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Posts Tagged ‘Torah Sages’

Never Mind Condemnations by Torah Sages, College Is Not ‘Traif’

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

“Certainly, there is an absolute condemnation of any sort of college from most Gedolim.” That is how the cover article in last week’s Ami Magazine was punctuated.  That article was about the dangers to one’s spiritual health of attending college.

Ironically the article itself was very fair about the issue.  Various rabbis who are either directly or indirectly involved with colleges and universities that have significant Orthodox Jewish populations were interviewed.  There was not a single comment indicative of any Issur on attending college.  Instead it seems to be a generally fair analysis of the situation as it exists without any real comment – pro or con about attending college (with the obvious exception of that statement in there final paragraph).

As to the substance of that article – there seemed to be a consensus that there are differences between colleges and universities with respect to retaining observance by Orthodox students.  As secular colleges go, commuter colleges are the way to go.  A commuter college like Brooklyn College that has a large percentage of Orthodox students is considered the safest type of college. Commuter colleges have no campus life to speak of.  Students attend classes and go home. Brooklyn College has the added advantage of having so many Orthodox Jews in attendance and being located in Flatbush -a very Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn.

If one opts for a university away from home that entails living in a dorm with its attendant a campus life – there too there are differences. Although generally speaking that is a very dangerous situation to put a child into, there are some notable exceptions. Among the best of them is the University of Pennsylvania (referred to as ‘ Penn’ by  most people ) which is an ivy league college.

Penn is considered a fairly safe environment for Orthodox students. Students there have an on campus Orthodox environment to live in.  It appears that very few students go OTD there. Somewhat surprisingly the article concludes that the best place to attend college is a place like Touro or Yeshiva University– where the Beis HaMedrash is never very far from the classroom.  I could not agree more with that.

The truth is that there was really very little of substance I disagreed with in that article. It is almost as if the Ami editorial staff didn’t believe in their own anti college hype. But that they just had to put in a condemnation of college in order to maintain their Charedi credentials.

But I have to challenge the very premise that most Gedolim condemn college. Do they? That statement flies in the face that Yeshivos like Ner Israel. Torah VoDaath, Chafetz Chaim, and Chaim Berlinhave a history of most of their students attending college with the help of the Yeshivos themselves. Those Yeshivos facilitate their students’ attendance by providing Yeshiva “credits” that can be used to fulfill some of the elective requirements.

And let us not forget the ill-fated attempt by Rav Hutner and Reb Shraga Feivel to actually create their own college! It may have been stopped by Rav Aharon Kotler. But is shows that at least these two Gedolim did not only did not condemn it they wanted to actually create their own college!

But all that is beside the point I wish to make here. A sub-theme of this article is the question of Modern Orthodox dropouts. Left pretty much unsaid is the fact that the vast majority of Jewish university students are from Modern Orthodox homes. In my view there is a connection to the MO dropout problem and attending a college that has does not have any kind of Orthodox presence. Which brings me back to my post on that subject.

In that post Rabbi Steven Pruzansky quoted a shocking and yet unsubstantiated statistic. He claimed that 50% of the of MO high schools students go OTD within 2 years of their graduation. I understand and even agree with the point he was trying to make. But he was grossly in error in the way he tried to make it.

When someone quotes an outrageous statistic like that, he better be able to back it up. The fact that he just threw it out a number from a survey that he did not even see just to make his point actually undermines it. His point was lost – virtually buried by the strong criticism he received by using a questionable statistic to make it.

The fact that he used an unsubstantiated and shocking statistic does not mitigate the problem. As I said in my earlier post, all segments of Orthodox Judaism has OTD problems. And there are different reasons why members of each segment goes OTD although some reasons overlap. Point being that the problem exists in large numbers in all segments.

That said, the OTD problems that are specific to Modern Orthodoxy are real and should not be glossed over. Rabbi Pruznski’s point should not be overlooked just because of the foolish use of a questionable statistic.

I think it is safe to say that the 50% figure is ridiculously high. The real dropout rate is probably much lower. Does that mean we should ignore the problem? I don’t think so. We ought to not get hung up on statistics.

Unless someone actually believes that Modern Orthodoxy does not have an OTD problem at all, we ought to take what Rabbi Pruzansky’s suggests seriously. While his reasons are not the only ones or perhaps not even the primary ones – I do believe his observations are valid. I strongly believe that the  “Lite” factor a significant contributor to why a child will go OTD.

Rabbi Dovid Landesman who was a long time principal of an MO high school in Los Angeleshas noted that it isn’t so much that kids go Off the Derech. It is more that they were never ON the Derech in the first place! What does that mean? I think it means the lack of priority given to observant Judaism in the home by parents.

If  parents do not treat their Yiddishkeit as a priority their children won’t either. If a parent prioritizes things other than his Judaism, while keeping his observances in Judaism passive the child will very likely do the same thing. The only difference will be in what the child will value. It may not be what the parent values, but it may not be their Judaism either.

When a child like that goes off to an ‘away from home’ college with its attendant social subculture which is anathema to Judaism –  it is not all that unlikely that his observance will be willingly compromised if not altogether dropped by the social pressure there – with little if any guilt attached.

Let’s be honest. Although it exists in both communities, being Lite in one’s observance is more indigenous in a community that is immersed in the general culture than it is among one that isolates itself from it.

The fact that organizations like the OU and people like those rabbis interviewed for the Ami Article (e.g. Rabbis Steven Burg, Jonathan Shulman, David Felsenthal, and Reuven Boshneck) are actively involved in trying to create a religious environment on college campuses is indicative of that. These are “In-reach” rabbis, not “outreach” rabbis. They work hard and see their roles as essential for these students – who are mostly MO – to retain their observance.

That said – as I point out many times – there are always exceptions. There are kids form serious MO homes that go OTD and kids from Lite homes that become very committed to their Judaism. And the fact is that the Charedi world has their own OTD problems. As does the Chardal world in Israel as illustrated in Wednesday’s post.

But please let us not lose sight of the fact that there is a dropout problem in the MO world caused by problems which are unique to it. We ignore it at our own peril.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Was ‘Internet Ban’ an Authoritative Decree of Torah Sages, or Just Baloney?

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

OK. The title is a bit extreme. But at least I have your attention. Last May – one will recall – there was a giant Asifa – a gathering of tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews dealing with the dangers of the internet. Although it was billed as a way to properly use the internet, it was ultimately about trashing it and forbidding its use altogether accept for livelihood purposes. And even then – only with filters and only outside the house.

Not that any of that surprised me. But what did surprise me is the way Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman who introduced 99-year-old Israeli Posek, Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner.

Using Rabbenu Yona’s Shaarei Teshuva as his source Rabbi Wachsman said that when Rivivos Yisroel (thousands of Jews) gather in one place and decisions for action are made by leaders of Klal Yisroel, those who separate themselves from those actions lose their portion in Olam Haba. I suppose he would call this ‘decision for action’ by Rav Wosner Daas Torah.

After that introduction what followed was Rav Wosner paskining in the most serious and solemn of tones that it is absolutely forbidden to own or use any device that has internet capabilities in one’s home – even if it is filtered. The only permit was for business, with a flter, and only outside the home. He added that it is even forbidden to enter a home that has the internet. And that religious schools should exclude children whose homes have it.

Despite that edict and Rabbi Wachsman’s dire warnings, that Psak has been almost completely ignored by the vast majority of Charedim. Although immediuately after that Asifa there was a flurry of activity by a number of Charedim to get rid of their smart-phones and remove the internet from their homes – the ban has basically been unsuccessful. I guess those poor people who still have smart-phones and the like (which is probably the vast majority of Charedim) have all lost their Olam Haba.

One of the things I noticed the most in my recent trip to Israel was that in the Charedi neighborhoods in which I hung out – virtually everyone had a smart-phone. They were so ubiquitous, that I could barely believe my eyes. Perhaps some of them had filters, I don’t know. But that wasn’t the Psak of Rav Wosner that Rabbi Wachsman said must be followed – or else! Rav Wosner said that it was only to be used for Parnassa purposes – with filters – in places of business. The Charedim I saw were using their smart phones causally at their leisure during Chol HaMoed Sukkos. Tons of them!

Not to let things just slide, members of the strident right keep coming out with public statements about such devices. Most recently just before Sukkos it was claimed by the Israeli Yated and other Charedi newspapers that Rav Chaim Kanievsky issued a public notice saying that anyone who owns an i-phone should burn it. It was later denied by sources close to Rav Kaneivsky saying that he only wished to warn people about the dangers involved.

Then something amazing happened. Rabbi Amnon Yitzchak was photographed using an i-phone in his car. One may recall that he was one the earliest proponents of destroying them – railing against its dangers. And yet, there he was using it himself. He defended his own use of it claiming he got a Heter (permission) from another elderly Gadol, Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, to use it for Kiruv purposes.

Well… all of a sudden the internet seems to carry some value among Charedim, at least enough to make exceptions to destroying it. And in the case of Rav Kaneivsky – he too seems to place some positive value on it. At least enough to be moved to deny the claim that he had called for destroying i-phones.

One of the biggest criticisms I have about the strident right, is their black and white – all or nothing approach to everything. Of course this is quite in character for them. Everything In their world is black and white, including their clothing. They never heard of the word grey. There is no nuance. No subtlety. No concessions to any of the positive values of something they don’t approve of. If they think the bad outweighs the good – then they just say it is all bad and forbid it. But life does not work that way. Reality will trump rhetoric every single time they come into conflict with each other. As can be plainly seen by the way their bans are ignored.

As I have said over a Gazillion times, the internet is a tool that can be used for good and bad and should be treated that way. The right always said that the bad so far outweighs the good that there is nothing to talk about. Rav Wosner sure felt that way. Even though he probably never used the internet in his entire life.

Another thing I have said over a gazillion times is that I agree with the right about the dangers of the internet. I also agree that precautions must be taken to prevent encountering those dangers. Where I part company with them is in their all or nothing approach. And in their refusal to acknowledge that there is a positive side to it worth utilizing. Their public knows it. Which is why Rav Wosner’s Psak is honored more in the breach than in its adherence.

Rav Shlomo Aviner has the most sensible attitude about using this technology, it is basically the same position most moderate Charedi and Centrist rabbinic leaders have. From YWN:

The rav explained that SMS text messages and internet connectivity are helpful to many people. He feels there is no prohibition in using either of these services.

“It is certainly preferable to have a kosher phone but this is a chumra and not obligatory. One who feels a non-kosher phone is a michshol must prohibit himself from using such a device” the rav stated.

Rabbi Avi[n]er  continued by explaining there are things the Torah did not prohibit but if a person realizes such a device will cause him to stumble, such a person must set restrictions into place to avoid falling due to this michshol.

I wonder if Rabbi Wachsman still believes we are all going permanently to hell?

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

4th of July – Gut Yom Tov!

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

The hypocrisy of the liberal Jews is amazing. They allow themselves to say whatever they want, but when an Orthodox Jew says what he wants, that’s suddenly against the rules. Yesterday, in what smacks of a Middle Age witch hunt and blood libel, I was ridiculed and attacked by two supposedly liberal Jewish bloggers, one who pictures himself as a bear, and the other as a dog, two non-kosher animals. They published snips and scraps of things I have written over the past several years, as if I were on trial in Russia. I didn’t know I had such devoted readers, who carefully documented my every word and kept them on file. Maybe they work for the Israeli Shabak or the FBI? This is all the more interesting since their attack on me falls on the Fourth of July, which for them is a cherished holy day, honoring the American principles of equality, pluralism, and freedom of speech, which obviously don’t apply to “idiot lunatic Zionists” like me who disagree with their leftist, anti-Torah opinions.

Ignoring the fact that my writing style often employs humor and exaggeration to make my points heard, they quoted things I have written, as if they were words carved in granite at The New York Times. One of the things they don’t seem to like, or agree with, is a blog which included a humorous (not to them) somewhat tongue-and-cheek list of government policies that I would initiate if I were the Prime Minister of Israel. I think what really bothers them, and their fellow liberal groupies, is that, deep inside, they know that the religious will one day be the majority in Israel, and that many things are going to change, in opposition to their more “enlightened values.” Since several of their readers asked if I really support these “outrageous” propositions, here is the platform they quoted with some explanatory comments. One thing I failed to mention is that I would immediately work toward establishing the Torah as the Law of the Land, with the reinstitution of the Sanhedrin and Supreme Court of Torah Sages.

My Platform as Israel’s Prime Minister:

*All Arabs must leave the Land of Israel. (Except for Arabs who are willing to sign a document agreeing that they recognize the sovereignty of the Israel over Eretz Yisrael, and that they will not rebel or act violently against the government and People of Israel – they will be allowed to live outside of the boundaries of Jerusalem.)

*Any Israeli politician who voted in favor of Oslo or the Hitnatkut Disengagement from Gush Katif, or who promotes the Road Map Plan, or the Two-State Solution, will be brought to trial as a national traitor. (The Supreme Court of Torah Sages will judge the case according to Torah law and hand down the verdict.)

*Relations with the United States shall be suspended until Jonathan Pollard is freed. (The poor Jew has been imprisoned for almost 30 years, in comparison to spies for other allied nations, who were set free after 3 or 4 years.)

*All atomic facilities in Iran will be immediately destroyed.

*Any missile launching on Israel will be met with a devastating retaliatory attack. (Obviously.)

*Anyone who propagates leftist propaganda will be deported from the country. (This is a gray area which will be judged by the Supreme Court of Torah Sages. Certainly anyone who writes against the Torah will be deported.)

*All missionaries will be tried in court for kidnapping and murder, and crucified on the Mount of Olives. (This was an obvious joke. Jews do not crucify as a means of capital punishment. The missionaries will be tried by the Supreme Court of Torah Sages according to Torah law.)

*TV and radio will be shut down on Shabbat. Driving on Shabbat will result in license suspension.

*Women who dress immodestly will be fined. Repeated offenders will be imprisoned. (Since this bothered some readers, as I have written in the past, these measures will only begin to be enforced after a year-long national educational campaign about the dangers of immodesty. Similar fines and terms of imprisonment will be given to drivers who break traffic laws. In regard to rapists, they will be imprisoned. Repeat offenders will be castrated like dogs.)

Is A Name Just A Name?

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Shemos B’nei Yisroel began last week’s parsha – these are the names of the children of Yisroel. Sure enough the Torah goes on to count each tribe by name. Moreover, the parsha bills itself Shemos – names – as if to draw attention to the deep significance of one’s name, as illustrated by the names of the shevatim, which depicted their personalities as well as their divine calling in life. Shem (name) is contained in the word neshama, bearing out that a name is an intricate part of one’s soul and the source of one’s energy and vitality.

The Shela HaKadosh strongly endorsed the custom instituted by our Torah Sages of reciting a verse beginning with the first letter and ending with the last letter of one’s name at the conclusion of the Shemoneh Esrei prayer, as a means to help us recollect our name upon leaving this world — the first question put to us after death.

Wouldn’t inquiring about our accomplishments be more telling? Not if our name says it all. Since the Hebrew letters of our name reveal our divine mission in life as well as our inherent character, failure to recall our name would be an indicator of having failed in our earthly assignment, while remembering it would testify to our having literally lived up to our name.

It is no wonder, then, that one of the great merits factored into our redemption from Egyptian bondage was our having retained our Hebrew names.

The measure taken to add a name to a person who is gravely ill, in the hope that his or her ultimate fate will be altered for the better, is further testimony to how a person’s destiny is influenced by his name.

According to the Noam Elimelech, when a newborn receives the name of a soul in the hereafter, that soul is elevated in the upper spheres and a spiritual bond connects the neshamos of the departed and the newly named child. And yet, in today’s world emphasis is frequently placed on “liking” the name versus appreciation of its deeper connotation. (In Ashkenazic circles it is common to give a name for a deceased relative, while Sephardim have the custom of naming for the living.) New parents who don’t take to any of the names on the list of proffered possibilities, or identify a name with a person who has rubbed them the wrong away, think nothing of choosing a name at random.

Take the family who years ago made aliya and became enamored with a specific Hebrew name for a girl. When their daughter was born, her parents seized upon the opportunity to use the name — while the child’s grandparents back in America were horrified that names of their dearly departed were passed over. In retaliation of what he took to be selfish inconsideration on his daughter’s part, the innocent little girl’s maternal zeida took to calling her “Shmatta’le.” Needless to say, the whole fiasco created hard feelings all around. (P.S. The little girl grew up to be much loved by these same grandparents who, in time, feigned forgetfulness of the whole incident.)

More recently, a young couple visiting Israel went to Meron to pay their respects at the holy burial site of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai. On the way, they were involved in a serious car accident. The young man, fearing for the safety of his expectant wife, prayed that she be spared life-threatening injury.

Months later when the woman gave birth to a boy, his great-grandmother was elated that her beloved husband, the deceased elter-zeida, would now have a name. Words escaped her when her grandson visited before the bris to tell her of the neder he had made at the time of the accident — that he would name their child for the tzaddik if his soul would intervene above to ensure their fit survival of the ordeal.

The crushed bubba could have taken comfort in knowing that, according to the holy Arizal, the name given a child by his parents is divinely influenced. This little one was obviously meant to be a Shimon.

What if parents decide on a name and G-d deems otherwise? The following incident demonstrates how divine intervention comes into play: A husband and wife had decided on Esther Gittel for their newborn daughter, but as the father was about to officially name the baby in shul, his father-in-law inexplicably asked him to name her Chava Gittel.

The baby’s father followed suit, much to his wife’s consternation. It would be almost two decades later before the reason for the “error” would come to light — when their daughter became engaged to a young man whose mother, Esther, would never have agreed to accept an “Esther” as a daughter-in-law.

Childhood friends of mine were made up of Katy, Edith, Doris, Lily, and the like. The giving of English names (in addition to our Jewish ones) was common practice and well intentioned, the rationale being that they would prove useful to us in the long run. If you’re one of those whose English name has caught on well in the outside world, the solution may be to have close friends and family address you by your given Hebrew name.

Learning The Hard Way (Part I)

Wednesday, May 10th, 2006

In my previous column I wrote about an ehrlich young man (who does not live in New York) who was a college educated earner with an excellent income (his wife won’t have to work if she so chooses) who learned in his spare time but was having a hard time getting an in-town shidduch because most of the girls wanted full-time learners. These girls came from families whose parents had gone to college and had fathers who were either professionals or in business, but they were determined to be earners – so that their husbands could be the learners.


I received a barrage of phone calls and e-mails from parents who wanted to share their bewilderment, frustration and even anger about this state of affairs in the frum community. Why was it a “negative” for a young man, after learning in a yeshiva for a number of years, to work after getting married? When it came to being suggested a shidduch, why was earning a living a handicap? Why were hard-working middle aged parents – who themselves were living from paycheck to paycheck after paying yeshiva tuition for several children, the mortgage/rent, car payments, health insurance, food, clothing bar/bat mitzvah and wedding expenses, expected to pay another rent and other living expenses for an able-bodied son or son-in-law?


One person who contacted me suggested that many of these young men felt they had no choice but to become full-time learners because they were afraid of being turned down for shidduchim – like Avi. They knew they weren’t cut out for kollel but felt trapped by peer pressure or societal expectations that had swung to the “right” to literally do the “right thing” or suffer the “consequences” – a prolonged bachelorhood.


Another reader mentioned a startling statistic – one that I had heard years earlier from another source which stated that there were rebbeim and roshei yeshiva who felt that only 5-10 percent of the young men learning in kollel were the genuine articles. Despite their best efforts, many of the yungeleit just did not have the talent and ability to absorb what they were learning. To paraphrase it, not everybody is cut out to be a nuclear physicist – or even close. Other boys – not as sincere about learning but not motivated to try something else – have figured out that they can get a free ride to easy street with a wealthy father-in-law. They are “benchwarmers” but not learners in the real sense of the word.


What does all this mean to the community at large? Problems on several levels. You have fathers who have to postpone their leisure time – time they could use for their own learning – in order to work longer or harder to generate the income needed to “help” the learning couples in the family; mothers who also have to work, stretched emotionally and physically as they tend to the needs of their still-at-home youngsters, their married children, aging parents who, for example, can no longer drive themselves to their myriad medical appointments, or make their own meals, who have no time to address their own needs; young wives of learners who are either working and/ or in school getting graduate degrees so they can support the family, while dropping off their babies to sitters, some better than others, where their babies may be competing for attention and care with several equally needy infants; and you have girls from middle class families who are “undesirables” in terms of a shidduch simply because the boys realize that the best way to avoid all these stressful situations – that can be a threat to everyone’s shalom bayis – is to marry into money. If the average home in a frum neighborhood is over half a million dollars (conservative estimate) and rent for a three-bedroom apartment is over $2,000, how will he afford all this – unless he himself comes from money? The prudent thing to do is to ignore the “poor” girls. And so they grow older and unmarried, wonderful girls from heimische families who may have to “lower their standards” and date an “earner”.


I was taught that a father has to teach his son three things: Torah, a trade, and how to swim. What happened to the second one? (Thank God for summer camp – or else many boys wouldn’t know the last one either.) The Tannaim and the Amoraim, the gedolei hador of their generations all worked for a living. Some were “professionals,” others worked in “blue collar” trades.


If “dirtying” their hands and supporting their families was good enough for these Torah Sages, why isn’t it acceptable for the youth of this generation?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/learning-the-hard-way-part-i/2006/05/10/

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