Is there Order to the World? Providence in Jewish Thought

February 9, 2016

Maimonides_1985_Paraguay_stamp_cropEnglishaudio-input-microphoneProvidence in the Thought of Rambam and Ramban (Maimonides and Nachmanides)
How common is Divine Providence? The view associated with the Ba’al Shem Tov, that every leave that rustles does so by direct and specific Divine Providence, is well known. Is there room for other approaches in Judaism? The approaches of two gigantic Mediaeval Jewish thinkers contrasted and compared. Read the rest of this entry »

Advancing Traditional Family Values

May 19, 2015

Möbius Wedding BandEnglishaudio-input-microphoneHow can we defend traditional family values in the postmodern present, and what do they have to offer to us moderns? A podcast of a talk delivered before an interfaith panel of conservative faith leaders. Read the rest of this entry »

A Historic Pessach Kosher List from Very Dark Times

March 25, 2015

MouldyBreadEnglishAny and every Jew, even a great number who don’t usually have the good fortune to keep kosher, are now scrambling to purchase an assembly of mostly certified kosher-for-Passover products. But what do you do when this abundance is not available where you live? And more importantly, what were Jews of past generations to do, when food might be scarce, and their movements constrained?

Below is a historic document from one of the very darkest times of Jewish history, shedding some light on how they made efforts, even in the shadow of death, to keep Passover and celebrate whatever little freedom they still had, while praying to be redeemed once again from a valley of death. Read the rest of this entry »

A Critique of Liberal Orthodox Approach to Halacha

March 11, 2015

Ariel, R' YaakovEnglishOne of the best brief critiques of the liberal Orthodox approach to halacha.

For a couple of years now, I have campaigned among colleagues for people to take up the pen and in a reasoned,respectful way grapple with the underlying issues that are increasingly causing a schism between Liberal Orthodoxy on the one hand, and traditional Ultra- and Modern Orthodoxy, on the other. My feeble contribution to this conversation has been a review of why Modern Orthodoxy is increasingly worried about the trends coming out of Open Orthodoxy.

Now, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, the chief rabbi of Ramat Gan and president of the moderate Religious Zionist organization Tzohar, has penned one of the best brief critiques of the underpinnings of Liberal (incl. Open) Orthodoxy. His essay is chanelled through a review Haviva Ner David’s recent book, and seems at first sight a critique of Orthodox Feminism, but it is more profound, more far ranging and more thorough, putting a finger on the issues with the Liberal Orthodox drive to change halachic rulings.

Reading it, I could not help thinking of of blurb written in the hazy past, in a 1985 Tradition article, by Rabbi Shalom Carmy, which unfortunately applies well to the present issue:
Read the rest of this entry »

A Well Trodden Path Out of the Conversion Law Impasse

November 4, 2014

Mikve_naia_3EnglishSince the conversion reform law of MK Elazar Stern passed its first reading, tensions have been rising between proponents and opponents of the law. The most succinct exhibit of those tensions is that Chief Rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday that the chief rabbinate would not recognize conversions performed by municipal chief rabbis under the terms of the proposed legislation. Rabbi David Stav, in turn, heavily criticized the chief rabbis, adding that „The person running the chief rabbinate today is Arye Deri. He decides who is a Jew and who is not, who is a rabbi and who is not.“

Stav further threatened that the law could pass and new conversion courts could effectively operate without the chief rabbis’ cooperation. This may be his strongest attack on the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to date; it is an outright declaration of war.

We are at an impasse. But there is a good and healthy way out.

Read the rest of my Op-Ed at the Jerusalem Post, or Click to See a Scan of the Article and Read the rest of this entry »

Respecting, Caring for and Helping the Convert

October 28, 2014

Mikve_naia_3EnglishFamous Tanach expert Rav Yoel Bin Nun once said he is saddened when people sing the popular song vesamachta bechagecha vehayita ach sameach, which is rather surprising, since all the song is about is to repeat the mantra, lifted from parts of two biblical verses, that convey “you shall rejoice on your holiday and be gladdened.” What can be sad about that? Rav Yoel Bin Nun explained that his sadness stemmed from a misuse of the verses, as the thing which is to gladden us is (Deuteronomy 16:14-15):

And you shall rejoice in your feast, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within your gates. … and you shall be gladdened

When we rejoice together with the poor, the weak, the downtrodden, the lost souls and those who wish to be part of our holy nation but have no Jewish parents or siblings with whom to celebrate the holidays, then we shall legitimately be gladdened. (Rav Yoel Bin Nun would want us to sing the first verse in its entirety. I tried it, but it is hard to fit to the tune 32px-Sert_-_sad_smile.svg.)

This is one of the many instances in which we are enjoined to help, support, protect and respect the convert. Following in the wake of a scandal in Washington DC, in which cameras were allegedly installed in a women’s mikve, a number of articles have been penned in support of converts, particularly female converts, and the challenges they face in the course and procedures of conversion. In this post, I would like to address one of those articles, A Bill of Rights for Jewish Converts by Bethany S. Mandel. In a different post, I address A Modest Proposal for Women’s Conversion by Michal Tikochinsky. Read the rest of this entry »

When a Modest Proposal is Unreasonable

October 28, 2014

Mikve_naia_3EnglishConversion to Judaism involves, after being screened and found to convincingly desire to accept the Yoke of Heaven and the Yoke of Mitsvot, having studied enough to know and understand what that involves, and living the life in a manner that projects confidence that one will continue living loyally according to these principles and commitments, to then declare one’s commitment before a rabbincal court, and to immerse oneself in a mikveh in presence of such a court. Before dipping, men must also undergo circumcision, or, if already sufficiently medically circumcised, have a drop of blood extracted in lieu of circumcision. The procedure is otherwise identical for men and women, though men immerse themselves naked, while women do so in a manner as to make this encounter as modestly as possible. This means that she will be dressed in a dark, somewhat heavy but loose robe, enter the water, and only once in the mikveh will the rabbinical judges enter, remain at a distance, conduct the requisite brief conversation, and see her head disappear under the water.

Typically, the rabbinical judges remain at the door, quite far from the actual mikveh, though this does also depend on the design of the room. Nonetheless, Rabbanit Dr. Michal Tikochinsky finds that some judges do come in into the room proper, and that some women find that insensitive. She has therefore  written A Modest Proposal for Women’s Conversion in which she revives an argument she first proposed in the journal Akdamut Milin in 2007 (article link). According to her, the judges don’t need to be there at all. She does raise some valid ponts, but regarding her main point, she is wrong and she knows it. Read the rest of this entry »

Is Yom Kippur More Festive; Rosch haSchanah More Awesome?

October 2, 2014

EnglishRosh haShanah is usually thought of as a festive, celebratory day, while Yom Kippur is the day of prayer and aweful, awesome judgment, the day of repentance, prayer and spirituality.

But is it perhaps the opposite way around? Could Yom Kippur be actually more festive than Rosh haShanah, and Rosh haShanah be more aweful and awe inspiring? These themes are explored in the following sermon from 5768 (2007) that gave my German book Ein reissendes lärmendes Wildwasser its name. Read the rest of this entry »

A Tribute to a Young Life Cut Short

July 17, 2014

missing-israeli-teenagers-naftali-frenkel-gilad-shaar-eyal-yifrachEnglishThough the tragic kidnap and murder of the three Israeli teenagers Gilda Shaar, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Frenkel seem like ages away, overloaded as we are with images and news from the ongoing war with Hamas, the following two amazing vignettes of Gilad Shaar reached my inbox. They show how even at 16, this young man had earned his place among those of loving hearts and good deeds, someone with ambitions of empathy and lovingkindness.

Rabbanit Mizrachi was at a women’s convention last week. On the stage was a group called “Playback”. They asked members of the audience to share stories which they would then act out.

One young woman got up .This is her story:
“I work as a resource room teacher with children who have learning disabilities. A few years ago a young boy began taking lessons in my resource room. I could not figure out what had brought him to seek my help. He clearly had no difficulty with his lessons and did well on all his tests. Read the rest of this entry »

Do Not Forget, Do Not Shove it Under the Carpet

July 1, 2014

missing-israeli-teenagers-naftali-frenkel-gilad-shaar-eyal-yifrachEnglishWith extreme sadness, I join millions of Jews the world over who mourn the three young men who, simply because they were Jews and reachable targets, had been kidnapped in the bloom of their lives and murdered in cold blood by inhumans, dreggs of humanity. May we find strength in prayer and deed, not to forgive this crime against civilians, and not rest until the perpetrators and their enablers are brought to justice. Meanwhile, I offer these words of prayer,so that G”d may inspire us to labor for justice and that we may keep the memory of those martyrs forever before our eyes. [UPDATE 20140703: Slightly edited, including but not limited to inserting the fathers’ names, as customary for praying for the deceased]

אֵל מָלֵא רַחֲמִים, שׁוֹכֵן בַּמְּרוֹמִים,
הַמְצֵא מְנוּחָה נְכוֹנָה, תַחַת כַּנְפֵי הַשְּׁכִינָה,
בְּמַעֲלוֹת קְדוֹשִׁים וּטְהוֹרִים,
כְּזוֹהַר הָרָקִיעַ מְאִירִים וּמַזְהִירִים,
אֶת נִשְׁמוֹת
יַעֲקֹב נַפְתָּלִי בֶּן אַבְרָהָם,
גִּלְעָד מִיכָאֵל בֶּן אוֹפִיר,
וְאֶייַל בֶּן אוּרִיאֵל
שֶׁנֶּהֶרְגוּ עַל קְדֻשַּׁת הַשֵּׁם
עַל יְדֵי מְחַבְּלִים רְשָׁעִים יִמַּח שְׁמָם וְזִכְרָם,
[בַּעֲבוּר שֶׁנִּתֵּן צְדָקָה \ שֶׁנִּלְמוֹד מִשְׁנַיּוֹת \
תּוֹרָה בְּעַד הַזְכָּרַת נִשְׁמָתָן.]
אֶרֶץ אַל תְּכַסִּי דָּמָם,
וְאַל יְהִי מָקוֹם לְזַעֲקָתָם,
עַד אֲשֶׁר יַשְׁקִיף ה’ מִשָּׁמַיִם
וְיָחוּס עַל עַמּוֹ, אַרְצוֹ וְנַחֲלָתוֹ.

Read the rest of this entry »