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Message In A Bottle
By Rabbi Avi Shafran
When the oddly shaped package arrived in the mail, several of my colleagues at Agudath Israel happened to be in my office. I took the cylindrical 20-inch mailing container in hand and looked at the return address. It was from Mr. Blue*, an older gentleman in Northern California with whom I have been corresponding for several months.
Mr. Blue, who had first contacted me to take rather strong issue with something I had written in a national Jewish magazine, had never made a secret of his negative feelings for Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Judaism. We argued back and forth in letters over those months, he quoting news reports and enclosing press clippings and I responding with protestations, corrections and explanations.
"It's from someone not exactly enamoured of us 'Ultras'," I told my friends with a laugh. After making a lame joke about the package ticking, I tore off the wrapping and unveiled a two piece Styrofoam container which, when taken apart, yielded... a bottle of fine kosher Cabernet.
All of us smiled, and I put my slightly late Purim gift on my desk, where it stayed for most of the day, a reminder of one Jew's gesture of good will toward another - and a spur to thought.
There are no Orthodox Jews where Mr. Blue lives. He had formed his opinion of the Jewish religious heritage and those dedicated to it from the only sources available to him: the pages of newspapers and word of less-than-friendly mouths - some, no doubt, speaking stridently from pulpits. And so his first missive had been accusatory and indignant in tone. All the same, though, I realized from the start, he had bothered to write, and that says he cares. And so I had written him back in a friendly tone, expressing the hurt rather than the anger that his words -- a hodgepodge of common misconceptions and overheard half-truths -- had caused me. And so it was that our extended correspondence began.
Now, many months later, Mr. Blue still sends me press reports of outrageous statements by some Orthodox rabbis, displays biases, and misconstrues things he reads; he may never fully accept my point of view. Yet he has, I think, come to realize that Orthodox Jews are not the shallow caricatures he once assumed, and that we consider all Jews to be parts of the Jewish people. He has been forced to concede, to boot, that we are real people, people from whom he can elicit a reasoned response, people with whom he can have a good argument, people whose day he can brighten with a bottle of wine.
And even as he has, I hope, learned a bit from me; I know I have learned much from him. Not only about the depth of misconception that some Jews, sadly, harbor about the Orthodox world, but also about how deeply caring and serious about Judaism a self-described non-observant Jew can be, about how hurtful and harmful unwisely chosen Orthodox words and deeds can be to our precious fellow Jews -- and, most important, about the holy bond of Jewish peoplehood that transcends levels of observance.
Over the course of the day, the bottle of wine on my desk jogged my memory and brought back another interaction I had with someone not well disposed toward Orthodoxy.
A letter to the editor had appeared in a magazine published by the Reform movement. The letter, written by a teen-aged girl, had apparently been inspired by an article in an earlier issue of the periodical, in which a Reform rabbi had contended that Orthodox Jews have contempt for Jews who are not like themselves. "Why," wrote the young woman, "when there is so much anti-Semitism in the world, must fellow Jews hate us as well?"
I was greatly agitated after reading the letter, deeply pained that anyone - not to mention a "Jewish leader" -- could so outrageously slander other Jews and bring such needless anguish to an innocent young Jewish soul. I simply couldn't concentrate, and so I picked up the phone and dialed information for the girl's New Jersey town.
There would probably be many listings for her last name, I told myself, too many to sift through.
There was only one; I wrote it down.
Taking a deep breath, I dialed the number and asked for Michelle*. She came to the phone and, after apologizing profusely for calling her out of the blue and promising that I would not call her again unless she asked me to, I spoke my piece:
"G-d forbid! Orthodox Jews don't hate you! We may have serious disagreements with the philosophy of the movement with which your family is affiliated. As you get older and learn more, you will be able to evaluate those concerns for yourself. But you and your family are precious Jewish brothers and sisters to us!"
A pause, and then she responded.
"You sound like a nice person," she said, "but I'm sorry. I can't accept the truth of what you're saying."
I was stunned. "But why not?" I asked.
"Because I've been taught otherwise. For years."
"But what you've been taught simply isn't true!"
"That might be so, but we've spent many classes in my Temple school discussing the Orthodox attitude and I can't just suddenly take your word against all that I've been taught by my teachers."
I was dumbfounded and deeply hurt, but realized that there was nothing to gain by pestering the clearly intelligent and honest but resolute young woman. I begged her to take down my number in case she ever wanted to talk further but promised not to call her again. Though the memory of our conversation remains a deeply painful one, I have kept my word.
As I gazed at the bottle of wine on my desk, though, and endured the odd looks cast by those who passed by my open door, I offered a silent prayer.
Even if we Jews continue, tragically, to grow apart, I prayed, even if we insist on following divergent paths into what we dare to trust will be the Jewish future, may we all endeavor to emulate Mr. Blue - disagreeing if we must, even vehemently if it's warranted. And reject, emphatically, resolutely and entirely, the path chosen by Michelle's teachers.
*Names have been changed
[Rabbi Avi Shafran serves as director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, and as American Director of Am Echad]
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By Moshe Schapiro
It must be a strange sensation to view a film that focuses on a subject you know intimately - and that makes it utterly unfamiliar.
Everyday surroundings must take on an unpleasant, raw hue on the screen when outsiders who only think they know the landscape have formed the images. The knowledgeable viewer must squirm in his seat, beset with a maddening feeling that the artist is missing the point time and again - fixating on a twisted version of peripheral elements of his subject and overlooking its unique flavor and essence. The experience must surely leave one feeling horribly violated.
Having read a number of reviews of "Kadosh", the Israeli-produced film written by Eliette Abecassis, directed by Amos Gitai and entered into this year's Cannes film festival competition, I can only imagine that is how I would feel actually watching it.
And yet, isn't portrayal of the artist's impressions what art is all about? If superficial aspects of a reality are what captured the filmmakers' attention, is not their film, accurate or not, a legitimate form of creative expression?
Perhaps. But when politics encroaches on the arena of art, poetry can become mere propaganda.
Leni Riefenstahl's work is a good example. In 1933, Adolph Hitler commissioned the talented young actress-director to depict the essence of the Nazi Party on film. Her powerful Nuremberg Rally film, Triumph des Willens ("Triumph of the Will", 1935) is widely regarded by experts as one of the most effective pieces of visual propaganda ever made.
Combining melodramatic camera techniques from the silent movies of the 1920's with the dramatic effects of Wagnerian opera, Riefenstahl vividly portrayed the submergence of the individual into the mass of a movement. Through her employment of art, she not only won a gold medal at the Venice Film Festival but infused the Nazi Party with vitality.
"Kadosh" (the Hebrew word for "sacred") is a relentless, brutal attack on Orthodox Jewish life and its ostensible mistreatment of women. The plot focuses on the victimization of two sisters, Rivka and Malka, who live in the Haredi neighborhood of Meah Shearim in Jerusalem. The beautiful Rivka loves her husband, Meir, but after ten years of marriage, she has been unable to conceive. The film portrays how Rivka's inability to bear children undermines her status in her community, rendering her an outcast. Adding to this bitter insult, Rivka's husband informs her that their living together as man and wife is now a sin, since it is not leading to procreation. Rivka is forced to leave her home, so that Meir can father a child with another wife - although a doctor has told Rivka that Meir may actually be the infertile partner.
While Rivka's situation becomes more desperate, her younger sister, Malka, finds that she has been condemned to a prearranged marriage with a man she loathes. She runs off with a lover, but then returns brokenhearted, only to be brutally beaten by her husband.
A truly tragic tale.
And an utterly deceitful one.
For when Haredi couples have trouble conceiving, they don't separate; they go to infertility specialists, like members of other segments of society.
And should they experience marital stress, they seek assistance from qualified rabbis or counselors. In cases of domestic violence, there are resources to which families can turn; at least three Israeli Haredi organizations operate 24-hour emergency hotlines offering immediate help to battered women from across Israel's societal spectrum.
Halacha, or Jewish religious law, moreover, does not permit men to have two wives simultaneously. Rivka's husband could not have taken a second wife with rabbinic sanction.
Married couples, further, are permitted, indeed commanded, by halacha to maintain physical intimacy even when conception cannot result. Even Abecassis and Gitai must know that Haredi marital life does not stop at menopause.
These inconvenient facts, however, did not dissuade Kadosh's producers. Director Gitai expressed a larger purpose for the film.
"It's my way," he said, "of voting against the religious right. There has been a veritable coup d'etat by the religious community. It is up to us to decide what kind of country we will have."
With "Kadosh," Abecassis and Gitai, who are now seeking an American distributor for their film, may or may not have produced art. What they have surely produced, though, is propaganda, aimed at denigrating their fellow Jews.
And that, sadly, is a real, entirely non-fictional, tragedy.
[Moshe Schapiro, a former Torontonian, currently lives and writes in Jerusalem]
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Rabbi Avi Shafran
The conversation -- a real one -- took place a number of years ago on the outskirts of a non-religious kibbutz in the Galil, on a hill overlooking a lush valley.
The teen-aged cousins, one born and bred on the kibbutz, the other an American newcomer to the Holy Land on a short visit before the start of his yeshiva's academic term, had first met only days earlier.
They had been speaking about family, personal experiences, and sundry things their very different lives nevertheless had in common. And then, the observant boy mentioned, entirely en passant, the imminence of the Jewish fast day known as Tish'a B'Av, which falls out on July 22 this year.
"We don't observe that holiday on the kibbutz," his cousin pointed out. "The Temple's destruction just isn't relevant to our lives here."
The American boy hesitated for a long moment before asking, "Do you observe any Jewish day of mourning?"
"Sure," came the reply. "Yom HaShoah."
Another pause, this one longer. The yeshiva student knew that the national day of Jewish mourning, Tish'a B'Av, on one level encompassed every tragedy in Jewish history, that not only was the first Jewish Holy Temple destroyed on that day 2419 years ago, and the second one, 1929 years ago, on the very same day, but that the rebel Jewish forces at Betar were annihilated by the Romans on it as well. And that the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290, and from France in 1306 and from Spain in 1492 all happened on Tish'a B'Av too. He also knew that what was quite arguably the true genesis of what would culminate in Germany's "Final Solution" -- the First World War -- began on Tish'a B'Av. But somehow it didn't seem the right time for a history lesson.
So, instead, he asked his cousin, "Is your commemoration of the Holocaust really important to you?"
"Absolutely," came the reply. "The Holocaust underlies our very identity as Israelis and as Jews."
The American weighed the wisdom of actually saying what he wanted so to say. He decided the blood-bond was strong enough to handle it.
"Will you expect your children to pay its memory the same respect that you do?"
"To feel the same sorrow, to have the same determination that you do?"
"Of course," the Israeli replied. "My generation will see to it that our children recognize the importance of the Holocaust, how it defines their identity, how important it must continue to be to all Jews."
"And will you expect them, in turn, to transmit the same conviction to their own children -- and theirs to theirs?"
"Absolutely. Forever. To us it is that important."
The American swallowed hard, then spoke.
"Like the first attempts to destroy our people and its faith were to our own ancestors."
Nothing else was said for the moment. The two young men walked back to the kibbutz in silence.
It could well be argued that a large part of what characterizes "Orthodox" Jews is a heightened sense of history. Not only of its vicissitudes and tragedies for our people, but, most importantly, of its seminal Jewish moment, the unequalled event that bequeathed us our mandate to cherish, study and observe the Torah -- the revelation of G-d to His people.
Whether a Jew, G-d forbid, willfully rejects the divine origin of the Torah or simply lacks the background to have given the issue much thought, what he denies, or is oblivious to, is an historical fact -- the mass-witnessed and painstakingly transmitted event at Sinai that lies at ground-zero of the Jewish people and the Jewish faith.
All Jews who aspire to the appellation "observant" are, in essence, the keepers of Jewish history, recent and ancient, and are entrusted with the mission of sharing the memory of the Jewish past -- both its nadirs and its apogee -- with all their fellow Jews.
Should the Messiah tarry further, G-d forbid, a day may well come when all testimony of the events of a half-century ago will be indirect, arriving only through books and films, or third-hand accounts.
The facts, though, of what happened during those years, the horrible details of Jewish Europe's destruction, will endure, because there will always be Jews determined to hold fast to the entirety of our history, to maintain the memory of what happened fifty years ago.
And 1929 years ago, and 2419 years ago.
And 3311 years ago, in the Sinai desert.
[Rabbi Avi Shafran serves as director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America and as American Director of Am Echad.]
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No Small Victory
When I first spotted this guy putting up Meretz posters at the entrance to a religious neighborhood, I thought the act brazen, even by Israeli standards. Meretz, everyone knew, was the party of the ayatollahs of godlessness. These people wanted to mark the Torah "return to sender," and send it off someplace where it would not offend modern sensibilities. The only time the citizens of Har Nof normally encountered Meretzites was when they deliberately drove their cars on Shabbat past the neighborhood barriers, to show their contempt for anything traditional.
Secretly, I was jealous. Here was a guy doing something audacious for his cause, while I was consigned to election-day obscurity, glumly going from door to door, reminding people that they ought to vote. Nothing exciting in that. Now I sensed the approach of my moment of glory. I would valiantly rise in support of Orthodox dignity, and point the trespasser in the direction of Ben Yehuda Street, where he might find people more sympathetic to his cause, or at least someone to share a BLT.
"What are you doing here," I challenged, with all the authority I could muster in Hebrew. "Why are you in this neighborhood. You and your ilk hate all of us here!"
I sort of expected him to admit that he had taken the wrong bus, and would be more than happy to head back to the twentieth century and escape the stultifying atmosphere of my anachronistic ghetto. Instead, he uttered the four words I would never have predicted could have fallen out of his lexicon.
"I don't hate you." There was obvious sincerity in his voice. Certainly no hostility. I noticed the person, for the first time, even before the implication of his remarks took hold. In his mid-twenties, he looked more athletic than demonic. At the moment, though, he was doing a good job confusing me. How could he not hate us, and everything we stood for? He was working for Meretz, mother of Shinui and the womb that spawned Shulamit Aloni and Yossi Sarid, and all those others who opposed everything I had come to value in life.
"I don't hate you at all," he repeated. "As a matter of fact, I share many of your reactions, despite the fact that I am not observant. For instance, I believe that Bar-Ilan Street should be closed on Shabbat," referring to the infamous, and recently rekindled, flash-point between Israeli religious and secular interests.
My equilibrium was now totally destroyed. Why would he work for Meretz, if he were not committed to sabotaging our way of life? I put the question to him.
"Simple. I am more than happy to allow you to live according to your principles. But I, in turn, wish to live according to mine, free of your interference. I love the Jewish State, and I want to see one in which all of its citizens live in harmony."
This threw me for another loss. OK, I was an American, brought up not only in the fuzzy glow of melting-pot acceptance of difference, but in laid-back California to boot. And I had hardly lived a life sheltered from diversity of opinions and life-styles. My Shabbat table at home often collected a wider assortment of differences than Jerry Springer could muster. Still, guys like my new sparring partner were not supposed to exist, at least not in the party of the "rabbit-eaters".
I quickly realized that my carefully rehearsed campaign slogans weren't going to work in this venue. We weren't really fighting as members of two opposing camps, but disagreeing - albeit profoundly - about how to achieve the same goal.
I took the lead. "You're concerned about the Jewish State? Just what makes it Jewish any longer? What do your leaders know about Judaism?"
I didn't really expect him to understand my point, but he surprisingly conceded it. A smile crept across his face, which still betrayed no anger or resentment. "You're right. My politicians don't understand a fraction of the Judaism that your rabbis and teachers do. But I have something better..."
I didn't wait for him to finish. If he was willing to give tradition a vote, I thought I could score the next point. "If you recognize that there is depth to Judaism, that there is content worthwhile studying, why have you never taken the time to study the sources yourself? Maybe then you wouldn't reject us!" There was a bit of triumph in my voice. After all, I knew, no one rejected observance out of anything else but ignorance.
I was fully unprepared for his counter, and for the end of the phrase I had interrupted. "Actually, I was curious enough to spend a few days in a yeshiva for ba'alei teshuva. Interesting, but I had to move on. And I believe that I have found teachers who really understand Judaism. They are my professors at the university."
My partner was beginning to enjoy himself. It was his turn to feel triumphant. He had just upended my assumption that he had never done his homework. And he stood smugly atop the ivory towers of academe, certain that I knew nothing of his world, while he had, at least briefly, taken the time to walk into mine.
Resolution of our conflict would take the intervention of a third party. An elderly man suddenly approached, and quickly sized up the situation. He saw was young yeshiva bochur in heated discourse with a jean-clad member of the counterculture. Completely ignoring the presence of my opponent, he chastised me for even speaking with people as dangerous as my new acquaintance.
Before I could respond, Joe College let the interloper have it. "Don't you remember what the Talmud says? That the Holy Temple was destroyed not because of Roman strength, but because of groundless hatred between Jews?"
Mr. Piety retaliated like a veteran Israeli street-fighter. "What do you mean, 'groundless'? People of your ilk we have good reason to dislike!" He walked off in a huff, but he had been bruised. Since when did Meretz yuppies start quoting the Talmud?
Elijah the Prophet, I'm quite sure, would have spoken differently, but he could not have done a better job of resolution. For the moment, the argument was over. The distance between two people who had only then met, - and between two cultures that thoroughly rejected one another - had been bridged, in recoil from a third man's rudeness.
I was almost begging. "Please don't judge all haredim by this person's coarseness. We are not all like that. None of my friends or teachers are like that. Believe me, this is not what my Judaism is about. We do love all Jews, wholeheartedly, as brothers..."
Now he could be gallant. Of course he understood. And so did I. For the first time we looked at each other as two Jews who had much more in common than we may have realized at first, but who were nonetheless tragically estranged from each other. We traded small talk, each of us offering something of our backgrounds. He was several years older than me, and indeed had very little formal exposure to traditional Judaism, aside from his few days in a yeshiva. He had grown up on a secular kibbutz, where religion was hardly a topic of endearment.
I responded to the challenge of his remark about his professors. I asserted that while they might be scholars, they certainly could know little of the true depth of Torah that I had been privileged to experience. He politely demurred. This continued for a while.
Finally, exasperated, I told him that if he were truly intellectually honest he would visit a yeshiva for more than a few days, and make a decision from a position of knowledge. He quickly countered: "And if you were intellectually honest, you would spend time in a university, studying Biblical criticism!"
My interlocutor was as set in his stereotypes as I had been in mine. He was certain that I possessed nothing of secular knowledge, and that all of my community was trapped in a 14th century mind-set. It certainly hadn't occurred to him that my parents had imbued me with complete confidence in the power of Torah to triumph over all intellectual challenges. I was hardly an expert in scientific criticism, but the words Documentary Hypothesis didn't scare me either.
"Tell me," I demanded. "To which university would you have me go? "
"Why, Hebrew U., just like me!" he retorted, unaware of the trap he had just walked into.
"Hebrew U.! My brother just finished Columbia Law School; my sister-in-law is in Yale - and you can't come up with anything better than Hebrew U.?"
Two points for the old-timers. The irony was not lost on him. He had never imagined such a thing as a university-educated, black-hatted haredi. We were supposed to be backward fanatics, after all, scurrying like roaches from the light of modernity!
And so each of us had seen our prejudices shot through. We could both score the confrontation as a stalemate, but we were determined to press the relationship forward. We gingerly proffered mutual invitations to spend Shabbat together. (He soon reconsidered. I might not receive a very accepting welcome at his kibbutz, he sadly reflected.)
My new friend deepened my appreciation of a Torah thought I had studied long before, belonging to my older brother's (the Columbia one) favorite commentator. Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk questions the confident certainty of "And you will return to the Lord your G-d (Deuteronomy 30:2)." What guarantee, he asked, is there that the Jewish people will indeed return?
Jews, he answered, may weaken in their belief and commitment to their Creator. But their bond and devotion to their fellow Jews is etched permanently on the walls of their hearts. And this love is a tool sufficiently powerful to move them together, and then to the Place that gave them life.
It is doubtful whether either my new friend or I made much of an impact on the election. But we both learned something about the power of dialogue, of the bond that can develop between Jews who move beyond the obvious, and take the time to speak to each other.
And that was, for each of us, no small victory.
[Aviv Evenesher is the nom de plume of a Los Angeles native studying in an Israeli yeshiva]
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The Dangers Of Open Windows
The picture in the newspaper looked grimly familiar. Grief-stricken teenagers, tears streaming down their faces, brows knitted in consternation, mouths agape in horror, mourning the murder of one of their classmates - by another. Just the latest incident of murderous teen violence.
Except that the anguished faces in the photo were not those of the sons and daughters of Colorado, or Kentucky, or Arkansas, but of Jerusalem.
They had gathered in East Talpiot on June 10 to mourn the murder of their 15-year-old friend Gilad Raviv - just as another group of teenagers had gathered one week earlier in Upper Nazareth to cry for their friend Yevgeny Yakobovich, also 15, who had been beaten and stabbed to death by five schoolmates because he had apparently annoyed them.
These incidents reflect an alarming trend in the Jewish State. According to a recent survey of Israeli students in grades 6-10, some 25% of boys and 6% of girls carry a weapon for self-protection - with approximately 10% of all students bringing a weapon to school with them. Teenage violence may be as American as apple pie, but strudel is apparently popular in Israel too.
Here in the United States, much has been written and said about the cause of youth violence. Fingers of blame have been pointed at a variety of targets: the easy availability of guns; the growing number of troubled children from dysfunctional families; the bloody mayhem that passes for entertainment in so many movies and television programs.
And the paucity of proper values. Responding to the murderous rampage in Littleton, Colorado, the House of Representatives passed a bill allowing the posting of the Ten Commandments in public school buildings. Vice President Gore and other prominent public figures from both sides of the political aisle have advocated government funding for churches and religious organizations to enlist their involvement in helping address the social pathologies that plague modern-day society.
Constitutionally controversial though these initiatives may be, they bespeak a widespread sense that the strengthening of values - old-fashioned religious values - is an essential component of an effective response to the problems of the day.
Which brings us to the musings of best-selling author and columnist Thomas L. Friedman, who devoted his June 22 New York Times op-ed essay to a lament over the insularity of Jerusalem's haredi community, whose children attend "18th-century ghetto schools, where kids are given no math, science or computing skills that might prepare them for the future."
Writes readily answer in the affirmative; and some American Jews, gently guided by much of the media, readily concur. Both groups are victims of profound ignorance and, in more than a few cases, guilty of outright prejudice.
Virtually since Israel's birth, Israeli yeshiva students have received annual deferments, as is customary in many countries for divinity students and religious scholars. (There are many other deferment categories as well; Israeli government statistics show that fully 65% of draft-age Israelis are excused from military service.) Yeshiva student deferments are conditional on the students' full-time involvement in Torah study; their employment in any way is illegal. At 41 years of age (35, if they have five or more children) haredim receive permanent deferments.
That arrangement, part of the "religious status quo" endorsed by Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, has become increasingly unpopular in recent years, largely due to the growth of the haredi sector of Israeli society and the concomitant increase in the number of full-time yeshiva students.
As he was forming his governmental coalition, Prime Minister Ehud Barak entered into an agreement with one of Israel's religious parties (which, together with the others, garnered a full quarter of the Jewish vote in the recent Knesset election) allowing yeshiva students to seek employment at age 24 or 25, but only after undergoing basic military training in accord with the army's needs.
The new setup, aimed at young haredi men who are not prepared to devote themselves to full-time Torah study beyond their mid-20s, was designed to add haredim to the pool of those trained to serve Israel in times of need, to facilitate the movement of haredim into the workforce and to end the dependence of many haredi families on the very modest government subsidies provided to the unemployed. A special committee, composed of representatives of the Defense Ministry, the Prime Minister's office, the Attorney General's office and yeshiva heads, are to determine the final criteria regarding conscription and exemptions.
The accommodation is a reasonable one. Yet the controversy continues, fueled, in part, by two stubbornly resilient misconceptions.
The first is that Israel's security is compromised by the relative paucity of haredim in the military. The fact, though, is that the Israeli army has no interest in enlisting haredim. With their scholarly demeanors and religious needs, young haredim do not easily fit the requirements of the modern military. Former Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai testified before Israel's High Court last year that the current number of deferments on religious grounds did no harm whatsoever to the state. What's more, former army Chief of Staff Lt.-General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak has declared that the military is simply not prepared to absorb an influx of haredi soldiers. "The Israeli army," he said, "would have to reshape itself" entirely to accommodate the religious needs of such inductees.
The second misconception, more trenchant still, is that those who opt for full-time Torah study are contributing nothing to the security of the Jewish State.
Study halls may be safer places than battlefields, but there are many vital roles even within the military that are formidably insulated from danger. Think of engineers or communications experts -- or, for that matter, generals and logistical planners safe in underground war rooms. Service to one's country and exposure to danger do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.
From a truly Jewish viewpoint, informed by Jewish ideals and Jewish texts, the single most important part of Jewish security is the practice and study of Torah. While Jewish tradition mandates the employment of conventional means, like armies and arsenals, for maintaining the security of Jews, it has been the Jewish conviction for millennia that the true safety of the Jewish people derives, in the end, from dedication to the values, laws and study of the Torah.
Thus, when viewed through the lens of classical Jewish thought, haredim are very much part of Israel's security apparatus, no less essential than the computer experts calculating the trajectories of missiles, the intelligence analysts or the generals planning troop movements.
Secularists may ipso facto reject the notion of Torah possessing the power to protect Jews. But that such a deeply and undeniably Jewish attitude is perceived as outlandish to so many non-secularist American Jews is nothing short of tragic. An assortment of religiously liberal American Jewish leaders have called of late for a new appreciation and embrace of Jewish texts and tradition. Jews' priority should be, in the widely-reported words of one, "Torah, Torah, Torah!"
But declarations of dedication to Torah are meaningless and hollow if they allow for the disparagement of Jews who dedicate their entire lives, without regard to material comfort, to the practice and study of Torah. We need only recall what Jews the world over only recently read in the weekly Torah portion: it is not "my strength and the might of my arm" that has "wrought me this victory" but rather "the L-rd, your G-d, who gives you the strength." (Deuteronomy 8, 17-18).
Might it be time for caring Jews of all stripes to begin to regard Israel's religious Jews not as aberrations but as examples, not as bogeymen but -- can the thought even be broached? -- as heroes of the Jewish people?
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I felt like a sociologist in a documentary film. Surrounded by at least a hundred dark-suited and for the most part black-hatted and bearded men, ritual fringes hanging at their sides, I -- a comfortably Reform Jew from the suburbs -- definitely stood out in the Friday night crowd at this particular synagogue.
I was out of my element, though, not for any professional reason, but simply because of a simple sense of adventure -- and because I wanted to learn more about parts of the Jewish religious map distant from my own.
I had befriended a rabbi on the Internet and, after meeting him once at a lecture (and being surprised by his distinctly "right-wing Orthodox" dress), accepted his invitation to me and my family to drive up from our Virginia home to join him and his family in Baltimore for a Shabbat.
We arrived somewhat curious, a bit excited and petrified. We knew that the Orthodox world had countless Sabbath rules, and had heard there were prohibitions against a host of mundane things from turning on lights to tearing toilet paper. And we wondered how we would deal with them all. But we also knew that Shabbat in an Orthodox environment would more closely than anything we had experienced resemble the Jewish day of rest as my ancestors -- and the ancestors of all Jews -- observed it.
Our host was not a pulpit rabbi; we were attending services at a shul a few blocks from his home. As services were about to begin, he explained what I should expect: recitations, spirited singing, the reading of the Shma and the silent recital of the amidah. As things got under way, I could almost see the documentary's opening credits scroll down my field of vision. I tried to keep my eyes on the siddur but could not help but check out the scene. I was just about the only one present not wearing a black hat (other than a handful of obvious visitors - come to think of it, I was probably an obvious visitor myself). For a while I had a hard time figuring out what page people were on, but then I realized that most everybody was on a different page. I decided to focus on the page before me.
"L'cha Dodi", the poetic "welcoming the Sabbath" portion of the service, was wonderful. The crowd fell into a spontaneous and enthralling three-part harmony and a warm feeling began to overtake me, the documentary giving way to my experiencing the moment as a participant.
And then, suddenly, services were over. In my temple Friday night services were considerably longer, and I was left wishing there would be more. The rabbi then stood up and announced: "No one should be alone for a Shabbos meal. So if you need a place to eat, please let Mr. Schwartzbaum know."
At that moment, a man behind me turned to his friend and said, "Wow! This is great! Whenever I need --"
I completed his sentence in my mind and was stunned by how shameless a schnorer could be. I couldn't believe the fellow would admit his miserliness to his friend.
And then, as I stole a peripheral glance at the speaker, who was dressed in the native costume, black hat and all, he finished his sentence. ".. whenever I need a guest, I can just come here!" His friend responded, "Well, yeah, but you gotta grab 'em quickly. They go fast."
I was flabbergasted. I knew that hospitality to strangers was a Jewish ideal. But seeing it taken so seriously, seeing it so eagerly embraced, was a revelation to me. As I marveled at what I had heard, my host turned to the men behind us and introduced me, explaining that I was visiting from Virginia with my family. The fellow I had thought was a schnorer, turned to me and said, "You know, I don't have any guests this Shabbos. Would some of your family like to come over for dinner?" My host stepped in to make the case for keeping my family together and the stranger yielded, but insisted that "please, next time you're in Baltimore, you should come over for a meal.
In the two and a half years since, my family and I have grown considerably in our Jewish identity and observances. I have no plans to buy a black fedora and don't think we can call ourselves "returnees" to the beliefs of Orthodox Judaism. But we have come to harbor a deeper respect for Jewish tradition, and to accept that the Torah and its laws are marvelous gifts to the Jewish people.
And when I think back at our long strange trip, I think I have to mark its genesis as the surprise ending to the comment I heard behind me that Friday night in a Baltimore shul.
[Eric Simon, who served as a UAHC Regional Board member and as a member of the Executive Committee of the UAHC Commission on Synagogue Affiliation, is currently active in Jewish outreach and educational activities in Northern Virginia.]
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Adam And Eve In The
Garden Of Jerusalem
It was difficult for my relatives, right from the start.
When did it start?
Not last week, when my daughter got married in Jerusalem. They already knew what to expect: that the men would be on one side, women on the other.
Was it back in the eighties, then, when they first heard we had put her in an all-girl high-school? Or before that, in an all-girl kindergarten? Maybe it dates back to when they first found out about the religious emphasis in the educational curriculum - morning hours, Torah studies; afternoon for secular subjects. But how will she get into a good college?
Was it when I myself got married? This is segregation, my father had murmured, pained, under his breath. It makes your mother and sisters into second-class citizens. Can't we enjoy the wedding all together, as a family?
Didn't it start back in the early seventies, when I stopped wearing pants? When my hemlines got lower, my sleeves longer, when I stopped going to coed college parties? When I wouldn't eat with them at restaurants, when I first koshered one of my mother's pots, one of her pans, a single set of her silverware, when I had to say no to her vegetable soup, that I'd always loved, her homemade herb bread. On Saturdays, when I wouldn't join in on family outings anymore, when I wouldn't turn off and on lights.... The phone would ring and they'd call, "Sarah! It's for you!" I – sitting there on my isolated Shabbat, looking deaf and dumb, befuddled, feeling guilty for all this discomfort I was causing. Yes, of course it's wonderful you're finding out more about your heritage, but you don't need to go overboard. Can't you discover your Jewish identity without being so extreme about it? You're going back to the Old World.
Last week they came from America for the wedding. All the relatives - the agnostics and the conservatives, the orthodox and the atheists and the female rabbi, the Reconstructionist and the Federation activists and the Jews for whom Jewishness seems so irrelevant that they don't bother to define themselves – we kept joining hands to dance. We danced and danced and danced, not for one hour or two or three or four but 'till the wee hours of the morning, men on one side, women on the other, in what my mother, amazed, called "an explosion of joy that just kept exploding all night," hundreds of us, dancing as if nothing else in the world existed but our feet and our songs and our exhilaration.
What was it that lifted us up off the floor like that, almost as one person? For my part, it wasn't only what any mother feels upon seeing her daughter arrive safely on the opposite shore; it was tasting the first fruits. Here was the first generation born into this way of life after the break in continuity, which had occurred, in my particular family tree, two and three generations back. Here were a young woman and a young man who've grown up in a society that emphasizes not a person's desires for satisfaction but his or her responsibilities; a society that says everything he or she does in the world has meaning, and importance, in ways that transcend human understanding. And one of this society's more noticeable hallmarks, for those looking on from the side, has always been that daunting separation of men and women - a custom that to uninvolved observers seems so oddly archaic and unnecessary as to be outrageous. Why the all-girl, all-boy schools, why those weddings and bar-mitzvahs and synagogues that insist on men on one side, women on the other?
Here was Yael, with all the friends with whom she has grown up, girls who didn't need to devote their girlhoods to trying to be attractive to the opposite sex, who never had to regard each other as competition, nor themselves as objects. And in another sphere, Yehezkel and his community of beloved friends, holding hands and dancing jubilantly on their side of the mehitzah, and hidden from those young men's view, the unrestrained, absolutely celebratory and exultant dancing of the young women, who have imbibed from their earliest days on the planet the understanding that we're each given precisely what we need to get, if we only have eyes to see; that we can rejoice in another person's happiness because it can't infringe on our own It's a society in which children don't judge each other by their clothes, or their coolness, or their good or bad looks; in which the ideal is to perceive each of us as bearing the divine image.
Mine was the joy of seeing with my own eyes what all those years had been for. All those years of mutual embarrassment and mutual apologies for hurting the people we most love, and their subtle sense of having been repudiated by my choice. All was worth it for the two children who have never been wounded by other relationships, so that neither is afraid now of giving himself and herself whole-heartedly, extravagantly, splendidly.
We were all in an old world together, that's for sure, but not the one they expected - not the stereotyped caricature of 0rthodox Jewry to which they were accustomed We were in the old world that is forever a new world, one that's greener, lusher and fresher in our days, one can say now with hindsight, for having been pruned in the tragic cut-offs that first occurred in Europe a hundred or so years ago: the world that lives like a hidden oasis within all of us, the Garden of Eden. When all is stripped away, what are any of us left with? What matters?
The dream at the center of the world: a young man and a young woman, in love for the first time.
[Sarah Shapiro is a writer living in Jerusalem]
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Sadness of A Summer Vigil
Summer, the season most associated with love and escape, is just as often the season of loss, endings as elongated as the drawn July afternoons. The Jewish calendar meanders through the Three Weeks and Nine Days, mourning the foreboding even more than the end itself. Unlike the usual procedure of "sitting shiva" after a death, the mourning here is about the vigil; the days before the Temple's burning, not the nine days after.
The first days of the Hebrew month of Av are considered ill-fated in the present tense, still. Rabbis warn Jews, even now, that these are inauspicious times. Last week, the days stretched on as Americans wondered about a lost Kennedy in summer's ocean. Back in 1964, in these same summer weeks, America waited out the disappearance of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney; the famous two Jews and a black,
Goodman's mother, Carolyn, says, "We were cultural Jews. We didn't practice, but knew damn well that we were Jews and we wouldn't deny it under any circumstances." Today, in her sitting room filled with books, is a carefully labeled shelf: "Jewish subjects." There are volumes about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the Arab-Israel conflict, a 1968 travel guide book to Israel, and Jean Paul Sartre's "Anti-Semite and Jew."
There were no guides for where Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney were going, but you packed your duffel with an eerie premonition. Volunteers loaded up on bandages and antiseptics, $500 for bail money, and four copies of portrait photos (and the address of your favorite hometown newspaper), so the movement's communications office could help the media when volunteers involuntarily disappeared.
As they drove away in a Ford station wagon, June 21, Schwerner called out, "If we're not back by four-thirty, start phoning. But we'll be back by four."
They weren't. Their bodies were found six weeks later.
This is the summer of their memory. Last month, busses filled with pilgrims commemorating the Freedom Riders departed from the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan, bound for the Mississippi earth by the side of a dusty road where the three bodies were found. This year's Freedom Riders memorialized Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney in the most Jewish of ways: Small stones left by mourners on the consecrated earth.
On the other side of the planet, in Israel, on that same day of 12 Tammuz, a Lubavitcher chasid with a long beard lit a candle and went to shul to say Kaddish for his brother Andy. Jonathan Goodman became religiously introspective, several years after Andy's death, and wondered what it "really" meant to be a Jew. His answer led him to chasidism and emigration to Israel's Kfar Chabad, where he lives with his wife and seven children. Andy was never even given a Hebrew name but his posthumous niece and nephews are Ruth Chana, Aaron Zev, Kalman, Menachem, Shimon...
Carolyn Goodman lives in the same apartment on Manhattan's West Side. All mothers know something of waiting and praying; she carried Andy for nine months in 1943. After their own tortured "Three Weeks," Carolyn and Andy's father, Robert, (she a psychologist, he an engineer who helped build the Lincoln, Holland and Brooklyn-Battery Tunnels) found comfort in American scripture.
Robert Goodman later said, at Andy's memorial, that during the weeks of waiting, "my wife and I, in a sense, made a pilgrimage to the Lincoln Memorial, in the evening, and stood in the great shrine looking down past the Washington Monument toward the soft glow of the light around the White House. Full of the awe of a great nation that surrounded us, we turned to read emblazoned in black letters on the white marble, `It is for us the living to dedicate ourselves, that these dead shall not have died in vain.' "
Back home in Manhattan, was a postcard, with a four-cent Abraham Lincoln stamp, dated June 21, 1964:
"Dear Mom and Dad, I have arrived safely in Meridian, Miss. This is a wonderful town and the weather is fine. I wish you were here. The people in this city are wonderful, and our reception was very good.
All my love, Andy"
Going to the South was a natural thing to do. Carolyn Goodman -- who was arrested herself a few weeks ago at the sprightly age of 83 while protesting the shooting death of Amadou Diallo -- says she's been involved with liberal causes, "since shortly after I was born. Andy didn't come out of nowhere. His two parents were activists," involved with everything from the Spanish Civil War to organizing New York State dairy farmers to being leading supporters and directors of Pacifica Radio, the parent network of radical radio station WBAI.
It was no surprise to the Goodmans that, when Andy was old enough, he went off to see the coal mines and Appalachia. No, there were no 24-hour news stations -- neither radio nor TV nor cable, when Andy disappeared in Mississippi, but it was a grueling vigil.
"I'll tell you," says Carolyn of those summer weeks. "I was so stunned, it was as if I was walking through clouds. It was like it was me, and not me. I'd walk into my house, it was jammed full of people; friends, well wishers, the press was all over the place."
When his body was flown from Mississippi to Manhattan, it was brought to Riverside Chapel on Amsterdam Avenue.
"I'll never forget going into that chapel," says Carolyn. "Of course, the coffin was closed. But I `saw' Andy sitting on top of it. I never had hallucinations before or since. It wasn't Andy as he was at 20. There he was at the age of 4, maybe 3, sitting on top of that coffin... I can see him right now, wearing his funny little hat."
She pauses: "This whole life of mine has been one bittersweet experience."
Under the coffee table in her sitting room is a book, "The Chabad Musician," a collection produced and arranged by Yonason (Jonathan) Goodman.
In the songbook is an old but lively Chabad anthem, "Ufaratzta," in which Jews are inspired to go out beyond, to the North, East and West, to every corner of God's world.
Andy went South.
[Jonathan Mark is a columnist at The New York Jewish Week, from which this is reprinted]
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