I wish to praise The Jewish Press for its refusal to give Sen. Joseph Lieberman a free pass simply because he identifies himself as an “observant” Jew (on the advice of his political
advisers, he stopped using the term “Orthodox” when he ran for vice president in 2000).
As reflected in your recent front page coverage of Lieberman’s remarks on gays and abortion (“Lieberman Declares Support For Gay Partner Benefits, Partial Birth Abortion,” April 4), the man has become a poster boy for liberal political correctness – and to think there was a time when people praised him for refusing to bend his principles to accommodate his party’s left-wing activists!
Actually, I never bought the hype about Lieberman then, and I certainly have even less respect for him now. At least if he were honest and admitted that he’s changed his position on virtually every major social issue, I could call him a mensch (although I would never vote for him, as I would never vote for anyone espousing the anti-Torah positions Lieberman now calls his own).
But the man just sits there and insists to journalists that he hasn’t changed one iota – and he does this with a straight face, even as dogged interviewers like Tim Russert cite chapter and
verse of his older views and how they completely differ with what he currently claims to believe.
Joe Lieberman has taken the word “shameless” to new heights.
New York, NY
No Fan Of Ours
I don’t understand your lack of pride in a fellow Jew who has a somewhat serious shot at becoming president. Shouldn’t you and the rest of the Orthodox community be fully behind Joe Lieberman?
I’m a non-observant Jew who reads many Jewish publications, and I find it shocking that the Orthodox seem to be the most hostile to Sen. Lieberman. I also find it very disturbing that President Bush seems to have such strong support among Orthodox Jews.
Whatever happened to the wonderful Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam? How can Jews, who are commanded to seek justice for the oppressed of the world, feel anything but contempt for an ignorant man like Bush, who believes everything in the Bible literally and who opposes programs to help minorities and other victims of society?
The fact that Bush is a homophobe who has no compassion for the plight of gays doesn’t seem to bother the editors at your newspaper, nor does the fact that he’s an anti-choice zealot who
would like nothing more than to take away a woman’s hard-won right to an abortion.
The Judaism that I see being promoted in The Jewish Press bears no resemblance to the liberal teachings I came to admire as a young girl in Sunday School at my local Reform temple.
I wonder why everyone was so frustrated by the opposition of “Old Europe” to President Bush’s refusal to back off on Iraq. Although they were routinely critical of Saddam Hussein’s
perfidy, the Europeans urged inaction in the form of endless inspections and interminable debate rather than decisive and conclusive action at the point of a gun.
That posture flows from a fear of their growing Muslim populations and the desire not to rock their domestic boats.
Shamefully, it is for this very same reason they have uniformly declined to deal with the ever-growing anti-Jewish and anti-Israel outrages within their borders.
Re: “The Five Burnt Sifrei Torah” (editorial, April 11):
I for one can easily believe that the current secularist frenzy in Israel, reflected in the triumph of Shinui and the ascendancy of Orthodox-baiter Tommy Lapid, could well have fomented the
arson destruction of Sifrei Torah by Jews. I remember well the consequences of the outrageous accusations hurled at the religious community in the aftermath of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
You are right on target to caution Mr. Lapid and his colleagues about their secularist zealotry.
Modern Orthodoxy: Readers Respond To Shlomo Mostofsky
Modern Orthodox Proudly Support Israel
I thoroughly enjoyed the article on Modern Orthodoxy in last week’s Jewish Press (“Modern
Orthodoxy in a changing World,” front page, April 25). However there is an additional component to Modern Orthodoxy that Shlomo Mostofsky failed to include: identification with and support of the modern day State of Israel.
Modern Orthodoxy is at the forefront of all branches of Orthodoxy when it comes to supporting Israel. We march in the Israel Day Parade, we send our children to Israel, we belong to the Religious Zionists of America, we support the Hesder Yeshiva movement and we proudly join rallies in Washington, New York and elsewhere whenever the fate of Israel is at stake. In our shuls on Shabbos we recite the prayers for the State of Israel and for the Israeli soldiers and we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut as the miraculous holiday that it is, with the recitation of Hallel.
As we are about to enter the month of Iyar, I wish all your readers and all of Israel a joyous Yom HaAtzmaut. Happy 55th Independence Day.
New York, NY
A Position, Not A Compromise
I read Shlomo Mostofsky’s article with great interest. I, too grew up in the Young Israel
movement. My father, a”h, was president of the Young Israel of Manhattan during World War II and was active in the Young Israel of Forest Hills for many years.
As he taught me, Modern Orthodoxy stands for many things. First and foremost, it stands for
the proposition that the world has positive values that can and should be embraced, that there is more to be said for secular education than the necessity of earning a living. Proof of this
proposition is the Rav himself, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Berlin in philosophy. His son, Rav Chaim, is a Ph.D. in history and his son-in-law, Rav Aaron Lichtenstein, is a Ph.D. in English. Rabbi Norman Lamm is a Ph.D. in chemistry. Rabbi Moshe Tendler is a Ph.D. in biology. None of these people got their degrees for the purpose of earning a living.
I hate the term ultra-orthodox. I hate it when the New York Times uses it and I don’t think such a term should appear in The Jewish Press. I use the term “Black Hat.” A friend of mine, a Modern Orthodox divorced father, was told by his son that he could only walk down the aisle at the son’s wedding if he, the father, wore a black hat. The father told me that after extensive research, he did not find one source that says the mitzvah of honoring one’s father only applies if the father wears a black hat. He politely declined the honor. The Rambam did not wear a black hat.
Modern Orthodox Jews do not ban books or burn them. They are aware of the chillul Hashem that is created when such stories get into the secular press as they always do. They are also confident enough in their position that they are not afraid to listen to a different opinion. I have heard the unique defense advanced that chillul Hashem only applies among Jews, not among gentiles. This is not a Modern Orthodox position.
Modern Orthodoxy is committed to Halacha. But Judaism has never had any kind of equivalent to the Catholic doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Rabbis wrote responsa, and other rabbis were free to read the responsa and either accept it or argue with it. Now a new approach has been developed – the issur and cherem. Anyone may argue with a responsa, but violating an issur immediately puts one outside of the Camp. Why argue logically when it is easier to say “Because I said so”?
In one of the National Council of Young Israel’s proudest moments, the National Council
Building at 3 West 16th Street was used as a center for smuggling guns into Israel in 1947 and
1948. Support for the State of Israel, recognizing that its rebirth in our day is one of G-d’s greatest miracles, is a hallmark of Modern Orthodoxy.
There are many who to this day take an intellectually dishonest approach and will not admit that when Jabotinsky traveled all through Europe prior to World War II and begged the Jews
to leave, he was right and the rabbis who opposed him were wrong. Rabbis are not prophets. They can be mistaken. Any attempt to say otherwise is not honest and is not a Modern Orthodox approach.
When I grew up in Forest Hills, every Friday evening high school and college students would
meet to listen to a speaker, have refreshments and socialize. This was a joint project of the Young Israel of Forest Hills under Rabbi Marvin Luban and the Queens Jewish Center under Rabbi Joseph Grunblatt. Now no one dares run a program enabling young men and women to meet informally and everyone wonders why there are so many people who have trouble with shidduchim.
In short, Modern Orthodoxy is a legitimate position, not a compromise. Unfortunately, it is in
retreat as its defenders are few and far between. However, if there is one thing all Jews can agree on it is that Abraham was a minority of one. I trust that when the history books are written our current problems will be seen as merely a crouch to enable a great leap forward.
Rabbi David Willig
Perth Amboy, NJ
Bareheaded At Rabbi Hirsch’s Seminary
Shlomo Mostofsky writes, “When the men attended a movie, the theater, or other indoor events, they took their hats off and sat bareheaded. Yarmulkes were not worn in public.” These statements are made regarding the practices of Modern Orthodox Jews both before World War II and a number of decades after it.
Your readers may find it interesting to read the following about Orthodox Jewry in Germany
during the 19th century. On pages 286-88 of Volume II of Larger Than Life, Shaul Shimon
Deutsch writes, “…. that in Germany it was viewed as disrespectful to wear a head covering in a building; Rabbi Dovid Zvi Hoffman, one of the leading rabbinical figures in Berlin, wrote a
famous responsa about not wearing yarmulkes except when reciting a blessing or learning Torah. He even related how once when he went to visit Rabbi (Samson Raphael) Hirsch at his rabbinical seminary, Rabbi Hirsch told him to take off his yarmulke. The reason, Rabbi Hirsch explained, was that he did not want to anger the gentile teachers who taught at the Seminary (Melamid Lehoyil, Vol. 2, Chapter 56). It is important to note that this event took place at a rabbinical seminary! To wear a yarmulke in the presence of gentiles was seen as totally unacceptable…. Many very religious Jews in Germany walked around without yarmulkes.”
Dr. Yitzchok Levine
The Debate Within Centrism
Shlomo Mostofsky argues that while many in academia and the media have decried the
encroachment of “ultra-Orthodox” Judaism into Modern Orthodoxy, it is nevertheless “alive and well,” has “evolved” from it’s early form, and is “thriving.”
While I certainly agree that Modern Orthodoxy (or as I prefer to call it, “Centrism”) is evolving, I take issue with Mr. Mostofsky on how he defines it. His definitions run to the sociological while mine are ideological. On a sociological level I would probably agree that much of the two worlds are somewhat blurred by the fact that many haredim go to college enter the professions, own televisions and VCRs – and that many who would identify themselves as Modern Orthodox (Centrist) opt for a more haredi-oriented approach to life and do not own TVS or VCRs.
In fact a Modern Orthodox individual’s decision to attend college is often utilitarian in that he too, just like his haredi counterpart, does so in order to enter the professions. And the style of
dress is often very similar. For example many Modern Orthodox men wear hats, have beards, and are indistinguishable from any haredi in the yeshiva world. Perhaps the only difference is the relatively new tendency of haredim to now sport Litvishe peyos whereas a serious Centrist would likely not do so.
But all the above are sociological issues and are more symbolic than substantive. The important differences, and the ones which are in danger of obsolescence, are the philosophical ones.
The source of the haredism is the philosophy of Torah only. That is, Torah study and strict adherence to the mitzvos is the primary purpose of all men, and other endeavors are only for those who do not “have what it takes” to learn Torah full time. For the “dropouts” there is then the option of the b’dieved areas of study – those that will lead to a parnassa. This allows for the pursuit of university study culminating into entrance into the professions.
The source of Centrism is Torah u’Mada. Torah u’Mada considers Torah study of primary
importance but places a very high value on the study general knowledge as well. In other words, it takes a far more “l’chatchila” approach to all areas of endeavor than does the Torah only approach, which at best looks at the study of general knowledge as b’dieved, or in an unfavorable light but perhaps necessary to one’s parnassah. Of course, strict adherence to mitzvos is paramount. It is a world view with a “world” of difference and import, and speaks to the issue of how one looks at the world, one’s interaction with it, and what one believes about the will of G-d.
So, in this sense the writer misses the point entirely. The debate in academia as to how to define Modern Orthodoxy is a legitimate one, and indeed there is a struggle for the heart and soul of Centrism between the extremes. For example, Rabbi Herschel Shechter and Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein on one hand and Rabbi Saul Berman and Rabbi Avi Weiss on the other are polar opposites within Centrism. Yet I would surmise that both Modern Orthodox camps claim the mantle of Centrism. But while the debate continues between the two camps there is a real danger that “while Nero fiddles, Rome burns.”
The danger is not to the practice of a more modern lifestyle. Mr. Mostofsky well describes the
two communities as indeed coming closer together in practice. The danger is to the source of our practices and whether engagement with one’s host culture is a function of l’chatchila or b’dieved.
And as much as I am a staunch advocate of Torah u’Mada, I think it is in serious danger of
Modern Orthodoxy ‘Spiritually Bankrupt’
Shlomo Mostofsky attempts to dispel the notion of Modern Orthodoxy’s imminent demise.
While I would agree that Modern Orthodoxy has its fair share of adherents, I believe that it is for the most part spiritually bankrupt and essentially irrelevant.
Mr. Mostofsky did not adequately define Modern Orthodox Jew, but this is understandable
because the group is rather amorphous. We may discern two somewhat distinct segments. The first, to which the author likely belongs, takes a fairly benign approach to its right wing counterpart. Its members respect gedolei Yisrael and appreciate the mesiras nefesh of those who devote their lives to avodas Hashem. They believe, however, that one must succeed in the secular world and this colors their religious commitment.
The other element is far more belligerent. They resent the spectacular growth of “ultra-Orthodoxy” and are threatened by it. This resentment leads to rash and often specious
accusations. Some years back, I attended a synagogue in which the prevailing membership
was of the Young Israel mindset. The shul was auditioning candidates for its baal koreh position, and on this particular Shabbos there was a kollel yungerman trying to stake his claim. He acquitted himself quite well, but when I praised his performance to the fellow on my right, I was told, “What’s the difference? The guy’s a bum, he just sits and learns all day.” I would not suggest, by any means, that this view is widely held in Modern Orthodox circles, but it is out there.
When two people who haven’t seen each other for some time reacquaint, pleasantries are
invariably followed by the all-encompassing “How are you doing?” Now it’s put up or shut up time, your chance to prove your mettle. Whose house is bigger, whose car more expensive, whose children more successful. Would a Modern Orthodox Jew ever ask his friend how his religious studies are progressing – and if so, would he be troubled if they surpassed his own? Not likely, because the group members define themselves by their material possessions.
Mr. Mostofsky followed the party line by recalling the halcyon days when Jews were not so
“farfrumpt.” Married women didn’t cover their hair, people went to movies and mixed swimming was the norm. To be fair, Mr. Mostofsky did not – unlike some of his co-religionists – attack the right-wing leadership for outlawing these and many other similarly unacceptable practices. (Several months ago, one letter writer to the Jewish Press went so far as to label the roshei yeshiva in Brooklyn “ayatollahs” for imposing what he felt were “unnecessary chumras.”)
Mr. Mostofsky seems to believe that he honors his grandparents by emulating their religious
practices. Our grandparents struggled mightily to maintain their faith in America. Despite challenges that to some were insurmountable, many persevered and for this we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude. Our appreciation is best expressed by building on their sacrifices and adopting the religious practices which were beyond their pale. Kemach yashan and chalav Yisrael should be seen for what they are – opportunities to increase our spirituality, not limitations on our personal freedoms.
Rav Mordechai Gifter, zt”l, was asked to describe his Orthodox affiliation. He responded by
saying that he wasn’t Orthodox at all; he was instead a Torah Jew. Upon reading Mr. Motofsky’s fine article I realized we have much in common, although I discovered, albeit in my thirties, that I did not want to be a Modern Orthodox Jew. I wanted to be a Torah Jew. I am quite certain that my grandmothers in shomayim are pleased with my decision.
Dr. Yaakov Stern
Rabbi Weiss Clarifies His Views On Shalach Manos
Dear Mr. Varon,
Let me greet you with a warm Shalom Aleichem.
In response to your letter (Jewish Press, April 25) regarding my opposition to the custom of sending out shalach manos cards that say, “In lieu of shalach manos, we have sent a donation to this and this charity,” I will readily admit that your feelings have been voiced to me by others as well.
Basically, there are several reasons why this new custom has evolved. First, as you logically
express, some people have an aversion to receiving mounds of nosh, especially so close to the Passover holiday.
Second, in some circles, the shalach manos “game” has gotten out of hand, becoming too
expensive with the need to create themes and outdo one another with magnificent arrangements, to the point where many have opted to step out of this expensive arena.
Third, since in many families both parents find themselves needing to work on Purim, this was a practical alternative to handling the shalach manos duties.
Lastly, in your letter you added another angle: Due to unemployment and other situations of
financial need, these cards that promote the giving of charity are a refreshing alternative of the kind that Mordechai and Esther themselves would have certainly approved.
Let me try to explain my humble position on this matter. You are certainly correct that Mordechai and Esther would have been proud of one’s efforts to help people financially and medically. However, not under the heading of shalach manos but rather under that of another Purim mitzvah called matanos le’evyonim, gifts to the needy.
You also state that to fulfill the mitzvah, you first send nice packages to close friends who would appreciate such a gift. I must reiterate that the mitzvah of shalach manos is not just for close friends. It was Mordechai and Esther’s aim to increase friendship and also mend injured
relationships. Furthermore, as I mentioned in the article, the Rambam, one of our foremost poskim, clearly states that specifically on this mitzvah, “Kol hamarbeh, harei ze meshubach,” meaning that this is certainly a mitzvah we should not abbreviate. Rather, the more we send in the way prescribed by Chazal, the more it is to be applauded.
As to the concern (which you did not voice) that things are getting out of hand and becoming too ostentatious, the solution to this (as it is in the making of all types of Jewish simchas) is
Finally, as to your concern for overloading people with hamentashen and nosh, let me tell you
what we do. As you can well imagine, the home of a rabbi, baruch Hashem, is inundated with shalach manos, and we receive well over two hundred packages. After we’ve enjoyed many Purim treats, and secreted away our favorite items for future use, we make a nice bundle and bring it to a nursing home to warm the hearts of the elderly and infirm (of course, with the proper sugar precautions for those who have diabetes or other restricted diets). We also give our children extra snacks to share discreetly with school friends who do not have snacks to eat during their recess. So one can accomplish both aims without detracting from the full specificity and intention of this wonderful mitzvah.
I thank you for further bringing this issue to the public and hope that I have clarified my position. I also thank The Jewish Press for being such a wonderful forum to discuss Torah issues.
May we celebrate next Purim in Yerushalayim Habenuyah, with great joy and excitement.
Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
Staten Island, NY
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