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.