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September 3, 2014 / 8 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Talmud Torah’

School Starts in Israel

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Millions of adults in Israel are unusually happy today as 2,129,562 children return to school for the start of the school year.

1,700,535 children will be going to grade school, and another 429,177 will be going to nurseries and kindergartens.

A whopping 148,774 children will be starting first grade.

The breakdown of students in each of the major, recognized school system streams is as follows:

Public School:   678,161

Religous Public School:  217,137

Private School:  248,364

Talmud Torah:  50,470

Non-Jewish Schools:  437,503

There are 4,561 schools with  62,962 classrooms, and approximately 15,000 kindergartens/nursery schools in Israel.

For many Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox), the school year started 3 weeks ago, on Rosh Chodesh Elul. It’s estimated that Haredi students make up approximately 30% of the students in Israel.

More statistics can be found on the Ministry of Education’s website.

As one parent told this reporter this morning, “We’re meeting in the park at 10 to throw a party”.

I’ll be there.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter 12: Hodel

Friday, September 7th, 2012

It was impossible to tell which thought gave Tevye more happiness. The thought of stepping foot in Jerusalem, or the thought of seeing his Hodel again. True, Hodel was his own flesh and blood. She was like a little piece of his Golda. Hadn’t he listened to his wife’s painful groans through eight excruciating hours of childbirth? Hadn’t he cradled the girl in his arms when nightmares disturbed her sleep? With pride and with great fatherly joy, he had watched her grow from a tot into a woman. And how empty and heartbroken he had felt when she rode off on a train to follow her Perchik into exile. But Jerusalem – Jerusalem was more than a child. Jerusalem was more than a man’s family. Jerusalem was a dream. It was more than a dream. Who ever thought that the dream of Jerusalem could ever come true?

How could it be, you ask? How could it be that a city which Tevye had never seen could occupy such a powerful place in his heart? For a Jew, the answer was simple. For two-thousand years, three times a day, Jews prayed to return to their city. After every meal, after every piece of bread, and every piece of cake, they prayed for Jerusalem’s welfare. No matter where a Jew lived, the city of Jerusalem was to be the center of his life. It was the place where the Pascal lamb was to be eaten on the Passover holiday, and where first fruits were brought on Shavuos. There, by the pool of Shiloach, joyous water celebrations were held on Sukkos. It was the site of the ancient Temple, the Beis HaMikdash, may it soon be rebuilt. It was the place where the Sanhedrin declared the new months, and where the High Priest atoned for the nation on Yom Kippur. There, the miracle of Hanukah had occurred when the Maccabees had won their great victory over the Greeks. For Jews all over the world, each day started with the hope – perhaps this was the day that God would rescue them from their exile in foreign lands and bring them back to Jerusalem.

But the dream of his father, and his grandfather, and his great-grandfather before them, and all of his grandfathers all the way back to Abraham wasn’t to come true for the moment. They only had use of the JCA wagon for a week, so the ascent up the mountains leading to Jerusalem would have to be postponed so that they could make the three-day journey up north to the kibbutz where Hodel was living.

With tears in her eyes, Ruchel kissed her sister Tzeitl goodbye. Tzeitl seemed so frail and so thin, Ruchel feared that she might never see her big sister again, God forbid. For weeks now, Tzeitl hardly touched any food, and the weight she lost had hollowed her cheeks. Her cough clung to her like a menacing shadow, and her always hopeful smile seemed more to comfort others, so as not to cause her family anguish. The sisters hugged without looking too deeply into each other’s eyes. Ruchel kissed Hava, Bat Sheva, and gave the children big squeezes. Then she turned toward her father. The time had come to return to Rishon so that Nachman could assume his new position as melamed, teaching in the Talmud Torah. Tevye wore a big happy grin. If he had done one good thing in his life, it was bringing Ruchel to the chuppah to marry Nachman. Not that the match had been so much his doing, but it showed that he had succeeded in educating his daughter along the right path. Married to Nachman, she would always live a life of tradition. So even if they were setting off on their own for Rishon LeZion, away from the rest of the family, Tevye felt happy and confident that he was entrusting his girl to a God-fearing man who loved her with all of his heart.

“Remember, Abba,” she called from the wagon, using the Hebrew expression for father. “Tell Hodel and Perchik that we are expecting them to come visit us soon.”

Though Shmuelik and Hillel wanted to accompany their childhood friend, Nachman, he advised them to wait until he could arrange permission for them to join the already established yishuv. Though he was skeptical about his chances of persuading Dupont, he felt the resourceful Aharon might be able to help. In the meantime, they agreed to travel with Tevye. The decision required no forceful persuasion – both of them nurtured a secret attraction for Bat Sheva, Tevye’s fiery, plum-cheeked daughter. Though she hardly glanced at them, each had high hopes.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Nine: Mazal Tov!

Monday, August 13th, 2012

“Didn’t I tell you that everything God does works out for the best?” Tevye said to Nachman as everyone gathered excitedly around the coffin on the beach. “If the Turks had let us disembark in Jaffa, I would never have seen my Golda wash up on shore.”

It didn’t matter that, in fact, Nachman had been the one who had reminded a crestfallen Tevye that God’s loving, invisible hand never stops guiding life’s twists and turns. If Tevye, in a moment of despair, had forgotten this teaching of the Talmud, God would certainly forgive him. Now, with Golda once again at his side, Tevye’s faith was stronger than ever.

But Tevye’s reunion with Golda was not the only miracle which had transpired. Since stepping foot in the Land of Israel, Tevye had imperceptibly changed. He couldn’t say why. He couldn’t explain the sensation, but somehow, his mind, his soul, and his heart underwent a rejuvenation, as if the clock of his life had turned backwards, making him feel twenty years younger. Yes, he felt more confident now that his beloved Golda was back at his side. Yes, he felt comforted that the Almighty had returned her to him. But even more than these blessings, the realization that he had reached the Land of Israel overwhelmed all of his thoughts. The prayers, the prophecies, the dreams, the yearnings of two-thousand years, all had come true. Wasn’t it written in the Book of Psalms, “When God will return the exiles of Zion, we will be like those who dream. Then our mouth will be filled with laughter and our tongue with glad song?”

Tevye the milkman, the son of Reb Schneur Zalman, was in Israel! He was in the Land which God had promised to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. It was the Land of Joshua and the prophet Samuel. The Land of King David and his son, Solomon, the wisest of men. It was the home of the Jerusalem Temple, of the Maccabees, and Rabbi Akiva. While Tevye’s faith in the Biblical stories which his father had taught him had always been steadfast, now he was standing on the very soil where Jewish history had unfolded in all of its glory and pain. Suddenly, the ancient stories had a down-to-earth setting. Suddenly, the Land of Israel was real, not just a faraway dream. It was like hearing about a famous person, and then suddenly meeting him, like when Tevye had met the great writer, Sholom Aleichem. What a thrill!

Nachman experienced the same indescribable sensation. Feeling the secret power of the Land surge into his body, he burst into song. Everyone had the same feeling. Everyone sang. They were in the Land of Israel! They were home!

Their singing gave way to exhaustion. It was time to learn their next lesson. Life in the Land of Israel, like its sand dunes, had its ups and its downs. Everyone was astounded at the landscape as they started the trek north back toward Jaffa. Dunes and desert stretched around them as far as the eye could see. Occasionally, they had to make a long detour around a foul-smelling swamp. The land was barren and desolate, as if still suffering from the Divine curse which had fallen upon the soil since the Jews had been exiled from their home. Gone were the lush gardens, the fruit trees, the fertile green valleys, and overflowing rivers of Biblical days. If there had once been milk and honey in the Land, the ferocious sun had long ago turned them to sand. Miles passed without the sight of a single tree or bush. Beside their motley-looking caravan, there was no sign of human life. Eyes searched the horizon for Jaffa, but all they could see was an ocean of heat waves rising off a desert wilderness.

Before long, their enthusiasm started to wane. It was as if they had returned three-thousand years through history to their ancestors’ wanderings through Sinai. Their footsteps became heavier. The fierce sun beat down on their heads. More and more frequently, the men had to set down Golda’s coffin and rest. Tzeitl fainted. Once again, Tevye had to carry her in his arms. Within an hour, their supply of fresh water was finished. Children cried. Grown-ups collapsed in the sand. Complaints could be heard in every corner of the camp.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and his Steinsaltz Talmud

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

(((CLICK BELOW TO HEAR AUDIO)))

Yishai is joined by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz to talk about his newly published Koren Steinsaltz Talmud, which is the most widely-accessible to date by being made available on a wide variety of mediums. Steinsaltz talks about his background and inspiration behind this work, which has been several years in the making. Do not miss this interview with an iconic scholar!

Yishai Fleisher on Twitter: @YishaiFleisher
Yishai on Facebook

Old-Time Orthodox Shul Celebrates 70th Anniversary

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

   Yes, it is your father’s synagogue, and it had just observed its 70th anniversary.

 

   The liturgy, prayer books, and services at Congregation Machane Chodosh in Forest Hills, Queens, hearken to the Orthodoxy of an earlier generation. A professional cantor leads the services every Shabbat, as the congregants follow using their Birnbaum siddurim.

 

   In the women’s section, doilies and hats still outnumber wigs. On the other side of the mechitza, one sees only a handful of the black hats that have become standard in many Orthodox circles.

 

   “You learn a lot from these people,” said Shoshana Glass, 32, a young face in a mostly elderly population. Glass considers the median age of the congregants a plus. “I am there for a purpose, helping and visiting them.”

 

   “They’re accepting of people,” said congregant Barry Schnall. “They don’t judge.” At 49, he is also on the younger side of the age average. “You can be friends with older people. They have more character.”

 

 


Rabbi Manfred Gans

 

   Any member over age 80 has a story of survival to tell. “Many of our members are survivors,” said Rabbi Manfred Gans. The city, in fact, commemorated them with a street corner sign pointing directly at the shul.

 

   Founded in late 1939 as a landsmanshaft of recent German Jewish immigrants in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, the synagogue took the name Machane Chodosh, or “New Camp,” reflecting its new American home.

 

   The congregation spent its first 19 years renting out space within existing local synagogues. Like any teenager, the maturing shul eventually moved into its own home, two blocks from Ebbets Field.

 

   By the time the shul opened its new building, however, the longtime Dodgers ballpark was in the process of being demolished, and that section of Brooklyn was facing a gradual slide into urban decay.

 

   Some of the members moved to Forest Hills, and Rabbi Gans proposed relocating the shul in Queens. Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, the membership was reduced to a hardy handful as the crime rate skyrocketed.

 

   By 1977 it had become clear that Machane Chodosh had no future in its Brooklyn neighborhood. The aron kodesh, stained glass windows, and memorial plaques were removed for safekeeping, and the sanctuary became a Haitian church.

 

   “We were a kehillah without a synagogue,” said Rabbi Gans.

 

   They had seen it before. Many members of the congregation had experienced Kristallnacht, concentration camps, and the battlefield. They were determined to keep the synagogue alive in a more stable neighborhood. Ground was broken in Forest Hills in March 1979.

 

   “Our shul did something which only a few shuls could accomplish,” said Gans.

 

   The home was new, but the services remained true to tradition.

 

   While many Orthodox synagogues feature chazzanut during the high holidays, cantor Joel Gafni, 34, leads the congregation every Shabbat at Machane Chodosh.

 

   “My first time, I was surprised,” said Gafni. “Such a small shul.”

 

   It took three auditions before Gafni was selected. It may not look like a “choral synagogue,” but the cantor’s schedule is a busy one. “It was the best of possibilities,” he said. “A full-time position in New York, the center of the world.”

 

   Rabbi Gans, the mora d’asra of the synagogue for 50 years, is an integral part of its storied history. He observed his 85th birthday in April, and there are no signs of retiring.

 

   As the shul’s founders aged and passed on, Rabbi Gans took measures to welcome new immigrants to the synagogue. In some ways, the new membership hearkens to an earlier period. Most of the students in the synagogue’s Talmud Torah attend public school while taking Sunday classes at the synagogue.

 

   “They are on the fringes of Jewish society,” said Talmud Torah director Richard Schneider. “If they don’t get a love of Judaism now, they’ll assimilate.” Schneider reactivated the Talmud Torah in 1997, with a class of two boys. It has since ballooned to over 100 students.

 

   (On a personal note, it was at Machane Chodosh that I learned to read Hebrew and lain the weekly parsha. It was also where I learned to appreciate a timeless Orthodoxy personified by a rabbi who reads several newspapers a day, is well-versed in classical music, diligently calls any member who is ill, and delivers memorable sermons.)

 

   Each week as Shabbat comes to a close, congregants recite Psalm 144 in a melody that member Gary Jacoby calls the “Yekkie national anthem.” The congregation slowly whispers through the last pages of the motzei Shabbat Maariv. Nobody dares to whisper about sports, business, or politics. It is an inspiring sight.

 

   The service ends with Gafni’s bold voice benching Havdalah. Congregants prepare for a new week filled with pride in this unique shul that has a history like few others.

The Founding Of Yeshiva Etz Chaim

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

      Note: Unless otherwise indicated all quotes are from Jewish Education in New York Cityby Alexander M. Dushkin, The Bureau of Jewish Education, New York, 1918
 
      Between 1881 and 1924 approximately two million Jews immigrated to the United States, primarily from Eastern Europe and Russia. The great majority of them came as a result of the intensified Russian pogroms following the vicious discriminatory May Laws of 1881. Another factor was the belief that America was “die goldene medina” – the golden country, where economic opportunities were endless.
 
      In addition to the formidable challenge of earning a livelihood, these immigrants soon found that there were few established religious institutions where their children could receive a decent Jewish education. This vacuum was initially filled by the cheder and Talmud Torah.
 
      The cheder more often than not was run as private enterprise. Any person, qualified or not, who wished to supplement his income could open a school without hindrance. In short, while there certainly were cheders run by devoted and qualified teachers, there were many others in which the level of teaching was substandard at best. The result was that the cheder experience for many boys not only failed to give them a basic knowledge of Judaism, it left them with a very negative attitude toward the religion of their parents.
 

      The Talmud Torah was, in contrast to the cheder, a communal school under the direction of a board of directors. One of the best known of these was the Machzike Talmud Torah, which was reorganized in 1883. For a long time it was the pride of the Eastern European Jews who resided on the Lower East Side.

 

            The instruction during this period [1883-1902] was carried on daily from 4 to 8 o’clock every afternoon of the week except Fridays, also from 2 to 5 on Saturdays, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. Besides the afternoon classes, there were “day” classes, from 9 to 12 every morning, for young children below public school age. These classes were for the purpose of teaching young children the elements of Hebrew reading and some of the prayers.
 

            The curriculum of the Talmud Torah during this period was as follows: (a) reading of Hebrew, beginning from A B C up to fluent reading, in accordance with the rules of Hebrew grammar; (b) holy Scriptures and grammar; (c) benedictions and prayers, and translation of same; (f) meaning of holidays; (g) reading of the portion of the week (in the Bible) and the Haftorah (prophetic portion), according to the accentual marks and notes, also the benedictions pertaining thereto; (h) Shulchan Aruch and Orach Chayim; (i) decrees of the Jewish faith, and Jewish history.

 

      It’s interesting to note that in 1892, shortly after becoming a director of the Machzike Talmud Torah, Harry Fischel1 proposed to the board of directors a school for girls be opened under the direction of a young woman who had recently arrived from Eretz Yisrael. This was considered a revolutionary idea in 1892, and was bitterly opposed by some.
 
      One must keep in mind that in the nineteenth century formal Jewish education for girls was virtually unknown throughout the world, except for a few schools in Germany modeled after the Realschule founded by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch shortly after his arrival in Frankfurt in 1851. In spite of the opposition, Mr. Fischel prevailed. The result was that within a year the school had more applications from the parents of girls between the ages of 10 and 12 than it could accommodate.
 

Some Parents Want More

 

            But the Talmud Torah was not sufficient for the demands of some of the Eastern European Jews, because it failed to make proper provision for the study of the Talmud. Talmud had formed a very important element in their Jewish curriculum, in many cases the only element. It stressed the development of the “intellect,” and this intellectual ideal the Jews from Eastern Europe retained here also. Because the shorter time at the disposal of the Talmud Torah made it very difficult to meet this demand for instruction in Talmud, except to a limited extent, the most orthodox of the Eastern European Jews began to turn their attention to the third of their educational institutions, the Yeshibah.

 

      The result was that in 1886 Yeshiva Etz Chaim was incorporated as The Etz Chaim Talmudical Academy. The school was an intermediate Talmud Cheder, rather than an elementary school, and was modeled after it European counterparts.

 

            The early days of the institution are well characterized in the words of one of its founders. “A few of us Jews wanted that the Machzike Talmud Torah should teach Talmud, but they refused to do so. And so we went out into the street and picked up some boys, nine and ten years old, who knew the Bible with Rashi from ‘home,’ and began to teach them Talmud. We rented a room at 47 East Broadway. But our financial condition was so poor that we had no money with which to buy books. So we bought one Gemarah (Talmud) for 90 cents, and tore it into three parts, giving one part to each of the three Melammedim (teachers). To start our Yeshibah, the directors went about the neighborhood collecting nickels and dimes, which were given to us. In order to maintain the Yeshibah, the directors had to post up boxes in private homes and in synagogues, and then go personally to collect the money which good people deposited in them for our Yeshibah.”
 

            The aim of the institution was “to give instruction to poor Hebrew children in the Hebrew language and the Jewish religion – Talmud, Bible and Shulchan Aruch, during the whole day from 9:00 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon; also from 4:00 in the afternoon two hours shall be devoted to teaching the native language, English, and one hour to teaching Hebrew, Loschon Hakodesh, (holy language), and to read and write Jargon (Yiddish).”

 

      From the amount of time allocated to secular subjects, it is clear that the directors of the yeshiva considered these far less important than the students’ limudei kodesh studies. Abraham Cahan, who would eventually become the editor of the Jewish Daily Forward and a prominent figure in the Socialist movement in America, became one of the first teachers in the English department in 1887.

 

            Cahan records that the curriculum was loosely drawn to provide for the study of grammar, arithmetic, reading, and spelling – all within the “English Department.” But because the directors of the school had no clear idea of what should be taught, the English Department functioned haphazardly, more out of a perfunctory acknowledgement for these subjects than a sincere desire to “provide the children with a modern education.”
 
            The English Department was divided into two classes. The first was taught by a boy about fourteen, who had just graduated from public school and the second was taught by Cahan, who was a little less than twenty-eight years old. The students ranged from the ages of nine or ten to fifteen and many were exposed to the formal study of secular subjects for the first time. One of the native students received his first lessons in the English language when he entered the Yeshiva after passing his thirteenth birthday.
 

            The young immigrants presented an immense challenge to their devoted teachers. The students drank up the instruction with a thirst centuries old. Cahan frequently remained long after the prescribed teaching hours to tutor his pupils, who were uniformly poor in reading and mathematics and who regarded grammar as an exquisite form of torture. On these occasions, the directors would ask Cahan why he “worked so hard,” saying that the students “already knew enough English.”

 

      In 1912 Yeshiva Etz Chaim and the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) merged. Etz Chaim became a preparatory school for RIETS. “In this way a self-contained and integrated Jewish educational unit, ranging through the highest level of Talmudic scholarship, was established for the first time on American soil.”2
 
        1 For information about the life of Harry Fischel, see “The Multimillionaire Who Remained True to Orthodoxy, Jewish Press, April 18, 2006, page 1; “Harry Fischel (1865-1948) Orthodox Jewish Philanthropist Par Excellence – I” Jewish Press, May 3, 2006, page 36 (Glimpses into American Jewish History) and “Harry Fischel (1865-1948) Orthodox Jewish Philanthropist Par Excellence – II” Jewish Press, June 2, 2006, page 70 (Glimpses into American Jewish History).
 
        2 The Story of Yeshiva University, The First Jewish University in America by Gilbert Klaperman, The Macmillian Company, Collier-Macmillian Limited, London, 1969.
 

 

      Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at  llevine@stevens.edu.

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

Spielberg’s Selective Equivalency

It is clear that Steven Spielberg’s latest movie, “Munich,” attempts to portray the Muslim killers of the unsuspecting Israeli athletes as just simple family men, no different from the Israelis they murdered at the Munich Olympics.

We all should ask ourselves, given that we cannot ask it of Spielberg or his ultra-leftist screenwriter, Tony Kushner, why Spielberg’s earlier war movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” did not turn into a showcase of moral equivalency. Why were the Nazis not portrayed as simple family men and the Americans who fought them as guilt-ridden, tormented souls?

Here’s why: Because Spielberg knew he would have been lynched and his studio burned to the ground had he tried foisting that bit of morally equivalent liberal trash on the American public.

Jerry Boris
Philadelphia, PA
 
 
 
He’s No Icon

It’s a sign of the Jewish community’s spiritual bankruptcy that a man like Steven Spielberg was ever accorded iconic status in the first place. So he knows how to make an entertaining movie. Good for him. He’s rich beyond the average millionaire’s dreams thanks to his filmmaking ability. But how that makes him someone we as Jews should look up to is beyond me.

Daniel Graubart
(Via E-Mail)

 

Like Father, Like Son

I read Naomi Klass Mauer’s article about Shlomo Aumann,z”l, with great emotion (“A Teacher, a Boy, a Prayer and a Nobel Prize,” op-ed, Dec. 9). You see, Shlomo befriended me at Yeshivat Sha’alvim where I studied for two years. He was a great all-around guy, and with his fluent English he made us chutz l’aretz bochurim feel at home. He was the nephew of the rosh yeshiva, Rav Meir Schlesinger, but you would never have known it. He was just one of the guys.

It doesn’t surprise me that his students loved him as a math teacher. He was beloved by all the b’nei yeshiva. He was serious in his learning, and so very focused. Of course, nothing can bring back Shlomo, Hashem yikom damo, but may the family take comfort in knowing that both son and father were mekadesh Shem Shamayim – Shlomo in making the ultimate sacrifice to protect

the Jewish people and his father, a proud Orthodox Jew, in receiving the Noble Prize for economics.

Rabbi Mordechai Bulua
Montreal, Canada
 
 
 
The Meaning Of  `Na?ve’

I have never minded criticism, but I must admit to be rather taken aback by a critique by an individual who apparently doesn’t understand the English language. I was charged by reader Chaim Silver (Letters, Dec. 16) as having committed the “major error” of mistranslating the Hebrew word tam as na?ve and therefore as not having understood the classical Hebrew word.

He writes that throughout the Tanach tam is used in the sense of “honest, sincere and wholehearted devotion and is idiomatically linked to the kindred adjectiveyashar, honest and straightforward.” If he had only bothered to check Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (1949) he would have found that the word na?ve comes from the Latin “nativus” which means “natural or unaffected simplicity, candid, frank and artless, actuated by candor and love of truth.”

It would seem that my translation of na?ve is precisely the one that Chaim Silver felt should have been used – had be but understood the meaning of na?ve.

He also charged me with calling Jacob “out of touch,” although he did not cite my phrase in context. I was explaining the Malbim who attempted to justify Rebecca’s action, and in that context I wrote that she was trying to prove wrong Father Isaac’s contention that the “studious, spiritual, out-of-touch Jacob could never manage the materialistic political and military machinations involved in blessing.”

If you check the source in the Malbim you will see that this is exactly what the commentary was trying to say.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
(Via E-Mail)

 
 
We’re Not Worthy

I’m a student at a well-known yeshiva. Before you continue to call your publication “The Jewish Press,” let me introduce something to you. It’s called Judaism.

Several weeks ago I saw a copy of your paper on the table in my house and was astonished that the front page had a photo of an Arab man without a shirt on. (It is a halacha that a man may not walk around without a shirt – except in a pool or other bathing facility – even in the privacy of his own house.) I let that pass as perhaps some kind of technical error.

More recently, however, I was again shocked at your choice of a photo for the front page – a lady kissing her husband. The Gemara discusses the topic of looking at women. One amora concludes that a man may not look at the pinkie of a woman. Perhaps that only refers to looking at a woman with non-kosher thoughts. However, everyone agrees that looking at a man and woman making physical contact in any way, shape or form is forbidden.

I see no difference between your paper and the garbage that is sold at newsstands in Manhattan. Your publication is about as “Jewish” as the pope.

Chaim Goldman
Brooklyn, NY
 
 
Editor’s Note: The photograph of the “man and woman making physical contact” depicted – as the caption made clear – the proud granddaughter of Prof. Robert (Israel) Aumann giving her grandfather an affectionate kiss on the cheek after he’d been awarded the Nobel Prize. The Palestinian without a shirt was photographed as he took part in the looting and burning of a Gaza settlement after the Israeli pullout.
 
 
 
Weissman Si

The sum of the “few people” who claim Chananya Weissman is “an unusually courageous person” (Mr. Weissman’s words from his Nov. 4 op-ed article “I`ll Sign My Name To It”) increased by one (yours truly) once I read his Dec. 16 front-page essay, “A ‘New’ Understanding of Talmud Torah.” Despite growing up myself defining torah l’shmah as a “self-contained pursuit” – the belief Mr. Weissman differs with – I find his article less incensing than thought-provoking.

I therefore itch to read the spitfire challenges sparked by his thesis, as well as how he meets them, just as he fields the presumed objection from the case of ben sorer u`moreh, where he points to its moral lessons to show that it’s not for study alone.

Ari Bornstein
Brooklyn, NY
 
 
 
Weissman No

Chananya Weissman has written provocatively in this paper aboutsimcha reforms and his specialty, shidduchim. He’s clearly out of his league, however, when it comes to Talmud Torah. His front-page essay was, as always, well written and passionately argued, but in this case intellectually corrupt.

Mr. Weissman asserts “there is no such concept in Judaism” as learning for the sake of learning. Even casual students of the Torah are familiar with the Nefesh HaChaim by R’ Chaim of Volozhin, the prime disciple of the Vilna Gaon. In what is undoubtedly the most famous exposition of Torah lishma, he explains (based on the Rosh Ned. 62a), a concept eerily similar to what Mr. Weissman claims doesn’t exist. While there may be differing opinions, to insist there is no such concept is either egregious ignorance of the primary sources or a willful distortion of them.

Mr. Weissman states the ramifications of this “new understanding” include the complete upheaval of the yeshiva curriculum and virtual obliteration of the kollel system. He goes so far as to equate learning as it is expressed in most yeshivas with bittul Torah. Of course, Torah study in our yeshivos and kollelim is not perfect, and there is definitely room for improvement, but that’s a far cry from Mr. Weissman’s challenge of the entire institution.

All too often people who acknowledge their relative inferiority when it comes to matters of halachic significance become self-proclaimed authorities when it comes to Torah hashkafa. Whereas I presume most Orthodox Jews will defer to recognized Torah authority when it comes to hilchos Shabbos or kashrus, many seem to have no qualms dismissing rabbinic consensus on fundamental Jewish philosophy. What they fail to realize is that Judaism is not a democracy – every opinion is not created equal.

Mr. Weissman correctly points out that Torah means instruction. It is the Source of not only laws but also our world view. I feel safe with our gedolim and Torah leaders as guides.

Rabbi J. Rosenblatt
(Via E-Mail)
 
 
Cheap Shots At Scientists Don’t Change Truth

Virtually every point made by Rabbi Eidensohn in his letter of December 9 reflects significant misunderstandings about the science that he is attempting to criticize. However, it’s not the errors in Rabbi Eidensohn’s letter that I find most troubling. What disturbs me more is the smug belief, evidently shared by many in the yeshiva world, that the working scientist is on average less intelligent than the typical potted plant.

How else can we explain the rabbi’s readiness to believe that he has discovered fundamental problems in the theories of physics or biology that have escaped the notice of scientists who study these fields professionally? Such an attitude reflects either an unusual degree of hubris or a fundamental belief that scientists are all bumbling idiots. I suggest it’s the latter.

For example, the rabbi triumphantly cites the second law of thermodynamics as evidence against the possibility of evolutionary processes. Does he think the scientists who study thermodynamics and biological processes have absent-mindedly overlooked this issue? Or that because of their unfortunate stupidity they just cannot quite grasp the basic principles of thermodynamics that the rabbi somehow innately comprehends?

Surely even the faintest degree of respect for scientists’ intellectual capacities would have led the rabbi to inquire whether they had previously considered this issue. And they have. It’s discussed in many popular science books and on about 300,000 websites, which I assume are not yet banned in Monsey.

(Incidentally, if the rabbi will re-read his own letter, he will find that his repeated use of the term “closed system” provides an important clue to understanding why evolutionary processes do not violate the second law.)

The yeshiva world has long found it convenient to ridicule science and scientists, and the rabbi’s letter exposes a common conceit that a yiddishe kup and high school diploma provides better insight into the fundamental questions of science than does eight years of dedicated graduate study and a career of scientific experimentation. Well, let me break the bad news – a yiddishe kup and high school diploma provide virtuallyno insight whatsoever into the fundamental questions of science, especially considering the cadaverous state of most yeshiva science curricula.

I don’t mean to suggest that the layperson shouldn’t exercise his or her full intellectual abilities in trying to critically assess and assimilate the latest scientific findings. One need not believe everything one is told, by scientists or by anyone else.

But the fact of the matter is that scientists are generally highly educated and intelligent people who have a substantial level of competence in their fields of study. Their methods of investigation and analysis have proved staggeringly effective over the past 300 years.

The image of the “idiot scientist” conjured up in Rabbi Eidensohn’s letter may be comforting to some, but it’s ultimately just crude escapism.

David Fass
Highland Park, NJ

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/letters-to-the-editor/letters-to-the-editor-118/2005/12/28/

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