not compromised by sensitivity to tzeniut, properly understood. It is important that we not delude ourselves. While we all try to protect our children from inappropriate material, we cannot be naïve and think that they are not going to hear, see or know anything about sexuality. For anyone who lives in a community which allows some modernity, it will be difficult—if not impossible—to protect children from at least partial knowledge of sexuality. Whether through friends or the Internet, television shows or books, they will gradually develop ideas about sexuality. Therefore, the onus is on us to speak to our children in the manner and in the context of our choosing. We must employ age-appropriate, correct information in order to provide an alternative message to those they absorb from the world around them.

Support from the Talmud The Talmud, too, recognizes the importance of teaching about sexuality. In a surprising passage in Berachot 62a, we are told that Rav Kahana hid under his teacher’s bed in order to learn about sexual relations. While his teacher instructs him to leave because his behavior is not appropriate, the Talmud does not criticize Rav Kahana. Rather, it gives him the final word when he explains his behavior saying, “This is Torah and I must learn it.” And so, in fact, the Gemara explicitly supports the idea that sexuality is an important part of life, that it is natural to be curious about it and that it is the responsibility of parents and educators to share knowledge with their children on these topics. Our children are curious by nature, and this curiosity includes sexuality. One way or another, they will find ways to access the information they seek. Rav Kahana chose a most inap-

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they are curious and have nowhere else to turn. If we choose to engage them in conversation at the right time and in the right context for each child, they will continue to view us as a reliable source of information.

Being Proactive

Dr. Yocheved Debow propriate way of learning about sexual relations, by hiding in his teacher’s bedroom. Our teenagers have their own ways of finding out answers to their questions. However, these sources, though easily available, tend to be highly problematic and inaccurate. Our children turn to them when

As parents, we should not only be reactive—forced to respond to the topic because of external circumstances—but rather proactive, broaching the topic and presenting the issues we consider educationally and developmentally appropriate for our child. Children deserve straightforward answers to their questions about sexuality. As they grow older, teenagers should also be taught about Judaism’s nuanced and positive approach to sexuality and pleasure in the appropriate contexts. I believe that speaking clearly about sexuality gives children power to better understand their bod-

ies. Judaism has some deep and meaningful messages about sexuality and it behooves us to share that relevant, beautiful approach to sexuality which is authentic to our tradition regardless of what the secular culture has to say. Even if my child was truly sheltered and I wasn’t worried about what she would pick up off the street, I would be enthused about sharing the Torah’s view of sexuality for its wisdom, sensitivity and healthy attitude. The message that sexuality has innate kedushah in the appropriate context is rarely transmitted to our children. By working to overcome our own personal difficulties with these topics for the sake of our children, we can provide an alternative voice—one that is positive and based in traditional Jewish values. g To listen to an interview with Dr. Yocheved Debow, please visit

Is Your Child Ready to Discuss Sexuality? By Yocheved Debow

Child’s Maturity

When considering what to tell your children about sexuality, it is helpful to consider the following factors:

Do you think your child is mature enough to be able to differentiate between private and public? Will your child be able to respond to your conversation maturely, or will he become embarrassed? If you consider your child not so mature but she has asked questions, it is especially important to answer thoughtfully, perhaps beginning with partial information and moving on to more detailed information only if the child continues to question. Remember to find out what your child already knows and what she is really asking.

· Child’s milieu · Child’s maturity · Openness in the family · Norms of the community

Child’s Milieu Who are your child's friends and what is the nature of the information these friends might have? Is it likely that they are more aware than your child? Does your child watch television? And if so, what shows does he or she watch, and how often? Are there filters on the computer he uses, or is your child able to watch and explore whatever he chooses? Is your child an avid reader? If so, what is she reading? All of these factors will impact on how much access they may already have to information and can factor into your decision about what you would like to share with your child.



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Openness in the Family Each family has its own rules about what can and cannot be discussed. If your family speaks openly and easily about personal matters, the question of how to initiate a conversation about sexuality will not be too difficult. In families in which there are rarely conversations about personal matters, parents might need to be more thoughtful as to how, and at what age, they will want to

broach these topics. Remember that your comfort level is also important here; try to ensure your own comfort, if at all possible.

Norms of the Community While you may choose to be really open about sexuality in your family, or quite the opposite, very hesitant to speak about sexuality, be aware that your children spend much of their lives outside of the home. Be cognizant of the norms in your community; recognize that they constantly change as norms in secular society become more permissive. Children often walk around with partial information pieced together from comments by friends, fragments of television shows or parts of conversations they have overheard. If that might be the case for your child, the sooner you start a conversation with him in these areas, the sooner he will come to understand that you are, in fact, a very good resource for honest, accurate information about sexuality.

By Lawrence Kelemen • Interview by Leah R. Lightman

Why are so many kids today

“off the



oday, most of the calls I get are from parents whose children have gone off the derech. People are confused as to what is the root cause of kids going off the derech and what are secondary and tertiary effects. We mistakenly think our kids go off the derech because they saw something on a cell phone, weren’t exposed to the beauty of Shabbos or haven’t learned an intriguing Maharal from an inspired teacher. In certain segments of the community, some think that perfectly stable children are spiritually blown to pieces by college courses or cell phones equipped with texting technology. In reality, the crack is in the foundation. It starts at home, and it can be remedied at home. A child’s spiritual health depends on his parents’ spiritual health, their shalom bayis and the love and acceptance they show their child. Psychologists speak about three categories of causes for children leaving religion.1 First, there are child risk factors, such as attention deficit disorder

Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen counsels and lectures in Israel and America. He is the author of several books, including To Kindle a Soul: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Parents and Teachers (Michigan, 2001), and he is director of the International Organization of Mussar Vaadim. Leah R. Lightman is a writer living in Lawrence, New York, with her husband and family.

(ADD), hyperactivity, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), learning disabilities, poor academic abilities, poor social skills and depression. Second, there are environmental risk factors, which include major medical or economic crises, corrupt rabbis and teachers, sexual abuse, physical abuse, lack of recognition of individual strengths and Internet abuse. Third, there are family risk factors, which include hypercritical or angry home environments, parents with poor parenting skills and lack of shalom bayis. But not all of these risk factors are equally fundamental or powerful; one of these towers over all the others. The Torah neatly organizes this mountain of “causes,” showing us the one root cause and its many secondary effects. Where does the Torah speak about off-the-derech kids? Only once, in Parashat Ki Teitzei, referring to a rebellious child, the “ben sorer umoreh.” Rashi might have been the one to coin the phrase “off the derech.” He defines “sorer” as a child who has “turned off the derech.” And what is the one factor our tradition says blew this child off the proper path? The Gemara (Sanhedrin 107a) says that one who marries a beautiful woman captured in battle (ishah yifat toar) will produce this rebellious child. Why? According to the Sifrei, because a man who selfishly marries for beauty will eventually hate his wife, and hatred in marriage de-

stroys children spiritually. It is this simple: selfish pursuits kill shalom bayis, and lack of shalom bayis destroys the next generation. Teachers and school administrators can certainly do damage, but not the sort of damage that can be done by parents. The Steipler Gaon said that success with our children is 50 percent shalom bayis and 50 percent prayer. He never mentioned schools. Rabbi Moshe Prager, a rebbe at Yeshiva Neveh Zion, says that 40 percent of the off-thederech boys he works with are the products of divorced homes. I theorize that the other 60 percent come from homes where the parents are still married, but the marriage is not flourishing—at least not by the Torah’s standards. Good schools and extracurricular programs can make a big difference, but the solution must start at home, and especially with the parents’ middos and shalom bayis. But we have plenty of data showing associations between hypercritical or angry home environments and off-thederech kids. Doesn’t this suggest that criticism and anger are also root causes, along with shalom bayis? Criticism and anger are very damaging, without a doubt. Nearly every off-the-derech kid describes being emotionally scarred by these sorts of behaviors. As Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, mashgiach ruchani of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey, wrote brilliantly, “It isn’t


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“it isn’t accurate to call them ‘dropouts’; rather, they should be called ‘push-outs.’” accurate to call them ‘dropouts’; rather, they should be called ‘push-outs.’”2 But even hypercritical and angry parenting is a secondary effect. It starts with parental selfishness, and that leads to shalom bayis issues. Ultimately, we cause kids to go off the derech. “Frum inflation” is also a factor. Our kids can’t keep up with the rising emotional and physical tolls of being an outstanding Orthodox Jew. While young boys during the times of the Mishnah weren’t expected to start learning Talmud until age fifteen, today we demand that of children under ten who can’t possibly fathom what they are learning. The length and intensity of the school day is unprecedented and torturous, and those children who can’t sit still and concentrate through classes from morning until night are left behind or encouraged to take stimulant medications to help them become more “healthy.” In certain segments of the Orthodox world, playing ball is often discouraged, and team sports are virtually nonexistent. Courses on the first mitzvah, emunah, are rarely taught to “normal” students, and raising questions about or debating this taboo topic has earned hundreds of fine boys and girls rebuke, suspension or, in extreme cases, expulsion. When I poll Bais Yaakov graduates about their emotional associations with certain mitzvos, I often find that they feel very warm about the mitzvah of taking challah and very cold about the mitzvah of tzenius. Do we teach these two mitzvos differently? And if we do approach these mitzvos differently, and one approach produces longterm results that are so much better, why don’t we always use the more successful approach? How do we teach kids to take challah? We make a party, with music playing, and bake delicious bread while laughing and having fun. How do we 28


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teach tzenius? We clobber our students. We are harsh. We single students out and embarrass them in public. We toss kids out of school for violating a chumrah. We blame communal tragedies on our children’s lack of tzenius. Tzenius is one of the few areas where we behave at home and in the classroom as if we know nothing about chinuch. Then the kids reject tzenius, so we parents and teachers feel the need to be even harsher—it’s a nonproductive, vicious cycle. Overall, it’s a lot harder to be an acceptable Jewish kid today than it was a generation or two ago. The number-one insurance policy for keeping kids on the derech is for parents to establish a set time every week when they spend time alone, concentrating on each other and their relationship—a date with no interruptions, no cell phones or surfing the web and no fighting, bashing or badgering. In short, a loving weekly date that takes priority over all else. The number-two insurance policy is at least one parent doing the same with every child every week. Secondly, having a rav, someone parents are in contact with every week or two, whom both spouses trust and open up to, is key to maintaining shalom bayis. It’s hard to imagine how a couple could have shalom bayis without fulfilling the dictum in Pirkei Avot “Aseh lecha rav.” If a child goes off the derech, parents have to admit the possibility that mistakes may have been made at home, approach our generation’s chinuch experts and humbly accept advice and direction. Hashem has sent so many malachim to this generation, people who have been successfully helping parents and children in this situation, and they are available.

Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen There is no generic formula for bringing a child back from the brink. Each situation is unique and requires a customized program for the child and his parents. That is why it is so essential for parents to approach an expert for help. It is tempting to try to solve the problem of off-the-derech kids just by beefing up our formal and informal educational programs. Undoubtedly, great teachers and NCSY programs have saved more than a few kids’ spiritual lives. But it’s time we got to the root of the problem so that we don’t have so many kids who need to be saved. We’ve pretty much mastered the art of sending ambulances to the bottom of the cliff; we just haven’t made enough of an effort to build a fence on top so people don’t fall off in the first place. We need to address our fundamental selfishness and the resulting shalom bayis problems. It is important to note that the “shidduch crisis” plays a prominent role in the off-the-derech-child scenario. Is there that much of a difference between a man who grabs a pretty girl in battle and a yeshivah bachur who will not date a girl, no matter how wonderful her middos are, if she (or in some cases, even her mother) wears a double-digit dress size? Is it really love of Torah that encourages shidduchim to be filtered by the level of financial support promised by the other side?

When I contacted the head of a prestigious American yeshivah to ask if he might have a shidduch for my daughter, he asked me “what level boy” I was interested in. Unsure what he meant, I asked for clarification. “Top boys go for $100,000 a year, but we also have boys for $70,000 a year and even $50,000 a year.” He said that if I was ready to make the commitment, he could begin making recommendations immediately. When a boy (or a rosh yeshivah!) picks a girl based on how much parnassah she will bring him, isn’t that just a variation of the ishah yifat toar theme? An elite yeshivah student, twentythree years old, from a well-to-do family, recently confided in me that he wants to marry a girl who has a serious career. Pointing out that he is already independently wealthy and doesn’t need the money, I asked him why. He unabashedly explained that if she is busy with a career, she won’t require so much of his attention. We, more than previous generations, can testify that this sort of selfishness is ultimately lethal. It kills marriages— and the next generation. It is clear that a reworking of our values is needed. Young couples setting up their Torah homes need guidance in making sure their shalom bayis is launched successfully and then nurtured so the couple can transmit it to their own children. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. g

notes 1. Dr. Norman Blumenthal and Shimon Russell, “Children in Crisis: Detection and Intervention,” Paper presented at Nefesh Conference (Asbury Park, New Jersey, 1999). 2. Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, With Hearts Full of Love (Brooklyn, 2009), 73.

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By Ilan Feldman


EMUNAH CHILDREN? THE BEST WAY TO INSTILL EMUNAH IN CHILDREN IS TO PICK THEM UP WHEN THEY CRY. There is a common misconception about emunah. People think of emunah as the result of philosophic inquiry. If that were the case, no real emunah is possible for children; all we can hope for is to get them to talk as if they have emunah and sing songs that assert that God is here and everywhere. Actually, while contemplation might result in emunah, emunah is far more commonly a natural expression of the human condition. When it is absent, it is because something has happened that damages the natural capacity a person has to appreciate and trust his or her Source and Essence. Emunah is not a mimetic behavior or a skill—or even an attitude. It’s not a thought a person draws upon when encountering tough times; it’s a way of being. For those who live with emunah, emunah is like gravity. Awareness of Rabbi Ilan Feldman has been the rabbi of Congregation Beth Jacob in Atlanta, Georgia, since 1991 and has been struggling with emunah since he was five years old.



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God as one Who exists, Who knows and cares, Who responds to my existence, Who believes in me and expects things from me as much as I believe in Him—all this is so real that decisions are made and actions are performed much the same way that the laws of physics are taken into account before passing the butter. It is so much a part of reality that one need not think about it. Emunah is not so much a belief as it is a context or a prism through which the world is filtered. Yet, to live with emunah is to be clear about, and profoundly related to, an ephemeral, non-physical, invisible, unprovable realm whose existence has non-immediate consequences. For emunah to be present, an individual has to be sensitive to the presence of something beside, and beyond, the physical world. This is the challenge of life, felt more acutely in our modern world than ever before, where physical pleasure, power and fame are the currency of value: to live lives in a physical world that are devoted to a mission that exists in a nonphysical world. The mishnah in Avot (4:21) asserts that three things “chase a person from

the world,” meaning, put one out of touch with reality: jealousy, desire and pursuit of honor. Any one of these three obsessions blinds a person to anything spiritual. They are the result of a single-minded focus on material things. They make it impossible to develop the senses needed to perceive the spiritual dimension of life—the reason for life—or even to be aware that there is such a realm. When material things become the currency in which we deal, emunah becomes impossible. For children to live with emunah awareness, we must reinforce their natural tendency to trust, to depend on their parents. When a child cries, it is not the bottle that makes the difference, but the context in which the bottle is delivered—with love, reliability, connection and nurturance. These are all abstracts, and they point to a domain that is not physical, yet is as real as the bottle. As the child grows, she learns that she is loved, is provided for and can afford to trust without fear of betrayal. The child learns to appreciate, and the child learns that she is loveable as well. These are the foundations of emunah.

A SUPERIOR EDUCATION U Rabbi Ilan Feldman The question of imparting emunah to young children and teens is only a concern to parents and a society for whom emunah is a reality. Parents, teachers and other role models who don’t deal with God as a personal reality will have no questions about imparting this awareness to children, which points to the most effective way of imparting emunah to the next generation— living and demonstrating in our own discourse and relationships the opposite of jealousy, desire and longing for recognition. It means passing up opportunities for personal pleasure in favor of spiritual pleasure, which is all about connection to others, and to the Other. And it means living a life of humility, aware as we are that there is a God who put us here for a purpose. Opportunities to make these statements abound in daily family living: in how parents relate to each other, in how religious obligations are met, in what topics dominate casual conversation, in the style of parenting our children experience. Being a reliable and dependable parent, or a loving and loyal spouse, creates the context in which emunah in a God with similar characteristics can thrive. After a blessing is recited, we respond with “Amen,” a derivative of the word emunah. A blessing affirms awareness of the Source, and expresses appreciation for being the recipient of gifts. Responding with Amen takes the affirmation of the blessing and keeps it alive in the world for others. The most effective way of passing emunah on to the next generation is to lead lives that embody and express a resounding Amen in the presence of the gifts around us. g

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Summer 5773/2013


The Great


A few weeks after I arrived in Eretz Yisrael in 1974 to learn in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, I received a heartfelt letter from a kollel fellow I knew.

The letter detailed the difficulties that he and his wife were undergoing, as her last three pregnancies had ended in miscarriages and doctors could not identify the cause. The couple had heard about a mekubal in Netivot who dispensed bottles of water rumored to prevent miscarriages. Since I was the only one he knew living in Eretz Yisrael at the time, he asked if I could travel to Netivot, obtain a few bottles of water from the mekubal and send them to him. In those days, a round trip from Yerushalayim to Netivot required at least six hours. Moreover, with the inevitable long lines at the mekubalâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s home, I could expect the trip to take all day. I wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t sure what to do: Should I give up an entire day of learning in yeshivah for this act of chesed? Rabbi Aryeh Z. Ginzberg is rav of the Chofetz Chaim Torah Center in Cedarhurst, New York.


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hen I asked the mashgiach of the yeshivah, Rabbi Avrohom Kanarek, for advice, he recommended that I present the she’eilah to a posek in Meah Shearim who at the time was not known outside of the small circle of scholars in Yerushalayim. His name? Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. I went to see Rav Elyashiv and upon hearing my she’eilah, he said, “I am not personally familiar with the practice of dispensing water as a segulah, nor with the people who do so. However, there is a concept in Chazal that “Tzaddik gozeir, v’Hakadosh Boruch Hu mekayem” [What a righteous person decrees, the Almighty makes happen]. Therefore, if a true tzaddik decrees that if one drinks from a certain cup of water, berachot will come from it, then I strongly suggest he drink to the very last drop.” I then asked who, in his opinion, fits Chazal’s description of a “tzaddik.” Without any hesitation, he said, “The Steipler Gaon.” [The Steipler was the father of Rav Chaim Kanievsky and also Rav Elyashiv’s mechutan.] Since the Steipler lived in Bnei Brak, which was less than an hour from Yerushalayim, Rav Elyashiv suggested I travel there to obtain a berachah for this young couple.



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I immediately traveled to Bnei Brak, with a letter in hand from Rav Elyashiv introducing me and stating the purpose of my visit. Upon showing the letter, I was seen immediately. After the Steipler read the letter, he smiled and said, “Di kumst fun Rav Elyashiv. Veist du vus iz by Rav Elyashiv? Kol pesakav min Shamayim hu.” (Loose translation: “You are coming from Rav Elyashiv. Do you know who Rav Elyashiv is? All of his halachic decisions come from Heaven above.”) Having secured the berachah, on the ride back to Yerushalayim I contemplated the words that the “tzaddik of the generation” had just shared with me: the unassuming man in Meah Shearim was completely and totally dedicated to Torah. And his halachic decisions come from Heaven itself. At that moment, I decided to spend as much time as I could with this great and holy man and absorb what I could from him. (Incidentally, approximately twenty years later, I was granted the honor of reciting a berachah under the chuppah at this young couple’s eldest daughter’s wedding). And so, for the following sixteen months that I was in yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael, I visited with Rav Elyashiv several times a week. Ultimately, I was blessed with the great zechut of having a regular seder with him every Motzaei Shabbat, where I would present halachic questions to him that I received from all over Yerushalayim. In the ensuing years, after I returned to the States, I made sure to return to Eretz Yisrael several times a year to visit

Rav Elyashiv’s remarkably disciplined way of life—day in and day out, decade after decade—underscores the exalted level a human being can attain even in this lowly physical world. Rabbi Aryeh Ginzberg in discussion with Rav Elyashiv. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Ginzberg

with Rav Elyashiv and present she’eilot. Sometimes my stay in the country was only twenty-four-hours long, for I came for the sole purpose of seeing him. Over the past four decades, I obtained more than 3,000 of his halachic rulings. Observing Rav Elyashiv respond to she’eilot was a breathtaking experience. At one point, I witnessed the rav answer she’eilot successively for a period of almost three hours. These were not simple she’eilot, but complex questions covering a range of topics. A group of prestigious sofrim arrived to discuss a complicated issue in safrut; they were followed by experts in shemittah, then representatives of a mikvah organization arrived to discuss the construction of a mikvah. Each she’eilah was answered within minutes, and with the utmost clarity, attesting to Rav Elyashiv’s mastery of every aspect of Torah. A well-known story about Rav Elyashiv demonstrates the breathtaking scope of his Torah genius. A renowned Torah scholar had just published a sefer—which he had worked on for ten years—on Masechet Ohalot, one of the most complicated areas of Torah. The scholar came to show his sefer to

Rav Elyashiv. The two of them then engaged in an in-depth conversation. A little while later, the scholar, looking dejected, emerged from Rav Elyashiv’s home. Despite this scholar’s decadelong immersion in the subject matter, he realized that Rav Elyashiv had a much greater mastery of the topic. Rav Elyashiv’s influence on my life was profound, and my appreciation for the depth and breadth of Torah has been greatly enhanced because of my relationship with him. I remember once escorting Rav Elyashiv to the funeral of the rosh yeshivah of Brisk, which consisted of a ten-minute walk to the yeshivah, a twenty-minute stay at the levayah and a ten-minute walk home. Throughout the forty-minute period, people constantly approached him, asking she’eilot. I had a pen and a notepad in hand and tried to record every she’eilah and teshuvah. Upon returning to yeshivah, I was astounded to discover that in those forty minutes, Rav Elyashiv had answered more than seventy she’eilot touching upon the entire gamut of Torah, exhibiting his colossal and breathtaking knowledge. It has been noted in numerous newspaper articles that from the age

of twelve until approximately six months before his passing at 102, Rav Elyashiv strictly adhered to a routine. His daily regimen of learning began at 3:00 AM and ended often past 11:00 PM. This didn’t change during times of war or peace, whether he was marrying off a child or, tragically, sitting shivah for a child—the learning never stopped. His bein hazmanim “vacation” meant more hours to learn and less time for the public. The tremendous zechuyot his learning and his extraordinary hasmadah, diligence, brought to the world are beyond our comprehension; but his remarkably disciplined way of life—day in and day out, decade after decade— underscores the exalted level a human being can attain even in this lowly physical world. I am writing these reflections on the plane while returning from a brief visit to Yerushalayim. This is the first time in almost forty years of my visiting Yerushalayim that I could not visit with Rav Elyashiv—the great Sar HaTorah of our generation. Yerushalayim is different; Klal Yisrael is different, and together with the Torah itself, we mourn the loss of this great treasure that is no longer. Yehi zichro baruch. g


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Rav Elyashiv Discovering

By Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer

Since his recent petirah, much has been said and written about Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l, one of the greatest posekim of the post-World War II era. Nevertheless, despite his very public profile—as awe-inspiring as it is—Rav Elyashiv was a very private person. Although Rav Elyashiv was surrounded by many people—even great talmidei chachamim—they convey to us much more of what he said in extemporaneous conversation, and much less of his thought process. Rav Elyashiv thus remains very much a “closed book.” This is notwithstanding the volumes of Rav Elyashiv’s writings that have been published, as he did not write in a systematic manner. Moreover, even the teshuvot that have been published are only available as edited by his talmidim, who have cut sections out and inserted many ellipses in the remaining sections, dimming whatever light they might have shed on Rav Elyashiv’s derech. Outlined below is just one of the numerous pathways that together comprise his derech— Rav Elyashiv’s approach to issues of public policy, both historical and contemporary, as reflected in his responsa. Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer is a maggid shiur at the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy-Yeshiva University High School for Boys, a frequent contributor to these pages and a renowned writer and speaker.



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Uniting with the Six Million In 1985, the Kaliver Rebbe suggested a takkanah to recite the pesukim of Shema Yisrael following Aleinu every morning (Kovetz Teshuvot vol. 1, teshuvah 18). The intent of the takkanah was to unite one who is praying with the memory of the six million kedoshim of the Shoah. Rav Elyashiv begins his response by acknowledging that the Rebbe himself is a survivor of the Shoah, and that obviously the memory of that horrific time is always with him. Despite the fact that he did not personally experience the Holocaust and cannot share those terrible memories, Rav Elyashiv states that since the Rebbe asked for his opinion, he would give it. Shortly after the Shoah, a proposal was made to institute a permanent fast day to remember that tragic period. At the time, recalls Rav Elyashiv, the Chazon Ish objected to the proposal, explaining that our generation is one that is not worthy of introducing permanent enactments.1 This earlier repudiation of a similar proposal in and of itself, writes Rav Elyashiv, may suffice to negate the Rebbe’s proposal. But, adds Rav Elyashiv, there is another reason for rejecting this proposal. The Kaliver Rebbe’s expressed intent that this practice serve as a time of contemplation “l’hisyached im hakedoshim, to unite with the martyrs,” is not a concept that we find in our classic sources, in Chazal. Rav Elyashiv here manifests an approach that is not unique, yet is noteworthy as a hallmark of the Lithuanian approach to Jewish practice: sentiment is not an adequate basis for public policy, even if the policy does not clash with any specific halachic parameters. Even though there may be no inherent halachic objection to an individual repeating Shema after davening, its repetition as a formal ritual is objectionable in and of itself, so long as it is not grounded in a known form of avodat Hashem as sanctioned by Chazal.2

Memorializing One’s Parents In a similar teshuvah (vol. 1, teshuvah 130), Rav Elyashiv responds to an individual who wanted to purchase unused land in a cemetery and erect a monument to memorialize his parents who had perished in the Shoah. Rav Elyashiv begins his response by considering the issues that may be involved in this case. We know that we are forbidden to emulate inherently non-Jewish rituals.3 The Rema (Shulchan Aruch, YD 178) defines inherently non-Jewish rituals as either ceremonies that manifest lewdness (pritzut) or ceremonies that are celebrated for no apparent reason and are thereby assumed to be rooted in heathen worship or superstition (darchei Emori). On the other hand, writes the Rema, non-Jewish rituals that are based on obvious and positive motivations may be adopted. Therefore, it would seem that the erection of such a monument—while admittedly a form of commemoration of non-Jewish origin—should be permissible, as it is grounded in the individual’s quest to honor his parents. However, continues Rav Elyashiv, the Gra (on Shulchan Aruch, ibid.) stringently rules that we are even forbidden to adopt non-Jewish rituals that are based on obvious and positive motivations, which would seem to rule out the erection of a monument. Yet, Rav Elyashiv writes, it is not certain that the practice of erecting commemorative monuments is, indeed, of nonJewish origin. After all, we know that Avshalom, who had no heirs, erected the commemorative monument known as Yad Avshalom already during his lifetime. And the Gra would allow us to adopt rituals common among nonJews if they can be traced to our own practices as recorded in Tanach. On the other hand, writes Rav Elyashiv, we must also consider the use of cemetery land for this purpose. The land of a cemetery is accorded similar status as that of a synagogue in a loca-

tion frequented by the public; thus, such land can only be used for its stated purpose which, in this case, would seem to be burial of the dead, not the erection of monuments. However, after citing and analyzing several sources, Rav Elyashiv concludes that there is sufficient halachic grounds to permit the usage of cemetery land in this manner. But, concludes Rav Elyashiv, even though din Torah (the letter of the law) allows for the erection of such a monument, from the perspective of da’at Torah (the spirit of the law), this is not a laudable venture (“Ein ruach chachamim nochah heimenu”).4 Rather, the questioner should consider one of the time-honored traditions of commemorating the departed, such as donating something (e.g., a light fixture, et cetera) to a shul (to which one could,

of course, affix a plaque), which would bring about merit for the deceased and commemorate him at the same time. Here Rav Elyashiv again manifests an approach that is not unique, yet is noteworthy and enhances our understanding of his teshuvah to the Kaliver Rebbe: halachah is the letter of the law, but the knowledge and observance of halachah instill in us a “sensitivity” to its spirit.5 More precisely, perhaps, halachah consists of both rulings (din) and opinions (da’at). In both these teshuvot, Rav Elyashiv is clarifying that even if something may be permitted according to a narrow ruling of the law, it may still remain out of sync with the value system of the halachically minded. And, in cases where the questioner is motivated by emotion, the spirit of the law should definitely prevail.

Exaggerating Stories about Gedolim As teshuvah 28 (vol. 3) “starts” with paragraph 3, it is clearly missing sections. But the published part of the teshuvah is fascinating. The question under discussion is the propriety of exaggerating stories about gedolim. Rav Elyashiv writes that it is inappropriate to do so. He cites the Taz in Yoreh Deah (344:1) where the Shulchan Aruch (YD 344:1) states that when eulogizing someone, we mention the good traits of the departed and “add a bit” (mosifin ketzat). Concerning this ruling, the Taz asks, “What difference does it make if a lie is a big lie or small lie—a lie is a lie!” The Taz explains that based on one’s knowledge of the deceased, he may add what he reasonably assumes the deceased would have done had he been in a particular situation. The teshuvah ends somewhat abruptly, without defining what it means to “add a bit.” Nevertheless, on the basis of further comments of the Taz and those of the Aruch HaShulchan (YD 344:6), we may suggest a definition, using the case of a deceased’s fulfillment of the mitzvah of tefillah

b’tzibbur. For example, a person delivering a eulogy may recall noticing that whenever he spent time with the deceased, the deceased was very careful to daven with a minyan. Yet he may have only spent a limited amount of time with the deceased. For all he knows, perhaps at other times, when he was not present, the deceased was not particular about davening b’tzibbur! Can he nevertheless praise the deceased for his diligence in this regard? It is the principle of mosifin ketzat that permits one delivering the eulogy to extrapolate from his experience with the deceased and praise him as one who was meticulous with regard to tefillah b’tzibbur. Following this line of reasoning, Rav Elyashiv’s ruling might apply to a case in which we know that in many instances a gadol demonstrated particular empathy towards those who came to him with personal problems. In such a case, we would be allowed to assume that this was a fundamental character trait of the gadol, not just occasional behavior.


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No Justification for Reprinting Rabbi Boruch Horovitz, rosh hayeshivah of Yeshivas Dvar Yerushalayim, published Matteh Levi, the responsa of his grandfather, Rabbi Marcus Horovitz, who was the Orthodox rabbi of the Grossgemeinde, “Larger Community” (the general community which included both Orthodox and Reform constituencies in Frankfurt am Main, although the Reform dominated).6 In one of the teshuvot, Rabbi Horovitz discusses the renowned incident of the “Cleves Get” and argues in favor of the position of the Frankfurt beit din nullifying the get—a ruling that was opposed by virtually every other halachic authority of eighteenth-century world Jewry.7

Rav Elyashiv is clarifying that even if something may be permitted according to a narrow ruling of the law, it may still remain out of sync with the value system of the halachically minded.



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Rav Elyashiv (vol. 3, teshuvah 29) begins by stating the facts of the case, and postulating that were the controversy to have arisen at a time in which a Sanhedrin existed, the Frankfurt beit din would have been in violation of the Torah prohibition of “Lo sasur, Do not deviate” (Devarim 17:11).8 Moreover, writes Rav Elyashiv, even in later generations there still exists the concept of “The Lord stands with the community of God” (Elokim nitzav b’adat Keil), and the majority of chachmei Yisrael cannot be mistaken. Rav Elyashiv continues that, be that as it may, he could not understand why Rabbi Horovitz reprinted all the pronouncements and bans issued by the Frankfurt beit din, which were derisive and degrading of great rabbanim of the time. Granted, at the time of the controversy, when tempers were flaring, excessive zeal may have led the Frank-

furt beit din to act inappropriately, but what justification is there to bring these matters up now? There is no doubt that so many years after the controversy died down, when all the combatants have already been long in the Olam Haemet, that they can have no pleasure from reopening the issue. And, concludes Rav Elyashiv, even if Rabbi Horovitz’s grandfather’s teshuvah and its publication can somehow be justified as a halachic excursus, how can the author justify the publication of the scandalous material surrounding the episode? Such publication surely clashes with kavod haTorah. Taken together with the two preceding teshuvot, Rav Elyashiv clarifies that not only the forms of our commemorations, but also the actual recollections of individuals and events must be subject to the scrutiny of Torah.

Reporting a Molester

Rav Elyashiv adds that even if the government does not grant us such authority, it remains incumbent upon beit din to ensure tikkun haolam. Therefore, even if the community cannot impose penalties, the tikkun haolam of curtailing molestation is sufficient reason to inform the authorities of the perpetrator (so long, qualifies Rav Elyashiv, as the charge is borne out by evidence).9 All of these teshuvot I have selected relate to public policy extending beyond normative halachic issues and practices. These are not “berachah-oncorn-flakes” she’eilot. Decisions in these areas require a gadol baTorah’s scope of vision and depth of sensitivity. In the course of our reviewing Rav Elyashiv’s rulings on such issues, perhaps we have gotten a little bit beyond the opacity in which he was often hidden. May Rav Elyashiv’s merit sustain us, and may his Torah—together with the Torah of all gedolei Yisrael—guide us along the path of avodat Hashem toward the ultimate tikkun olam b’malchut Shakkai. g

In 2004, the American posek Rabbi Feivel Cohen posed the unfortunately contemporary question of whether it is permissible to inform the authorities of the activities of a child molester (vol. 3, teshuvah 231). Rav Elyashiv bases his response on Teshuvot HaRashba (3:393), which states that when there are clear witnesses that someone has committed crimes, beit din is allowed—even in our day and age—to impose upon him monetary fines and corporal punishment. The Rashba asserts that this is part of our responsibility of kiyum haolam, sustaining the world. For were we to limit our punishments to the precise parameters that we find in Torah, our code of law would not suffice to maintain society. It is therefore appropriate for beit din to enact appropriate laws in addition to the laws of the Torah, so long as the government of that particular time and place gives us the authority to do so.

Notes 1. It is interesting to note that Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik opposed not only enacting special commemorative days, but even commemorative kinot. He maintained that only the Rishonim had the capacity to author prayers, and that no subsequent kinot could be added to the Tishah B’Av liturgy (Heard by author, Rabbi Soloveitchik lecture, Tishah B’Av 1980). 2. Rav Elyashiv suggests learning mishnayot instead for the sake of the martyrs. Learning is always good, no matter what its specific catalyst may be. 3. Based on the Torah’s admonition “B’chukoteihem lo teileichu, Do not follow their traditions” (Vayikra 18:3). 4. Literally, the spirit of the sages is not pleased by it—i.e., the erection of such a monument violates the spirit of the law. In the context of a discussion of the disinheriting of halachic heirs, Rabbi Chaim Jachter (Gray Matter, vol. 3, p. 295) writes: “It should be noted that the term ‘Ein ruach chachamim nochah heimenu’ is not mild rebuke. The Rashbam (commenting on Bava Batra 133b, s.v. “ein”) explains this phrase to mean that Chazal are profoundly disturbed by someone disinheriting their halachic heirs. The Rashbam’s comments are cited by the Sema (CM 282:2), one of the premier commentaries to the Choshen Mishpat section of the Shulchan Aruch.” 5. This usage of the term da’at Torah is unrelated to its more controversial use as an assertion of the binding authority of opinions expressed by Torah sages. It is used by Rav Elyashiv, rather, to indicate broader sensitivities that complement narrow halachic rulings. 6. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch was famous for asserting that it was forbidden to be a member of the Grossgemeinde, and for founding the secessionist Austrittsgemeinde, “Leaving Community.” However, even after Rabbi Hirsch formed the Austrittsgemeinde and developed it into a thriving entity, the majority of Orthodox Jews in Frankfurt remained affiliated with the Grossgemeinde, in many cases holding dual membership in the two organizations. Rabbi Horovitz was the Orthodox rabbi of the Grossgemeinde from 1882 until his death in 1910.

7. The incident of the Cleves get is extraordinarily fascinating and extraordinarily complicated. Here is the brief synopsis provided at 004_0_04354.html: During 1766 to 1767, a great controversy flared up, which was to become known as the Cleves get (bill of divorce), one of the causes célèbres of the 18th century . . . On Elul 8, 5526 (August 14, 1766), Isaac (Itzik), son of Eliezer Neiberg of Mannheim, married Leah, daughter of Jacob Guenzhausen of Bonn. On the Sabbath following the wedding the bridegroom took ninety-four gold crowns of the dowry and disappeared. After an extensive search he was found . . . in the house of a non-Jew in the village of Farenheim and brought home. A few days later Isaac informed his wife’s family that he could no longer stay in Germany because of the grave danger which threatened him there, and that he was obliged to immigrate to England. He declared his willingness to give his wife a divorce in order to prevent her from becoming an agunah. His offer was accepted, and Cleves on the German-Dutch border was selected as the place for the get to be given. Consequently, on the 22nd of Elul, Israel b. Eliezer Lipschuetz, the av bet din of Cleves, effected the divorce. Leah returned to Mannheim and Isaac proceeded to England. When his father learned of the divorce, he suspected that the whole affair had been contrived by the woman’s relatives to extort the dowry money from Isaac. He turned to R. Tevele Hess of Mannheim who invalidated the get on the grounds that in his view the husband was not of sound mind when he delivered it. Hess, not relying upon his own judgment, applied to the bet din of Frankfurt and to Naphtali Hirsch Katzenellenbogen of Pfalz, Eliezer Katzenellenbogen of Hagenau, and Joseph Steinhardt of Fuerth, requesting their confirmation of his ruling. The bet din of Frankfurt, headed by Abraham b. Zevi Hirsch of Lissau, not only agreed, but demanded that Lipschuetz himself declare the get invalid and proclaim Leah to be still a married woman . . . Both sides appealed to all the rabbinical authorities of the time. The rabbi of Cleves received the support of almost all of the leading scholars of the generation, among them Saul b. Aryeh Leib Loewenstamm of

Amsterdam, Jacob Emden, Ezekiel Landau of Prague, Isaac Horowitz of Hamburg, David of Dessau, Aryeh of Metz, Elhanan of Danzig, Solomon b. Moses of Chelm, and ten scholars of the klaus (bet-midrash) of Brody. The bet din of Frankfurt was virtually alone in its opposition. The moving spirit in the dispute was the Frankfurt dayyan, Nathan b. Solomon Maas, on whose initiative the Frankfurt rabbis even went so far as publicly and with solemn ceremony to commit to flames the responsa of the Polish rabbis in protest against their intervention in favor of Lipschuetz. The couple finally remarried and out of deference to the opinion of Rabbi Abraham of Frankfurt, no blessings were pronounced at the ceremony. 8. The full verse reads, “According to the teaching that they [the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem] will teach you and according to the judgment that they will say to you, shall you do; you shall not deviate from the word that they will tell you, right or left.” This verse is the source of the law of zaken mamrei, the “rebellious elder.” This law makes a judge who rules in contradiction to a ruling of the Great Sanhedrin liable to the death penalty. Rav Elyashiv here suggests that this prohibition also pertains to a small number of judges who rule in contradiction to the vast majority of judges at the time when judges were vested with the authority of the longextinct authentic semichah, ordination, that stretched in an unbroken chain from Moshe to Hillel II. 9. Rav Elyashiv indicates that the available evidence must at least meet the halachic criterion of raglayim ladavar (literally, “the matter has legs”). He does not define the criterion in this teshuvah. However, from Rav Elyashiv’s dissenting minority opinion in a 1968 case before the High Court of the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel (Piskei Din Rabbani’im Mishpatei Shaul, siman 19) it emerges that one definition of raglayim ladavar is the presence of abnormal phenomena consistent with an assertion. I would venture that in the case of molestation, the criterion would be met by unusual behavior patterns on the part of either the perpetrator or the victim that are consistent with an occurrence of molestation.


Summer 5773/2013 JEWISH ACTION 39

Rav Elyashiv ~ on~


Halachah BY AV R A H A M S T E I N B E R G

Translated from Hebrew by Tzvi Hersh Weinreb

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l, the supreme halachic authority in our generation, rendered halachic decisions on the use of some of the latest medical technologies as well as on other medical matters. I was privileged to raise various weighty questions with him on such topics. Below, I briefly discuss some of these questions and his halachic decisions, all of which I heard directly from him.

Preventing Genetic Defects If both a husband and wife are carriers of the Tay-Sachs gene, even though they are perfectly healthy themselves, there is a 25 percent chance that they will have a child who will suffer from Tay-Sachs, a life-threatening disease. Due to recent advances in medical

technology, it is possible to assist such a couple in preventing them from having a child with Tay-Sachs. This process— known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD)—is achieved via in vitro fertilization (extracting a number of eggs from a woman and fertilizing them with her husband’s sperm outside the womb). A single cell is then extracted from each fertilized egg and analyzed to determine whether or not the

gene for Tay-Sachs is present. Those eggs in which the gene is not present are then implanted in the mother’s womb to develop into a healthy fetus. Those eggs in which the Tay-Sachs gene is present are destroyed, thus preventing the birth of a child afflicted with this devastating illness. PGD can be employed for any disease for which the gene or faulty chromosome is known. Hundreds of disease genes have been identified to date. Is PGD halachically permissible? According to Rav Elyashiv, it is permissible, and the destruction of the eggs in which the gene for the disease is present is permitted. What are possible rationales for this ruling? 1. An egg fertilized in vitro is not considered a human being, and indeed has no potential to develop into a full-fledged human being unless the egg is implanted in the woman’s womb; 2. A fertilized egg is at the stage of development that is halachically considered “within the first forty days of gestation.” According to our Sages, at such an early stage of development, the fetus is defined as mere fluid and is not considered a person with a soul. Rav Elyashiv’s ruling would also permit stem cell experimentation using cells of fertilized eggs for the purpose of curing severe diseases. The fundamental principles justifying such experimentation are identical to those identified above: an egg fertilized outside the womb, and especially within the first forty days of development, is not considered a full-fledged human being; therefore, its destruction constitutes neither abortion nor murder.

Anesthesia at a Brit

Medical evidence indicates that infants experience the pain of circumcision. Therefore, some physicians recommend performing circumcisions using localized numbing or anesthesia. One could either numb the localized genital area with an ointment, or use a Rabbi Dr. Avraham Steinberg is the director of the Medical Ethics Unit and senior pediatric neurolo- local anesthetic by injecting an anesgist at Shaare Zedek Medical Center and head of the editorial board of the Talmudic Encyclopedia. thetizing substance. The first approach would allow for the procedure to be Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb is executive vice president, emeritus of the Orthodox Union.



Summer 5773/2013

performed even by non-medical personnel, including the mohel himself, whereas the second approach could only be done by a credentialed physician. As both methods entail changing the traditional procedure for performing a brit milah, some halachic authorities forbid both approaches. Rav Elyashiv ruled that it is clearly preferable not to change the procedure from the way in which it has been performed through the generations, nevertheless, in situations where the parents insist upon anesthesia, it is permissible for the mohel to apply the aforementioned ointment. However, he maintained that the procedure involving an injection should not be performed.

Metzitzah Bâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Peh Recently, the practice of metzitzah bâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;peh, oral suction, has been making headlines. The question at the heart of the debate surrounding this issue is whether the practice can possibly infect the baby with the disease of herpes. In the past, many different objections to the performance of oral suction have been asserted. Among halachic authorities there is a consensus that suction must be performed, but they disagree as to whether the suction can be performed via a tube (thereby avoiding direct contact with the mouth) or via oral contact. Rav Elyashiv ruled that it is obligatory to continue the tradition of oral suction, for there is no conclusive scientific proof that a herpes infection would result from this procedure, unless the mohel had some sore or bruise in his mouth. In such a case, it would be forbidden for him to perform oral suction and another person should be assigned to perform it in his stead.

extend the life of someone in a deep state of unconsciousness by every possible means, because we cannot clearly ascertain that he is indeed suffering. Similarly, in opposition to other authorities, Rav Elyashiv was of the opinion that there is a distinction between a minor and an adult. For an adult who is suffering in a manner which is visually apparent, it would be permissible to refrain from continued life-prolonging treatment. On the other hand, this would not be true in the case of a young child, for whom it would be necessary to attempt to extend his life by every possible means, even if he appeared to us to be suffering.

Defining Death Halachic authorities do not agree on whether a person who has no brain and breathing functions but whose heart and other organs are functioning is considered dead or alive. Halachic consequences of this debate are numerous, among them implications for organ donation. According to Rav Elyashiv, as long as the heart is beating, a person is considered alive, even if it can be demonstrated that his brain function, including the brainstem as well as respiratory functions, has totally and irreversibly ceased. Personally, I did not hear from Rav Elyashiv his halachic justification for this ruling and I do not know his rationale for this decision.

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On the Brink of Death Among halachic authorities, there is a widely held opinion that one who is suffering from an incurable malady and who, in the opinion of physicians, cannot survive more than a year is regarded as â&#x20AC;&#x153;a person on the brink of death.â&#x20AC;? According to Rav Elyashiv, one is classified as â&#x20AC;&#x153;on the brink of deathâ&#x20AC;? only if his anticipated life expectancy is no more than several months. Most halachic authorities agree that there is no obligation to extend the life of such a person, and if he is suffering, it is permissible to refrain from attempting to extend his life through various medical means (use of respirators or dialysis, surgery, et cetera). A number of authorities regard the very fact that a person is on the brink of death as â&#x20AC;&#x153;suffering,â&#x20AC;? and therefore maintain that even if the person is in a state of deep unconsciousness, it can be assumed that such a condition constitutes a sufficient degree of suffering to justify refraining from extending his life through the means described above (although in every instance it is prohibited to cease the provision of nutrition and hydration, or to actively hasten death by removing a respirator). According to Rav Elyashiv, only for someone who appears with absolute certainty to be suffering can we permit suspension of life-extending procedures. However, we would be obligated to

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Summer 5773/2013 JEWISH ACTION 41

GADOL Makes Time for

OU Kosher Rav Elyashiv’s rulings continue to affect millions of OU Kosher consumers around the world. By Bayla Sheva Brenner

Got a kashrut question? You call the OU. But where do the OU Kosher experts take their questions? Whenever the OU rabbinic coordinators in the national office or mashgichim at various food plants face a kosher quandary, they bring it to OU Kosher’s senior posekim— Rabbi Yisroel Belsky and Rabbi Hershel Schachter, whose teshuvot (numbering in the thousands) have determined the agency’s standard operating procedure for over twentyfive years. But up until July of this past year, when it came to the trickiest halachic questions, OU Kosher would seek the hefty Torah shoulders of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, long regarded as the leading contemporary authority on Jewish law.

“His input was incredibly important,” says Rabbi Moshe Elefant, COO of OU Kosher. “We wanted to hear Rav Elyashiv’s opinion on the major issues, which spanned the entire spectrum of kosher certification.” Whether concerning complex technical matters pertaining to kashering equipment, the status of alcoholic beverages produced by Jewish-owned companies over Pesach or the parameters regarding insect infestation in vegetables, Rav Elyashiv’s rulings continue to affect millions of OU Kosher consumers around the world. Considering Rav Elyashiv’s jampacked schedule, which included sixteen to twenty hours of uninterrupted Torah study each day, arranging an appointment with the posek hador wasn’t easy. But he always made time for OU Kosher.

Bayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.



Summer 5773/2013

During his tri-annual trips to Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Elefant would make an appointment to see Rav Elyashiv. Entering Rav Elyashiv’s small Meah Shearim apartment, he would join the long line of fellow petitioners from across the globe. The rav rarely left his home and didn’t use the phone; his halachic rulings mostly took place face-to-face. “When you walked into his room, you knew you were in the presence of greatness,” recounts Rabbi Elefant. “He had total mastery of every area of halachah and an extraordinarily sharp and clear mind. There was no small talk; the questions were asked and the answers given. You were in and out before you even realized it.” Over the years, these brief encounters made a significant impact on the development of OU Kosher’s demanding kashrut standards. “When bringing up the topic of insect infestation, I discussed jams [that use typically insect-infested fruits],” says Rabbi Elefant. “The halachah is that one is not allowed to take an insect and deliberately crush it and say, ‘Now it’s not a whole insect, so I don’t have a halachic problem eating it.’ We were concerned that if the OU certified certain jams, it could be considered as if we were deliberately crushing insects in order to skirt the issur [prohibition]. Rav Elyashiv explained that the jam manufacturer is not crushing the fruit in order to crush the insect; it’s just the way jam is made. He said there was no halachic problem.” Apparently, Rabbi Elefant would return to the States with a lot more than answers to his pressing kashrut questions. “I learned from Rav Elyashiv the definition of responsibility,” he says. “Here you have the posek hador, who was clearly not interested in the limelight and all the publicity around him, and had no official affiliation with OU Kosher, yet he felt that our questions were so important and so vital for all of Klal Yisrael that he had a responsibility to answer them.”

Rav Kook & Rav Elyashiv Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb explores the littleknown relationship between two Torah giants Two facts stand out in every obituary written about Rav Elyashiv. One, of course, is the advanced age at which he died. He lived to be 102; thus, his lifetime spanned several generations and he witnessed several important eras in Jewish history. The other is that he was a “shakdan,” a very diligent student of Torah, who devoted his entire life to Torah study, which he carried out in relative seclusion. A more comprehensive analysis of the events and milestones of his life, however, reveals that his longevity brought him into contact with a diverse range of Jewish leaders. Additionally, his life was not as monochromous as some would have it. Specifically, most published accounts of his life disregard, or perhaps suppress, the many connections he

Copy of letter from Rav Yitzchok Elyashiv, son of the “Leshem” and uncle of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. In it, he requests Rav Kook’s assistance in enabling his family to escape to Eretz Yisrael. In the left-hand margin one can see the ages of the family members, including eleven-year-old Yosef Shalom.

had with the first chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook. Furthermore, his close relationship with Rav Kook’s successor, Rabbi Isaac HaLevi Herzog, and the several decades during which he served as a judge in the Court of the Chief Rabbinate, are mentioned only in passing in accounts of his life—if not totally overlooked. In response to this lacuna, in the days immediately following Rav Elyashiv’s demise, a group known as “Or HaOrot” published a book, in Hebrew, summarizing some of the many connections between Rav Kook and Rav Elyashiv, emphasizing the great esteem in which the latter held the former. This book also details the relationship between Rav Elyashiv and Rav Herzog and outlines the highlights

of the former’s tenure on the High Court of the Chief Rabbinate. The book’s title, Yisa Shalom: Choveret al Rav Kook v’Rav Elyashiv, alludes to Rav Elyashiv’s full name, Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Below, I have summarized some of the key points covered in the book. The relationship between Rav Elyashiv and Rav Kook can be traced to the days before either sage reached the shores of the Land of Israel. Rav Elyashiv’s famous grandfather, Rav Shlomo Elyashiv, was an eminent kabbalist and prolific author of several works on Jewish mysticism. One of these works was entitled Leshem Shevo V’Achlama; hence, the elder Rav Elyashiv’s pseudonym, the Baal HaLeshem, or more commonly, just the “Leshem.” Rav Kook, as the fledgling rabbi of the town of Zoimel in Lithuania, was familiar with the elder kabbalist and would spend entire nights with him studying Lurianic Kabbalah (the writings of the sainted Ari, zt”l). Several years later, while Rav Kook was serving as the spiritual leader of the town of Boisk, Latvia, he spent summers at a nearby seashore resort. The Leshem’s son-in-law, Rabbi Avrohom Levinson, who eventually assumed his father-in-law’s surname, Elyashiv, would also frequent that Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb is executive vice president, emeritus of the Orthodox Union.


Summer 5773/2013 JEWISH ACTION 43

seashore town, and a very close relationship developed between the two. It was during that time that Rabbi Avrohom Elyashiv received semichah, rabbinic ordination, from Rav Kook. It is no wonder, then, that in 1922, when Rav Kook had already immigrated to Eretz Yisrael and had been ordained chief rabbi of Jerusalem, the Elyashiv family turned to him for assistance in leaving Russia and settling in the Holy Land. The letter in which the Leshem turns to his now-influential former chavruta for assistance is extant, and a copy of it is reproduced in the booklet. Eventually, the great kabbalist, his son-in-law, daughter and eleven-year-old grandson, were able to emigrate to the Land of Israel due to Rav Kook’s intervention. That eleven-year-old grandson grew up to be the great sage whom we are now mourning, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Records demonstrate the numerous contacts that Rabbi Kook had with the senior Rav Elyashiv during the years they both sojourned in Jerusalem. One particularly poignant story tells of a visit the revered Leshem paid to the chief rabbi. It was a bitterly cold winter evening and Rav Kook noted that the Leshem had no coat. Rav Kook immediately took his own furlined coat from his closet and gave it to the elderly man as a gift. This coat remained in the Elyashiv family as an heirloom and was periodically worn by Rav Yosef Shalom on wintry days. Rav Kook was so impressed by the young Rav Elyashiv that he proposed him as a groom for the daughter of his close colleague and disciple, the famed “Tzaddik of Yerushalayim,” Rabbi Aryeh Levin. This proposal initiated long deliberations by all parties of the shidduch. Eventually the match was agreed upon, and Rav Kook was not only the shadchan, but also hosted the engagement party in his home. He soon served as the mesader kiddushin at the wedding of Rav Elyashiv to Rav Levin’s daughter Shaina. Later, Rav Kook was selected by Rav Elyashiv to be the Kohen at the pidyon haben of his eldest son, Shlomo. The link between Rav Kook and



Summer 5773/2013

A recently published book, in Hebrew, details the many connections between Rav Kook and Rav Elyashiv.

Most published accounts of Rav Elyashiv’s life disregard, or perhaps suppress, the many connections he had with the first chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook. Rav Elyashiv was not limited to their personal connections. Rav Elyashiv revered Rav Kook for both his piety and his Talmudic erudition. Rav Elyashiv would do all he could to silence those who would criticize Rav Kook and attempt to diminish his stature. He would frequently describe Rav Kook’s saintliness at his Shabbat table and occasionally reminisce about the times he attended seudah shelishit in his home. The book quotes by name quite an array of individuals who recount occasions during which Rav Elyashiv would speak about Rav Kook admir-

ingly, asserting that “he was a gaon and tzaddik, with his head in the heavens—der greste foon alle, the greatest of them all.” Rav Elyashiv would frequently refer to some of Rav Kook’s published works, particularly his collection of correspondence. He kept a copy of the first volume of Iggerot HaReiyah, Rav Kook’s letters, near his study desk and would regularly read it. In fact, when young yeshivah students, and occasionally even great Torah scholars, would ask his advice for securing success in Talmud study, he would refer them to the sixth letter in this volume. In this letter, Rav Kook counsels his brother Shmuel: I am happy that you have informed me of your studies. I must confess to having been shocked to discover that you only review your lessons three times. Please be aware, my dear brother, that I can testify from personal experience that it is impossible to master Torah with merely three review sessions. I therefore ask you, my dear brother, to become accustomed to review each chapter you study of Talmud at least ten times before continuing on to the next chapter . . .” Rav Elyashiv would characteristically quote this letter, and emphasize the line, “I am shocked that you only review your lessons three times.” The book quotes one of Rav Elyashiv’s sons, who reports that his father was especially fond of the book Shabbat Ha’aretz, Rav Kook’s masterpiece on the subject of shemittah, the Sabbatical year. He relates that on one specific occasion he remembers his father pounding on the table and insisting that “the time had come to annotate and publish a new and expanded edition of Shabbat Ha’aretz.” After relating dozens of episodes indicating the high regard Rav Elyashiv had for Rav Kook, the authors of the book conclude with a thorough description of Rav Elyashiv’s close working relationship with Rav Herzog, including Rav Elyashiv’s participation in the Friday gatherings which Rav Herzog hosted each week in his home for the prominent sages of Jerusalem.

The older participants in these gatherings included Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer and Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, while the younger group consisted of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rav Bezalel Zolty, Rav Avraham Shapiro and Rav Elyashiv. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a much more recent chief rabbi of Israel, is quoted as saying that Rav Elyashiv would not actively become involved in the intense discussions at Rav Herzog’s home, but would wait his turn and insert just a well-timed sentence or two which would cause all present to pause and listen attentively to the young scholar. Interestingly, there was a bit of a family connection between Rav Elyashiv and Rav Herzog. Very early in his career, Rav Elyashiv studied in the kollel of Rav Shmuel Yitzchak Hillman, who was Rav Herzog’s father-in-law. The book concludes with several anecdotes illustrating the respect which Rav Elyashiv had for the Office of the Chief Rabbinate in the final years of his life. Rabbi Yona Metzger, the current chief rabbi, tells how Rav Elyashiv would ask his daughter, who helped tend to the small apartment in which he lived, to ensure that all was neat in expectation of a visit from him, the chief rabbi. Rav Metzger also relates that Rav Elyashiv would stand in his presence. “Surely,” he comments modestly, “he was not standing for me, but rather for the office which I happen to occupy.” It is my hope that the readers of Jewish Action will come to a more comprehensive appreciation of the rich life and diverse experiences of one of the greatest sages of recent Jewish history. May his memory, and the memories of those great individuals with whom he associated, be a blessing for us, and for all of Israel. g For those interested in obtaining a copy of the book Yisa Shalom: Choveret al Rav Kook v’Rav Elyashiv, contact the publisher at

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By Steve Lipman



The Rise of the Orthodox Comic A small-but-growing number of people involved in the highest levels of professional comedy are observant Jews



Summer 5773/2013

At the lectern of a small Chabad House in California, a stand-up comic is performing one night. A black kippa atop his head, a chestful of military medals on his Marine dress uniform, Dave Rosner warms up the crowd with some stories about serving in the Middle East. He met a Jewish girl there on JDate. Not quite. “I found out that ‘J’ didn’t stand for Jewish—it stands for jihad.” As an act of pride, he says, he changed the ambiguous religious preference on his dog tag ID to “Jewish.” The next day the personnel officer informed him, “Now that we know you’re Jewish, we’re going to transfer you to the Banking Department.” Rosner, a ba’al teshuvah, bills himself as the only Orthodox member of the Marines (he’s in the reserves now) who makes his living doing comedy. Elsewhere, in a small upstate New York community, a quartet of young Orthodox men—among them Yeshivish, Chassidish and modern—are struggling to arrange a minyan for Minchah one afternoon. So far, they have nine men. “Well, nine is just one short,” assures the Chassid in charge of logistics, guaranteeing the nervous group the imminent arrival of the tenth. With sundown nigh, a cast of unexpected characters, including a schnorrer, a Chareidi stranger hawking some religious pamphlets and a Jewish resident of the village who turns out not to be Jewish, appear in the room where nine worshipers have already gathered. An exchange of comical comments ensues. Steve Lipman is a staff writer for the New York Jewish Week.

The minyan/no-minyan drama is an episode of Verplanck, an online series of videos that depict frum life though a lens of humor. The community, Verplanck, really exists. But its fledgling Orthodox community doesn’t. And somewhere else, a ba’alat teshuvah is talking about her life as a newly Orthodox woman and her new career in comedy. “When I started out as a comic,” says Ayelet (she performs using her first name only), “I had a totally kosher, frum act.” But, she says, some complaints came. “So I had to make it ultraglatt kosher—I had to frumify my act.” Otherwise, continues Ayelet, who is unmarried, she’d be put into cherem [community isolation]. “Cherem would not be good for shidduchim [dating].” The voices laughing at her remarks are all women’s. But it’s not clear where she’s performing. Ayelet does not entertain in front of men. And no videos of her performing are available on the Internet; her routine, audio only, is available on her web site, Rosner, Verplanck and Ayelet are among the new faces of Orthodox humor. For years, a staple in the stand-up world was men and women, mostly from Yuppie backgrounds, who would de-

clare, “I’m Jewish, but I’m not religious.” Today, a growing number of people involved in the highest levels of professional comedy—the total is still relatively small, compared to the overall industry—are religious. Many of them, like Rosner and Ayelet, come from the ranks of ba’alei teshuvah. “Chabad in general produces a disproportionate number of people who are willing to dabble in the creative world,” says Mechel Lieber, co-founder of Verplanck. And in this low-barriers, high-

Seeing the need for a frum comedy club, David Kilimnick founded Off The Wall Comedy Basement, an Orthodox comedy club in Jerusalem. Photo: Dana Dekel


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YISRAEL CAMPBELL ON A DEEPLY (COMICAL) SPIRITUAL QUEST By Steve Lipman n the competitive world of professional comedy, it pays to have a hook—some distinctive feature of biography or appearance that sets one performer apart from another. Among Orthodox comics, Yisrael Campbell has the I-was-aCatholic/My-aunt-was-a-nun angle all to himself. And he’s the only one who had a series of brit milahs on the way to becoming an Orthodox Jew; hence the name of his former Off-Broadway one-man show, Circumcise Me. Campbell—formerly Chris— dresses in his act the way he does the rest of the time: bearded, with dangling payot, he wears a black hat, long black coat and tzitzit out. But he’s hardly Chareidi. “Hardly a hardliner,” he’s liberal on many social, political and religious issues, he says. “I like having a very Jewish appearance,” says Philadelphia-native Campbell, who moved to Israel about a decade ago for a few months, and stayed there. Married, he lives in Jerusalem, returning to the States for his frequent performances. He simply likes the “seventeenth-century-Poland look.” In his show he talks about his circuitous path to frumkeit, his upbringing as “vaguely Catholic,” his encounters with drugs and alcohol, his subsequent sobriety, his blooming interest in Judaism, his Reform, Conservative and Orthodox conversions and his multiple circumcisions. “I’m the firstborn son of a manic-depressive Italian woman and a pathologically silent Irishman,” Campbell will state. “This makes me wildly emotional in a very quiet way.” “Just for the record,” he will tell a crowd, twirling his




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long unkempt payot, his balding pate obvious. “This is the beginning of a comb-over.” “My comedy is all based on my spiritual journey,” he says. “It’s a personal, very Orthodox picture. I want people to have a sense that searching for your identity is a good thing.” His routine includes good-natured ribbing of the Reform Jew, the Conservative Jew and the Catholic. “But I’m critical of the Orthodox too.” And of life in Israel. “I can be much more critical of Israel because I live here.” Being born an outsider—to the Jewish community, to the Jewish State—gives Campbell an advantage, a comic’s stockin-trade. “I notice things that I didn’t grow up with.” Campbell’s act, which introduces the fundamentals of his adopted Orthodox life, is entertainment, he stresses. “It’s not a shiur,” a Talmudic lecture. And he’s careful to be respectful of his community’s authority figures. “You don’t laugh at rabbis.”

Yisrael Campbell talks about his religious journey from Catholicism to Orthodox Judaism in the former Off-Broadway one-man show Circumcise Me. Photo: Carol Rosegg

tech era, comedy has broadened beyond comics working in comedy clubs. Today, even badchanim, traditionally the entertainers at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, can be found doing their shtick on YouTube. Today, humor has lost much of its onus in the Orthodox—even in the Chareidi—community. There are troupes of Orthodox performers, like Under-Dos in Israel, and The Big Mockers in the States. There’s an Orthodox comedy club in Jerusalem, founded by Rochester-born oleh David Kilimnick. YouTube is a major factor; it has opened up a new venue for funny frum people with thespian inclinations. Online there is a growing number of kosher videos, more and more expressions of performers’ creative instincts. There are also more places for aspiring Orthodox individuals to perform: shuls and schools that recognize the spiritual power of some humorous words, more venues that look to book “clean comics,” more comics who guard the kashrut of what goes into their mouths and what comes out.

Serious about Comedy “Our roster of clean performing comedians has grown tremendously over the years due to the gain in Kosher Komedy’s popularity as well as the challenge it brings to professional stand-up comedians,” says Kenny Gluck, a Long Island television producer and entrepreneur whose Kosher Komedy firm finds comedians who don’t work blue for clients including organizers of Pesach programs and fundraisers, private parties, summer camps and “very frum sheva berachos where we tastefully roast the chosson and kallah.” “Anyone can work dirty,” Gluck says. “Not everyone can perform clean.” His challenge is to find performers who are both clean and funny. “I saw a need to fill a void in the Orthodox community because it is becoming increasingly difficult for frum Jews to go out to shows [even on Broadway] that are . . . devoid of offcolor language or topics that do not align themselves with Yiddishkeit. Kosher Komedy allows frum Jews

to enjoy a night out without having to worry about compromising their principles.” “You do not need to be smutty to be funny,” says Ayelet, a native of Long Island who discovered her comedic calling while studying at a women’s seminary in Jerusalem. Trying out her routines, she received an enthusiastic reception from her femaleonly audiences. Some of the current crop of Orthodox comics play mostly at Jewish events; others do general humor to religiously mixed crowds at comedy clubs. Most are men. “There are even a few ‘ultra-Orthodox’ comedians who cater to the ultraOrthodox community and can perform in Yiddish,” Gluck says. Shabbat continues to be a problem for shomer Shabbat performers at comedy clubs, where Friday night and Saturday night (before sundown in the summer) shows are prime time. But some clubs are accommodating, especially for proven talent who are big draws; these comics can get off for Shabbat. As for other comics, those with less bargaining power, “if they call you to perform on Shabbos and you are un-

Dave Rosner, a ba’al teshuvah, bills himself as the only Orthodox member of the Marines who makes his living doing comedy. Photo courtesy of Dave Rosner

Stewart’s The Daily Show on the Comedy Central cable network. The Mendy Report ( features faux interviews, a reporter named Menachem who bears a suspicious likeness to Pellin as well as the host’s exact DNA, and an irreverent attitude towards Jewish events.

TODAY, EVEN BADCHANIM, TRADITIONALLY THE ENTERTAINERS AT WEDDINGS AND BAR MITZVAHS, CAN BE FOUND DOING THEIR SHTICK ON YOUTUBE. able to, chances are they’ll never ask you again,” Gluck says. In addition to the Orthodox Jews dabbling part-time in the comedy field, especially in New York City and Los Angeles, those on the A-list of frum Jews cracking jokes for a living include: • Elon Gold, an actor-comedian and frequent MC of Chabad’s annual fundraising telethon in Los Angeles. “Gas prices are so high,” he remarked during the Chabad Telethon a few years ago, “even Reform Jews are walking to shul.” While working on the short-lived television comedy Stacked, he managed to have Friday night filming switched to another day. • Mendy Pellin, a Lubavitcher who hosts a mock news program, a la Jon

Also a stand-up, he tells audiences about the problems of getting a babysitter, whose salaries are continuously increasing. “Babysitters get paid more than I do.” And he compares the clothing options of women, who often have a closetful of dresses and accessories, to many Orthodox men, who favor a standard uniform of white shirt and black pants. Getting ready for Shabbat, he says, is “simple—I take the pen out of my pocket; I’m dressed.” • Mark Schiff and Marc Weiner, veteran Orthodox comics. Schiff, a close friend of—and sometimes opening act for—comedy legend Jerry Seinfeld, still takes his show on the road, returning to his family in LA for Shabbat. Weiner, who doubles as a clown and puppeteer, hosted the children’s

TV show Weinerville on the Nickelodeon channel from 1993 to 1997, and provides several voices for characters on the Dora the Explorer show. Schiff, who grew up in the Bronx, says he “lived in such a poor neighborhood, rainbows came in black and white.” Weiner, a ba’al teshuvah, likes to explain what the term means: someone “who can’t eat in his parents’ home.” Being a BT is “like being in AA,” Weiner says. “Both are supportive and nurturing groups that try to get you to connect with God. But unlike AA, the BT groups encourage you to drink.” The reference, of course, is to Kiddush. • Marvin Silbermintz, longtime writer for Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. Bearded, with a large knit kippa, he is often referred to, incorrectly, in news stories as a rabbi. Also a performer, he often turns up on the Chabad Telethon, doing familiar, synagogue-oriented shtick. He comes up with inventions catering to the frum crowd, such as the oversized “yarmulke comb” that allows the wearer to comb his hair without removing his skullcap and a “kiddush fork” that stretches to a length of a few feet, giving a hungry congregant an advantage over people standing in front of him at the kiddush table at shul. Coworkers know that Silbermintz leaves early for Shabbat and yom tov. “Marvin, what Jewish holiday is it today?” he says Leno asked once. “Danny Kaye’s birthday,” Silbermintz answered. “I’ll have to leave early.” • Newcomer Eitan Levine, a recent graduate of Yeshiva University, where he worked on WYUR, the campus radio station, and wrote for the student-run satirical news site, The Quipster. He’s performed at comedy clubs in the greater New York area and organized the Kosher College Comedy Tour, which brings clean Jewish comedy to campuses in the Northeast. • Reuven Russell, who does standup, teaches theater and public speaking at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women in Manhattan, and regularly plays the role of Rabbi Hersh Rasseyner in The Quarrel, a play about two old friends—one a believer, one secular—who reunite. The son of the late comedian Joey Russell, Russell grew up surrounded by his father’s


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professionally funny friends. He accompanied them on the job, he says, “and saw what it takes to tell a joke.” Russell tells of sitting on top of a newspaper on the New York subway. “Are you reading that?” someone will ask. His response: “I stand up, I turn the page, I sit back down and I say, ‘Yes, I am reading it.’” And he offers his unique interpretation on Israel’s storied military victory in the 1967 war: “Israel had to win the war in six days, because the equipment was rented.” • Rabbi Hershel Remer, probably the most obviously Jewish of the group. He’s bearded, with shoulderlength payot, a long black coat and a large woolen tzitzit beged over his shirt. “It doesn’t get any more Jewy than this,” he is prone to announce. “If you think Jackie Mason is Jewish . . . ” Rabbi Remer’s a Chassidic Jew, his appearance seems to say. Not quite, he says. “I attended yeshivahs of multiple Chassidic groups, and I still wear all of the Chassidic battle gear, but I would not call myself Chassidic.” “The demographics that love me most are people who were raised as Catholic or who attended Catholic school. I’m popular with a whole spectrum of groups that all have one thing in common—they are all misfits. Catholics have always been misfits in America—something they have in common with frum Jews. We all have lived way outside of the mainstream.” The content of Rabbi Remer’s material is sometimes edgy, but his style is definitely frum. “My limits in terms of material became clear when I performed as a cast member in a live comedy show. I was the one person in that show who would not touch members of the opposite gender, nor would I dance with them. That aspect about me often came under the spotlight, and I found myself explaining to audiences about the laws of shomer negiah—not touching members of the opposite sex. ” Rabbi Remer is an alum of Los Angeles’ YULA day school and UCLA. “I have no message. I am on stage purely to have fun and make people laugh. Period,” he says. “I love making people laugh, and I was born to do it.”



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t’s visiting time in a cramped hospital room. One visitor, a middle-aged Orthodox man sitting at the foot of a patient’s bed, offers some unsolicited advice. “So, who’s this quack who’s treating you, anyway?” he asks, referring to the patient’s physician. “Have you gotten a second opinion? A third opinion?” Another Orthodox visitor fidgets with the patient’s IV bag, causing the patient’s feet to spasm. In the next few minutes, more inappropriate comments and actions ensue, at the patient’s expense. All of it is fiction, captured on the video How Not to Perform the Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim produced by Baltimore-based Kolrom Multimedia, a full service corporate video and multimedia production house that mainly produces serious material for business clients and Jewish institutions. Word of mouth made the nearly five-minute video an instant hit after it was posted on YouTube in 2011—some 50,000 views within a few days. Everything in the video is based on truth, stories related by rabbis whom Kolrom ( had interviewed for another project. The firm’s staff heard horror stories about the way well-meaning people mangled visits to the infirm, says Chananya “CJ” Kramer, founder and president; some “common sense” lessons were needed. So was a non-preachy method. Humor was the obvious vehicle. “Comedy is the path of least resistance,” Kramer says. It’s “the best way to give musar [rebuke] in a way that is not condescending. It’s an effective tool.” He enlisted two members of the Baltimore Orthodox community— Mich Cohen and Shmop Weisbord—


who are untrained but talented actors. He lined up a spare room in a local hospital through connections of a Hatzalah volunteer. The feet of the “patient” are his son-in-law’s. The taping took ninety minutes. The editing was done the next day, an exceptionally short production cycle for a video with professional-quality production values. Kolrom’s successful bikur cholim video has led to a series of similar videos by other producers on various topics of interest in frum circles—shivah, shidduchim, rules of speech and “Stuff Jews say to Converts.” Rumor has it that more videos are coming. Kramer says he doesn’t mind the competition in the serious-messagein-a-humorous-form business. It’s “only good” for the Jewish community, he says.

“How Not to Do Bikur Cholim”—a nearly five-minute humorous video produced by Baltimore-based Kolrom Multimedia— was an instant hit after it was posted on YouTube in 2011, with some 50,000 views within a few days. Photos courtesy of Kolrom Multimedia

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Some members of the Orthodox community “have always been interested” in creating and hearing comedy, says Mordechai Schmutter, a resident of Passaic, New Jersey, who writes books, contributes humorous columns to Orthodox publications and moonlights as an occasional stand-up. The opportunities for humor in an Orthodox setting weren’t “always available,” he says, so interested people “convinced themselves that they weren’t missing it.” That’s changing. The Orthodox community now sees comedy as an outlet. “It’s definitely good for us not to take ourselves so seriously,” Schmutter says. “Orthodox comedy allows us to have similar ‘Okay, everyone’s going through that’ relief for things like Pesach cleaning and mishloach manos stress and helping kids with their Chumash homework.” “There is a stigma to comedy—that it is somehow ‘leitzonus’ [frivolous joking] and displays a lack of seriousness,” Lieber says. “Leitzonus doesn’t mean being funny; it means ridiculing proper moral positions. We don’t do that in our show. As for always being serious, the Torah doesn’t demand this at any level,” he says. Proponents of humor in the Orthodox community cite some well-known sources: the story of the Talmudic sage Rabbah starting each lecture with a joke, the story of Elijah pointing to two jokesters in the marketplace who are destined for a share in the World to Come, the statement in Ecclesiastes that there is “a time to laugh.” “There is nothing as destructive as depression,” and humor is an effective way to counter it says Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, author of countless books, including Smiling Each Day (Brooklyn, 1993). He has served for decades as a psychiatrist, incorporating humor into his practice when he deemed it proper. His guidelines: don’t offend, don’t ridicule. “If it’s appropriate humor, it can be inspirational,” says Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, director of the National Jewish Outreach Program. “Our first show in the Five Towns [in Long Island, New York] fell out on the birthday anniversary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson], and a Lubavitch rabbi explained to me that the Rebbe always said if you could take something mundane and ordinary and turn it into something kosher—acceptable and clean—you’re doing something great, a mitzvah,” Kosher Komedy’s Gluck says. But appropriate is a relative concept. One man’s clean comedy is another’s dirt. People arranging entertainment for their Orthodox organizations’ events try to screen their performers in advance. “It doesn’t always work out,” Rabbi Buchwald says. Stories circulate in the Orthodox community of comedians whose acts proved to be totally inappropriate for their conservative audiences, embarrassing for the sponsoring organizations and the audience. “Halachah is our ultimate guide—we most definitely convey messages,” says Verplanck co-founder Lieber. “Therefore, modesty is maintained in both dress and lan-

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guage. Topics are also generally benign . . . it makes the job of writing material a thousand times harder.” Different Orthodox audiences have different standards of what’s acceptable, what’s funny and what’s out of bounds. “Of course you’ll never be able to please everyone all of the time,” says Gluck. “Although it seems more often than not that everyone leaves our shows laughing, happy and in good moods—unless the food wasn’t that great, or it was too hot or cold in the room, or they couldn’t get the server to come over, or the show was too long, or not long enough . . .” Some synagogues are fearful of engaging comedians, says Jerry Kahn, founder of Big Mockers Jewish Comedy Troupe, because of performers’ reputations as shmutz-meisters. “Now they think that every comedian is treif.”

The Frum Funny Business Is it hard for someone who looks “ultraOrthodox” to gain a foothold in the comedy field? Not necessarily, Rabbi Remer says. “My ‘Jewy’ look made me unique when I started performing at clubs; to that extent, it was an advantage over other comedians.” He says that his “family and friends in the Torah-observant Jewish community love that I’m a comedian.” Today, authorities on humor in the Orthodox community agree that there’s more receptivity—if it doesn’t offend religious feelings. “This is very good for Orthodox Jews,” Kahn says. “It gives us a platform to show our Jewish viewpoints in humorous ways. Unconnected Jews can see that being observant doesn’t prevent a comedian from being cool, quick-witted and ‘with it.’”


A RARE WOMAN’S VOICE By Steve Lipman he crowds at comedy clubs around New York City aren’t sure, at first, what to make of the Orthodox woman on stage with a sheitel (wig) and long flowing dress. Is she really a comedian? They quickly get their answer: Yes. In her routine about life as an Orthodox homemaker, as wife and mother and general observer of Jewish life, Weiner casts day-to-day life in an off-beat perspective. Take the story of Moses and the burning bush. It “was miraculous because the bush burned and burned and wasn’t consumed,” she says. “I do that every week. I burn my husband’s dinner. And he doesn’t consume it.” “I’m a feminist,” she continues. “I believe in a woman’s right to choose her own jewelry.” Weiner is a minority in the mostly male world of Orthodox stand-up comics. For a long time, many frum women didn’t consider it tzeniut




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(modest) for a female to perform in front of mixed-gender audiences, and many Orthodox organizations were reluctant to put a woman in such a public position. Today, Weiner says, some of the barriers are down. A self-described “radical,” she feels comfortable performing in places like comedy clubs as a squeaky-clean voice in a den of off-color comics (though she doesn’t sing, a clear violation of kol isha—listening to a woman singing). And Jewish women’s groups are eager to hear her; they’re her best crowds. “Frum Jewish women,” she says, “are thrilled to see someone” [commenting on their collective lives] “who looks like them and gets it.” Someone who understands the harried life of an Orthodox woman, balancing family and maybe a profession and probably some volunteer work. “Jewish women are funny,” Weiner says. “Our lives are an

A newcomer on the comedy scene, Eitan Levine, a recent graduate of Yeshiva Univerity, has performed at comedy clubs in the greater New York area and organized the Kosher College Comedy Tour, which brings clean Jewish comedy to campuses in the Northeast. Photo courtesy of Eitan Levine

inherent contradiction. All comedy comes from juxtaposition of opposing realities.” Jewish women “are taught from the time we are very young,” she says, “that despite what outsiders think, and the way synagogue rituals sometimes make it appear as though we have a less-important role in Judaism, we actually have a higher spiritual standing then men.” “What does that striving toward higher spiritual levels look like?” she asks. “We’re striving upwards toward God, while staring down into a sink full of dirty dishes.” Weiner lives in northern New Jersey. Some of her best audiences, she said in an interview at, are in places like Chassidic post-partum centers in New York and women’s open mic night at a nearby girls’ high school. “In very religious communities, they don’t get to see much comedy,” she says. “They are hungry for entertainment. I love performing for moms, because they don’t care if I’m funny or not. They are just happy to be out of the house for the night.”



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To hear interviews with some of the comedians featured in the article as well as an interview with a new comedic voice, please visit;; /savitsky/lebowicz.


Kahn, an unrepentant one-time class clown, says he meets teachers from his childhood. “Do you remember asking me, ‘What do think you are, a comedian?’” he says to them. “Well, here’s my business card.” At his Off The Wall Comedy Basement in Jerusalem, Kilimnick presents acts in English and Hebrew. “Working on Russian,” his resume (“Jerusalem’s Comedian”) states. Kilimnick, who made aliyah in 2004, studied in Yeshivat HaMivtar. He started doing comedy at Purim shpiels. He saw the need for a frum comedy club as an outlet for people wishing to do comedy and those wanting to hear it. “The material for my shows comes from a place of sadness, happiness, a yearning for change,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “A lot of philosophers were comedians in their time. If everything were the way they should be, then the world wouldn’t be as fun to talk about.” “Every time I go to Tel Aviv,” he says, “there is always an Israeli coming up to me saying, ‘Tel Aviv is New York.’ My response is, ‘I’ve been to New York; it’s very different. In New York you can find kosher food.’” Rosner, a lieutenant colonel in the Marine reserves, has performed on military bases in the Middle East, sometimes coming under hostile fire (from the enemy, not from members of the audience). When he performs, he asks himself, What example are you setting? Rosner says he did his comedy routine at a non-Orthodox synagogue on Long Island a few years ago. He described the experiences—and challenges—of living an observant life in the military. A couple, senior citizens, drove him to the railroad station after the show. They were impressed that he was able to be frum in uniform. “If you can do this in the Marines,” they told him, “we can do more on Long Island.” g

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Mendy Pellin, a Lubavitch chasid, hosts a mock news program a la Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show on the Comedy Central cable network.


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By Daniel Z. Feldman



Tremendous pressure is placed on one who addresses the role of humor within a Torah perspective. The push to “open with a joke” is intimidating enough when the subject matter is standard fare, but when the subject is humor itself, the sense is that the bar is significantly raised as to the quality of the opening quip.


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ryeh Kaplan such a method is our loftier aspirations w a s o n are expressed? only necessary or ce asked Humor is useful appropriate for there are any if jokes in children) had their on a practical level, th e T a lm u d, and most notably in the “hearts opened” to response was his realm of education learning. The Tal, “y and pedagogy. The mud practices as it but they’re all es, benefits of humor preaches. It is reold.” in this area are aclated that Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan was knowledged by the Talmud both by advocacy and by example. In the for- once asked if there are any jokes in the mer sense, we are told approvingly that Talmud, and his response was, “yes, but they’re all old.” Rabbah, prior to beginning his lecture, would open with a milta dibidichuta, a humorous remark. As a result, his stuJokes with a “Hechsher” dents, notably described as “rabanan” A cursory reading of the Talmud’s text (which would counter the notion that validates that assertion. An informed reading may yield that jokes are not Rabbi Daniel Feldman is an instructor of Talmud in the Mazer Yeshiva Program of Yeshiva Uni- only present in the Talmud, but abunversity, as well as an instructor in the Sy Syms School of Business. He is the author of numerous dant. The Talmud’s pun in reference to books and articles, and serves on the editorial board of Tradition. Rabbi Feldman is the spiritual bedikat chametz1 is well-known; finelyleader of Ohr Saadya of Teaneck, New Jersey, where he resides with his wife, Leah, and their tuned eyes have uncovered many more, children. This is an excerpt from a longer article which will appear in the forthcoming volume as documented in an extensive article (Spring 2013) Towards an Orthodox Jewish Perspective on Culture in the Orthodox Forum in the Bar-Ilan journal Badad.2 As the

n a somewhat uninspired attempt to evade that pressure, let us instead open with a disclaimer: this article is not of humor, but about it. It is not a collection of jokes, nor is it a discussion of the preponderance of Jewish comedians and humorists. The question that faces us is: is there a special room within our philosophical house for the comedic arts? And if so, is that room tucked away near the basement—a concession to human weakness—or somewhere more prominent, in the main living area, where it is not only an accommodation but a prominently displayed venue in which

Series (Yeshiva University Press, Ktav), edited by Yehuda Sarna, Series Editor Robert S. Hirt.



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Rabbi Hershel Schachter4 cites Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik as suggesting that the statement is important for the mitzvah of vihalachta biderachav, or imitatio Dei (following in God’s ways). In the context of delivering a eulogy for Rabbi Moshe Shatzkes, the Rav suggested that this information helps the individual realize a more Godly personality by recognizing that one does not have to “take everything so seriously.” To relate to this idea as more than a rhetorical device requires a consideration of how such a concept can be a fundamental attribute of the perfect God. It seems that the Rav’s intent was to highlight humor (or, in this case, playfulness) as an indication of one’s awareness of the relative importance, or lack of same, contained in various elements of life. Humor thus represents one’s ability to maintain an accurate perspective, recognizing that significance is both an absolute (i.e., something either matters or it does not) and a relative concept, and as a function of the second aspect, important things matter more when other things matter less. If humor is defined solely as possession of this perspective, it is fair to say that God in His omniscience maintains the ultimate “sense of humor.” As such, imitatio Dei in this regard represents one’s striving to keep the events of life in perfect perspective—to the extent that humans can strive for perfection. This ability has religious value in another primary sense as well. The Jews have been gifted the Torah, the text of ultimate significance and importance. The ability to appreciate this gift on any level will necessarily require a capacity to recognize and to act on perceiving greatness and grandeur; otherwise, no gift of any qual-


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A cynical mindset can neutralize the very lifeblood of the religious worldview.

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author of that article, Binyamin Engleman, notes, the message is twofold: that the sages of the Talmud were capable of joking and, more significantly, that these jokes were worthy of memorializing in the Talmud itself (as he puts it, “jokes with a hechsher”). Perhaps we can suggest that in addition to humor’s practical, functional benefits within a religious context, it also has a primary role to play in a religious worldview—one that not only assists and reduces crises, but that actually comprises a vital part of one’s perception of one’s world. The Talmud3 teaches that God’s schedule is comprised of daily activities assigned to four quarters of the day, including one devoted to “playing with the Leviathan.” Understandably, this last detail has provoked inquiry: is there a theological or religious value to this statement being included in the Torah Shebe’al Peh? The challenge of interpretation aside, what moral or halachic lesson is conveyed here?


Succulent I

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ity will be worth bestowing. This notion is reflected in the comments of the Ramban concerning the dramatic display surrounding the giving of the Torah, which he interpreted as a test of the Jewish nation’s capacity to appreciate magnificence.5 If the above is true, then it follows that a crucial component to this appreciation is the recognition of varying and contrasting degrees of significance and insignificance. Accordingly, the Jew’s attempt to hone his sense of humor, when appropriately executed, can be understood as an effort to develop his ability to appreciate and thus understand any degree of the magnificence of the Torah’s message, in addition to being an attempt to view the world in a manner closest to that of God’s viewpoint, thus fulfilling the vihalachta biderachav mandate. “Filling Our Mouths with Laughter” Such an understanding may yield a new interpretation of one of the primary “anti-laughter” texts, a passage in the Talmud6 which prohibits “filling one’s mouth with laughter in this world.” This exhortation is derived from the familiar verse of “Shir HaMa’alot” recited before Birkat

Hamazon on Shabbat and yom tov, “Az yimalei schok pinu, [Only] then shall our mouths be filled with laughter.” The interpretation of this prohibition, which is cited in Shulchan Aruch, 7 is subject to some debate and analysis. Aside from the meaning of the injunction, an additional question exists as to its normative status. Some authorities seem to view this as a genuine prohibition based on scriptural derivation, while others view it as a rabbinic enactment. And there is a school of thought that understands the Talmud’s statement to refer to a trait of extra piety (middat chassidut) rather than an actual prohibition. It has been suggested that the last position is reflected in the words of the Chida in his Ya’ir Ozen when he writes that people are generally “not careful” about this precept. It is of particular interest to us that the prohibition—such as it is—appears to have an expiration date, and further, that the entire prohibition is deduced from a context advocating laughter. The phrasing is that “mouth-filling laughter” should not take place in this world, and the source verse itself is focused on a future time when such laughter will be appropriate.

Notes 1. Pesachim 9b 2. Binyamin Engleman, “Humor Mutzhar, Galuy vi-Samuy bi-Talmud Bavli,” Badad, vol. VIII (winter 5759). 3. Avodah Zarah 3b 4. Nefesh HaRav, p. 69 5. Commentary to the Torah, Ex. 20:17 6. Berachot 31a 7. Orach Chaim 560:5



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In light of our understanding above—that a sense of humor is meant to approximate the Divine perspective on worldly events—we might be able to suggest a different meaning for this injunction. Perhaps the intent is to convey that as much as humans attempt to understand the world through God’s eyes, we will also be constrained from doing so due to mortal fallibility and, even more significantly, limitation of vision and understanding. A “full mouth,” connoting complete and total understanding, is not a possibility in this world. However, once history unfolds in all of its clarity—once the Divine plan is apparent—then, as the expression goes, we will be able to “look back and laugh.” Until then, we strive, in imitation of God, to cultivate His perspective, but we maintain awareness that we will always be flawed in that attempt. The goal of a religiously desirable sense of humor is to enhance the appreciation and understanding of that which is truly meaningful and eternal. To pursue humor that is a mechanism of stripping significance and importance is clearly the antithesis of what a Jewish sense of humor should represent. This is true not only because of the vastly significant concerns of humiliation and assault upon human dignity that can accompany such attitudes, although they are enough reason. In a fundamental way, a cynical mindset can neutralize the very lifeblood of the religious worldview. We strive to laugh, to smile, to be able to place events and issues into a

Piquant P iquant

easy e asy




Easy E asyy as

Effortless Good If it’s gotta be

Good Goo Go od, It’s gotta be

! Refreshing

Tangy T angy

Flavorf Fl F lavor avorffuull

Comfort C omfortabl able e


context that allows us to flourish as servants of God. However, all of this aspiration is not only unrealized, but is actively negated if we “laugh too hard”; meaning that we are laughing with too much abandon, or with too much “hardness”—too much severity, unkindness or cynicism. It is not an easy balance; it is one that takes wisdom, sensitivity and perspective, and lacking those qualities, guidance from those who possess them. All of this has implications not only for how we generate humor but for how we consume it as well. Only the truly extraordinarily talented (and usually not even they) can sustain themselves on their own sense of humor. If we are acknowledging a value to laughter, we are, by necessity, at least occasionally turning to external providers of that mirth. Accordingly, it is important to ensure that these sources do not convey more than that which is desired. Without question, the risks are many. The venues and contexts can certainly breach modesty standards—to say the least—and weaken sensitivities in that important area. The comedy itself can be hostile and aggressive and diminish one’s ability to empathize with others. The humor may, through its treatment of its subject matter or even its choice of subject matter, inappropriately minimize the sanctity, reverence and even decency that are demanded in relevant contexts. One who chooses to be a consumer of the comedic offerings of modern society must both choose carefully and work diligently at maintaining internal firewalls against all types of spiritual corrosion. As a whole, the engagement with general culture and liberal education poses both challenges and potential benefits of significant magnitude. Maximizing the latter while successfully navigating the former is the ongoing mission of those who opt for such engagement. The realm of comedy and humor is firmly situated within this spectrum as well, with its own unique components. Jewish tradition, through texts, culture and theology, points clearly to both the risks and rewards of living a life of laughter. Through the careful attention to the lessons contained within, may we soon merit to see the day when laughter may justifiably fill our mouths. g

Creative C rreativ eativee eativ





Traditional T raditional



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By Dovid Bashevkin

The Jewish Community Confronts Its

! ! ! s i s i r C s i s i Cr .......... ............ ............ ......... ............ ............ .... .... ................ ............ ......... .... .... .... ........

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o one is quite sure when this crisis began. Some point to the four symposiums on the future of Modern Orthodoxy that appeared in various Jewish publications within a six-month period; others suggest the growing trend to service “teens at risk of becoming at risk.” A third school of thought, albeit a strongvoiced minority, point to a recent Jewish rally to have more passionate rallies. Regardless of the precise determining factor, the underlying theme is clear: the Jewish community is slowly running out of crises. Dr. Mordechai Y. Leiner, a noted crisis historian who has closely watched the crisis trends in the Jewish

Dovid Bashevkin is the associate director of education for NCSY. He is studying public policy and management at The New School’s Milano School of International Affairs. When possible, he does his best to avoid crises.



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After years of struggle, the Jewish community has finally confronted a crisis it may not be able to surmount:

a crisis crisis.

.......... ............ ............ ......... ............ ............ ......... ............ ............ ........ .... .... .... ............

pensive for many financially exhausted community, remarked that while antiparents to seriously consider. Semitism had been the stalwart crisis “I am afraid,” Dr. Leiner solemnly in the Jewish community for hundreds confessed, “we may have simply run of years, the community has begun to out of crises.” waver in its crisis However, out resolve. The sevenRegardless of th of this concern ties saw a kiruv e precise arose the latest crisis, the eighties de te rm in in g factor, the witnessed a Russand most excitunderlying them ian Jewry crisis, ing develope is clear: ment in crisis while the nineties the Jewis h community is history—the were defined by sl o w ly ru nning out of crise crisis crisis. teens at risk. s. Hailed by Interestingly, rabbis and leadthe twenty-first century has had severs across denominations, the “crisis eral crises, most notably the shidduch crisis” has begun to unite the Jewish crisis and tuition crisis, but none of community. Reminiscent of the which truly defines the generation. pageantry and unity which marked While no scholar has been able to exprevious generations, many organizaplain why the past crises failed to tions have already begun contests and touch the hearts of the masses, there online polls to determine which crisis has been some interesting speculation. should grip the Jewish world next. A The Rube Goldberg-like solutions that have been proposed to resolve the shid- small synagogue in Boston has championed the “sponge cake crisis,” noting duch crisis may have served to distract how many shul kiddushim have befrom the very existence of a crisis, while the tuition crisis is simply too ex- come assimilated with sushi and low-

carb snacks, disregarding the timehonored tradition of sponge cake. A JCC on the East Coast has begun to draw attention to the “sliding crisis.” In a recent press release, the JCC noted, “Whether it’s sliding to the right or sliding to the left, I think it is fair to say that there may be a sliding crisis of sorts. The time has come to put an end to sliding—in any direction.” Sadly, a clear crisis consensus has yet to emerge, leaving only the “crisis crisis” to fester within the community. Others seemed more skeptical of the correct response. A spokesman from the Anti-AntiSemitism Society decried the very notion of a “crisis crisis.” “This blatant oversight of the rampant anti-Semitism which is still prevalent in our community is itself anti-Semitic!” The chairman of J.C.E.U.A.R.J.R. S.T.I.A (The Jewish Council for the Employment of Unaffiliated At Risk

Jewish Russians Struggling with Tuition and Israel Advocacy) remarked, “The Jewish community has a veritable plethora of crises to choose from; when faced with a perceived crisis drought, we need more creativity in combining old crises to form new and more exciting ones for the community.” The crisis crisis has not gone unnoticed among Jewish teens. Josh Mardukas, an eleventh grader from Woodmere, New York, along with his father, Hank, has begun a crisis crisis campaign to bring awareness to teens of this crucial issue. Josh began wearing a blank yellow bracelet to highlight the painful lack of clear accord on this crisis issue. Since then, hundreds of teens across the country have joined his effort. In a powerful display, the recent “Run for Crisis Marathon” featured nearly one hundred and fifty runners who raised money for the “crisis crisis”

by getting sponsors and committing to run in the marathon, which poignantly was just a quarter-mile track which they ran around in circles for a little over thirteen miles. Other teens, lured by the more glamorous and appealing crises of the secular world, have not gotten as involved in the crisis crisis of the Jewish community, leading many rabbinic leaders to accuse the teens of only being immersed in a “half-crisis.” Regardless of how the crisis crisis will unfold, leaders have become increasingly pessimistic about what this “crisis crisis” may portend for the Jewish community. One leader commented, on the condition of anonymity, “We are illequipped to deal with this sudden crisis. All we can do in the face of such struggle is to sincerely come together with the same weapons our heartfelt bubbies and zeides wielded— a conference!” g

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Summer 5773/2013 JEWISH ACTION 59


By Bayla Sheva Brenner Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich after his release from prison, March 1981.



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Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich’s tenacious struggle to keep Torah in Communist Russia is documented in his book Unbroken Spirit: A Heroic Story of Faith, Courage and Survival (Jerusalem, 2012). But in a recent interview with OU Senior Writer Bayla Sheva Brenner, Rabbi Mendelevich, who is today a rebbe at Machon Meir in Jerusalem, reveals more than his story; he reveals the essence of a man who dared to live a Jewish life no matter what the cost. JA: How did you come to embrace a religious life when living in Communist Russia? RM: After I dropped out of university, I was called up to enlist in the Russian army. I knew that serving would end my chances of getting an exit visa. I tried coming up with ways to avoid serving in the army. I realized that I was not being honest with myself. I thought, “Yosef, you are struggling to go to Israel, but for what reason? You claim that you would like to go back to your roots, to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, but they were religious. If you know that it is the truth, why aren’t you keeping mitzvot?” I was forced to make a decision. JA: How did you start learning about Torah Judaism? RM: I had a vague understanding of Judaism and picked up scraps of knowledge from different places. There was a duality at home; outwardly, we accepted the Soviet regime, but inwardly we observed some semblance of Jewish tradition. When my mother died, my father married a woman who was more traditional than my mother was. We started keeping Pesach. We didn’t have Haggadahs, so my father would tell us the history of Am Yisrael up until the establishment of the State of Israel. It had an impact on me. After becoming active in the Jewish underground movement in the 1960s, I was able to get a few sefarim. I read books on Jewish history and a Chumash with a Russian translation. Eventually, I decided to organize a parashat hashavuah study group. Bayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.

A FAITHFUL SON MAKES IT HOME By Bayla Sheva Brenner n 1970, a group of Jewish activists, desperate to escape Soviet Russia, devised a plan. They would fill up a small plane to a local city under the pretense of attending a wedding, and then hijack the plane to Sweden. Once there, they planned to announce their intention to immigrate to Israel. The plane never made it off the ground. As they were about to board, the Soviet secret police surrounded the cadre and brutally beat and arrested everyone in the group. Yosef Mendelevich, then twentytwo, the youngest in the group, was sentenced to twelve years in Soviet prison. More than four decades later, he still considers the mission a success. Rabbi Mendelevich’s courageous sacrifices paved the way for hundreds of thousands of Jews to leave the Soviet Union. Today, a proud grandfather and revered yeshivah rebbe in Yerushalayim, Rabbi Mendelevich is busy helping young Russian olim reclaim a once-forbidden heritage. Born in 1947 in Riga, Latvia, Rabbi Mendelevich grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home. Although his parents were staunch adherents of the Communist/atheist ideology, they would never fail to mention when it was Chanukah or Pesach. His maternal grandfather and namesake, Reb Yosef, served as the shamash of the venerated Rogatchover Gaon in Dvinsk. When he was just eleven, the Soviets arrested his father on trumped-up charges. Before the sentencing, Rabbi Mendelevich found himself pleading to the God he was told didn’t exist to save his father. Although sentenced to five years in prison, his father returned home after two years of hard labor. Shortly after, Rabbi Mendelevich’s mother fell ill and died. The imprisonment took a significant toll on his father’s health, compelling young Yosef, while in his teens, to find a job to support the family. He worked in a factory during the day and attended high school at night. There he met a group of Jewishly identified students, who involved him in cleaning up the mass graves of Jews massacred by the Nazis in a forest near Riga. The experience sparked a nascent pride in and attachment to his people.



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Perm 36 Labor Camp. In the center is the hut in which Rabbi Mendelevich was imprisoned.

American Jewry saved me; now I hope to save American Jewry. JA: You risked harsh punishment if you overtly behaved as a Jew in prison, yet you persisted. How did you manage to keep wearing a kippah, eating kosher and keeping Shabbos in the Gulag? RM: To the extent that I was able to keep mitzvot, I did so. I made a kippah out of a pair of pants that was repeatedly confiscated. A friend of mine, who was arrested shortly after me, remembers that when he first arrived at the prison, he saw me lying on the ground as soldiers beat me because I wouldn’t let them remove my kippah. When the Russians sent me to the “punishment room,” they limited my food rations. I wouldn’t let it bother me; I wouldn’t let them limit my free will. When they gave me my allotted portion, I would deliberately leave some over— making it my decision how much to eat, not theirs. A few Jewish prisoners and I managed to establish an underground Jewish organization. I was the “rabbi.” We found an unfinished barrack and would gather there on Shabbat. We would lay a white cloth on a table and eat bread that we had saved all week. I would share divrei Torah, which we got from a rabbi in Kibbutz Yavneh in Israel. (Years later, my daughter ended up marrying this rabbi’s grandson.) JA: How did you manage emotionally without seeing your family for long stretches of time? RM: My fellow Jewish prisoners were my family. I tried to create a family for myself in each cell I was transferred to. I was always the “father” of the cell. I felt that the other prisoners were my



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brethren. It is important to have someone to care about—that sustained me. JA: After you arrived in Eretz Yisrael in 1981, how did you end up in yeshivah? RM: At first, I decided to attend Hebrew University to study international relations. A short while later, I visited a kollel in Glasgow, and the rosh kollel asked me about my plans. I told him I was going to study at Hebrew University and he replied, “But you are a role model for

Am Yisrael; you have to study in yeshivah!” When I returned to Israel, a rabbi at Mercaz HaRav said the same thing. Dr. Bernard Lander, the founder of Touro College, called me to relay a message from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef: I have to continue to be a role model for the Jewish people in Israel; I must go learn Torah. But, I thought, I’m not a young man and I’m getting married [I had recently become engaged]; I need a parnassah. Am Yisrael helped me [sustain myself financially]. Rabbi Moshe Sherer, the

Demonstration in support of Natan Sharansky’s release.

Around this time, Rabbi Mendelevich’s cousin, a physician and underground aliyah activist, came to live with the family. He gave Rabbi Mendelevich a Hebrew primer. Eager to learn the language, he memorized every word and, despite the risk of being arrested, taught Hebrew and Chumash to a group of friends at the Riga synagogue. He also launched an underground organization to motivate Jews to immigrate to Israel. After applying for an exit visa and getting refused, he dropped his engineering studies and devoted himself to the clandestine Jewish movement, becoming editor of the underground newspaper Ha-Iton, a serious “crime” in Communist Russia. No longer a student, he was called up to serve in the Russian army. The night before his enlistment interview, again he found himself turning to God. He promised Hashem that if He saved him from having to serve in the military, he would begin observing mitzvot. The next day, when the officer asked Rabbi Mendelevich why he decided to end his studies, he didn’t know how to reply without incriminating himself. He glanced out the window and noticed a small bird perched on a tree. He said, “You see that bird? He is free; here today, somewhere else tomorrow. But I am not free. I long to be free, like that bird.” The officer sent him for a psychiatric evaluation. The psychiatrist asked him if he thought people were following him. Without hesitation, he answered, “Yes” (since the KGB was constantly on his tail). Ultimately he was deemed unfit to serve. Keeping his end of the bargain with God, Rabbi Mendelevich went straight from the psychiatric hospital to the synagogue. He approached the worshippers and announced that he wanted to learn how to properly observe the commandments. Fearing he was a police informant, all but one man denied his request. His new mentor opened a siddur and began explaining the prayers. As Rabbi Mendelevich learned more about Yiddishkeit, he grew increasingly concerned about having to spend the

rest of his life in Russia. When he heard through the underground of a Jewish pilot’s plan to escape the USSR, he jumped at the chance. Although the “Operation Wedding” flight never took off, Rabbi Mendelevich’s emunah soared. Throughout his eleven years of grueling imprisonment, interrogations, solitary confinement and hard labor, he saw how Hashem sustained him. After one of his prison transfers, he met a young man eager to learn about Judaism; he became a treasured chavruta. He also met fellow famed refusenik Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky; the two cultivated their friendship exchanging guarded whispers through the toilet bowl pipe and furtive notes thrown over the “exercise yard” walls. When Sharansky was moved to a cell across the hall from his, they would sing Hebrew messages to each other. In Rabbi Mendelevich’s moving memoir, Unbroken Spirit, he recalls singing “Shabbat Shalom” to his friend. “Avi met,” came Sharansky’s somber response, having been informed of his father’s death earlier that day. During the half-hour exercise break, Rabbi Mendelevich threw a note with the words of Kaddish to his friend on the other side of the prison yard wall. Rabbi Mendelevich’s determination to keep mitzvot cost him dearly. The prison authorities forbade him from wearing his (homemade) kippah, threatening to deprive him of his already rare visiting privileges with his father. Nevertheless, he wouldn’t budge. Rabbi Mendelevich never saw his father again. Unhappy with Rabbi Mendelevich’s Jewish influence on his incarcerated landsmen, the KGB confiscated his smuggled-in siddur and Chumash. He went on a hunger strike for fifty-six days, ingesting nothing but water, until they were returned. Throughout the fast, the authorities placed him in solitary confinement, but Rabbi Mendelevich remained undeterred; he gave Hebrew lessons to an inmate in the next cell. On Purim Katan 1981, the Soviets succumbed to mounting pressure from the West to free the imprisoned Soviet refuseniks and allow them to emigrate to Israel. Rabbi Mendelevich was informed that since he was “unworthy of being a Soviet citizen” he was being “expelled” from the Soviet Union. At last, he was coming home.


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former head of Agudath Israel of America, arranged for me to go on a speaking tour. I told my story all over America and was able to make a living from that. While I was in prison, Rebbetzin Baila Susholz from Brooklyn went door to door collecting donations, hoping to buy my freedom. When I was finally released, she asked a she���eilah about the money she had raised. She was told the funds belonged to me. I used the money for the down payment on our first apartment in Givat Shaul, where my wife and I raised our seven children. JA: Your spiritual resilience is a powerful lesson for Jews all over. How can we transmit spiritual strength to the younger generation today? RM: Parents have to be around. That’s the secret—be with your children. The parents’ presence builds the family. If we want our children to follow in our ways, they have to see us and how we live. The father should invite his chavruta into the home to study with him. It’s not enough to send a child to a good yeshivah; you need to set a personal example in the home. JA: You wrote your book Unbroken Spirit shortly after you came to Eretz Yisrael; why did you decide to translate it into English now?

RM: When I first came to Israel, my brother-in-law, who was also a member of our underground movement in Russia, urged me to write my story, which I did. A few years ago, a group of American Jews who were formerly involved in the movement to free Soviet Jewry suggested I have the book translated into English. I decided to do so in order to educate and inspire American Jewry. American Jewry saved me; now I hope to save American Jewry. Since outside of Israel New York is the largest Jewish city in the world, I asked my friend Glen Richter, the co-founder of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, to organize speaking engagements for me there. He found it very difficult—almost no one was interested. People think I’m still telling the story of Soviet Jewry. My story is not about Soviet Jewry; it’s about emunah and the strength of the Jewish neshamah. JA: What has been the reaction to the book? RM: Some individuals have written to me saying that the book has changed their lives. One American woman said that she was hesitant about becoming more involved in Judaism, but after she read my book, the decision to do so be-

came clear. This is exactly what I had hoped for—to instill bitachon and emunah in people. I’ve been a popular lecturer for over thirty years now. I’ve repeated my story again and again and sometimes I ask myself, was it real? It is a miracle for me. Every time I speak to an audience, I get a kind of ruach hakodesh and I tell my story emphasizing exactly what each particular audience needs to hear. JA: As a Jew who believes in hashgachah pratit, why do you think Hashem deemed that Yosef Mendelevich be born in Communist Russia and find a way to blossom as a Jew in that environment? RM: I’ve thought about that. I have no explanation, but I am thankful to the Ribbono Shel Olam for having selected me for this mission. It is the reason I wrote my book, to show how, with the help of Hashem, it is possible for even an assimilated Jewish boy living in Soviet Russia to find his Jewish neshamah. It is my hope that the next generation of Jews will read the book and think, “If a simple Jew like Yosef Mendelevich could do it, I can too.” g Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich with the tzitzit he made while in prison. Photos courtesy of Gefen Publishing House



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The International Jewish Resource Center for Inclusion & Special Education The New Jersey Association of Jewish Day Schools Divisions of Yachad/NJCD Proudly present:

Two Conferences in One! National Special Education Professional Development Conference and New Jersey Statewide Professional Development Conference

“Blended Learning: Toward New Frontiers” Tuesday, November 5th, 2013 at Yeshivat Noam 70 West Century Road, Paramus, New Jersey

8:00 am – 3:15 pm Keynote Speaker: Dr. Jason Ohler Early Childhood Keynote Speaker: Dr. Clarrissa Willis Special Education Keynote Speaker: Richard Ellenson Featured Presenters: Dr. Karen Gazith • Dr. Bill Atwood Highlighted Speakers SPECIAL EDUCATION: Dr. Joel Dickstein Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman Mindy Lidsky

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Workshop Concentrations in Special Education, Early Childhood, Elementary, and Junior High School levels, Mental Health, and Administration. For pricing, further information, and to register, contact Batya Jacob at (212) 613-8127 / (551) 404-4447 or

Please note: Special travel subsidy available on a limited basis for educators outside the NY/NJ area. For a complete conference schedule, to register online, and for a list of participating vendors, visit Yachad is An Agency of the Orthodox Union


Summer 5773/2013 JEWISH ACTION 65


By Avraham Edelstein

Impoverished by Wealth

rom the 70s to the 90s, the standard of living for the Jewish middle-to upper-middle class rose significantly. During this time, many would buy houses, tear them down and build three-story eyesores in their place. The types of vacations also changed. It became common for entire families to visit Israel on an annual basis, the price tags of vacations often competing with the annual salaries of many Israeli families. School fees rose dramatically, from around $7,000 on average to $13,000 for elementary school and often reaching $20,000 or more for high school. The world was looking endlessly rosy. By 1998, America had sustained eight years of growth. “America’s unique brand of entrepreneurial capitalism,” said media magnate Mortimer Zuckerman, “. . . explain(s) the stunning success . . . America’s prosperity is structural, not transient, and its lead over Europe and Asia will only widen


Rabbi Avraham Edelstein is a director of Ner Le’Elef, a world center for Jewish leadership training and community outreach and senior advisor to Morasha-Olami, a global umbrella body of student outreach.



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with time. America had the twentieth century. It will also have the twenty-first.”1 It was not to be. Standards of living started eroding in the twenty-first century long before the current financial crisis. Starting in 2007, the price of grain rose significantly. Many other agricultural products followed suit. Medical insurance shot up, as did childcare. Housing prices went through the roof. On March 3, 2008, oil had reached $103.95 a barrel, breaking the record set in April 1980 during the second oil shock (adjusted for inflation).2 Americans drove 9.6 billion fewer miles in May 2008 compared with the same period the previous year,3 but I failed to notice such adjustments in the Torah community. There was a reason for this. By then, the standards of living were built into people’s lives—nobody was going to demolish his house and build a smaller one. Schools did not meet the economic crisis and became ever tougher on parents. In the 1980s it was not uncommon for klei kodesh to get significant tuition breaks and they rarely paid more than $5,000 per child.

Twenty years later, the breaks were much smaller and a parent who didn’t pay had his child sent home. Other sociological groups made radical adjustments. In 2008, six out of ten American parents were helping with insurance, transportation, living expenses and spending money for adult children who were no longer students.4 By 2011, 5.9 million young adults aged twenty-five to thirty-four lived with their parents, up from 4.7 million before the recession.5 But in the Orthodox community, people were either doing all that already, or their lifestyle (yeshivah/seminary and early marriage) didn’t allow for further adjustments of that sort. In the 90s, I remember a couple from Passaic, New Jersey, where the husband was earning $130,000 annually and the wife didn’t have to work. In 2010 I knew a couple in the Five Towns where the husband was earning $200,000, the wife was working and their house was in foreclosure. And so, there was the irony of people being impoverished by wealth. They had no way of making a lifestyle change, and making more money was not an option—they were trapped. According to a report by the Economic Mobility Project, men in their thirties earned 12 percent less in 2004 (inflation-adjusted) than their fathers did at a similar age.6 During the recession—from December 2007 to June 2009—household incomes fell 3.2 percent. But it didn’t stop there. Between June 2009, when the recession officially ended, and June 2011, inflationadjusted median household incomes fell 6.7 percent to $49,909.7 Unlike Israel, America is a bad place to be poor. The consequences of not making it are tough. The social consequences are great; the legal consequences are awful. In Israel, one can easily throw away his credit cards and

The types of vacations also changed. It became common for entire families to visit Israel on an annual basis, the price tags of vacations often competing with the annual salaries of many Israeli families. be okay; lose your credit rating in America and you are in big trouble. An Israeli can rack up a debt at his local makolet, go to a dozen gemachs and live happily mired in debt (not recommended). Not so in America, where the have-nots live right next door to the haves—driving the same model cars even when Tomchei Shabbos delivers food to their doors. Attempts to reign in the affordability crisis focused on very narrow issues, such as reducing wedding expenses and tuition. Many Orthodox Jews still sent their daughters to seminary in Israel—at the cost of $20,000 or more for the year. They paid ever-increasing air fares and school fees. They faced absurdly high mortgages. Yet the restaurants in many frum neighborhoods were (and are) still full on any weekday during lunchtime. Everyone just hoped that the economy would turn around, but it hasn’t. We have made our lists of potential

solutions. Families are moving to Houston, Detroit and Atlanta. Some Orthodox parents are sending their children to charter schools. All of this is being done in the spirit of mesirut nefesh (or is it the American spirit of rugged individualism?). But hardly a word has been spoken about changing the values that got us to this place to begin with. Note that I did not say changing our lifestyle; I said values. There is a difference between living materialistically and being materialistic. One can be a pious Jew and live in a mansion—that doesn’t make him materialistic. A materialistic person has a need to be filled up by objects. He or she might always be busy adding to his home, not using it simply as a place to live, but as a way to satisfy an urge. (By that definition, many Orthodox Israelis are also materialistic— they just have less money to spend.) Eradicating this materialistic urge which plagues our communities re-

Notes 1. Mortimer B. Zuckerman, “Debate: A Second American Century,” Foreign Affairs (May/June 1998). 2. “Oil Tops Inflation-Adjusted Record Set in 1980,” New York Times, March 4, 2008, 03/04/business/worldbusiness /04oil.html. 3. “Americans Ditching the Car,” CNN Money, accessed February 13, 2013, ws/economy/driving/index.htm. 4. Brad Tuttle, “More Young Adults Are Poor, Live With Their Parents,” Time, September 14, 2011, more-young-adults-are-poor-live-withtheir-parents/. 5. ibid.

6. Economic Mobility: Is the American Dream Alive and Well? 7. Robert Pear, “Recession Officially Over, U.S. Incomes Kept Falling,” New York Times, October 9, 2011, /10/10/us/recession-officially -over-us-incomes-keptfalling.html.

quires a long process of personal and communal introspection and reconnecting to spirituality to fill the void. It requires a set of consistent messages from parents, teachers, rabbis and neighbors. Advertisements for cheaper vacations should be rabbinically endorsed; newspapers should start talking about God’s own natural wonders instead of expensive luxury resorts and thrill-seeking entertainment. Nobody knows why Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast of American shores. We only know of its enormous devastation and inflicted suffering. But we also know of the enormous outpouring of chesed that it produced. Jews everywhere saw the pain of others and found the means to give, even when they themselves might have been in considerable distress. Jews engaged in an ancient Jewish art—the ability to turn devastation into spiritual renewal. Perhaps this is just the opportunity for filling the void. g


Summer 5773/2013 JEWISH ACTION 67


By Peter Abelow

On and Off the Beaten Track at...


Heichal Ha’atzmaut, Independence Hall Photo: Sasson Tiram

he aspirations of our people to return home and re-establish Jewish independence in the Land of Israel, preserved tenaciously through 2,000 years of galut, came to a dramatic climax in a small museum on Rothschild Street in Tel Aviv at 4 PM on a Friday afternoon, May 14, 1948. The story of the historic building which became Israel’s Independence Hall is almost as compelling as the events that transpired within its walls on that fateful afternoon. On April 11, 1909 (20th day of Nisan), sixty-six fami-


Peter Abelow is a licensed tour guide and the associate director of Keshet: The Center for Educational Tourism in Israel. Keshet specializes in creating and running inspiring family and group tours that make Israel come alive “Jewishly.” He can be reached at 011.972.2.671.3518 or at 68


Summer 5773/2012

lies had gathered at that very spot, lot #43, then a sandy dune near the Mediterranean, to determine the distribution of the lots which would make up one of Tel Aviv’s first neighborhoods. Sixty-six white sea shells with the lot numbers and sixty-six dark sea shells on which the names of the families had been inscribed were picked by one of the children, one at time, from each pile. Meir Dizengoff and his wife, Zina, who were among the leaders of this pioneer group, “won” lot #43. The Dizengoffs built their home, as did the others, and the neighborhood of Ahuzat Bayit began to take shape, as well as the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, the first school in modern Israel where Hebrew was to be the language of instruction. Meir Dizengoff went on to become the head

of the neighborhood committee and then the first mayor of the new Jewish city, now officially named Tel Aviv. Renowned personalities from every walk of life visited the house on lot #43 to call upon Meir Dizengoff: Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and Chaim Nachman Bialik, to name a few. When Zina died in 1930, Meir donated his home to the City of Tel Aviv for the creation of an art museum. He could not possibly have envisioned that a mere eighteen years later, his home would become the focus of world attention. On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the newly constituted United Nations voted to partition the British Mandate of Palestine and authorize the creation of a Jewish state. Despite the untenable borders of the

“Partition Plan,” including the fact that most of what had been allocated to the Jews was desert in the Negev, and the painful reality that Jerusalem was to be an international city in the heart of the Arab zone, the decision was greeted with rejoicing in the Jewish world. However, as we prepared to declare statehood, our enemies prepared to declare war. The Arab response was a renewal of acts of terror and violence against Jews throughout Palestine. On the very next day, November 30, Arabs attacked a convoy of Jewish vehicles on the way to Jerusalem. Israel’s Milchemet Ha’atzmaut, War of Independence, had begun. Six months later, on May 15, the British formally withdrew from Palestine. The Mandate was over. But May 15 was a Shabbat, so the Jewish leadership decided to declare independence on erev Shabbat, May 14, at 4 PM.

The ceremony was to take place at the Dizengoff Museum on Rothschild Boulevard. Many members of the Provisional State Council (temporary legislature of Israel from shortly before independence until after the election of the first Knesset) were stuck in Jerusalem, besieged by Arab forces, but the others assembled in the large gallery on the lower level of the museum. Chairs for the 400 invited guests had been borrowed from local cafes; a podium had been hastily constructed and a sound system, also borrowed, stood ready to broadcast the dramatic moment. Although the full invasion by the surrounding Arab nations was not to take place until the following day, fighting was already raging all over the country. Since most of the leaders of the Yishuv were to be assembled in one spot and a bombing by the Egyptian Air

Force was feared, it was decided not to reveal the details of the ceremony. The 400 formal invitations stated, “Please keep the time and place of the ceremony a secret.” They kept the secret so well that by 3:00 PM the streets were jammed and the couriers who were bringing the text of the Declaration to the hall had to battle their way through the crowds to get to the building. The ceremony began precisely at 4 and, with the world listening intently, David Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel: Accordingly, we, members of the People’s Council, representatives of the Jewish Community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist Movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz-Israel and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolu-

David Ben-Gurion reading the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 in the Dizengoff house in Tel Aviv. To Ben-Gurion’s right is Rabbi Yehuda Leib (Fishman) Maimon. Photo: The State of Israel National Photo Collection/Kluger Zoltan


Summer 5773/2012 JEWISH ACTION 69

At 4:32, Ben-Gurion banged the gavel and the ceremony was over. The modern State of Israel was born. tion of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel. (Translation provided by egilat_eng.htm) At 4:32, Ben-Gurion banged the gavel and the ceremony was over. The modern State of Israel was born. It is noteworthy that sixty-five years ago, Israel was created as a Jewish state. I strongly encourage readers to take a few minutes to read the entire text of the Declaration ( It underscores the historical context of our right to the Land of Israel and the world’s acknowledgment of that right,

messages which are sometimes overlooked in today’s discussions. It also sets the vision for what our country should ideally represent. The penultimate paragraph calls for “Jewish people all over the world to rally to our side in the task of immigration and development and to stand by us in the great struggle for the fulfillment of the dream of generations—the redemption of Israel,” a message that resonates as much today as it did then. A visit to Independence Hall begins with a short film about the Dizengoff house and the story of the birth and growth of Tel Aviv. After that, you will be led by one of the excellent guides to the room where the ceremony took place. You will then be magically trans-


elementary n ta ry ry school

ported back to that Friday afternoon, while listening to a recording of David Ben-Gurion’s voice, from the actual ceremony. You will hear the quivering voice of Rabbi Yehuda Leib (Fishman) Maimon reciting the Shehecheyanu as well as a recording of the Hatikvah that was played that day by the orchestra assembled in the loft above (there was no room for them in the main hall). Like most visitors, you will probably have tears in your eyes at this point. There is no more moving way to connect with the dramatic moment of modern Israel’s birth than a visit to Heichal Ha’atzmaut, Independence Hall. g The museum is located at 16 Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. Tours must be reserved in advance. Call (03) 510.6426 or (03) 517.3942 for reservations.


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life & social skills training limude l i mu d e eii ko odesh desh a and nd c ch hol h ol foundation f o u n dat at i o n f for or t the h e future futur re e


FOR F OR R Registration e g i s t r at at i o n or or m more o r e information i n f o r m at i o n contact c o n tac t the t h e school s c h o o l office o f f i c e at at 718.758.2999 7 1 8. 7 5 8. 2 9 9 9 or ivduschools o u .o r g 4RANSPORTATIONPROVIDEDFROMALLlVEBOROUGHS



Summer 5773/2013

Yachad achad is an agency ag of Orthodox the Orthodo thodox Union


Summer 5773/2013 JEWISH ACTION 71


By Sharyn Perlman


OU Advocacy Makes Tuition More Affordable In 2010, the Silver Academy nearly closed its doors. Today, it’s financially thriving

Students at Silver Academy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

en, a thirty-one-year-old single father of three, makes a decent living supplying kosher food to supermarkets in Pennsylvania, but it’s nowhere near enough to afford the tuition needed to send his children to the local day school. “I’m Modern Orthodox, and a day school education for my kids is extremely important. If I had to pay full tuition, I would have to find another way to give my children a Jewish education,” he says. The day school his children attend is the Silver Academy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a school founded on Orthodox principles in 1944 that today serves the educational needs of the greater Jewish community. In 2010, the school nearly closed its doors because Ben (name has been changed to protect his privacy) wasn’t the only parent challenged by staggering tuition bills. The combination of the recession, a decrease in enrollment (the school had only fifty-four students) and an increase in financial aid requests created a daunting financial crisis for the school—it was down to its last $50,000 from a $1 million endowment fund. But members of the Harrisburg Jewish community were not about to let the only Jewish day school go under. They hired Stuart Gasner as director of development, who worked feverishly to find creative ways to keep the doors open—and reduce tuition. How the Silver Academy was able to cut its tuition from $21,700 annually to $12,555 in-

Inside the OU


Sharyn Perlman is a writer, editor and contributor to award-winning publications. A resident of New York, she is the former director of public relations for the Orthodox Union.



Summer 5773/2013

volves skilled fundraising, effective use of government funding and cooperative interplay between the school and the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs (IPA). “Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarship programs are a lifeline for Jewish parents struggling to afford the best schools for their children, and for the Jewish schools struggling to accept them,” says Maury Litwack, director of state political affairs and outreach for the OU’s IPA. “We are proud that our advocacy efforts played a role in enabling the Silver Academy to continue to educate Jewish children who would otherwise have to forgo a Jewish education.” In addition to traditional fundraising, the school took advantage of the Pennsylvania Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program, where businesses can receive a tax credit for donating up to 90 percent of their state taxes (capped at $400,000/annum) to a general scholarship fund that is used for tuition assistance in private schools. The companies can also specify to which school(s) they want their EITC contribution disbursed. Which means that Gasner, and any member of the community, can steward relationships with local companies so their EITC contributions will be earmarked directly to the Silver Academy. The companies pay the money directly to the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg, which in turn disburses the scholarship fund to the Silver Academy. In other Pennsylvania cities, where there is more than one Jewish school, the monies are disbursed to as many schools as corporations earmark.

This past November, Jewish leaders from Pennsylvania attended a legislative breakfast, sponsored by the OU, featuring an address by Pennsylvania Education Secretary Ron Tomalis. From left: Pastor Terrance Griffith, president of the Philadelphia Black Clergy; Stephen J. Savitsky, OU chairman of the board and Maury Litwack, OU director of state political affairs and outreach for the OU’s IPA.

sky, “the IPA worked closely with the Catholic Coalition and other school choice supporters on the grassroots level to increase the amount of tax dollars that can be donated from $75 million up to $100 million.” Gasner says that there is “a lot of competition from all the private schools in the state to get the EITC money,” so it’s up to each school’s development office to aggressively work with individual companies and apply for the tax credit before the cap is reached. To further help reduce tuition, explains Twersky, “the IPA has also worked to create the OSTC (Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit) program, which is similar to the EITC except that the available scholarship funds are targeted for students who live near failing public schools.” Other creative ways currently being considered for Jewish schools in Pennsylvania to tap into available government funding include energy and security proposals. If day schools can pay less for their energy and security needs, then that frees up more funds for tuition assistance. According to the IPA, in June 2012, the New York State Senate passed the most progressive school choice bill (S 2732) in the history of the New York Legislature (by a vote of 55-4), based on the successful tax credit scholarship programs not only in Pennsylvania, but also in Florida and Rhode Island. The bill, however, died in the Assembly. New Jersey is working on a similar program. What have been the most practical effects of Pennsylvania’s EITC program? Well, for one family, it has been “life changing.” As Ben says, “I hope my children appreciate that they’re privileged to attend such a great school and get a Jewish education, but if not, then they’ll appreciate it when they’re older. The EITC program is really great. The process of getting scholarship money through them is done in a way that’s not intrusive and helps preserve my dignity. It’s made all the difference in our lives.” g

Inside the OU

“This program is a win-win,” explains Gasner. “It’s fiscally responsible because companies get a 90 percent tax credit on their state taxes, they can deduct the credit from their federal taxes, it’s great PR and the school gets scholarship money it otherwise wouldn’t have.” “As part of our growing investment in the cause of greater government funding for Jewish education, we hired a full-time staff member in Pennsylvania to further advance this cause,” says Litwack. “We’ve been delighted at the result which has led to greater EITC funding, more active participation of lay leaders, coordination amongst the Jewish day schools and an increased recognition by state politicians that our community is a critical voting bloc which must be regarded.” In 2010, the Silver Academy received only $210,000 in EITC money. Because more families are now eligible for scholarship money due to the lobbying efforts of the IPA, this year the school has received $427,500 so far. Under EITC guidelines, scholarship money can be given to families with a combined income of less than $60,000. For each child, the allowed income is increased by $12,000. So a family with three children is eligible for EITC scholarship if the combined household income is less than $96,000. In September 2013, the income level will increase to $75,000 per family, plus $15,000 per child. Because scholarships for the lower income families are covered by EITC, any funds raised by the school for its annual campaign can be used for families whose incomes are higher than the EITC guidelines, but who would still have to make “significant lifestyle changes” to afford tuition, explains Gasner. And since the money raised through traditional fundraising doesn’t need to be used to provide scholarships for low-income families, it is used to give every family a tuition “break” of over $9,000. According to Gasner, the school’s operating costs, divided by the number of students, places tuition at $21,700. Because the school gets the EITC money, the funds raised from its annual campaign are used to reduce tuition to $12,555. “Every family in the school that applies automatically receives the $9,000 scholarship,” said Gasner. “There are no financial checks.” This across-the-board tuition reduction has resulted in a growth of the student population from fifty-four in 2010 to a projected eighty students, in kindergarten through eighth grade, this fall. From gasping its last breaths three years ago, today the Silver Academy is financially thriving. Last year, roughly 40 percent of the school’s operating budget of $1.2 million came from the EITC program. The school has also recouped a significant portion of its endowment—now over $500,000—from fundraising alone. “Most important,” says Gasner, “we don’t have to take money from the endowment principal to offer scholarships.” Gasner explains that the EITC program has been around for over ten years, but that there is much more scholarship money available today, mainly due to the efforts of the IPA. Michelle Twersky, IPA associate regional political director in Pennsylvania, concurs. About a year ago, says Twer-

For more information on whether your state has a tax credit scholarship program, or to learn how to work with your state legislators to help create a similar program, contact Maury Litwack at 202.513.6484 or e-mail


Summer 5773/2013 JEWISH ACTION 73


By Michael Orbach



DOOR Thanks to the OU, electronic doors can be used on Shabbat

The Orthodox Union is known for granting kosher certification to many things, but for the first time, the OU will be certifying a door. “Not that you can make a berachah on it,” joked Rabbi Lenny Steinberg, rabbinic coordinator for the OU. To be completely fair, it’s not exactly a door. Developed by entrepreneur Bruce E. Schmutter and his Brooklyn-based company, Windowman, Portal Logics is an electronic system designed to integrate automatic doors with fire and security systems. Automatic and electric doors are quagmires for religious Jews. Used in hospitals and assisted living and nursing homes, automatic doors have built-in functions enabling them to open or close electronically depending on the circumstance. Because of national disability laws, automatic doors can’t be shut off completely for

Inside the OU


Michael Orbach is a writer living in New York.



Summer 5773/2013

Shabbat or Jewish holidays, creating a halachic difficulty for religious Jews. “Electronic doors pose problems for Shabbatobservant nursing homes,” says Rabbi Eli Gersten, a rabbinic coordinator for the OU who also worked on the project. “Even if doors seem manual, there is usually a motor helping to open the door.” Portal Logics circumvents these issues by having an “electronic brain” that allows the door to be turned off completely on Shabbat. Yet it also has an override function that is triggered by external stimuli, so that, for example, when a patient who has dementia gets too close to the door, a sensor in the patient’s bracelet causes the door to lock. A color-coded set of lights on top of the door integrates the door with fire and security systems. While it sounds simple—a green light indicates that the door is in Shabbat mode and a red light indicates it is in “regular” mode—Portal Logics is an incredibly complicated system.

Schmutter says he developed the idea for Portal Logics while working in downtown Manhattan immediately after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. (His friend was a chief engineer for one of the World Trade Center buildings.) Schmutter spent six months after the event volunteering in hospitals and helping first-responders. What horrified him most was knowing that on 9/11, instead of using advanced technology to assess the situation, first-responders did so themselves, putting their lives in danger. One amazing feature of Schmutter’s high-tech doors is that during a fire or other emergency, the doors convey information about possible safety concerns in the area. “I was able to formulate a lot of different ideas after 9/11,” he says. “I saw an opportunity to use doors to provide information and that became my mission.” While developing the prototype that became Portal Logics in 2003, he was contacted by Woodmere Health and Rehabilitation Center in New York to build automatic doors for the institution. As the facility serves many Orthodox clients, it requested that Schmutter include a function enabling the automatic doors to be used on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Schmutter created a “Shabbat mode” for the door and installed a five-year calendar into its hardware, which was included in the final design of Portal Logics. “Portal Logics has the ability to deal with an infinite number of scenarios and is prepared for multiple simultaneous conflicts,” Schmutter explained. Schmutter, who isn’t Orthodox but attends a Chabad shul, approached the OU with his product. “The OU has very high standards,” says Rabbi Gersten. “Usually, when we explain to a company what we require,

OU Posek Rabbi Yisroel Belsky with Mr. Schmutter.

Bruce Schmutter, creator of an automatic door with a “Shabbat mode.” Photo: Claudio Papapietro

they pass on it. To Bruce’s credit, he wanted the highest standards and wasn’t interested in cutting corners in halachah.” OU Posek Rabbi Yisroel Belsky visited Schmutter’s workshop in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn and granted the certification. Portal Logics isn’t the only non-food item the OU has certified. The OU certifies shaimos services, a pair of tzitzit as well as a warming cabinet used to heat food on Shabbat. But working on Portal Logics was one of the most intense experiences Rabbi Steinberg says he has had in his seventeen years working at the OU. “Growing up, I had a neighbor who was a Talmudic scholar and we would kibbitz. Arguing and understanding the Talmud, whether or not I follow it per say, has always been an interest of mine,” Schmutter says. “And I take the sanctity of what I’m providing to the umpteenth degree—be it halachah or fire code. I wanted the official seal . . . I wanted to get approval from the authority.” g


Summer 5773/2013 JEWISH ACTION 75


Highlights of the Seventeenth Annual Ben Zakkai Dinner his past March, NCSY friends and supporters gathered at the Sheraton New York to attend the Seventeenth Annual Ben Zakkai Dinner. At the dinner, The Jewish Center of Teaneck, Teaneck’s first synagogue, was formally welcomed into Orthodox Union membership. In recognition of more than thirty years of Jewish communal service, the OU honored the Jewish Center’s Rabbi Lawrence S. and Rebbetzin Berni (nee Breen) Zierler with the Ezra Ben Zion Lightman Memorial Award. At the event, Martin Nachimson of Los Angeles was installed as OU president.


Inductees into the Ben Zakkai Honor Society included Stuart Boyarsky, Rabbi Barry Goldfischer, Joshua Gottesman, Rabbi David Twersky and Devorah Becker. The Ben Zakkai Honor Society is NCSY alumni’s “Hall of Fame,” whose new members are nominated by and voted on by its current members based on the nominees’ service to NCSY and the Jewish community. Its main function is to raise funds for scholarships for high school NCSYers for summer programs in North America and Israel, and for teens to continue their Jewish education after high school. From left: Isabelle Novak, Chair of the Ben Zakkai Honor Society; Vivian Luchins, Dinner Chair; Rebbetzin Bernie Breen Zierler, honored with the Ezra Ben Zion Lightman Memorial Award; David Luchins, Dinner Chair; Rabbi Lawrence Zierler, honored with the Ezra Ben Zion Lightman Memorial Award and Martin Nachimson, OU President.

Inside the OU

From left: David Luchins; Martin Nachimson; Rabbi Micah Greenland, Interim NCSY National Director; Rabbi Barry Goldfischer, Ben Zakkai Inductee; Stuart Boyarsky, Ben Zakkai Inductee; Joshua Gottesman, Ben Zakkai Inductee; Isabelle Novak and Vivian Luchins.

David and Isabelle Novak; Elizabeth and Martin Nachimson; Irwin Nachimson, son of OU President Martin Nachimson and an OU board member; Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, OU West Coast Director; Paul Glasser, OU Senior Director for Institutional Advancement. Photos: Richard Lobell



Summer 5773/2013

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Summer 5773/2013 JEWISH ACTION 77


Leadership in the Wilderness: Biblical Authority in Times of Uncertainty By Erica Brown OU Press, Maggid Books ooks that present leadership lessons derived from the Bible are all the rage these days. A whole industry has arisen in recent years to create books, aimed at CEOs and other business leaders, that are filled with leadership secrets of the great Biblical figures. One almost gets the distinct impression that the great men and women of the Bible would have used their leadership talents to preside over wildly successful IPOs and then fearlessly lead their companies on to the Fortune 500 list.





Inside the OU







Summer 5773/2013

And those books on â&#x20AC;&#x153;leadership lessons from the Bibleâ&#x20AC;? often lose their way because they apply lessons and strategies where they donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t belong. And while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with running or building up a business, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hard to imagine that that activity would have engaged Mosheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s energies and passion the same way teaching Torah to the Jewish nation did. And thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s one of the many features that distinguishes Erica Brownâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s new book, Leadership in the Wilderness: Biblical Authority in Times of Uncertainty, from the rest of the books in this genre. Dr. Brown, renowned teacher, writer and educator, identifies lessons of leadershipâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;some overt, many subtleâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;that emerge from the tumultuous period of the Jewsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; journey through the desert, and she never divests those lessons of their religious and moral dimensions and underpinnings. As a result, the lessons are as honest as they are powerful. Like her previous works, Leadership in the Wilderness serves up a blend of practical, spiritual and motivational insights, carefully designed to translate lofty theory into practical everyday behavior, growth and success. Leadership in the Wilderness addresses topics such as â&#x20AC;&#x153;Preparing for Uncertainty,â&#x20AC;? â&#x20AC;&#x153;Transitions,â&#x20AC;? â&#x20AC;&#x153;The Breakdown of Authorityâ&#x20AC;? and â&#x20AC;&#x153;Re-establishing Trust,â&#x20AC;? which are also the names of the four sections into which the book is divided. Dr. Brownâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s prose often reads like poetry; her command of the English language and her subject matter combine to create a text that is a pleasure to read. Leadership in the Wilderness: Biblical Authority in Times of Uncertainty is a book about true leadershipâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;Torah leadership. Every person in a position of authorityâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;a parent, teacher, rabbi and CEOâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;will want to read this book and benefit tremendously from its lessons. g


By Norene Gilletz

Summer is a terrific time to explore the great outdoors. Home gardens, roadside farm stands and farmers’ markets are overflowing with a wide variety of fresh vegetables and fruits that are ripe for the picking. Simple suggestions to make mealtime preparations a breeze: • Serve foods that can be enjoyed cold or at room temperature and require no heating. To prepare salad greens ahead of time, wash well, cut in bite-size pieces and spin dry in a lettuce spinner. Wrap them up in either paper towels or tea towels, place in a large Ziploc bag and refrigerate. The towels will absorb any excess moisture and the greens will stay fresh and crisp for a week. • Grilled vegetables taste terrific either hot or at room temperature. My favorites include portobello mushrooms, chunks of red and yellow peppers, zucchini and onions tossed with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, salt and pepper. They only take about 10 minutes to cook on a hot grill. They are excellent as a side dish, or in wraps and salads. Norene Gilletz of Toronto, Canada, is the author of nine cookbooks, including The NEW Food Processor Bible: 30th Anniversary Edition (Vancouver, Canada, 2011) and Norene’s Healthy Kitchen (Vancouver, Canada, 2009). She is a freelance food writer, culinary consultant, cookbook editor, lecturer and culinary spokesperson.

• Grill/barbecue extra steaks, hamburgers, chicken and fish. Let cool, then wrap individually and freeze extras for another day. They can be thawed and heated quickly in a microwave and will taste as if they just came off the grill. • Your slow cooker is ideal when the weather is hot. Assemble ingredients the night before in the insert of your slow cooker, cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, place the insert into the heating unit and set the timer. Go out for the day and enjoy the sunshine. When you return, dinner will be done! • Watermelon Ice Cubes: Cut watermelon flesh into 1-inch chunks and discard any seeds. Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth, pour into ice cube trays and freeze. • Freeze fresh fruits such as berries, peaches, nectarines and kiwi. They’re perfect to have on hand for making refreshing smoothies. No need to thaw the fruit first—just toss them in the blender or food processor with a little orange juice, milk or yogurt and process until thick and frothy. If necessary, add a little honey or sugar to taste.


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GAZPACHO Yields 6 servings No cooking required! Gazpacho is a classic Spanish soup made with ripe tomatoes and other summer vegetables. This uncooked chilled soup is very refreshing on a hot summer day and is a wonderful thirst-quencher. Be careful not to overprocess the vegetables. 1 English cucumber (do not peel) 1 green or red bell pepper, cored and seeded 1 medium onion 6 firm, ripe tomatoes, cored 4 cloves garlic Juice of 1/2 lemon (or 2 tablespoons lemon juice) 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil 1/2 teaspoon chili powder 1 tablespoon fresh minced basil (or 1/2 teaspoon dried) 1 tablespoon salt (or to taste) 2 1/2 cups tomato juice Additional chopped vegetables and basil for garnish Cut cucumber, bell pepper, onion and tomatoes into 1-inch chunks. Insert steel blade in processor bowl. Process cucumber with quick on/off pulses, until finely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl. Repeat with green pepper, onion and tomatoes, adding each in turn to the mixing bowl. Drop garlic through the feed tube while the machine is running and process until minced. Add lemon juice, oil, chili powder, basil and salt. Add half the tomato juice and process until smooth. Add juice mixture to chopped vegetables along with remaining tomato juice. Adjust seasonings to taste. Ladle soup into a serving pitcher, cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight to blend flavors. Serve chilled. Garnish with additional chopped vegetables and basil if desired. Note: This keeps about a week in the refrigerator. Do not freeze.


Crostini Eight 1-inch slices French or Italian crusty bread 2 additional cloves garlic, cut in half Insert steel blade in processor bowl. Process 1 clove garlic with basil until minced. Add tomatoes and process with several quick on/off pulses, just until coarsely chopped. Do not over-process. Season with salt, pepper, oil, lemon juice and cayenne. Process with 3 or 4 quick on/off pulses, until tomatoes are coarsely chopped. (Can be prepared in advance and refrigerated.) Crostini: Toast or grill bread slices on both sides until crisp and golden. Rub 1 side of bread slices with cut garlic. Brush lightly with remaining olive oil. Shortly before serving, top each crostini with some of the tomato mixture. Serve immediately. Note: Recipe doubles easily. Tomato mixture keeps 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator. Donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t freeze. Dairy Variation Bruschetta is also delicious topped with grated mozzarella, Swiss, Monterey Jack or Parmesan cheese. Broil briefly before serving. These are perfect as a light main dish when served with a big garden salad. Chefâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Secrets: Use any kind of tomatoes you have on hand. Italian plum tomatoes (Roma) have less seeds and juice, making a thicker mixture. Choose tomatoes that are vine-ripened, firm and heavy for their size. For best flavor, store tomatoes at room temperature, not in the refrigerator. They will keep 4 to 5 days. Tomatoes are packed with lycopene, a cancer-fighting antioxidant that gives tomatoes their bright red color. When tomatoes are cooked, more of the lycopene becomes available.

GRILLED MEDITERRANEAN CHICKEN SALAD Yields 6 servings as a main dish

Yields about 8 servings


This easy and healthy appetizer tastes best when fresh tomatoes are in season. The tomato mixture also makes a terrific topping for grilled fish, chicken or burgers.

This scrumptious meal-in-one-salad is packed with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Instead of basil, you can easily substitute other dried or fresh herbs such as rosemary, oregano or thyme.

1 clove garlic 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves 4 firm, ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered Salt and pepper to taste Dash of cayenne pepper 2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon lemon juice (preferably fresh)

6 skinless, boneless, single chicken breasts 3 red bell peppers, cut in quarters 6 large portobello mushrooms, stems discarded 1 package (10-ounce) mixed salad greens 1 medium red onion, quartered and thinly sliced Salt and freshly ground black pepper 1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds, for garnish


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Dressing 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 3 cloves garlic, minced 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil (or 1 teaspoon dried) 1/2 teaspoon salt Freshly ground black pepper

At serving time, combine salad greens and red onion slices in a large bowl. Drizzle with reserved salad dressing and toss well. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer salad mixture to a large serving platter or individual serving plates. Add grilled peppers and mushrooms. Top with sliced chicken and sprinkle with almonds. Serve chilled.

Dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, garlic, basil, salt and pepper. Place chicken breasts in a resealable plastic bag and add 1/4 cup of the dressing. (Refrigerate remaining dressing.) Marinate chicken for at least 30 minutes or up to 48 hours in the refrigerator. Turn bag over occasionally to coat chicken on all sides. Preheat grill. Brush peppers and mushrooms with 3 tablespoons of the reserved dressing. Grill over indirect medium-high heat, turning once, for about 8 to 10 minutes. Grill chicken breasts over indirect heat until juices run clear and meat is no longer pink in the center, about 8 to 10 minutes (4 to 5 minutes per side). Discard any leftover marinade from the chicken. Remove chicken, peppers and mushrooms from the grill and transfer them to a cutting board. Cut into 1/2-inch wide strips. (Can be prepared up to a day in advance and refrigerated until serving time.)

Variation Substitute 12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs for chicken breasts.

CONFETTI QUINOA SALAD Yields 8 servings Quinoa is high in protein, cooks quickly and is gluten-free. It makes an excellent alternative to rice or couscous in salads and pilafs. 3 cups vegetable or chicken broth 1 1/2 cups quinoa 3/4 cup diced red onion 1 cup diced cucumber 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper 1/2 cup diced yellow bell pepper



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1/2 cup diced celery 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley 3/4 cup dried cranberries 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 3 tablespoons orange juice 2 tablespoons honey Salt and pepper to taste 1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds or chopped pistachios, for garnish Bring broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Place quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water for 1 to 2 minutes, until water runs clear. (Note: Some brands of quinoa don’t require pre-rinsing.) Add quinoa to boiling liquid. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool. (Can be prepared in advance and refrigerated.) Combine quinoa with onion, cucumber, peppers, celery, basil, parsley, dried cranberries, olive oil, orange juice and honey. Toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with nuts at serving time. Note: This will keep 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator. Do not freeze. Copyright ©Norene Gilletz

Traveling between Montreal and New York City? All of your summer Kosher needs are available at the Colonie Price Chopper Market Center! Expanded Kosher Grocery, Frozen and Dairy Large Fine Foods From Israel Section Full Service Kosher Meat Dept  Fresh Kosher Fish Dept Kosher Bakery Dept  Kosher Deli Dept

1892 Central Ave, Colonie, NY • 1-800 -727-5674 (located only 2 miles west, off exit 2W of I-87) Enhanced Kosher offerings also available during the summer in our Catskill and Lake George, NY store locations. 320 W Bridge St, Catskill, NY • 518 -943-3239

Amherst St & Iroquois St, Lake George, NY • 518 - 668 -2337


Confetti Quinoa Salad Photos: Doug Gilletz



Summer 5773/2013

Books Journeys in Talmud By Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein Israel Bookshop Publications Lakewood, 2012 302 pages Reviewed by Elchanan Adler Immanuel BernRabbi stein’s Journeys in Talmud addresses a void which has not been filled—despite the explosion of Anglo-Jewish publications of the past decade directed largely, if not exclusively, at a traditionally observant Jewish readership. Many monumental works—the entire Talmud along with Torah Shebichtav and many of its classic commentaries, halachic works such as the Mishnah Berurah—have been made accessible via excellent translations to an eager English-dominant population who would otherwise find it difficult to access this material in its original Aramaic or Hebrew. Yet, with the exception of a small number of specialized publications,1 little attention has been given to familiarizing the broad segment of Anglo-Jewish readers with the conceptual logic which underlies the Talmud and its commentaries. To be sure, this is the stuff upon which classic shiurim throughout time have been built and which continues to reverberate in the batei midrash of our great yeshivot. Yet, little of this skeletal analysis of the “hows” and “whys” of the halachic process is elucidated in the contemporary literature. This is precisely the gap that Rabbi Bernstein’s Journeys in Talmud fills. The author, a noted teacher and lecturer in Jerusalem, accomplishes this Rabbi Elchanan Adler, a rosh yeshivah at RIETS, Yeshiva University, is the author of the sefer Mitzvas HaShabbos (on the evolution of the mitzvah of Shabbos) and the recently published Kuntrus Yerach Tov (on Birkas HaChodesh).

with great clarity in a variety of ways: through his carefully chosen words which flow easily, his expert use of captions which cue the reader to what is about to follow and his clever word play with more than a hint of humor, as if to say, “join in, this is going to be fun.” The book contains four major headings: Brachos, Shabbos, Moadim and Principles and Concepts in Talmud. These are subdivided into twenty-two subcategories which include such diverse topics as: The Foundation of Making Brachos on Food (“Thought For Food”), Tying Knots on Shabbos, and Throughout Torah (“Strictly Kosher”), The Mitzva of Mishloach Manos (“Halachic Give and Take”) and The Principle of Following the Majority (“Ask the Rov”). The topics were apparently selected with great care since they often involve commonplace situations with which the reader can readily identify, given the likelihood that he has encountered them in his own life experiences. Consider the question posed in the first chapter entitled “Thought for Food.” In the midst of sipping a cup of coffee, the author suddenly becomes uncertain as to whether he had made a berachah before drinking. How should he proceed? Is making a new berachah necessary, or should it be avoided inasmuch as it is potentially a berachah levatala, a blessing uttered in vain? May he continue drinking the coffee, given the possibility that he did not recite a berachah at the outset, in which case he would be drinking without a berachah? Rabbi Bernstein goes on to expand this matter in great detail, exploring the nature of the prohibition of not making a berachah levatala, citing opinions of various Acharonim (Pnei Yehoshua, Tzlach, the Steipler Gaon), which then leads into a novel classification of mitzvot—those which impose a direct obligation (chiyuv) and those

whose sole purpose is to serve as a matir (making something permissible). A thorough review of Rabbi Bernstein’s analysis is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that each position is accorded its due and found to rest on its own self-sufficient basis. It is this type of analytical approach which is applied to each of the issues posed throughout the book. The impeccable logic inherent in both sides of a debate by gedolei Torah leaves the reader with an appreciation of the notion of “eilu ve’eilu divrei Elokim Chayim,” that there is a justifiable basis for diversity within the halachic process. Each halachic debate, whether in the Gemara or in its myriad commentaries, Rishonim and Acharonim, is endowed with a unique internal logic which must be plumbed and deciphered by the learner. This is the message that Journeys in Talmud conveys and admirably demonstrates. While, as noted, the book is written with clarity and gusto, it is by no means a “simple” book. It relies heavily on Talmudic terminology and despite its glossary, those without reasonable familiarity with Talmudic discourse are likely to be left behind or struggle with its content. The note of humor and user-friendly style give the book a deceptively “easy-looking” façade which belies its sophistication. For most readers, this is not a book which can be digested in one or two sittings. To fully grasp its essence, it will be necessary for the reader to pause and reflect on the conceptual logic as it unfolds. Indeed, the essays are crafted in such a way as to encourage the reader at specific junctures to step back and reflect on the points just made. As the author notes in his introduction, the material in the book is an extension of a weekly Talmud shiur presented to a study group. One can well imagine that this was a lively, highly interactive process with considerable “give and take” on the part of the group. A similar “give and take” with a study partner or group of partners would likely contribute to a


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better grasp and retention of the material. The effort would well be worthwhile—both for those who attend the shiurim and for the seasoned Talmudists who deliver them. g Note 1. Included are Contemporary Halakhic Problems by Rabbi J. David Bleich (1977-2012); Iyun B’Lomdus by Rabbi Yitzchak Adler; The Festivals in Halacha (Artscroll’s English rendition of Ha’Moadim Be’Halachah by Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin) (Brooklyn, 1981); and the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society. Understanding Jewish Law By Steven Resnicoff Lexis-Nexis, 2012 211 pages Reviewed by Yitzchak A. Breitowitz a law professor for Asalmost three decades, I am familiar with the fine Understanding series of books (Understanding Contracts, Understanding Torts, et cetera). The books, published by Lexis-Nexis, are designed to give confused law students (as well as their harried professors) relatively quick overviews of the main doctrines and principles of a given area of law so that they could perceive the overall contours of a subject before proceeding to the finer, more subtle details. (This approach is extremely useful in the study of Talmud and halachah as well, despite the fact that yeshivot do not commonly employ it.) There is considerable value in seeing the overall forest and not getting lost in the trees. Unlike many other Rabbi Yitzchak A. Breitowitz is a senior lecturer at Ohr Somayach, Jerusalem. He is the former rabbi of the Woodside Synagogue in Silver Spring, Maryland and associate professor of law at University of Maryland. He received rabbinical ordination from Ner Israel Rabbinical College and his law degree from Harvard Law School.



Summer 5773/2013

summaries which proliferate in the world of legal education, the Understanding books have a well-deserved reputation for solid-reasoned analysis that manages to be concise, clear and comprehensive without degenerating into superficiality. Although I have regularly recommended them to my law students, I never had a reason to suggest a title for general readership—until now. Professor Steven Resnicoff’s book on Jewish law, while certainly helpful to law students, deserves wider circulation. In recent years, Jewish law has become a moderately popular elective in many law schools, including prestigious schools such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia and New York University. While it is safe to assume that the bulk of students taking these courses are Jewish, a significant minority are not, but are nonetheless interested in the comparative insights Jewish law might offer on the legal issues society faces. In this academic sense, Jewish law does not include the ritualistic or bein adam l’Makom laws such as the laws of Shabbat and kashrut, but those aspects of halachah that have at least rough analogues to issues secular legal systems deal with—contracts, torts, property, family law, medical ethics as well as process-oriented issues such as role of precedent, court procedure and the like. Even excluding Orach Chaim, the field of Jewish law is vast and any survey course or book must be selective in the extreme with the concomitant risks of omission, oversimplification and distortion. Professor Resnicoff, a musmach of Rav Moshe Feinstein, a graduate of Yale Law School and a distinguished professor at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, has undertaken the daunting task of offering an introductory overview of Jewish law suitable for both students with limited or no exposure to the subject and those with somewhat more background. And he attempts to do so in under 300 pages—quite a challenge! Despite some of the criticisms I

have pertaining to the book’s organization as well as to the author’s choice of topics, this is an outstanding work of enormous benefit to every student of Jewish law. Indeed, it is precisely the most advanced students (and I include bnei yeshivot and kollel fellows) who may get the most out of it as they will appreciate its many subtleties. The first section of the book (out of four sections) introduces students to the very basic facts that Jewish law is not limited to the ceremonial or ritualistic but is a full-fledged legal system, and that it is not at all identical to the laws of the State of Israel which is technically a secular democratic state. Professor Resnicoff discusses the apparent anomaly of a binding law lacking both a state and an enforcement mechanism and segues into the fact that ultimately the binding force of Jewish law in even its “nonreligious” components is religion. He then proceeds to articulate the theological foundations of Jewish law: belief in God, Divine Revelation, belief in reward and punishment—including the Afterlife—and the concept of the Divine origin of the Oral Law. I must admit that encountering theological discussions about God, Revelation and Olam Haba in a textbook intended for law students studying in secular schools was a bit jarring, but on balance the need for such coverage is inevitable. Without it, it would literally be impossible to understand, in any meaningful sense, how Jewish law could even be described as law in this day and age. Professor Resnicoff goes on to discuss the fundamental distinction between D’Oraita (Biblical law) and D’Rabbanan (rabbinic legislation including takkanot and gezeirot). While the discussion is helpful, it is extremely abbreviated. Moreover, somewhat inexplicably, Professor Resnicoff includes in this introductory section a chapter on duties owed to third parties such as rescue and not facilitating sin. While valuable and insightful in its own right, it has no apparent thematic connection to the rest of the material and should be moved to the end of the

book as a monograph chapter. Similarly, why is “Responsibility for Others” (chap. 3) more fundamental or basic than “Importance of Life” (chap. 13) which is relegated to the “Specific Topics” section? In the second section of the book, where the author deals with the sources of Jewish law, there is a clear exposition of the literary sources of Jewish law: the two Talmuds, the Codes and the responsa literature. He elaborates on this literature in the very helpful appendices. Professor Resnicoff also examines supplementary aspects of Jewish law such as personal choice, communal custom and the incorporation of secular law via dina d’malchuta dina as well as the extraordinary emergency powers of beit din and melech. One very important example of personal choice that the author does not include is the fundamental rule that in most areas of monetary law the parties are free to change the applicable rules by contract. This is a considerably more significant and relevant instance of “personal choice” than the cases of vows and oaths which arise only infrequently and which Professor Resnicoff cites. The most challenging part of the book is the third section, which addresses a variety of interrelated themes. Unfortunately, the organizational structure of this section is not intuitively obvious (at least to me). Early on in the book, the author makes a fundamental theological assumption that the rules of the Oral Law emanate from God through the process of Revelation. This immediately presents serious questions: How does Jewish law respond to new situations not in existence at the time of Revelation? How does one explain the existence of multiple opinions in the halachic process, each of which on some level is considered legitimate? If every rule is predetermined by God, what role—if any—is there for human creativity, independence and autonomy in the determination of Jewish law? And if there is such a role, who are the people or institutions entitled to assert it? Can Jewish law “change”? If so, to what degree? These are significant questions that

every conscientious student of halachah (i.e., Jew) must ponder. Admittedly, the author attempts to answer these questions in several chapters, but the answers are not well integrated. In one chapter, for example, he articulates a number of views concerning the Divine nature of the Oral Law, ranging from what he terms “the Literalist View” in which the totality of Torah law was directly transmitted to Moshe Rabbeinu to various forms of “Agency” where Chazal are empowered to draw conclusions and even “create” new laws by employing authorized techniques of interpretation which are then accorded the legitimacy of their Divine source. These views of Revelation will obviously have a direct impact on the role of human autonomy, creativity and innovation in the halachic process, but somewhat confusingly, the author defers the discussion to a later chapter where he discusses autonomy in terms of interpretation, application and law making without connecting the analysis to the earlier coverage of theories of Revelation. It is as if one is reading two parallel accounts addressing the same problem with overlapping concepts but not fully brought together. Still another chapter addresses innovation and change in Jewish law. The author correctly notes that these types of changes occur only in rabbinic laws and are not impacted by one’s understanding of Revelation. I believe this point is so critical, it should be added to the chapter’s title so that the reader understands that it is disconnected from the preceding discussions. Professor Resnicoff rounds off his discussion of autonomy and creativity in the third section with an analysis of “da’at Torah,” the premise that gedolim’s pronouncements are binding in matters of general communal policy and in individual life decisions. This is an absolutely fascinating discussion of a sharply-debated topic and is surely worthy of a book of its own. On the one hand, I truly welcome an objective, scholarly discussion—albeit brief—of an important phenomenon in contemporary halachic Judaism. On the other hand, I have some doubts as to whether its inclusion is appropriate or helpful in

an introductory book intended for a general audience. Da’at Torah is rarely applied to concrete halachic issues; it tends to be invoked as a default rule precisely in situations where there is “no law.” In fact, da’at Torah does not always correlate with technical halachic expertise and involves many and diverse intangible factors such as religious charisma, devoted disciples, et cetera. It is especially here that the uninitiated student may be confused with ideas and discussions that are much more in the realm of theology, religion and the sociology and politics of religion, which in turn are inextricably bound up with the history of various religious communities and subgroups. Moreover, the slightly-distasteful and gossipy discussions of who is a gadol or an insider who can decide who is a gadol, whether gedolim are manipulated or whether their intermediaries or “palace guards” accurately convey or intentionally distort crucial data is important, but in the kind of negative way that it may be important to know if judges receive bribes or cheat on their taxes—issues that one would not see in a basic discussion of American law. Frankly, some of these phenomena represent human flaws in the system and dwelling on them may create disrespect—or even contempt— for the “perfect Torah of God.” Some issues do indeed need to be kept “within the family.” Professor Resnicoff is valiantly trying to “legalize” or codify a concept that is inherently fluid, amorphous, indefinite and largely nonhalachic. While the effort is admirable, a short treatment confuses more than it can possibly illuminate and may have negative consequences. My various criticisms notwithstanding, this is a very valuable treatment of a vast subject by a gifted talmid chacham and accomplished legal scholar. Professor Resnicoff has shown a willingness to tackle, or at least address, the most difficult and controversial aspects of Jewish law. While it is not the easiest of reads, the careful reader will be amply rewarded with much food for thought. g


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By Gil Student

Harry Fischel: Pioneer of Jewish Philanthropy By Harry Fischel Ktav Publishing House, Inc. Jersey City, 2012 569 pages

Abravanel’s World of Torah: A Structured Interpretation— Bereshit: Theory of Moral Evolution By Zev Bar Eitan Renaissance Torah Press Drexel Hill, PA, 2012 582 pages


ome philanthropists do wonderful things by writing large checks to worthy causes. Harry Fischel did much more than that, and with his efforts, permanently changed the Jewish world. Fischel was a visionary and a leader. He saw communal needs and built infrastructure to meet them, including founding orphanages and Talmud Torah schools. He lobbied politicians—even the president of the United States—to alleviate the plight of immigrants. With his excellent management skills, he ran a massive, multi-year fundraising campaign to alleviate European Jewish poverty caused by World War I. This autobiography, first published in 1928, tells the extraordinary life story of Harry Fischel who lived during the first half of the previous century. An Orthodox Jew, Fischel demanded kosher food and traditional Jewish education at communal Jewish facilities. He used his influence as a philanthropist to spread Torah Judaism, making a kiddush Hashem and generating pride for observant Jews. He reached across denominational boundaries in his charitable work but spearheaded Orthodox causes, most notably as a prime mover in the development of Yeshiva University and Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav. Harry Fischel’s memoirs tell the story of a man’s rise from poverty to wealth and his remarkable devotion to every Jewish charity of that time. Rabbi Gil Student writes frequently on Jewish issues and blogs at He is a member of the Jewish Action editorial board.



Summer 5773/2013

The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning By Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Schocken Books New York, 2012 370 pages


abbi Yitzchak Abarbanel (Abravanel) lived at the end of the time of the Spanish Rishonim and his books reflect his end-of-an-era status. He dutifully surveys the opinions of his predecessors before critiquing them and offering his own brilliantly creative interpretations. Like many Spanish Torah scholars, the Abarbanel had a sustained interest in philosophy, language and the literal meaning of the Bible. Therefore, his Torah commentary in particular is an adventure in Medieval thought, with the Abarbanel mediating a battle between the greatest minds and offering his own substantial contributions. However, while his expansive commentaries are fascinating reading, they are often too long and too technical for the average reader. Zev Bar Eitan has devised a creative way to redeem Abarbanel for the masses. With ample literary talent, Bar Eitan retells the story of the Book of Genesis based on the Abarbanel’s commentary. A careful reader will find many hidden interpretations in the simple prose, the fine details of the story as understood by the Abarbanel. Additionally, Bar Eitan offers tastes of the dramatic philosophical debates that the Abarbanel conducts, replacing the lengthy proofs with a summary accessible to contemporary readers. The result is a unique and exciting trip through Bereishit and its Medieval commentators.

hief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is perhaps the leading contemporary spokesman for a sophisticated Orthodox Judaism. Effortlessly uniting Torah commentary with Western philosophy, Rabbi Sacks demonstrates the depth of Torah while adding his own layer of profound commentary. His erudition and eloquence have tackled many of today’s obstacles to faith. One subject he has long addressed, albeit briefly, is the illusion of scientific challenges to faith. Science does not contradict religion; the two sets of truths complement each other. In this book-length treatment of the topic, Rabbi Sacks provides sustained engagement with the mistaken notion that science disproves religion. Science is based on faith, supports religion and, quoting Einstein, is “lame” without it. Science tells us the universe’s facts; religion reveals its morals. Both are necessary for a successful society to develop technology and harness it for good. Any apparent contradiction is based on a category error, confusing two separate realms. The book’s text is intended for general readership but an appendix provides Torah sources with specific approaches for reconciling Judaism with science. Quoting important thinkers such as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Rabbi Sacks presents a roadmap for an Orthodoxy that embraces science without compromising Torah principles. g



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Summer 5773/2013 JEWISH ACTION 87


By Steve Lipman

A Synagogue Full of Prayers Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, famed defender of the Jewish people, was visiting a town. Approaching the community’s synagogue for worship services, he refused to step in. “The synagogue is full of prayers,” he explained. The townspeople were confused. Prayers in the synagogue are recited by rote, without kavanah, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak said. “The prayers don’t reach Heaven.” I had an epiphany in shul a few years ago—an unpleasant epiphany. One Shabbat morning I walked into a synagogue I often attend. As usual, most of the pews were empty. As usual, many of the men were schmoozing with their neighbors. As usual, few people appeared to be actually praying. I’m in no position to judge people’s hearts, but I knew I wanted something that actually looked—or sounded—like real prayer. If I weren’t already Orthodox, I said to myself, I would never come here; if I didn’t know the beauty of Torah-true Judaism, I wouldn’t stay Orthodox. I sensed no inspiration in that Shacharit. I didn’t get the sense that pray-ers were talking to God. It was like being back in elementary school, students in their seats speaking words that didn’t speak to them. I often feel that way in shul, often more inspired—or less distracted—davening alone. The fault, I decided, was mine—not an outsider’s. I decided that I had to work on my own tefillah before I criticized anyone else’s, that my inspiration would have Steve Lipman is a staff writer at the Jewish Week in New York. Anyone who has other suggestions for improving tefillah can contact him at 88


Summer 5773/2013

to come from within. I decided to improve my prayer. My kavanah is too frequently deficient. My mind strays; I get distracted; I don’t pay attention to what the words mean—if I truly understand them in the first place. I’m no longer satisfied with tefillah being a scripted experience, limited to words and directions (stand up, sit down, whisper, et cetera) in a prayer book. Why can’t my prayer, with historical roots in the words that accompanied the karbanot in the Beit Hamikdash, be impromptu, unscripted thanks and praise? I started reading from my shelf full of books on tefillah. I considered my jogging background. I entered many races, usually 10-kilometer. I would never try to keep up with the faster runners or try to outrun those behind me; I would maintain my own pace, usually finishing in the middle of the pack. Now, if I find myself out-of-sync with the shaliach tzibbur or other mitpallelim, so be it. I’m in shul to talk to God. I considered my journalistic background. Every word, when writing or reading, is vital. If I don’t know what a word means, I consult a dictionary. Now, stumped by a word or phrase in the siddur—why hadn’t I noticed a particular phrase in a particular way before?—I consider it at length, reading available commentaries. Then I move on. Then I catch up. I thought of Christian worship services from a Black congregation I heard on the radio a long time ago, congregants shouting “Amen” as the preacher sermonized, declaring the

blessings they had received that week. Tevye-like, they were speaking to a familiar God. I asked a few people for suggestions: Shraga Schofield listens to the soft sounds—not on Shabbat or yom tov obviously—of inspirational music on his iPod under his tallit, in the spirit of the Levi’im in the Temple. Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, the famed psychiatrist and author, hums a few melodies from a Sephardic siddur before he leaves his house for davening each morning. Hali Weiss attends her synagogue’s junior congregation, where the leader explains the prayers and encourages questions. Yaacov and Terry Kravitz, at home Friday night, lead everyone onto their porch for the last verse of Lecha Dodi—a la the kabbalists in Tzfat—and encourage everyone at the meal to tell how God blessed him or her that week. These suggestions help, but my prayer life is still evolving. I have a suggestion: a beginner’s minyan, sometimes called a learner’s minyan. Led by a rabbi or educated layman, a beginner’s minyan allows prayers to read standard prayers, stopping to analyze particular words or phrases in depth. What does this prayer mean? Why does it appear here? What is its message? I look for a beginner’s minyan wherever I go. Unfortunately, I can’t go often enough; too few synagogues offer them. The National Jewish Outreach Program promotes these services, but they haven’t proven as popular as programs such as “Shabbat Across America.” Just as many congregations routinely offer prayer options such as a hashkamah minyan and a young married’s minyan, every shul that can afford a beginner’s minyan should sponsor one. Like the increasingly popular Carlebach minyanim, which appeal to the heart, a beginner’s minyan, which aims at the head, can help keep Judaism alive and vital. A beginner’s minyan is a way to make sure that our synagogues are full of pray-ers, and not prayers. g

Jewish Action Summer 2013