One Rabbi’s Take on Israel

July 23, 2014

By Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz To Unify a Nation

MK Rabbi Dov Lipman has an amazing story. He was raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, became a rabbi and educator, made Aliyah, and became the first American-born Knesset member in decades. Even more remarkable, he has quickly become a symbol for bridge building. In his early 40s, he represents a broad vision for what Israel could be.

His new book, To Unify a Nation: My Vision for the Future of Israel is a must read for all concerned with the future of Israel. Less than 100 pages, the book can be read in just an hour or two. Significantly, President Shimon Peres wrote the opening statement, and Yesh Atid party founder Yair Lapid wrote the Foreword.

While Lipman comes from an ultra-Orthodox background and is an Orthodox rabbi, he offers a breath of fresh air when he suggests that “polarization caused by extremism and isolationism in the religious community may be the greatest internal threat to the future of the Jewish people” (16). In fact, it was on the streets of Bet Shemesh that he emerged in Israeli leadership. Many Israelis were horrified in 2011 when an 8-year-old Modern Orthodox girl was called a “whore” and spat upon while she walked to school, allegedly because her dress was not modest enough for the ultra-Orthodox. The terrified girl said that she was “so scared…that they were going to stand and start yelling and spitting.” Rabbi Lipman stood up to protect the girls against the abuse. Rabbi Lipman also speaks out against religious coercion in Israel, seeks to build bridges between the religious and secular, advocates for the Ethiopian community and for the African refuges, seeks to transition the ultra-Orthodox into the army and workforce, advocates for vegetarianism and animal welfare, speaks out against corruption, argues for women’s rights, a pluralistic society. Read the rest of this entry »


Review of Moses and the Path to Leadership

July 21, 2014

by Gad DishiMosesWeb2

Grumet’s new book, Moses and the Path to Leadership, joins an ever growing library of works utilizing close readings and other literary tools from the field of biblical studies to highlight the timeless messages embedded in the text. Grumet brings an array of modern sources that pertain to leadership development and success and weaves these throughout his analysis.

The book focuses on the leadership qualities, or lack thereof, of Moses and how certain leadership characteristics developed over the course of his career. As Grumet lays out in his closing timeline, the main prongs of focused study revolve around Moses’ leadership being people-focused or God-focused, the use or misuse of his zealotry and Moses’ management, leadership and vision of and for the nation.

For example, Grumet begins by noting how Moses is first portrayed as a zealot when he kills the Egyptian smiting a Jew. The negative result of Pharaoh wanting to kill him impacts Moses’ hotheadedness when he flees to Midian. There, his zealotry is moderated as Moses deals with the foreign bullying shepherds without violence. While in Midian, Moses’ zealotry is further tamed as Moses retreats from public life and shepherds Jethro’s flocks. For the reader, this clearly foreshadows his future role as leader of the people. However, for Moses, this served as an avenue to control his zealousness by quarantining himself away from anything that might flare his anger.  Read the rest of this entry »


Review of The Mystery Of The Milton Manuscript

July 18, 2014

by Harriet KlausnerMilton

The senseless death of his Hertford College, Oxford thesis advisor Thornton Livingston leaves American Ph.D. candidate Keith Jessup stunned.  Keith was in attendance to hear the late Early English Literature department Chair provide a lecture, “Secrets of the Milton Manuscript” based on a recently discovered document that explained the great poet’s underlying reason for writing Paradise Lost.  Now at the morgue the grieving student identifies the corpse who fell from a cliff.  A security guard also was killed; a B&E occurred at the professor’s office; and his lecture missing.   Adding to the student’s shock is he inherited Thornton’s estate.

A few months later, now Dr. Jessup is back in New York when Columbia University Professor Stanton disappears just before presenting “The Disclosure of the Milton Manuscript” lecture.  As Keith continues to search for the missing document, threats to him and his girlfriend art restorer Joanne Farnsworth mount.

This is a fabulous mystery that is at its best with the deep look into Milton, his beliefs, his era and his masterpieces.  The murders of scholars and the assaults on the present day hero add action and suspense, but also detract from the incredible captivating depth into the life and times of John Milton.

This review originally appears in The Mystery Gazette.


On The Israeli-Arab Conflict: A Biblical Perspective

July 17, 2014

by Nathan Lopez Cardozo [1] For the Love of Israel and the Jewish People

Impartial observers of the Middle East will realize that these are extraordinary times. Tens of thousands of Jews from many different countries are returning to their national and historic homeland after thousands of years. Arab states are beginning to reconsider their attitude towards Israel now that they realize that after more than fifty years, the Jewish state is here to stay.

Many gentiles throughout the world are showing a new and keen interest in the Bible, proclaiming fulfillment of the old biblical prophecies. The continuous conflict between the Israelis and the Arabs, especially the Palestinian Arabs, is a constant focus of world attention, allotted more broadcast hours and newspaper column space than any other conflict. It is the most discussed issue at the United Nations and the perceived root of international tension. It is believed to have the potential to cause a large-scale conflict in the Middle East and even a global confrontation.

However, the truth is more prosaic. The conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is something of a local affair. Looking on the world map, many larger hotbeds can be identified, with even greater issues at stake. For the religious mind all this presents a great challenge. What is the spiritual secret behind the conflict?

From a religious perspective, it seems that another, more profound point is being made. History is not made up of social, political, or economic factors alone, but also of spiritual forces that have far-reaching moral implications. As always, religious people will turn to the Torah and Jewish tradition, the blueprint of all history and reality, to seek deeper insight. It is the author’s hope that this essay might serve such a purpose. Read the rest of this entry »


In Memoriam: Rabbi Jack Simcha Cohen

July 15, 2014

JewishPrayerWeb2

From the Institute of Jewish Ideas and Ideals.

We record with sadness the passing earlier this week of Rabbi Jack Simcha Cohen. Rabbi Cohen was an energetic community leader, a prolific author, and a respected Talmid Hakham. Over the years, I had the opportunity of working with him on various projects, and I am grateful for our longstanding friendship. He was an engaging rabbi and teacher, a dynamic spokesman for Orthodox Judaism, an Ohev Yisrael of the first order.

Rabbi Cohen wrote a number of articles which appear on our Institute’s website jewishideas.org   In his memory, I invite you to study this article of his which is now posted as a Feature Article on our homepage at jewishideas.org      http://www.jewishideas.org/articles/pulpit-rabbinate-and-halakhic-diversity

May his memory be a blessing and source of strength to his family, his community, to kellal yisrael.


Interview with Rabbi Dov Lipman

July 14, 2014

by TJC staffTo Unify a Nation

Two members of Knesset — Israeli Parliament — discuss their new books in English on TJC’s episode of Up Close.

First, MK Ruth Calderon, a secular Israeli who is also a Talmud scholar, talks about the new English translation of her book A Bride For One Night: Talmud Tales, in which she writes fictional accounts of some of the Talmud’s most provocative stories from her own unique perspective.

Then, MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, a fellow member of Calderon’s Yesh Atid party who originally hails from the United States and considers himself haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, discusses his new book, To Unify a Nation: My Vision for the Future of Israel. Lipman has made a goal of bringing the more extreme sectors of the haredi community back to the center though education and career opportunities.

To watch highlights from the interview click here.

To listen to the full interview click here.


Review of The Soul of Jewish Social Justice

July 10, 2014

by Rabbi Dov Peretz ElkinsJewishSocialJusticeWeb2

The Soul of Jewish Social Justice offers a novel, intellectual, and spiritual approach to the application of Jewish wisdom to the most pressing moral problems of our time. We discover how the Jewish social justice ethos can help us address issues of education reform, ethical consumption, the future of Israel, immigration and prison reform, violence, business ethics, and many other moral issues. In this book, Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz explores how spirituality, ritual, narratives, holidays, and tradition can enhance our commitment to creating a more just society.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz was listed in Newsweek’s America’s Top 50 Rabbis for 2012 and 2013. He is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder and President of Uri L’Tzedek, and the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute. Rav Shmuly completed a Masters at Yeshiva University in Jewish Philosophy, a Masters at Harvard University in Moral Psychology and Leadership and a Doctorate at Columbia University in Epistemology and Moral Development. He received his rabbinic ordination from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and is the author of two previous books: Jewish Ethics and Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century and Epistemic Development in Talmud Study.

This is a comprehensive and inspiring study of Jewish ethics as applied to moral and social problems. A book one can study and from which derive many important lessons. A major contribution to Jewish ethics.

Jonathan D. Sarna, Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University, says about the author of this book: Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz’s name has become synonymous with the call for ethical renewal and social justice within the American Jewish community. A modern Orthodox rabbi, he fuses ancient teachings with progressive sensibilities. In this much-needed volume, he shares with readers his thoughts on central questions of our day. Our world will be a better place if his message is widely heeded.”

This review originally appeared in the Jewish Media Review.


Review of Moses and the Path to Leadership and Redeeming Relevance

July 8, 2014

by Alan Jay GerberMosesWeb2

Rabbi Zvi Grumet’s “Moses and the Path to Leadership” [Urim Publications, 2014] is an excellent profile of the great lawgiver which will provide you with a rigorous, close analysis of his biography and leadership talents. This documents how he withstood the test of his leadership as a teacher and master of G-d’s law and teachings. The book’s topics are most timely to this season’s Torah readings of the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy. Moses’ talent and gift of resilience, trust, and wisdom, are given their timely due within the context of his leadership talents as a teacher of the holy writ. This book forces you to recast your previous regard to Moses’ place in the history of our people. Read this work with caution as well as respect; both the subject and the author richly deserve it.

Rabbi Grumet is a musmach (recipient of rabbinic ordination) of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and is a graduate of Yeshiva University. He is a senior staff member of The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education, coordinator of the Bible Department at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi, and a distinguished faculty member at the Pardes Institute.

Rabbi Francis Nataf’s latest chumash commentary “Redeeming Relevance” [Urim Publications, 2014] deals with the Redeeming Relevance in the book of numbers
Book of Numbers. This commentary contains a relevance that gives it a heft both intellectually and religiously, a factor that is a rare commodity today among our Bible commentators. This quality is found in the way Rabbi Nataf deals with such complicated personalities such as Bil’am, Korach, the daughters of Tzelofchad, the spies, and the actions of the tribes of Shimon, Levi, Reuven, and Gad. Chumash is rarely taught in this manner at most shul shiurim, but it can be had by the simple addition of this work into your shul library.

Excerpts were taken from “On July 4th, warm summer book suggestions” The Jewish Star (July 2, 2014)

To see the full list of book suggestions click here.


The Admor who Stands in Bavel and Sees a Carcass in Eretz Yisrael

July 7, 2014

by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner

In the wake of our tremendous pain over the murder of the three innocent teens, a desire has arisen within the Nation to understand why this has happened. The Admor of Satmar, who dwells in the Exile, claims that it is a punishment for the teens learning in the “Settlements” and blames the parents for sending them to learn there.

We fear that assigning such blame may violate the prohibition of “Ona’at Devarim” (distressing others). As the Gemara in Baba Metzia (58b) says, one may not speak to one who is suffering affliction or illness, or whose children have died, the way Iyov’s friends spoke to him: “Surely your fear was your foolishness, your hope and the sincerity of your ways” (Iyov 4:6). And we can add that the Rishonim on this Gemara write that the problem is not only causing distress to another person but also arrogance in thinking that we can know the ways of Hashem.

This recalls the reciprocal placing of blame that occurred following the horrors of the Holocaust: Some said that it happened on account of Zionism, others said it was because there was not Zionism. Still others blamed it on the Enlightenment. Each group’s explanation came from its own biased outlook, with no regard for the idea: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts and My ways are not your ways” (Yeshayahu 55:8).

As is known, the uncle of the Admor of Satmar, Ha-Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, wrote a book “Va-Yoel Moshe” which is based on the idea that the murder of the holy ones during the Holocaust was because of Zionism and the Return to Tzion. But the great Rabbis of Israel have already answered that if the main transgression was Jews making Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael in an organized fashion, then the first Jews to make Aliyah should have been murdered. Yet those who came to Eretz Yisrael and “violated” the Three Oaths (according to the Satmar Rebbe’s opinion) were saved, and those who did not make Aliyah were the ones who were murdered! (See the book “Alo Naale” – Response to Va-Yoel Moshe #43). The number of Jews murdered during one day in Auschwitz alone was, in fact, higher than that of all of the Jews murdered in all of the wars and terror attacks since the beginning of the Return to Tzion. Today – with the kindnesses of Hashem upon us – there are almost half a million Jews who live in Yesha. Therefore the Admor of Satmar’s claim is not valid.

Regarding the question itself, whether learning in Yesha is permissible: this was already asked of Ha-Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Rabbi of “Ramat Elchanan” (neighborhood in Bnei Brak). A student was learning in a Yeshiva in Yesha and his parents were opposed on account of the danger. Ha-Rav Zilberstein proves that “a frequent damage” (Pesachim 8b.  See Mesilat Yesharim, end of Chapter 9), into which a person should not place himself, is five percent. Baruch Hashem, 5% of the residents in Yesha are not murdered! And Ha-Rav Yitzchak Isaac Herzog in Shut Heichal Yitzchak proved based on Shut Rabbi Akiva Eiger (#60) that a frequent danger is not five percent, but one in a thousand (Shut Ha-Rav Herzog Vol. 1, p. 269). Baruch Hashem, one in a thousand Jews is not murdered in Yesha. The basic halachah is therefore that there is nothing to fear. Obviously, nothing is 100% certain, but nowhere in this world is 100% safe, not Yerushalayim and not Tel Aviv, and it is all based on the definition of “a frequent damage”. We agree with the Admor of Satmar that there are many Arab murderers in Eretz Yisrael, but we must see things in proportion. We have already been living in Yesha for 40 years and the number of murders that occur there is extremely low. The same is true in all of Eretz Yisrael. We must remember that according to a report of the WHO, World Health Organization, 8 out of 100,000 Israeli citizens are murdered each year. That’s compared with 15 out of 100,000 citizens in France, and 25 out of 100,000 Americans. Therefore, it is more dangerous for the Admor of Satmar, may he live a long and good life, Amen!, to live in America than to live in the “Settlements”!

We must thank Hashem, and his loyal agents – Tzahal, the police, the Mossad, the Shabak and the rest of the security establishment – day and night for the peace and quiet we merit in our Land.

In the Gemara in Chullin (63b), Rabbi Abayu asks: Why is there a bird called “Ra’ah” (the one who saw)?  He answers: Because he stands in Bavel and sees a carcass in Eretz Yisrael. The great Rabbis explain that this is a parable to someone who dwells outside of Eretz Yisrael and see the deficiencies in Eretz Yisrael and speaks Lashon Ha-Ra against it…

This obviously in no way detracts from the incredible merits of the Admor of Satmar in strengthening Torah and fear of Hashem in America, and we pray regarding them: “May our eyes behold Your return to Tzion in compassion”.

This article appeared in Torat HaRav Aviner.


An Open Letter to God: The Murder of Our Sons

July 6, 2014

by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes CardozoFor the Love of Israel and the Jewish People

I search for You at dawn, my Rock and Refuge

Morning and evening will I unfold my thoughts before You

I stand overwhelmed by Your greatness

For Your eyes perceive my deepest thoughts

What can my heart and tongue do

And what strength does my spirit possess

Behold, You desire the song of man

Therefore I shall praise You as long as my divine soul is in me

 [Shachar Avakeshcha, Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Gabirol]

In memory of Eyal Yifrach, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Naftali Fraenkel

Lord of the Universe!

I ask for forgiveness, but I have no option but to speak to You with words of protest. I must tell You that it has again become very difficult to live in Your presence. In the last few weeks, we, the people of Israel, have all become one family whose sons were brutally murdered almost three weeks ago. They have become our own sons and grandchildren. We gathered together to pray for Your help as we have never done before. Millions of prayers went up to Your holy throne, pleading for their well being. There has never been unity among us as there was during these two and a half weeks. We prayed and prayed until we nearly collapsed. Religious, non-religious, and even anti-religious. It made no difference. And You failed us bitterly.

Last Tuesday morning I was of two minds about praying to You. There was too much pain. Then I wondered whether we should perhaps all go to synagogue and declare before the Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark) that we refuse to speak to You any longer and will cease to sing Your praises.

You, God, and only you, were there when the terrorists kidnapped these boys. Why did You not slay those murderers, by heart attack or stroke? Did You lack options to prevent them from carrying out their evil scheme? Did You not owe the boys’ families, deeply religious people, Your absolute protection? On so many other occasions, in the past, You miraculously saved our children and grandchildren from similar incidents. Why did You not do the same for these families and bring the boys home safely?

I am astounded at how many people continue to utter words of praise to You. How can one still speak to You after all that happened? But then I thought, isn’t it wonderful that You have so many worshippers who are still prepared to come and speak to You, instead of throwing in the towel and deciding there is no longer any point in praising or serving You? Does that not show miraculous faith, in spite of itall?

Or, are we just hiding behind our prayers of praise, trying to escape the reality that You were there and could have prevented all this but didn’t?

What astonishes me even more is the fact that nearly no one in my immediate religious community seems to discuss the huge existential problem in what just happened. Seemingly, not one person who walked out of the synagogue was caught in a religious crisis. Or am I mistaken? Read the rest of this entry »