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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Kol Isha’

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.

A New Image

Friday, November 25th, 2011

Want to improve your marriage? Brush up on the parsha? Find a good recipe for kugel? Listen to a bedtime story? Hear a great song? Don’t adjust your dial; it’s all in one place – KosherTube.com

The brainchild of Rabbi David Ostriker of Toronto, Canada, KosherTube, the kosher video Internet site is now in its third year.  With over 7000 videos currently in its repertoire and over ten-million viewings (35,000 a week) on a plethora of subjects, featuring a host of celebrities within the Torah world and just everyday people, KosherTube is making waves.

Is YouTube worried about the competition? Not at all. 20% of the videos come from YouTube but they must first clear the very high standards of the KosherTube Vaad, which is made up of prominent rabbanim and roshei yeshivah who work to preserve the tznius and Jewish value content of the site.

Rabbi Ostriker spent 30 years in the film industry. Ostriker’s Productions primarily produced documentaries that have been broadcast all over the world and have garnered more than twenty international awards including a Gemini, the CFTPA’s (Canadian Film and Television Producers Association) and Chetwyn Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence.

“Film is all about exclusivity and access,” he says. “The Internet is about the opposite – distribution – you want people to steal your video. It’s a Messianic concept, [by] giving it away you don’t lose anything.”

Although this free giving style does mean that they need to fundraise in order to run the site.  As I was talking to him, Rabbi Ostriker was dealing with a problem of server overload. Their success means they need to expand which means they need money to upgrade the technology. Everyone works on a volunteer basis, including the rabbi, but keeping up with technology requires a budget.

I asked Rabbi Ostriker what his favorite video is.  He replied that it is the one of his son’s Bar Mitzvah party.  Rabbi Ostriker, 64, became religious 15 years ago. He met his wife Yelena, a former citizen of Russia, while he was taking classes.  They live in Toronto where Rabbi Ostriker received smicha.

KosherTube is a project that requires a rare combination of film expertise and knowledge of Yiddishkeit. Rabbi Ostriker compares himself to Reish Lakish, he’s given up his secular ways but is using his previous knowledge to benefit Klal Yisrael.

“He may be the greatest marbitz Torah (disseminator of Torah) of our time!” wrote Rav Eliezer Breitowitz, the rosh yeshiva of Darchei Torah in Toronto.

“The best thing about being in the film industry was that I got to travel all over the world and for a month I got to live somebody else’s life, but then I got to go home. This gave me tremendous insights. I felt very privileged,” says Rabbi Ostriker. Now he brings those insights to a whole new level.

“My goal is to broaden the understanding of what a kosher lifestyle potentially is.” Although learning is the core of the site, Rabbi Ostriker thinks it’s important to showcase the whole Jewish world, the recipes and the hockey teams, the shiurim and the music. And they have a section on Kol Isha, a portal, which you may enter if you are a woman (be sure to look up my hit video clip Dibburit LaShamayim).

Besides the Vaad, Rabbi Ostriker has another standard to meet. His teenage son, Moshe Yitzchak is the second litmus test. He puts on the site only things he would allow his own son to watch. “If your life’s work is something your child can’t look at, you have to reevaluate that,” he said. There is no ability to link to any but a few kosher sites and no advertising. It’s also not a political site. There can be videos about Israel but not about a particular political party.

Non-Jews also watch the videos on the site. Evangelical Christians like Jewish media. KosherTube is a window through which people can get a view of Jewish culture.

As one viewer wrote, “We have a computer in the kitchen and my wife listens to shiurim while she’s cooking. She says it definitely improves the quality of the taste of the food. I agree!”

Nearly 70% of the site’s content are Torah-related. There are 20-25 points of view on every parsha. Learning is more important to Jews than anything else and it’s reflected on the site. Rabbi Ostriker says, “We have brilliant rabbeim and rebbetzins. I love seeing the numbers. Ten people are sitting in a shiur, and it gets10,000 screenings.”

Rabbi Eliezer Breitowitz, Rabbi Ostriker’s Rav is one of the most popular rebbeim, his shiurim have been screened over 500,000 times.

However, Rabbi Ostriker reminds us “What distinguishes KosherTube is the other 30%. The thing that sets us apart is the mix. We try to be as open as we can – cooking, shopping, sports, recreation. One of the things we want KosherTube to do is to show the full scope of what is a frum, orthodox lifestyle. People often think that if you’re an Orthodox Jew you spend all your time in the Beis Midrash, but it’s a much broader spectrum. We want to do more of that kind of thing. Like Women’s issues.” He recommends one of the new videos: 5 Ways to Save Your Marriage, given by Rabbi David Weinberger, which focuses on respecting your wife.  “This kind of thing has tremendous importance,” he emphasizes.

“Jews on the whole are very educated. They don’t like to ask stupid questions so they research in bookstores, or on KosherTube.” He gives an analogy of someone who’s been learning in a class with another person for five years. He doesn’t know the other guy’s name and now, it’s too late to ask. “That’s how many Jews feel. They feel like there are things they should know and they’re too embarrassed to ask. So they’ll go into a bookstore and ask for a certain book. Or they’ll go online. This way, they get answers without losing face.

“We like to think of KosherTube as a community of people. A community people are welcome to join.”

Celestial Sightings

Wednesday, March 24th, 2004

With an active household and a busy lifestyle, my day, as for most people, is full of many mundane chores that need to be taken care of as part of the routine schedule.

One afternoon, after having just completed one such chore and in the rush to head out to begin the next, I called to my four-year-old son, “Bundle up in your coat! We need to pick up a few things from the grocery store!” I scribbled a quick shopping list, while my mind composed a mental to-do list.

Opening the car door for my son, I waited while he straddled the entrance to the car. He pointed to the clear blue sky and slowly observed, “Look, Ma. We can see the moon even though it is day time.”

“Yes, dear,” I nodded absentmindedly, and I motioned for him to climb in.

During the short drive to the grocery story, my son’s gaze was fixated out his window as he continued to watch the celestial display in the daytime skies. When we arrived at our destination several blocks away, my son was still transfixed with the moon.

“Look, Ma,” this time, he exclaimed in wonder. “The moon keeps on following me wherever I go!”

I chuckled as I explained to him, “No, honey. The moon seems like it is moving and following you wherever you are. Really, it is not moving along with you. It is just that it is so large, that even though it is far away, you can see it wherever you are. So, it feels like it is accompanying you everywhere.”

As I went with my son up and down the rows of the supermarket aisles, I thought about the moon and its presence.

I thought about how we sometimes get so caught up in the rush of mundane activities and chores that we may forget to allow the “big” things or the “big” picture to accompany us on our way. At times, we may feel seemingly far away from the big and important issues of life – like the purpose of why we are here and what we are meant to achieve. We get carried away with coping with the “small” mundane activities and chores of everyday existence. But, even then, we must not lose sight of the big raison d’etre. Like my son’s wise observation about the moon, we too,
need to allow it to accompany and follow us wherever we go.

So, I slowed down somewhat as I walked up and down those aisles, and listened a little more carefully to my son’s chatter. And when we exited the store’s doors, I took the extra minute, together with my son, to gaze in wonder at how the large moon in the sky was still following us wherever we went on our trek.

* * *

I’ve since used up all those groceries that I purchased at the supermarket that afternoon. But I hope that I will continue to keep in good supply, the bigger purchases that I discovered in the aisles that afternoon.



Question From A Reader:

Dear Mrs. Weisberg,

How can I explain to others about the concept of “kol isha” – that a woman’s singing may not be heard by men? We often have guests at our Shabbat table who are on the way to becoming observant, and this is a question that is raised. I need a concise and understandable approach.

Sara B.


Dear Sara,

I think it is important to explain that this issue, just like all other issues in Judaism, has to be looked at within a context.

Singularly, almost every Halacha (Jewish law) can seem outdated, severe or too extreme. Take Shabbat, for example. A modern person can understand the need to spend some time with family and rest, but why the need for all the intricate, hair-splitting Halachot of what can and cannot be done, ad infinitum?

But the point is, the Torah is providing us with a concept of “rest,” and teaches us an entire framework of how to achieve it, with hair splitting details of what is and what is not part of that definition. On its own, saying that you cannot touch a pencil or turn on a light switch on Shabbat seems tedious – but it is a system that puts us within a framework that works and that framework has worked for centuries. Not using the system risks a total loss of this elusive concept, especially when surrounded by a society that is completely ignorant of it.

Every discipline has this and works this way to some extent. A doctor will go to school for years. An athlete will train for years. Take each particular point of what he studies/trains, and you may not see its relevance or importance, but within the framework of his education, each part is essential.

Kol isha is within the framework of all the Halachot that make a division between the genders. Why can’t the genders shake hands? Why a mechitzah (shul partition)? Why tzniyut (modesty) – does an inch, one way or the other make such a difference? But the Torah is establishing parameters, a dignity, lifestyle and sensitivity that has been entirely lost, to the point that we are desensitized to the very concept of dignity, separation, and modesty.

Nowadays, people lament the promiscuity of American culture and society, the breakdown of family life, the lack of morals among our teens, but only the Torah provides a full framework and solution to it.

Maybe Torah wants us to come to appreciate how a simple handshake can be a romantic gesture. How a woman’s voice can be seductive.

Sounds extreme? It is. In a time when we are inundated with all types of immorality screaming from billboards, newspapers and all kinds of mediums, Torah is creating an entirely different atmosphere and sensitivity. “Kol Isha” is just an extension of that dignity that Torah is preserving in a woman – where not all talents and capabilities need to be on open display.


Chana Weisberg is the author of “The Crown of Creation” and “The
Feminine Soul”. She is Dean of the Institute of Jewish Studies in
Toronto, and a scholar in residence for www.askmoses.com. She is also a
columnist for www.chabad.org’s  Weekly Magazine. Weisberg lectures
regularly on issues relating to women, relationships and mysticism and
welcomes your comments or inquiries at: weisberg@sympatico.ca.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/jewess-press/celestial-sightings/2004/03/24/

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