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October 25, 2014 / 1 Heshvan, 5775
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The Holocaust as an Expression of Kindness? Seriously?

Monday, August 5th, 2013

One of the things that never fails to upset me is when people of stature start trying to explain the Holocaust. There are some rabbinic figures who have tried to do so, both past and present. It seems like there is a new addition to those ranks in the person of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, a venerated Rabbinic personality of the 20th century.

I do not say this to disparage him. He is a man who garners tremendous respect from observant Jews from all walks of life. There are people who consider his Hashkafos about Judaism their guide to life. He has a wide following, perhaps greater today posthumously than when he was alive.

My introduction to Rabbi Avigdor Miller was when I read his book, Rejoice O’ Youth which was an unsuccessful attempt to refute the theory of evolution.  For many years that book angered me. But I have mellowed in that regard and now believe that he has every right to his views on that subject and to promote them in a book. Just as others do to refute it.

I recall also being upset at something I once read about him where he strongly disparaged Modern Orthodoxy. I will be Dan L’Kaf Zechus that he was not disparaging observant Jews that are modern but meticulous in their observance and respect the Mesorah. He was probably referring to those I like to call MO-Lites. Jews who are not so meticulous about their religious observances and are more assimilated into the culture than they are into their Judaism. Or those Modern Orthodox Jews that are on the extreme left and try to innovate practices that depart from the Mesorah.  Like Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) and Yeshivat Maharat.

According to an article in Mishpacha Magazine, his son, Rav Shmuel Miller, has published a book posthumously written by his father  that in my view is unconscionable. The thesis of the book is that the Holocaust was actually a Chesed… a kindness from God in the way of a wake-up call! It is called  ‘A Divine Madness’ – Rabbi Avigdor Miller’s Defense of HaShem in the Matter of the Holocaust.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller did not want to publish this work during his lifetime. He felt that so soon after the Holocaust it would upset survivors. His son has decided that enough time has passed and published it. Rabbi Avigdor Miller is certainly entitled to his views. But I am entitled to totally reject them.

He is not the first one to put forward the theory that the Holocaust happened because Jews were abandoning the Torah and observance in droves in the period prior to the Holocaust. But what is so upsetting about this particular thesis is that he considers the Holocaust a kindness. I understand his point. Which he tries to illustrate using an example once cited by the Chofetz Chaim as follows.

If someone is in the coldest region on Earth like the North Pole and falls asleep, he will freeze to death in short order. If someone is there next to him, he will try to wake him up from his slumber. If calling out to him, won’t work, he will shake him. If that doesn’t work he will smack him. If that doesn’t work, he will take a stick and hit him. An onlooker might see this as being cruel and not understand that he is trying to wake him up in order to save his life. In other words what looks like a cruelty to another human being – is actually a kindness meant to save his life.

This is such a bad analogy that it boggles my mind that it was even attempted let alone published in a book.

There are 6 million individual stories of savage slaughter that happened in the Holocaust. And that is just about Jews that were systematically killed. There could be as many as another six million stories about horrors experienced by survivors.

Just to cite 2 personal examples.

My father escaped the Nazi death camps by hiding in 3 different bunkers with other families until his city was liberated by the Russians.

When the first bunker was discovered, the escape route planned in such an eventuality via the town sewer system enabled an escape by my father and my 3 older brothers (who were in their early teens at the time). But my father’s first wife (my brothers’ mother) never made it. She was captured while trying to escape. The next bunker was a makeshift one in the forest. That too was discovered, but my oldest brother got caught while my father and his two younger sons escaped. My father heard his oldest son screaming as he was being carried off by the Gestapo.

My wife’s uncle was an Ish Tam – a Gerrer Chasid; kind and sincere; simple  and pure in his devotion to God. He had not an ounce of evil in his bones. He had a beautiful family – a wife and children – prior to the Holocaust. They were all slaughtered by the Nazis except for him. He was captured by the infamous Josef Menegle for purposes of medical experiments. That left him without family and sterile after the war… never able to rebuild his family. Although he did remarry and made Aliyah.  He was a truly good man who never questioned God.

You can multiply these two stories by the number of victims and survivors. How many stories like this and far worse have we all heard?!

If this is God’s Chesed, I’d like to know what it’s like when He gets angry! How dare anyone say that God decided to torture innocent people in order to wake us up? Rabbi Miller does not make understanding the Holocaust any easier. He makes it even more difficult to understand, in my view.

Many great rabbinic figures were slaughtered by the Nazis. It is said that the great people of any given generation are punished because they did not protest the increasing rejection of Mitzvah observance of their time. Even if that’s true, how can such inhumanity to the average Jew – innocent people who are not Gedolim – be explained?

How can anyone say that being tortured by the likes of Mengele is the same as being hit with a stick at the North Pole?! How can anyone say that forcing Jews to dig mass graves for themselves and then being shot into them is the same as being hit with a stick?! How can anyone one say that the millions of Jews marching into the ‘showers’ at Auschwitz and Buchenwald is the same as being hit with a stick. Such analogies are an insult to not only the six million who died, but to all the survivors and their children, of which I am one!

Wake up call?! How exactly did all the torture endured by survivors wake up all those who lost their faith after the Holocaust?

My negative attitude about the Satmar Rebbe is well known here becauseof his antipathy towards the State of Israel and his disparagement of Rav Kook. But there is one thing I do agree with him about. The Holocaust cannot be explained.  And all victims of the Holocaust including survivors have earned an automatic place in the world to come – even if they did not remain religious.
I therefore object in the strongest possible terms the publication a book which espouses the view that the Holocaust was a ‘wake-up’ call. His right to publish such opinions should not trump the hurt such views have upon survivors and their children.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

New Draft Law a Gift of Hope to Impoverished Haredim and to Israel

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

The latest incarnation of the Haredi Draft Law, aka “The Perry Law,” is an excellent piece of legislation.

The Haredi community suffers from serious problems, which are affecting the rest of the country as well.

Haredi towns and neighborhoods are among the poorest in Israel.

The cycle of poverty in which Haredim are stuck is due in part to the way governments have dealt with the draft issue in the past (no army service—no work permit), but, just as significantly, due of the way the political leaders (“askanim”) of the Haredi community have created a social structure that locks people into the cycle of poverty, thus also guaranteeing their reliance on those same leaders for education, social acceptance, and money.

Israel’s society also suffers from Haredi poverty, because when such a large segment of the population relies on welfare payments, the effect on the economy is devastating.

The new Haredi draft law has just passed its first reading, and will now undergo review in a special committee chaired by Jewish Home’s MK Ayelet Shaked, before it is sent back for a second and third round in the Knesset.

This law is not so much about getting Haredim into the army in the near future, as it is about immediately permitting Haredim into the legal workforce, thus breaking the cycle of poverty.

The new law divides Haredi society into three age groups:

If passed, the law will immediate allow Haredim ages 22 and up to enter the workforce if they wish, and never have to worry about being drafted again. They will receive a permanent exemption. They can also sit and learn forever, if they so choose.

Next, the law will allow Haredim ages 18-22 to defer their draft until they reach age 24, and then, at age 24, they may decide if they want to serve in the army, do national service, go to work, or stay in kollel and learn forever. In other words, to this age group the law guarantees temporary exemptions until they may receive a permanent exemption. But, once again, they would be able to legally join the workforce in 4 to 6 years.

The third age group are Haredim who will turn 18 in the year 2017.

Out of this group, 1,800 will receive exemptions to sit and learn Torah, for the first time effectively sanctioning Torah study in the Jewish State as the full equivalent of military service.

The fate of rest of those who turn 18 in 2017 will depend in some way on what today’s 18-22 age group does over the next 4 years.

The government intends to set a draft quota of 5,200 Haredim out of the approximately 8,000 who will reach 18 in 2017. Out of that quota, 3,000 will enlist in the IDF, 2,200 will do National Service—most likely in their own communities. The remaining 2,800 will receive permanent exemptions.

But, if the full 5,200 quota isn’t met, then the envisioned 2,800 exemptions will be automatically reduced to 1,800.

Give and take.

Incidentally, last year some 2,200 Haredim were drafted. Out of that group, 1,300 enlisted in the IDF and 900 did national service.

This year, the total number of enlisting Haredim is expected to reach 3,300. Not so far from the envisioned quota ( which could change following the committee review and the Knesset debate).

Indeed, Haredi youths are already at close to two-thirds of the draft quota of 4 years from now, and the sky hasn’t fallen.

This isn’t a one-way street as the IDF will gain as well. We think merely adding a large group of soldiers who are mature, disciplined, who don’t curse, and who keep the Mitzvot would go a long way to improving our army—but the much more important result of the law should be felt immediately, with Haredim who did not serve in the army legally taking on jobs to feed their families, with honor.

We happen to believe that, just as Haredi young men will surely make for a better, more civilized and more Jewish army, so will mass entry into the workforce have a similar positive influence on Israeli society.

In Hebrew: Glow

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

לִזְהוֹר

To Glow.

A common Hebrew name for both males and females (as well as the name of the most well-known work of Kabbalah) is זֹהַר, meaning glow. The word is also a verb of the active-simple פָּעַל variety: לִזְהוֹר.For example:

נֵרוֹת הַחֲנֻכָּה זוֹהֲרִים
The Hanukkah candles are glowing.
חַג חֲנֻכָּה שָׂמֵחַ!
Happy Hanukkah holiday!
Visit Kzat Ivrit.

Jewish Boy Does Good: Producer Jeffrey Katzenberg Honored For Philanthropy

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Jewish Hollywood producer Jeffrey Katzenberg was honored for his philanthropic work on Saturday, receiving the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Katzenberg, as well as documentary filmmaker DA Pennebakers, arts advocate George Stevens and stuntman Hal Needham were recognized at a black-tie dinner.

Katzenberg is the founder and CEO of Dreamworks Animanation and former chairman of Walt Disney’s movie division.

Katzenberg was honored for raising funds for the Motion Picture & Television Fund and the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, but said the real thanks belongs to his colleagues in Hollywood who gave generously to his causes.

Katzenberg also sits on the boards or serves as a trustee of AIDS Project Los Angeles, American Museum of the Moving Image, California Institute of the Arts, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Geffen Playhouse, Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts and The Simon Wiesenthal Center.

He and his wife, Marilyn Siegel, have two children.

Easing The Trauma Of Divorce: A Reaction

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Dear Dr. Yael:

I am writing to you in regards to your article, “Easing The Trauma Of Divorce” (Dear Dr. Yael, 11-16).

Now in my 30s, I am the product of a divorced home in which my parents made me, an only child, a pawn. Throughout my life the trauma and hatred I witnessed between my parents was unbearable. As a result, I am terrified to get married, despite the desire to do so in a normal and happy setting. I have gone for therapy, but this great fear is hard to overcome. I wonder if this feeling will ever leave me.

I still speak to both of my parents (neither of them remarried), who, to this day, hate each other so much that they cannot even be in the same room. Thus, how can I even have a wedding? I believe that had my parents divorced peacefully, my childhood would have been normal.

I work hard on my middos, am well educated and have a fabulous career. Without wanting to sound arrogant, I am confident that there are women who would be interested in me. Unfortunately, I am convinced that it is my deep fear of turmoil and unhappiness that is stopping me from getting married.

Dr. Yael, I strongly urge divorced parents to heed your sage advice to not turn their poor children into pawns during their divorce. If parents are getting divorced, they must try their hardest to make it as peaceful as possible, working together for the benefit of their children. I have happily married friends with divorced parents, but those parents did everything they could to keep things peaceful.

These friends seem to have come from homes similar to what you termed “the best possible divorce situation,” whereby their parents remarried and had an amicable relationship. Like you wrote in your column, my happily married friends from divorced homes felt the love and devotion from both parents as well as from their stepparents. I, on the other hand, think that my parents are emotionally not well – with that probably being the core issue in my situation. Having never remarried, they are extremely angry and negative people. I am sure that their emotional problems have also affected my view on marriage, as I do not want to end up like them.

I hope this letter inspires parents who are getting divorced to think carefully about their behavior as it pertains to the emotional wellbeing of the children they love. Only responsible behavior will spare their children the emotional destruction I’ve been forced to experience.

Thank you, Dr. Yael, for your helpful and informative column.

A Fan

Dear Fan:

My heart breaks for the predicament in which you find yourself. Even though you had a difficult childhood, Hashem obviously gave you other tools which you have used to create a life for yourself. All of these talents and your evident ambition should certainly make you very attractive to women.

As you seem very bright, please try to overcome your deep fear and get married. I would hate to see you live alone for the rest of your life. Learn from your parents’ mistakes and build a different life for yourself. If you feel that therapy has so far not worked for you, find another therapist who can help you. It is important to click with a therapist to the degree that you feel comfortable enough with him or her to share your insecurities. This will permit the two of you to begin the process of changing your views on marriage.

It is extremely difficult to want to get married and know how to make the marriage work, if you never saw a healthy marital relationship. But you can learn how to have a successful marriage through therapy. And once you feel equipped to enter into marriage, the concept will not be as frightening as it now seems.

You may also have to revisit some of your painful childhood memories and work through your anger toward your parents. When you succeed at doing these things, you may feel more comfortable with the idea of getting married. There are many children of divorced parents who are successful at overcoming their fears and insecurities, and are then able to build beautiful and happy families.

Laptop Liability

Friday, November 30th, 2012

“Hi, Levi,” said his friend Moshe. “I’ve got a project to work on for the next two months. By any chance, do you have a spare laptop you’re willing to lend for the duration?”

“Funny that you’re asking,” replied Levi. “I just bought a new laptop but am planning to keep the old one as a spare. If you want to borrow it for two months, that’s fine.”

“Great!” exclaimed Moshe appreciatively. “When can I come by for it?’

“I’m not home today,” said Levi, “but any time tomorrow would be fine.”

The following day, Moshe came by and picked up the laptop.

A week later, while Moshe was working in the library, Baruch came by to visit. “I see you got yourself a laptop,” Baruch said. “When did you buy it?”

“Actually it belongs to Levi, a friend of mine,” said Moshe. “I borrowed it for two months to work on the project.”

While they were talking, Baruch accidentally knocked the laptop off the table. It fell to the floor and cracked.

Moshe picked up the laptop and examined it. “It’s ruined,” he said to Baruch. “The laptop is smashed and cannot be repaired. You’ll have to pay me for the laptop.”

“It wasn’t your laptop,” said Baruch. “I don’t owe you anything. When Levi asks for his money, I’ll pay him. For all I know, he’s not going to ask you to pay, anyway.”

Moshe called Levi. “A friend of mine, Baruch, broke the laptop you loaned me,” he said.

“Although I bought a new laptop, I still want the old one,” said Levi. “You’ll have to pay for it.”

“Baruch ruined the laptop, though,” Moshe said to him. “Ask him for the money.”

“I don’t know Baruch; I have nothing to do with him,” replied Levi emphatically. “You borrowed the laptop, you are liable for it. Either pay or get the money from Baruch and give it to me.”

Levi contacted Baruch, “Levi said that I should get the money from you,” he said.

“You’re responsible for the laptop,” said Baruch. “After you pay Levi, I’ll pay you, not beforehand!”

Frustrated, Moshe went back to Levi. “Baruch refuses to pay me until I pay you,” he said, “but why I should pay if he damaged the laptop? I don’t have the money to lay out.”

“It’s not fair that you push me from one to the other,” said Levi. “My head is spinning! Let’s take it up with Rabbi Dayan.”

Levi and Moshe went to Rabbi Dayan. “Who is liable for the laptop?” asked Levi. “Moshe, who borrowed the laptop, or Baruch, who damaged it?”

“The Gemara (B.K. 111b) addresses a similar case,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “If someone steals an item and then another person comes along and consumes it, both are accountable to the owner. The thief is liable because he stole the item. Nonetheless, the item still belongs to its owner, so that the one who consumed it damaged his property. Therefore, the owner can collect from either party, or even partial payment from one and partial payment from the other. The same is true in your case.” (C.M. 361:5)

“But I didn’t steal anything here,” objected Moshe. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“True, but a borrower is accountable to the owner for his item, even if lost through uncontrollable circumstances (oness),” replied Rabbi Dayan. (C.M. 340:1) “Thus, you owe Levi. Still, since the laptop was Levi’s property, Baruch is also liable toward him, so that Levi can collect from either of you.”

“Can I demand payment of the laptop from Baruch now, or only Levi?” asked Moshe. “Does Levi owe me anything?”

“Because you are responsible to pay for the laptop, and Baruch caused you a direct loss (garmi) by breaking it, he has accountability to you also,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “On the other hand, let’s say Levi were to forgo payment, you would not be able to demand payment from Baruch, since he did not damage your laptop and did not cause you any loss.” (See Pischei Choshen, Geneivah 4:34)

“What about the fact that I don’t have use of the laptop to finish the project?” asked Moshe.

“The Nesivos (341:11) suggests a novel idea regarding this,” said Rabbi Dayan. “Since you borrowed the laptop for two months, you have a legal right to use the item for that time; Moshe could not demand it back until the two months were up. Therefore, the Nesivos maintains that the value of that usage, the laptop’s depreciation, is owed to you, the borrower – not Levi, the owner. This only applies, though, if the item’s nature and the duration of the loan are such that the usage entails an accruable depreciation of the item. (See Chukei Chaim – Hichos She’eilah 2:12; P.C., Pikadon 9:14)

Contractors Poised to Defraud Homeowners after Sandy

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Homeowners must be alert to storm-chasing contractors who try to exploit the confusion after superstorm Sandy to make shoddy repairs or steal down payments, the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud warns.

Most contractors are honest, but shady contractors typically descend on disaster areas such as those inflicted by Sandy, whose total damages could reach $50 billion.

Storm chasers typically go door-to-door seeking business. They’re often from out of state, incompetent and unlicensed. They intend to cheat anxious homeowners who urgently need repairs after the storm. Local contractors also may be dishonest.

Homeowners could lose thousands of dollars to contractor scams. Shoddy repairs also can take months to correct, making it harder for homeowners to put their lives back together again.

Contractor inquiries have ranked No. 1 for five straight years by the Better Business Bureau. Contractor-related complaints were ranked 3rd by the Consumer Federation of America for 2011. Home-improvement contractors were the No. 1 source of consumer complaints in New Jersey last year, reveals the state Division of Consumer Affairs.

Five Scams to Avoid

Pre-pay. The contractor demands a large cash payment upfront, then disappears after doing little or no work. The contractor also may illicitly require you to pay for bids.

Shoddy work. The work is low quality, using cheap or substandard materials. Homeowners may have to redo the entire job, often at their expense.

Phantom damage. A contractor creates storm damage. Nicking undamaged sidewall or roof shingles with a screwdriver to mimic hail damage is one come-on.

Inflated damage. Contractors may enlarge holes in a roof to increase their billings. Simply inflating the bill to include more work than was done is another ruse.

Pay your deductible. Offering to pay your insurance deductible to get your business typically is a come-on to lure you into fraudulent work.

Six Ways to Prevent Fraud

Avoid door-to-door contractors. These usually are the storm chasers who canvass damaged neighborhoods for repair jobs. All too often these contractors have fraudulent repairs in mind.

Verify license. Contact your state and local licensing agencies to ensure the contractor is licensed.

Work with your insurance company. Contact your insurer right away to help screen out scam artists. Work closely with your insurer throughout the claim process to assess the damage, determine what repairs are covered, and the cost. Get the right repairs done, and done right.

Watch for red flags. No business cards or referrals…P.O. Box instead of a street address…van looks rundown and has no company name…poor personal appearance…can’t show proof of workers compensation insurance or surety/performance bond.

Insist on a contract. Have a signed contract specifying exactly what work will be done, plus the price and repair schedule. Never sign a contract with blanks.

Contact local Better Business Bureau. Does the contractor have a history of complaints? See if the contractor has a BBB review.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/contractors-poised-to-defraud-homeowners-after-sandy/2012/11/29/

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