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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘frum’

Can One Be a Shomer Torah u’Mitzvos and Accept Bible Criticism?

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Another voice has entered the online discussion about Bible Criticism and orthodox Judaism. Professor Jacob L. Wright is an orthodox Jew who has studied, taught, and written extensively on Bible Criticism.

He made waves Pesach time when he published a provocative article on the Huffington Post where he talked about “The Myth of Moses.” In his article he explained that his view of the Bible is that it is a composite work with each layer added for a specific reason. In the Moses story, there was a need to justify the existence of an Egyptian prince named Moses who saved the Israelites and establish him as a bona fide Israelite. So the Bible tells the story of a boy who was cast off by his mother into the Nile. This story has very obscure references as the names of the major players in the story are not mentioned. Later, the story was viewed as salacious so new details were added as a prologue to the story.

If it weren’t the Bible and I weren’t orthodox, this would be a great theory to explain anomalies in the text. But it is the Bible and I am orthodox so it hardly sits well with me when the Bible is explained away as myth.

Professor Wright was interview by Professor Alan Brill on his Kavvanah website. The interview is worth your time and consideration if you don’t mind reading what is widely considered to be absolute kefira.

The first important thing in the interview is the introduction where Brill outlines the current status of Biblical Criticism. It’s required reading so I copy it in full here:

As background, the problems of the Bible go back to the tenth and eleventh century Islamic critiques of the Bible by Ibn Hazm and others. Second, modern figures such as Spinoza and Jean Astruc sought to understand the Bible as a human book using the same tools that we use to understand Greek and Roman books. And in the 19th century, Wellhausen popularized a theory that the Pentateuch had four authors. But the important part of his theory was that the ritual and priestly material was a priestly Pharisaic digression from the original pure faith of the prophets necessitating Christianity for a restoration. Hence, Solomon Schechter called it higher anti-Semitism, David Zvi Hoffman showed that Leviticus is not in contradiction to the rest of the story, Kaufman showed that the prophets assumed the priestly material, and Cassuto showed based on Sumerian and Akkadian sources that the divisions fail.

Well, Wellhausen was writing a century ago, with the aforementioned defenses all formulated in a post WWI climate. For at least forty years the field was already given to authors such as Gunkel who assumes the Bible is legend, the way Gilgamesh is legend. And Martin Noth who assumed most of the narrative was formulated originally as oral traditions- read here. Questions of redaction were not tied to Wellhausen, or even literary documents, but to oral traditions.

What do historians currently think about the context of the Bible? They assume that it was written between 720 BCE and 587 BCE, between the destruction of the Northern Kingdom and the destruction of Jerusalem, with some editing until the end of Ezra’s life circa 440 BCE. (Minimalists make it more recent and Evangelicals defend the chronological dates.) They work from parallels to Assyrian texts, the nature of script, linguistics, and reconstructed context of author. Little of this has anything to do with literary doublets. If you want to reject historical criticism, then start learning ancient linguistics and texts contemporary to the Bible. No harmonization of passages changes this dating nor does anything from Cassutto or Hoffman affect it. (However, Prof. Josh Berman is seeking to shift the discussion from Assyrians to the Hittites in 1300 BCE, an effort that may be accepted by the Orthodox but does not promise to have much of an impact on the experts. But it is better than refuting Kugel, who is not a historian of ancient Israel or source critic so the critique does not help.)

This past May there was a major conference at Hebrew University on“Convergence and Divergence in Pentateuchal Theory;” if you are interested in these topics, then that was the place to be. The conference opened up with a clear statement that there are three approaches: a Documentary approach (not based on Wellhausen but on Noth and others) where there are separate documents; a Supplementary approach,where a single document get more and more complex; and a Fragmentary approach, where we cannot separate out authors or layers anymore.

Is it True that ‘No One Really Frum Has a TV’?

Monday, February 11th, 2013

I’m not going to comment on the substance of Rabbi Daniel Schneierson’s post on YWN, entitled, “Is Chemistry Important?” People can make their own judgments about the importance of chemistry between a dating couple. On that topic, I will just say that a lot of what he says has merit – but I reject the idea that chemistry is not important.

What troubled me about his essay is the following offhand comment which he puts into parentheses: Nowadays no one really frum has a TV…

With this comment he has just wiped out of Orthodoxy most of observant Jewry including many Haredim. (I don’t know him personally but if he is not Haredi – he sure sounds like it in this post.)

I am not going to debate the value of TV. I’ve discussed that issue many times. Suffice it to say that many of the criticisms of the right are true. But just like the internet, there is both good and bad in TV. And just like the internet, it ought not be banned or treated like hilul Shabbos to own one as Rabbi Schneierson does.

The problems with TV do not begin and end with Haredim. Nor even with Jews. There are many people who feel that TV is nothing more than a vast wasteland. And that one could spend their time much more productively without one. You don’t have to be a Haredi Jew to know that. Nor is it lost on decent people of all religions that there is way too much immorality on TV. I’m not going to argue any of that because it’s true.

But to make a blanket statement that nobody frum has a TV anymore (especially in a sort of humorous good natured tongue in cheek sort of way) proves just how isolated the fellow is… and how isolated he wants his community to be.Not because not owning a TV makes you isolated. But because identifying those who own one as not being frum. It is no secret that in his circles – not interacting with non frum Jews is an ideal they pursue. That’s why they try to isolate themselves from the rest of the world as much as possible. And it is why they reject some children from their schools. Children from homes that have a TV or the internet. They do not want to be ‘tainted’ by the ‘goyishe’ values children from those homes bring to the school.

This attitude is so arrogant and narrow minded that it boggles the mind that one can even make a statement like that let alone believe it… and by mentioning it in passing, he insinuates that we all already know that… he is just reminding us of it.

This man is a Rebbe (Shoel U’Meishiv) in a yeshiva. And he is teaching his students to think of any Jew with a TV as not frum. And he teaches it in the most insidious way – in a semi humorous post as a foregone conclusion, without any qualification.

This is the”my way or the highway” attitude of so many Haredim. And the mechanchim they produce make it very dangerous one. He is teaching intolerance whether he realizes it or not. Owning a TV makes one not frum and therefore a purposeful sinner. One must not intermingle with purposeful sinners because they will influence you to sin.

I know he means well. He thinks by insinuating that frum people don’t own TVs it will reinforce the idea of just how bad owning a TV is. He believes that owning a TV is so dangerous to your Frumkeit that he subliminally teaches you to consider TV owners as not observant. After all the definition of being Frum has historically been whether one keeps Shabbos. According to Rabbi Daniel Schneierson the new definition of being frum is not owning a TV. He subconsciously implants in the mind of those over which he has influence that owning a TV is like hilul Shabbos.

The fact that there are entire communities of Jews that own TVs and that there are not insignificant numbers of moderate Haredim among them – doesn’t phase him. He probably writes them off as not frum too.

Lessons For Drivers

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Dear Dr. Yael:

I am a female driver dealing with challenges of derech eretz while driving in my community. Every time the light is about to turn green, the person behind me seems to immediately honk the horn, yet no one has a problem double-parking, making me feel as if I am driving on an obstacle course.

People honk with great impatience if another driver is following the normal speed limit. Worse yet is that everyone seems to cross against a red light. I often see young mothers pushing their baby carriages across the street, straight into traffic, also against the light. They are certainly putting their children in a dangerous situation.

It is so frightening to drive in my community that I honk lightly, even if I am going through a green light. Drivers often tailgate me and persistently honk at me. When this happens I either turn toward a different direction or pull over and let them pass me. I then end up right in back of that driver at the next light. The person, so embarrassed, quickly turns right or left so that I will not be right behind and see who he or she is. (It’s perplexing that these same people with road rage can be amazing ba’alei chesed.)

There are times when I can’t pull my car out of the driveway, because of a double-parked car. When the driver is a frum man, even if I ask him to move, he does not do so. He will get out and try to direct me out of the driveway, or offer to pull the car out for me. On occasion, when someone has offered to pull out the car for me, I have agreed, and after being told that I have plenty of room and being ridiculed as a female driver, he has someone move his car anyway, because there really isn’t room to pull out. On those occasions I am always pleasant and thank him for helping me.

I try to never express anger or raise my voice, as I work very hard on practicing good middos and showing derech eretz, even when spoken to in a disrespectful tone.

The most daunting situation I experienced was when I offered a ride to a tired-looking, pregnant, frum woman and the driver behind me honked as she got into the car, even though it was clear she was having a hard time. I have even been honked at while dropping off my elderly parents.

Why is it that so many seemingly nice people undergo total personality changes when they get behind the wheel? Why does the mood of a wonderful ba’al middos become completely different? I know people who show so much patience in other situations, but develop road rage behind the wheel. Are there any studies to explain this behavior?

A Fan

Dear Fan:

Unfortunately, people become more hostile when behind the wheel. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that aggressive driving causes about a third of all crashes and about two-thirds of automobile fatalities. Studies also reveal that many individuals who become enraged on the road do not have prior arrests; rather, they are your average fellow citizens.

Psychologically, people feel a sense of power when driving and often feel slighted when someone cuts them off, even if done inadvertently. Individuals also feel territorial when driving, and if someone steps into his or her territory, it may be perceived as a breach of personal space. Logically speaking, this does not make sense. But unfortunately, people in these situations are usually reacting irrationally. Furthermore, drivers who display road rage believe that their actions are validated by the way they feel. Only afterward, when reality hits them, do they feel embarrassed because they realize they behaved irrationally.

I would hope that all of our readers, especially after reading your letter, will keep in mind the importance of focusing on their reactions to be sure they are rational. Most people, if asked, would say they would never honk their horns if they saw an elderly person or a pregnant woman getting into a car in front of them. But in the heat of the moment they may react illogically.

Israel’s Political Map As Confusing As Ever

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

JERUSALEM – While it is almost certain that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next Israeli coalition government, the country’s confusing electoral system has created another medley of instant political parties headed by a variety of media celebrities and scorned politicians.

After a six-month absence from politics following her ouster as Kadima Party leader by former defense minister Shaul Mofaz, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni has returned to the political fray as head of a new centrist party, Hatenuah (the Movement). She is in line to win up to nine seats in the upcoming elections, according to the latest polls.

Livni is likely to compete for support within the ideologically middle political ground with the revamped Labor Party, led by former journalist Shelly Yachimovich, and former TV talk show host Yair Lapid’s new Yesh Atid (There’s a Future) Party.

For its part, the Mofaz-led Kadima, with the current Knesset’s largest faction (28 seats), is not expected to win any seats come January, according to the latest surveys.

Netanyahu’s mounting economic and foreign policy problems have impacted his united Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu electoral faction, as many nationalistic and centrist voters are leaning toward supporting some of the overhauled or new political factions. The latest Smith Research poll, conducted for The Jerusalem Post and the Globes business daily, found that the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list will receive no more than 37 Knesset mandates, down from their current combined total of 42.

But the newly constituted Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) Party, which absorbed the National Religious Party/National Union and is now led by former hi-tech mogul and Yesha Council executive Naftali Bennett, has the potential to secure 11 Knesset seats (up from seven), according to the Smith Research poll. The nationalist, pro-settler Bayit Yehudi Party will almost certainly be a key member of Netanyahu’s expected new coalition government.

Another key coalition member, the Sephardic Shas Party, could be hampered by the return of party leader Aryeh Deri after a 13-year absence due to a bribery conviction and jail sentence while serving as interior minister and the emergence of current Shas MK Rabbi Chaim Amsalem’s breakaway Am Shalem (Entire Nation) Sephardic faction. Rabbi Amsalem has publicly said that he would like to participate in forming the next government, even though his fledgling party is anticipated to receive only three or four Knesset seats, as per most polls.

Lapid, claiming that his Yesh Atid party is not “leftist,” is reported to have put out feelers to Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Yisrael Beiteinu’s leader, in an effort to portray his party as a potential coalition partner as well. Yesh Atid is projected to capture 10-12 Knesset seats.

Yachimovich’s revitalized Labor Party appears to be in line to become the nation’s opposition voice, as the center-left faction could receive 20 or more Knesset seats.

According to all polls, there will be almost no change in the number of seats (currently five) now held by United Torah Judaism. Despite the fact that the haredi community represents the fastest-growing segment of Israeli society, infighting between the various Litvish and chassidic courts have soured many frum voters from the idea of voting for United Torah Judaism.

My Machberes

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Igud Horabbonim At
Maimonides Medical Center

Rabbi Yaakov Spivak

The monthly Rosh Chodesh Conference of the Rabbinical Alliance of America (Igud Horabbonim) was held at the Eighth Avenue cancer healing headquarters of Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn on Thursday, November 15.

The conference, billed as a “Cancer Awareness Symposium,” was addressed by the preeminent ontologists of MMC. In addition, Rabbi Yaakov Spivak, Rav and Rosh Kollel Ashyl Avraham of Monsey, New York, discussed halachas pertaining to hurricanes and times of danger.

MMC’s Recent Achievements

In 2007, The New York Times reported that an analysis of nearly 5,000 hospitals by the Department of Health and Human Services ranked Maimonides Medical Center among hospitals with the lowest mortality rates.

In 2010 Maimonides received the HealthGrades Distinguished Hospital Award for Clinical Excellence, ranking it among the top five percent of hospitals in the nation for overall quality outcomes.

Maimonides is also listed among the top five hospitals in New York State for cardiology services, coronary interventional procedures, stroke treatment, and gastrointestinal medical services.

Maimonides has been widely credited for its Cancer Center; its Infants & Children’s Hospital, which handles more births than any other hospital in the state of New York; its ACE unit, which focuses on elderly patients, their families, and their home environments; its Jaffe Stroke Center, which earned the HealthGrades Stroke Care Excellence Award for 2008, 2009 and 2010; and its Cardiac Institute, which was presented with the HealthGrades Cardiac Care Excellence Award in 2009 and 2010 and the HealthGrades Coronary Intervention Excellence Award in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Cancer Awareness Symposium

Dr. Jay Cooper

Addressing the Igud’s member rabbis at the conference were Dr. Jay S. Cooper, MD, Cancer Center director and chairman of radiation oncology; Dr. Alan. B. Astrow, MD, hematology and medical oncology director; D. Loren J. Harris, thoracic surgery chief; and Dr. Patrick Borgen, MD, Brooklyn Breast Cancer Program director. Respectively, they discussed: “Why is a Cancer Center Important?”; “Principles of Doctor-Patient Communication in Cancer Treatment”; High Risk Lung Cancer Screening”; and the “Role of Technology in Curing Breast Cancer.”

Dr. Patrick Borgen

The session was organized by Douglas Jablon, MMC’s tireless vice president of patient relations and volunteer services, and coordinated by Dina Alabanese, MMC’s talented administrative manager/event planner. As Igud director, this writer served as chairman.

Advances in Cancer Detection and Treatment

The doctors reviewed and described major advances in cancer detection. Maimonides possesses one of only three 360-degree mammography image machines, which capture images from every degree, as opposed to others that capture images of only one or two positions. (Interestingly, Israeli scientists developed the first truly computerized no-radiation diagnostic instrument for breast cancer.) Even the tiniest irregularities are quickly identified and appropriate treatment effectively applied.

The concept of screening target populations was discussed. Those who would most benefit from lung cancer detection have a history of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for thirty years or two packs a day for fifteen. Those regularly exposed to secondary smoke are also candidates. Regular checks and early detection would identify irregularities and allow for optimum treatment.

Susceptibility of Eastern European Jews

Dr. Alan Astrow

The susceptibility Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jews to Tay-Sachs disease was established in the late 1800s. The Dor Yeshorim organization organized genetic testing for Ashkenazi Jews and the disease has been practically eliminated among the target population.

The higher rate of breast cancer among Eastern European Jews and their descendants is of major concern to the medical community. Testing is available to detect mutation of the BRCR 1 and BRCR 2 genes, which may cause breast cancer.

As with lung cancer, early detection and treatment saves lives and neutralizes health challenges. Those who should be carefully monitored are daughters, 40 years of age and older, of a mother who had ovarian or breast cancer. Maimonides, with its advanced mammography screening and imaging, does a tremendous job serving those in the community who need monitoring.

Stigmas and Shidduchim

Dr. Loren Harris

Marriageable girls outnumber marriageable boys in the frum community, a situation that leaves thousands of girls without potential matches. Many parents worry that a family history of cancer or other diseases will result in their daughters being stigmatized, thus diminishing their shidduch potential. Maimonides Cancer Center provides heightened doctor-patient communication with complete confidentiality.

Halachas of Hurricanes and Dangerous Times

My Machberes

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Hurricane Sandy And Frum Communities

The fury Hurricane Sandy unleashed on the Northeast severely impacted many communities throughout the greater New York City metropolitan area, leaving in its wake fatalities, injuries and destruction. Homes were destroyed or flooded and the loss of electrical power crippled whole neighborhoods.

The Rockaways, Bayswater, and Belle Harbor

The Rockaways, Bayswater and Belle Harbor were flooded by the tidal water overruns that came simultaneously from the beach and the bay. Every home, many of them were by large observant families, was damaged. Every basement was flooded. Extensive libraries of Jewish holy books were waterlogged and destroyed. The buildings of the Yeshiva of Belle Harbor were devastated.

Rabbi Mordechai Jungreis, Nikolsburger Rebbe, salvaging a sefer Torah from a flooded Belle Harbor shul basement.

Entire shuls were flooded. At least 17 sifrei Torah were ruined. Tears flowed copiously when volunteer salvage organizations, such as the Matzileh Aish volunteer firefighters of Kiryas Yoel, approached the shuls and saw more than one upended aron kodesh with sifrei Torah floating in water.

The loss of electrical power, combined with the extreme gasoline shortage, interfered with salvage efforts. Without power, pumping water out of basements becomes a Herculean task. Gasoline generators, with limited fuel, have to be used. Dredging efforts were deployed to remove mountains of sand from buried homes and clogged streets.

Hatzolah, Shomrim, Chaverim, and many other organizations from all areas joined to help. Bikur cholim and hachnassas orchim organizations heroically provided warm meals, new clothing, laundry services, and dredging applications. Inflatable boats were used to rescue people trapped in flooded areas. Sometimes the inflated boats themselves had to be rescued. Volunteers worked through the storm twenty-four hours a day.

On Friday, erev Shabbos Vayeira, buses came from as far as Baltimore to transport people to warm homes for Shabbos. On Sunday, November 4, a cold snap descended on the region. Tremendous efforts were expended to move children, including newborns, and their mothers to welcoming homes in areas that had heat. All this was in addition to truckloads of warm clothing, blankets and food collected and brought from other frum neighborhoods. Shabbos meal packages and weekday communal meals were available.

Seagate, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach

Residents of Seagate were equally impacted. Beachfront houses and homes close to the beachfront were washed away. Except for those close to the water, most homes did not have flood insurance since coverage is expensive and the need was not apparent. Every basement was flooded. Mordecai Ben David, the renowned Jewish singer, had a recording studio in his basement with equipment costing tens of thousands of dollars. Water smashed into his basement, destroying everything below shoulder height. A well-known collector of antique sefarim had his entire collection, worth millions of dollars, ruined. Every basement has to be stripped, relined, and rebuilt. The shuls, too, lost sifrei Torah and sefarim.

Long Beach

Words cannot describe the destruction in Long Beach. Ocean Place, the center of the frum neighborhood, was severely impacted, with homes totally destroyed or rendered inaccessible because of flooding. For the first time in its 47-year existence, the sounds of Torah at the Yeshiva of Long Beach were stilled. The yeshiva found temporary quarters elsewhere.

Staten Island

Hurricane Sandy caused untold damage to several areas of Staten Island. The electricity went out Monday at 10:15 p.m., after the last minyan for Maariv at Congregation Agudas Shomre Hadas, 98 Rupert Avenue. Early Tuesday morning, right before the shul’s first early morning shiur, the lights came back on, as they did in most of the frum community.

Boro Park

Boro Park emerged relatively unscathed from the brutal force of Hurricane Sandy. Several trees were uprooted, damaging cars and blocking thoroughfares.

Kiryas Yoel

Because of the loss of electricity, many of Kiryas Yoel’s residents left, including those who seldom wander out of the enclave. Satmar families in Boro Park and Williamsburg welcomed them in. Chaverim sought to service those who remained at home. Chaverim members were observed carrying laundry bags all day from homes without power to those with, and then returning with freshly washed laundry. This was in addition to the thousands of packaged meals delivered. Power was restored to most residents on the afternoon of Shabbos Chayei Sarah. Matzileh Aish oversaw the use of generators wherever possible. On Shabbos, non-Jews conducted patrols carrying extra gasoline to fill emptying generator tanks.

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Dear Rachel,

In your column of Oct 26th you published a letter written by B’Ahavat Yisrael (really??) who attacked you for being soft on the candy issue. Actually, she sounded hyper, like someone who overdid the sugar, in her stinging criticisms of the people she (in her signature) professes to love.

She claims that we have lost our “sense of Yiddishkeit” and lists a whole host of grievances she has against us. Besides our “obsession with sweets,” she takes issue with the way we give mishloach manos, the type of music we enjoy and the expense we go to when making a simcha, and to add insult to injury she cites our frum culture as mirroring that of a non-Jewish society.

With all due respect, I would like to address her faulty analysis. Regarding her criticism of the way we give mishloach manos, she’s apparently never heard of hiddur mitzvah (the beautifying of a mitzvah by embellishing it). An example of hiddur mitzvah: some of us go all out to decorate our sukkah, which of course doesn’t mean that a plain looking sukkah does not cover the bases.

The same with the esrog; most men vie for a beautiful esrog, despite the increase in expenditure, and some even use a magnifying glass to check for the tiniest blemish. Would she consider this to be in excess or a sign of materialism? It is neither.

Giving more than the traditional two mishloach manos and getting enjoyment out of applying our own personal touch to them is hardly frivolous. On the contrary, it is putting our G-d given talents to good use. She can present hers without flourish and stick to the minimum required if she so desires, but she is not right in begrudging others their indulgence in a hiddur mitzvah.

She might also keep in mind that those in a position to go all out in celebrating occasions like weddings are mostly the same people who dispense charity to the needy with a generous hand. One should not dictate to others how their money should be spent. There have always been rich people, those of moderate means, and the less privileged. Naturally their different lifestyles reflect their resources; this is the normal way of the world and always has been.

As for overloading on sweets, the subject that led to B’Ahavat Yisrael’s rant in the first place, most of us are aware of the boundaries of unhealthy eating. In fact, overeating altogether (doesn’t have to be sweet junk) is detrimental to our health. Education may be what’s needed; we must talk about it – as we are doing here – and schools would do well to emphasize and promote the value of good nutrition. If we drum it into our kids early on, they’ll be more likely to live that way down the road.

Another disturbing condemnation by B’Ahavat Yisrael concerns summer camp for children. “When did that start?” she asks with incredulity. Would she really rather that they stayed home with nothing to do? Summer camp happens to be a wonderful outlet for children and a healthy way for them to unwind from their rigid school year, make new friends, and learn in a more relaxed atmosphere. Day camp is a lifesaver for those uneasy about sending their children to overnight camp or who cannot afford anything but.

No, summer camp does not spoil our kids, as B’Ahavat Yisrael implies. It offers them healthy physical and emotional outlets in a structured environment. She opines that they should stay put and “earn a little money.” At what age does she suggest they go job-hunting? At eight? Ten, maybe? Thirteen? The enterprising adolescent can, by the way, earn a few dollars by working in camp while still enjoying the benefits of being on camp premises.

As for B’Ahavat Yisrael’s contention that home is the best place for children to be in the summertime, I’m sure those mothers who can’t afford to send their children to camp of any kind would be willing to straighten her out as to the pitfalls of having children at home with nothing to do but play computer games, watch TV, annoy the heck out of their sibs, and eat. Mostly junk. Sweet junk. Lots of it.

It’s Not Always Critical

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Whether you live on the East Coast, or have relatives there, I’m sure that many readers had their ears and web browsers set this week to the development and results of Hurricane Sandy. Seeing the city that never stops in a blackout, viewing the pictures of flooded subway stations, and seeing mass evacuations even before the rain fell from the sky, truly set the stage for something major to happen, something so  critical requiring such vital preparation.

And indeed, the various adjectives used to describe Sandy were right on the dot. From “ the biggest to hit US mainland” to “the most dangerous” and “Frankenstorm,”  all the above authentically described the meters of water penetrating homes and cities, injuring and killing innocent civilians, compiled with endless damage to property and loss of power.

As the worse in now behind us, and yet with restorations efforts still ahead of us, I believe that the terms utilized so widely this week to describe a terrible predicament should force us to reconsider their use when, thankfully, tragedy doesn’t strike. Though my heart and soul are with those hurt by the storm, I am disturbed that so many of these very adjectives are commonly used to describe common occurrences, a far cry from the critical situation that so many Americans on the East Coast are facing.

It seems that every election is “the most critical in our history” and the issues on the table, before any election or vote, “have never been more vital to the existence of the Jewish people.”  An agreement between two parties to run a joint-ticket in the coming election resulted in a member of the party, firmly against this unified ballot, claiming the need to stop it “in order to save Israel’s democracy”! Not long ago, a certain Jewish group hit the barricades in order to prevent frum Sefardic children from entering their school, contradicting an explicit court order. Their leader branded their refusal to fulfill the order, with the threat of jail, as “the war of the generation.”

When a woman singing in front of men caused soldiers to walk out rather than violate the prohibition of Kol Isha, a controversy broke with a certain Rabbi claiming that “Troops will die rather than listen to women [sing].”  Demonstrators against women’s prayer groups at the Kotel  have gained the title of “warriors” and one joining a late-night Minyan to allow a mourner to say Kaddish was shown gratitude for his “Mesirut Nefesh”/Self-Sacrifice. Finally, about once a year, someone seems to refer to a local dispute than no less than a “Holocaust” with religious Jews and leaders using the term  “Yehareg Vaal Yaavor” (Give your life rather than transgress) regarding far more commandments and issues than the three cardinal sins!

Part and parcel of learning Torah is to clearly identify what is a Biblical commandment, what’s Rabbinic and what is custom. Though we are devoted to fulfilling all of the above,  it’s important to know the origin of a Mitzva so we can keep a sense of proportion.  I would not envy the nursing mother who would consider fasting on Yom Kippur in the same category as fasting on Ta’anit-Ester. While both are fast days, her personal situation would dictate a totally different mode of behavior on these two days, based solely on having a true sense of proportion between a Biblical edict and a custom. Similarly, forcing one to violate Shabbat and eat pig is not the same as forcing one to listen to a woman’s voice. Jewish children of diverse ethnic descent learning together certainly does not fit into the same group as the prohibition of idolatry.

Indeed, beyond the three cardinal sins,  at times, even a mere custom, such as the customary color of a Jew’s shoelace, can be so vital that one must give their life and not transgress [Tractate Sanhedrin 74b.]  And yet, when there isn’t a danger of uprooting Jewish life, we must be extremely careful not to make a mountain out of a molehill!

So frequently our Rabbis in the field are faced with issues and controversies that challenge them as they attempt to show professional spiritual leadership. Almost every one of them is faced weekly with the dilemma of when do they take a stand, when do they pick a fight, when do they back off, and even when do they give in. However, it is rather abnormal for a Rabbi never to have a dilemma, thus he is forced either to never take a stand or to always feel the need to create a controversy over every single issue, thinking everything is critical and life-threatening to the existence of the Jewish community.

Not every issue is as critical as the next. And therefore, we should be very careful to use the proper terminology so we dare not give the false impression, to our kids, neighbors or students, that “life depends” on your vote, that participation in a demonstration for a just cause is “crucial” and the need to write letters of protests is no less than “Pikuach Nefesh.”

I fully believe that passion is needed for the very issues that are so important to us. There can be deviation from person to party as to what those critical issues are. And yet, it seems uncanny that we are asked to be passionate about everything.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/its-not-always-critical/2012/11/06/

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