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September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Modern Orthodox’

Rabbi Asher Lopatin to Succeed Rabbi Avi Weiss at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Chicago is set to succeed Rabbi Avi Weiss next year at the helm of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the Modern Orthodox rabbinical school founded by Weiss.

Lopatin is the spiritual leader of Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, a high-profile Modern Orthodox synagogue in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago that counts Mayor Rahm Emanuel among its occasional congregants. A former Rhodes Scholar, Truman Scholar and Wexner Fellow, Lopatin was ordained by the late Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik of the Brisk yeshiva in Chicago and by Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS).

Rabbi Lopatin has been listed among Newsweek’s America’s 50 top rabbis.

“We at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School (YCT) believe that the future of Orthodoxy depends on our becoming a movement that expands outward non-dogmatically and cooperatively to encompass the needs of the larger Jewish community and the world,” the school says on its website.

That would be an apt description of Lopatin’s approach to Jewish life, say those familiar with his 18-year tenure at Anshe Sholom.

Under Lopatin’s stewardship, the synagogue has “become really cutting-edge in progressive approaches to Orthodox tradition while remaining firmly Orthodox,” Rabbi Paul Saiger, the president of Rabbi Lopatin’s shul, told JTA. “I moved to the community because he was the rabbi and he was revitalizing the congregation. He helped build a community day school, an eruv, a mikvah.”

Reached by telephone, Rabbi Weiss said that Rabbi Lopatin’s appointment wasn’t official yet, and Lopatin told JTA that an announcement would be premature, but the succession plan already has been shared with insiders at YCT, and Lopatin told his Chicago congregation about a month ago that he’d be stepping down in June of 2013.

Why Modern Orthodoxy?

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

I don’t know anything about Republican candidate for the New York State Senate, Mindy Meyer. But an article in Tablet Magazine uses her candidacy as a springboard to demonstrate one of the reasons Modern Orthodoxy has so much to offer religious Jews.

One of the criticisms I get here is that I do not focus enough on the good side of Modern Orthodoxy… that I focus too much on the ‘evils’ of the Charedi world.

First let me state that I do not in any way consider Charedim to be evil. God forbid. The vast majority of them are sincere, God fearing Jews who want nothing more than to serve God in the best way they possibly can. They are Chareid L’Dvar HaShem – as their name implies. They tremble at the word of God.

My issues are not with mainstream Charedim. They are with the bad apples among them. The ones that get all the media coverage. Unfortunately there have been far too many incidences of evil being done by members of that community over the last few years that have gotten media attention – and therefore mine.

Otherwise my posts on the Charedi world generally involve defining our differences – and occasionally questioning the decisions of some of their leaders on various issues.

But I do admit not talking enough about the positive side of Modern Orthdodxy. Or worse not enough about its negative side.

Yes there is a negative side to Modern Orthodoxy.  Immersing oneself in the general culture even where Halacha permits it has its dangers. One can easily be enticed to ‘cross that line’ between the permissible and impermissible.  And it can be a fast and slippery slope from there. Just like the isolationists in the Charedi world are vulnerable to going OTD by being unprepared for their inevitable exposure to the outside world, so too can the Modern Orthodox Jew go OTD by being over exposed to it.

But I am not going to discuss here which way is the safer way to retain one’s Yiddishkeit. For purposes of this article let us assume the risks are equal. I am going to discuss the positive side of Modern Orthodoxy. Nowhere is this illustrated better than in the above mentioned article.

Using the candidacy of Mindy Meyer as a springboard to understanding the differences between Charedim and Modern Orthodox Jews – especially where women are concerned – Tablet shows just how poorly even the most seasoned reporters really understand those differences.  I could not agree more.

The truth is that Orthodox Jews are all lumped together as having the same attitudes in life. So that for example a Chasidic Jew in Williamsburg will be treated the same way a Modern Orthodox Jew in Teaneck. They are both seen as Orthodox and their worldviews are more or less seen to be the same: decidedly anti-modern. Quoting from the blog Jezebel, Tablet demonstrates this:

“That no woman has emerged as a political candidate [in New York], despite the Orthodox community’s growing size and political sway, is largely a result of women in the community being relegated or elevated, depending on one’s perspective, to a domestic role—expected to dress modestly, live quietly, and draw little attention to themselves in the outside world. Some women won’t shake the hands of men,”… “Others refuse to speak in gender-mixed company, be photographed, or wear a color as flashy as pink.”

This is definitely the way much of the Charedi world sees the role of a Jewish woman. While some of those descriptions apply to all Jewish women (e.g. dressing modesty) the Modern Orthodox woman will fully participate along with her secular sisters in all walks of American life. And they will seek the kind of education and opportunities that will enable them to do so. Tablet then illustrates this point by citing numerous examples of highly successful Modern Orthodox women, such as best selling author Faye Kellerman and Michelle Greenberg-Kobrin, the dean of students at Columbia Law School.

The more open and actively modern attitude with respect to secular education and western culture not only enables the MO woman to participate at these levels, it encourages them to do so, if they so chose.

This is not to say that Charedi women can’t or don’t achieve great successes like these. Tablet mentions Ami Magazine’s Rechy Frankfurter who is the successful senior editor of that magazine.  And she is not the only Charedi woman who has achieved high level success in the modern world.

Charedi Intolerance of Modern Orthodox

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

http://haemtza.blogspot.co.il/2012/07/charedi-intolerance-of-modern-orthodox.html

A few years ago, Rabbi Michael Broyde wrote an analysis of the Halacha requiring married women to cover their hair. Although he in no way said that a married woman may uncover her hair he suggested that it is possible to say that there were Halachic sources that may have permitted it in certain social circumstances.

I am not going to go into the details about his arguments. His article on the subject may be read in its entirety in Tradition Magazine.  His point then was not to permit married women to uncover their hair. He clearly does not. His point was to provide a Limud Zechus for them. These are married women who are religious in all other respects and dress in Halachicly modest ways. They should therefore not be looked down upon.

One can debate the merits of his arguments. That was indeed done respectfully by Rabbi Eli Baruch Shulman in a rebuttal article in a subsequent edition of that magazine, to which Rabbi Broyde responded. The debate is unsettled.

What was troubling for me was not that there were legitimate attempts to refute his argument, but that in some cases there was accompanying condescension towards him – as was the case with an article in Dialogue Magazine (unavailable online). That too was rebutted on Gil Student’s blog, Hirhurim.

In one case a highly respected Charedi Posek and Rosh Kollel compared Rabbi Broyde’s words to those of Aharon “Choriner”, the “Posek” for the Reform Movement. (If I understand correctly Rabbi Chorin wrote a “Teshuva” permitting organ music in a Reform Temple on Shabbos.)

What all of this demonstrates is an attitude of disrespect for a Talmid Chacham – not because he did anything wrong. But because he dared to try and defend religious married women who do not cover their hair.

This attitude of intolerance is one that permeates much of the right wing. They do not only seek to raise the standard of observance among their own. They seek to delegitimize anyone else that doesn’t. This is manifested in many ways. There are for example day schools who will not accept children if their mothers do not cover their hair. Despite the fact that they are totally observant in every other way – if a child is brought up in a home is completely Shomer Shabbos; Shomer Kashrus; and observes Taharas HaMishpacha scrupulously… that’s not good enough! They do not want the taint of a Modern Orthodox woman in their parent body. And will not allow the child of such a woman into their school.

When my own children were in elementary school, our parent body consisted of many different types of religious Jews. Some of the women covered their hair and some didn’t. Some wore pants and some didn’t. Other schools were particular about these things and denied admission to children of such parents.

I clearly recall the reaction of the principal of my children’s school to that.  “If only all religious women would have the integrity and level of devotion to Yiddishkeit that the mothers  in his school did, Judaism would be in far better shape.” He said that he would measure their level of commitment against the parent body of any other school. For the record, many of those mothers have long since covered their hair. Some of their children are now right wing Roshei Yeshiva!

Which brings me to an article by Jonathan Rosenblum in Mishpacha Magazine about the very subject: Intolerance by the right for Modern Orthodox Jews.

Jonathan actually gets it. He is by any definition a Charedi Jew. But he clearly appreciates the value of Jews who do not live by Charedi standards. And he has a very clear label for those who don’t. It’s called Sinas Chinam – baseless hatred!  The wonderful story Jonathan tells about a true Aishes Chayil who unfortunately succumbed to cancer a few years ago – yet again illustrates why there should not only be tolerance but complete Achdus in the world of observant Jewry. His words follow.

Outside of Chicago, I doubt many Mishpacha readers ever heard of Miriam. But she probably had a greater influence on my younger brother Mordechai’s path to becoming a Torah observant Jew than anyone else, and through him on the entire Rosenblum family.

Obsession With Tuition Hurts Jewish Education

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

There is constant talk of a tuition crisis, of the growing number of yeshiva and day school parents – and potential parents – who say that full tuition or anything close to it is beyond their financial reach. Recently completed research I conducted for the Avi Chai Foundation of Modern Orthodox and non-Orthodox day school enrollment points to a loss of students that, while perhaps attributable to other factors, is certainly in large measure due to more parents deciding that a day school education is too costly.

There is a new Boston-area initiative that seeks to attract children from day school families in kindergarten through the fifth grade. The children would attend public school in the morning and part of the afternoon and then be enrolled in an afterschool program that presumably would be far more intensive in its Judaic studies than the typical congregational supplementary school. This is but one of a number of developments that in the aggregate may affect a significant portion of the day school world.

From a family and communal perspective, what the tuition crisis means is that there are children who will not receive a day school education, increasing the likelihood that their Jewish future will be significantly diminished. From the school’s perspective, the loss of students is translated inevitably into a loss of income, which, in turn, exacerbates the financial difficulties confronting many of our schools.

In the fervently Orthodox sectors of Jewish life, there is scant likelihood of students dropping out entirely because of high tuition. There are children who are shifted from school to school by their parents who seek to evade tuition obligations. There are schools that wrongfully turn away scholarship applicants. There are also an indeterminate number of Orthodox children, perhaps primarily from fervently Orthodox homes, who are home-schooled, with tuition being a critical but not necessarily the only factor triggering this option.

Enrollment continues to climb in yeshiva world and chassidic schools because of high fertility. In these schools, the tuition crisis is manifested in a greater number of parents seeking tuition reduction and, tellingly, in some parents not making the tuition payments they agreed to when their children were registered.

The designation of a situation as a crisis is meant to indicate that there is no ready solution around the corner, that the problem that needs to be addressed is either intractable or cannot be dealt with without painful or risky consequences. The notion of a tuition crisis is not a recent coinage; it has been talked about for more than a decade. There have been conferences and speeches and much more. For all the talk, the situation is worsening.

The financial challenges confronting our schools have intensified, in large part because expenses have risen at a time when a sour economic environment has meant a decline in contributions, as well as more parents being unemployed or under-employed. In some schools there has been a decline in income from government programs, a decline that is itself attributable to the economic downturn.

How should our schools respond to the financial pressures they face, many on a daily basis? It’s certain they need to have tuition arrangements that require parents to pay their fair share. But what is a fair share? Tuition and its collection are not scientific exercises for which easy to implement formulas are available. Sooner or later, the notion of fair tuition runs into tough realities, at least in schools that are not cold and uncaring, and do not tell parents of lesser or low income that if you cannot pay the full tariff or nearly close to it, send your children elsewhere.

What are schools to do when parents and school officials disagree about how much should be charged? Is it acceptable for the school not to accept the children? What is to be done when parents shirk their tuition responsibilities?

Tuition issues vary, often radically, from school to school. At the high end, meaning many Modern Orthodox and non-Orthodox institutions, fair tuition is another way of saying high tuition and, invariably, limited scholarship availability. A pool of money is set aside each year for scholarship assistance and applicants must compete to get a share of the pie. Low-income and even middle-income families sense there is a “do not apply” sign hung on the front door of the school building.

These are generally schools that engage in limited fundraising, except perhaps in connection with the annual dinner or for building purposes. They are not, however, entirely immune from the tuition crisis, as they are experiencing pressure from parents whose economic situation has worsened or who have concluded that the standard formula of yearly tuition increases is something they can no longer afford or won’t sacrifice other priorities for, including expensive vacations, summer camping and home improvements.

An Obscenity In Jerusalem

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

We thought the outrageous incident involving an eight-year-old child being spat on by a haredi man because he didn’t think she was modestly dressed was about as over the top as one could get. But then came the demonstration in Jerusalem Saturday night in which extremist Orthodox Jews actually marched with yellow “Jude” armbands and also play-acted several infamous scenes of Jews in the throes of the horrors of the Holocaust.

The purpose of the costumes and the posturing was to draw parallels between what the Jews experienced at the hands of the Nazis and what haredim supposedly experience at the hands of an Israeli government they say is opposed to their standards of Judaism.

The analogy is an obvious obscenity and an unspeakable affront to the memories of the victims of the Holocaust, and as such is utterly unacceptable. It reflects a juvenile perception of human events and an extraordinary lack of sensitivity and judgment. It is also an example of an unfortunate development in Orthodox Jewish life as individuals with narrow agendas arrogate to themselves the right to speak for the faith – with impunity.

When all is said and done, the demonstrators speak only for themselves. Indeed, their tactics are supported neither by the general community nor by halachic authority. Unfortunately, however, this phenomenon will continue to grow unless haredi leaders are better informed by those they look to for information and enabled to deal with the growing usurpation of their authority. This hefkeirus is plainly destructive to the interests of Klal Yisrael.

As we noted last week, it is important that the Jewish tradition of modest dress and separation of the sexes not be called into disrepute because of the excesses of some zealots. It is also important to appreciate that the backdrop to the current controversy is a long-simmering conflict in Beit Shemesh between ultra-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox residents for political control, with each side advocating its agenda.

As a community we must come down hard on the zealots. But at the same time we must not let the underlying dynamic be defined by their excesses.

From Half To Full

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

A recent article in The Jewish Week brought to light something that has been afflicting the Orthodox community for some time now: teenage texting on Shabbos. The practice is becoming increasingly prevalent, especially but in no way exclusively, among Modern Orthodox teens.

The article quoted Rabbi Steven Burg, international director of NCSY, who maintains that teenage Shabbos texters are an open secret in their schools and social circles, operating just beyond the scope of most adults.

In fact, the practice has become so widespread that it has developed its own classification – “half Shabbos,” a term designed to reaffirm a person’s basic commitment to Shabbos observance other than texting.

Certainly there is no single factor responsible for this unfortunate phenomenon.

Peer acceptance and widespread participation play a definite role, as does the general enthusiasm teens have for texting. (According to Nielsen, the average U.S. teen now sends or receives an average of 2,899 text-messages per month).

For some, texting represents but one area in which their Shabbos observance is lacking.

Sadly, far too many teens no longer even see the need to keep such activity discreet. According to Miriam Shaviv, a columnist for the London Jewish Chronicle, Orthodox teens “openly discuss whether they keep ‘half-Shabbos’ or ‘full Shabbos.’ There is apparently no shame attached to this violation.”

Naturally, the primary discussion among parents and educators regarding teen texting on Shabbos has focused on how best to respond to such unchartered technological challenges that confront 21st century Orthodoxy.

Many correctly advocate inculcating in our young people a stronger appreciation for the beauty of Shabbos and a deeper appreciation of what it really is all about.

Others have chosen to focus their thoughts on addressing the addictive nature of texting, and helping their charges live a meaningful social existence without being so heavily cell-phone dependent.

Without doubt these are important strategies, and will hopefully go a long way toward addressing this basic Shabbos texting problem confronting our youth.

But perhaps it is not just our youth who struggle with the concept of half Shabbos, even if texting on our holiest day is not a significant issue for the adult population. I believe we would all benefit from a closer examination of the term our children have embraced.

Certain colloquialisms have become incorporated within the communal lexicon despite the fact that they fail to capture the true essence of the subject at hand. “Ba’al teshuvah” is one such example, by virtue of the fact that the subjects of that designation generally were not doing “teshuvah” per se when they embraced observance.

“Half Shabbos,” I believe, is another.

We all know there is no such thing as keeping “half” of Shabbos. Shabbos observance demands complete adherence to the many laws of the day; if one deliberately violates even one aspect, he is viewed as someone who desecrates Shabbos, plain and simple.

While I recognize that shemiras Shabbos can often be the result of a process that is achieved in stages (particularly for those who are new to mitzvah observance), it is not something one can partially “keep” for an indefinite period of time.

Nor should we be using terminology that implies Shabbos observance is something that can be practiced according to personal whim or fancy, as if the areas we fail to properly fulfill are somehow non-essential or extra credit.

“Half Shabbos” is a term that is better suited to describe the emphasis we typically place on the shamor (restrictive) aspects of Shabbos at the expense of the zachor. For too many of us, Shabbos is all about the don’ts – specifically, what to avoid and how to acceptably circumvent certain halachic roadblocks in order to enjoy ourselves as much as possible.

In contrast, too little emphasis is focused on the positive aspects of Shabbos – the serenity, the beauty, the reconnection with our Maker. In our frenetic world, where realities change and information pours in by the nanosecond, it is easy to understand why so many of our children view Shabbos as a boring and lonely experience rather than an invigorating and affirming one – and why they seek each other’s virtual company to keep themselves connected and engaged.

If we are to make “half Shabbos” become a truly “full” Shabbos for all of us, we need to understand the true goals of our day of rest. We need to appreciate the purpose of the restrictions so that we can transcend our base realities and acquire an aspect of the Divine that eludes us throughout the weekly rat race.

We Should Not Be Surprised

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

If I am granted the years and strength, in three years (and during my eightieth year) I will conduct another census of Jewish day schools in the United States, following up on my previous research conducted at five-year intervals.

While of course the precise data are not yet known, much of what will be learned is already apparent. Enrollment from kindergarten through grade twelve will grow by about ten percent over the 2008-09 statistic, so that there will be about 250,000 day school students, an impressive figure when we reflect on the modest number of dayschoolers just several decades ago. There is a lot to be proud of.

Unfortunately, the overall numbers do not tell the entire story. The record is mixed. Nearly all the enrollment growth – in fact, all the growth – will be in the two haredi sectors, comprising yeshiva world and chassidic schools, and this growth will entirely be the result of high haredi fertility. Elsewhere in the day-school world, the story is one of stagnation and – what may be surprising to many – enrollment decline in many schools, including in quite a few Orthodox institutions.

Non-Orthodox schools are losing students, with the Solomon Schechters (Conservative) leading the way down. By 2013, they shall have lost at least one third of the nearly 18,000 students enrolled a decade earlier, reflecting in large measure the remarkable downward spiral of the Conservative movement. There are some Orthodox who welcome this development. I do not because I know these schools once provided many recruits for the Orthodox Union’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth.

When a Solomon Schechter school closes, often there is no substitute day school for its students. The reality is that children from even more traditional Conservative homes are increasingly being enrolled in public schools. High tuition, in addition to the atrophying of Conservatism, is taking an ever-expanding toll.

For years there was enrollment growth in Community day schools, the so-called trans-denominational institutions that invariably are light on Judaics. The trend is now being reversed, as Community schools are reporting enrollment decline and some have closed. Here, too, high tuition is part of the explanation and this has produced a spreading climate of opinion in what once may have been regarded as day school families that this form of education is not mandatory.

Although still tiny in numbers, Hebrew-language charter schools are beginning to have an impact. This is certain to expand despite the prospect that severe budgetary problems confronting nearly all of the states will restrain the willingness of public officials to authorize additional charters. The Jess Schwartz Jewish Community Day School in Phoenix, which less than a year ago merged with another Community school and now enrolls about 200 students, has just applied for charter status.

Outside of New York and New Jersey, nearly half of all U.S. day school students are in non-Orthodox schools, a statistic that may seem surprising in view of significant pockets of Orthodox enrollment in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Dallas and Atlanta. The sociological reality is that younger Orthodox families are gravitating to the New York metropolitan area.

With the limited exception of Chabad schools, themselves now encountering severe financial stress, there are few Orthodox schools with anything close to a kiruv or outreach mission or orientation. There are reasons for this, some perhaps acceptable, others not.

The day school movement which once was imbued with a spirit of kiruv has substantially shed that commitment and the results are not welcome. This development reflects the strange mindset in nearly all of Orthodox life that kiruv and chinuch are distinct obligations and activities and that it is possible to have a viable kiruv movement without a strong focus on the education of children. This attitude is sharply in contrast to what occurs in Israel where under the guidance of Torah leaders enormous energy and resources are poured into basic Torah education aimed at ensuring a meaningful religious future for children from marginal families.

There is no justification for the tragic division between kiruv and chinuch, a division that explains why for all the public relations efforts, kiruv is in the doldrums. It does not have to be this way, witness the major exception in all of North America: Dallas, where an extraordinary Torah community has emerged because of the organic relationship between outreach and basic Torah education.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/we-should-not-be-surprised/2010/08/04/

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