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March 3, 2015 / 12 Adar , 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Adultery and Marriage: a Jewish Approach to Monogamy

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

It is well known that one of the Ten Commandments is the prohibition of adultery. Extramarital sex has historically been a man’s game, since the male sexual desire is stereotypically assumed to be uncontrollable. A recent survey by the National Opinion Research Center has shown, however, that the number of married American women having adulterous affairs has nearly doubled over the last decade. Today, 21 percent of men admit to having such affairs while 14.7 percent of women now admit to having them.

Sociologists explain that women today are more willing to cheat since they have stronger careers and aren’t as worried about the financial loss they would incur in a divorce. A recent Pew Research Center poll showing that working mothers are now the primary “breadwinners” in 37 percent of American homes (up from 11 percent in 1960) seems to bear this out, as these numbers roughly match the proportion of men and women having affairs. Most of these breadwinning women are single mothers, but 40 percent of them are married and earn more than their husbands. Perhaps it is true that when women began to enter the workforce in greater numbers and rise in the corporate world, they learned from and now emulate corporate male behavior.

In What do Women Want?, Daniel Bergner notes that women may be no different from men in their struggle with monogamy and desires for sexual novelty , although there may be differences depending on the situation. For example, research on rhesus monkeys demonstrated that males initiated sexual relations when the monkeys were kept in smaller cages, but in larger spaces the females initiated sexual relations. Significantly, this and other findings have occurred at the same time that the number of women in scientific research has soared. We hope that science has passed the era when scientists could claim that women suffered from “hysteria” (based on the Greek word for uterus), irrational behavior supposedly caused by disturbances in the uterus.

One might think that monogamy was considered to be against the norms of evolution, since a male biologically wants to have as many offspring as possible. Analysis of various animals living with their brood show that anywhere from 10 percent to 70 percent of their offspring have a father different from the male animal currently staying with the brood. Professor David P. Barash of the University of Washington famously quipped, “Infants have their infancy; adults, adultery.” Even among primates (which include humans), more than 200 species are not monogamous. However, British scientists have found that in the three species of primates in which monogamy evolved, it did so after a period where males had earlier committed infanticide. In reaction, fathers began to remain by their children and mothers to protect them from rival males, thus establishing the monogamous nuclear family. The virtual universality of this system among humans, and its staying power across civilizations, argues for its value.

Even among other species from beetles to baboons, while exogamous sex occurs, one mate will often react with a ferocious jealousy if it observes the other straying. Promiscuity may be necessary among some species for survival, but that does not mean that these creatures like it.

Marriage is one formal marker and arrangement for monogamy. In the Jewish tradition, marriage is a central institution, and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik wrote about this unique commitment:

On the one hand, the great covenant [of marriage] has been compared by the prophets time and again to the betrothal of Israel to G-d; on the other hand, the ordinary betrothal of woman to man has been raised to the level of covenantal commitment. Marriage as such is called berit, a covenant. Apparently, the Bible thinks that the redeeming power of marriage consists in personalizing the sexual experience, in having two strangers, both endowed with equal dignity and worth, meet. And the objective medium of attaining that meeting is the assumption of covenantal obligations which are based upon the principle of equality. Hence, we have a clue to the understanding of the nature of matrimony. All we have to do is analyze the unique aspects of covenantal commitment and apply them to the matrimonial commitment (Family Redeemed, 41-42).

Knowing how hard it is to find the perfect partner, the Rabbis taught: “It is [as] difficult [for G-d] to match up [a man and a woman for marriage] as it is to split the sea (Sotah 2a).” Elsewhere in the Talmud, the Rabbis debate whether the primary goal of marriage is to produce offspring or about the marriage itself:

Rav Nachman said in the name of Shmuel that even though a man has many children, he may not remain without a wife, as it says: “It is not good that man be alone.” But others say that if he does have children then he may abstain from procreation and he may even abstain from taking a wife altogether (Yevamot 61b).

But even those who subscribe to the latter position, that it is not obligatory to get married, must agree that it’s still desirable and good (i.e., not legally required but clearly very good and important) to marry.

Rav Soloveitchik further explains:

Within the frame of reference of marriage, love becomes not an instinctual reaction of an excited heart to the shocking sudden encounter with beauty, but an intentional experience in reply to a metaphysical ethical summons, a response to the great challenge, replete with ethical motifs. Love, emerging from an existential moral awareness, is sustained not by the flame of passion, but by the strength of a Divine norm whose repetitious fulfillment re-awakens its vigor and force. The marriage partners, by imitating G-d who created a world in order to be concerned with and care for it, extend the frontiers for their communal living to their offspring, and by questing to love someone who is yet unborn, defy the power of erotic change and flux. The ethical yearning to create and share existence with someone as yet unknown redeems hedone by infusing it with axiological normative meaning and thus gives it a new aspect — that of faith. Since our eternal faith in G-d is something which defies rationalization, the mutual temporal faith of man and woman united in matrimony is just as paradoxical. History does not warrant our unswerving religious faith; likewise, utilitarian psychology denies the element of faith in the marriage institution (Family Redeemed, 42).

No one claims that monogamy is easy. We know from psychological studies that young people often have cognitive skills that are still evolving, and it is difficult to tell whether two people can grow compatibly over decades. The choice of a partner is a serious matter. Honest and loving marriage is central to the Jewish faith. We must do all we can to collaboratively preserve the holy covenant that strengthens our families and societies.

We must protect our own marriages and the institution of marriage. Adultery, as one of the many causes of failed marriages, must be rejected through ethical conviction and spiritual commitment. We must all have personal moral accountability, legitimate caring for our spouses and children, and Jewish commitment to the pledge of monogamy and shared covenant of love and devotion.

Message from a Man in Black…to a Man of Hate

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

I love this video – posted to YouTube around 5 months ago… it’s a message from one Hassidic Jew (representing so many others) to a man of hate (and to so many like him). It was posted before the Jewish holiday of Purim…

Purim is the story of a Persian king, his right hand man who wanted to kill the Jews, a Jewish man and his niece, who becomes the queen. An evil plot… unraveled at the last moment, twisted around to destroy the one who created the plot. It is about justice in the end, but more, it is about the Jewish people and where we put our faith. It is why we defeated Haman, that ancient Persian… and why we will defeat his ancestors – the followers of Ahmadinejad… and today’s “moderate” Iranian president who joined his outgoing colleague just days ago in wishing Israel off the face of this world.

Ari Lesser – you’re great! I hope this video reaches around the world…



Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

Remembering Ron Nachman, the Lonely Man of Faith

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

After 35 years, Ariel’s visionary, founder and longstanding mayor, Ron Nachman was ready and willing to take anyone to task. After all, what other city of 20,000 residents enjoyed the extensive services that Ariel offers? Even cities with much larger populations couldn’t compare. As Ron was fond of noting, Ra’anana can’t boast anything like the Eshel Hashomron Hotel. Modi’in doesn’t have an institution that even remotely resembles Ariel University. And how many cities in Israel can take pride in two industrial parks with a combined 200 factories?

Ron Nachman was proudly and decidedly secular from the outset. He was determined to build a city in Samaria that would not resemble the Gush Emmunim communities of his religious counterparts. Theirs was a Biblical commitment. His was about security. They spoke of the Tanach. He spoke of Zionism. They rejoiced in their middle-of-the-night outpost maneuvers. He prided himself on government approval every step of the way. He simply would not allow another community of tens to hundreds of families to the east of the Green Line to suffice.

Ron’s family founded the city of Nes Tsiyona in 1883. Almost a century later, Ron had the singular notion of following suit by creating another Israeli city where the Jewish State needed it most.

Instead of gathering the traditional 10 to 20 founding families for his new initiative, Ron got 6,000 people to join him. This initial group was named the “Tel Aviv Nucleus,” with the resolute objective of attaining national legitimacy for their ambitious endeavor.

Two tents and a camel quickly became temporary homes and roads. Semi-detached, cottages, private villas and apartment complexes followed. Highway 5 now connects Tel Aviv to Ariel, servicing tens of thousands of vehicles on a daily basis.

Today, Ariel is the regional hub for Samaria and much of the Jordan Valley. When residents of the surrounding communities need to go to the bank, visit their doctor at any of Israel’s four national health clinics, or do their grocery shopping, they come to Ariel. When the women of Eli want to have a women’s recreation evening, they make use of Ariel’s Sports and Recreation Complex. And when communities and municipalities in Samaria want to host a memorable event, the Ariel Regional Center for the Performing Arts is the natural venue.

LEADERSHIP IS an individual quality, and the top of the mountain can be a lonely place. No one else really seemed to comprehend Ron’s vision, but today Ariel maintains a consensus status within Israel. No sovereign Israeli government has considered compromising Ariel. It has remained part and parcel of the State of Israel within the framework of every proposed negotiation, including those of prime ministers Barak and Olmert who offered up to 99% of Israeli controlled “disputed” lands to the Palestinian Authority.

But what about the other communities in Judea and Samaria? Who would safeguard their future? Ron served in the 13th Knesset from 1992-1996 and fought the Oslo Accords tooth and nail.

Successive U.S. presidents, ambassadors to Israel and U.N. representatives were all well aware of Ariel, but refused to draw near. They preferred to ignore the city and its dynamic mayor in the hope that they just might disappear.

An interviewer once asked him, “how can you [the Israelis] build in Occupied East Jerusalem?” After asking the interviewer to repeat the question as a stall tactic, Ron responded: “I just came from my hotel room, where I searched for proof that this land belongs to the British. I found a Bible there, but it made no mention of London. It didn’t speak of Washington D.C., Paris or Berlin. But do you know how many times the word Jerusalem appeared? And you’re asking me if we have rights to our capital city?”

Perhaps because of his convictions, in the Diaspora, Ron Nachman felt like he fell between the cracks. Reformed and, more often than not, Conservative Jewish communities tended to keep their distance, as in most cases their party lines did not allow them to associate with “settlers.” Orthodox Jewish communities, on the other hand, were too parochial to partner with Ron’s diversified worldview and their conventional sensibilities of what a reborn biblical city should look like.

Although lasting relationships with Jewish groups and individuals in the Diaspora were few and far between, Ron developed a unique, personal connection with the Land of Israel. The land had a way of speaking to him. It awakened within him a sense of history, heritage and promise.

Religious Pluralism Within Orthodoxy

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Gil Student’s recent review of a book about Orthodox pluralism (R. Yisroel Miller’s In Search of Torah Wisdom: Questions You Forgot to Ask Your Rebbi) got me thinking about my own view on this subject.

Pluralism begets unity or Achdus.

There are different kinds of Achdus. We can be bonded by a wide variety of commonalities. We can all be united as human beings. There is also a sense of unity that we should feel as a people regardless of our ideology.

It is also legitimate to speak of unity within a defined segment of Judaism. Indeed even within segments there is a sense of unity that is often eluded. There can for example be a right and left even within Religious Zionism.

I have always sought to unite all of Orthodoxy. This includes even Satmar Chasidim, and the right wing Yeshiva world on the right – all the way to Left Wing Modern Orthodox (LWMO) movements represented by people like Rabbi Avi Wiess and his Yeshiva, YCT. The common bond being belief in the Torah and adherence to Halacha.

One may wonder about this considering my recent very harsh criticism of Satmar. Or my occasional strong criticism of some of innovations of the left – like the attempt to ordain women. Or my strong criticism of price tag raids by settler movements (consisting of extremist Religious Zionists) in Israel. The fact is that my criticism remains but it does not contradict my belief in a pluralistic Orthodoxy.

I disagree with the ideology of those to my right and my left. But I respect them all in the sense of Elu V’Elu. For example, I understand the Satmar objection to the existence of the State of Israel. It is based on the how Satmar interprets passages in the Gemarah. I have no problem with those who have this Hashkafa.

Nor do I have a problem with the belief of those religious Zionists who believe that we must settle all the land of Israel; that it is Halachically forbidden to cede an inch of the holy land that is now in our hands; and that we must risk our very lives to retain it. That is based on interpretations of Halacha.

Even though I disagree with both of those positions, I respect them. My only problem is when they act on them in ways that impinge on the rights of others or create a Chilul HaShem. It is trying to impose one’s religious values upon others that upsets me. Not the ideologies themselves. Ideologies, yes. Bad behavior, no.

Achdus, unity, or pluralism is not about agreement. It is about tolerance and acceptance… and the humility to understand and accept that we might just be wrong and someone else might be right.

This does not mean that one has to be apologetic about one’s strongly held views. One can argue his views with those of different Hashkafos and try and convince them of the rectitude of their own. Perfectly legitimate. I would even go a step further that if one has strongly held beliefs one ought to be able to make the case for them to a friend with different ideologies. At the same time, one must respect he views of others even if you think they are wrong. They too have thought things through and have arrived at a different conclusion that you have. In other words it is all about respecting the wisdom of others even when disagreeing with them.

On this level I respect the Hashkafos of Haredi thinkers. And I respect the Hashkafos of LWMO thinkers even though I disagree with them and agree with Centrist thinkers. Elu V’Elu is what it’s all about for me. My harsh criticism is reserved for extremist behavior that is a result of those Hashkafos – even if it is from my own.

Many in the Satmar community’s behavior with respect to sex abuse or right wing Religious Zionist settler behavior that results in a Chilul HaShem will raise my hackles every single time. Not the beliefs that generate them. One can be a principled pluralist – to use Gil’s expression – without rejecting the Hashkafos of others. There is no need to try and reconcile such wildly disparate views.

An Existential Analysis

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

There were 4488 page views (‘hits’) on my blog yesterday. Of those 1429 were unique visitors. Unique visitors are the actual number of people who accessed my blog during Monday’s 24 hour period. Of those, 307 voted on my poll. Which asked to choose the biggest existential threat to Judaism from a list of 7 possible choices. The results were: Chilul HaShem 78 (25%) Education 127 (41%) Feminism 11 (3%) Internet 13 (4%) Poverty 22 (7%) Sex Abuse 14 (4%) Tuition 42 (13%)

Not surprisingly the largest number of votes by far – 127 (41%) went to educational concerns. A full 25% of the votes went to concerns about Chilul HaShem. The third biggest concern was the Tuition crisis. The rest of the respondents were in single digit percentages poverty being the biggest concern among those.

The bottom three concerns were about the impact of sex abuse, the internet, and feminism.

First let me address the fact that a lot of factors were not included. Among them were: going OTD, divorce rates, dysfunctional families, sexism, the move to the right, the move to the left, the Shiddach crisis, assimilationist influences, isolationist influences, the State of Israel, increased divisiveness between Hashkafos… all serious challenges to Judaism. I could not list them all. That would have made the poll almost meaningless dividing the vote into small and insignificant numbers. I chose these because I believe that although they are not all inclusive – they do represent a wide variety of issues often cited as existential threats.

Not that these results are all that significant. The sample was relatively small and not random. It was also heavily biased in that respondents were people who read my blog. And only a small fraction of those actually voted. So for these and many other reasons, this poll cannot be taken as representing what the actual percentages of all Jews believe regarding any of these issues.

That said, I like to think that my readership consists mostly of Orthodox Jews that are intelligent, well educated, care greatly and have strong feelings about issues affecting the Jewish world. Although this blog’s demographic skews heavily in favor of Modern Orthodox Jews, there are many Charedim among my readers too. As well as non Orthodox Jews and even a few non Jews. I strongly feel that the majority of those (at least of those who comment) are fair minded, keen observers of the Jewish world whose opinions should be valued. So even though this is not a random sample of all Jews, it is a sample of thinking and caring Jews.

It was a little surprising to see how few people there were who thought that sex abuse was the most important issue of the day. Considering the fact that this issue is the most hotly debated issue in our day… and that the fact that the slightest taint of it in any institution will cause a tremendous outcry… and considering the damage that it causes to victims – sometimes permanent psychological damage… and the damage it causes to the victim’s families, and even the abuser’s family… and considering revelations about the far greater number of victims than anyone ever suspected… and the fact that so many of the victims go OTD… I would have thought sex abuse would have gotten a much bigger vote than 14 people.

I guess the reason for that is that as bad as sex abuse is… and as great the damage it does to so many people – even beyond the actual victim, that issue alone is not seen as an existential threat to Judaism itself. But still, the way religious leadership across the board has dealt with it in the past – and even now cannot but have a deleterious effect upon our existence. Many iconic names – religious leaders across the spectrum of Orthodoxy have – by word , deed, or lack of action – have disappointed victims and their advocates. This disillusions people about Orthodox Judaism. Sex abuse is a serious problem in need of our immediate attention. It should have ranked a lot higher than 5th out of 7 – totaling only 4% of the vote.

That Chilul HaShem ranked number 2 is no surprise. If anything can disillusion people, it is when prominent Jews get caught in wrong doing like fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering. Whether it is Rubashkin, the Spinka Rebbe, an elderly Sephardic Rabbi in New Jersey, or of late, Rabbi Yehoshua Pinto – it does not inspire a love of Judaism when such high profile rabbis who are supposed to be role models and teachers end up being crooks.

US President Barack Obama Issues a Statement for Hanukkah

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

President Barack Obama’s statement for Hanukkah:

Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to all those celebrating Hanukkah around the world.

This Hanukkah season we remember the powerful story of the Maccabees who rose up to liberate their people from oppression. Upon discovering the desecration of their Temple, the believers found only enough oil to light the lamp for one night. And yet it lasted for eight.

Hanukkah is a time to celebrate the faith and customs of the Jewish people, but it is also an opportunity for people of all faiths to recognize the common aspirations we share. This holiday season, let us give thanks for the blessings we enjoy, and remain mindful of those who are suffering. And let us reaffirm our commitment to building a better, more complete world for all.

From our family to the Jewish Community around the world, Chag Sameach.

The Other Caped Crusader

Friday, November 30th, 2012

I quit my full-time job eight months ago without another one to fall back on. In hindsight, it wasn’t one of my better decisions, but it was time for me to move forward. I was in a position that never quite suited me – like an ill-fitting pair of shoes that’s one size too small and rubs across the toes. Sure, a nagging thought called a recession cropped up from time-to-time before I resigned, but I was confident I would only be on the market for a few weeks, max. Armed with a new LinkedIn profile and a heaping dose of faith, I bid farewell to my boss and colleagues of six years to embark on my new journey.

The job hunt went well at first, until I realized my journey had taken me down a metaphorical six-lane highway, ejected me from the car, and thrown me down an embankment. I lay among the debris, moaning. I managed to crawl back up, only to lie down in the middle of the highway as traffic barreled down on me. And I stayed there – unemployed – for months. I began arguing with God. “How could you do this to me?” I howled. “I’m a good person. I don’t deserve this.” I was greeted with silence.

Echoes of the poem “Footprints” ran through my mind: “You promised me Lord that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?” More silence.

I rolled over on the now jam-packed highway to confirm that my super-hero cape –emblazoned with the word “righteous” on the back – was still firmly affixed to my neck. It was. I could not make any sense as to why God had not yet sent me a rental car to get me back on my journey. I reasoned perhaps He was waiting for some additional prayers. “Fine,” I thought. “Let’s get this over with.”

“Please God,” I began. “Please send me a new job. I have always been a good servant to You. I am honest and ethical and I call my mother almost every day.” Silence. I needed a different tack. “The emotional and financial toll of my unemployment on my family is heartbreaking,” I pleaded. “They shouldn’t suffer because You haven’t sent me a new job.”

There was an angry silence – but this time, it was mine.

That was it. All bets were off. I was fuming. I had no choice but to officially declare war on God. I would not speak to Him unless spoken to – and since that seemed rather unlikely given the chilly reception I had been receiving – I decided from that moment forward, we would maintain separate lives and living quarters. I stopped davening. I stopped hoping. I cursed my fate and my belief system, angry at being punished. I began an accounting of all the things that had gone wrong in my life and found God sorely lacking. But I was not ready to admit defeat. I would not let God off the hook for abandoning me in my time of need.

And from the rubble that was now my life, a calm voice – one of reason – suddenly emerged. “You can’t lie down across a six-lane highway and expect to be saved,” God said. “But the cape,” I said, my voice trailing off. “What about the cape? Did you see it? I’m a righteous individual, a good person,” I argued. “I know I haven’t given much to charity lately, but what do you expect when you refuse to send me a new job?”

“Roll over,” God said. I did. “The other side,” God instructed. And there it was on my cape. “Self” was inscribed just before the word “righteous.”

I was embarrassed. There it was for all to see – like the Scarlet Letter. I had been self-righteous and pompous and I had to own my mistakes. “I sinned against you,” I told God. “I failed in my journey of faith.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/potpourri/the-other-caped-crusader/2012/11/30/

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