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A Time for New Beginnings

April 7, 2016 at 6:50 pm

newTorahOrg-300x179Our Torah reading begins this week with laws regarding purity after giving birth, after a woman brings a new life into the world. We will also celebrate Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of a new Jewish month. The word for month itself, Chodesh, shares the root of Chadash, new. Each month is a new beginning, an opportunity for renewal. And this month in particular, Nissan, is the first of months for Jewish holidays. It is the month in which we celebrate Passover, the time of our birth as a nation.

Passover is also an opportunity for individual renewal. Again there is an interesting parallel in Hebrew terms: the word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is a cognate of Meytzarim, confines or boundaries. Our Sages say that Passover gives us an opportunity to leave our personal meytzarim, to break out of spiritual boundaries, to ascend to heights we did not previously believe we could reach.

For Project Genesis, there is an additional reason why this is a moment of renewal and rebirth, as we celebrate the launch of the new Torah.org. Please do visit our new website, as it is truly renewed. We are still in the middle of the daunting task of importing tens of thousands of files, but we have a wonderful guide to Passover and other changes that we considered important enough to launch now.

As with the new month, with a new birth, with every Passover — this is only the beginning. Great things are yet to come!

Political Posturing at the Western Wall

March 30, 2016 at 2:50 pm

by Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Rabbi Pesach Lerner/JNS.org

Charlie Kalech is upset. Kalech is the Internet entrepreneur who broke Israeli law last year on behalf of the Women of the Wall (WoW), taking a Torah scroll from the men’s section of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Those scrolls may not be removed by law, respecting traditional Jewish practice. Kalech broke through the divider between men and women to give WoW a Torah scroll, and he was detained for his trouble. Now he feels betrayed — because WoW announced plans to hold a “birkat kohanot” this Passover, an imitation “priestly blessing” by and for women.

Large crowds come to the Western Wall twice each year for birkat kohanim, the Jewish priestly blessing. The blessing itself is hardly extraordinary — kohanim in Ashkenazi Orthodox synagogues perform it on each holiday in the Diaspora; Sephardim do it daily, as do all traditional synagogues in Israel. The special event at the Western Wall, however, held during the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot, began less than 50 years ago.

It was initiated by the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Gefner of blessed memory, based on an 800-year-old teaching that when 300 kohanim deliver their blessing together, it is a sign that the Holy Temple will soon be rebuilt. This is why nearly 100,000 Jews now come to receive the priestly blessing from hundreds of kohanim. There is no mandate in Jewish law for this service or for conducting it at the Western Wall, and no reason besides simple convenience to do it specifically during the holidays. Yet this is what WoW aims to mimic.

Kalech is agitated because Israel’s Conservative Jewish movement does not approve of women performing this ceremony, and therefore WoW’s “birkat kohanot” will not be “inclusive.” In actuality, this particular idea is equally offensive to every denomination.

There is, of course, no way to reconcile“birkat kohanot” with traditional Judaism, which defines kohanim as male descendants of Aharon, the original high priest. But the Reform movement also rejects birkat kohanim when conducted by anyone. They point out that priestly status itself is not egalitarian: it separates the kohanim from other Jews.

So WoW plans to show preference to daughters of kohanim over other women in a way unsupported by any version of Judaism, doing a “Jewish” ritual supported by no version of Jewish ritual, in imitation of a ceremony that aims to restore Judaism’s doubly undemocratic Holy Temple. And it claims to be doing all this in the name of egalitarianism.

If that reads like self-parody, so does Kalech’s complaint. He decries WoW for “blatant disregard for respect of different streams of Judaism,” and declares that the group has been “usurped by those who disregard halachic (Jewish legal) observance for their own political agenda.” Apparently he did not recognize this last year, although their “birkat kohanot” is no more or less religious, and conversely no more or less political, than their use of a Torah scroll. Kalech is absolutely right, save for his use of the word “usurped.”

The correct term is “founded.” From its inception, the Women of the Wall have demonstrated “blatant disregard for respect of different streams of Judaism.” Their behavior towards those praying at the Western Wall belies their claim to merely wish to pray in their own fashion and their own style.

One of their most active members uncomfortably admitted that her WoW colleagues consciously deviate from any normal style of prayer. On the contrary, she wrote, “they may not pray every morning at all. Some women pray/sing at the top of their lung [sic] in an operatic voice. I don’t think they would do that at home or in their local beit knesset (synagogue).” Another WoW member stated openly that she doesn’t even know how to pray, and that she came to “choose a potential victim to argue with” from among the traditional women there for prayers.

All of this is relatively obvious to anyone who has witnessed their behavior. Besides the aforementioned singing “at the top of their lungs,” they have 10 women blow shofar in unison before Rosh Hashanah, wave their prayer books overhead, and in general do as much as possible to attract attention. Although the new “Ezrat Yisrael” egalitarian prayer area at the Western Wall is sufficient for a group many times WoW’s size, it sits empty — WoW comes only to where traditional women are praying, and many of its members declare that they will accept no alternative.

This conduct reflects the expressed belief of WoW leaders that change must be forced upon other women. Bonna Haberman claims that WoW “catalyzes engagement in healthy democracy” by ensuring that “ultra-Orthodox” women are “aroused by the subversive possibility of women’s autonomous public prayer.” Anat Hoffman says that WoW’s presence in the women’s section is about “bringing about change in the Orthodox world,” while Susan Aranoff and the late Rivka Haut wrote that WoW will “shock” traditional women and “change their world view.” WoW’s agenda is politics, not prayer.

Perhaps it was possible until now to ignore these statements, and credibly believe that WoW simply wished to conduct their own services. But only an alternate agenda demands that they continually push the envelope — by, for example, inventing an entirely new “Jewish” practice. It is simple political theater, busing in women to ape Orthodox men, with a performance as foreign to atraditional movements as to the most ardent traditionalist.

Perhaps WoW has finally taken things one step too far. Perhaps the media will finally ask why a group claiming to simply wish to pray “in its own fashion” keeps making its “fashion” more and more extreme. Perhaps people will wonder about a purported spiritual need for “birkat kohanot” found nowhere else in the Jewish world.

Even previous supporters of WoW must be discomfited, as Charlie Kalech is, now that WoW’s true agenda is manifest and undeniable: forcing feminism upon women who simply wish to pray peacefully, in their traditional fashion, at what they regard to be the holiest place for their prayers. The Western Wall is a religious site, and not the venue for WoW’s feminist politics.

A Declining Reform Movement Wants To Reform Israel

March 28, 2016 at 10:48 pm

A recent Pew survey brought disheartening news to the American leaders of Reform Judaism: despite investing decades and millions of dollars to increase their presence, they are making little to no headway in Israel. reform-e1459122897687 A mere 3 percent of Israeli Jews identify with the movement, and even fewer attend one of the only 42 Reform congregations in the country. Even members may have little understanding of the Reform philosophy, only that it is atraditional and advocates for complete personal autonomy.

Reform is not simply a different nusach (prayer service), a different minhag (custom), or merely about men and women praying without a mechitzah (gender separation). In terms of Jewish practice, Israeli hilonim (non-observant) would be surprised to learn that compared to Reform in America, they are practically haredi. Even half of self-described “secular” Israelis claim to light Shabbat candles (at least sometimes), and one-third keep Kosher at home. Among American Reform Jews, only one in ten usually lights Shabbat candles, and only 7% keep a Kosher home. Hebrew Union College Rabbinical students claim the college itself serves non-Kosher meat.

Israel’s current President, Ruby Rivlin, was a freshly-elected Likud MK in 1989 when Reform Rabbi Uri Regev brought him to the United States to learn more about American Jewry. Upon his return, he told the Israeli media that “as a Jew who does not observe 613 commandments and perhaps not even 13 commandments, I was deeply shocked… Any connection between [Reform] and Judaism didn’t approach reality. I felt as if I were in a church.”

From its beginning, the Reform movement rejected essentially all that we have called Judaism for millenia. The Torah is hardly the final authority for its version of Judaism. Its founders dispensed with the entirety of Jewish Law as found in the Talmud and later authorities, and also severed the historic connection between the Nation of Israel and the Land of Israel. The 1843 Reform Declaration of Principles stated that “we know no fatherland except that to which we belong by birth or citizenship.” Or, put more succintly by leaders of that day: “Berlin is our Jerusalem.” Prayers for return to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, and the restoration of a Jewish government, were among the first deleted from their prayer books.

Nearly 100 years later, faced with surging anti-Semitism and the rise of Nazi Germany, the movement reversed course. Its 1937 platform endorsed “the promise of renewed life for many of our brethren” in Palestine, and called upon all Jews to “aid in its upbuilding as a Jewish homeland.”

At no point, however, did the movement make aliyah a priority. Even today, the ReformJudaism.org web page on aliyah says only that the movement encourages Jews to “strengthen their ties with Israel” and to participate in “organized visits” (especially under Reform auspices). Reform encourages congregants to visit Israel as tourists, while the overwhelming majority of American olim are Orthodox.

The movement also seems to be openly at odds with the Israeli consensus regarding Israel’s security needs and the dangers of terrorism. The current head of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), Rabbi Rick Jacobs, served on the Board of Directors of the leftist and pro-Palestinian J Street, and the ultra-left New Israel Fund which donates to organizations supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Jacobs strongly advocated for the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations to accept J Street as a member, and even threatened to withdraw the URJ from the Conference after it declined to do so.

These attitudes, to be sure, affect the membership of Reform congregations. A previous head, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, admitted that Reform has produced the most Jewishly ignorant generation in history; in a recent column, Caroline Glick tied this ignorance directly to Jewish leadership in today’s anti-Israel movement.

In addition to all of the above, the Reform movement is also in precipitous decline. Besides having merely 1.7 children per family, 60% of recent marriages have been with non-Jews. Only one of every five intermarried parents raises children as Jewish (more than one in 4 raise them “partly Jewish by religion and partly something else”). Looking at the comparative birth and intermarriage rates, it appears likely that the Orthodox will constitute the Jewish majority within several decades.

While one might expect Reform leaders to focus upon their internal issues, or at most to simply try to expand their Israeli presence, instead they seem bent upon fighting the Orthodox. The movement sponsors the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), an organization described in 2005 as “determined to make life miserable for Torah organizations in any manner possible.” At that time, it was suing to prevent building of a religious center in Rechovot – one which had already won City Council approval in three separate votes, and which was supported by 1000 residents’ letters in favor of its construction vs. 200 opposed. That center finally opened last year, after over a decade of harassment.

More recently, IRAC announced that it would be suing ElAl. The announced reason was that when a male Chassidic Jew requested an accommodation so that he would not be seated next to a woman, the helpful steward asked the woman in the next seat if she would prefer an open seat closer to first class. If that sounds like shaky grounds for a discrimination case, that is only because you are not Anat Hoffman, the current director of IRAC. To her, any accommodation for observant Jews is good reason for a lawsuit.

Hoffman began her career running for the Jerusalem City Council on the radical left Ratz-Shinui ticket. Her campaign distributed an orange map of Jerusalem with black splotches representing Orthodox “encroachment” into various neighborhoods. Even many secular residents were incensed by a depiction that, used against different communities, would have been termed racist or anti-Semitic. She was unapologetic; her own informal poll confirmed that they had captured the anti-Haredi vote in that election.

One thing, though, is certain: a properly-motivated person can do far greater damage to the rights of the religious through Israel’s leftist-dominated court system than on a democratically-elected City Council. What is perhaps surprising is that a movement which in America touts its commitment to tolerance, pluralism and liberal values, hired as Director of the Israel Religious Action Center a woman who built her political career upon anti-religious bias.

Hoffman is also the Director of the Women of the Wall, the ideal platform from which to claim to crusade for women’s rights while trampling the rights of thousands of women to pray undisturbed, in traditional fashion, at the Western Wall – a site which she previously stated she would like to see converted to a (secular) monument, with neither mechitzah nor prayers. Women of the Wall arranges monthly disturbances in the women’s section, singing loudly and shouting in an effort to force change upon other women. The organization dismisses and denigrates as “controlled by ultra-Orthodox rabbis” the much larger group of traditional women who pray regularly at the Western Wall and who oppose WOW’s politically-motivated provocations.

The Reform movement funds Ms. Hoffman’s speaking tours of America, in which she distances her Reform audiences from Israel. In her speeches she claims that women do not have full civil rights in Israel, using Women of the Wall’s own antics as her prime example. To be certain, she also points out that American Reform Judaism – that which rejected the entirety of Jewish tradition – is not accepted by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate as authentic Jewish practice.

Two examples illustrate the extent to which Hoffman and her Reform colleagues will exploit what they consider long-discarded Jewish religious symbols for political gain. First, the Reform movement calls its American synagogues “temples” as a conscious repudiation of the special holiness of the Temple in Jerusalem. As recently as 1999, Israel’s Reform rabbis reaffirmed that to them, the Temple and the Western Wall have no special sanctity. Yet Hoffman and the American Reform movement are demanding that the Israeli government provide a plaza for their use, equivalent to the one provided for those who revere the Temple Mount as the holiest place on earth.

And just this week, the Women of the Wall announced that they plan to hold a “Birkat Kohanot” this Passover, with funding from the estate of the late actor Leonard Nimoy – who used the Kohanim’s parting of the fingers while portraying an alien on the Star Trek TV show – to advertise and bus women to the Kotel from across Israel. Yet the Reform movement proudly “rejected the notion of priestly status,” and states that Birkat Kohanim “is not seen in Reform synagogues.” Why are they twisting a traditional practice which they do not follow, and doing so in the faces of traditional Jews whose practices they denigrate and lampoon – if not because WOW hopes to provoke yet another riot, to exploit for future public relations in America?

This is the “contribution” that Reform is making in Israel: denigrating Jewish tradition, fighting religious organizations and the rights of religious Jews, all while making Israel look bad in the eyes of American Jews and a world already delighted to misportray the Jewish state as bigoted. In America, the movement honors intermarried congregants and their non-Jewish spouses as it presides over what sociologist Steven Cohen termed “a sharply declining non-Orthodox population.” Must we wonder why religious MKs are alarmed by the thought of official recognition of the Reform movement as legitimate “Judaism” in Israel?

This article first appeared on Arutz-7.

Someone Should Remind the University of California Regents That It’s Purim

March 23, 2016 at 7:04 am

This coming Thursday, March 24, Jews around the world will celebrate the holiday of Purim. This holiday does not commemorate the inauguration of a new country, a great victory for freedom, or even the birth of a great leader. Rather, it celebrates the reversal of a decree of genocide against the entire Jewish nation. No other ethnicity or nationality has such a celebration – primarily because there is no other nation or ethnicity pursued globally by those seeking its eradication.

Following the destruction of the Second Holy Temple in Jerusalem nearly two millenia ago, Jews have lived in communities scattered around the earth, and been subjected to bigotry and persecution. The Holocaust was unique only in its magnitude and modernity. The world has largely forgotten the Crusades, Expulsions, Inquisitions, Pogroms, and Arab riots that annihilated Jewish populations, destroyed their synagogues and displaced their survivors from the seventh century through as recently as the 1960s.

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, coincident with Purim, as it happens, the University of California (UC) Regents will debate and vote on a “Report on Principles against Intolerance,” one which aims to address the latest iteration of that same ancient hatred – as it has expressed itself in a disturbing wave of anti-Semitic incidents across numerous UC campuses.

The Regents boldly identified and condemned “anti-Zionism” as little more than a cover for bigotry against the Jewish people: “In particular, opposition to Zionism often is expressed in ways that are not simply statements of disagreement over politics and policy, but also assertions of prejudice and intolerance towards Jewish people and culture. Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.”

Just as many people fought against references to anti-Zionism in the report of the U. S. State Department’s definition of antisemitism — according to which some forms of anti-Zionism constitute antisemitism — so this part of the report has proven controversial, as there are many discomfited by the inclusion of anti-Zionism as a manifestation of discrimination. Nonetheless, this statement in the report is not merely accurate, but a prerequisite for any substantive effort to combat the antisemitism facing Jewish UC students, staff and faculty. Without mention of hatred masquerading as mere “anti-Israel” protest, what will be left is a meaningless condemnation of antisemitism that omits its primary campus stimulus.

Particularly damaging opposition to this necessary statement comes from scholars like Eugene Volokh, a legal expert on the UCLA faculty, a writer generally recognized for clear thinking, and one who describes himself as not only “ethnically” Jewish, but pro-Israel. Writing in the Washington Post, he claims:

Whether the Jewish people should have an independent state in Israel is a perfectly legitimate question to discuss — just as it’s perfectly legitimate to discuss whether Basques, Kurds, Taiwanese, Tibetans, Northern Cypriots, Flemish Belgians, Walloon Belgians, Faroese, Northern Italians, Kosovars, Abkhazians, South Ossetians, Transnistrians, Chechens, Catalonians, Eastern Ukranians and so on should have a right to have independent states.

This is true – it is appropriate to analyze whether there should be an independent state for Jews just as for the others. It is appropriate when it is at the same level, and arrives at the same objective results. When it fails this test, however – when discussion of the Jewish right for self-determination is guided by standards different from discussion of others’ rights – it becomes clear that this particular “discussion” is a mask for bigotry. This leads to an objective conclusion which is the converse of Volokh’s own.

No one but the dictators of mainland China – and their equally anti-democratic allies – begrudges the Taiwanese their independent country. Had the Scots voted for independence last year, neither the British nor anyone else would have denied them self-determination. Were the Tibetens, Chechens or any of the others to democratically secure their own independence, the civilized world would greet this with universal acclamation.

The Jewish people went through all appropriate diplomatic and democratic processes to secure a modern state to call their own. The British, whose mandatory Palestine covered both ancient Judea and a much larger territory to the east of the Jordan river, concluded that a modern Jewish state was desirable and appropriate. A plan for independent Jewish and Arab countries was endorsed by the United Nations itself, granting the modern state of Israel an unparalleled level of legal “legitimacy.” Israel’s borders expanded only when it successfully defended itself against threats of annihilation. Yet today, no one questions why the vast majority of mandatory Palestine was given to an undemocratic Hashemite clan stemming from Saudi Arabia; only the Jewish democracy is condemned. This is anything but “just as” the way other indigenous populations are treated.

These are double standards applied to Zionism, pure and simple — invocation of which the State Department’s definition rightly categorizes as being antisemitic, and the Regents should do as well.

A recent report from AMCHA Initiative, an organization combating campus anti-Semitism, demonstrates the strong correlation between so-called “anti-Israel” activity and open bigotry and even violence. Only one-third of the over 100 colleges surveyed had anti-Semitic activity in 2015 – unless there were calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. 95 percent of schools with BDS activity had anti-Semitic expression, and with greater frequency.

The study concluded that anti-Zionist student groups and faculty who call for an academic boycott of Israel are “very strong predictors of overall antisemitic activity” – and that “BDS activity is the strongest predictor of incidents that target Jewish students for harm.” In short, the anti-Israel movement is the only “humanitarian” cause whose activities lead directly to open bigotry and discrimination.

Even if you think that anti-Zionism isn’t necessarily antisemitic, it’s incontrovertible that it directly leads to and fuels straightforwardly antisemitic speech and behavior.

This is no coincidence. The leading speakers of this movement repeatedly present ancient anti-Semitic canards of Jewish claims of superiority and control of banks and the media to impressionable students. They repeat old and deadly fictions of Jews poisoning wells from the era of the Black Plague, and the blood libels of Jewish murders of children. They assert false claims of genocide, ethnic cleansing and “state-sponsored terrorism” against Israel, and then incite violence with calls of “we support the Intifada” – a program of knifings, bombings and other acts of terror directed against Jews in Israel and around the globe.

The Regents’ Working Group must be heartily commended for recognizing the true nature of anti-Zionism and condemning it as such. It would be a tremendous disservice to beleaguered Jewish UC students – and to the cause of truth and justice – were this language to somehow be dropped from the final, ratified version of the Report.

On Purim, we Jews celebrate the end of an unbridled attack on our national identity.

This Purim, with the Regents’ vote, may we be able to do the same.

This article first appeared in the Algemeiner.

Humble Enough to Err — and Admit It

March 18, 2016 at 3:22 pm

fallen-king-chess-300x199This week’s reading begins the third book of the Torah, VaYikra, or Leviticus. The word VaYikra means “called,” as in G-d Calling to Moshe.

Looking at the text, we find that the aleph, the letter at the end of VaYikra, is written in small text. Rashi says that there is a key difference between the word VaYikra and the word VaYikar. They are not simply cognates of each other. The former implies closeness, dearness, importance, the way the ministering angels “call” to each other. The latter is a casual, distant encounter, expressed when HaShem spoke to Bila’am who wanted to curse the Jews.

The Ba’al HaTurim explains that Moshe deliberately chose to write the aleph small, because he did not want to glorify himself and say that HaShem would speak with him like the angels call one another.

Later in our reading, we learn that this level of humility is required of every leader. The Torah tells us what a Jewish King should do if he sins. But actually it does not say “if he sins” — it says “when he sins” [4:22]. It is taken for granted that a leader is nonetheless a mere mortal like everyone else, and he is going to make mistakes.

And to that, Rashi comments that the word for when, Asher, is related to the word happy, Ashrei — as in, happy is the generation whose leader is willing to admit error!

No human being, not even Moshe, was perfect. The Torah tells us when he erred, rather than glossing over his mistakes. The Torah did not want to demean Moshe — it praises him as “more humble than any man” [Num. 12:3]. Rather, the Torah wants us to know that no one is perfect, and the Torah does not expect us to be perfect. We are humans, and “to err is human.”

What the Torah expects us to do is to look over our actions, determine our mistakes even after we have made them, regret them, and learn from them. We are not given the capability to be perfect — what we are given is the capability to grow. Part of growth is learning from our mistakes, and looking forward to doing better tomorrow.

Why Seminary Still Makes Sense

March 14, 2016 at 5:29 pm

In a recent piece on Matzav.com, Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin discusses “Sending Girls to Seminaries and the Shidduch Crisis” and asks: “who are the American boys supposed to marry at 21 if all the good American 18, 19 and 20-year-old girls are away at seminary in Israel?” He writes that he will be glad to be “shlugged up,” and I will endeavor to do so. Besides belittling the Israel seminary experience for girls, in my opinion the writer appears not to understand why the Gedolim now encourage boys to begin dating at a younger age, and as a result is essentially advising girls to make the problem worse rather than better.

The writer dismisses the Israel seminary experience as a “dizzying” environment with “dreams of travel, touring, having fun, inspired lectures about all sorts of subjects, etc.” One could, of course, say similar things about yeshivos in Israel, but we obviously do not.

Rather, we point out that yishuv Eretz Yisrael, living in the Land of Israel (even for a limited time), is a great Mitzvah, that every 4 amos walked in Israel is a Mitzvah, and that avir E”Y machkim — that the very air of the land makes one wise. And, of course, spending time in Israel before marriage is conducive to the decision to return after marriage, which, as American Gedolim will be the first to say, often leads a young Kollel yungerman to greater growth in Torah.

Which of the above is not applicable to women? On the contrary, the growth in both Torah knowledge and Yiras Shamayim of most girls after a year in seminary is apparent to all. It generally has a great impact on the type of house she wishes to build and the life she wishes to lead.

In order for young couples to choose to live in Eretz Yisrael after marriage, it is the wife’s previous time there that is arguably more critical. Gedolim routinely advise young couples to find a community where the wife will be happy, so far better for her to start off without fearing Eretz Yisrael as a great unknown.

Even without all of the above, seminary in Israel is also likely to be the first time in an observant young woman’s life that she finds herself dealing with daily situations and minor crises when she cannot call her parents for help, not unless she wants to wake them at four in the morning US time — or take an intercontinental round-trip flight for a hug and her mother’s chicken soup. Can the author honestly ask how spending a full nine months living thousands of miles from mommy helps to prepare a young woman for the “hard job of marriage, running a household, often with a full-time job to cope with, as well as motherhood and child-rearing?”

And, as I said, ultimately the author’s advice could hardly be more counterproductive. He claims that girls are in seminary “to age 20 or 21” (which incorrectly presumes that they are not usually dating by the age of 19) and suggests that younger boys need to marry yet younger girls.

babyboomThat is the precise opposite of what the Gedolim are doing to solve the crisis, which is caused by our community growing at an incredible rate ka”h while boys marry significantly later than girls. As the enclosed chart demonstrates, in Lakewood alone the number of annual births grew from 2800 in 2004 to 3450 in 2008, and then to 3960 in 2012. This means an increase of roughly 5% per year. Thus if 19-year-old girls continue to typically marry 23-year-old boys, then simply b’derech hateva — according to the rules of nature — hundreds of girls will be unable to find spouses each and every year, just in Lakewood alone. This same growth, this same disparity between the number of 19-year-olds vs. 23-year-olds, is found in every Torah community.

The reason that Chasidim do not have this problem, and why Litvishe girls in E”Y (Israel) do not have this problem (at least, to not nearly the same extent), is because boys marry girls their own age. It has nothing whatsoever to do with “travels to far-off yeshivos or seminaries,” but only how long boys vs. girls wait to start dating. And given the choice between telling girls to wait until 23 and telling boys to start earlier, the Gedolim endorsed the latter option. One way or the other, telling girls to maintain the age gap by marrying even earlier is nothing but a recipe for disaster.

For all of these reasons, I sincerely hope readers will follow the approach advised by our Gedolim. Girls should continue to go to seminary, and on the contrary should delay entering Shidduchim if they want a 23-year-old boy. It is the boys who should date earlier and welcome shidduchim with girls their age and older. That, along with a lot of Tefillos, are the ways to solve this crisis.

All In This Together

March 11, 2016 at 2:04 pm

mountain-climbers-reaching-summitThis week, Rabbi Mordechai Dixler, our program director, shared with me a collection of Torah thoughts and concepts from Rav Avraham Elimelech Biderman of Bnei Brak, Israel. In a few short paragraphs Rav Biderman tied together our reading (Pikudei, the last portion in Sh’mos, the Book of Exodus), the Hebrew month of Adar, the holiday of Purim (the 14th of Adar, which this year begins on the eve of Thursday, March 24), and the fact that this week we conclude the reading of a book of the Torah — which means that in synagogue, after the final words of the portion are read, the assembled say “chazak, chazak, v’nischazeik” — “be strong and be strengthened.”

The Chasidic masters would often find lessons in the words of the Torah outside their plain meaning. In our reading we learn that among the many things that the craftsmaster, Bezalel ben Uri, did in building the Tabernacle, “he coated the heads of the pillars [with silver], and bound them to the structure” [Ex. 38:28]. Rebbe Yisrael Taub of Modzhitz noted that the word coating, v’tzipah, is a cognate of the word for awaiting or looking forward to something, metzapeh. He said that there is an allusion here to G-d “waiting hopefully” for each Jewish person to “head” in His direction, to make the first steps towards Him.

Each of us must make a start, as it says earlier: “And now, if you truly listen to My voice and keep My covenant” [Ex. 19:5], and Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki explains, “if you accept this upon yourselves now, it will be good for you from now on, because all beginnings are difficult.” The first step is the hardest. And G-d is waiting for us to take that first step.

Every Jewish person is included in this; no one can imagine that somehow G-d does not care about him or her. Because as Rav Yitzchak Meir Alter (the Chiddushei HaRim) said, the name of the month of Adar is the acronym of Aluf Dal Rash” — the “Aluf,” the great leader, rests His Divine Presence [even] upon the simple and lesser people, the “Dalim v’Rashim.” This is what we see in the Purim Megillah, that the King’s servants pointed out to the evil Haman that Mordechai the Jew was not bowing to him. Mordechai is referred to repeatedly as Mordechai the Jew, rather than Mordechai the righteous or Mordechai the leader. The most important thing about Mordechai was the simple fact that he was a Jew, regardless of whether he was great or lowly.

The month of Adar, Rav Biderman explains, is the time in which we remember that we must fight the people of Haman, the nation of Amalek. Amalek came and fought the stragglers among the Jews as they first crossed the Sinai desert, when no one else would dare attack them. And the entire Jewish people was told to turn around and fight them, to eliminate the hatred represented by Amalek, because every Jew is important, and every Jew is responsible for every other — including the stragglers.

This brings us to the fact that this is the closing of the book of Exodus, when we declare “be strong and be strengthened.” This happens during Adar for this is an ongoing battle. The Jews set upon by Amalek were those losing hope, and we must never lose hope, and must unite to oppose Amalek. If a person strengthens him or herself again and again, then G-d will strengthen and assist, and the person will be strengthened. We have to take the first step, and we have to keep trying, and we must look to and depend upon G-d to help lift us higher. Because if we strengthen ourselves, if we take that first step, then G-d will strengthen us!