Rav Ovadia (I)
I applaud your coverage of the passing and funeral of Rav Ovadia Yosef, zt”l. Your front-page story and Rabbi Raphael Fuchs’s tribute reflected the enormity of our loss.
It may seem trite to write that Rav Ovadia was mourned by all segments of the Jewish community, Ashkenazim as well as Sephardim. But the truth is that his Torah and his commitment to learning, ultimately the true Jewish great equalizer, cut across all lines. He was a giant.
Rav Ovadia (II)
Rav Ovadia Yosef was one of the greatest Talmudic and halachic scholars to come along in several generations. He had the added dimension of building up the political and social status of Sephardim by dint of his sheer brilliance.
Leading To Greatness (I)
Rabbi Naphtali Hoff’s front-page essay last week (“Leading to Greatness”) is a treasure trove of information from a seasoned educator and administrator. As a former teacher I found myself nodding in agreement with many of his points as they mirrored several experiences of my own. He has identified some of the core problems of continuity and change in our educational institutions and some ways to harness their energy.
Leading To Greatness (II)
I thoroughly enjoyed Rabbi Hoff’s article, though I thought he could have devoted more attention to the imponderables that cannot be quantified or categorized.
Principals, supervisors and line personnel do not always act formulaically but often on intuition, impulse, inspiration and experimentation. While there are obviously important objective guidelines for everyone, we should never neglect the role of the purely subjective.
Plaut On Pew (I)
Steven Plaut cites the Pew study on American Jews as evidence that liberalism and especially liberals’ abiding interest in “social justice” are the principal causal factors in Jewish assimilation (“Assimilationist Liberals Reap What They’ve Sown,” op-ed column, Oct. 11).
I think this must be mostly his own intuition because as far as I can see there is no data in the Pew report to support this hypothesis.
We would need to know whether, for example, non-Orthodox Jews with liberal views are more likely to assimilate than non-Orthodox Jews with conservative views (i.e., controlling for denominational identification), and the Pew study does not address this. It is somewhat reckless to claim just because most American Jews are liberal that liberalism must be the cause of their assimilation. Most American Jews might like sugar in their coffee, but that does not mean sugar is the cause of Jewish assimilation.
There is something also amiss in Plaut’s apparent position that there is no mandate in “real Judaism” for social justice, only for “judicial justice.” This distinction seems rather murky, since the principle of administering justice fairly to all people (e.g., Exodus 23:2-8) is as much a matter of social justice as of judicial justice.
Moreover, I think it would come as a surprise to the prophets that “real Judaism” has no imperative for social justice. What of the Torah’s repeated injunctions to treat well the stranger, widow, orphan, and poor person (Exodus 22:21-26, Deuteronomy 24:10-22, Isaiah 1:17, Zechariah 7:10, Ezekiel 18:7), and its scathing condemnations of a society that fails to do so? If this is not the Torah speaking to us of an imperative for social justice, then what is it?
Plaut On Pew (II)
I am sorry to say that I was put off by the condescending tone of Steven Plaut’s op-ed. His “I told you so” attitude solves nothing and serves only to create animosity. Rather than pointing the finger of blame, he should be directing his attention toward what we can all do to stem the tide of assimilation.
Perhaps Professor Plaut is not aware that there is a pecking order in Judaism. The Orthodox view themselves as genuine Jews and look down at Conservative and Reform Jews. Unfortunately, haredim appear to have a similar view of the centrist and Modern Orthodox. I am sure there are sects within the haredi community that denigrate other sects.
If that seems like an exaggeration, read the news story on page 3 of the same issue of The Jewish Press titled “Day of Reckoning Could Come Quickly for Shas.” Near the end of the article, Rabbi Shalom Cohen Dean of Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem is quoted as saying, “As long as there are knitted yarmulkes, the [Heavenly] throne is not complete – this is Amalek.”
I would remind all those who point the finger of blame that there is an old saying: “When you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing right back at you.”
Joel Verstaendig, Ph.D.
The Future Of Orthodox Judaism
I have seen the future of Orthodox Judaism. It is a future not fueled or defined by either a stringent or a lackadaisical approach to halacha or by the type of shul where one davens. Those are, of course, important aspects of our Yiddishkeit, but I see something different that paves the way for our future.
The future of Orthodoxy lies in the hands of the parents and families who make conscious choices and exhibit mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, on behalf of their children.
It is often said that today’s generation has it much easier than previous generations with regard to maintaining an observant lifestyle. We have kosher restaurants, plenty of food with kosher certification, many choices for fashionable yet modest clothing, easy availability of sefarim, online divrei Torah – even Daf Yomi on an iPad.
I admit that we do have it easier, but there are also different challenges that today’s parents face. As this generation’s teens and young adults grow up and eventually become parents themselves, I think it is key that they understand some of the lengths to which their parents went to for them.
For example, there are many parents who choose free or low budget “staycation” options for their family not because they can’t afford something better but because they feel any “extra” money should be earmarked for tzedakah. This is a powerful life lesson for all of us.
What about the parents who look past social stigma and put their teenagers in substance abuse rehabilitation programs? These programs can put an additional strain on an already tight budget. Somehow, though, such parents figure out a way to make it happen because the alternative is unthinkable.
Recently I met a mother who canceled subscriptions to several magazines she had read for years because she realized the articles, pictures, and advertisements were not what she wanted her children exposed to. This has made a clear, tangible, and positive impression on those she is close with.
I know a mother and father who, instead of putting their children in a local public school, both walked away from successful and established careers and moved their family halfway across America to a community that offered yeshiva high school options. How many of us would be willing to do that?
I will never forget the parent who had a limited budget for a bar mitzvah and sold some of her jewelry in order to help pay for her son’s simcha. To part with sentimental and irreplaceable keepsakes must not have been easy, but when it comes to one’s kids, one does whatever it takes.
None of this is done for accolades or to be singled out at a shul tribute dinner. Acts of mesiras nefesh need not be grandiose and life altering. Every little thing we do has an impact. The parents who make sacrifices for their children are investing in and raising the future of Orthodox Judaism.
Editor’s Note: The writer maintains a blog called Modern Uberdox at www.uberdox.aishdas.org.