Posted by Rabbi Barry Gelman
Occasionally I write another blog called Piskei Darom. It is dedicated to to sharing Piskei Halacha (religious rulings) and to the exchange of ideas about Pikei Halacha.
Please follow this link to my latest post on a fascinating Teshuva (the entire Teshiva is available there) of Rabbi Shlomo Goren comparing conversion in Israel to conversion in the Diaspora. Rabbi Goren argues that the establishment of the State of Israel changes the way conversion should be approached in Israel.
The connection to Morethodoxy is that Rav Goren’s offers a Psak that considers a changed historic reality to be a major factor in the decision—a key feature of Modern Orthodoxy.
5.24.13 at 9:43 am | My mother-in-law is Halachikly alive
4.24.13 at 9:29 am | Over the past two weeks, I received many. . .
3.23.13 at 10:19 pm | Are things perfect? No. Could things be better?. . .
3.7.13 at 7:29 pm | Further argument in favor of the importance of. . .
3.1.13 at 9:48 am | In fact men and women are very different and we. . .
2.28.13 at 1:13 pm | This one is in our hands.
12.3.09 at 12:12 am | (13)
2.7.12 at 3:10 pm | American Jews, secular and religious alike, have. . . (13)
8.11.11 at 9:34 pm | (10)
June 5, 2012 | 1:13 am
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
The final score was 5-3. Our eleven year old son and his teammates had just lost their little league championship game. Over the pizza of consolation, Coach Jeff congratulated his players on a great season. And then he offered them a gem - a word that I hope that my son and all his buddies will learn to live by.
“Sometimes you learn more by losing than by winning”, he said. Under other circumstances these words might have just gotten lost in the post-game pizza and power-aide. But Coach Jeff wasn’t just casting about for some words of comfort. Everyone who knows him knows that there isn’t an insincere bone in his body. Coach Jeff was candidly and lovingly conveying to the kids a piece of wisdom that he knew to be straight and true. And it got my attention too.
What, you may be asking, are the some of the things you only learn from losing? Well, for starters, you learn that there’s a small but reliable pod of people in this world who love you unconditionally, and who will keep cheering you on no matter what, just as long as you keep giving it your all. Also, you learn what losing feels like, and you understand how appreciated it’ll be tomorrow when you put your arm around the shoulder of someone else who’s lost. And you learn that disappointment and defeat are very different things, and that the latter is determined not by what an opposing pitcher did today, but by what you do when you get out of bed tomorrow. You learn that there’s no gift as appreciated as the gift of another chance, and you learn how to give this gift to everyone around you. Coach Jeff knows what he’s talking about.
It led me to reflect on the idea that we, the Jewish people have learned a lot from losing too, and God knows we’ve lost plenty of times over the millennia. We’ve learned that God can be anyplace, and that we build a Temple to His Great Name through every act of justice and compassion that we perform. We’ve learned that we can count on one another in our times of deepest distress, and even flirt seriously with the idea that no amount of internal disagreement can ever alter the bedrock reality that we are one people. And we have learned that there is no one more righteous on the earth than the one who offers shelter and protection to the stranger in his midst, to the one whom the rest of the world has cast out. We have learned what the purest and highest form of righteousness is.
Thank God, we have been doing much more winning than losing over the last 64 years. May God continue to bless Israel with strength. And May it be that we never forget all the things that we have learned.
June 2, 2012 | 10:05 pm
Posted by Rabbi Hyim Shafner
A Brooklyn based newspaper, Yated Ne’eman, has recently tried to cast more inclusive sections of Orthodoxy in a negative light. Instead of understanding Rabbi Zev Farber’s recent Morethodoxy post about the cultural place of women in shul as a tension between two competing values, that of traditional prayer architecture and process on the one hand and that of the desire by the halacha to honor and include all Jews (even women) on the other, Yated saw only one side.
In the Gemara (Shabbat 31a) Hillel and Shamai argue regarding conversions. Convert after convert comes to both Shami and Hillel and each convert presents themselves as insincere, desiring to convert to only some of the laws of the Torah or to convert for selfish reasons. Obviously the decision to accept or reject such converts lies again in a tension between two competing halacic values, on one side the need to not dilute the Jewish people and their commitment to Torah, and on the second the Jewish value of embracing others and not mistreating the stranger. Shami emphasizes the first value over the second in an extreme way, so much so that he chases the would be convert out with a stick, and Hillel emphasizes the second value, so much so that he immediately embraces the seemingly insincere (yes I know what Tosfos says) convert and converts them all right away. Which is right? Both are legitimate Jewish opinions, both the word of God, but only one is the halacha, the path we as Jews are to follow, that of Hillel. Indeed the Talmud explains that the law is like Hillel due to his embracing, tolerant personality (Talmud Aruvin 13b).
Today Yated is suggesting YCT Rabbonim continue to be excluded from the RCA. In times past their camp suggested the RCA be excluded from Orthodoxy. Today they suggest YCT’s future talmide chachomim are illegitimate, in years past they (or papers like them) suggested the RCA’s Godol was illegitimate.
When I was growing up in the Charedi world I heard only slander about the RCA and Yeshiva University. That YU was a, “Rabbi factory” and that their musmachim knew nothing. I think I was 15 before I realized that “JB” was not a famous criminal but a Gadol Ba’torah, Rabbi Yosef Dov Solovetchik.
Any orthodox person who is over 30 and grew up to the right of modern orthodoxy remembers these things. But the RCA did not become a new movement as people feared; the RCA saw itself as legitimately orthodox and in the eyes of much of the orthodox world remains so.
Less tolerance for fellow Jews and human beings, a less embracing attitude toward the would-be proselyte, dismissing ways within halacha to include women in traditional tefilah, these things, though perhaps sounding pretty frum, do not make one more of a Torah Jew. Just ask Hillel.
May 23, 2012 | 1:18 pm
Posted by Rabbi Barry Gelman
Dr. Rachel Levmore should be commended for writing in this article that “ The time has come for Stern College to take a stand as “Stern College” – its rabbonim, teachers, administration – clarifying that each and every student of Stern and her chosson sign a prenup.” What Dr. Levmore offers is only a partial solution.
It is pulpit rabbis who are on the “front lines” of this issue as they very often perform weddings are are in a position to influence the couple to sign a Halachik Pre Nup. Pulpit rabbis should refuse to perform weddings unless a Pre Nup is signed. So should Roshei Yeshiva. Having a Halachik Pre Nup should be a universal practice and this is the only way to do it.
Years ago the Gerrer Rebee decreed that there should be limits on the number of people invited to weddings as well as limits on the menu and the size of the band. The Rebee realized people were spending too much on weddings and that the time had come to a stop to it.
After the decree was passed a wealthy Chassid approached the Rebee and explained that while he understood why the Rebee had introduced the new rules, since he was wealthy, the new rules should not apply to him. The Rebee’s answer was simple. “You can follow the rules or find a new Rebee.”
At the fourth annual convention of the International Rabbinic Fellowship that took place this week the following policy was enacted. “ IRF Rabbis may not officiate at a wedding unless the couple has signed a halachic prenuptial agreement. IRF Rabbis are further encouraged to participate ritually only in weddings in which the couple has signed a halachic prenuptial agreement. Ritual participation includes but is not limited to reading the ketubah, serving as a witness, and making one of sheva berachot.”
Rabbis should educate their congregations as to why signing the Pre Nup is required and make it part of the culture of the shul.
Some Rabbis claim they cannot sign it as there are poskim who are opposed to it. This is approach, the need for unanimity before a halachik position can be accepted leads to what what Rabbi Daniel Sperber calls “Paralysis In Halacha.”
The tragedy in the case of Halachik agunot is that there are real human casualties whose lives are literally paralyzed by Rabbinic malpractice.
May 21, 2012 | 8:17 pm
Posted by Rabbi Zev Farber
In an interview with ABC News last week, President Barack Obama said, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” Since then all hell has broken loose. In the Orthodox Jewish community alone, three different organizations reacted publicly to the president’s announcement. Agudath Israel announced that they are “staunch in their opposition to redefining marriage,” although they admitted that the president, like everyone else, has a right to their opinion. (Everyone else except for Marc Stanley, apparently, whose statement the Agudah labels “outrageous, offensive, and wrong.”) The Orthodox Union expressed disappointment in Obama’s statement, stating that they “oppose any effort to change the definition of marriage to include same sex unions.”
The most strident condemnation came from the National Council of Young Israel which expressed “deep disappointment” in the president’s statement, writing that they are “diametrically opposed to same gender marriage, which is a concept that is antithetical to the religious principles that we live by.” The NCYI ended their statement with the following: “As firm believers that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman, we simply cannot accept a newfound social position that alters the value, definition, and sanctity of marriage as set forth in the Torah, which has guided us for thousands of years.”
Here is where I see the problem. Certainly the Torah has guided observant Jews for thousands of years. Nevertheless, the United States of America and its president are not bound to legislate in accordance with the Torah. Religious Jews are just one group in the plethora of religious communities in the United States and we can hardly condemn the president for not taking Torah law into account.
Taking a step back, it seems to me that—with all due respect to the various institutions quoted above—all of these statements are missing the boat. The most incisive analysis published on this issue thus far, from the Orthodox community at least, has been Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s piece in the Huffington Post, “The greatest threat to the future of the American family is not gay marriage but rather divorce.” I would add that this threat extends to “accidental families” as well, wherein the couple does not remain together, irrespective of whether they were ever married.
In contrast, same-sex marriages are of interest to a certain subset of the population, and do not affect the lives of heterosexuals who wish to marry their opposite-sex partners. The existence or legality of gay marriage should not be an issue for the Orthodox Jewish community, unless there is a fear that Orthodox rabbis would be forced to perform such weddings or that Orthodox synagogues would be required to treat such couples as “married.” However, if the NCYI is concerned about this, they should have raised this in their statement as the OU did:
“…we appreciate President Obama’s statement today acknowledging that in states where same sex relationships are legally recognized, such laws must carefully address and protect the religious liberties of dissenting individuals and institutions, and the President’s reported reference to the New York State law (on whose strong religious liberty provisions the OU worked) as a model for how such protections must be in place.”
This concern, at least, makes sense and falls under the purview of an Orthodox Jewish organization aiming to protect its own constituency. What is not under the purview of Orthodox Jewish institutions, or the institutions of any other religious group, is to demand that America enact legislation that is specifically in line with its own religious tenets. To paraphrase a quip made by a colleague, I assume the NCYI would not be shocked to learn that in addition to supporting gay marriage, President Obama also does not keep Kosher and drives on Shabbat.
Although I have no problem with all fifty states permitting gay marriage, Boteach makes an alternative suggestion that is worth considering. He argues that perhaps the government should leave the marriage business altogether and only do civil unions. That way any couple, homosexual or heterosexual, will receive the same civil status and legal recognition, and each can “consecrate” their union in a manner meaningful and acceptable to their own faith communities.
In truth, the implied claim that the legal status of a married couple in America carries some “religious weight” in the Orthodox community is disingenuous. The only reason couples married in America are considered married according to halakha is because they perform a religious Jewish ceremony. If they were married in a civil ceremony instead, then according to the vast majority of halakhic authorities (Rav Henkin being the notable exception) they would not be considered married according to halakha.
Furthermore, if a Jewishly married couple were to get only a civil divorce, there is no halakhic authority that I am aware of that would consider them divorced according to Jewish law. None. So in what way does the Orthodox community actually take the legal status conferred on a couple as binding in a religious sense? This is why it is hard for me to understand the extreme, almost visceral, reaction of much of the Orthodox leadership.
Two further points need to be made. First, as I wrote in a previous post, even in the Orthodox world-view, where homosexual congress is considered forbidden, there needs to be sensitivity to the fact that homosexuals—whether for genetic, hormonal, or psychological reasons—experience the same need for love and intimate companionship that heterosexuals experience. Homosexual men and women looking to marry are simply trying to establish a life of love and intimacy in a familial context in the same way that heterosexual couples that marry and have children do. Although the OU’s statement does mention that they condemn discrimination, overall this voice of concern and empathy for homosexuals is sadly lacking in the current discourse. To quote Boteach again: “Who does it bother to have gay couples granted the decency to visit each other in hospital during serious illness, make end-of-life decisions and receive tax benefits as a couple?”
Second, considering the current erosion of the stable family unit and its replacement either with rampant divorce or non-committed relationships, homosexual couples who want to form committed relationships are hardly the enemy. In fact, this type of relationship is closest in character to the choice made by married heterosexual couples in religious communities like our own. Contrary to the opinion of some fringe groups, people who feel they are attracted only to members of their own gender will continue to feel this way throughout their lives. Considering this fact, as a religious community deeply concerned about the strength of American society, whose goals are to solidify family values, shouldn’t the gay couples who wish to marry and bring up children be seen as our allies, not our adversaries?
May 17, 2012 | 7:00 am
Posted by Rabbi Asher Lopatin
After being a bit strident in my last posting, for which I apologize, I want to turn to something really beautiful and loving that I happened to see live yesterday as I was on the treadmill. It’s so easy for me to write in strong language on this blog or any blog from the comfort of home, in safety and tranquility, but once in a while you come across accounts of people who are really making the ultimate sacrifice and putting their lives on the line.
Please take fifteen minutes to watch this powerful tribute by President Obama to Leslie Sabo, a”h, an casualty of the Vietnam war who heroically gave his life to save his fellow soldiers. It was one of the most stirring speeches I have seen. May God bless the memory and soul of Leslie Sabo and all those who gave up their lives for the United States and for Israel – two great allies in a world of of grave dangers.
As we head for Yom Yerushalayim on Sunday, may Hashem bless all of us and the holy city of Jerusalem with peace.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin
May 15, 2012 | 8:18 pm
Posted by Rabbi Asher Lopatin
One of one of the key faults of the Modern Orthodox/ Open Orthodox/ Progressive Orthodox community: We frequently - myself included - take a strident attitude that rejects and attacks other Orthodox Jews without the respect or reverence for who they are or their motivations. Our first response needs to be one of embracing all of Orthodoxy and being open to learning - sometimes with a critical, but respectful ear - from our fellow Orthodox Jews,
We are not apologists for the Hareidi or Centrist or Modern Orthodox community. We need to speak from a loving and caring place, rather than from the outside. I am a pluralist: We need to learn from all Jews, and connect and relate to all Jews - Reform, Conservative, Renewal ; I believe it is critical for Judaism that we engage with the greater society as well. However, that openness requires that we understand that our spiritual and religious home remains with those who embrace Torah Judaism based on our age old tradition (masoret) and based on a loyalty to Hashem’s divine and eternal commandments. I understand that sometimes the Chareidi world may seem foreign to Modern Orthodox but let us not surrender to aesthetics and superficialities. It is the responsibility of Modern Orthodox Jews to show how those who live in the contemporary world, embedded in contemporary society, can still recognize their spiritual brothers and sisters - Orthodox Jews - and still remember where their home is.
There are serious challenges in the Hareidi community regarding dealing with the issue of pedophelia and abuse, and stifling those who are crying out for help. All Jews - especially Orthodox Jews - have to work to change the status quo in reporting crimes and protecting victims. Transparency and speaking out - not being afraid - are Torah values: Lo Taamod al Dam Re’echa - do not stand idly by when your fellow is it at risk. We should even be angry at terrible things happening. But if Modern Orthodox Jews are to have any impact on the Hareidi world, our Orthodox brothers and sisters in Lakewood, Brooklyn and Monsey will need to hear the love and concern and humility in our voice.
Morethodoxy - this great blog - believes in the same passionate Yiddishkeit that Hasidishe and Yeshivishe Yiddishkeit have espoused for centuries: let’s make sure that all Orthodox Jews know that we are one with them, and together, only together, we can address even the most heinous crimes and failings in our communities. Together we can do it.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin
May 15, 2012 | 12:07 pm
Posted by Rabbi Zev Farber
The Shocking Nature of Cover-ups
When the NY Times article on sexual abuse in the Ḥasidic Community came out last week, I thought to myself, “I already know what this is going to say; I can’t imagine this will shock me.” Sadly, I was mistaken.
The fact that sex abuse occurs in the frum community should not come as a shock – according to experts, statistics for sexual abuse in this community is about the same as other communities. For those familiar with famous cases like that of the Modern Orthodox youth director Baruch Lanner or the Ḥareidi school teacher Yehuda Kolko, the reality that such abuse can be protracted and that the perpetrator can torment a great number of victims is well known. Even the fact that blind eyes are turned or that communal authorities refuse to believe the testimony of witnesses is par for the course for anyone who follows these stories. There was even a documentary called Standing Silent which follows the story of sex-abuse survivors from the Baltimore area.
Most disturbing in the Times article was the aggressive response by the community and the rabbinic establishment to parents of victims, and even to the victims themselves, if they expressed desire to report the incidents to the police: parents were shunned, children expelled from school, and retaliatory threats were made against parents if they did not leave town with their children.
As if this weren’t bad enough, the next day the Times featured another article detailing an ostensibly unofficial agreement between the Ḥasidic community and district attorney Charles Hynes. According to this report, the local rabbis get to hear the reports first and decide which ones to pursue and which ones not to pursue. The arrangement that the rabbis control the information about sex offenders is, unfortunately, not unique to the Ḥasidim in Brooklyn. A few months ago, the Jewish Week reported a similar understanding in the Ḥareidi community in Lakewood, wherein a tribunal of rabbis apparently investigates on its own, and threats of communal ostracism are levied against any parent wishing to approach the police.
This was the shocking part. Even for those of us who feel that we “already know” about the blight of child molestation in the Orthodox world, it is still jarring to read about a community that seems to stigmatize going to the authorities more than committing sexual abuse itself. I cannot imagine that the Ḥasidim or the Ḥareidim care about the welfare of their children any less than other communities. Nor can I imagine that the Ultra-Orthodox rabbinic establishment looks kindly on sexual abuse of girls and boys or that they are not horrified by the prospect of pedophiles in their midst.
So why aren’t they reporting it?
Defenses have been proffered. Some have invoked the prohibition of mesirah, turning a Jew in to the Gentile authorities. But this prohibition only applies when the Gentile and Jewish communities are in an antagonistic relationship and where there is the possibility of Jews successfully policing their own independent communities. It is totally irrelevant to the realities of child sexual abuse in modern American society, where the court and police system are necessary in order to protect the community, and the governmental authorities are a resource, not a threat, to our community.
Others have warned that the consequences of false reporting are devastating to the person accused. Certainly, false reports must be avoided, and, hopefully, the police and the justice system can weed out most of the bogus reports before an innocent person’s reputation is shot. However, it may be true that some false reports reach a stage where an innocent person is publicly accused and his or her life is shattered. Nevertheless, this is a risk any criminal justice system must take. The alternative needs to be kept in mind as well: for every sex offender not reported, tens if not hundreds of innocent lives are shattered.
Perhaps the most prevalent defense nowadays is the recourse made to the concept of ḥillul hashem, desecrating God’s name. The claim has been that if the existence of sexual abuse in religious Jewish communities became public, the humiliation would desecrate God’s name. I cannot accept this argument as it is a distortion and misapplication of the concept of ḥillul ha-shem. There is no question that it is the child molesters that have desecrated God’s name, not the parents that report the crime and try to protect their children and other children who will be the perpetrator’s next victims.
What weighs on me more heavily is whether the Ultra-Orthodox community itself truly believes this explanation. These scandals have been breaking one after the other for more than a decade – if there was ever any real possibility of keeping things hush-hush, it has long since passed. And yet, the rabbinic establishment in these communities still does not encourage reporting. Additionally, it is very hard for me to believe that the threat of bad press for the community could outweigh the protection of one’s children from sexual predators.
There appears to be a rather different consideration at work here.
Extreme Insularity – The Spartan Phalanx at Work
The Ultra-Orthodox communities are characterized by an extreme insularity. These communities view the secular world as a threat to their lifestyle, and much of their sociology is built around protecting themselves from the pernicious influence of the outside world. Like the Spartans with their phalanx formation, the Ultra-Orthodox believe that any chink in their armor of insulation could lead to the collapse of the troops.
If the rabbinic establishment in these communities were to admit that their constituents needed police involvement, and that the parents and victims should trust the secular authorities in this matter, a positive relationship could evolve between the Ultra-Orthodox community and the very authorities that they have long treated with suspicion. Conceivably, it may be difficult to navigate a situation where Gentile police officers, judges and court psychologists are protecting children from child-molesters who are themselves religious Jews. In the eyes of the rabbinic establishment, there is potential for a cascading effect.
As a result, the rabbis try to control the situation on their own, but they are not trained or equipped to do so. It seems to me that the mythical allure of the secular world the Ultra-Orthodox are battling has become more than just counterproductive; it has paralyzed the ability of the rabbinic leadership to protect its own constituency. Tragically, the young victims and their families will continue to pay the price until a different attitude towards the government and the general culture can be cultivated.
Glimmers of Hope
There were some faint glimmers of hope in the grim Times report. There was the Chabad beit din that ruled that one is required to report any evidence of abuse to the police. There was the young Rabbi Tzvi Gluck who has begun to act as a liaison between victims of sexual abuse and the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.
Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg
What stood out most to me was the work of Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, an eccentric Satmar rabbi from Williamsburg, is almost single-handedly battling to encourage the reporting of child molesters to the police in his community. R. Rosenberg is a scholar, author of the book Yatza Eish me-Ḥeshbon, and an expert on the laws of miqvaot (ritual baths), who consults all over the world. Since R. Rosenberg is also a business man and entrepreneur, he takes no fee for this work. Most importantly for this piece, R. Rosenberg is anything but insular. I know this because I know him personally; he was my teacher at YCT Rabbinical School.
When a number of us wanted to learn the laws of miqvah, our Rosh ha-Yeshiva, R. Dov Linzer, thought it would be best if we studied with someone who had practical experience constructing miqvaot. The fact that a Satmar rabbi was willing to teach in a Modern Orthodox rabbinical school was itself unusual; he also agreed to let women sit in on the class, something virtually unheard of in his community.
Until I read this Times article, I was unaware that R. Rosenberg is instrumental in the struggle to change the cultural attitudes surrounding child molestation in the Ḥasidic world. While the ostensibly more modern Agudath Israel issues a statement that references obtaining rabbinic permission to report (although, to be fair, they do encourage reporting in clear cases of sexual abuse), R. Rosenberg’s urgent push to report potential abuse cases is a breath of fresh air. With a hotline and a website in English, Yiddish and Hebrew, R. Rosenberg strongly encourages parents to report abuse directly to the police.
Blowing his Big Shofar
Though R. Rosenberg has been vilified by fellow members of Satmer for his activism, this does not appear to be dampening his resolve. This is unsurprising, as from the many anecdotes he told us about his work in the summer of 2004, resolve is clearly one of his chief qualities. One anecdote in particular stands out in my memory, as it does for my colleague Rabbi Jason Herman, who was one of the students and wrote about it in his blog.
Rabbi Rosenberg described a dispute with a local rabbi about the state of the local miqvah. When the rabbi would not agree to repair the situation, Rabbi Rosenberg pressured him: “I have a big Shofar, and if you don’t fix the problem I will blow it and tell everybody.” At the time, I was unsure about the type of personality that felt it was his business to publicly announce miqvah problems to the detriment of the local rabbi. Now, however, in light of his outspokenness against pedophilia in the Ḥasidic community, I say thank God he has a big shofar, and I hope he keeps using it.
What can be done?
The question remains: For those of us who are not part of the Ultra-Orthodox communities, how can we help? I would also like to blow my shofar, but I fear I stand too far away from my Ḥasidic and Ḥareidi brothers and sisters for them to hear me, and I assume that many of the people reading this feel the same way.
But we cannot stand idly by, and perhaps we are not entirely powerless.
We must support Rabbi Rosenberg and others like him in the good work they are already doing. We must make clear that the Modern Orthodox rabbinate and community members are interested in helping the victims; whether this means helping them find counseling, taking their kids into our schools, or just giving them a safe space to discuss their issues and strategize about their future. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with Rabbi Rosenberg and blow our shofars too. After all, we are our brothers’ keepers.