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Find A Solution – But Not On My Cheshbon

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Several days after the incident that caught the attention of Israelis and Jews – and non-Jews – the world over, in which an 8-year-old dati girl in Bet Shemesh was spat on and cursed at by a young chassid for not being dressed modestly (according to HIS standards), Israeli TV interviewed a number of chassidim and others in the community for their reaction. The words of one particular interviewee were extremely disturbing. This man, who looked to me to be in his early 30s and no doubt saw a pious, G-d-fearing man when he looked in the mirror, adamantly justified his peer’s rant and assault against this child by stating that ” I am a healthy male” and insisted that provocatively dressed females deserved to be spat upon and insulted until they dress in a Torah manner.

Even little girls, the newsman asked incredulously. The answer was an unequivocal yes. Had this interview taken place in North America, I feel fairly confident that this “healthy male” would have been investigated for possibly being a pedophile. What normal adult male reacts to the elbows and knees of a 3rd grader?

But on a different level, the man’s answer represents a very problematic mindset, one that is epidemic across the board – refusing to take responsibility for resolving one’s issues and expecting others to – usually at their own expense and inconvenience; on their cheshbon.

If someone is unhappy with a social, financial, or spiritual issue, he/she insists others fix it or change to accommodate the complainer’s demands. For example, if someone needs money (often because they live beyond their means) there is the expectation that those who are perceived as being “better off” such as parents, grandparents, strangers or taxpayers, should dig deeply into their pockets and pay his or her expenses. Working harder or being fiscally responsible and living on a budget is not the solution. There is a problem, and it is incumbent on others to “do something” about it.

Decades ago, there was a predator on the prowl on the streets of Jerusalem who was assaulting women. The attacks were so frequent and injurious that a member of the Knesset suggested that a law be passed that would forbid women from going out after dark. Israel’s prime minister at the time, Golda Meir, pointed out that “Men are attacking the women, not the other way around. If there is going to be a curfew, let the men be locked up, not the women.”

Likewise, if certain elements of the charedi community have issues with the way women are dressed, let them figure out a way to alleviate their obvious spiritual and mental distress in a way that does not encroach on other people’s rights. It’s their problem – they need to resolve it, instead of demanding that a huge segment of society change their lives and the way they do things just to accommodate them.

Since they might be a bit rusty in the “thinking outside the box” department. I have a couple of suggestions that I am happy to share.

I know of a very ehrlich young man, a long time learner who is genuine in his love of Torah and its precepts. Since the teumah of the world outside the kollel where he learns is diametrically opposite to the kedusha of the study hall, he decided to stop driving because being behind the wheel meant having to view what was in front of him. He could not avoid being exposed to inappropriate billboards, advertisements, and other problematic sights, especially in the hot summer months when pedestrians of both genders and of all ages were dressed in a manner that would make their great grandparents blush.

Instead of going to City Hall demanding that the municipality remove what he viewed as being offensive and toxic to impressionable minds – or insist that the city council pass a bylaw forbidding men and women to wear clothes that expose their bodies, accusing them of being anti-Semitic if they refused – this young man created his own solution. His wife, friends or neighbors drive him to where he needs to go, while his face is happily buried in a sefer. He is an example of an enterprising person who resolved an issue that was very important to him, but on his cheshbon, not someone else’s.

Having a private “chauffeur” is not an option for most people, but all is not lost. Perhaps a car pool can be created with drivers taking turns at the wheel, so that soul-polluting teiva is not a daily occurrence, rather, this toxic exposure can be cut down by a fifth or sixth, depending how many yingelach you can squeeze into the car.

Another option for this “healthy male” and like-minded fellows is to take the bus. And if there are any “uppity” females who “don’t know their place” and insist that they have the right to sit in the front, then there is a very quick and easy way for the pious to distance themselves from these femme fatales – especially the pregnant ones: The men can sit in the BACK of the bus.

My Life, Your Decisions?

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

A friend of mine recently came back from visiting her son and his family in Israel. As a bunch of her friends joined her for coffee and an update – several of them also have children who made aliyah – she shared with us her frustration at not being able to communicate with her school-age grandchildren. Since both her son and daughter-in-law grew up in English speaking countries, our puzzled expressions must have been obvious. “The children only speak and understand Ivrit,” she stated, shaking her head sadly, “and even though I can read and daven lashon kodesh, I’m not fluent in actual Hebrew.”

“Don’t their parents speak English at home?” someone asked.

No, our friend answered, explaining that her son had asked his rav after the birth of their first child whether they should speak English to her. The rav told him that only Hebrew should be spoken until their kids are older and in school. Something about English could be a “foreign” influence and might negatively impact the children’s love for Eretz Yisrael. Once the kids were entrenched in limudei kodesh, it would be OK to introduce English.

But now, with the passing of years, none of the grandchildren were interested in hearing and learning English, she lamented.

We all expressed our sympathy for her frustrating situation and went on to speak about other matters, but I was deeply disturbed by what I had heard. This idealistic couple who had made aliyah had deprived their children of a golden opportunity to effortlessly pick up a second language, simply by speaking to them. And even worse, the language was English, whose mastery is desperately sought by millions of people globally, despite its innate difficulty.

The day would perhaps come when as young adults, they would want to visit relatives or go touring, or attend school or look for work in Canada or the USA (since they are citizens through their parents) and knowledge of English would have been a priceless asset. The window of opportunity was closed since toddlers are especially adept at acquiring language, but not older children.

But what I found especially disturbing was that the decision to refrain from speaking English to their children was not the parents’ decision – but their rav’s. Rather than discuss the pros and cons of teaching their kids English between themselves, or with input from their parents and others who are in a similar situation they asked their rav, and of course, his opinion became the psak.

And this is what I find so disconcerting – what I rightly or wrongly perceive as a growing trend amongst too many people to cede decision-making on personal, not halachic or hashkafic, matters to the Rav.

In the not too distant past, heimishe people would call their rav when there were halachic issues that needed resolving, like what to do about a meat skillet that a cheese omelet was cooked in. At times, the rav also was approached to be a mediator, or an impartial participant in a dispute; or to give an eitzah to help someone make an informed decision on some important issue.

But nowadays, it seems that people are asking the rav to make the decision for them – on matters both big, small and in between.

One could almost conclude that there is a new form of co-dependence, with seemingly intelligent, capable men and women asking to have their lives micro-managed by a rav, and the rav unhesitatingly obliging them.

Getting advice or some clarity about an issue from a learned spiritual leader has been a time honored tradition in our community, but what is happening is that many individuals are abdicating their responsibility to make choices for themselves and their families.

My friends tell me of their 20- and 30-something year old single children, who when a shidduch is redd will run to their rav to ask if they should go out with that particular individual – often leaving the parents out of the loop.

I am not saying that a rav shouldn’t be asked for some input, but what is happening is that he will decide for the person. Why can’t young people, who for most part are mature, educated and bright – and highly decisive at work – formulate their own conclusion?

Whatever happened to taking responsibility for your own life? Why are more and more Yidden afraid to make the hard and even the easy decisions that can impact their day to day lives, and/or their future, preferring instead to “passing the buck” and defer to someone who though very learned, can never quite “walk in their shoes?” And why would a rav want to take on the tremendous responsibility of micro managing someone’s life? Why willingly put yourself in a position that has the potential to undermine someone’s emotional and physical well being, or a family’s shalom bayis or one’s kibbud av v’aim?

Rabbi Alexander S. Gross Hebrew Academy Launches Project

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

The RASG Hebrew Academy in Miami Beach recently launched Project Hemshech. The new project places young rabbis who primarily study in kollel to study with 12th grade students from local Jewish Day Schools. The students gain from the individualized learning in a small group with a young dynamic rabbi, and the rabbis have the opportunity to start off their careers in Jewish education.

Rabbi Josh Musicant works with Eliezer Barman and Shmuel Zidel (pointing) during a Project Hemshech study period.

The group at the Hebrew Academy began recently with three rabbis from the Miami Choshen Mishpat Kollel, headed by Rabbi Schoen and affiliated with Rabbi Yochanan Zweig and Talmudic University, and seven Hebrew Academy seniors. The students study the sections of Talmud in Hebrew Academy’s new beit midrash.

Rabbi David Wechsler, Hebrew Academy’s mashgiach ruchani, oversees Project Hemshech. Rabbi Wechsler said he hopes to “expand the program further with more senior student participation in the near future.”

The RASG Hebrew Academy is an Orthodox Jewish day school serving students from birth through grade 12. Its goal is to inspire and equip students to reach their fullest potential both academically and spiritually and instill eternal Torah values in a changing world.

For more information about Project Hemshech, contact Rabbi David Wechsler at dwechsler@rasg.org or call 305-532-6421.

Kamenitzer Rosh Hayeshiva In L.A.

Friday, November 25th, 2011

The Los Angeles Jewish community recently welcomed the Kamenitz-Yerushalayim rosh hayeshiva, HaRav Yitzchok Scheiner, for a five-day visit. Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz and his wife were the rosh hayeshiva’s hosts.

The Kamenitzer rosh hayeshiva delivering a hesped for Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt”l, at Yeshiva Gedolah of Los Angeles.

The rosh hayeshiva spent Shabbos davening with various kehilos, many of whom support his Torah efforts. The rosh hayeshiva ushered in Shabbos at the Young Israel of Hancock Park, followed by Shabbos morning davening at Shaarei Torah. His Shabbos afternoon shiur took place at Kollel Los Angeles. He then proceeded for Minchah and Shalosh Seudos at Kehillas Yaakov. During his visit, the respected Torah figure also spoke divrei chizuk at the chassidishe kollel, Kollel Yechiel Yehuda.

A large throng heard HaRav Scheiner deliver a hesped for Mirrer Yeshiva Rosh Yeshiva Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt”l, at Yeshiva Gedolah of Los Angeles. Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Matityahu, also addressed the assemblage.

The rosh hayeshiva also visited the Pico-Robertson Jewish community, and addressed the members of the Kollel Merkaz HaTorah at Beth Jacob of Beverly Hills.

During his visits to the numerous yeshivos and day schools in Los Angeles, the rosh hayeshiva wished berachah and hatzlachah to all.

Part I: The Beginning

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

This wasn’t supposed to happen, especially not to me.  I could give you all the stats: my great-grandfather learned in Radin with the Chofetz Chaim, my grandfathers learned in Slobodka and Novardik, and my father has smicha from Ner Yisroel in Baltimore.  Outside of the brief fantasy (which lasted a lot longer than I care to admit) that I would be the star player who takes the Chicago Bears to the Superbowl, I always saw myself in yeshiva.  It is what I had always planned to do, and I never really contemplated anything else.

I missed all the warning signs, too.  The fact that I really didn’t like to learn, and that that might have some impact on my plans, never crossed my mind.  After all, I was good at it, winning awards and learning competitions in day school (I definitely liked that) and shooting up through the ranks in high school to the highest shiurim.  I also failed to notice that as high school transitioned to beis medrash most of my peers really wanted to learn and didn’t play those silly “hiding from the Rebbe games.”  The truth is learning was something I did because I had to, not something I did because I wanted to or enjoyed it.

That fantasy world came crashing down on me after I seriously injured a high school boy in a football game that took place when I was supposed to be in seder (I guess I didn’t want to give up on that Chicago Bears fantasy so quickly).   Sometimes you just see things more clearly after an event like that, and I suddenly realized that I wasn’t really doing much of anything in yeshiva.  I still see that play, that tackle and the pain from his broken collarbone playing over and over in my mind.

Things were mostly a blur at that point, and even though I have a very good memory, I cannot remember the actual moment at which I decided that it was time to leave.   In all honesty, I probably thought that I’d just leave and start again in another yeshiva, somewhere else.  I also don’t remember the point at which I decided not to even apply for admission to another yeshiva, although the fact that I couldn’t give a decent accounting of what I had learned over the previous two years probably had a lot to do with it.   The football game was on a Sunday.  I was home by Tuesday afternoon with no idea what to do and what my future would hold.

I was only partially aware that for most people a quick exit from yeshiva without even an attempt to transfer someplace else was usually an indication of some serious offense.  While I had been guilty of no such thing, I didn’t feel comfortable telling people that I had never lived up to any of that potential they always thought I had in learning.

I must have been asked scores of times over the first few weeks, “Why aren’t you in yeshiva?”  It was a question I really couldn’t answer for myself, let alone anyone else.  Luckily, my response, “I lost my football scholarship,” made people laugh and walk away without pursuing the question any further.  In retrospect, I probably would have been better off trying to develop a real response to that question.  It may have given me some of the kind of guidance I really needed.

The point was I always had a vision of where I saw myself going.  Yeshiva as far as the eye could see, marriage and kollel and the likelihood that I would spend my life learning in the mornings and teaching history (my favorite high school subject) in a yeshiva’s General Studies department.

Torah World Mourns Loss of Jerusalem Rosh Yeshiva Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

The streets of Meah Shearim, normally bustling with shoppers and yeshiva students walking to and from the iconic Mirrer Yeshiva, were filled with mourners on Tuesday as tens of thousands of people came to pay their respects to Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt”l, the Mirrer Yeshiva’s rosh yeshiva, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 68 from a sudden heart attack.

In the 21 years that Rabbi Finkel served at its helm, the Mirrer Yeshiva, in the Beis Yisroel neighborhood of Jerusalem, grew to be the largest yeshiva in Israel with an enrollment of 6,000 students. While Rabbi Finkel was confined to a wheelchair and suffered from Parkinson’s disease for many years, he continued to maintain a full schedule, and just hours before his death, Rabbi Finkel traveled to Bnei Brak to pay a shiva call to the family of Rabbi Yosef Aryeh Halpern. He then returned to the Mirrer where he delivered shiurim (classes) in both English and Yiddish.

Born in Chicago in 1943, Rabbi Finkel was named after his paternal great-grandfather, the Alter of Slobodka. Even as a child his prodigious intellect convinced many that he was destined for greatness. He married his second cousin, Rochel Leah Finkel, the daughter of Rav Binyamin Beinush Finkel and granddaughter of the last rosh yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Poland, Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel.

Upon the death of his father-in-law in 1990, Rabbi Finkel succeeded him as the head of the Mirrer Yeshiva, and while the choice of a 48-year-old who already suffered from various ailments seemed questionable to some, Rabbi Finkel ultimately transformed the institution into the Torah empire it is today, with satellite branches in Beitar Ilit, the Brachfeld neighborhood of Modiin Ilit, and the Ramat Shlomo section of Jerusalem.

Despite his poor health, Rabbi Finkel, who enjoyed a reputation of being an inspiration to all who knew him, was known to travel abroad in order to personally raise much-needed funds for the yeshiva and its students. His daily schedule was filled with delivering shiurim, both in his home and at the yeshiva; counseling the many who came to seek his advice and blessings; and spending a sizable portion of his day immersed in his own personal Torah studies. Rabbi Finkel was vigilant to always daven in the yeshiva and gave a weekly shiur to thousands of students, in addition to giving frequent shiurim at the many satellite branches of the Mirrer. In his final monthly shiur given at the Brachfeld Mirrer two and a half weeks ago, he exhorted the students, “to learn and learn. It doesn’t matter if your learning is fast or slow, if it is in greater detail or lesser detail, the request that I am asking of you is to learn, not to dream.”

Stories about Rabbi Finkel have been filling the Internet, people’s homes, and the streets of Jewish communities around the world since his death. The following two illustrate his ability to find time in his busy schedule for his students:

A Mirrer student was going through a particularly rough stretch in his life, so his father called Rabbi Finkel asking him to speak to his son for a few minutes. Rabbi Finkel approached the student and asked him if he could personally learn with him every Shabbos in his house. They subsequently learned together every Shabbos for the next several months.

In another instance, Rabbi Finkel discovered that several American students in a Yiddish shiur could not follow the lesson. From then on, Rabbi Finkel, who spoke fluent English, would repeat every class in English for the American students.

As news of the unexpected passing of Rabbi Finkel spread, the entire city of Jerusalem was plunged into mourning with people crying in the streets, tearing their clothes as an expression of their grief, and trying to offer solace to one another. Prominent rabbis, including Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv and Rav Aryeh Leib Shteinman, ordered all haredi businesses closed and instructed kollel, yeshiva, and seminary students to take time off from their Torah studies to attend the funeral. Israeli news site B’chadrei Chareidim reported that two baby boys, one in Bayit Vegan and another in Bnei Brak, were named Nosson Tzvi Wednesday morning in honor of the rosh yeshiva.

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, a son-in-law and student of the legendary Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik – rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University for 45 years – is one of Modern Orthodoxy’s most prominent and respected personalities.

He graduated from Yeshiva College, later earning his semicha from YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) and his Ph.D. in English literature from Harvard University. In l971, after serving as rosh yeshiva at RIETS for several years, he immigrated to Israel, answering a call by Rabbi Yehuda Amital to join him as joint rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shevut.

He currently serves as professor of Talmud at RIETS and rosh kollel and director of RIETS’s Gruss Institute in Jerusalem. Rabbi Lichtenstein will be honored at the RIETS Annual Dinner of Tribute on November 13 at The Grand Hyatt in New York City.

Can you discuss your early years at Yeshiva University and how you eventually became rosh yeshiva at RIETS?

Rabbi Lichtenstein: I attended YU from the age of 16. I was there for four years, and then I was at Harvard for four years, but under the aegis of YU. I went with the encouragement and enablement of the Rav [Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik], personally, and of the institution generally. When I came back from Harvard in 1957 and wanted to get a position within the Yeshiva, I ended up having the desire only partially fulfilled. Though there was no full-time position as a maggid shiur available, they needed someone as an instructor of English at Stern College, and I was asked to consider that.

Secondly, I was appointed to what was to be a new part-time position as an assistant to the Rav, which meant reviewing the shiurim for bachurim, grading examinations, etc. Since the Rav was only in New York for about a day and a half or two days a week, I was also available for those who wanted to discuss an issue. This had not been my first choice but it did mean getting a foot in the door, and after consulting with the Rav and with Rav Ahron Soloveichik about taking this combination, both encouraged me to do it, which I did.

The value of having a foot in the door turned out to be manifest, when in 1961, YU decided to reopen the kollel, which had been in existence for a couple of years, staffed and manned by older kollelnikim who had come over from Europe after the war, but was then shut down after about two to three years and was not really revived. This time it was, with younger people, American talmidim, and I was put in charge of that. I continued at Stern, while running the kollel and assistantship.

In 1963, my desire to get a shiur within the beis midrash was realized. From then, until we came to Eretz Yisrael in 1971 (I left Stern, with the exception of an occasional course), I devoted myself to the shiur – a first year shiur in the beis midrash – and to running the kollel, which also required about four hours a day in the beis midrash.

Why did you decide to move to Israel and join Yeshivat Har Etzion?

The idea of moving to Eretz Yisrael and getting a position there percolated for a number of years and was put on ice when my mother-in-law, a”h, took ill with cancer in about 1963.

Some people in Eretz Yisrael thought that I would be a correct choice to assume a position as a rosh yeshiva – with that term, in Eretz Yisrael, referring to the director of the yeshiva, not simply as one of the maggidei shiur. The founders of the yeshiva in Gush Etzion contacted me and wanted me to be involved. I explained that it was not immediately feasible, but we would keep in touch.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/rabbi-aharon-lichtenstein/2011/11/02/

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