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January 20, 2017 / 22 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘influence’

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Influence In America (Part I)

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Editor’s Note: This column contains excerpts from Dr. Levines “Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch and America – an Historical View,” which appeared in The World of Hirschian Teachings, An Anthology on the Hirsch Chumash and the Hashkafa of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Rabbi Dr. Joseph Breuer Foundation, Feldheim, 2008, 199- 210).


Much has been written about Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s influence on German Jewry, and he is justifiably credited with having saved Orthodox Judaism in Germany. However, Rav Hirsch’s influence was not confined to Germany and did not end with his passing in 1888. His legacy continues to this day and is felt all over the world.

It is my intent to sketch how Hirschian ideology has fostered the flourishing Torah life we see today in America by indicating how a number of rabbis utilized this ideology. Such a sketch cannot, of course, be comprehensive. Nonetheless, it does provide perspective on how far-reaching the influence of RSRH has been on the American scene.


Rabbi Dr. Bernard Drachman (1861 -1945)

In 1899 Rabbi Dr. Bernard Drachman published the first English translation of Rav Hirsch’s Nineteen Letters.[i] Rabbi Drachman’s life story is an interesting one and is told in his autobiography The Unfailing Light: Memoirs of an American Rabbi.[ii]

Raised in a non-shomer Shabbos home, he went to public school in Jersey City, New Jersey, and then Columbia College. While in high school and college, Rabbi Drachman also attended the (Reform) Temple Emanuel Hebrew Preparatory School of New York City for six years. In 1882 he graduated Columbia with honors and decided to study for the rabbinate. Temple Emanuel granted him a scholarship to pursue rabbinical studies with the idea that he would prepare for the Reform rabbinate. He went to Germany, studied at the University of Breslau and the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, and earned his rabbinical degree. In addition, he matriculated at the University of Heidelberg and obtained the degree of Ph.D. Magna Cum Laude in 1885.

As a result of his studies in Germany, Dr. Drachman became completely committed to Orthodox Judaism. Temple Emanuel had sponsored his studies with the understanding that when he returned he would become its assistant rabbi. But given his commitment to Orthodoxy, Rabbi Drachman was forced to make it clear to the congregants of Temple Emanuel that he would only serve an Orthodox congregation, despite the fact that Reform rabbis usually earned considerably more than their Orthodox counterparts. The result was that “he speedily became known as an enthusiastic and energetic champion of Orthodox Judaism, one of the then very few English-speaking representatives of the ancient faith in the America of that time.”[iii]

During his summer vacation in 1883 Dr. Drachman visited Frankfurt-on-the-Main. His recollections of this visit show what a deep impression the community that Rav Hirsch had established made upon him.

In the latter place [Frankfurt] we [Rabbi Drachman and his cousin Solomon] not only saw a beautiful city but also a most wonderful Jewish community, the like of which was even then difficult to find anywhere else in the world. In size the city was not so very impressive, numbering not more than approximately twenty-five thousand souls, but in spiritual and cultural quality and importance to Judaism it was most exceptional and noteworthy.

Frankfort-on-the-Main was the city of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, inspired and inspiring leader in Israel, man of God if ever there was one. His soul glowed with profound love and loyalty to the ancient faith. From his lips poured streams of eloquence to convince the doubting, to strengthen the wavering, and to satisfy and delight the already convincedly devout. The impress of his mighty spirit was upon the whole Jewish life of the queenly city. The number of business establishments closed on Sabbaths and Jewish holy days, the large and beautiful synagogues and the throngs which entered them to worship, even on ordinary days of secular occupation, and a dozen other indications, all gave unmistakable testimony to the fact that here was a city of enthusiastically loyal Jews.

The Orthodox Jews, however, were not the majority of the Jewry of Frankfort. Rabbi Hirsch’s congregation did not even belong to the official Jewish community. Legally and technically it was not even a congregation but only a private society, Israelitische Religionsgesellschaft, “Israelitish Society for Religion,” but in numbers it was not greatly inferior to the main community and in zeal and religious fervor it was so superior, that its impress upon the life of the city was far greater and more significant.

The Judaism which Rabbi Hirsch taught, and for which he had gained thousands of adherents, in Frankfort and out, while unswervingly loyal to the Law and the traditions of Israel’s past, was yet something different, something new. It was the religion of the ghetto without the mannerisms or the world-estrangement of the ghetto. It was indeed a wondrously perfect synthesis of the ancient and the modern, of the Oriental-Sinaitic-Talmudic precepts of faith and the life and the speech, the culture, and the demeanor of the modern time and the Occidental world. It was fittingly designated by understanding observers as Neo-Orthodoxy.

Solomon and I met a number of members of the Hirsch community and they all measured up to this standard. Among them were the brothers Jacob and Julius Strauss, who were relatives of Solomon, cousins of his mother, whose maiden name was Strauss. They were wealthy people, bankers doing business in a large way under the firm name of J. and J. Strauss. They were, however, more interested in Jewish religion and culture than in their business affairs.

As their guests on Friday evening, we met in the synagogue, which was filled with devout worshippers. After service we walked together to the Strauss residence, a fine and beautifully furnished apartment in one of the best streets of Frankfort. It was a memorable evening, a remarkable combination of fervent Jewishness and aristocratic demeanor, a perfect illustration of what the rabbis of the Talmud meant when they spoke of “Torah and greatness in one place.” Everything was in accordance with the rabbinical precept that the best which the Jew is and has shall be reserved for the Sabbath. Such was the Friday evening in the Strauss home. Herr Jacob Strauss chanted the Hebrew prayers with dignity and reverence, and Frau Strauss was a most gracious hostess. After the sumptuous repast was concluded, and thanks duly given to the Giver of all good, we passed an hour or so in pleasant, informal conversation. Many questions about America were asked of me, and my answers were received with great apparent interest.[iv]

Dr. Yitzchok Levine

Wikileaks: George Soros Paid $650,000 to Influence Pope Francis’ Closest Friend

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

Leftist Billionaire George Soros donated $650,000 to groups lobbying American bishops in favor of “progressive” domestic policies, according to emails made public by Wikileaks. Soros used his Open Society Foundation and Faith in Public Life, two liberal organizations, to use the September 2015 visit of Pope Francis to the US to “shift national paradigms and priorities in the run-up to the 2016 presidential campaign.”

The group DC Leaks has released more than 2,000 documents from groups associated with Soros.

The money was donated in April 2015 and a report on the effort says successful achievements included “buy-in of individual bishops to more publicly voice support of economic and racial justice messages in order to begin to create a critical mass of bishops who are aligned with the Pope.”

“In order to seize this moment, we will support PICO’s organizing activities to engage the Pope on economic and racial justice issues, including using the influence of Cardinal Rodriguez, the Pope’s senior advisor, and sending a delegation to visit the Vatican in the spring or summer to allow him to hear directly from low-income Catholics in America,” another document states.

PICO’s website describes the group as “a national network of faith-based community organizations working to create innovative solutions to problems facing urban, suburban and rural communities.”

The document describes Cardinal Rodriguez from Honduras as Pope Francis’ best friend. It continues: “The grant will also support FPL’s media, framing, and public opinion activities, including conducting a poll to demonstrate that Catholic voters are responsive to the Pope’s focus on income inequality, and earning media coverage that drives the message that being ‘pro-family’ requires addressing growing inequality.”

FPL is Faith in Public Life, whose website states: “In preparation for the pope’s visit to the US, we commissioned extensive opinion research about how Catholics respond to the Pope’s prophetic messages and released the poll at the National Press Club. Throughout the trip, FPL coordinated messaging among numerous Catholic groups and did extensive media outreach.”

The Soros document concludes: “By harnessing the Papal visit to lift up the Pope’s searing critique of what he calls ‘an economy of exclusion and inequality’ and his dismissal of ‘trickle down’ theories, PICO and FPL will work to build a bridge to a larger conversation about bread-and-butter economic concerns and shift national paradigms and priorities in the run-up to the 2016 presidential campaign.”


Guard Your Influence (Conclusion)

Friday, May 6th, 2016

The third suggestion to alter behavior and put oneself in the driver’s seat – no matter how detrimental the surrounding influences – is to, as Stephen Covey liked to call it, “Begin with the End in Mind.” It is quite a mind-shift to look at your life from the future. This entails thinking about your greatest legacy, how will one be remembered?

The plan is based on the principle that all things are created twice: there is the mental, or first creation; and then there is the actual, or second creation in reality. A simple analogy would be the construction of a home, whereby detailed plans are drawn up before earth is broken. If the plumbing, electricity and engineering are not finely-tuned in the blue prints, there will be expensive rectifications during the actual construction.

Likewise a business venture. Beginning with “the end in mind” will largely determine if the enterprise is successful. If there isn’t a thought-out, properly-researched and reality-synced business plan, failure is almost guaranteed. As the aphorism goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

The same is often true with parenting. I stress “often” for we all know parents who do everything possible to mess up their children who ultimately come out great. While some parents try so hard and are not successful. There are many factors in raising a child, not the least of which is siyaata d’shmaya (Heavenly assistance). We have already detailed the impact of environment and influences.

But undeniably, if you wish to raise responsible, self-disciplined yorei Shomayim (God-fearing offspring), the end must constantly be kept in mind. A parent who erodes a child’s self-esteem or self-discipline has, among other things, not borne the end in mind. And this becomes even more complicated when children turn into teenagers and parents must quickly shift out of “management” and move into “sales.”

I once bought a book (that I wish I would not have lent out…) from a Pulitzer winning author describing his writing technique. He proposed that a successful author should write the ending of the story first, this way you always know in which direction you are heading. Based on this technique (and other incentives, like a negative bank balance) we managed to write three books bs”D in 11 months.

This is a discipline that works, what the Mishna calls, hefsed mitzva k’negged s’chara (contemplating what one forfeits by not fulfilling a mitzvah as opposed to the reward that could be earned) and being ro’eh es hanolad (foreseeing the consequences). We know that if a person could properly stay focused on the consequences of their actions and plan the first creation so that the second one is congruent, they have used their bechira properly and will conduct an enviably, honorable life.

The reason that Alfred Nobel, the father of dynamite, created the Nobel Peace Prize is well known. His brother died while visiting France and a French newspaper erroneously published Alfred’s obituary. It condemned him for his invention of dynamite and even said, “Le marchand de la mort est mort – The merchant of death is dead.” The obituary also did not fail to mention, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”

This was about all Alfred Nobel had to read to decide to improve his ultimate legacy.

When rumors of the death of the famous rabbinic giant, The Ohr Somyach (Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk 1843-1926), reached Jerusalem, the city was engulfed in sorrow. Pubic eulogies were conducted and tributes were printed in religious newspapers. When a copy was delivered to the live-and-well Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, Latvia, he said that for the rest of his life he would no longer need to open a Messilas Yesharim.

Other than such exceptional circumstances, it is unusual for one to look at life from the future. Think again. Yom Kippur, as Joseph Telushkin points out, is Judaism’s annual confrontation with death. During this 24-hour period, Jews are expected to lead a largely aphysical existence, regarding food, drink and pleasure. Many wear a kittel which is a burial shroud. The goal of this confrontation is to make us all feel those “deathbed regrets” while there is still time to do something about them, and act with the end in mind.

Chodesh Tov – have a pleasant month.

Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Guard Your Influence (V)

Friday, April 8th, 2016

Having already focused on the detrimental influence of a bad environment, and the efforts parents must make to shield their children from a negative milieu, let’s not forget that God has blessed man with free choice, and no matter how much an environment may sway one, ultimately man alone bears the responsibility for his deeds.

Here are three thoughts to bear in mind which may assist in favoring the right decision (which often is not the convenient one). Value the importance and significance of every single act. The Rambam, based on the Talmud, stresses how useful it is to view oneself as equally balanced between good and evil, and likewise the world. Just one single deed has the power to tip the scale for oneself and the entire world in the direction of good or the contrary.

When the stakes are so significant, there is ample incentive to follow the right path. If someone comes to you seeking assistance, it would be beneficial to imagine that you are the only one who could assist this individual. If you rise to the challenge this person will have what they need. If you are derelict, no one else will assist, and the person will remain deprived.

Rachel, a woman from a large, distinguished, very scholarly family in Jerusalem was on a bus with her children to her nephew’s bar mitzvah. The bus was fire-bombed by Arab terrorists and in Rachel’s attempts to save her children, lost her own life.

The family sat shiva in the Shaarei Chessed neighborhood of Jerusalem and one day during the shiva was Election Day. A very noted poseik from that neighborhood (a story that I have been unable to verify) ruled that privately and modestly, this family may perform their civic duty. And indeed an extra, crucial mandate was won for the religious party by a mere 17 votes.

This is a family that had every right to remain home in their grief and not trouble themselves to wait in line. A rationale employed by untold millions without extenuating circumstances. And this is also a family that truly understood the value of every act and how it could change the world.

When confronted with a situation where there is a fork in the road and the direction to pursue is not clear, what should one do? Perhaps the greatest Rx is to ask yourself, “What is my true motivation? Is it the good or the evil inclination?”

Just answering this one question, as Joseph Telushkin points out, will usually determine the appropriate course of action.

Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, zt”l, far better known as the Ponevizher Rav, was once offered to deliver a shiur (a Torah class) and he was perplexed if accepting this offer was the correct decision. On the one hand it was an opportunity to teach Torah. On the other hand, it would mean time actually depleted from Torah study in the preparation and delivering of the shiur. Perhaps he should wait until he was more advanced in years, and then there would be so much more wisdom within him to share with others.

Alternatively, the question was: “What is more important – to achieve one’s personal maximum, or to facilitate the growth of talmidim at the expense of one’s own personal growth?”

Who could answer such a question? Who could ever know if learning with talmidim was preferable to self-growth and perfection?

Who, but the Chofetz Chaim? The sage explained that the route to be followed is whatever will result in a greater amount of kavod Shomayim (honor for Heaven). These few words provided Yosef Shlomo with a signpost that would guide him for the rest of his life.

Chodesh Tov – have a pleasant month.

Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Guard Your Influence (IV)

Friday, March 11th, 2016

After Gunn’s cleanup was well underway, William Bratton, also a disciple of The Broken Window Theory, was hired to head the NYC Transit Police. Like Gunn before him, with serious felonies plaguing the subway system Bratton decided to crackdown on the seemingly far less significant issue of fare-beating. To Bratton, fare-beating was the “broken window” that signaled disorder and invited more serious crimes.

It was estimated that nearly 200,000 people a day entered the transit system without paying. If the perpetrators were not arrested it would only snowball, and those that would otherwise not consider evading the law would slide down the slope, reasoning, “If others don’t pay, why should I?”

Bratton, with all of his resourcefulness, was hard-pressed to rally the support of police officers. The cost of the subway fare was only $1.25. For a cop to arrest a fare-beater for this piddling misdemeanor it would mean a trip to the station, filling out the necessary forms, and waiting for them to be processed, while far more felonious crimes were being perpetrated in the subway stations and trains to the tune of over 250 a week! To invest an entire day over a crime that never merited more than a slap on the wrist seemed like an egregious hemorrhage of time.

Bratton saw it otherwise. He would assign as many as ten plainclothesmen to guard the turnstiles. They would bust a fare-beater, cuff him to the grate, and leave him standing, to reflect in a humiliating, ever-increasing daisy chain of criminals for everyone else to observe until they had a “full catch.” The arrestees were then ceremoniously marched outside to a city bus that had been retrofitted into a police station-on-wheels, where they were booked, finger-printed, and placed into a holding pen. All of this just yards from the subway station, freeing up the cops to return to the station and bust the next batch.

Bratton further saw to it that all of those arrested for fare-beating underwent a background check and body search, yielding a bonanza! One out of seven had an outstanding warrant for a previous crime, and one out of 20 was carrying a weapon. The message got through and the subway was cleaned up.

Upon being elected mayor, Rudy Giuliani hired Bratton as his police commissioner; both were adherents to The Broken Windows Theory. In his first inaugural address, Mayor Guiliani famously embarked on a crusade against the “squeegee men,” who would surround a car stopped in traffic or at a signal light. They would then, unsolicited, proceed to wash the stopped car’s windshield, before demanding remuneration.

The press questioned as to why a city plagued by unemployment, traffic nightmares, homicides, inadequate housing, parking impossibilities, mass transit financial unviability, race tensions, and public school management crises (to name a but a few of Gotham’s major problems) should make its first priority such a minor nuisance?

Giuliani clarified and set policy that the near-ubiquitous presence of the squeegee men created an environment of disorder that encouraged more serious crime to flourish. Broken windows of every form would not be tolerated. A bad influence can corrupt a neighborhood and decay a city. The squeegee men went and with them went the appallingly high level of crime in New York City.

Chodesh Tov – have a pleasant month!

Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Guard Your Influence (III)

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

On a societal level, unscrupulous behavior will also outweigh positive influences. Recognition of this phenomenon has finally escaped the walls of the beis midrash and has become a recognized theory in crime prevention. The Broken Windows Theory is the name applied by two criminologists in the 1980s to the premise that a bad influence that is not reigned in, will disproportionately deteriorate.

James Q. Wilson and George Kelling wrote that if a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the adjacent street, sending a signal that anything goes. Basically, broken windows that are not repaired are a signal that disorder and crime are tolerated, accepted or ignored.

The permissive atmosphere this broadcast will lead to further and more serious crimes that will threaten the safety of a city. Graffiti, public disorder, and panhandling are the equivalent of broken windows which are in turn invitations to more serious crimes. The presumed logic of the thief is that if a neighborhood cannot keep a bothersome panhandler from annoying passersby, it is even less likely to call the police to prevent a potential mugging.

Fixing broken windows and erasing graffiti, however, heralds vigilance regarding lawful behavior. The Broken Window Theory has profoundly influenced police work and is attributed with the decrease of urban crime in the 1990s.

In the year 2000, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a study of the social epidemic that became a national bestseller. Tipping Point, interestingly subtitled, “How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,” argues that crime can be as contagious as a fashion trend and spread to an entire community.

If there ever was a crime epidemic, it would be New York City in the 1980s, when Gotham’s transit system became the most dangerous in the world and ridership plummeted to below 1917 levels. Crack cocaine and heroin infested New York City, increasing street crime, child and spousal abuse. Homicides skyrocketed while industrial decline, economic stagnation, and white flight led to an unprecedented downturn.

The New York Transit Authority, which was on the verge of collapse, hired a new director for the subway system who was an adherent of the Broken Window Theory.

David Gunn was logically advised to stay focused on the larger issues of crime and subway reliability, but the man was obsessed with graffiti and would not allow a graffiti infected train to travel the tracks of the MTA. “We were religious about it,” Gunn asserted. “So that if a train came in with graffiti it had to be cleaned or it was removed from service; this way sending an unambiguous message to the vandals.

“We had a yard up in Harlem on 135th Street where the trains would lay up overnight. The kids would come the first night and paint the side of the train white. Then they would come the next night, after it was dry and draw the outline. Then they would come the third night and color it in. It was a three-day job. We knew that the kids would be working on one of the dirty trains, and what we would do is wait for them to finish their mural. Then we’d walk over with rollers and paint it over. The kids would be in tears, but we’d just be going up and down, up and down. It was a message to them. If you want to spend three nights of your time vandalizing a train, fine. But it’s never going to see the light of day.”

Chodesh Tov – have a pleasant month!

Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Guardian’s Cartoon of Powerful Jews Manipulating Western Leaders

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Last November we posted about a political cartoon at the Guardian by Steve Bell depicting British foreign minister William Hague and Tony Blair as puppets being controlled by Binyamin Netanyahu, in the context of expressions of support by these leaders during the war in Gaza.  Bell’s image evoked the canard of powerful Jews controlling western politicians for their own nefarious purposes and was hauntingly similar to more explicitly antisemitic cartoons routinely found in Arab and Islamist world.

The Guardian’s readers’ editor, Chris Elliott, addressed the row a couple of weeks later, and actually rebuked Bell for ‘unintentionally’ using the visual language of antisemitic stereotypes.

While such cartoons often have more of an immediate impact in reinforcing negative stereotypes about Jews than lengthy essays, the damage done by such toxic ideas regarding ‘Jewish control’, in any form, should be taken seriously.  The Guardian narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, in news reports and commentaries, often includes passages with the unmistakable  suggestion that Israel (and the pro-Israeli lobby) wields enormous power over ineffectual Western leaders – a theme present in a report by Harriet Sherwood and Julian Borger titled ‘Iran nuclear programme deal in danger of unravelling’, Nov. 11.  The story centered on nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) which ultimately unraveled largely due to concerns that the agreement would have eased sanctions on Iran without requiring that it cease enriching uranium.

The report by Sherwood and Borger included the following:

In a bid to contain the danger, the lead US negotiator, Wendy Sherman, flew straight from the talks in Geneva to Israel to reassure Binyamin Netanyahu’s government that the intended deal would not harm his country’s national interests.

The hastily arranged trip represented an acknowledgement of Netanyahu’s power to block a deal through his influence in the US Congress and in Europe. Egged on by the Israelis, the US Senate is poised to pass new sanctions that threaten to derail the talks before they get to their planned next round in 10 days’ time.

More immediately, Netanyahu demonstrated over the weekend that he could sway the Geneva talks from the inside through his relationship with Paris.

These passages of course strongly suggest that US congressional leaders take their marching orders from Jerusalem and that the French government’s position was not motivated by what it saw as its own national interests but, rather, as a result of the influence of the Israeli prime minister.

However, the deal was fatally flawed, according to many experts, due in part because it would have fallen short of the requirements in six resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council over the years which called on Iran to suspend ALL uranium enrichment – resolutions passed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, rendering them binding under international law.

As Adam Chandler observed in an essay published at Tablet about the superficial analysis by Sherwood and Borger:

[Their argument] smacks of that paranoid, evergreen charge that all wars and international campaigns are waged on behalf of Israel, a claim that devolves from Israel into “the Jews” as it goes through portal after conspiratorial portal.

You don’t even need to believe that antisemitism is at play to nonetheless be contemptuous of the extraordinary myopia displayed in the Guardian report.  As Walter Russell Mead observed recently about the broader intellectual dynamic which unites antisemitism with anti-Zionism:

Weak minds…are easily seduced by attractive but empty generalizations. The comment attributed to August Bebel that anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools can be extended to many other kinds of cheap and superficial errors that people make. The baffled, frustrated and the bewildered seek a grand, simplifying hypothesis that can bring some kind of ordered explanation to a confusing world.

Guardian “journalists” may fancy themselves sophisticated, erudite and worldly, but their frequent ‘Zionist root cause’ explanations betray both their ideological bias and the extraordinarily facile nature of their reasoning.

Visit CIFWatch.

Adam Levick

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