Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Time for Teshuvah

The following post is a response to an article authored by R’ Eli Teitelbaum, published in last week’s Yated Ne’eman, in reference to unacceptable behavior taking place in the Catskill Mountains recently.

Leitzona Achas Docha Meah Tochachos.

One dismissive comment can erase the effects of a hundred rebukes.

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos tells us that when two people get together for a meal, and no Divrei Torah are exchanged between them, they are classified as a Moshav Leitzim, a get-together of scorners.

The Meforshim (commentators) question why the Mishnah refers to them as scorners, after all, who or what exactly, were they scorning? They were merely eating their meal without exchanging Torah thoughts.

They answer as follows; a Leitz (scorner) is not simply one who makes light of, or ridicules, something or someone important. Rather, a scorner is one who by his action, or even inaction, shows disrespect to a worthy cause. When two people get together for a meal, and no words of Torah are exchanged between them, they are in essence scorning the Torah; for if they truly valued its worth, they would never sit without exchanging any words of Torah between them.

A terrible calamity has befallen the Frum world. In R’ Teitelbaum’s own words “Many people are in total shock at some of the goings-on in the Catskills this summer. I will not go into the details. Suffice it to say that hundreds of our teenagers – boys and girls – were enticed to engage in activities that are far from what their parents and teachers consider acceptable, and far from what we have a right to expect from yeshiva and Bais Yaakov products.”

People informed of the situation are crestfallen. How could such events happen? What message is Hashem sending us? Boys’ camps, girls’ camps, and bungalow colonies, should be doing some very serious introspection and soul-searching.

The last thing needed right now is for someone to write a lengthy article extolling the virtues of our camp system.

Let the shock have its effect.

Let Hashem’s message sink in.

Let Camps and parents do their utmost to ensure that such events never take place again.

The backlash against Camps is both beneficial and healthy for the long-term spiritual health of our youngsters. Without it, the Mussar (reproach) would not be taken, and such a powerful wake-up call would go unheeded. Who knows what the Yetzer Harah is planning for us next? We must prepare!

Please don’t misunderstand my post as a call to ban acceptable and Kosher entertainment for our youth. However, when a tragedy befalls us, our reflexive and primary focus must be on how and why it occurred, and ways to prevent its recurrence. To immediately defend Kosher entertainment, however true, is flat-out wrong. It is tantamount to Leitzonus – scorning, making light of the powerful message we should be ingraining.

With all due respect to R’ Teitelbaum; now is not the time! In the Yimei Harachamim V’Haslichos let us all feel terrible over what happened and try our best to make sure that it never happens again.

Eventually, with the help of Hashem, Camps will institute appropriate safeguards ensuring that such events never recur.

Then, and only then, should an article be written extolling their virtues.

There is a time for Teshuvah and there is a time for defending.

Now is the time for Teshuvah.

P.S. Please keep the comments respectful and Lashon Hara-free. Thank you.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Chivalry, Mentchlichkeit, & Busses

Two weeks ago a woman’s letter was printed in a Frum newspaper, questioning why no man offered her a seat on a bus and she was compelled to stand the entire ride, often falling onto seated male passengers, an obvious lack of Tznius.

In response someone (presumably a man) wrote, that all things being equal we find no source in Halacha for a woman to be given preference over a man or vice versa, and therefore chivalry has no place amongst Frum Jews. Regarding her complaint that she found herself falling on male passengers; he responded that having men standing and falling on female passengers is not a better alternative.

I would like to express my feelings on the matter.

Firstly, contrary to the second letter-writer’s statement we actually do find instances of chivalry in Halacha.

The Mishnah in Horios (13a) states that in regard to sustaining and returning lost objects one should service a man first, whilst in regards to clothing and rescuing, a woman would take precedence. (The Beis Yosef (YD 251) explains that when the Mishnah mentions “sustaining”, it refers to saving lives and in this a man comes before a woman, however in regards to charity a woman takes priority similar to the Halacha that she takes priority in receiving clothing.)

Furthermore the Gemorah states (Brachos 61a & Eiruvin 18b) that if a man and woman simultaneously reach a narrow passageway the man should go first since it is improper for him to walk behind a woman. The Gemorah then adds that this Halacha applies even to a husband and wife, and Rashi (Eiruvin ibid.) explains since it is unbecoming for a husband to walk behind his wife.

It is quite clear that there exist Halachos mandating whether and when, a man or woman take precedence.

Also, the letter-writer fails to realize that with all societal chivalry aside, Mentchlichkeit is a basic and far-reaching Halacha. Without unnecessarily going into details, everyone understands that most women could use a seat more than the average man. Therefore basic human decency suggests that a man relinquish his seat in favor of a woman. Being a Mentch and interacting with society in a fine and decent manner, is understood to be included in the adage of Derech Eretz Kodmah LaTorah.

As for his point that having men standing and falling on top of women is just as severe a breach in Tznius; what he fails to recognize is that for whatever the reason the male passengers usually greatly outnumber the female passengers on these Frum busses. Having some men stand would generally not lead to men falling on seated women as these men can, and should, stand between seated men. Women, on the other hand, if left standing will generally find themselves standing between men which could lead to un-Tzniusdik results.

If one would only be aware of the true situation, one would realize that the woman’s complaint was valid; not necessarily from the standpoint of chivalry but from the standpoint of Mentchlichkeit & Tznius.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


I was recently contacted by the editor of a major Frum newspaper, that someone copied my post on the school dilemma and forwarded it to be printed in his paper. This comes on the heels of seeing a letter in a different paper which was strikingly similar to my post.

Thankfully, this editor was vigilant enough to realize that it was an exact copy of my post, but who is to say that this won’t happen in the future.

Obviously, I am honored that my readers feel my posts are worthy of receiving even wider circulation than they enjoy on this site. However, to do so without my explicit permission is against Halacha and against the law.

I fail to understand how people can stoop so low, when all they have to do is contact me via email requesting that I submit my post for publication, something I have done relatively often in the past.

I conclude by firmly stating that such action has no justification, and I do not expect this to happen again.

Any requests to publish posts should be conveyed to me directly, and I will make the final decision.

Thank you.

P.S. I apologize for the delay, but I have now responded to all of your comments on my previous post.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

No Child Left Behind

A crisis was narrowly averted in the nick of time in Lakewood, NJ.

Earlier today the word went out that all of the town’s high schools for girls would be shut down indefinitely due to some girls not having any school to attend next year. Later in the day the problem must have been solved, as a follow-up call retracted the original shut-down.

I previously wrote a post here regarding the issue of girls not having any school to attend to. Although I was very clear in my comments to that post that I was not referring specifically to Lakewood, from the storm of comments the post elicited it was obvious that this problem is quite significant there. Thankfully, this blog had a part in publicizing the issue and a potential solution, as was made clear to me through various channels.

Independent Frum Thinker laments the fact that such strong-arm tactics were necessary to force the schools into accepting every single girl, but I valiantly salute those taking such an uncompromising stand on the issue.

Every girl is a Yiddishe Tochter and a future Yiddishe Momma. Every girl is a Bas Melech and deserves to be treated as such.

Baruch Hashem, this year things were settled in time. Hopefully, in the future there won’t be anything to settle, as schools will band together to guarantee every girl her deserved slot, as per my original suggestion.

Monday, March 5, 2007

New Look, Same Great Taste!

As I’m sure you all noticed, I have significantly altered the layout of my blog.

I also added a Google search box which can be used to search the web directly from this blog.

I would appreciate hearing from you which layout you liked better and why.

Please continue commenting on the previous post too.

Thank you.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Purim Myths and Facts

As I was preparing spiritually for the holy day of Purim, I compiled a list of Purim myths and facts, which I would like to share with my readers.

Please feel free to add your own, which assuming I agree, I will add to the post.

1 –
Myth – Ta’anis Esther is in commemoration of the three day fast that Esther declared before entering Achashveirosh’s quarters.
Fact – It is a commemoration of the fast that the Jews fasted on the thirteenth of Adar, the day on which they fought their enemies. It is named after Esther since she is an example of someone whose Tefilos were answered. (Tur Orach Chaim 686, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 141:2, & Mishna Brurah 686:2).

2 –
Myth – The reason Hashem punished the Jews by allowing Haman to threaten them with annihilation was because they took part in Achashveirosh’s party.
Fact – They were punished for bowing down to the idol of Nevuchadnetzar. (Gemorah Megillah 12a).

3 –
Myth - The two foods of Mishloach Manos must be of two different Brachos, otherwise they are considered as one.
Fact – As long as they are two distinct foods, even two types of meat, they are considered as two. (Gemorah Megillah 7b, Rambam Hilchos Megillah 2:15).

4 –
Myth – One should spend more on Mishloach Manos than on Matanos L’Evyonim.
Fact – It is better to spend more money on Matanos L’Evyonim than on Mishloach Manos, since bringing joy to downtrodden people is a greater Mitzvah. (Rambam 2:17).

5 –
Myth – One is obligated to get drunk on Purim.
Fact – Not necessarily. Although there are those Rishonim who rule that way, many others argue and rule that one should simply drink more than he is accustomed to and then nap a little. (Rambam 2:15, Shulchan Aruch and Rema 695:2, Mishna Brurah 695:5, & Aruch Hashulchan 695:5).

6 –
Myth – Haman’s daughter, after realizing that she dumped a pail of refuse on her father’s head, jumped off the roof.
Fact – She actually fell off the roof, apparently from shock, and not that she committed suicide. (Gemorah Megillah 16a).

7 –
Myth – Achashveirosh was simply fooled by Haman and felt no dislike towards the Jews.
Fact – He hated the Jews just as much as Haman, and was happy to get rid of them. (Gemorah Megillah 14a).

8 –
Myth – Haman had ten sons.
Fact – There are actually three opinions. He either had thirty, ninety, or two hundred and eight. Apparently Megillahs Esther refers to his ten higher-ranking sons, though he had more. (Gemorah Megillah 15b).

Monday, February 26, 2007

Drinking on Purim; Happiness not Holelus

Purim is in the air, and most people are excited.

What a beautiful Yomtov. Reading the Megillah, gifts to the poor, food packages to neighbors, friends & relatives, and eating a festive meal. Children (and some adults) dressing up, music, noise, etc. Who doesn’t look forward to Purim?

I would like to address one aspect of Purim, which in my opinion is shifting considerably from the original intent of Chazal.

And that is drinking.

The Gemorah says that one should drink on Purim. Many interpret this to mean that one should get drunk, while many disagree. The Rema writes that one should merely drink more than he is usually accustomed to and then go to sleep. The Mishnah Brurah remarks on this, that this is the proper custom.

For whatever the reason, many people follow the opinions that one should get completely intoxicated, which of course is completely acceptable.

However, it appears that we are losing sight of the original intent of this Halacha. The Halacha was instituted so that people could experience pure and unadulterated joy over the miracles of Hashem, without feeling any of the usual constraints due to one’s inhibitions and embarrassment. When a person is drunk he tends to shed his natural shyness and can express his love for Hashem and happiness for his deeds, without looking over his shoulder.

Drunkenness that leads to rowdy and inappropriate behavior is totally beyond what Chazal intended.

Unfortunately, it is not so uncommon to see or hear of drunken people losing control over their actions. Such behavior is simply wrong, and if a person feels that getting drunk will lead him to commit acts that he will regret, or say things that he shouldn’t, then he should not be getting drunk in the first place.

This problem is especially prevalent amongst our youth who occasionally use Purim as an excuse to let loose and do whatever their hearts desire. Parents should exercise their authority in ensuring, to the best of their ability, that their children do not get carried away. All too often the actions of one drunken teenager shame the entire family.

Our focus on Purim should be on expressing happiness and gratitude to Hashem. This was Chazal’s intention, and it behooves us to endeavor to follow it.

May we all merit a happy and spiritually-uplifting Purim.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Rabbi Blumenkrantz; a Tragic Loss

Independent Frum Thinker mourns the tragic and unexpected loss of Rabbi Avrohom Blumenkrantz z”l, who passed away this past Thursday night.

R’ Blumenkrantz z”l was both an accomplished and acclaimed Torah scholar, and righteous and pious man.

He was one of a unique few of Torah-true individuals who utilized their vast knowledge of Halacha to delve into the intricacies of the modern world, with the goal of helping others navigate their way through it.

To those who didn’t know him personally, he was best known for his annual pre-Pesach guide to medicines, bathroom accessories, and kitchen supplies. Due to his efforts thousands of Jews were able to avoid transgressing the prohibition of owning Chametz on Pesach, and in many cases succeeded in saving Jews from the even more severe sin of eating Chametz.

Interspersed throughout his book were pertinent Halachos on a vast array of subjects, from Kosher shavers to Kosher Sheitels.

He was truly an extraordinary person, and almost the entire Frum world was affected by him whether directly or indirectly.

The void that he leaves behind will be difficult to fill.

We mourn his loss, and extend our sincere condolences to his family.

Yehei Zichro Baruch.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The School Dilemma

It’s that time of year again.

The girl and her parents wait anxiously for that letter. Will she be accepted to the school of their choice or not? Will she be able to attend the school that her friends are going to and/or that is more suitable for her, or will she have to settle for something less? In some communities after everyone receives their letter, there are girls left over with no school to attend to at all. The girl and her parents are acutely aware of this awful possibility and nervously hope and pray that she was accepted to the school that she applied for.

The principal sits and pores over hundreds of applications. There are so many more of them than available slots. How can she choose one wonderful girl over the other, one beautiful family over the other?

Each party is agonizing over their respective dilemma.

Finally the time has come. The principal drops the envelopes into the mailbox with a heavy heart, knowing full well that many excellent girls will soon be receiving that dreaded letter. It was a decision made with compassion, but also with practicality. The school simply can not accommodate all of its applicants.

The girl and her parents sit in silence after reading the letter informing them that their daughter was not accepted and must seek a different school for next year. Upset, disappointed, and confused, are only some of the emotions being felt in that home. How can she face her friends who were accepted to that school? Will she have a school to attend to at all next year? Where should they turn? What should they do?

These are true-life descriptions, and anyone who has gone through them can empathize and understand.

A proposal is being floated that every community should arrange for a computerized system, in which each applicant can list the schools of their choice in their order of preference. After all applications are submitted, the computer then automatically generates which applicant should go where.

In my opinion this proposal is not in the best interests of the schools nor their students.

Every school has its unique and distinctive flavor. One may have a more Chassidish touch, while another a more Litvish one. One may be Yeshivish while another Modern Orthodox. One may be simpler while another more affluent. The beauty of our community is in its choices. Every family can find a school appropriate for them and their Hashkafos.

Removing the freedom of choice from the schools will allow for short-term satisfaction, but in the long run will alter the distinctive character of every school. Each school will lose its unique identity, in turn hurting the very students and their parents who fostered this system unto the schools.

I would like to suggest a more practical solution.

All school principals of every community should form a committee to deal specifically with this issue. Before any one school sends out its letters, all the representatives should meet to figure out how every single applicant to every single school will have a place. If any one principal feels a specific girl made a wrong choice by applying to her school, some other more suitable school would have to accept her. Each school would be helping the other, while every girl would have a school to attend. Only then will all schools simultaneously send out their letters.

Granted, there will be some girls and parents who will feel that the decision was erroneous and their daughter should have been accepted to the original school that she applied for, but to make everyone happy is simply impossible. At least now every girl will be guaranteed a place, and it will be as close as possible to her individual needs.

From my understanding, such a system is more or less in place in Monsey, NY, and it’s high time that some other communities implement such a system or some other workable one.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Tzedakah Priorities

Frum Jews live their lives according to the guidelines and parameters of Halacha. In almost every area of life we strive to do what is Halachikly preferable, and if necessary will approach a Rav for guidance.

However, the laws of Tzedaka seem all but forgotten, and seemingly there exists little motivation to do what is Halachikly correct.

I am not referring to the giving of Tzedakah. Fortunately, people are constantly giving and donating money and objects, often above and beyond their means.

What I am referring to are the Tzedakah priorities as defined by Halacha.

One who studies the relevant material realizes that there are very clear-cut guidelines on whom and what takes precedence.

Family comes first. If there are family members who are in need of financial help, they take precedence over all other causes.

Supporting Torah scholars is second. Obviously, if one has a relative who is a budding or accomplished Torah scholar and is in need of financial help, he would take precedence over all other Torah scholars as he encompasses both of the two highest priorities.

Although the list of Tzedakah priorities continues, I would only like to focus on these, as they relate to the subject of my previous post. (For further information, one can study the Halachos in Shulchan Aruch with its commentaries, or read Rabbi Feuer’s wonderful English Sefer on Tzedakah.)

Nowadays, we are bombarded with letters and brochures, much of which are cleverly written to play on the recipients’ emotions and arouse their sympathy for the cause. We are also bombarded with glitzy & ostentatious Chinese auction brochures designed to appeal to our base materialistic instincts.

Without delving into the methods being used to raise funds, we should always keep in mind the priorities as defined by Halacha.

Sending a check to that poor cousin is more important than supporting the family with the heart-wrenching story. Sending a check to your local Kollel, or better yet directly to the Kollel members themselves, is more important than buying that ticket for the luxury cruise in the Chinese auction. There may be less fanfare surrounding Tzedakohs that focus on supporting Torah scholars, but after all it is the number two priority.

I am not, Chas V’Shalom, questioning the validity of any other Tzedakos in any way. Unfortunately, there are many needs in our community and each has its merit and importance. I am just attempting to raise awareness to the fact that there are unambiguous Halachos determining Tzedakah priorities, just like there are Halachos in other areas of our lives.

Personally, I feel there is enough, or at least close to enough, money in the community to adequately support all its basic needs. But we should not allow for glitzy ads to replace the Halachik sense of proportion.

Let giving Tzedakah enjoy the same status as other Mitzvos, where we seek to perform them in the ideal way.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Appreciating Rabbeim

Rabbeim are overworked, underpaid, and most of all underappreciated.

So much time and effort goes into teaching our children. There is time spent preparing, time spent in class, & time spent with children and parents after school.

Being a Rebbe is not just a nine to three job; it most often takes over his day, his week, and sometimes even his life.

Do we have anything more precious then our children? Our children encompass our future, our past, and our present. We all love our children and would do anything for them, and we are entrusting these precious souls to Rabbeim in schools.

These Rabbeim often spend as much time with our children as we do ourselves. They strive to impart knowledge, love of Hashem and His Torah, joy in being a Yid, and proper values of Derech Eretz and Middos.

Much ado is made of the occasional Rebbe who has no exuberance left in him, not to mention the absolutely small minority who actually take advantage of our children for actions left better unmentioned. However, very little ado is made of the majority of Rabbeim who are working so hard and faithfully to inculcate in our children everything that we hold so precious.

Due to the dynamics of our community and its financial situation, tuition usually does not allow for us to pay our Rabbeim the salaries they so truly deserve. Just to put things in perspective, what is more important to us in the long run, our children’s Chinuch or treating their occasional ear infection? Yet we would pay a doctor one hundred dollars an hour or more, while the average Rebbe receives approximately twenty five dollars an hour for his holy work. Please keep in mind that Rabbeim are not working with one “patient” at a time, rather usually with twenty five and without their parents there to help out.

The possible solutions to the unfortunate fact that our devoted Rabbeim are underpaid are complex and difficult to implement. However, we can definitely make them feel more appreciated; a phone call on Friday wishing a good Shabbos, sending in a thank-you note to school or to their homes, or whatever else allows us to express our gratitude & appreciation.

Let us all take a moment to think about this and realize that these Rabbeim deserve a lot more credit than they are receiving. And let us all do our parts in making them feel as respected and appreciated as they really should be.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Internet: Eradicating The Root Not Only The Symptoms

We all know that using the Internet has its risks. More and more stories are surfacing of people, both children and adults, who started their downfall from innocent surfing, chatting, or the like.

Understandably, many in the community feel the need to restrict its use and institute acceptable safeguards for people to follow.

In Lakewood, N.J. many schools demand that parents disclose if they have Internet access, or even just email, in their home. Then the parent must meet with one of a few designated Rabbonim to explain the necessity of having Internet in the home. The parent must then fill out a form promising to keep the computer in a separate locked room, and only then is the child allowed to remain the school.

Although I agree in principle for the need to institute guidelines, I still feel that whenever faced with a problem we should try to eradicate the root of the problem and not focus only on the symptom.

The fact that people use the Internet to view inappropriate material or develop inappropriate relationships is only the symptom of a problem and not the root of it. The root of the problem is that our community is increasingly getting caught up with externals, and there is not enough focus on internals. Nowadays, successful Chinuch is measured in terms of material covered, hours of learning, homework, tests, reports, etc. Good old-fashioned Yiras Shamaim is not high on the agenda.

As long as this continues we will be producing young men and women who are knowledgeable & educated, but whose Fear of Heaven and true sincerity leave much to be desired. On the surface all seems fine and dandy, but if all the horror stories about the Internet are true, “something is rotten in the State of Denmark”.

What will be in a few short years when all big cities and possibly smaller towns too, will be huge WiFi hotspots? Already there are cities that are like this. Having one’s computer in a locked room won’t stop anyone from accessing the Internet through Palms, PDAs, and cellphones. It will all be so easy and accessible, and one shudders to think of the consequences.

The root of the problem appears to be that since our community has been largely successful in insulating itself from the outside world through its own schools, newspapers, entertainment, and what not, influence from the outside world is considered a thing of the past. Hence, the stress of our educational system on reaching new heights in learning and knowledge, and internalizing true Fear of Hashem is something taken for granted.

It’s high time that we wake up and realize that with the advent of modern technology we are no longer insulated, no matter where we live. We must return to the days when nothing was taken for granted, and much emphasis must be placed on ensuring that our children have properly internalized their Yiddishkeit. Then and only then can we hope and pray that our children do not fall prey to the glitz and glamour of the outside world. By focusing on the root of the issue, less focus will be necessary on its symptoms.

Obviously, we must always battle the symptoms too. But fighting the symptoms only could lead to disaster sooner or later. Let’s lift our heads out of the sand and get back to basics.

We will all be better off that way.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Anonymous Society, Part Two

Those of you who have read the comments on my post titled “Anonymous Society”, are aware that I penned a letter to the Yated Ne’eman’s Readers Write section on the issue. A copy of that letter is pasted into the comments to that post.

In this week’s Yated there were three direct responses to my letter, and I’d like reply to two of them.

Chaim Hendeles, though strongly agreeing with the content of my letter, pointed out that Rav Yehudia Nesiah, one of the great Tanaim, felt the need to suppress his opinion because he was afraid of the people’s reaction. Apparently, the problem with our society being to judgmental is not a new phenomenon.

Mr. Hendeles, the distinction between what occurred then and what is occurring now is quite simple. In those days one may have felt the need to hide his opinion on important, potentially controversial, subjects. And even that was a rarity. Nowadays, people are consistently afraid of expressing anything, regardless of how trivial and non-controversial the topic.

In this past week’s Readers Write there were a total of twenty seven letters on topics ranging from high school acceptance letters, soundproofing, midwinter vacation, anonymous letters, Bitachon, comparing pain, helping those on the brink, appreciating every moment, Chesed, unfair ticketing, Neturai Karta, hazardous containers, therapy, saying thank you, and more. And yet, only seven of them chose to sign their names. Considering how uncontroversial most of these topics are, it is quite conspicuous that only twenty five percent of these letter-writers had enough courage to reveal their identity.

This is no isolated incident of Rav Yehudah Nesia. It is a widespread and accepted practice, mandated by our society’s tendency to judge & criticize everyone and anyone based on what they say or write.

Raphael Levi then points out the hypocrisy in my writing a letter decrying anonymity and yet signing off using my initials instead of my full name.

Mr. Levi, there exists no hypocrisy. If you only understood how judgmental we have unfortunately become, as I attempt to explain in my letter, you will see the need for me to remain anonymous too. All I was doing was pointing out a problem. Why should I have to allow that specific problem to affect me too? As long as our community continues to criticize others over the most trivial of matters, even those pointing this out will remain anonymous for fear of the inevitable backlash.

Raphael Levi actually plays right into the problem by labeling my letter hypocritical. In other words, a well-written, thought-provoking letter is dismissed and labeled hypocritical; not due to its contents, but rather for the way the author chose to sign his name. Is this not a perfect example of how judgmental we have become?

Raphael Levi then quotes someone (anonymously, of course!) who said “anonymous letters will be thrown, unread, into the wastebasket.”

I find that particularly ironic considering that my original letter was (presumably) read by thousands of people, elicited three printed responses, and Raphael Levi himself took the time and effort to reply to it!

Let us all focus on the issue, the obvious problem of how judgmental we have become, and refrain from judging and criticizing those trying to bring awareness to it.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

No Smoking

Smoking is dangerous. Period.

It is a well-established and accepted fact.

Yet, with all the pressure in the outside world to limit and even eliminate smoking, there is still one place where it continues to flourish.

And that, dear readers, is the Yeshivah world.

Innocent Bachur after innocent Bachur succumbs to the peer-pressure and allows himself to indulge in that first cigarette. The rest, of course, is history.

I know that some of you reading this are thinking “he’s exaggerating; my son would never bring a cigarette to his lips”. But believe me; I know it from the inside. The majority of Bachurim smoke. Most parents are simply unaware or are in denial, but this is a fact. A neighbor of mine, who was lamenting this very phenomenon, consoled himself by saying that at least none of his five boys smoke. I didn’t have the heart to reveal to him that in actuality three of them do, but successfully manage to hide it from him.

The Gemorah is replete with prohibitions based on Sakana-danger. The Gemorah even says Chamirah Sakanta M’Issura; committing dangerous acts is more severe than committing an Aveirah. There is absolutely no excuse for this phenomenon, and it must be brought to public awareness.

The oft-heard justification is that many Gedolim smoked, and if they did so, how dare we question their actions.

That argument is ludicrous for a variety of reasons. Firstly, most Gedolim didn’t smoke, and one should follow the majority. Secondly, many Gedolim were simply unaware of the terrible health effects smoking has on a person. They lived at a time when such knowledge was not common. Besides, there were many Gedolim, who upon being told that their behavior was detrimental to their health, stopped smoking “cold-turkey”.

Recently a Sefer on the subject of health and Halacha was published. The author writes that he asked Rav Chaim Kanievsky what his opinion is on the issue of smoking. Rav CK forcefully responded that one shouldn’t smoke, and added that his uncle, the famed Chazon Ish, as far back as fifty years ago warned people about the dangers of smoking. The author then asked Rav CK if this was also his father’s, the Steipler Gaon’s, opinion, since it is well-known that the Steipler smoked. Rav CK replied that when he was first going off to Yeshiva, his father insisted that he must not smoke. When he asked his father how can say this if he himself smokes, the Steipler responded that he was an orphan and fell in with bad friends. Once the habit was formed he felt he couldn’t break it!

Such stories pull the rug from under the feet of those who use the actions of previous generations of Gedolim to justify their habit.

Recently many Gedolim from across the spectrum have called for the end to this widespread phenomenon. However, the fact remains that the peer-pressure in Yeshiva is to strong for most young Bachurim. To a young Bachur in Yeshiva, almost nothing is more important than being accepted into the group. If smoking is the price to pay, then in the mind of a young Bachur it is a minimal and necessary one.

Smoking is not just dangerous. It is also a colossal source of Bitul Torah. One can not compare a Seder being learned uninterrupted, to one interrupted every hour for a cigarette break. There is no question that those who learn smoke-free eventually outgrow their smoking counterparts, although it may take some time for this to become apparent.

As parents, parents-in-law, future parents, wives, etc., we all share in the obligation to stymie the growth of this cancer (pun-intended).

It is unhealthy, both for the body and for the soul.

Let us try to put an end to it, once and for all.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Anonymous Society

Have you noticed that the overwhelming majority of blogs are anonymous?

Have you noticed that in all Frum newspapers and magazines, the overwhelming majority of letters to the editor are anonymous? Occasionally, someone will sign their initials, but an actual name is rare. In one newspaper there are weeks when there can be twenty or so letters, and every single one of them is anonymous.

In my opinion, this is indicative of how judgmental and discriminating our community has become. People are afraid to express their opinions and feelings, fearing the inevitable backlash and criticism that can develop. Accordingly, everyone feels the need to “cover their back” and express themselves anonymously. It’s a terrible shame that we can no longer have a civilized, respectful and open dialogue without fear of recrimination.

Even a Rav recently confided in me that nowadays before issuing a Psak he must analyze two independent areas. Firstly the relevant material to issue the correct ruling, and secondly how his Psak will be received. How appalling and sad that even Rabbonim are afraid to express their true opinions.

To emphasize my point I would like to quote a sentence printed in a leading Frum newspaper last week.

“Whether it is because they fear for their reputation, their children’s Shidduchim or getting their children into schools, people usually run away from being associated with campaigns that are not to popular or aim to shake the status quo.”

These lines speak for themselves. Regardless of what the subject of the article was, apparently if someone feels that the status quo could use some change or improvement, he will fear for his reputation, his children’s Shidduchim, and for his children not being accepted into schools.

Obviously, I am not referring to ideas that run counter to Torah. Such ideas have no place in a Torah-true community. However, the majority of such letters are sincere people trying to bring attention to something that in their opinion could use improvement, and yet still feel the need to remain anonymous.

This is a very worrisome and troublesome phenomenon, and is certainly not a symptom of a healthy society.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Saddam's Dead, May We Rejoice?

So now that Saddam Hussein, a sworn enemy of the Jewish people, has finally been killed, should we rejoice or not?

What is the proper Torah perspective?

There is a Passuk (Mishlei 24:17) that states; When your enemy falls do not be happy and when he stumbles your heart should not gladden.

However, the Gemorah (Megillah 16a) tells us that this only applies to one’s Jewish enemies, but one is allowed to rejoice in the downfall of one’s non-Jewish enemies.

On the other hand the Gemorah (Megillah 10b) tells us that when the Egyptians were drowning in the Red Sea, the angels attempted to sing praise to Hashem, to which Hashem answered, “my handiwork is drowning in the sea, and you are singing praise?!”.

The implication of this is that one should not rejoice even in the downfall of non-Jewish enemies.

After much research I have come across a Maharsha (Brachos 9b) who seems to differentiate between angels and people. Angels are not allowed to sing praise even while non-Jewish enemies are drowning, but people are not included in this restriction.

Perhaps one can understand the Maharsha’s reasoning as follows. The non-Jewish enemies are not enemies of the angels themselves; therefore the fact that they are still Hashem’s handiwork overrides their desire to praise Hashem. The Jewish people, on the other hand, were the ones actually threatened by these enemies, and therefore they are allowed to rejoice in the downfall of these non-Jewish enemies.

I was thinking to explain the contradiction somewhat differently.

Perhaps there actually exists no difference between angels and people. The difference lies in WHEN the rejoicing is taking place. It is wrong to rejoice while the non-Jewish enemy is in the process of dying or extreme torture, and accordingly the angels were not allowed to sing praise while the Egyptians were drowning. But one is allowed to rejoice when the non-Jewish enemy is merely in the process of its downfall, or after the downfall has been completed.

Either way, we humans can rejoice over Saddam Hussein’s death, as it is both us people rejoicing, and not at the time of his actual death.