Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Why the Jewish Blogosphere Exists

GHassid and I started this blog when the Gadol Hador closed down his blog. We lamented how there simply wasn't anything else out there that could compare to his blog, the issues he tackled and the discussions in the comments section that his blog fomented.

Well, thankfully the Gadol Hador has been back for some time now and if you ever needed a reason to read his blog, here it is. Read the comments to this post where GH is particularly active.

This is why the Jewish blogosphere exists. Long live the King!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Kugel and Kapotas

R' Gil has formulated his latest response to the Slifkin mugging. Nice post. Stuff we like to hear. Basically, he is reminding us that there are normal people out there. Nothing earth shattering. Just more of the same. No plans for making a difference. I'm glad he survived the Chareidi nonsense by not being exposed to it. Many won't be so lucky.

When is he or anyone with a brain, MO or otherwise, going to stand up and say "Enough"? Enough stupid letters, enough spouting nonsense, enough ridicule and oppression of those relying on legitimate but different authorities for their hashkafah. Perhaps with a real response to this, MO would earn some respect.

What might have been warm and fuzzy about Charedi Judaism (CJ) has become warmed over and oppressive. Is it me or does the the leadership of CJ seem to be some combination of weak, evil, and just insane?

Is this how someone who asks questions should betreated? Is how they teach Torah and how to be a better Jew? Why isn't R' Elya Ber Wachtfogel or R' Elyashiv made to put up or shut up? I haven't heard R' Perlow answer any of R' Slifkin's legitimate questions or even make some attempt. We just get speakers at the Siyum Hashas ridiculing those who don't toe their party's line. All we get is "If you ask, you are a threat to the Mesorah and an Apikorus that must be destroyed." This is Torah scholarship? Gimme a break.

Perhaps, they have been exposed as not being the great torah giants we thought they were and are running scared? Maybe they are all just old and senile? Is there something more sinister going on here? Why aren't we getting some real leadership on this. Are we just waiting for CJ to self destruct? ( Relax. I'm not actually hoping for this. I just want some decency.) I guess it's a possibilty with their strong aversion to work. With their scholarship waning there can't be much left. Kugel and Kapotas won't sustain a people for long no matter how ignorant. We should have more respect for ourselves and our religion. We should demand it. This was wrong on too many levels. It needs a real response. There is a real opportunity here to raise up Judaism. To show the world how beautiful it is.

So.........now what?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Name a Gadol

Name a Gadol and in 2-3 sentences tell me why you think he qualifies as such.

Note: For purposes of this post, the fact that someone sits on some council or regularly appears on a standard list of signatures does not suffice to qualify one as a Gadol. Nor is simply being the Rosh Yeshiva of a major Torah institution.

UPDATE: For the sake of those (including me) not familiar with all the rabbinic All-Stars, please also include one or two sentences describing your pick's bio.

UPDATE II: The GHassid just informed me that this "game" was played twice before by GH and Hakira, respectively. I was unaware of this when I posted. Nonetheless, in light of recent developments and posts on other blogs, I think it is a good exercise.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Rav Hershel Schachter and the Gedolim

I was reading the post below submitted by my esteemed colleague GHassid on the newest chapter in the Slifkin controversy, when the answer to a question that has been bothering for me for some time suddenly became very clear.

I often wondered why truly great rabbinic figures who possess virtually unequalled mastery of Torah and rabbinic source material as well as the middos that truly set then apart from everyone else, don't assert themselves more and rise to a higher level where they can become bigger players in the Torah world. Take Rav Hershel Schachter (RHS) for example. His Torah mind is unparalleled and his middos are on par with his Torah knowledge. I've wondered for many years why he doesn't push himself a little so that his influence can be felt beyond the halls of YU and his many talmidim. Sure, one can say that being a Rosh Yeshiva at YU is what holds him back, but I never believed that. I believed it was something more personal, as if he doesn't want to become larger than he is in the Torah and yeshiva worlds, but I could never figure out why.

Today it finally hit me. Why would someone like RHS want to become part of the fraternity known as "the Gedolim"? He is too good for them. He is too pure for them. He could never lower himself to act in a manner that "the Gedolim" have in connection with the Slifkin controversy. RHS couldn't perpetrate a Chilul Hashem all in the name of fraudulent "kannaus". RHS remains a giant by virtue of not becoming one of "the Gedolim". He stays away because he is commanded to: "m'dvar sheker tirchak".

Gil fiddles as Slifkin burns.

Three new anti Slifkin letters have surfaced. Most notable to me is the signature of R' Shmuel Kaminetsky on someone else's letter. The deadly insurgency has been crushed. Independent thought in Orthodox Jewry, while sick and gasping for awhile, is now officially dead. Nice post about the U.N. though. What a wonderful sense of humor you have. Hilarious stuff! We can all agree that Dave Barry is the best, but something tells me that he knows nothing about RNS or his problems. Or (some Dan Lkaf Zchut grasping here) was that last one, some clever post equating the U.N. to the Council of Torah Sages? Have you confirmed these letters as authentic? If they are, why not something substantial in his defense? Don't you think it's time to organize some Rabbis to formulate a real response in opposition of this insanity? How about something from your new friends at the RCA?

In other words: AYEKA?

P.S. Just to clarify. I am not angry with Gil. I love Gil. I see him as a figure who can make a difference in this matter and only hope that this post plays whatever small role in getting him to utilize his talents and respond to this insanity. Further defamation of The Gedolim is pointless. We can all agree they have taken care of that on their own. What we need is a real response from respected and qualified leaders and I am hoping Gil with his extensive knowledge of the subject will take up this effort with the appropriate people.

If I may quote a commenter from another Blog:

It is getting embarrassing to identify as Orthodox.
charliehall 12.02.05 - 11:52 am #

Please Gil. Help us all.

How the Government of Israel will End the Terror

In response to the suicide bombing in Netanya (see Ezzie's post), here are 10 ways that the Israeli government will eliminate future terrorist attacks in Israel:

1. Promise severe retaliation but hardly do a thing.

2. Fire some missiles into empty buildings or fields.

3. Allow more Palestinians into the country "on work permits" as a good will gesture.

4. Free more prisoners as a good will gesture.

5. Form some more political parties based on defeatism and appeasement.

6. Invite more Oslo architects to choose any position they want in the next government.

7. Keep checking with Condoleeza Rice to make sure it's O.K. to use the bathroom in the morning.

8. Throw some more Jews out of their homes and businesses.

9. Allow more terrorist groups to run in the Palestinian elections.

10. Kill a low level terrorist operative and claim you eliminated "a major terrorist leader".

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A Nation of Princes?

I was on an El Al flight recently, seated in the very back of the plane near the restrooms. The restrooms could be a problem when the line backs up and people begin to hang out and talk at any hour of the night notwithstanding sleeping passengers all around them. This ultimately leads to long conversations starting and everyone passing up their place on the bathroom line in the interest of continuing the conversation.

So there I was, after a nice meal (I love airplane food) and part of a film (lately I have no patience to sit through an entire movie). The lights were turned off and the passengers were in various stages of drifting off to sleep. Then the conversation started. On one side was a young woman (mid 30's I guessed) who was not Jewish but worked for a small company owned by an Orthodox Jew. It sounded like she did some type of computer graphics work. On the other side was a fellow I recognized from New York. He is a fundraiser for a (minor) Jewish organization that actually does very good work. He's a good schmoozer and I'm sure he is very good at what he does. I would say he is part of the "black hat" community in New York. His sons go to very right wing yeshivos and he davens in a 'frum" shteibel. From my observation of him over the years, I came to like him. He is a warm guy and a very pleasant and nice person. I'm pretty sure he didn't notice me sitting there and even if he did, I don't think he really knows me beyond mere recognition.


The woman and this guy started talking. I wasn't paying any attention to the conversation so I don't know how they got around to discussing his work and her work and how maybe they can even possibly help each other. I knew it was heading for an exchange of business cards. Then it started.

While talking, the woman asked for the guy's name. He provided his name and she said "so nice to meet you" and you guessed it, stuck out her hand. Without even hesitating, the guy responded "I'm sorry but I am Orthodox and the Orthodox don't shake women's hands". I felt that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I think I sensed her embarrassment. However, I am aware of the various opinions on what to do in this situation so I tried hard not to judge this man for the way he reacted. While I would shake the woman's hand, I know there are other opinions that it is wrong to do so and was sure he was simply following these stricter opinions. See Gil's posts (here, here and here) for a halachic discussion of the issue.

It sill was a very awkward situation and I was uncomfortable, mostly for the woman because the guy didn't seem to have any problem with the situation. I should mention that this guy's organization works primarily with non-religious women so I was a bit surprised by his reaction. Okay. No big deal. It happens all the time, and whereas I have adopted one method for myself, I respect the other approaches and halachic decisions on the matter. The awkwardness actually dissipated somewhat when the woman, surprised by what he said, inquired about the prohibition. I don't recall his explanation being in any way objectionable.

The situation deteriorated for me with what transpired next. As I mentioned earlier, the woman had said that she worked for an "Orthodox" man. It was therefore not a surprise when she mentioned how the non-shake took her by surprise because her boss never seems to have a problem shaking women's hands. She asked the guy to explain the discrepancy. I would have responded with some sort of "different strokes for different folks" answer while trying to maintain credibility and respect for both approaches. What I mean by that is not that different Orthodox people practice differently because that could lead to its own set of questions and misunderstandings. I mean a simple explanation that there are various interpretations of certain requirements and not everyone follows the exact same procedures in special situations. Not him. Here's how it went down:

Guy: Your boss shakes hands with women?

Gal: Yes.

Guy: Well, then he is not Orthodox.

Gal: He says he is Orthodox.

Guy: He can't be Orthodox if he shakes women's hands.

Gal: Hmm. Interesting.

Me: (Reached for barf bag).

What is going on here? This wasn't some guy who sits in a kollel all day and has no exposure to the outside world (and who, if taught by the right rebbeim, probably would have handled the situation in a more respectful manner). This was an educated person who is "out there in the real world". How can he possibly say such a thing to someone who doesn't know better? What is wrong with these people? What has gone wrong with our religion when those who outwardly (and presumably inwardly) practice the religion at a very high level not only think that way about someone who shakes hands with women but also is willing to repeat it to a non-Jew in public!? He didn't even lower his voice! He didn't hesitate. Is that the only answer he could come up with? Was there no way to get around her question? Did it make him feel more religious? More holy? Superior?

You realize what must have transpired, don't you? One of two Orthodox Jews ultimately looked bad in the eyes of a non-Jew. She undoubtedly went back to work and repeated this story to her boss thinking he wasn't Orthodox like he claimed. The boss either (1) bad-mouthed the "right-wingers", (2) gently explained that the guy on the plane was wrong, or (3) the boss used my "different strokes" response. But either way, she had to leave the conversation with her boss thinking that the plane guy misrepresented the truth by saying that a man who shakes women's hands cannot be Orthodox. And this coming from someone who seems to represent Orthodox Judaism at a high level? This is what she must have thought!

Bottom line is this: we looked bad. Again. And it was because of someone who, based on their appearance, should be held to a much higher standard when it comes to representing our (usually) beautiful religion. Why is this happening? Why are Jews being trained this way? You don't want to shake a woman's hand! More power to you! But along with instruction as to the actual laws and approach to the situation, let the rebbeim and Roshei Yeshiva teach some damn tact! Teach young Jews how to handle other people's feelings. Teach Jews that people's feelings, whether they be Orthodox, non-orthodox or yes, even non-Jews, matter. People's feelings matter! And beyond people's feelings, the impression one gives of our religion matters! Its called Kiddush or Chillul Hashem and one simple act or a few small words of explanation can determine whether one performs one or the other . These things matter. We are supposed to be a nation of princes, a holy nation, the chosen people. We need to stop acting like morons and boors.

Did I mention that I was sitting near of group of Christians who had just concluded a tour of Israel? We had the nicest conversation earlier in the flight. If only we spoke about Eretz Yisroel with the love and respect that these people do. They didn't have a bad word to say about their trip, the people or the country. Not one. "The country is so beautiful". "The people are beautiful". G-d bless you for living In Israel. "Why doesn't your country stand up to the Arabs and the world", etc. etc. The kind of stuff you love to hear. And yes, I know about the different views regarding the Christians' motives and whether we should view them as friends and allies or not when it comes to Israel. That's for another post. My point is that these same people were witness to the garbage that I had to listen to. I was sick to my stomach.

Fortunately, I got over it by the time breakfast arrived.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Gabbai and Homophobia

It's been a special few days. First the GH returns. And now Dovbear has attacked the Gabbai.

Hi, I'm The Gabbai, and I'm a homophobe.

(Everyone: Hi Gabbai!)

Before I respond, let me begin by saying this: I don't want to get into it with DovBear. First, he is an extraordinary writer and his writing skills are light-years ahead of my own and with that advantage I have no doubt that his views will be expressed much more eloquently, lucidly and convincingly than mine. Secondly, Dovbear is smarter (but not wiser) than me so even if I have a stronger position I will never be able to spell it out clearly and convincingly as he is able to do with his own positions.

With that said, here's a what happened. Dovbear thinks I'm homophobic. I suppose one qualifies as a homophobe if he either fears gays or hates gays. I hope Dovbear will at least admit based on the entirety of my post that if I am indeed a homophobe, I am one because I fear gays and certainly not because I hate them. I do not hate gays. I hate some gays. I hate the flamboyant ones. I hate the ones that march in parades dressed in costumes out of a scary B movie. I hate the gays that march in Jerusalem. But I hate a lot of straight people as well. I hate Jews who cheat. I hate Jews who are rude. I hate Jews who are boorish. I don't hate the gays that were the subject of my post. I pity them. My heart breaks for them.

Honestly, I think I am a homophobe. I am afraid of gays. They make me uncomfortable. And you know why I haven't come around? Because I don't know any gay men. I mean I'm sure I know some gay men but I don't really know any gay men. I don't have any gay friends (that I know of). I have my suspicions about some guys but nothing confirmed. My brother-in-law bothers me when he wears pink and mint green shirts but I'm pretty sure he isn't gay. Maybe if I had a gay friend I would realize that there isn't much to fear but I don't have any gay friends and frankly I'm not interviewing.

But besides being a homophobe, I am also confused. I don't know how to deal with gay Jews, I don't know what to think of them and I certainly don't know how to deal with Judaism's treatment of them. It is one of those damn areas where I am uncomfortable thinking about the religion I love and dealing with what the religion says.

Yes, I would not want my children to be alone with any gay man. I don't even think I would be comfortable with them at my Shabbos table because I don't know how to answer a child's question about a gay man if I would be asked.

I am disappointed in Dovbear for not trying to understand where I was coming from in my post before attacking me. Yes, my post bothered Dovbear and contained statements that offended his sensibilities. But Dovbear is smart enough to have looked deeper into my post for the contextual mea culpa that was contained therein. I certainly have bought into the things that Dovbear says I have bought into. But on top of all that I have the questions I have. In spite of my homophobia I want answers as to how Judaism says to treat the humans behind their forbidden acts. I want to know, if gays are "sick", why the Torah is so brutal in its treatment of them. Telling me that science contradicts my fears doesn't really help.

Finally, I am not ashamed of my discomfort around gays and my unwillingness to expose my children to them. I am confused but not ashamed. And for Dovbear, Steg and all the other enlightened individuals who jumped on Dovbear's bandwagon in his attack on me, when it comes to your own comfort around gay men, good for you. It doesn't amaze me at all, and I don't condemn it. I am sure that the gay men with whom you are friendly are fine guys and nice people. But regarding your claimed willingness to expose your children to them or to have your children spend time alone with them, I honestly believe that YOU ARE ALL FULL OF CRAP!