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December 20, 2014 / 28 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘leaders’

Rep. Sherman At Wallenberg Luncheon

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Jewish community leaders gathered recently in Washington to recognize the accomplishments of Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) on issues dear to the Jewish community. Sherman is known for his unwavering support for a strong U.S.-Israel strategic relationship, for sponsoring a tough Iran sanctions bill, and for cosponsoring legislation that would require the State Department to immediately move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

(L-R) Los Angeles County Commissioner Howard Winkler; Rep. Brad Sherman; and Stanley Treitel at the Wallenberg luncheon in Washington.

Sherman joined others at the Congressional Gold Medal Kickoff Luncheon for Raoul Wallenberg, the heroic Swedish diplomat and humanitarian who saved approximately 100,000 Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust. The U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously to award Wallenberg the Congressional Gold Medal in time for the 100th anniversary of his birth in August.

“By sacrificing his personal safety, and ultimately his life, to protect the lives of a generation of Jews, Raoul Wallenberg exhibited the kind of noble courage that we prize in America,” said William Daroff, the director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America. Daroff’s organization led the lobbying efforts to honor Wallenberg at this time. “On behalf of the countless Jews saved through his mission, we are grateful for the House’s action to permanently honor a global hero.”

The Making of a President and the Making of a Gadol

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

I must say that I was a little bit amused by the video featured on Aish.com. In about 3 minutes Mrs. Lori Palatnik proudly explains the difference between how Americans choose their leaders and how Orthodox Jews chose their leaders. Choosing a President in this great country of ours is a democratic process, but it is heavily influenced by money and power; ads and sloganeering; and smearing the opponent. Politics at its worst one might say. Certainly the best man available for the job may not be elected, or even running.

Contrast that with how Jewish leaders in Orthodoxy are chosen. Gedolim are chosen by rabbinic peers she said with pride. Those peers recognize that the greatest man of the generation is one whose Torah knowledge supersedes all others.

The example she gave is Rav Moshe Feinstein. He did not run for anything. He was not elected by the people. Rabbinic peers saw his responsa on Jewish Law and realized that the breadth and depth of his Torah knowledge superseded theirs. Hence he was chosen as the rabbinic leader of the generation – the Gadol HaDor.

I had to smile when I saw that. I’m sure Mrs. Palatnik is a very nice woman – sincere in her pride about how Jewish leadership is chosen. But despite the fact that in theory, the Gadol HaDor is supposedly chosen based on his level of Torah knowledge by people qualified to do so, it doesn’t always work out that way. Nor is Judaism unique in this regard. If I am not mistaken the Pope is chosen by peers qualified to do so too.

And is the process really as objective as Mrs. Palatnik indicates? Hardly. There are very often politics involved. The criteria considered for rabbinic leadership is not universal. A truly great leader whose Torah knowledge may supersede all others might never be considered for that position.

Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik is a case in point. There is almost universal agreement that his Torah knowledge was incomparable. I have been told more than once by Lakewood type Avreichim that if not for his connection with YU (or with Mizrachi; or his dissent on certain public policy issues with Rav Aharon Kotler; or the fact that he had a PhD in Philosophy- pick one!) he would have possibly become the Gadol HaDor. Again – politics!

When most Charedim think about who the Gedolim are, they think about who is on the Agudah Moetzes. That is after all where Rav Moshe Feinstein – the man she uses to illustrate her point – was chosen to belong as a Gadol. Of course R’ Moshe was a Gadol of that stature without the Agudah Moetzes. One could say that he graced the Agudah Moetzes by joining them and allowing them to call him their leader. He obviously supported the ideals and goals of Agudah. They did in fact choose him for the right reasons. But that is certainly not always the case.

How are people chosen by this group to become members? First of all they choose only Charedim. And their choices are not always based on Torah knowledge. Their choices are often based on religio-political affiliation. For example they will ask a rabbinic leader in the Yekke (German-Jewish) community to join because of they want to appeal to that demographic. The same is true for choosing a Sephardi Rav for membership. Or a Chasdic Rebbe. But are these people the greatest, most knowledgeable men of the generation?

Let us indeed look specifically at how a Chasidic Rebbe is chosen among Chasidim. The fact is they are not chosen by peers at all. It is Yichus that gets them there. They inherit their positions from their fathers or their fathers in law. They may be brilliant people, well trained for leadership by their fathers. But are they chosen by peers based on their highest level of Torah knowledge? Hardly.

It may be coincidentally the case that a Chasidic Rebbe who inherited his position is a truly brilliant and Torah knowledgeable person in his generation. That was certainly true of the Lubavitcher Rebbe who inherited his position from his father in law, the previous Rebbe. But the fact is that he was not chosen for his genius. He was chosen because of his relationship to his father in law.

There are people today who are great Torah scholars, geniuses without peer who lead generations of Orthodox Jews and yet would never be chosen as a Gadol on the Agudah Moetzes. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein is a case in point. There is little doubt in my mind about his greatness in Torah.

But he is virtually ignored, if not disparaged by his Charedi rabbinic peers. He has about as much chance of being invited onto the Agudah Moetzes as I do. The same is true about Rav Hershel Shachter. He too is one of the brightest rabbinic minds of the 21st century. And yet he too would never be chosen by his Charedi peers as the Gadol Hador – or a Gadol at any level.

The truth is that even R’ Moshe was not considered by everyone to be the Gadol HaDor. Satmar didn’t. Neither did Lubavitch. Nor did the thousands of students of Rav Solovetchik. Nor did most Israeli Charedim. They all had their own rabbinic leader whom they considered greater. I have been told that in Israel – R’ Moshe’s name was rarely heard. Certainly not in the context of Gadol HaDor.

So the bottom line is that I agree in theory that Torah knowledge is the most important factor in making one a rabbinic leader. And that Torah scholars are best equipped to recognize it and make those decisions. But in reality the best people are not necessarily the ones chosen to lead.

The factors considered by the voting public in choosing a President are not always the important ones. A President can for example be voted into office based almost entirely on his Charisma. I believe that this was very much the case with JFK, for example.

But Orthodox Judaism does not live up to the ideal Mrs. Palatnik says it does either. I’m sorry to say that politics and Yichus (in the case of Chasidic Rebbes and increasingly in the Yeshiva world) may very well be a greater factor in choosing a rabbinic leader than Torah knowledge is.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Politics And Torah — Friends Or Enemies?

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Many trees upstate were damaged by the hurricane that swept through the East Coast at the end of last summer, and I was involved in finding the safest equipment to clean up the mess. I love trees and found the chore of cutting them down very difficult, especially knowing that the stately 60 year old trees would be impossible to replace. Even though we planted new trees, I don’t know whether I will be there to enjoy these new saplings when they are 60 years old. I realize that the storm waters that destroyed the trees came at His will, and He could just as easily cause miraculous growth so that the new trees would be as stately as they ones they replaced. We know that all is in His hands, and even though we are required to put forth our efforts, the ultimate success is dependant on His will. However, there always seem to be those certain areas where we forget that the Almighty is really running the show.

The Orchos Tzaddikim (Ways of the Righteous) explains: When a man splits wood with an axe, although it is the axe that is actually splitting the wood, the power doesn’t come from the blade, rather from the man who wields it. The blade is merely the instrument of cutting. Furthermore, one whose livelihood and needs depend on somebody else should not put his trust in that person; he should only place his trust in Hashem.

Imagine there are a hundred blind men, who are walking, one behind the other. Each one has his hand on his friend’s shoulder and is being led by the man before him, until they reach the front of the line where there is one man who can see. Each man in the line is not really leading the man behind him, even though it may seem that way. In reality, the seeing man at the head of the line is the one who is really leading them all. If the seeing man would detach himself from the group, they would all stumble and fall.

The Orchos Tzadikkim concludes, “Let a man take this to heart and reflect that there is no leader but the Holy One Blessed be He, and we are all like blind men, each being assisted and aided by his neighbor, and each neighbor being powerless to assist if not for the first Supreme Leader, the Giver of all, all of Whose ways are just.”

In our daily lives, there are many people who seem to be directing our happiness, success and welfare, yet it is really Hashem alone who is orchestrating our destined level of success. The puppets that are our bosses or political leaders are really just as “blind” as we are; yet we endow them with so much power. We become frustrated with them, despite their powerlessness to dictate our financial and personal successes.

We spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing, worrying, and arguing about our leadership on a national level. Ultimately, no matter how much research, time and effort we put into casting our individual votes, we don’t pick our government leaders. We expend so much time and emotional energy on the campaign issues (or non-issues) and the election fodder, that we often forget that when all is said and done, the final false promise is made, and the last vote is counted, it is only our Father in Heaven who both counts the votes and ultimately decides who runs our country.

Our relationship with Hashem is characterized in many different ways. One of the most important ways is Hashem as our King. However, this relationship may be lacking because most of us have never experienced the awe and respect one would have for a human king. Not many decades ago, people spoke of the government and its representatives, particularly the president, with respect. In the current climate, there is no expectation of respect for our leadership in the press, media, or in the population at large. While many of our leaders may not seem to be deserving of our respect, it is however, likely that this attitude reflects an overall lack of respect for authority that is prevalent today.

Nobel Peace Prize Rewards The End of Democracy

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Many of us can, I am sure, remember where we were when we realized that the resplendence of the Nobel Prize had diminished. For some this realization can be traced to the news that Yasser Arafat had become joint recipient of the Peace Prize (an award of which he was never stripped). For others it will have been the announcement earlier this month that the award had been given to the E.U.

The thinking behind this latest award appears to be the one you can hear among the political elite of Europe and which I was recently fortunate enough to hear pronounced by a British M.P. It usually goes something like this: that without the E.U. the people of Europe would have spent the last seventy years happily massacring each other as they did throughout their past.

To believe this you have to believe a number of things. First you must believe that Europe’s past was a particular aberration and peculiar to our continent. Second, your historical knowledge must be limited to some broad ideas about the twentieth century. Third, you must ignore the 1990s. Fourth, and finally, you must believe that this unique and innate viciousness of Europeans can best be solved by abandoning democracy.

You must believe, for instance, that you go to the people for their opinions as infrequently as possible, and only then to ask for more powers. You might do this by offering placebo referenda, the catch being that if people vote against awarding more powers to the elite (as they did in Ireland, France and Holland), then the people will be made to vote again until they come up with the right answer.

Such abandonment of democratic niceties has gone on at the E.U. supranational level now for years. The miracle of awarding the Nobel Prize to the E.U. in this year of all years, though, is that this is the year in which the E.U. has managed additionally to erase the democratic process at the national level.

For more than a decade, the Nobel Peace Prize has become ever-more narrowly a political prize. How otherwise to explain the obsession with rewarding U.S. Democrat party leaders? Over the last decade alone three of them have been given the prize: Jimmy Carter in 2002, Al Gore for his slide-show presentation in 2007 and Barack Obama, for doing less, in 2009.

It is clear from these, among other awards, that the Nobel judging committee sees its role as pushing the United States in a peculiar and specific European direction. This latest award must therefore count as one of the worst-timed awards in the Nobel’s history. The distinctly non-democratic Nobel committee has chosen to reward a project which began by subverting nation-state democracy but which now appears to be quietly going about the job of ending it.

Britain, for instance, signed up for membership in a “common market.” What we have got, instead, is membership in an unaccountable super-state whose decisions and opinions now override our national laws, stripping us of sovereignty and such basic rights as deciding who should be allowed to come and live in our country. The final insult is that, presumably, there is deliberately no mechanism built into the system that allows our increasingly unnecessary national political leaders to extricate us from this situation. It is a “roach motel”: in true totalitarian fashion you can enter but you cannot leave. The Soviet dissident, author Vladimir Bukovsky, refers to the unelected, unaccountable, irremovable group as the “EUSSR.”

At the time of the award, most media focused on the unhappy visual juxtapositions that accompanied it. For at the same moment that the Nobel committee were making their announcement, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel was being greeted in Greece by protestors dressed as Nazis. It was, indeed, a powerful blend of images, nicely suggesting that peace might not be all it’s cracked up to be for the new prize winners.

But this was not the real story. As always, in an image-obsessed age it is far too easy to miss those things which are quietly going on all the time without any particularly dramatic illustrations.

It is now almost exactly a year since the E.U. parachuted in an unelected leader to run Italy. Italy’s problems, like those of Greece, are by no means straightforward, but are certainly – though nobody much likes to say this – of its own making. Like Ireland, Britain and most of the rest of Europe, Italy and Greece, for years lived far beyond their means and now face the consequences. But in last year’s appointment of Mario Monti to the head of the Italian government, the E.U. began to tread a path at the end of which is not simply a challenge to democracy but the end of it. Anybody who wants to see where the E.U. leads can see it now.

Liberal Protestants Show Their True Colors

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

We have long been dismayed by the trust some prominent Jewish groups place in the established non-evangelical Protestant Christian denominations. Aside from some occasional and perfunctory conciliatory statements on minor matters offered by the denominational leaders, the relationship has never become a true dialogue but rather an embarrassing, self-conscious cry for acceptance from insecure Jews.

This week the Jewish end of the “interreligious community” received yet another jolt from their Protestant colleagues.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that fifteen leaders of mainline U.S. Protestant churches and faith-based groups have written to Congress seeking a reevaluation of U.S. military aid to Israel. The leaders represented the Lutheran, Methodist and United Church of Christ denominations and the National Council of Churches umbrella group. They wrote:

As Christian leaders in the United States, it is our moral responsibility to question the continuation of unconditional U.S. military assistance to the government of Israel. Realizing a just and lasting peace will require this accountability, as continued U.S. military assistance to Israel – offered without conditions or accountability – will only serve to sustain the status quo and Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories….

We write to you as Christian leaders representing U.S. churches and religious organizations committed to seeking a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians…. [We have] worked alongside our Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers to help build a peaceful and resilient Palestinian civil society….

According to JTA, “The Rabbinical Assembly, the international umbrella organization of Conservative rabbis, called for a reevaluation of the interfaith partnerships between the assembly and the denominations represented in the letter.”

The Rabbinical Assembly’s response read in part:

The letter calling for…reassessment was issued without outreach to longtime partners in public advocacy within the Jewish community. It was released on the eve of Shabbat, just before a long weekend of Jewish and American holidays. And it was distributed at a time when Congress is out of session, in the midst of the general election campaign…. We find these tactics to be disrespectful of channels of communication that have been constructed over decades, and an essential declaration of separation from the endeavor of interfaith consultation on matters of deep concern to the Jewish community. Indeed, we find this breach of trust be so egregious that we wonder if it may not warrant an examination on the part of the Jewish community at large of these partnerships is that we understood ourselves to be working diligently to preserve and protect.

The American Jewish Committee, for its part, declared itself outraged. The AJC director of interreligious and intergroup relations said, “When religious liberty and safety of Christians across the Middle East are threatened by the repercussions of the Arab Spring, these Christian leaders have chosen to initiate a polemic against Israel, a country that protects religious freedom and expression for Christians, Muslims and others.”

You have to wonder what progress these misguided liberal Jewish leaders believe was made all these years by pretending that liberal churchmen were really interested in a dialogue. (Many of these same liberal leaders, mind you, denigrate and dismiss evangelical Christians for their conservative social stances, not caring in the least that the evangelicals are a mighty pro-Israel counterforce to the liberal Protestants.)

Sadly, there’s nothing new in any of this. Way back in 1967, less than a month after the end of the Six-Day War, the executive committee of the National Council of Churches released a statement lambasting Israel for the “unilateral retention of lands she has occupied since June 5.”

And in a July 7, 1967 letter to The New York Times, Dr. Henry P. Van Dusen, a former president of Union Theological Seminary, the academic centerpiece of liberal Protestantism in America, stated:

All persons who seek to view the Middle East problem with honesty and objectivity will stand aghast at Israel’s onslaught, the most violent, ruthless (and successful) aggression since Hitler’s blitzkrieg across Western Europe in the summer of 1940, aiming not at victory but at annihilation.

It’s about time the interreligionists learned their lesson.

Bibi’s Bomb Stole The Show

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

With the dramatic stroke of a red marker, the “Bibi Bomb” became an instant sensation.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood before world leaders on September 27 at the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly, he faced a colossal challenge. Despite the vocal skepticism of those who feel the situation is not as dire as he maintains, Netanyahu has been steadfast in his insistence that Iran is well on its way to stockpiling enough enriched uranium to construct a nuclear bomb.

It was under those circumstances that he addressed the UN.

Observers anticipated a passionate plea from the Israeli leader about the threat of nuclear proliferation in Iran. They expected that Netanyahu would detail exactly how close Iran is to obtaining a nuclear weapon. And, as predicted, Netanyahu, who was armed with the facts, duly stated his case.

But it was when the prime minister displayed a caricature of a bomb with a lighted fuse, and drew a bold red line on the graphic in order to impart upon his audience – and the world – the gravity of the Iranian threat, that he made his mark.

The simple-looking drawing generated an immediate response. Netanyahu was simultaneously extolled by supporters and derided by critics.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon called it “an unforgettable speech that delivered its message.”

“Everyone is talking about it,” he said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad mocked Netanyahu, calling the picture “childish and primitive” and intellectually insulting to the world leaders in attendance.

Members of the news media debated the use of the cartoon-like drawing, which drew sarcastic comparisons to the type of bomb one might expect to see used as part of the legendary feud between Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner of Looney Tunes lore.

I would suggest that the prime minister’s use of the bomb graphic was a brilliantly designed and extremely well-executed public relations plan.

The objective of a successful p.r. effort is to get your message out. You have something you wish to convey to the public and you endeavor to find the most effective way to disseminate it. The underlying goal is to leave the public with a lasting impression of what it is you have to communicate.

Netanyahu did exactly that. On a day when many world leaders addressed the UN General Assembly, it was Netanyahu’s speech that stole the show and generated the most attention in the media and around the world.

Americans woke up the morning after Netanyahu’s address to a barrage of media coverage concerning his remarks and, more particularly, the use of his red marker and the bomb illustration.

The image of “Bibi’s Bomb” was prominently featured above the fold on the front page of many major American newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. It was the topic of radio talk shows and TV news roundtables. The Twittersphere and other social media outlets were abuzz with references to Netanyahu’s speech and his bomb graphic.

The bomb cartoon may have been the subject of many jokes, but it also helped propel the debate about a nuclear Iran to the forefront and into the hearts and minds of Americans.

As far as Netanyahu is concerned, his visual aid was a resounding success because his demonstration led to an international dialogue about red lines on Iran.

“Hundreds of millions of people got my message,” he proclaimed on Israeli TV.

Netanyahu defended the use of the drawing and insisted that it enabled him to effectively communicate his message. He said the use of the bomb graphic was carefully contemplated as he sought to simplify an extremely complex issue so that a wide range of people could fully grasp his point.

Netanyahu’s inner circle deliberated for several days about the merits of using the drawing in order to facilitate an understanding of the Iran situation. In collaboration with the prime minister, they concluded that using the cartoon would help highlight the salient points Netanyahu wanted to transmit to the world.

In an environment such as the UN General Assembly, where world leaders are competing for attention, utilizing a visual aid is theoretically a clever way to stand out and capture much-coveted headlines.

Cory Booker & Shmuley Boteach: The Rabbi and the Rhodes Scholar (Video)

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Twenty years ago this Monday, corresponding to the Jewish festival of Simchat Torah, a young African-American Rhodes scholar walked into a Chabad Jewish student center in Oxford, England. He had had a date with a Jewish woman who told him she was going to be at the Sukkot festivities at Rabbi Shmuley’s and would meet him there. As it turned out, he was stood up, and as he waited sheepishly in the corner of the room not knowing what to do next, he was approached by the Rabbi’s wife who invited him to sit in ‘the hot-seat’ next to the young Chabad Rabbi. Being the most joyous night of the Jewish calendar, the young student would later join with hundreds of other students dancing with the Torahs. This accidental meeting would change both their lives.

Cory Booker had little exposure to the Jewish community prior to that evening and I, who was serving as the Rabbi to the students of Oxford University, had only sporadic exposure to the African-American community. But in the days, weeks, and months that followed we began studying together almost daily. We studied the great texts of Judaism and discussed the great speeches of African-American leaders. Cory would later serve a full term as President of our Jewish student organization, which was then the second largest student group at the University with thousands of members. Together we hosted luminaries like Mikhail Gorbachev and other world leaders who lectured on values-based leadership.

Twenty years, countless conversations, and hundreds of Friday night Shabbat dinners later, Cory today is a much-loved honorary member of the American Jewish community, regularly lecturing at Synagogues and Jewish conferences across the country. More significant, Cory has challenged the Jewish community to live up to its Biblical calling to serve as ‘a light unto the nations.’ In many of the speeches we deliver together he asks the Jewish participants if they study the weekly Parsha, if they honor the commandments, and cherish the Sabbath. What allows an African-American Christian Mayor to challenge Jewish leaders to deepen their Jewish commitment? Because those same leaders are amazed at Cory’s knowledge of Judaism and appreciation of the Jewish contribution to civilization.

I have long believed that the next wave of Jewish commitment will be inspired by non-Jews. In massive conferences like Christians United For Israel we are already seeing a great wave of Christian interest in Judaism and a desire to reconnect Jesus back to his Jewish roots. But Cory has taken this a step further, studying Judaism with a view to teaching it to Jews.

A few years ago AIPAC invited Cory and me to address a large group in Chicago. It was the week where we read the story of Genesis in Synagogue and Cory delivered a moving speech on the creation of Adam and Eve, culled from a speech by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The wife of a prominent American Jewish leader approached me after the speech and asked if I would study the Parsha of the week with her, as I do with Cory. I asked her why now. She responded, “When you hear someone so prominent in the American political landscape deriving inspiration from the Torah, and he’s not even Jewish, you become a little embarrassed that you are ignorant of your tradition and you want to discover what he has discovered.” I have heard similar sentiments expressed by other Jewish listeners on many occasions.

My friendship with Cory also sparked a lifelong closeness between me and the African-American community. I became the first-ever white morning radio host on America’s legacy black radio station, WWRL in New York City. I took the Rev. Al Sharpton to Israel to alleviate the enmity between him and the Jewish community, I was the driving force behind an effort to have 600 evacuees from Hurricane Katrina find permanent homes in Utah where they have been moved only temporarily, and I preached at the Martin Luther King chapel at Morehouse College at a conference with Coretta Scott King. And as part of my current run for Congress in New Jersey, I travelled to Rwanda to highlight the 1994 genocide and help combat efforts to deny it. The Rwandan government invited me to meet President Paul Kagame in New York last week and I hosted a reception for Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo with American Jewish leaders.

There are those who believe that the black and Jewish communities share a common history of persecution. But being among the world’s foremost victims is not the basis of our bond. The relationship between blacks and Jews is built on shared faith rather than shared oppression, common destiny rather than common history, shared values rather than shared interests, and a mutual commitment to social justice rather than a mutual alienation from the mainstream.

I thank God for a friendship that has endured for two decades and the enrichment it has brought to us and our respective communities.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/america-rabbi-shmuley-boteach/the-rabbi-and-the-rhodes-scholar/2012/10/07/

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