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May 25, 2016 / 17 Iyar, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘part’

Q & A: Sefirat HaOmer Questions (Part II)

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

Question: What if someone counted the Omer but forgot to utter the blessing – has he fulfilled his obligation? Also, why is a blessing necessary altogether? There is no blessing for the counting of the zayin nekiyim.

M. Goldman
Miami Beach, FL


Last week, we noted the rule of “ein beracha me’akevet – that the proper performance of mitzvot is not dependent on whether one recites a blessing or not. Citing Pnei Yehoshua, we noted that this rule is true even of biblical mitzvot. We also noted that although should not count the Omer until tzeit hakochavim, if one counts after shekiah, one has fulfilled one’s obligation.

* * * * *

The mitzvah to count the Omer is incumbent upon all men (women are exempt since it is a mitzvat aseh she’hazeman gerama, a time-dependent positive precept). We are commanded (Leviticus 23:15), “U’sefartem lachem mi’mochorat hashabbat miyom havi’achem et omer hatenufa, sheva shabbatot temimot tih’yena – You shall count for yourselves from the morrow after the Sabbath [i.e., the first day of Passover], from the day when you bring the omer of the wave offering; seven complete weeks shall there be.”

The Mechaber states (Orach Chayim 489:1) that everyone must count for himself, while standing, with a blessing, both the days and the weeks. The Taz adds that counting the Omer is different from counting toward the Jubilee Year, which we read about in Parshat Behar (Leviticus 25:8), “Ve’sofarta lecha sheva shabtot shanim, sheva shanim sheva pe’amim – You shall count [for yourself] seven cycles of sabbatical years, seven years seven times.” It is also different from counting the days until purification, which we read about in Parshat Metzora (ibid. 15:13), “Vechi yit’har hazav mizovo vesafar lo shiv’at yamim letohorato – When the person…ceases his discharge, he shall count seven days from his cessation.” These latter two countings are utilitarian in nature. They are a means to an end. Sefirat HaOmer, in contrast, is a mitzvah in and of itself. That’s why a berachah is required.

The Magen Avraham notes that we know that counting the Omer is an obligation incumbent upon individuals because the Torah says (Leviticus 23:15) “u’sefartem lachem,” which is similar to the language used for the commandment of taking the Four Species on Sukkot (Leviticus 23:40), “u’lekachtem lachem.”

The Talmud (Menachot 65b) discusses the two verses in Parshat Emor that concern counting the Omer: “U’sefartem lachem mi’mocorat ha Shabbat mi’yom haviachem et omer ha’tenufah sheva shabatot temimot tih’yena – You shall count for yourselves from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day when bring the omer of the waving; seven complete weeks shall there be” (Leviticus 23:15) and “Ad mi’mochorat ha’shabat ha’shevi’it tisperu chamishim yom v’hikravtem minchah chadasha laShem – Until the morrow of the seventh week shall you count fifty days, and you shall offer a new meal-offering to Hashem” (ibid. 23:16). The Gemara concludes that the first verse, which uses the phrase “seven complete weeks,” refers to years when the first day of Passover happens to fall on Shabbos, with the result that the weeks counted are seven full weeks like sheshet yemei Bereishit – the seven days of creation – each starting on a Sunday, whereas the second verse refers to other types of years and teaches us that the counting starts on the second day of Passover, no matter what day it is, and the Festival of Shavuot occurs 50 days later.

The Talmud also cites Deuteronomy 16:9 – “Shiv’a shavuot tispor lach, me’hachel chermesh bakama tachel lispor shiv’a shavuot – Seven weeks shall you count; from such time that the sickle is put to the standing crop shall you begin counting seven weeks” – and notes that this verse teaches us that the counting depends on the decision of bet din. Rashi explains that bet din determines when the holiday occurs (since it establishes when the month starts), and thus also determines when we start counting the Omer.

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

Brooklyn Yeshivas In The 1930s (Part I)

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

(Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from “History of Brooklyn Jewry” by Samuel P. Abelow, Scheba Publishing Company, Brooklyn, 1937.)


Today Brooklyn is fortunate to have a large number of yeshivas and Bais Yaakovs that span the spectrum from Modern Orthodox to haredi and chassidic. Jewish parents thus have a wide range of educational choices for their children. The situation in the 1930s was considerably different. There were, of course, fewer yeshivas, and hence parental choice was much more limited.


Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin

Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin (or Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin) was established in 1904 as Yeshiva Tiferes Bachurim. It is the oldest yeshiva in Kings County. At the suggestion of Rabbi Meir Berlin (Bar-Ilan) it was renamed in memory of his brother, Rabbi Chaim Berlin, the chief rabbi of Moscow who had moved to Jerusalem in 1906. (Rabbi Bar-Ilan lived in the United States from 1913 to 1923.)

In 1937 the yeshiva was located at 1890 Prospect Place. “Thousands of boys have gone forth from its portals to practice and to spread the teachings of the Bible, the Prophets, the Talmud, and of the leading rabbis in Israel. The history of the organization has been a struggle for funds and for public sympathy. Within the last few years, this struggle has been an intense one. Many a time did the instructors spend payless weeks, because it was not possible for the officers to collect the dues or the donations that were promised to meet the yearly budget of $60,000. [Nearly one million dollars today.]

“When the yeshiva was organized, the parents had to be coaxed and cajoled into enrolling their sons. The parents feared that the curriculum would be too severe and impossible for American children. They also feared that the secular work of the children would suffer. Time and experience proved these fears to be groundless. Besides the hundreds of graduates who have become lawyers, doctors, rabbis, and cultured gentlemen, the graduates of the yeshiva are feeding such movements as the Adas Bnai Israel and Young Israel. The English department of the yeshiva has sustained itself. The graduates distinguish themselves in the high schools and do very well in college.”

[This last paragraph says much about the attitude of parents during the first part of the twentieth century regarding the importance of yeshiva education. Many parents resisted sending their sons to a yeshiva because they felt attending yeshiva would hinder their sons’ ability to integrate into American society. They felt that sending their children to public school was the way to accomplish this. They failed to realize that without a proper Jewish education their children most likely would reject traditional Judaism.]

“The cost of maintaining the yeshiva is very large. During 1932, the total expense was $49,699, of which amount $36,510 went for instruction. The income for the year was $41,431. The institution ran at a deficit of over $8,000. This meant hardship for the instructors and the children. Nevertheless, the teachers and the staff carried on.

“The faculty consisted in 1933 of the principal, Isidore K. Zwickel, and the following teachers: Abraham Kaplan, M. Ahlich, Joseph Wahrman, Samuel Kaplan, David Kalawitz, Solomon Tanrubsky, Abraham Guslik, Ben-Zion Wienokur, Hyman Rivlin, Ben Zion Tepper, Michael Shranpulski, Eleazar Bzdondsky, and Meyer Franim.

“The success of the institution is due to a large extent to the officers who work unselfishly for the cause of Judaism. They derive no material profit from their labors which they give during their leisure moments. They give not only time but money for the development of the institution. Similar to other institutions, the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin has several very active auxiliaries: the Ladies’ Auxiliary, Parents’ Association, Women’s Welfare and Social Club, and an Alumni Association.”

Dr. Yitzchok Levine

Q & A: Sefirat HaOmer Questions (Part I)

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Question: What if someone counted the Omer but forgot to utter the blessing – has he fulfilled his obligation? Also, why is a blessing necessary altogether? There is no blessing for the counting of the zayin nekiyim.

M. Goldman
Miami Beach, FL


Answer: If a person counted the Omer without a blessing, he has fulfilled his obligation. The Gemara (Berachot 15a) notes that a cheresh – one who speaks but does not hear – may not separate terumah since he won’t hear his own blessing, and the blessing is a requirement. Nonetheless, counting the Omer is different because the berachah requirement is only rabbinical and the Rabbis did not make the fulfillment of the mitzvah dependent on it. Ein beracha me’akevet.

The Pnei Yehoshua (ad loc.) argues that even had the blessing been biblical, the mitzvah would still be considered fulfilled. Why, then, does the Gemara state that the mitzvah was fulfilled because the berachah is only rabbinic? Merely to give an additional reason. The truth is, though, that even biblically-required blessings are not essential to the mitzvot to the point that they are considered unfulfilled if one forgets to say them.

Regarding Sefirat HaOmer, the Mechaber states (Orach Chayim 489:7) that if a person forgot to count the Omer at night, he should count the following day without a blessing.

The Shulchan Aruch Harav (Orach Chayim 489:12-13) writes interestingly, “There are those authorities (see Rema ad loc.) who opine that it is permitted to count the Omer bein ha’shemashot.” Indeed, the Rema discusses what a person should do if he finds himself in a congregation counting the Omer bein ha’shemashot, and surely the Rema is not talking about a sinful congregation (atu b’reshii askinan?).

Even though the period of bein ha’shemashot is one of doubt (with it being unclear which Jewish day this period of time belongs to), we allow people to count the Omer during this time since the mitzvah is only a rabbinic one nowadays (since we are bereft of the Beit Ha’Mikdash and are unable to bring the actual Korban Ha’Omer), and we have a rule (Shabbos 34a) that we are lenient in all cases of doubt regarding rabbinic obligations. Nonetheless, the Shulchan Aruch Harav notes that some authorities argue against counting bein ha’shemashot unless one has to. Otherwise, one should wait until after tzeit ha kochavim when it is surely night.

Tosafot (Megilla 20b, sv “v’ha kayyma lan…”) actually writes that there are some stars that are even visible by day; thus, bein ha’shemashot might be an acceptable time to count the Omer.

(To be continued)

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

Egypt is Colorful and Full of Love; Meetings of Conciliation between Muslim and Jew, in Egypt: Part II

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Dr Omer Salem of Yale and AlAzhar Universities envisions a borderless world open to movement and communication between all peoples. A traditionalist Sunni Muslim, he studied Hebrew Bible at Yale and had his PhD dissertation supervised by Al-Azhar University Professors in Cairo. His thesis – acceptance of the People of the Book in Islam, a theme that is pulling in the opposite direction of the less embracing schools of thought in Islam today, schools which have been propped up of late more by politics than religious doctrine.

In this spirit, Salem invited Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Nagen, Fullbright Scholar Dr. Jospeh Ringel, and myself to meet his colleagues in Egypt. Impossible! My smart aleck retort was, “sure I will catch the next train.” But within two weeks we were on Egyptian soil and in earnest dialogue with some of the best minds of Cairo today. Here is a small glimpse of what we dream will be many more encounters.

Al Azhar University was founded by the Fatimids in the tenth century CE and is the oldest university in the world still functioning. Today it is considered the center of Islamic and Arabic scholarship. The university administers about 4000 teaching institutes and a system of schools with about two million students nation-wide.

Enter the campus, humanity’s stunning variety greets you in the beauty of all its rainbow colors – Indonesians, Africans, black, white, some in western dress, some in traditional garb. This richness accompanied us to professor Awad’s office – an enormous room which over the next two and a half hours would host our marathon discussion, with students and faculty entering and exiting, some participating, some just listening. The atmosphere was respectful and congenial throughout, albeit the discussion veering into some very sensitive subjects.

Before our arrival, we debated an essential question – how can the Muslim ummah – nation – accept Jews? Assuming that the hurdles were largely theological, we discussed the approach that Jews can take to Muhammad; a Navi, prophet, has vastly different connotations in Jewish thought than in Islamic thought. Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik’s essay, “Confrontation” presents an illustration of how essential terms cannot be imported and exported across cultures, indeed, meaning is lost in translation. In Judaism, a Navi can be false and even wicked, as in the case of Bilaam (Book of Numbers). So when Muslims ask Jews, “Do you think Muhammad was a prophet?” the connotations differ vastly. What we can say is that prophecy for the nation of Israel ended with the prophet Malachi, but that does not mean that prophecy stopped for all nations. In the spirit of the Rambam, who dwelled in Egypt as physician and Rabbi, we can appreciate that Muhammad spread monotheism globally, and that he could indeed be a prophet for the other nations of the world.

We would see however that the theological hurdle is in fact not the greatest stumbling block to reconciliation.

“Welcome, welcome!” Dr Awad beckoned, along with staff and students flanking him. The men were removing their shoes, should I? Do women remove their shoes as well? They do, but I can remain shod if I choose. Both equality of women and free choice are basic premises in Islam, the professor would make quite clear. But that is not my emphasis just yet, I have something more important for you to hear.

Professor Awad’s thesis was on the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. He emphasized that dialogue is a primary tenet of Islam. “The Qur’an commands us as Muslims to engage in dialogue to reach truth.” He stated.

“The differences between people are G-d given.” And he quoted, “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. .” Qur’an 49:13. (Arabic: لتعارفوا) Lita’arafu – to know each other. You can respect Islam and the prophet and the Qur’an, without necessarily following the sharia of Islam, and that is your right.”

He added, “There is no coercion in religion,” Qur’an 2:256

“Muslims are commanded to study the teachings of the prophet Moses. For you, learning about Muhammad is merely optional. That is an expression of tolerance inherent in Islam. The Qur’an has provided solutions for so many problems in the world, and it commanded Jews to judge according to their own Torah. This is evidence that the Qur’an is a very neutral, objective book. Jews have a right to study the Qur’an without anyone judging whether they believe in it or not. You are indeed welcome to read it with your good intention.”

Jewish Press contributor, Rebecca Abrahamson in front of Al Azhar University

Jewish Press contributor, Rebecca Abrahamson in front of Al Azhar University

I introduced myself as a Haredi woman, and added that I had traveled with the agreement of my husband and the blessing of my Rabbi. There I had braved it all the way to Egypt, overcoming personal and societal hurdles. I made that statement in order to express a living traditional value and to pave the way for more fundamentalist Muslim and Jewish women to join in social activism. When fundamentalist women act, they move large areas, they bring whole families and societies with them. And we know that we are not docile followers. I love the story from an African-American fundamentalist church in the southern United States, a woman stood up and challenged her preacher, “that’s not written in my Bible!” Fundamentalist women are in dynamic dialogue with their family and leaders. When we act, we actually move large areas of ground.

But I liked the professor’s response:

He looked at me a little sharply, “Women and men are equal. The only difference is she has a right to be provided for.” Then he ticked off her rights on his fingers, “she has freedom of work, dignity, employment, she may divorce, and she does not need her husband’s permission to travel.” I smiled inside.

Then the professor touched upon difficult subjects, and though his tone remained respectful, his passion and concern was evident. Something was irking him, it was clear.

Discovering a Stumbling Block

He wondered at the verse in the Torah that declares Canaan as cursed – where is the justice in that? All have free will, how can anyone be cursed from birth? “Certainly you are accountable for what you do.” (Qur’an 16:93) He wondered why Jews do not proselytize to other nations, is that an uncaring approach? And, with equal passion, Dr Awad questioned how the revelation at Sinai could have been in Hebrew – the Jews had just exited Egypt? This final question was expressed with as much concern as the previous two, though I felt that whatever language was spoken at the time of the Revelation at Sinai was surely less important that wondering if Judaism is discriminatory.

Rabbi Nagen responded – “you have raised the most important questions. My whole life I am searching for answers to these questions. We know that holy books sometimes have verses that seem troubling. For me, the verse that is most important is that all of humanity has one father and is in the image of God. Anything that seems to contradict this puzzles me and we struggle with it. We know that with both Torah, Gospel and Qur’an, people can quote verses to do great good or not good. Our task is to find a way to teach good from the Torah and Qur’an. The question is – what is the rule and what is the exception? What is the context? I read the Qur’an and I know that every sura begins with All-h is Rachman. If I find a verse that seems violent, I know this must be talking about a particular context and it’s not the rule. I have hundreds of students; I interpret the Torah and Talmud. I organized a prayer rally to protest the alleged arson attack in Kfar Dumas. I am part of a group of a thousand Rabbis, we put out a thirty page pamphlet that was read in synagogues that week.”

The professor could not be placated, there was something nagging at him. And then it came out:

“We as Muslims are not asked to judge others; however we cannot accept oppression by one people over another people or making mockery of one over the other.”

So that was it. Agree or disagree, this was the professor’s central concern, and it was echoed in our meetings with Dr Aly El-Samman, former advisor to Anwar Sadat, and with Professor Wagee AlShamy of Dar Oloom College in AlFayoum, a city south of Cairo.

Indeed, Dr Wagee Al-Shamy asked us to proclaim this message – “tell your people: the state of the Palestinian Arabs is of great concern to us. That is the real stumbling block to normalization. Please ease their plight; that will pave the road to better relations between our peoples.”

Agree or disagree, that was the message we heard throughout our trip. So it is not scripture or theology that divides. Negative light is shed upon Judaism when Israel is seen as oppressing its Arab residents. Looking for the cause of the injustice, our scriptures are held up as possibly blameworthy.

But is this not how we feel when presented with injustices wrought by other cultures? Do we not point to the source of an ‘Other’s’ impropriety as based in their basic tenets? As much as what I am saying may sting, and we can certainly feel the call to defend Israel’s need for self defense, or the real meaning of holy writ, we need to consider – if this is what prominent Egyptian Muslims are saying, and even asking us to proclaim this, it does mean that the situation is a lot more hopeful than if stumbling blocks to normalization were scripture and theology.

So what are we to do? Embark on a grand-scale hasbara (explanation) campaign? There are better places we can put our energy; injustices are best addressed, in my husband Ben Abrahamson’s words – by establishing joint Jewish-Islamic religious courts. They existed in Yemen, and they can exist now. This gives both Muslim and Jew a feeling of a common language. Once injustices are addressed in a framework that both sides revere, the view changes. The diamond tossed up to the light reflects various hues, constantly changing as it turns before the sun, yet the diamond remains the same. We do not have to change our very being; we just need to address concerns where all parties are heard in the language they revere the most.

“Show me the fatwa.”

Ben was once speaking to a sheikh who was criticizing Israel. Ben said simply, “show me the fatwa.” Instead of relying on media reporting, Ben challenged the sheikh to find an Islamic court which has investigated an allegation of injustice and issued a fatwa – ruling. Knowing of none, they both relaxed and fruitful discussion followed.

The best hasbara campaign to defend Israel and Judaism will never really be enough; there is not the trust and common language needed for such efforts. The gap can be bridged not via hasbara, which is likely to fall upon deaf ears, but via joint courts. Joint Jewish-Islamic courts will succeed in striving for justice, trust building, and an expanded narrative that finally will include all residents of the Holy Land. It will be a huge relief to us all.

We had been welcomed by the professors at AlAzhar in warmth and parted with love and hopes of future dialogue. Yes, things can get rocky in discussion, but if you believe that the Other is coming from an honest place, then only the late hour and weariness born from a marathon conversation brings it to a close.

And we will work for more such encounters. We must.

(Left) Rabbi Yaakov Nagen with Dr Joseph Ringel,

(Left) Rabbi Yaakov Nagen with Dr Joseph

Rebecca Abrahamson

Q & A: Joshua Marries Rahab (Redux) (Part III)

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

Question: I am a psychology professor at McGill University who is doing an MA in Jewish studies. My thesis topic is the history of interpretation of the story of Rachav Hazona. In the course of my research I was trying to understand how the Midrash derived that Rahab converted.

I am aware of the derivation in Megilla 14b but you also mentioned in a column you wrote in 2004 in The Jewish Press that some derived her conversion from the word “hecheya” (kept alive) in the text of the book of Joshua. As far as I understand, the Tosafot that you quoted deals with the legal issue of how Joshua could have married one of the forbidden nations, not the word “hecheya.” I’m wondering if you have another source for the interpretation of “hecheya” as the source for Rahab’s conversion. Thank you for your time.

Irv Binik
Montreal, QC


We noted that Targum Yonatan, Rashi, and the Radak all suggest that the words “ish zonah,” in reference to Rahab, might mean “innkeeper.” We also quoted the Talmud (Megillah 14b), where R. Nahman concludes from the juxtaposition of two sets of verses (in Joshua and II Kings) that the prophetess Hulda was descended from Joshua and Rahab. We wondered how Joshua could marry Rahab if she was a member of one of the seven Canaanite nations.

* * * * *

Another difficulty with Joshua marrying Rahab is the following passage in the Talmud (Berachot 8b): “Rava said to his children, ‘When you cut meat, do not cut it upon your hand.’ Some say because of the danger; others say because he may ruin the meal [blood from a cut may ooze on the food, which will repulse those dining (Rashi ad loc.)].” He said further, “Do not sit on the bed of an Aramean woman.” The Gemara explains: “Some say this means, ‘Do not go to bed before first reciting Keriat Shema.’” Rashi (ad loc.) states that a bed on which one did not recite Keriat Shema is likened to the bed of an Aramean woman. Another explanation given is that he meant to tell his children not to marry a proselyte.

The Gemara offers no explanation for this instruction. Some suggest that Rava was a kohen, according to a statement found in Rosh Hashana 18a and Yevamot 105a. But Tosafot (s.v. “Rabbah VeAbaye” [Rosh Hashanah 18a] and s.v. “Rava VeAbaye” [Yevamot 105a]) dismisses this theory and explains that the Gemara refers to Rabbah, who was a kohen. But if, in fact, Rava was a kohen as well, one may wonder why he would instruct his sons not to marry converts when converts are already biblically forbidden to hohanim.

Based on another passage in the Talmud (Bava Batra 110a), though, we can properly understand Rava’s instruction. He meant that one who marries a woman must investigate her brothers, as the Torah states (Exodus 6:23), “Vayikach aharon et elisheva bat aminadav achot nachshon lo le’isha – Aaron took Elisheva, the daughter of Aminadav, the sister of Nachshon, for a wife.” Since it states “the daughter of Aminadav,” isn’t it obvious that she was the sister of Nachshon? What do these extra words in this verse teach us? The Gemara explains they teach us that one who takes a wife must investigate her brothers since most children resemble the mother’s brothers (Masechet Sofrim 15:10).

(We find similar instructions to those of Rava in Pesachim 112b where the Gemara identifies the instructions as being those R. Yehuda HaNasi gave to his sons.)

In sum, we have yet another difficulty with Joshua’s marriage to Rahab.

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

What Does It Mean to Be Jewish?

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

The question “What does it mean to be Jewish?” has often been asked. I suppose you could invoke the old joke “Ask two Jews a question and you’ll get three opinions” to better comprehend how different Jews would respond to this question, so when I weigh in here, I hope readers will forgive me if my opinions don’t always accord with theirs.

But the question is legitimate and should be asked. Jewish people share a common heritage and are affected by many of the same issues today. They face a world in which their religion is part of their identity; no matter how far apart they are on the religious and political spectrums (not to mention any others), they share a common bond that unites them in terms of how they relate to each other and to the outside world.

So what does it mean to be Jewish? To me, it means the following:

● To believe in God. Divine affirmation is the foundation of Judaism. Everything else comes after.

● To observe Shabbat and the various yom tovim. What could be more meaningful, spiritual, and fulfilling – more Jewish – than practicing the religious aspects of Judaism?

● To lead an honorable life. Shouldn’t we all aspire to become tzaddikim, righteous people?

● To keep kosher. Certain things just seem to go together, like lox and bagels, gefilte fish and horseradish – and being Jewish and keeping kosher.

● To do mitzvot. There are 613 mitzvot in the Torah, including the above. Carrying out mitzvot is part of our code.

● To carry on Jewish traditions. There’s life after davening, and it’s called Jewish culture. Chanukah gifts, hamantashen, and singing niggunim on Shabbat are just a few of the wonderful customs that have evolved from the religion and its people.

● To be proud of your Jewish heritage. Wear it on your sleeve – you’re a member of a tribe that has nearly 6,000 years of history.

● To feel an immediate bond with fellow Jews. Have you ever felt like you can be anywhere in the world and if you find a fellow Jew, you feel an immediate kinship?

● To involve yourself in a community of Jews. As birds of a feather flock together, it’s only natural for Jews to be immersed in a Jewish world – having Jewish friends, engaging in Jewish activities, living in Jewish neighborhoods.

● To feel a Jewish identity. Even if you’re not as religious as you could or should be, what could possibly make you more Jewish than feeling Judaism is an indelible part of your soul, or that being Jewish is simply who you are?

● To feel a special connection to Jewish history. Who can feel the pain of Jewish persecutions, expulsions, and genocides more than a Jew? Who can feel the catastrophe of the Holocaust more deeply than a Jew?

● To take great pride in Israel. Do you get the chills when you hear “Hatikvah”? After 2,000 years of Jews living in the Diaspora as a weak, defenseless, persecuted people, what greater modern miracle could there be than the resurrection of the Jewish homeland?

● To place an emphasis on education. Jewish parents may be the original “tiger moms and dads.” Perhaps that is why some professions are disproportionately populated by Jews.

● To feel empathy for the poor, oppressed, and downtrodden. You only have to consider how much we’ve suffered as a people to understand how this got into our DNA.

● To have a Jewish funny bone. You can relate to Jewish humor because you’re laughing at yourself and other Jewish people you know – and, nu, do you think there’s any shortage of Jewish foibles?

● To think in “Jewish ways.” How do Jews think? Oy vey iz mir. We think the number 18 brings good luck, so we sometimes give gifts in denominations of 18, like $36 or $180. We try to ward off the evil eye after hearing compliments or wonderful news by saying “kenohora” or mimicking spitting by going “pooh-pooh-pooh.” Oh, and there’s the proverbial Jewish guilt, as well as our inimitable designation of “mishagas” to explain a panoply of crazy behavior with a Jewish edge. Is there such a thing as a Yiddishe kop? Suffice it to say that when you do something stupid, you’re not using it.

Harvey Rachlin

New Republic Article on Feminism from Zion Is All About the Stakes

Monday, August 5th, 2013

The new issue of The New Republic cover story (The Feminists of Zion An unlikely alliance between Orthodox and progressive women will save Israel from fundamentalism) is about us. It is about Haredim, modern Orthodox, and women. These are things we discuss regularly online and at our Shabbos tables, and in our coffee rooms. The story is remarkably accurate and balanced, displaying a very deep understanding of the issues in Israel today. I recommend reading the article immediately.

Imagine a spectrum of religious fundamentalism in the orthodox Jewish community. On one end you have extreme Haredi sects and on the other end you have completely secular Israelis. On most things and for most of time the people in the middle, let’s call them modern orthodox, skewed their allegiences toward the Haredi side. Orthodoxy is the great uniter. The assumption is that any two orthodox people will have more common interests than an orthodox and a secular Jew. This is how things were.

In essence, the article argues that while naturally aligned with their fellow orthodox Jews, women from the modern orthodox community in Israel are finding themselves aligned with secular feminist Jews in Israel. The collective pain that is felt due to the oppressiveness toward women in the extreme and not so extreme Haredi world is taking a toll. Women have been attacked physically, verbally, and psychologically for a long time and it is starting to create a negative reaction.

Several times the article mentions signs that tell women how to dress. We have become accustomed to these signs. But the women in the article argue that the signs give license to thugs who want to make a statement to women. To them, the signs mean much more than “Please be sensitive to our religious beliefs.” Part of that is because these standards are entering the public sphere and are no longer just limited to the private insular neighborhoods. But the other part of it is that the signs are somehow justifying the negativity and violence toward women.

What has happened is that women who feel hurt and abused are turning to secular and Reform Jews for salvation. Feminism is a dirty word in many orthodox communities, even in some places within the modern orthodox community. But it’s becoming a necessary evil for modern orthodox women who are not feminists at all to ask for help from feminists. It’s odd when orthodox people are funding they have more in common with secular and very liberal Jews than fellow orthodox Jews. But that is what is happening.

The article also talks about modern orthodox women who sympathize with the Women of the Wall. I wish they would be more vocal but i was heartened to hear it.

Last week I wrote about finding common ground and room for dialogue between modern orthodox and yeshivish Jews in America. (See:
Maybe Rabbi Birnbaum Has a Point: A Solution) I think what we are seeing in the article in TNR is what will happen if we can’t work together. If the people in the middle start to feel like the liberal and secular Jews are more sympathetic to their way of life, the great split that has been predicted for years, will finally happen. Modern orthodox Judaism will become an independent group.

Some might say, what’s so bad about that? Well there are plenty negative consequences to mention. But I will mention the two biggest issues. First, the Haredi institutions will fall without modern orthodox support. Some might say that’s not so bad either. I disagree. Their services are necessary, as is their trap door into engagement with society. On the other side, without a connection the Haredi community, the modern orthodox community will be hard pressed to support its own institutions for lack of qualified teachers and rabbis.

It’s not in our best interests to see a formal split. It might happen in Israel and it might happen in America. I think we should do everything we can to prevent it. The first thing we need to do, is get together and talk.

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The Feminists of Zion An unlikely alliance between Orthodox and progressive women will save Israel from fundamentalism

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/fink-or-swim/new-republic-article-on-feminism-from-zion-is-all-about-the-stakes/2013/08/05/

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