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November 28, 2014 / 6 Kislev, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Yaakov Rosenblatt’

My Beef With Chick-fil-A

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Many people have a problem with the Chick-fil-A chain of chicken restaurants. Universities have asked it to leave campus cafeterias and mayors have tried to ban it from their cities. The Jewish mayor of Chicago summed up his displeasure by saying “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values.”

Frankly, I have had my own problem with the company for years. My family and I are in the beef business. Since my great-grandfather founded a kosher beef business in Galveston, Texas in 1910, our family has prided itself on the fine red beef products it provides clients, so much so that we wonder why anyone would choose a pack of pale-yellow, skin-covered drumsticks over a delicately trimmed, gently tied, 21-day dry-aged USDA Choice corn-fed standing rib roast.

I have no problem with Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s recent comments about gay marriage. As a guest on “The Ken Coleman Show” he said, “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ ”

As a religious man, Cathy is entitled to offer his traditional Judeo-Christian perspective to listeners of the religiously sensitive radio station on which he made his comments. I am truly OK – inspired, even – with his championing the moral foundation of marriage between a man and woman that has done our American civilization good for 236 years.

But I am upset – unforgiving – about Chick-fil-A billboard advertisements that feature good-looking cows imploring impressionable consumers to eat chicken instead of beef.

I can handle criticism of our beef products. One doesn’t spend his days dealing with New York butchers and expect to receive rosy-red compliments. But clever ads that imply it is more humane to eat chicken and forgo beef cross the line and are both offensive and wrong.

Adding misinformation to misdeed, the advertising campaign uses Holstein cattle. By all accounts, Holsteins are raised to produce milk, not meat. It is a matter of economics: a milk-producing Holstein is worth much more than a fleish-toting Angus. So images of cute looking Holsteins with paintbrushes stuck between their split hooves beseeching consumers to spare the cow and roast the chicken may play well on emotions but are factually and demonstratively untrue.

According to the Torah, God allows humans to consume animals for the sake of nourishment and prosperity. He does not allow the killing of animals for sport. For more than 3,000 years Jewish law has required animals to be treated well during their lives (an owner, for example, must feed his animals before he can feed himself) and, when the time comes, to be slaughtered in a swift and near-painless manner by a man of faith and spiritual sensitivity.

Jewish law further requires us to engage in the laborious and expensive process of removing large veins from the carcass and soaking, salting and rinsing the meat in an effort to remove as much animal blood as possible. Blood is the life force of the animal.

Respecting the sanctity of life, we “despiritualize” the carcass before consuming it. While recognizing the higher role, purpose and inherent supremacy of human life, we learn that all life should be respected.

Notwithstanding my unresolved beef with Chick-fil-A, I think CEO Cathy is a remarkable man. He has made respect for religion a hallmark of his company, ensuring that all 1,614 branches are closed on Sundays, allowing employees to pray and spend time with their families on their Sabbath.

As a practicing Jew, I keep the laws of kashrus. My family has never eaten at Chick-fil-A. For that matter, we have never eaten at Denny’s or Chili’s. The only time I have ever gone to McDonalds was at Dallas Fort Worth Airport when I bought a cup of coffee before an early morning flight.

But now, for the very first time in my life, I patronized Chick-fil-A. I bought a $50 gift card. I will give it to my postal carrier in appreciation of a job well done. I chose Chick-fil-A over other retailers because when the media and left-leaning politicians are calling for the downfall of a man who speaks his heart and expresses what is good for humanity, it is time for all those who share Judeo-Christian values to stand up and be counted.

I Am Haredi

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

I am haredi. I was born in Brooklyn, went to mainstream haredi elementary and high schools, spent two years in Mir Yerushalayim and attended kollel at Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey. I wear a black hat on Shabbos and dark pants and a white shirt much of the week. My yarmulke is large, black and velvet, and being a frum and inspired Jew is my most basic self-definition, on par with being human and male.

Am I haredi? I believe in the utter supremacy of Torah wisdom to secular knowledge. But I also believe one can see Hashem through analysis of the physical world and that many committed Jews who engage the sciences have a richer appreciation of Hashem because of it.

Am I haredi? I believe Torah study is a most worthy pursuit and the community should support and lionize scholars whose wisdom is clear and vision is pure. Writing sefarim, debating sevaros, and forging new paths in Torah is an effort worthy of a significant portion of our charitable dollars.

Am I haredi? I learned in kollel for four years and am now in the business world. Having observed and experienced the high cost of raising a large frum family and the gargantuan, often futile effort to attain those funds without a secular education, I am no longer sure that open-ended kollel-for-the-masses is a good idea. While kollel-for-all was critical in establishing a Torah society in the late 20th century, the second decade of the 21st century may be a time to reevaluate the socio-economic ramifications of thousands of men unable to support their families with dignity.

Am I haredi? I respond with disdain when some Orthodox leaders respond to theological challenges with nuance and apologetics rather than passion and conviction. We are blessed to live in a nation whose heartland craves traditional values. We are the Judeo rock of the Judeo-Christian bedrock of American civilization and should be proud to explain our beliefs and practices to those who question them. And I respond with disgust when some of my coreligionists defend observant Jews who knowingly bend the rules and break the law, bringing dishonor to our camp and disrepute to our mission.

Am I haredi? I like to read about current events and am fascinated by the interplay of religion and politics in America. I believe we should be involved in the political process as informed, concerned citizens with traditional values, not merely as a voting bloc looking for its share of the pie.

Am I haredi? I believe in the passionate worship of Hashem and that keeping of every nuance of halacha is our path to a relationship with the Creator. I believe intense Torah study can bring one to a closer relationship with God and we are most encouraged and inspired when we seek the advice and blessing of pious rabbis. I treasure my few conversations with HaRav Nosson Zvi Finkel, zt”l, the Mir rosh yeshiva, when I studied in his yeshiva. His was a purity you could see, a connection you could touch.

Am I haredi? I cut a deep line between Judaism and the culture that surrounds it, even if some of my brethren cannot. I regard most issues of dress, attitude and religious emphasis as the result of history and personality, not values and principles.

Am I haredi? I am embarrassed when some of my brethren don’t act appropriately in the larger society. I know they are merely extending the culture that works in their neighborhoods to the larger world as they pass through it. And I understand they are intelligent, kind people who are ignorant of the mores of American society. But I am embarrassed nonetheless.

Am I haredi? I believe many non-Jews have a relationship with God that is worthy of respect and encouragement.

Am I haredi? I believe that while the haredi world has become larger over the past few decades, much of that growth has been in nuance, not diversity. I wish there were less uniformity; it would keep our most creative youth more engaged.

Am I haredi? I believe the trend in our community toward sameness of dress and greater insularity was not a decision consciously made, but the result of the blending of the yeshiva and chassidic communities in the same neighborhoods. When you daven in the same shteibels and use the same mikvehs, you take on the tendencies of the other.

The Scream

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

“The Scream,” a unique and evocative painting by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), sold recently at Sotheby’s for nearly $120,000,000. The price was attributed to its being the last of four editions still in private hands and the fact that it has been an icon of Western culture for over a century. The colors are vivid, the mood is stark, and the being on the bridge is overwhelmed by his surroundings. It captures a man alone in a world awry.

In explaining the experience he sought to portray, Munch wrote: “I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.”

Munch was a secular man, not one easily led to converse with greater forces. He blamed his father’s obsessive religious practice for bequeathing him the seeds of psycosis. While historians attest that Munch did in fact touch madness, the popularity of his work and the duration of his prominence show that he also touched, through the medium of his art, a reality that underlies the human experience.

Munch was on a bridge with nowhere to turn. His hands were glued to the sides of his face, and he shouted a primal scream.

Judaism speaks to Munch’s experience. In Hebrew, the word for scream is “tze’akah.” It is used to convey the Jews’ calling out to God from slavery in Egypt – “And the Jews cried to God from their work” (Exodus 2:2).

In his classic philosophical work Gates of Prayer, Rabbi Shimshon Pincus explains that a scream is in fact a form of supplication. Prayer, he notes, is intensely primal and extensively faceted. Different words capture the different experiences – from fear to hope, confusion to inspiration – that lead one to reach out to the Almighty. A scream is a call to God from a world gone mad. It is the point where pain and fear grow so great that one cannot utter words to articulate the emotion within; all one can do is release a scream that courses through the veins and emits from the gut.

The Jews in Egypt were so aggrieved and afflicted that they could only scream. And the Torah says God listened to their screams and their ultimate redemption was set in motion.

In Jewish tradition, man calls to God and nature does, too. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” says the Psalmist, “and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). I remember one particular night when I was a rabbinical student in Lakewood, New Jersey. It was late and I was walking from the study hall to the dormitory. The world was calm, the earth peaceful. I could sense, through my very being, creation singing to God.

I have no doubt that what I heard paralleled Munch’s experience but that my Jewish processor interpreted the signals in a very different way.

Munch and I could not be more dissimilar. He was a talented artist and I am a hard working meat purveyor. He lived a solitary life raising neither children not students, and I am blessedly married and the father of six children.

We define life differently, too. As his end came near, Munch wrote, “From my rotting body flowers shall grow, and I am in them and that is eternity.” As a believing Jew I would have said, “From my rotting body my soul will ascend, to achieve closeness to the Perfection it has always pursued, and that is eternity.”

Yet, in a way, I closely identify with Munch. I too see a world aflame. I peer out of the walls of my insular Orthodox Jewish community and see a secular culture in which the rich and pretty are portrayed as cultural authorities, and Jewish and Christian leaders are cut down to size.

I see a world in which families inspired by Judeo-Christian values are presented as born into prejudicial sin, and where the nemesis of family, secular feminism, is given award and acclaim even though it only respects women when they acquire masculine traits – hardly a celebration of femininity. It weakens the mind and troubles the spirit.

A New Song

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Half a year after our marriage in 1997, my parents called and said they couldn’t attend the Agudath Israel of America convention and had extra tickets. Would my wife and I want to go in their place? We were newlyweds in every sense of the word and cherished the opportunity of a new experience. “Certainly,” we said and made the trek from Lakewood to Parsippany in the state of New Jersey.

The speakers were interesting, the food was good, and the experience was uplifting. We stayed until the very end. On Sunday morning there were breakout sessions on a variety of topics. I attended a panel discussion which included a talk by Rabbi Yonason Rosenblum of Jerusalem. His remarks included words that etched themselves in my mind and have remained there ever since.

He said it was time for a new rallying call, a new idea with which to inspire the troops and turn values into action. He said the rallying cry should be Kiddush Hashem. He spoke of HaRav Shimon Schwab, zt”l, of Khal Adath Jeshurun (KAJ), whose raison d’etre was Kiddush Shem Shamayim, who saw each day as an opportunity to bring glory to the name of God. He saw every frame of life as an opportunity to remove the cloak of coincidence and reveal the patterns of Providence to all mankind.

* * * * *

Each generation speaks its own language and needs its own message.

Hewed by Hashem into the core of our soul is the need to effect change in the world we inhabit. Surely there are levels of intensity that vary among people, but there is a primal spiritual need to embellish, adapt or undo the choices and lifestyles of the generations that have preceded us. We want to own our lives, and we own by creating.

Generally, the most dynamic generation is the first one, the one that brings a concept from idea to reality. A shul, for example, is most strongly supported and faithfully attended by those who establish it. Subsequent member commitment will wax and wane; in time people will become lax and complain until eventually a new group of members will push the old guard out and pour their own hearts and souls into the institution. They will change it and they will own it.

Such is the nature of man. When a generation is unable to add vision or value to its world, it replaces devotion with sarcasm, commitment with complaint. Ultimately, we create or we destroy.

* * * * *

As a yungerman-turned businessman whose life odometer just turned 40, I feel a primal need for perspective, to understand who I am, who we are, and where our community is headed. Every generation before ours in the Jewish experience in America has had its unique contribution through which it gained definition.

My great-grandfather was a chassidishe Poilishe Yid. He left Galitzia in 1910 and moved to the United States to serve as a rabbi, shochet and butcher in Galveston, Texas. He left a mud-caked village for a sun-baked island. He completely reversed his socio-economic and cultural experience, trading poverty for opportunity, the world of the Polish peasant for a society founded on Judeo-Christian values.

My grandfather, his oldest son, was a first generation American. He spoke English well and appreciated American food, film and music. His formal education was minimal and he worked from morning until night in the family butcher shop, cutting meat and servicing clients. But his pride and joy were his children and he gave them the benefit of both a Jewish and a secular education. Becoming an American Orthodox Jew, proud and committed, was his contribution.

My father’s generation was the first generation of American-born bnei Torah, who believed in the primacy of Torah values, fealty to Torah leaders and allegiance to the yeshiva system. My father learned in kollel, went to college and became a professional, establishing a career with the Board of Education of New York. He and my mother raised 11 children. His generation, through their dedication and large families, built the haredi infrastructure. They created my world.

My generation added something, too. Our yeshiva education was more intense than that of our parents. We learned more, we learned younger, and we learned deeper. Our internal intensity was expressed in the external symbols of large velvet yarmulkes, peyos behind our ears, and a dress code of white shirts and dark pants. Our comfort with our values and focus on learning expressed itself in our speaking “yeshivish,” a language infused with idioms of Torah scholarship and the culture of Lita, something our parents never did. We saw the creation of the haredi press and a trend toward turning to the gedolim of Eretz Yisrael for psak din and social direction. My parents’ generation built Flatbush. We built Lakewood.

What Satmar Chassidim Can Teach The Author Who Trashed Them

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Dear Deborah,

Your book, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots, has touched a lot of nerves and unsettled a lot of hearts in the Orthodox Jewish community. It is not every day that a Satmar woman divorces her husband, moves to Manhattan and writes a tell-all book about the experience. It is not every day that a Satmar woman writes about her chassidic experience with derision and her intimate relations without inhibition.

My wife’s family is from Satmar, too. Her great-great grandfather was the shochet and chazzan in Satmar, Hungary, serving Grand Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum before World War II. Her great-grandfather left Satmar in the 1930s and moved to Portsmouth, England, where he served as the Orthodox pulpit rabbi of a less than observant congregation. His wife wanted to raise their children in a more modern environment and he went along with that decision. He never trimmed his beard or payos in Satmar but did so in Portsmouth. His wife shaved her hair in Satmar but didn’t do so in Portsmouth.

They didn’t write a book about the ordeal as you did. They respected their parents’ insular ways even if they couldn’t follow the path themselves. They wouldn’t – out of self-respect and human dignity – deride those who gave them life, God, and an eternal connection to Jewish destiny.

Deborah, our families share much in common. Chassidic life is not for us. In our view we should not be insular; we should make it our mission to inspire the world. But we part ways, fellow Satmarite, when you approach every Jewish law with cynicism and see sexual subjugation in every chassidic custom. I think you are writing yourself into the text.

I have no doubt you believed all you wrote to be true (including your allegation of castration and murder in Kiryas Joel which has been proven to be false). I wonder, however, if you are open enough to consider that your processing might be uniquely personal – defined through an emotionally scarred and spiritually detached lens that has affected the way you see the Jewish laws and customs that have inspired and unified your people for the past 2,000 years.

Your book became an immediate sensation. What is it that made it so popular? Is it an intellectual treatise, a work of authority? It is not. You write passionately but anecdotally, poignantly but subjectively.

You left your husband and heritage, choosing instead secular values. I have read books much more profound than yours by women who rejected secular culture, seeing its lifestyle as hedonistic, Godless, and disrespectful of their feminine dignity. They saw in secular culture a society that defines the perfect body as the perfect virtue, the undress of female as art, the augmented female figure as the appropriate trophy on the arm of the rich and famous. They chose chassidic Judaism instead.

But their books weren’t featured on “The View.” Their stories weren’t highlighted in newspapers across the globe. They didn’t receive a call back from Simon and Schuster. Why do you think that might be?

It is the alleged window into the chassidic bedroom that made your book sensational. And that is because there is so little about sex in the secular world that is private, dignified and feminine anymore. It is all so public, aggressive and masculine. When a woman is provocative she is not feminine but masculine, having traded relationship for sex. Perhaps the last frontier of feminine dignity is in the religious bedroom. And you besmirched the most wonderful, intimate experiences of a community by presenting your sad personal experience as the norm.

The women of “The View” ate it up. Deborah, it is not you they like. It is your validation they seek.

Leaving Satmar may be your defining moment. But it is a door, not a destination. What is your ideology? How do you define God? How do you make perfect the relationship between created and Creator, man and woman, man and self? How do you understand human challenge, temptation, frailty, and the longing to connect to an Eternal force?

You haven’t addressed the larger issues that any ideology must. Those who cheer you on celebrate what you do not believe, what you do not do. It would be more interesting and inspiring to know what you do believe, what you do in fact do.

Deborah, you are a woman who has crossed a river. You are free, entirely able to live your dreams. What are your dreams? In which moral community will you find a home?

Will it be a community in which people care for each other?  Will it be a community in which people make sure no one falls through the cracks? Will it be a community in which even the weakest are provided for? Will it be a community infused by a desire for closeness to God? Will it be a community in which gala weddings are made for the needy, even those who can’t pay for them themselves?

Men And Temptation: Beyond The Bus

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

There is a culture war raging in Israel. The extremists are pushing for an ever-expanding division of the sexes – including separate seating on public buses – and the moderates are refusing to go along for the ride. The struggle has filled newspapers and blogs the world over.

And it raises a larger question.

How should the Orthodox Jewish community deal with human temptation? Does removing challenges make the male spiritual immune system stronger? Does it make our masculinity more dignified?

Most people will agree that men and women are essentially different and face different challenges. Most men will agree that the basic male nature – without God or spiritual influence – is to pursue power and promiscuity.

From the day he is born man wants to be mighty, to make an imprint on the world. Jewish tradition teaches that this desire comes from a good place. Our soul is endowed with the knowledge that the purpose of life is to improve self and inspire others, to affect the world we inhabit in a positive way.

The male’s challenge is his ego, the drive that leads him, as a cow is led to pasture, to chase the fool’s gold of fame, fortune and physical pleasure.

Judaism teaches that we should have an ego. It says, in fact, that we should have an “eighth of an eighth” of haughtiness (Sotah 5a).

It doesn’t ask us to overcome our pride entirely. Why? Because spending our lives on a “seek and destroy” mission against our ego will send us down a troubled path. We may destroy our self-confidence in the process. And we may spend so much time overcoming the ego that the lack of haughtiness becomes our identity – our pride. Circuitously, we may reinforce the trait we sought to weaken.

The male ego can never be entirely removed. It is like removing fat from a well-marbled piece of meat; the more you uncover, the more you will find.

So what was God’s plan? How is man to overcome his nature? By taking responsibility. Marrying, working, caring for a wife, tending growing children with increasing and changing needs, joining a synagogue and committing to community are the things that keep man rooted, humble, and down to earth.

The same is true with man’s second primal desire. The male attraction to the female was created by God. The more one tries to remove temptation, the more things will become tempting. Asking women to sit in the back half of the bus, or to walk on another side of the street, will result in their very presence being a distraction. The more you cover, the more things you will observe.

The solution was written in the Torah. It was defined as the reality of the world after Adam left the Garden of Eden. Man should be busy. Man should work hard. Man should do the things men do best: protect and provide for the wife and children they love.

When I was a bachur in yeshiva, we sought deeper meanings in the words of Chazal; the derash fascinated us more than the pshat. As I grow older, the words of Chazal ring clearer and deeper in their most basic meanings. And these are words I love: Rabban Gamliel says (Avos 2:2), “How wonderful is the study of Torah with work, as involvement with both makes one forget sin.”

May it be God’s will.

Yaakov Rosenblatt, the author of two books, “tends the flock,” literally and figuratively, as CEO of A.D. Rosenblatt Kosher Meats, LLC and a rabbi with NCSY in Dallas.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/men-and-temptation-beyond-the-bus/2012/01/25/

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