Monday, January 24, 2005

O.U.The Anti -Drug - O.Vey.

In response to an urgent request from rabbis and educators, the Orthodox Union has designated Saturday, February 5 for OU synagogues across the United States and Canada to call for the elimination of so-called "Kiddush Clubs" during their Sabbath services. To participate in the Kiddush Club, a group of congregants leaves the service to make Kiddush -- often on hard liquor -- during the haftarah reading. (Arutz Sheva)

"The Kiddush is a religious act to sanctify the day," explained Rabbi Krupka. "Kiddush clubs have the opposite effect and are simply unjustifiable," he said. "The action of the OU Board reflects how inappropriate these clubs are during the davening. Moreover, we are concerned over the general glorification of hard liquor during Kiddush” “Any behavior that detracts from the kedushat beit haknesset (the holiness of the House of Prayer) is insulting to the entire congregation," declared OU President Stephen J. Savitsky.

Yet another proclamation disseminated by the institution. Agudah, move over. Now it’s the OUs turn to slay the big monsters that have been plaguing Jewish life. Where have they been all my life? My kedushas beis hamikdash me'at will once again be restored to its former glory. Please triple my membership dues. Alright, alright is anyone keeping tabs on what’s been holding us as a nation back? Television, Internet, Radio (In Erez Yisroel), Whispering Bein Gavra l’Gavra, now its kiddush clubs. At least my rav will have a drasha for next week.

While I in no way endorse alcohol abuse or disrespecting the sanctity of shuls I do take issues with empty proclamations. Kiddush clubs are no good- granted. They do a disservice for the shul, parishioners and their families – granted. If my sons were to participate in them it would kill me and I would return the favor. However, is it a problem? Although I have seen the spectacle of the “boys” leaving laining gloomy and returning happy, it is far from rampant. In fact, I could count on my zaftig fingers the amount of Kiddush clubs that I know about. The OU admittedly, and I quote Rabbi Weinreb, "Kiddush clubs are in a minority of Orthodox synagogues and the people who attend them are a minority within that minority,".

Wait, there’s another reason for our war against Kiddush clubs. Ostensibly, the OU is concerned is the growing problem of substance abuse and not so much the sanctity of our shuls. "It became clear at the meeting that the rabbis considered elimination of the Kiddush Clubs to be an important step - one of many - which will be required to create the desired change in our communal mindset," declared Rabbi Moshe D. Krupka, OU Executive Director of Programming, who is coordinating the OU response.

Which one is it is it? Is it our concern for the mikdash meat or is it alcoholism? I am in no way belittling drug abuse or family trouble. Masquerading these issues with religious ones and proclaiming Kiddush club free zones is belittling drug abuse. These means are not only useless they are insulting. Tell a parent or a spouse who has to deal with substance abuse that their troubles will be whisked away once they understand shul sanctity and the evils of Kiddush clubs. Furthermore, do you really think doing away with the few Kiddush clubs will combat alcoholism and teenage problems? This is reminiscent of Israel blasting empty terrorist houses – a lot of show, but come on.

The Torah Observant community continues to turn out exalted citizens. As we grow in numbers so do our problems. These problems need to be addressed and mended. Institutions such as the OU who lay claim of representing us have been undertaking the responsibility of dealing with them. For the most part they have consistently been offering services and solutions to fit our many needs. However, too often the institutions delineate our obstacles and come up with solutions that are ….indescribable. Vilifying a group of people such as Kiddush clubs probably won’t do the trick. I have no statistics but religious–izing a problem doesn’t always do the trick. If there is no solution, that in itself is a decent response. In his call to action, Rabbi Weinreb states: "Since the influences of the world around us inevitably invade our dalet amot (environment) - we as a community can sweep this behavior under the rug or we can isolate it and respond to it. We have chosen to respond." I don’t know how to respond but at least I am in good company.

Ain Hachi Nami

In the Ain Hachi Tsunami shtikel, I casted my doubts upon the self proclaimed prophets who used the opportunity of over 200,000 deaths to broadcast their divine powers. The following are excerpts from rabbi B. Bleich's article. This is the link

.….Are there any words to describe the anguish of the mother holding onto her two children -- who had to choose between them -- so that she might have a free hand in order to cling to the floating raft that promised her deliverance?
Is there any language that can adequately convey the terror of the Israeli tourists who discovered that the killer waves had swept their 11-month-old baby right out of the hotel room?
The mind reels. The tears flow. This is not supposed to be the way the world works. And yet this is our reality. Just as the biblical Noah, we witnessed the devastation of a torrential flood -- but this time we received no advance warning. In Noah's time a greater percentage of world population was stricken -- as only Noah and his family were spared -- but in raw numbers the contemporary tragedy probably ranks on a higher scale. Survivors are already called modern-day Noahs. The boy who clung for two days to a coconut tree is today's version of the biblical ark.

But it is precisely in this equation that I perceive an extremely troubling element. And it has already begun to raise its despicable head in some ostensibly "religious" publications. How could this have happened? It seems there are those who do not hesitate to assume the mantle of the prophet, to publicly assert their knowledge of divine intent as clearly as if God spoke to them "face-to-face" as He did with Moses. In the aftermath of tragedy, the false prophets of our times don't waver even for a moment as they pronounce judgment upon all of the victims.
Never mind that in the Bible it was God Himself who explained what He did. These defenders of the faith think it's necessary to always defame those who suffer in order to preserve the idea of divine righteousness. But bad theology is even worse than bad behavior. We can generally get over the hurt that comes from other people's actions. It's much harder, though, to recover from the kind of misrepresentations some people spout, ostensibly in the name of religion, that distort our proper understanding of God and His ways…….

…… The truth, as any serious student of the Bible can tell you, is that catastrophes don't always necessarily imply divine retribution. Sometimes yes, but sometimes not. The paradigm of suffering in the Bible is Job, a man blessed to have a book named after him. But when Job's friends witnessed the terrible things that befell him, they could only come to one conclusion: The man they thought was pious obviously had to be a fraud. Their "words of comfort" were nothing less than condemnation…..

…… How easy is to judge someone else. How simple to assume that "the punishment fits the crime," even if we have no cause to believe that the victim is guilty.
But of course the "friends" of Job were wrong. They lacked a key piece of information. What Job endured had nothing to do with sin. In fact he was a saint -- so saintly that God wanted to test him, because "God trieth the righteous." He was to demonstrate to Satan the strength of the pious, the conviction of the holy, and the fortitude of those who may question but still never abandon their faith. Far from proving Job's guilt, the suffering was a sign of his unique stature in the eyes of God.

The misguided theologians were clearly condemned. "My wrath burns against you," God said to them, "for you did not speak properly about Me, as my servant Job has" (Job 42:7).
In an ironic twist at the end of the book, God continues his reproach of the "friends" by telling them: "And my servant Job shall pray for you. It is only for his sake that I will show consideration, not to do terrible things to you; for you did not speak properly about Me" (Job 42:8)….

Tu Bshvat ....What a Halftime Show

Tu Bshvat is bit of an evasive holiday. It has some elements of a Yom Tov but it is not quite there (for most of us anyway). Its Halachic ramifications pertain primarily to agricultural laws. Yet, the Magen Avraham (OC 573) indicates that while a chosson does indeed fast during the month of Nissan, he does not fast on Tu Bshvat because while the former is only a custom the latter has ties to the Gemara. Furthermore, we don’t say Tachanun or Tzidkusche Tzedek. There are also a few interesting widely accepted customs that include fruit, the sheva minim fruit and esrogim. What is Tu Bshvat? Is it a holiday or not? What is its significance?

We know that it is the New Year for trees. According to Bais Shammai the New Year occurs on Rosh Chodesh Shevat. Tosfos (Rosh Hashana 14a D”H Bechud) says that although they argue when it is celebrated, they both agree to its’ raison d'être. All fruits that blossom prior to Tu Bshvat (or Rosh Chodesh Shevat) are associated with the rainfall prior to that year and the fruits that blossom on or subsequent to Tu Bshvat (or Rosh Chodesh Shevat) are associated with the rainfall of that year. Hence, it is the New Year for trees.

The Meiri points out that Tu Bshvat marks the midpoint of winter. There are three months to winter; Teves, Shvat and Adar. Shvat is the middle month and Tu Bshvat is the midpoint of the month and consequently winter. After Tu Bshvat the cold weather starts to lose its strength thus allowing for the trees to blossom.

In effect, Tu Bshvat seems to be the midnight of winter. Midnight has a significant status in Jewish history. Look at the piyut in the hagadah: Vyhi Bachzi Haleiluh. There the paitan mentions many victories over our adversaries. When did they occur? - Vyhi Bachzi Haleiluh!

What is it about midnight that makes it so unique? Although midnight is in the midst of darkness, it is also the beginning of its end. It is the nexus between complete despair and the heartstring of hope.

Midnight is a dichotomy. It contains elements of both despair and hope. If you stop for a moment to contemplate, the night is quite essential for the light. Without darkness there is no light. Night serves as the contrast to light as deceit serves as the contrast to truth. The Midrash says that Truth was thrown to earth. Reb Zadok Hacohen in Rasisei leilah understands this to mean that truth can only function against the contrast of deceit. Humans are therefore the perfect vessels for truth. Angels do not have the capacity for truth because they do not have the capacity of deceit.

The paitan of Vyhi bachtzi halaila asks for Hashem to accelerate the process of reaching the time when there is no day or night. Kariev yom asher hu lo yom vlo leileh. This is referring to the days to come when everything is light and true. Without darkness there is no light.

Are midnight and midwinter analogous? Reb Zadok Hacohen in Kometz Haminchah says that before every Aliyah there lays a Yeridah. He quotes the Besh”t who learns the posuk in Mishle 24:16 “Seven [times] will the righteous fall and rise” to mean that nature was intended to share the same schedule; before day arrives, night appears and before the summer arrives, winter appears. Winter serves as the darkness for summer’s light as the night does for that of the day.

In the midpoint of the dark winter we see the light at the end of the tunnel. We ask Hashem to please speed up the process. Let’s see the geulah of Nissan. It is a quasi-Holiday in that we start to see the light of Geulah. However, we are stuck in the dark; the very medium that allows us to see the light. It is clear why we eat the fruit of the enlightened land in our golus. Why the esrog? The esrog is the flawless Tzadik. The esrog is also the fruit that is hadar; it has no yeridah it remains on the tree as the gemara says. It is what we aspire for during midnight. May Hashem bring upon us the light that makes us forget all darkness.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Ain Huchi Tsu- Nami

You will have to forgive my crudeness and insensitivity for the pun but I'm making a dangerous point. A friend came over and asked me when do the Tsunami jokes start? I asked him what he is talking about. He pointed out that there are always people who start the crude insensitive jokes to for there demented benefit. I told him in a way they have indeed started.

I have heard people or prophets (profits) pontificate the origins of arguably the most terrible tragedy of recent times. They lash out at the public citing the various deeds that have contributed towards the tragedies. I haven't walked into to too many churches recently so I asked some of my Catholic co-workers if their priest blamed them for the Tsunami and sure enough it was their fault too. It is almost as if these pundits overlook the obvious suffering of those who live in the region and the global depression and get straight to the business of bending the events towards their profit. This is in no way unique for the Tsunami tragedy; I heard this after 9/11 and after every publicized killing in Erez Yisroel. The focus is not so much the suffering of those who live there and the national pain; it will inevitably be a way for the prophets to scold the masses without any reflection or meaning.

We are constantly being made privy to the trade off between short term and long term gratification. In this capacity, short term gratification is to use tragedies for one's personal use by conveniently employing it to lash out or to attract attention. Long term gratification would be to attempt to absorb the tragedy and its impacts and to let it affect the masses. Of course, ain peroniyos bu l'olem eleh bshvil Yisroel and Teshuva has to be the consequence of every tragedy. However, Teshuva will not happen via these short termed conduits. It will only be achieved if the messenger is perceived as sensitive towards the sufferings of those experiencing the pain and those who live in the global community and not simply a means of a soapbox.

Nonetheless, I have learned much from these prophets/profits . As a parent I am constantly giving lectures and lessons to my dear children (G-d save them). If, after every crisis, I yell at them and point out their every fault, I will be perceived as an opportunistic callous lunatic. In turn, I will be shirking my most precious responsibility. However, if I consider what harm has occurred, what needs to be done to correct the problem and how to avoid similar for their sake, there will be chance my kids will see my sensitivity towards them. In a way I have learned much from the prophets, Ain Huchi Nami.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Lerning Torah is der bester zach

Torah study not only differentiates us it defines us. I think it’s a given. The more and deeper one learns the more and deeper of a Jew that individual becomes. In turn, he is a new being after every plane which affects himself, his family and society. Furthermore, Torah has the ability to create a certain indescribable ecstasy for the learner. Taamu ureu ki tov if you don’t taste you’ll never know just how sweet it is.

Let’s be candid for a moment. What is the percentage of Orthodox males who have a daily set seder? Among that group how many have a fulfilling experience that accomplishes the aforementioned goals? Can the public participation or lack thereof at night and morning in shuls and batei midrashim serve as an indicator? Compare the crowded shabbos morning davening crowd to that of the learning crowd. Where are all the masses? Many Rabbonim have raised these issues but have not come up with any viable solution.

Despite all its criticism, Daf Yomi has been a lone proven success. Throughout the past few decades how many other systems have persisted? People are creatures of habit. We all need schedules to function. This is particularly true among family people whose time is at a dearth. Daf Yomi fits the bill, it goes on rain or shine and is easily accessible. Furthermore, people are social creatures, there are people, food and lots of hock at most Daf Yomis. (Going is half the fun – the schar halichah). It also transcends our silly destructive barriers and allows people from different camps to have a higher level of commonality.

However, Daf Yomi has its setbacks. It is a lot of material in a short amount of time and therefore does not provide the promised depths or satisfaction that Torah has to offer. Anyone who has sat in on a Daf Yomi has seen the blank expressions around the room. The ones who derive depth and satisfaction are the ones who say it and the ones who can spend many more hours on it. The masses, however, are left frustrated.

If a system can be implemented whereby the benefits of Daf Yomi can be applied, a major revolution can be effected. I propose that there be a national system that has the shiurim set at a pace that aims for the center of each congegration; a blat, an umid or even a half an umid a day. At this pace everyone can advance at his level and attain greater degrees of depth and satisfaction. More people will be involved and will discuss the issues set forth by the seder. Let there be a national push that will encourage Rabbonim to teach and people to attend.

What about time that is necessary to learn with the kids? Well, why can’t yeshivos get together (Might need more effort than splitting the Yam Suf) and agree to learn the same masechta and have it coordinated with the mesechta that is being learned by Tattys across the United States. This added incentive would have the whole family pushing Ta out to shul to prepare for Moishele’s sake as well. Moishele will then have another common goal to share with his father as well as a source to ask his questions.

I don’t know if my proposed system is the best or even if is practical. However, something – anything- needs to be done. Rabonim’s speeches of the importance of Torah study will not suffice; a revolution in how to do it is required. People do have the desire to be more knowledgeable in Torah and to experience its beauty. The public should not be cheated of its inheritance. A coordinated effort is crucial and if attained can also mean a closer knit Orthodox community and more Olem Habuh which is a gutter zach, lernin Torah is…….

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Marvin Schick & Baruch Goldstein

I recently had the pleasure of maintaining a correspondence with Marvin Schick regarding his blog article, tilted UnJewish Action. Mr. Schick took issue with Ms. Toby Klein Greenwald’s implication (and the Jewish Action for printing it) that Baruch Goldstein acted out of defense through a pre emptive strike and in turn referred to him as a murderer who committed an evil act.

What exactly happened on Purim 1994? No one is sure – its all conjecture. Ms. Greenwald presents a possible scenario as to how a family man can sharply alter not only the lives of all 29 arabs but that of his children’s and wife as well. I think you would agree that there are 4 viable options a)Ms. Greenwald is correct b) Baruch was attacked by a violent arab mob and killed 29 arabs out of self defense c) Baruch Goldstein suffered an emotional breakdown d)As you assert, Baruch was truly evil.

I’ll go out on a limb here. I knew Baruch Golstein as intimately as you did – I never met him. To decipher what actually transpired one must use the answer that best conforms to the rules of logic and Halacha (Not necessarily in that order). Granted, option A is difficult to swallow (although she has some proof) and option C may sound like the pleading insanity excuse. Nonetheless, Option D lacks empirical evidence, does not account for how Baruch Goldstein can destroy his family and of course is ostensibly infringing on the rules of halacha. It actually violates the rules of halacha. If you are wrong, your bold statement that he did something evil is motze shem ra against someone who can’t be mochel you. If you are correct, who said you can make that declaration? This is in light of the fact that there is no proof of anything - just speculation. If you need to know why Baruch Goldstein, the Torah observant Jew, created a widow out of Mrs. Goldstein and orphans out of his children I implore that you consider alternative answers.

Furthermore, I have never heard anyone glorify Baruch Goldstein the murderer. What you see and hear, at worst/best is a man who sacrificed his life for the sake of others. This is not akin to Netanya or suicide bombers where the goal is destruction. If Goldstein was to have killed 29 arabs from afar without endangering himself for the apparent sake of killing arabs and would be commended, you would have an argument. This is not the case. Whether or not you accept their logic and proofs, Greenwald and others assert that Goldstein’s goal was preservation and should therefore be hailed as a hero.

In conclusion, I generally find your articles insightful even when I disagree. More importantly they abide by the rules of logic and halacha. Unfortunately, this week’s article is an anomaly. What happened that Purim? I don’t know and that’s the most logical and acceptable answer.

Mareh Mekomos