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September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘charedim’

A Haredi Thawing? Oops, Never Mind

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Once again I am disappointed. A few months ago in a moment of reflective candor – Mishpacha Magazine Editor in Chief, Rabbi Moshe Grylak, put aside the rancor that so often characterizes the Haredi response to the kinds of issues now before them and actually had a good word or two to say about the recent elections in Israel. He praised the fact that there are a record number of observant Jews now serving in the Knesset. Formerly anti-religious parties now went out of their way to court Kipa wearing rabbis as part of their lists.

Although still firmly in the camp that opposes current attempts by the government to equalize the burden of army service by subjecting Haredim to the draft and that also opposes the installation of a core secular studies curriculum, he definitely seemed to be thawing out a bit. At least as far as the cold harsh rhetoric is concerned.

I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he was taken out to the proverbial “woodshed” by a rabbinic leader. But in his latest entry in the war of words against sharing the burden and altering even slightly the ‘no secular studies’ policy in their schools, he has returned to the harsh almost vitriolic rhetoric of the past.

Here are some selected excerpts from Rabbi Grylak’s editorial atoning (without using that word) for the terrible mistake of thinking something good may come of this new Knesset:

[O]ur gedolim agree that the current situation calls for intense public prayer…

From its inception, Torah study has always met with difficulties, malicious decrees, persecution and plotting…

Due to this age-old animosity, Torah study has faced countless threats throughout history. The peoples who would rather be left to sleep in peace among their abominations will do anything to silence the voice of Torah. Ever since the Roman decrees against Torah study, burning of Torah scrolls and deadly persecution of Torah Sages have run like a red thread through the chronicles of Torah life, encompassing the entire Jewish people…

When liberal-minded rulers in Europe first proclaimed emancipation for the Jews and granted them various civil rights, leaders in the world of Torah and [H]assidus saw this as an incipient disaster, leading to assimilation and the loss of a large portion of Jewry, another form of Holocaust. We have been witness to this sad reality from then to the present day.

The same secret applies to the survival of Torah in Eretz Yisrael. (emphasis mine)

Those who plot against the Torah world today are motivated by the same animosity that has long stirred in the hearts of the nations. They can’t enjoy their Western liberalism and self-centered individualism in peace, because the presence of Torah gets in the way of a new permissive society unfettered by Judaism. So, sensing where their values have led them, they can only justify themselves by striking out at those who won’t let them sleep in peace.

I think Rabbi Grylak has satisfied his attempt at teshuva (repentance). He echoes the harsh rhetoric of his rabbinic leaders. What happened to the nice words he said about all the Kipa wearers?

Shhhhhhh… don’t mention it. He made a mistake! He’s sorry! He corrected it! Don’t embarrass him. Leave him alone.

Well, I’m not going to leave him alone. I am going to praise his first thoughts and question his recanting them. In the first instance he spoke from heart. In the second instance he reverted to the harsh words of his rabbis. Rabbis that are still fighting ghosts. Ghosts that Rabbi Grylak says are still here motivating the “Torah haters” they are fighting.

There is one paragraph in that editorial that is very telling:

We should be grateful to Ben Gurion for making army service obligatory on anyone who leaves yeshivah for the workforce. In this convoluted way, young men have remained in yeshivah for decades, thus realizing the dream of the Chazon Ish and Rav Aharon Kotler, who saw it as their obligation to rebuild the decimated Torah world following the war. As a result, a generation of talmidei [h]achamim has emerged that has immeasurably changed the face of Haredi society.

It seems to me that this is a clear admission that the main reason the Torah world has grown to its current size is not because these young men were motivated by a love of Torah study, but by a fear of being drafted.

Is he then not saying that this growth is artificial? That not everyone in a Yeshiva or Kollel would be there if they had a choice? That perhaps they could be more productive for Klal Yisroel and in the eyes of God and man if they developed and used their innate talents for Klal Yisroel instead of burying them for the sake of avoiding a draft?

Not that I think that Rav Aharon Kotler’s goal of rebuilding the glorious Yeshiva world – decimated in the Holocaust – is a bad idea. I think it was a good idea. An important idea. A necessary idea. He deserves all the credit he has gotten for it. I actually support the concept of Yeshivos like Lakewood and Mir. I want to see them flourish. Not because of artificially inflated numbers due to draft dodgers. But because of a genuine love of Torah study that generates the kind of greatness seen in the Yeshivos of Europe.

Rav Aharon Kotler’s goal of restoring the great Yeshivos of Europe has more than surpassed his goals – looking at it in sheer numerical terms. Instead of Yeshivos that have the elite of Torah scholars studying in them (as was the case in Europe) the vast majority of male Haredim are now studying in them. This is not what European Yeshivos were about. They were not about quantity. They were about quality. We do have quality now. But I suggest that the same ratio of greatness in Torah that existed then exists now – camouflaged by the geometrically greater numbers that are in Yeshivos now – learning at mediocre levels.

If the draft was suddenly abolished, I wonder how many Haredim would stay in the beis medrash? My guess is that it would probably be a lot since they are indoctrinated to do that. But I think we might just see a significant drop off that would auger well for Haredim as a whole in many ways – not the least of which is financially.

The questions that remain are the following. What is really being gained by continuing to force Haredim to stay in the beis medrash full time via a draft that exempts Haredim? Is this the best use of our young people? Is the poverty class of semi motivated people that this situation has created really what God wants of His people?

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Bibi in Overtime, but Is a Coalition any Closer?

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

I know someone whose tax dealings would make my CPA father very nervous; that friend says that his accountant uses “creative bookkeeping.”  That phrase “creative bookkeeping” keeps popping into my head when I read all of the articles about how Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can make a government coalition with various incompatible political parties.

Many of the same people also claim that the same Arabs who want to totally destroy us, men, women and children, (as Haman from the Purim Holiday’s Megillat Scroll of Esther unabashedly had planned) also claim they can be placated with the gift of land and then make peace with us.  You really need a creative, unrealistic imagination to believe that.  To put it simply, it would go against the laws of nature.  Maybe they want to keep a grown tiger as a pet, thinking it’s a tabby on steroids…

Last night, I popped into the living room and checked what was on the news.  I saw the news clip official meeting of the Prime Minister with President Shimon Peres.  Netanyahu had just formally requested another two weeks to form his coalition.

The big question would be: Is it possible for Bibi to form a viable and stable coalition?

The pundits claim it can be done.  Times of Israel’s Yoel Goldman shows that Netanyahu does not need the thirty-one seats Lapid and Bennett could give him:

If Labor, with its 15 Knesset seats were to unexpectedly join Likud-Beytenu (31), Netanyahu could then turn to Shas (11) and United Torah Judaism (7) to complete a 70-seat Knesset majority.

Bennett and Lapid, two newbies, inexperienced first-time MK’s and party leaders have been “negotiating” under the premise that Bibi will buckle and give into their demands.  One of their demands is that the hareidi, aka ultra-Orthodox parties be kept out of the coalition.  Being so adamantly “anti” any sector is Israeli society is a bad sign for ambitious politicians who dream of being Prime Minister some day.  Actually it reminds me of Yitzchak Rabin, who as Prime Minister said he was the Prime Minister for those who supported him, not for the “settlers” — people like me, who opposed his Oslo Accords.

One thing that Netanyahu does understand is that a Prime Minister should have as broad a coalition as possible to represent all sectors in Israeli society.

Bennett and Lapid have been concentrating on the simple arithmetic.

31+31=62
Likud + Lapid + Bennett = 62

Sixty-two are a majority, more than half of one-hundred-twenty.  They have been counting on Netanyahu needing them so desperately that he’d let them write the deal.  At this point, Tzipi Livni is the only party leader to have already signed and she got a great deal.

I wouldn’t bet on this one.  Netanyahu is one wily politician, and he may shock us all, which is what he likes to do.  Considering that the polls are showing Lapid leading Bibi if there were to be new elections, maybe that’s why Lapid isn’t wiling to compromise.  But he should remember that when Netanyahu called for elections a few months ago, the polls predicted that Bibi’s Likud, even with Yisrael Beitenu, should expect at least 50% more seats, so early polls should not necessarily be relied on.  And I highly doubt that your average NRP aka Bayit Yehudi voter approves of Bennett’s fanatically anti-chareidi stand.

Stay tuned….

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Respect for Rabbis in the Political Sphere

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

In debates with their Haredi peers, national-religious youths will often be heard to demand why the Haredim do not respect national-religious rabbis. “What about our great Torah scholars!”

But why should the Haredim respect national-religious rabbis if those rabbis’ own community does not?

A letter released this week by deputy mayors belonging to the Jewish Home in the most public way possible—it was published on all the usual sites, including Haredi ones—asks the parties’ rabbis not to interfere with political decisions made by the party’s negotiating team or by the party’s Knesset members, even on the topic of yeshiva students’ military service.

Would a Haredi ever release such a letter?

The settlement movement, it is important to remember, was not the work of professionals and businessmen. It was the work of national-religious rabbis holding discussions at the home of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook through the wee hours of the morning. Hanan Porat and Yehuda Hazani are no longer with us, but we still have rabbis: Moshe Levinger—we’ll return to him—Yaakov Levin, Yaakov Novick, Yohanan Fried, Yoel Bin Nun, Menachem Felix. We still have great Torah scholars: Benny Katzover, Yehuda Etzion, Mati Dan, David Be’eri (of Ir David), Ze’ev “Zambish” Hever (of Amana). All of them participated in creating the settlement enterprise from their book stands at their respective yeshivot. That is what gave rise to the settlement revolution. The revolution in national-religious education, for that matter, was likewise the work of wise and devout rabbis, including Hayim Drukman, Dov Lior, Eliezer Melamed, and others.

And now they come and tell us that when it comes to truly important questions of morality and policy, decisions are to be made without the rabbis. Period.

How are they going to distinguish between what is permissible in politics and what is forbidden? How are they going to strike a balance between what is desirable and what is presently available? No problem. That’s the job of the new halakhic decision-makers: the “professionals.”

True, they never imbibed the Torah as did those rabbis, who for their entire lives have dedicated themselves to the Torah (in the vernacular: they put their heart and soul into it day and night. No movies. No Shlomo Artzi concerts). But apparently it makes no difference. Apparently the Torah does not rub off on its students. Apparently it is not in any way reflected in how they live their lives …

It’s all very strange to me. The Haredim, who regard the State of Israel as an entirely secular phenomenon lacking any and all sanctity, consult their rabbis about such matters. Yet the national-religious community—the community that burst forth into the world of national practicalities and leadership with the message that the State of Israel is the beginning of the redemption, that our country is God’s throne, that the politics of Israel is the politics of holiness—sends the rabbis home, the better to leave decisions to politicians and interested parties.

In a recent emergency meeting of Haredi rabbis in Bnei Brak, I saw precisely the opposite. The Knesset members stood at the rear with modesty and obvious veneration. They maybe even have been posing a little. But one way or another, it was moving. Respect for the Torah. A RECENT conversation with a young national-religious activist made clear to me that this is a deep-seated phenomenon among the younger generation. He sees the change as a positive development. “The rabbis don’t understand politics. Let them leave it to professionals.”

It’s not that he doesn’t respect the rabbis. He just leaves them out of the equation. In a debate with a Haredi he would go straight for the line about “our great Torah scholars,” but deep down he doesn’t in fact believe that Torah study improves a person.

Like him, I am not a Torah scholar. So why do I see things so differently? Is it just a matter of age?

Many of today’s young religious people have grown up in a culture that is more in touch with the media and secular literature than with rabbis, and may even be hostile to the latter. In an effort not to be different from the other guys on reserve duty, they run away from their rabbis. Is it realistic to demand they respect rabbis when their role models are businessmen and their commanders in the army? I received my initial education about respecting rabbis from my late father, an Auschwitz survivor. Once he took me to see the rebbe of Gur. Abba stood opposite the rebbe wearing a belt that one of the Hassidim had given him (“You go in to see the rebbe wearing a gartel”)—and burst into tears. The rebbe asked why he was crying. And my father answered: “Excitement.” I was nine years old, but I remember it as if it had happened yesterday.

Disappointed But Not Surprised

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

I know that this is their view. Nonetheless, it still pains me when I see them saying so in such stark black and white terms. I am referring to the recent statement by the Agudah Moetzes endorsing the views of their Israeli counterparts on the issue of drafting Yeshiva students. They are obviously very opposed.

While I accept that the members of the Moetzes are talmidei hachamim with few peers; and that their views should be respected, I have to say that there are times – like this one – that makes it very difficult for me to do so. Not because I don’t respect their knowledge. Nor do I suspect that their views are anything but l’shem shomayim – for the sake of heaven. I truly believe that they are selfless human beings that have dedicated their lives to doing the will of God and serving Klal Yisroel.

Here is a translation of their most recent proclamation from the Baltimore Jewish Life:

We are deeply dismayed by the efforts in Eretz Yisroel to draft B’nei Yeshiva and remove them from the Beis Medrash, the wellspring of Torah to which they dedicate their days and nights. The perseverance and security of Hashem’s people are rooted in its dedication to Torah study, as Chazal comment on the posuk “Our feet were standing at your gates, Yerushalayim”: “What will enable our feet to stand firm in war? The gates of Yerushalayim, where [Jews] devote themselves to Torah study.”

We appeal to the members of the government in Israel not to take any steps that will in any way negatively affect the B’nei Yeshiva and their study of Torah. For Torah study is “our life and the length of our days,” which will “lead us, upright, forever.” Like I said, this is no surprise. But it bothers me just the same. I understand the issue. They say that Torah study is what saves the world. That without it, the world would cease to exist… and that certainly Torah study is what protects the Jewish people. Granted. But what this statement does not say is that security requires not only Torah study but in the case of Israel – an army. This very simple fact – and it is a fact – was acknowledged in public by Rav Haim Shmulevitz, a Gadol of an earlier generation. I can’t even count anymore the times I’ve quoted this revered sage of the 20th century on this issue. He did not make it up. Nor is there any rabbinic opposition to this fact. It is the truth. It’s called hishtadlus – maximum mental and physical effort. Hishtadlus in this case requires that we do whatever earthly things we can to accomplish the goal of protecting Jewish lives. Which means that we do not rely on miracles. If there were no army, there would be no hishtadlus. It is true that Torah holds up the world. But as R’ Haim said we need not only a spiritual army. We need a physical army as well. If that were not so, there would no such thing as a milchemes mitzvah (a war mandated by God). We would just all sit in a beis hamedrash and study Torah until our enemies were destroyed by fire and brimstone from heaven. David HaMelech captured Jerusalem not by staying in the beis hamedrash but by going to war.

This statement does not address that issue. Nor does it answer the pain and suffering of families whose sons have been maimed or killed in doing their hishtadlus in battle, while yeshiva students do theirs in relative safety. The idea of “sharing the burden” which is what proponents of drafting Haredim want – is based on this kind of inequity. Why do they not address it? How can they not? How can they just say they are dismayed by a possible draft without addressing this issue?

Nor do they explain why they feel that the status quo ante should remain untouched in any way? I could better understand if they had said that there ought not be a draft for Haredim – if they qualified it with the requirement to root out those who are faking it or just going through the motions because of peer pressure. Or maybe even those who are learning but not quite at the level one would expect of someone who is Torah umnaso (Torah is his job).

Is Consent for Metzitza B’Peh Really about Banning Circumcision?

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

The welfare of Klal Yisroel will be upheld. This is how I see the new regulation requiring informed consent before performing Metzitza B’Peh (MbP).

For those not up to speed about this ritual procedure – it involves suctioning off the blood by mouth from a circumcision wound. The Gemarah, in its description of the very important Mitzvah of Bris Milah, explains the procedure for that in relative detail.

As has always been the case throughout Jewish history, the rabbis understood that the Torah always put the health of the individual above just about all else. So they mandated what was a safety feature of the bris – the suctioning of the blood (metzitza) off the wound so that it would not become a source of infection. In fact that is clearly how metzitza is stated in the Gemarah. As a safety precaution.

So according to the Gemarah even though it does not invalidate the actual bris if metzizah is not done, it is nonetheless a Halachic requirement to do so.

The Gemarah does not describe the method of suction one must use. It just says “metzitza” – suction. Historically the most efficient method was to simply suction it off quickly by mouth. For thousands of years that is how every bris was done. Until the 19th century. At that time many of the greatest poskim of the era allowed alternative methods of suctioning after there were some deaths attributed to a possibly infected mohel.

But that did not stop the hardcore traditionalists from insisting that doing so by mouth was not only preferable but required! Those who argued saying that there were legitimate poskim who permitted non-oral suction methods were rebuffed with claims that these poskim never intended their kulos (leniencies) to be permanent.

They insist that MbP is an integral part of the bris. Here is the way the Forward put it in the name of one of the most prominent mohalim, Rabbi Avrohom Cohn who heads the American Board of Ritual Circumcision and who is in the forefront of fighting this new regulation:

[T]he ultra-Orthodox minority who do use metzitzah b’peh, including members of Cohn’s group, avow that this technique must be part of the circumcision ritual in order to fulfill divine commandments set out in the Torah and the Talmud. Personally I don’t know how they can make that claim. If there were ever circumcisions done without MbP, they would be invalid by this definition. Which would make those poskim guilty of being machti es haRabim (causing the public to sin). Besides – what would those poskim gain by omitting MbP? Why bother doing it at all?! If MbP is integral then there was no point to doing a bris! Furthermore they are casting aspersions on every circumcision that does not do MbP.

Nonetheless they feel that any interference with that practice violates their right to practice their religion as they see fit. Even New York city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygene (DOHMH) requirement to sign an informed consent form stating they have been made aware of the possible risk of infection to the child.

One may ask, “What is the big deal?” “Let them sign the forms and they can do what they want!” That’s how I feel about it. But they feel they cannot sign a document that would in effect be saying that Halacha as they understand it is dangerous to your health.

They claim is that there is no danger to a child that has MbP. That’s the way it has been done for millennia. And that there is no poof that the few babies that died were because of infections transferred by mouth from the mohel. And that even if it were proven in one or 2 cases – the statistical probability of it happening is negligible considering the tens of thousands of times each year MbP was done without incident.

The Department of Health obviously disagrees and points to studies that have show a strong likelihood of several babies being infected by a mohel with the herpes virus. From the Forward:

More recent DOHMH studies have revealed 12 area infants who have contracted herpes after circumcision. with two of the infants dying soon after.

And since herpes can be asymptomatic, the risks are real, small though they may be. Hence the regulation. Which carries financial penalties if not followed.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/is-consent-for-metzitza-bpeh-really-about-banning-circumcision/2013/02/06/

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