web analytics
August 30, 2014 / 4 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Modern Orthodox’

The Jewish World Series: Home Run for Unison

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Baseball was on Rabbi Zvi Kahn’s mind as he headed from his home in Columbus, Ohio, to the nearby Jewish Community Center after Havdalah one Saturday night in May, three years ago. More accurately, a baseball tournament.

Rabbi Kahn is headmaster of Columbus Torah Academy, a Modern Orthodox day school (K-12) that was sponsoring a first-of-its-kind baseball tournament among four Jewish high schools over one long weekend in 2010. Earlier games on Thursday evening and Friday afternoon had drawn nice crowds of visiting parents and local fans, but the Motzaei Shabbat competition, starting at 10:30 pm, was the centerpiece of the tournament. Rabbi Kahn was worried that people wouldn’t show up.

He needn’t have worried.

As he drove up to the JCC, the site of the Columbus Baseball Invitational, he saw cars vying for parking spaces. “The parking lot was full,” he says.

“I had to park farther away, on a side street.”

The Saturday night crowd, the rabbi says, confirmed that the school’s decision to establish such a sports venture was a success, giving young frum athletes a chance to compete in a kosher atmosphere without Shabbat scheduling conflicts and with bleachers full of enthusiastic supporters.

KOSHER BASEBALL

The need for such a Shabbat-considerate—if not strictly shomer Shabbat—sports tournament was revealed last winter when the boys’ basketball team of Houston’s Beren Academy, a day school whose team had reached the semifinals in its league for small private and parochial schools, became the center of a national controversy. Beren nearly had to forfeit a game, and a shot at the championship, because the semifinal and final games were scheduled to be played on Shabbat. Following a firestorm of publicity, including support for the school from largely non-Christian celebrities and politicians, and sympathetic coverage by the Houston media, a Friday evening game was changed to Friday afternoon.

Beren won that semifinal; the final game was played Saturday night. The issue created a major kiddush Hashem, educating the wider public about the specifics of Sabbath observance and the sacrifices it sometimes entails.

“[The tournament] is very important to these kids and their families,” Rabbi Kahn says.

“If adults ignore what [teens] are interested in, we’re going to lose them,” says Dr. Tricia Rosenstein, a pediatrician and Torah Academy parent.

For most teens, especially in a Modern Orthodox milieu where athletics often plays a prominent role, competitive sports are a normal—and valued—part of adolescence. This is especially so in Columbus, home of the Ohio State Buckeyes, one of college football’s most successful teams, and of fans who continue their rabid interest as alumni. On Friday night, Torah Academy students can hear the sound of fans cheering at high school football games in their neighborhoods.

The students, frum but worldly, want the excitement and recognition that surround other—non-Jewish—schools’ sports programs, family members of the day school students say.

“Kids need something a little bigger than themselves to feel part of,” says Dr. Rosenstein. “Now,” she says, “they get to hear their own cheering.”

“Athletics, like academics, provides the challenges that help shape both the mind and body,” according to the day school’s sports blog (ctaathletics.blogspot.com). “Many studies show that qualities such as commitment and desire drive our students to compete and excel in the classroom, on the field and later, in their chosen professions.” Which is why the school said yes when Steve Guinan, a baseball coach and English teacher at Torah Academy, asked whether a baseball tournament among similar Modern Orthodox institutions is feasible.

A TOURNAMENT IS BORN

Word went out over the Internet and several schools expressed interest.

First at bat were Chicago’s Ida Crown Jewish Academy, Manhattan’s Ramaz School and the Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, New Jersey. The initial Columbus Baseball Invitational—renamed the Jewish World Series—was born within a few months. The 2012 tournament included Ramaz, Ida Crown, Yeshiva Atlanta, Kushner and Rabbi Alexander S. Gross High School in Miami. A tournament is scheduled for this coming spring as well.

“We thought it would be more local, limited to schools closer to Columbus,” says Coach Guinan. To his surprise, more distant schools signed up for the tournament, which takes place after end-of-year exams are over.

ACHDUT (UNISON) ON AND OFF THE FIELD

Are the Ultra Orthodox Incapable of Seeing God Fearing in National Religious Jews?

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Last Friday, Cross Currents published an essay by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein that I consider to be of seminal importance. It is illustrative of one of the biggest problems impeding the future of Judaism. It involves the way the Charedi world is educated and the reaction of at least one of their rabbinic leaders to it. It is almost as if he had an epiphany.

The article itself involves a Kiddush HaShem that was done by Akiva Finkelstein, an 18-year old Dati Leumi honors student in Israel, and in and of itself is not anything we haven’t seen before. From Cross Currents:

An honor student in a dati Leumi school, he trained for eight years, and became Israel’s welterweight champion, and representative at an international competition in Armenia. Scheduled to fight motza’ei Shabbos, a change in the rules demanded that he be weighed in on Shabbos itself. His father flew in to help argue the case for him, and convinced the powers that be that Akiva could not get on the scale, but it would be OK if the officials lifted him on to the scale. At the appointed hour, the overall boss balked at this in a monumental act of small-mindedness, and told Akiva that he would either step on the scale himself or be disqualified. The secular Israeli coach urged him to do it. Akiva refused; in a single instant, he sacrificed eight years of training.

It was indeed a tremendous sacrifice and a true Kiddush HaShem. Unfortunately, the story does not end there. Rabbi Adlerstein goes on to tell how an unnamed Torah personality contacted him about the reaction by some members of his own Charedi community. He was extremely upset by it. What upset him? Again – from Cross Currents:

These comments gave Akiva no credit for the decision, but denigrated the eight years of training. Think of all the Torah he could have learned in the time he spent outside the Bais Medrash! Akiva was a loser, and so were his parents.

If I were to say that this reaction sickened me and ask what is becoming of the Yeshiva world – I would be called a Charedi basher. That is in fact how I have reacted many times to this kind of thinking.

But it was not me reacting to it this time. That was precisely the reaction this Torah personality had. In fact if one goes on to read the rest of Rabbi Adlerstein’s description of that personality’s reaction it could have easily have been me saying it. Bottom line is that he asked Rabbi Adlerstein to write about it.

That is the silver lining of hope for change in Charedi education.

It was very revealing that what many if us have known for years about the attitude of some on the right, is apparently proven to be a fact. It is also gratifying to know that a Torah personality is now aware of it and is pained by it.

I have written extensively in the past about correcting this erroneous Hashkafa that Charedi students have somehow incorporated into their thinking. At least there are now Charedi leaders that see this too. And saying so. At least anonymously. But the fact that this leader refuses to both be identified or personally address the problem in his own words and instead asks that a surrogate do it for him is part of the problem too.

I can attempt a guess at who it might have been. I know two members of the Agudah Moetzes personally and one by reputation and all three could have had this reaction. But it could have been anyone – including those who are not on the Agudah Moetzes.

I’m glad that there are Charedi leaders on the same page with me on this. But the fact that they refuse to make their views public and put the power and prestige of their own names behind it is one reason the problem will no doubt be perpetuated. This silver lining therefore contains a cloud.

What will it take to make this Charedi Rabbinic leader come out of the closet on this? I would be willing to bet that he is not the only one among his peers that feels that way. Being pained is not enough. Even making it known in an anonymous way is not enough. If the pendulum is to swing back sooner rather than later on this it’s going to take a lot more than expressing pain anonymously.

I don’t know why he refused to be identified. My hope is that he reads my comments or others like it and reconsiders. It is only then that a community that views the concept of Daas Torah as embodied by their Gedolim as defacto infallible that things have any chance of changing.

A word about criticizing Charedi rabbinic leaders.

There are some people that will see this post as a jumping off point for bashing members of the Agudah Moetzes and other Charedi rabbinic leaders. That would be terribly wrong in my view. I know there is a lot of anger out there about the reactions of the right about issues affecting the Jewish people. Good and well-intentioned people are perplexed by it.

But just as there are reasons that good and sincere people are upset, does not make those they are upset at bad people, God forbid. Charedi rabbinic leaders like those on the Agudah Moetzes are sincere too. They too have integrity. I firmly believe that they are as truthful and devout as their reputations indicate. They firmly believe that everything they do and say in the public arena is in the best interest of the Jewish people. And they have a lot more Torah knowledge that most of us.

That they can and sometimes do make mistakes is because they are human. It is also true that differing Hashkafos will sometimes lead to different interpretations of what is seen as a mistake. It is therefore entirely wrong to denigrate them in any way. What we may do is respectfully disagree with them. Which is a standard I try and maintain when I do it. I ask that if people comment on this – that they do the same.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Unholy Behavior

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

The enmity I have observed between groups here in the holy land has been a source of great disappointment to me. Not that I didn’t know it exists. But I have encountered numerous instances of it I and did not realize the extent of it.

Some examples:

A young 17 year old Charedi girl I know who takes public transportation to her seminary in Jerusalem told me that she constantly gets unfriendly stares from secular Jews all the time. But there was one situation she described that really disgusted me. Over the summer she was a lifeguard instructor for other Charedi girls in her community. The organization she worked for rented a pool from a woman in a Dati Leumi (DL) neighborhood near her home.

One fine day that woman came out of her house and told her she was no longer going to continue renting her pool to them. Why? Because she was embarrassed by having so many Charedi girls hanging around her pool!

Just this morning I spoke to a young American woman who made Aliyah over 20 years ago and mentioned that very few of her fellow high school graduates made Aliyah. She mentioned a few names of those who did, and in the same breath she said that two of them became Charedi so they didn’t really count.

And then there is the Charedi fellow who I hear constantly putting down the DL community. Why? Because of the very thing I just described. And because he constantly hears them denigrating his lifestyle of learning Torah L’Shma full time. The anger I heard in his voice against DLs was palpable. And frightening!

These observations were made here in Ramat Bet Shemesh A. But this is not a local issue.

One need only recall the incident last year at that DL elementary school that borders Ramat Bet Shemesh B (RBS B). The taunting by Charedi extremists of 8 year old Na’ama Margolis is enough to make any normal person angry… and (right or wrong) hateful of all Charedim by extension.

It is hard to separate the extremists from the decent – even hard core Charedim like those in Ramat Bet Shemesh B when the protests and disavowals by the rest of the community and their leadership are as tepid as they have thus far been. Which – as I have mentioned in the past – tells me that they are secretly not all that unhappy with those extremists. They do after all share their goals if not their methods.

So of course there is DL enmity towards Charedim which understandably extends to even the moderate ones. Meanwhile the secular Jews see media reports of this kind of extremist garbage which serves only to increase their enmity towards Charedim.

It thus becomes a vicious cycle. Charedim, even the moderate ones do not appreciate their values being attacked. On the other hand DLs and secular Jews do not appreciate what they see as Charedi values increasingly being forced upon them.

There are two stories in the media that illustrate this unfortunate attitude quite clearly.

One story was written by my cousin, Elana Maryles Sztokman. She describes a beautiful park near her home that Charedim seem to take over during the holidays of Pesach and Sukkos. Although it bothers her that so many Charedim come to that park and monopolize it for themselves she also appreciates living in a country whose freedoms allow anyone to avail themselves of the best the state of Israel has to offer to the public.

What she does rightly object to, however, is that they do not only bring their bodies to the park, they bring their values and try and impose them on others. And they get away with it. That is wrong and of course it exacerbates the already existing enmity between the Charedim on the one hand and DLs and secular Jews on the other.

And then there is the following incident. Because Meah Shearim streets are so narrow residents have lately insisted on having separate sides of the the street for men and women during the busy holiday season.

This does not sit well with the secular public. Those sidewalks are public property and no one has a right to segregate different sides of the streets for gender separation purposes. So a group of secular Jews decided to challenge them – calling the police and bringing the media – and walking into that neighborhood on the ‘wrong’ sides of the street. The next thing you know rocks were flying and people were hurt.

The Way We Were

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

I though I might take a break from my regular fare here and talk a bit about my illustrious family. Many people know my New York cousins. Not so many know me. At least not outside my blog.

I found this picture not long ago in a box of pictures I have in my bedroom closet. It was a small black and white print which has been restored and enlarged. It is currently hanging in my den.

The two people in the photo were always referred to by my parents as “the uncle” and “the tanta” (Yiddish for aunt). Binyamin (Binny Mendel) Maryles was my father’s uncle – his mother’s brother. The tanta was his wife, Chaya. She was a Baumel and the sister of Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm’s grandmother.

These two figures had tremendous impact on my life. They were the one’s that sponsored my parents’ immigration to the US after the Holocaust. That was in 1946, the year of my birth. These two people and their children made it happen. The uncle and the Tanta were also the patriarchs of the much bigger New York branch of the Maryles family.

Their four children, Simon (Symie), Toby, David (Dave), and Joe (Yoshe) are patriarchs and a matriarchs in their own right. Two of them have passed away. Simon who joined the Canadian army during WWII so that he could fight Hitler before the US got involved – died a few years ago. David died very tragically from leukemia back in the 50s.

David is featured prominently in the ArtScroll biography of Mike Tress. Mike, Dave and a little known Askan by the name of Moshe Sherer were very active in Hatzalah during and after the Holocaust. They were also for all practical purposes the founding fathers of Agudath Israel in America. When I had an occasion to meet with Rabbi Sherer and he heard my last name, he immediately asked me if I was related to David.

David’s children have made their mark too, as did Yoshe’s children, Toby’s children and Simon’s children . Some of them were very active in Jewish education. Ironically David’s children all became active in modern Orthodox and religious Zionist organizations. His grandchildren attended MO schools. His great grandson and namesake, Binny -a Musmach of YU, is the rabbi of a Young Israel and is involved in he hierarchy of the Young Israel movement.

The uncle’s grandchildren run the entire gamut of Judaism. From Lakewood Charedi to Yeshiva of Flatbush modern Orthodox… to secular. One of his great grand-daughters is a Yoetzet. Another is an Orthodox Jewish feminist who was recently tapped to head JOFA.

While I have my differences with some of them on both ends of the religious spectrum, I could not be prouder than to be a bearer of the name.. and a member of the clan.

My father was not a Maryles. He was a Shapiro. My New York cousins – jokingly – do not hesitate to remind the Chicago branch of the family of that all the time. My father changed it to his mother’s maiden name –Maryles – during the Holocaust. That is a story in and of itself, but not for now. I was however born a Maryles.

What few people know is that the name Maryles has some very significant Chasdishe Yichus attached to it. The uncle was the fifth generation grandson of a Chasidic Rebbe by the name of Rav Shimon Elbaum – the Yaroslover Rebbe. He was a Talmid Muvak of the Chozeh M’Lublin. He changed his name from Elbaum to Maryles – which is a Hebrew acronym “Mei R. Yisroel Leib’s meaning “From Rav Yisroel Leib”. That was his father’s name.

Yisroel Leib was a Misnagid – a strong opponent of Chasidus. He so opposed his son’s “conversion” to Chasdidus that he said on his death bed that he should not say Kaddish for him if he included “VeYatzmach Purkanei V’Karev Meshichei”. That is the added sentence of Nusach Sephard that Chasidim use. I guess that R’ Shimon changed his last name because he wanted to pay tribute to his father in some way to sort of make amends for his break from tradition by becoming a Chasid.

Outreach, Regrets and the Wrong Man for the Job

Friday, September 28th, 2012

In a recent issue of Mishpacha Magazine the important issue of Baal Teshuva (BT) regret was tackled. The Baal Teshuva phenomenon is a subject that is dear to my heart. Organizations like Aish HaTorah (pictured) have been successfully reaching out to young unaffiliated Jews for decades now.

Although I haven’t discussed it in quite some time, those who know my views – know that that my feelings toward the Baal Teshuva (and equally to the sincere convert) is one of immeasurable respect.

To put my views in a nutshell, the idea of coming to observant Judaism on one’s own initiative is something those of us who were born into it (FFBs), cannot possibly achieve. We did not search for the truth to then find it in Judaism. Judaism was handed to us on a platter. Most of us have known nothing else.

Even though we can all achieve great depths of understanding – it is an order of magnitude greater when one does this from scratch. So I stand in awe of such people and echo what the Talmud says in Brachos (34b):

B’Makom She’Baalei Teshuvah Omdim, Ein tzaddik Gamur Yachol Laamod – In the place where the Baal Teshuva stands, even the most righteous among us cannot stand.

I realize that not every Baal Teshuva starts out from the vantage point of simply seeking truth. Some simply find comfort in observant communities. Or appreciate the structure an observant lifestyle gives them. Or the like the values Judaism represents. Sometimes it is about rebelling against a secular past or a dysfunctional family.

In these cases there may be no real dwelling on the great truths of the Torah. But ultimately belief in these truths does play a significant part.

The problem discussed in the Mishpacha article sometimes Baalei Teshuva get “buyer’s remorse.” There could be several reasons for this. For example if the motivation to become observant is too shallow then becoming observant may be only temporary. Sometimes it is because of disillusionment with the negative behavior they see among some of our FFB Orthodox brethren. There are probably a lot of reasons.

However, there does seem to a consensus among those involved in outreach people that the blame in many of these cases may lie in the fact that Baalei Teshuva are often not accepted into the larger Orthodox communities. Rejection can be a big turn off!

I don’t believe this is a Charedi versus Modern Orthodox dichotomy. I think the problem exists in both worlds. No matter how hard they try, some communities just don’t do a good job of welcoming the BT into their lives. That leaves them out in the cold and on their own.

Why is that the case? I’m not entirely sure but I have heard it said for example that a Baal Teshuva or a convert brings a lot of secular baggage with them. Baggage that an FFB community does not want to deal with. For me that is a nonsense and a non issue. Most BTs are sincere and are willing to give up the Issurim they were involved with. Like going to McDonald’s for a cheeseburger. What they may not be willing to give up is everything from their past lives. Nor should they.

For example for those who reject secular culture in their lives in any form – it might be a problem for them if the Baal Teshuva likes listening to popular music. But for me, that is a plus. It shows a normal and healthy approach to life.

A Baal Teshuva need not reject everything from their past. As long as there are no Halachic objections popular culture should not be any more of a problem for the Baal Teshuva than it is for me. I recall a Limudei Kodesh principal of a Chasidic day school – with a long beard and who wore a Kapote daily mentioning that when he took long trips by car he listened to Beatles tapes!

Many of the families whose children were in his school would have been shocked by that had they known. The point is that this Mechanech knew there was no problem with secular culture per se. Only that part of which is not permissible by Halacha. But he never communicated that to his students.

The Emes Ve-Emunah People

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Frankly, I did not expect anywhere near the discussion that ensued here yesterday about my poll. Even though I asked for input as to why people responded as they did, I never expected a response like this.

The poll is now closed. There were are 352 people who responded. Based on my daily average of about 1000 unique visitors (not factoring in Shabbos and Yom Tov) that is about 1/3 of my readership. (Actually, it’s probably less because there are many people who visit this blog regularly but not daily – so they may have missed this poll.) But for purposes of analysis let us say that out of the one thousand people who visit my blog, about a 1/3 participated.

One of the biggest criticisms from some who responded was that my categories were inadequate for a variety of reasons. To an extent I concede the point. It is absolutely true that these categories are too broad. It was also pointed out that I did not list enough of them. Those I listed didn’t fit their definition of themselves.…or they straddle one or more of them. True again.

Some people said that these categories are no longer applicable and that entirely new categories should have been designed. Very possibly the case.

Others said they hate labels. I completely understand that. The argument has been made that labels can have a divisive effect. Without them we would all be in the same boat and get along much better. Not sure I entirely agree with that one. But let’s move on.

The biggest flaw in this poll is that I did not define each category well enough – or not at all. One poster referenced an Avi Chai segmentation as described by Professor Marvin Schick. It had an entirely different meaning for the term Modern Orthodox than I give it. Professor Schick defines it the way I define Left-Wing Modern Orthodox. Although he defined Centrist Orthodoxy in the same way I did- to me Centrism is really a part of Modern Orthodoxy too – the right wing of it.

There are also clearly identifiable groups – like Moderate Chasdim or Lubavitch – that did not have a category. In my defense, I meant to include the former into the category of Moderate Charedim and the latter into Charedi-Chasidic. But that may not fit them exactly either. In any case I didn’t specify any of that so it’s my fault.

Yet another difficulty here is the very unscientific nature of a poll like this. There are many things that can affect the results here so that in the end the numbers do not reflect the reality, thus skewing the numbers unfairly in favor of one demographic. Besides – even the most carefully designed polls have a margin of error. 352 people responding means that 648 people did not. Who knows what they really think?

So if one takes all of these criticisms in the aggregate, one has to wonder if there is any validity to this poll all!

That said, my gut feeling (and take that for whatever its worth) is that there probably is a degree of validity to these numbers. I believe that most people responded honestly and that it probably does reflect the proportions of each demographic I listed. Before I report those numbers, I am going to address some of the concerns expressed in the comments.

First – why the great big response (212 as of this writing)? I think the content of those comments themselves speak to that. They are in part an explanation for the success of this blog. People care passionately about their beliefs – or lack of them. Belief is one of the topics I explore here (although perhaps not often enough).

Given the opportunity to talk about them as this post did, enables people to actually put their beliefs down on paper (virtual paper at least) and organize their thoughts; to compare and contrast their own beliefs with those of others. It clarifies and refines those beliefs. This is the back and forth I noticed in some of the comment trails.

While labels can have a divisive effect, they also have a defining effect. By examining your beliefs against those of others it helps your understanding of who and what you are. I believe it enables one’s belief system to grow and mature. Even if one ends up finding that “none of the above” fits best.

As for the poll itself, I agree that thinking people are hard to peg. Thinking people tend to define who they are not by picking a pre-existing category, but by studying various ideas; accepting some and rejecting others; and then arriving at who they are. This usually means that they do not fit neatly into any one category. As more than one commenter said, they see themselves in X to a certain degree and in Y in another.Some people said that they grew up one way and still feel comfortable in that environment but that hashkafically find themselves in another category. In short, the most thoughtful people did not find an exact match. Some chose not to respond at all because of that. Others responded by picking the one closest to their beliefs but not really reflective of their views.

I am somewhat of an enigma myself in that respect. While I define myself ideologically as a Centrist (RWMO) I find that I am more comfortable socially in a moderate Charedi setting. In fact the community in which I live and the people I Daven with on Shabbos are mostly moderate Charedim. I should add (as one commenters said about himself) that in some areas I tend to be a bit more to the left and in others I tend to be bit more to the right of my Centrist colleagues.

Now to the numbers. 352 people responded. Here is the breakdown:

Charedi Chasidic – 21 (6%)
Charedi Yeshivish – 15 (4%)
Charedi moderate – 59 (16%)
MO Centrist – 132 (37%)
MO Left Wing – 36 (10%)
Orthoprax – 58 (16%)
Non Orthodox – 24 (6%)
Not Jewish – 7 (2%)

It seems like those who tend to fit into the Centrist camp comprise the largest percentage of my readership by more than double of any other segment. That should not be a surprise. We are all kindred spirits seeing the world in the same way and seeking the same goals – for the most part.

The next largest group is Moderate Charedim. Again no surprise, they too agree with many of my views. That is good to know. As I always say, these two groups are the wave of the future and have an almost identical lifestyle. I believe that they comprise the largest segment of Orthodox Jewry.

What surprised me is the number of Orthoprax that read this blog. The same percentage as Moderate Charedim at 16%. Not sure what to make of that. I hope it means that I am trusted to treat everyone fairly.

I am happy that Orthoprax Jews find value here. Their 16% translates to 160 Orthoprax Jews reading my blog on average every day. I am grateful that they respect the views expressed here enough to stick around and read the posts and – for at least some – the comments too.

10% of my readership is LWMO. Even though the issues that divide us are pretty “hotbutton” – our differences are far smaller than what we share as observant Jews. I think that in most cases they respect my views because I respect theirs.

I am also happy that non-Orthodox Jews read this blog. Especially since I am very critical of Heterodox movements. But they seem to forgive me and understand where I am coming from. At least I hope that’s the case. I honor them for that.

I also fully respect non-Jews that come here. At 2% that isn’t much. It means that about 20 non Jews read this blog on average daily. I welcome them and hope that I do my religion justice in their eyes and express our beliefs well.

Not too surprising at all is the number of Charedim and Chasidim who do not consider themselves moderate. A combined percentage of 10% of my readership is Charedi. That means about 100 Charedim on the average every day. Not too bad if you consider that so many of my posts are critical of their community or their leaders

I welcome them too… especially those among them who respond in the comments. The only thing I don’t welcome is the disparagement and ridicule of a few of them that occasionally accompanies a comment.

This pretty much sums up my analysis of the polling results- given space and time considerations. Of course there is a lot more to say, but I’ve already exceeded my usual post length. So I now turn it over to readers to make their own analysis – and if so inclined to post their views in the comment section.

Visit the Emes Ve-Emunah blog.

The Winds of Mysticism

Friday, August 31st, 2012

As I was browsing through some of the news media, blogs, and other social network media that I frequent (as source material from my blog), I came across a number of articles that seemed to have a common theme. There seems to be an increase in the number of ads for mysterious Segulos as well as announcements about getting Brachos from rabbis. So too are there all kinds of spiritual messages being ‘seen’ in various events of the day – like blaming a tragedy on a defect in Klal Yisroel that needs to be ‘repaired.’

While there may be sources for all of these things, it seems like there is much greater focus on them than ever. The message is that no matter how much we try and fulfill the word of God, it isn’t enough. That we must seek some sort of ‘magic’ bullet to grant our heavenly requests, whether for Parnassa or the health of a loved one who has fallen ill, or praying for fertility… what have you.There is an increasing number of cryptic avenues of this type being touted for successful resolution of one’s needs.

This used to be more the province of Sephardim and Chasidim. But lately it has affected the non Chasidic Ashkenazic Yeshiva world as well.

One e-mail I received contained a picture of a poster hung in a Shul with the announcement that Rav Shach’s grandson, R’ Yissochar Bergman, is collecting “Kvitlech”(written prayer requests – usually accompanied by a donation) for Rav Chaim Kanievsky. This used to be only a Chasidic custom. But now it is ‘catching on’ in the Yeshiva world. You can’t get more Yeshivish than Rav Shach.

There is also the custom of going to Uman on Rosh HaShana. This used to be reserved for Breslover Chasdidm since their Rebbe is buried there. Now there are hundreds of non Chasidim going there too. That has in fact been sharply criticized in the past. It is one thing for a Breslover Chasid to do that – although I question even that. It is another thing for others to do it. The idea of leaving your family behind and going to Uman for Rosh HaShana is perverse to my way of thinking. But now a venerated sage, R’ Aharon Leib Steinman seems to be giving his blessing to it. As pointed out in a post on Rafi’s blog:

This year Rav Shteinman was asked his opinion on the matter. His answer was, reportedly, along with a backhanded compliment, “What’s so bad about them going to Uman? It wont do any harm. Just the opposite – with such a large crowd, there will definitely be a minyan of people davening properly…”

In another post in that same blog is the following:

According to Bechadrei, Rav Birnzweig, a rav in the Mirrer Yeshiva, claimed during his mussar shiur, that Rav Elyashiv was murdered. He said:

Recently we have heard of gedolei yisroel who have passed from this world, everybody must arouse themselves [to teshuva]. Rav Elyashiv and the Admor of Shomrei Emunim were murdered due to the yeshiva bochurim and kollel avreichim who use smartphones.

Right! Rav Eyashiv’s “untimlely” death at age 102 was actually murder due to smartphone use. And who is making this wild speculation? A Rosh Yeshiva in the Mir!

These people are not fringe people. These are respected, serious, mainstream Yeshiva world people. And they are beginning to sound like charlatans and snake oil salesman!

Is this the direction the Charedi world is going in? Is this the unity we should be looking for? A melding of the Chasidic and Yeshiva world that encompasses the entirety of all Asheknaz Charedim? Is the focus becoming mysticsm over rationalism? I know that there is more of a focus on mysticism among Sephardim. But Ashekanzim in the Yeshiva world have never focused on that. Until now.

I realize that not all Charedim buy in to this stuff. Most moderate Charedim do not. But there are so many indicators of this kind of thinking permeating the Charedi world it that I am beginning to wonder if it is the wave of the future? Will it become more mainstream? Is Judaism becoming a religion of mystical Segulos, and Rebbeshe Brachos, blaming every tragedy on the perceived communal ill of the day? Or will we instead be of a religion of merit based on rationality, personal behavior, adherence to Halacha, and direct prayer to God? It would seem that the former is becoming more of a possibility based on these reports.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/the-winds-of-mysticism/2012/08/31/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: