Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Do Chareidim have Wings? (Or do they have Horns?)

Looks like my buddy Harry Maryles is making waves. 4 out of his last 5 posts were critical analyses of what he thinks is the chareidi world (One, Two, Three, Four . Note - this does not include the most recent one about Centrists. Most of this post was drafted before his Centrist post appeared.).

Harry seems to be very clairvoyant. He has been predicting the demise of the chareidi community for quite a while already. With expressions such as: "the Charedi world as we know it will collapse" (Feb 15) and "It will not survive in its present form," (Feb 16). In the Feb 16 post, he set the stage for the "new world order" in the Orthodox world and did everything but place odds. That's a shame. I was hoping place my bet and cash in.

And so the chareidi world is doomed. The funny thing is that, on his terms, I might actually be inclined to agree with him.

Anybody who reads his blog knows that the most frequently appearing word in his posts is charedi. (The next frequent is abuse). That much is clear. What is not so clear to his readers is: Exactly who is he including in the club when he preaches the gospel truth about the chareidim?

(Note - It took him until his most recent post to define what a Centrist is supposed to be. After looking it over it seems to me that a Centrist is somebody who bridges the gap between Talmid Chacham and an Am Haaretz).

So once again the entire nation of Israel is plagued by the controverial question:

Mihu Chareidi - מיהו חרדי ?? What exactly is a Chareidi?

For now, let's forget about what I wrote in my book and get down to the brass tacks. The best answer is:
A chareidi is a Jew who styles his life based exclusively on the teachings of the Talmud and the body of Halacha that is derived from it - i.e., Rambam, Shulchan Aruch and the ensuing poskim.

In terms of prioritizing our lifestyle, any formula that is supported in the Talmud is valid and one that has no support is considered invalid. So what formulas do we find? Here is what I wrote in my book (click HERE for excerpt).

To summarize, we find two models articulated in the gemara in Berachos 35b: Model A - Rabi Yishmael (R"Y) and Model B - Rabi Shimon ben Yochai (RaShb"Y).

Both models base their ideologies on the prerequisite that the main duty of a Jew is to study G-d's Torah. They merely present alternative approaches as to how a Jew should expect to "get by". According to R"Y, a Jew is permitted to divert daylight hours toward working for his sustenance. It is fair to say that to the extent that it is necessary, it is obligatory. Likewise, to the extent that it is unnecessary, it is forbidden. This is what we chareidim (and blog lingoists) call Torah and Parnassah.

RaShb"Y tells us that R"Y's approach is not always necessary. For those who are true servants of G-d, they may shun the outside world and immerse themselves in full time study and expect their sustenance to be provided by others. This is what the blog lingoists call Torah Only.

As I wrote in my book, there is no indication that these two ideas conflict with each other but rather that Rabi Yishmael's model is the more practical one that applies in most cases and RaShb"Y's model is the idealistic one that applies in limited cases.

The chareidi world does not see any Talmudic support for an idea of supplementing Torah knowledge with general academic knowledge that it not directly necessary for sustenance. This is what the Modern Orthodox world terms as Torah uMadda. Not only is this term not sourced anywhere in Talmudic literature but Rabi Yishmael himself rejects this concept in Menachos 99b. This also seems to be the opinion of Rabi Akiva in the Mishna in Sanhedrin 10:1 (90a in Talmud).

What emerges is that the chareidi world is comprised of 2 types of people: followers of Rabi Yishmael (R"Y) and followers of RaShb"Y. In today's terminology we may call the Rabi Yishmaelists (RYniks) the LW Chareidi and the RaShbYniks RW (or extremist) chareidi.

Now let us discuss the Modern Orthodox. There are 2 kinds of MO - (1) serious ones, who are now being referred to as RWMO and (2) unserious ones - LWMO. Those on the left wing are for the most part sheer am-haaratzim. They barely study any Shas or poskim and barely know any. The little that they know is often misused and distorted to validate their liberal lifestyle and ideology.

Those on the right wing are very different. Many of them are proficiently learned and sincerely submit themselves to a Halacha based lifestyle. Though typically they may choose more lenient positions on many issues it is usually not of a radical nature.

In effect, there is very little discernable difference between MO Jews on the extreme right and the R"Y minded chareidi Jews especially in the Anglo communities. Members of both groups can be found in Yeshivas and in colleges. Many of each group are close friends, relatives, and neighbors of their "counterparts" and not few are those who shifted from one camp to the other.

That said, how would I distinguish between the RWMO and the Rabi Yishmaelist chareidi?

This is the question that I was trying to address on pages 76-78 in my book. As a public service I will link an excerpt HERE.

Now this excerpt spoke in theory and not so much in applied terms. Tachlis, what it says is this: One of the key differences between the RWMO and the R"Y chareidi is how they view the RaShb"Y chareidi!

The R"Y chareidi looks up at the RaShb"Y chareidi as one who personifies the highest ideal. A R"Y chareidi would like to be a proper RaShb"Y chareidi but knows that his strength to commit himself to this ideal is lacking. So he must "settle" to be the "second class" R"Y chareidi. Yet, he would be tickled pink if his son were to grow up to be a true RaShb"y chareidi. He believes the more RaShb"Yniks there are in the world, the better off we all are. The best place for his money is toward the developing and support of more and more RaShb"Yniks. He chooses his wife and establishes his home with an atmosphere conducive to budding RaShb"yniks. In general he identifies with the RaShb"Y chareidi because he shares his ideals and that is why he calls himself chareidi". We are one community.

The RWMO believes that nobody should try to be a RaShb"Y chareidi. Sure, klal yisrael needs Manhigim, Dayanim, and poskim, but that is for individual distinguished Jews from individual distinguished families. Not for my kid. And one who is not a Manhig, Dayan, or Posek has no business committing himself to full time learning. Consequently, the more people committed to full time learning who are currently not headed to be a manhig, dayan or posek, the worse off we all are. Money toward full time learning is low on his list and even counterproductive in his eyes and he would be quite distressed if his son told him that he would like to travel that road. The household he establishes, though perhaps fully compliant with Halacha (depends who you ask), is not meant to be conducive toward nuturing RaShb"Yniks. Even though he knows and respects many R"Y chareidim, he considers the chareidim in general to be a distinct community.

That said, let's take a closer look at the chareidi world a la Harry Maryles.

One thing that I have said numerous times is that there are basically 2 conflicting definitions of a chareidi.

  1. The one that the chareidim give themselves
  2. The one that non-chareidim give the chareidim

The definition that the chareidim (e.g., myself, Rabbi Moshe Grylak, Rabbi Noigershall, Yeshaya HaNavi, etc.) give thmeselves is the one I presented at the beginning of this post and it is generally a large heterogeneous group consisting both of R"Y minded and RaShb"Y minded chareidim.

The definiton that the non-chareidim (e.g., Harry Maryles, Gil Student, Natan Slifkin, Naomi Ragen, and others) give us is typically limited to RaShb"Y minded chareidim and the most extremist among them, to boot.

Now let us discuss the "problems" in the chareidi world - real and imagined.

Now, the financial situation is getting a lot of press (especially from Harry) but I think it is a red herring. For most chareidim, it is not a radical change. A financial situation that was hitherto difficult is, in some cases becoming a bit more difficult. It's just two shades of red. Nevertheless, the chareidi ideology was never based on financial considerations and, as difficult as the situation may be, I don't see it as a threat to the community's stability. As I see it, there are more drastic financial issues in the non-chareidi sector where many householders have suddenly gone into the red from the black. If anything, the gap between the chareidim and non-chareidim has narrowed. True, we do not have the money in reserve to marry off our many kids. But, B"H, the kids are still getting married (at least the boys are).

Regardless, I will readily acknowledge that there truly is one - and only one - serious problem in the overall chareidi community. And this is that the RaShb"Yniks overplay their hand. The RaShb"Y model is an ideal that is to be aspired to but it cannot be forced. The idea that me all must live up to the RaShb"Y model is not realistic. The gemara clearly states that only a few will succeed at it. Even RaShb"Y himself said so (Sanhedrin 97b, Sukka 45b). Yet, many forces within the chareidi camp are striving to force this ideal and it causes severe problems. Especially within the education system and in the handling of at-risk youth.

This is also the basis of what Harry refers to as kanaos. Kanaos is a very complex issue because it crosses many lines. Some of it is sincere and some is not. Some of it is misplaced and some is not. When kanaos is employed to protect universally acknowledged Torah ideals (for example, the battle against wanton autopsies), it is legitimate. But when it is employed to protect or enforce the elite ideals of RaShb"Y, it is certainly misplaced.

The kanayim are the smallest but most visible subset of the overall community. But who are they really? In many cases they are RaShb"Y minded chareidim who do not live up to the RaShb"Y ideals. They would like to but they don't have the mustard. So instead of laying the blame on their own shortcomings and fixing things from the inside out, they lay the blame on the hostile environment and focus their (pent up) energies on fixing that.

In my mind, this the only real problem that is indiginous to the chareidi lifestyle. Outside of this, the chareidi world does not suffer from any problems that were not imported from the outside world. (Even this "extremism" problem is to a large extent orchestrated by people who are newcomers to the chareidi camp. We have our own "erev rav"!!)

So here is where I can agree with Harry. And I agree because the Talmud agrees with Harry (for once). But this is provided we go with Harry's definition which characterizes the entire chareidi community as the extremist element within the RaShb"Y model.

Over the past decades, the popularity of the RaShb"Y model was built up to the extent that, in some areas, it plays a dominant role in chareidi society. This would be fine if all the players actually live up to the model. But, as the gemara in Berachos says, many who tried to implement it (the RaShb"Y model) came up empty. And so, that part of the RaShb"Y minded population which are not up to snuff will indeed implode and the pendulum will swing back to the R"Y model. With a weakening financial situation, it is very likely that the proportion of full time learners will diminish as it becomes more challenging and those that are not fully committed will drop out.

So when we define the chareidi world by the Harry Maryles non-chareidi definition, which Harry calls, the "charedi world as we (i.e., HM and his circle) know it", there is reason to fear that indeed something may implode because it is not fully genuine. But when it comes to the general, much larger chareidi world as per the chareidi definition, here, again Harry is correct.
It is the wave of the future.
And why not? It's been in operation for 3300 years.

So, in terms of the chareidi world as I know it - reports of our demise are greatly exaggerated.

Oh, and one more thing...

There is no such thing as a centrist.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

1A7B Excerpt: Youth-at-Risk -- Buyers and Shoppers

I have a hunch that most people who are reading this blog have not read my book (how much self-inflicted punishment can one take?). Even those who have, I presume most have not made it so far as my Youth-at-Risk chapter at the end of the book. I say this because I hold it is such an important chapter yet I have received surprisingly little feedback on it. It must have gotten lost somewhere.

In this chapter, I present a chareidi's-eye-view of the phenomenon of youth from our society going Off the Derech and analyze the causes and suggest preventive measures. The main claim of the chapter is that owing that "chareidi-ism" is an ideological condition, it is not inherent and it must be acquired. Hence, when we see people from chareidi backgrounds who drop out, it typically indicates that they have not truly acquired the ideology, or, in other words, they haven't "bought the product". Accordingly, our job as parents and teachers is to properly "sell the product". Inversely, a most important first step in preventing fallout is to avoid "botching the sale" and thus "losing the customer".

These are the preventive measures that I was alluding to and they are enumerated toward the end of the chapter in the guise of 12 "Sales Tips". One of these - Sales Tip #9 - embodies a lesson that we learn from the juxtaposition of Yisro's visit to Moshe to the monumental event of Mattan Torah. Even though I wrote in the book that both of these concepts are sourced in Parshat Yisro, the actuality is that the pronouncement of Naaseh V'Nishma that is discussed is really recorded in this week's parsha, Parshat Mishpatim.

To stimulate the taste buds of those of you who have not [yet] read the chapter, I wish to post Sales Tip #9 as an excerpt. Of course it goes without saying that the potency of just one excerpt is greatly diminished if one has not read the entire chapter.

Buyers and Shoppers

Friday, February 13, 2009

More "Perls" of Wisdom from the Peanut-Woman

There were 2 comments posted on my earlier post, The Miracle of the Mahn. The first was from one of my most loyal criti... I mean, readers, who astutely observed that Rabi Shimon ben Yochai's statement is in line with his general hashkafa about the ideal commitment to learning. I already warned this fellow that if he keeps reading my blog, something may rub off...

The second comment was from a woman who was touched by the enclosed story (as I was) and even suggested that I publish more stories from this fascinating book. I actually am very eager to do just that. There is absolutely no problem to do it as long as the material is in the public domain. I am in the course of trying to find that out. I recently contacted the Jewish Publication Society to ask if they renewed the copyright in 1953. If they did not, the book is in public domain. If they did, it is protected until Dec. 31, 2020. To date, I have received no response from JPS.

Until I know what's what, I am wary of saving the stories to digital files and storing them on iPaper and so I do not want to serialize the entire book at this time. However, it's probably not a big deal to post another chapter into the blog as an "excerpt".

As such, I would like to post another installment of Perl the Peanut-Woman l'kavod Parshat Yisro - the parsha of Kabbalas HaTorah. As I wrote in the earlier post, the fascinating thing about this story is that it presents what is now the "chareidi" hashkafa of the "kollel" ideal as a mainstay Jewish tradition and ideal, something that is currently heralded by the non-chareidim as a 1950/60's "invention" by Rav Aharon Kotler ZT"L . Again, I want to point out that this story was published in 1925. It was undoubtedly written a bit earlier than that and the author, who is surely an adult in 1925, calls the book "a medley of childhood memories".

And this was a child's book in American Jewsih homes in 1925!!
Remember that Feldheim, Targum, and ArtScroll did not exist in those days and the Jewish Publication Society of Philadelphia was not exactly Agudas Yisrael!

A note of caution - this story does not merit a G rating!! Parental guidance is suggested. There is a very human side to this story which is what makes it so touching. Still, I am sure that some readers of my ilk may find it inappropriate and they should deal with it accordingly. The story aptly reflects the angst and travails of Jewish life at the turn of the 20th century akin to the starkly somber issues that are projected by Fiddler on the Roof and Bintel Brief. Jakie the Paper-boy is a complete orphan and it appears that the Rebbele in the story no longer has a wife. It seems that both of them look up to Perl the Peanut-woman for comfort and guidance.

I appreciate the story for its Torah message which makes it very appropriate for Parshas Yisro. Perhaps, other readers will appreciate the story for it's human message which makes it appropriate for - להבדיל בין הטמא לבין הטהור - Valentine's Day Y :-) which just happen to coincide this year.

Now, the story:


PERL the Peanut-Woman, sitting at her sack, tucked herself, as it were, into her thick shawl to keep out the sharp gusts of autumn wind that swept down the street and raised little whirls of dust and papers. The few leaves that still clung to the puny trees in the little Park opposite shivered with terror, but one by one, and without mercy, they were blown and swept away, shrivelled and helpless.

"Once they were smooth and green," thought Perl, "and drank happily of the juice of the earth and of the light of the sun, and now—woe to them! Even so is a human being. And I too am an old dried leaf, and the wind is blowing hard, and soon, soon—" And Perl was beset with gloomy thoughts that cheerless autumn day.

"And when the Great Wind blows me away," she asked herself, will I be taken straight to him, be his memory for a blessing, to my lamdan, for whom I toiled all the days of my prime that he might study the Law and earn a portion of the World to Come for himself and me?" And at this thought her natural cheerfulness revives. Her day will come then! Then will she laugh at all her enemies, at all those who make light of her past toil and sacrifice. Yes, now they laugh at her, here in America they laugh at her, for having supported a great scholar in the study of the Law. Theman, they say, should be the bread-winner. And who, pray, will study the Law? The woman, maybe? A topsy-turvy world! America is a topsy-turvy world!

She was shaken out of her revery by the appearance of the Rebbele.

"A good morning", said he, "We have already Ellul in the air."

“I", answered Perl sadly , "Have Ellul in my heart."

Ah, Perele ", replied the little man, "Why be sorrowful? Better listen to my troubles. I have a new trouble, Perele.”

"What are you a Jew for if not to have troubles?"

"But this one is brand new, and it's all over that orphan you took under your wing, that Jakele."

"A golden heart, Rebbele! You hear, The child has a golden heart."

"No matter what kind of heart he has, he has lost it, as they write in the novels". (For just as Jakie doted on Alger, the Rebbele, it seemed, liked to read those endless romances of love and intrigue that ran in the newspapers). Perl, however, could not understand.

"Lost his heart?" she repeated, "God is with you, Rebbele, what is in your mind?'

"Listen, listen," urged the Rebbele, "And maybe you'll be able to advise me, because, you know, Perele, I am a father and I have no right to close my eyes and say: `It's nothing, I don't see anything."

"But speak out! What do you see?"

"I see enough already! And to tell you the truth, I began seeing from the very first day. And maybe it's too late already. Maybe I should have spoken to you before, Perele.— Yes, yes, I am coming to the point! Children in America, Nu!

"So, as I was telling you, the first time he, your Jakie, came to my Cheder, I examined him and found he could barely read his prayers correctly. I was shocked.

" ‘A big boy like you, more than twelve years old', said I to him, `And can't read your prayers yet!'

" ‘I was too busy with the papers', says he, and lowers his eyes.

"Aha!' think I to myself, `You're ashamed!. That's a good sign.' and I say to him:
"'Jakie, it's not exactly nice for a big boy like you to be Raisele's pupil, but it can't be helped. You'll have to learn with her through Genesis, like all the others.'"

Here Perl interrupted the little teacher.

"Your Raisel ", she asked in surprise, "Teaches your pupils to translate the Bible also?"

"A question!" answered the little man proudly. "And a page of Talmud, do you think, she couldn't teach them?
Ah, you don't know my Raisele! She has the head of a Goen! A child with all good qualities. Without her I don't know how I could get along! You should have seen your Jakie taking his first lesson from my Raisele. He kept his eyes not on the page but under the table, and all the time his face was as red as a beet. And I look at him and think to myself: 'Good! My young man is ashamed. That means he'll learn well in order to graduate quickly from Raisele's class'. The others, the loifers, were not slow to size up the situation and began to tease him. But your Jakie seemed to find that a relief. He got up and picked out the biggest one and knocked him down. After that he seemed to feel better. He sat down again and was no more ashamed to look at the page and follow Raisele's pointer. But I noticed that now my Raisele's behavior seemed changed. It was her face that was now as red as a beet, she looked hard at the page and the pointer even trembled in her hand.

"But after that day everything seemed to be all-right. All the loifers now had respect for Jakie, more than for me, I confess, and the Cheder became a quiet place, a Paradise, I tell you. Only whenever Jakie came in, I noticed Raisele look up at him, and he looked at her, then both lowered their eyes, and both faces became like beets. `What should it mean?' I asked myself. `Why are they ashamed before one another?'

"One day as Jakie finished his lesson and rose to go out, I noticed he handed something to my Raisele on the sly. You see, I was suspicious and was watching them all the time. And I saw what it was he gave her. It was a package of chocolate. He put it swiftly into her hand and ran out leaving her with her face as red as fire.

"Several days later he comes to me with a petition. Whereas he is such a big boy, and whereas he is anxious to learn with me, would I allow him to come at night after supper and take an extra half hour or so with Raisele?

"And is Raisele willing to give you that extra time?' I asked in surprise.

"She is willing', he answered softly.

"What is there to do? A child wants to learn, shall I discourage him?

"But Raisele has her own work to do at that time. She has to clean up after supper, for example.'

"'I could help her do that', he says, and his face just beams.

"That same night he came and Raisele taught him. Before they sat down, however, he helped her with the dishes. She washed them and he dried them. I sat at the table over my newspaper, but I couldn't take my eyes off those children. Looking at those two, he with his black hair and lively little face, and she with her blond braids and those dreamy bashful eyes of hers, I found them even more interesting than Fefer's novel in the `Morning Journal.'

"When they sat down opposite me at the table and began the lesson, I was surprised to see what progress he had made in the two or three weeks. She was already reading with him the twenty-fourth chapter of Genesis. I pretended to be absorbed in my newspaper novel, but I kept listening and spying on them all the time. He was translating with her the story of Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, who went to the land of Aram-Naharaim to find a wife for his master's son. You know the story, Perele: how Eliezer met Rebekah at the well and afterwards took her with him to be the wife of Isaac. I tell you, Perele, never did that story sound so beautiful in my ears as that night when those two children read it together, with their black and blond heads almost touching.

"They were nearing the end, but I continued to listen, only occasionally turning my newspaper in order to keep up the pretense of reading it. Raisele translated:
"`And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide; and he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming.'

"I look furtively at my young man. His eyes are not even on the page. They are looking intently at Raisele, and her eyes are glued to the page and pointer.

She translated the last verse of the chapter:

" ‘And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah and she became his wife; and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted for his mother.'

"The chapter is finished. But Raisele still keeps her eyes glued to the page. She does not dare raise them. She knows Jakie's eyes are fixed on her. And gradually a red spot appears on her cheeks, and becomes deeper and spreads over her face and her ears.

"Raisele', I hear Jakie whisper. `I am an orphan, just like Isaac. I have no mother.'

" `ShSh—' whispers Raisele, still not daring to look at him.

"And I love you, Raisele', Jakie continues.

"I rose quickly from my seat, making my newspaper crackle. They both rose at the same moment and both looked at me with a frightened expression. But I turned and walked into the next room. Then I saw them look up at each other and smile, and Jakie said good-night and went home.

"Well, Perele, I lay awake a good part of the night thinking of those children and their foolishness and wondering what I ought to do. And this morning it suddenly occurred to me that since you have taken Jakie under your wing, I ought to tell you about it and find out what you think. Tell me, now, Perele, how do you like this business?"

Perl remained for some time absorbed in thought. In her heart there had crept in a warmth as of Spring, and the chili wind and falling leaves existed for her no more. Finally she said with a glow on her wrinkled and rugged face:
“Rebbele, it may be it is all ordained from above. Don't separate the children —that would be a sin. It may all be from above,—and there can be no harm. He has a heart of gold, Jakele, do you hear? And she, —you don't have to tell me; a diamond she is, and she has the head of a great lamdan. It's all ordained from above, all from above."

And after the Rebbele, who found Perl 's verdict in accord with his own secret and romantic notions, had left her, the Peanut-Woman wrapped her shawl closer around her old shoulders, and gave herself up to her reveries. And the spirit of him, her sainted scholar, returned to reign over her memories, now become indefinably tender and mellow despite the chill wind of autumn.

On a sudden, however, she was struck with the queerness of it all, and she murmured to herself:
" It's a topsy-turvy world, this America! There you have it! She—the female—is the great scholar, the lamdan, and he—the male, will be the provider. Nu, nu! What a world this America is!"

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

And They're Off! - The Ballad of Highway 9

כי האדם עץ השדה

Tu B'Shvat has passed and the time has come for the budding scholars to be fruitful and multiply. This means that the infamous Lakewood freezer is unlocked and the saplings of the current year can spring forth and blossom.

צדיק כתמר יפרח

And the righteous will flower like the date tree. come the dates!

In honor of this momentous occasion, and acknowledging that we have entered the 30-days-until-Purim zone, I wish to present a golden oldie from the era of my '77 Buick (A"H).

One of my lesser known talents (and for good reason) is my poetic prowess. But in the romantic days of my youth, my heart was filled with song and there was poetry at my lips. One of my classics was The Ballad of Highway 9 - a tribute to the breathtaking New Jersey landscape where I spent so much of my time (perhaps, most of it :-) ).

This song was written almost 25 years ago and it is modelled (and titled) after the 1948 Stan Jones epic Ghost Riders in the Sky. The stanzas follow the same melody but my chorus is a bit different. Instead of the 2-line chorus, mine is a 4-line chorus that follows the tempo of the main stanzas.

I do not expect anybody except seasoned "Govohas" to really appreciate it. Note that some of the landmarks that existed in my time - most notably Freehold Circle and the Carvel ice-cream chain - are no longer extant.

And here it is:

Ghost Riders on Route 9

To Philly you take the Turnpike, to Monsey the Garden State
To Deal it’s I-195 until route thirty-eight.
But for Brooklyn , Queens, the Five towns or Manhattan's skyline,
You've got to take the scenic route – New Jersey's Highway 9.


Yippi-Yi-Yo-o-o-o, Yippi-Yi-Yay-y-y-y
Your flyin' down the highway under skies of blue and gray.
Yippi-Yi-Yo-o-o-o, Yippi-Yi-Yay-y-y-y
Have you hugged New Jersey's Highway number 9, today?

Ghettys, Exxons, Texacos, and numerous Carvels,
Shopping plazas, used car lots, banks, and cheap motels,
Body shops and lumber yards, your choice of spots to dine,
You bet your life you're riding on New Jersey's Highway 9.

When you pass I-one-nine-five to Shore Points, there's no turning back.
Freehold Circle lets you know that you're on the right track.
At the 18 Brunswick turnoff, you'll stay right of the line,
You’ll round the bend at South Amboy for Jersey's Highway 9.


The BQE, the LIE, the Belt, the FDR.
They'll promise you a thrilling ride, a workout for your car.
While bouncing down the Prospect one thought will cross your mind.
"If only I was cruising on New Jersey's Highway 9."

The Belt or Ocean Parkway to Verrazano's gate.
Down through Staten Island on the I-two-seven-eight.
4-4-0, the Outerbridge then look out for the sign.
A sharp right down at Woodbridge lands you on Highway 9.


Through Sayreville, past Matawan you're flying with the wind.
Past Marlboro and Englishtown, through Manalapan.
Freehold township's coming up with Howell down the line.
Full speed ahead to Lakewood on New Jersey's Highway 9.

While cruising down the stretch, red flashing lights light up the night.
A hidden voice advises you, "Pull over to the right."
"How are things, dear Officer?" All he'll say is "Fine!"
"There's a price to pay for speedin' down New Jersey's Highway 9."


Monday, February 9, 2009

Chaval al d'Avdin - A Tribute to Menachem Begin

Pre-Election Special from my Autobiography

As the Israeli elections are about to take place, I sense that the Israeli public feels at a loss. From A (Avigdor) to Z (Zippy), the "Belgian waffles" that are running for office are undoubtedly the biggest group of self-serving mercenaries that have ever graced the ballot tickets. Not a single candidate can sincerely say that he (or she) has lived up to their previous promises. Bibi has disappointed the right and Barak has disappointed the left. As for Olmert and Tzippi, the heads of an illegitimate party who are sitting in office and making policy with 29 mandates - i.e., less than 25% of the population - they personify the terse line: If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. At least Rafi Eitan and his pensioners didn't disappoint anybody because nobody had any expectations from them to start with. Even the National Religious Parties with their lukewarm opposition to Arik Sharon over disengagement, Shas with its support of Oslo, and the chareidi parties with their incessant bickering has let down their adherents. Perhaps the untested Lieberman is the most reliable of all and that is why he is flying so high in the polls. The electorate craves more than anything somebody who means what he says, and the Russians were never known for diplomatic doublespeak.

Alas, there once was a time when people of conviction held office. Whether we were with them or not, we knew where they stood. And, after the votes were cast, we knew what to expect. With regard to Israeli politics, at least Ben Gurion and Golda displayed pride in Zionism as they trampled over Judaism. But we were only zocheh to one national leader who was not afraid to wave a banner of Torah-based heritage together with the blue and white. This was the "Brisker kofer" - Menachem Begin.

As much as he was a Zionist, Begin was a committed Jew. AFAIK, he wore tefillin on a daily basis and he certainly only ate kosher. I was told that he once undertook a state visit to the US that coincided with Purim. He had American Secret Service agents stalking the streets of Washington DC on the lookout for Orthodox Jews to round up 9 people for a private minyan to hear Megillah. His audiences with the Moetzes Gedolei Torah (A"H) and the Lubavitcher Rebbe (A"H) have been documented and photographed for posterity.

When he addressed the Knesset, he was always quoting relevant sources from Tanach and peppered his speech with "B'Ezrat HaShem". The story goes that on one occasion when addressing an unruly Knesset session (i.e., a typical one), a left wing MK heckled him, "Mar Begin, you neglected to say 'B'Ezrat Hashem'". Begin immediately responded, "Tzadakta, but it was worthwhile that for once in your life it comes out of your mouth!"

Before I made Aliya, the most potent dose of Eretz Yisrael that I ingested came over the course of the year that I came to study in Mir Yeshiva in 1980-81. This was the absolute hey-day of Menachem Begin's political career and I got a cl0se-up glimpse at it as I relate in the embedded document. And I came to admire him greatly. And, boy, I sure do miss him.

Now, a word about the embedded document.

One of the "extra" features of my book was the partial autobiography in the Appendix. All the time that I was writing and arranging my book, I was torn by the dilemma of the autobiography. Should I include it or not? All of it or some of it? Will readers appreciate it or be put off by it? Will it enhance my work or detract from it?

I went so far as to write a complete chapter to air out my dilemma as a foreword to the book. I wrote that I took the middle road to include certain excerpts which I hoped would fulfill the purpose that I had in writing it but would not be "overdoing it". Even then, I prefaced the chapter with a wordy note repeating my reservations. That's how torn I was over it.

I still am. Did I accomplish anything with it?

I may never know. I put a line in the Author's note on page 270 that if anybody is truly interested, I will send them the full autobiography by email. To date, about 4 or 5 people (about 50% of my total readership) took me up on the offer. For everybody else, what was strewn on the cutting floor remains there.

In any event, I wrote very extensively about that year of study that I went through here and how it impacted my life. The final cut only discusses the progrom in Toldos Aharon and the siege on Mir Yeshiva but that was only a fraction of the whole picture. A good deal of that pivotal year was the inspiration that I got from Menachem Begin.

And so, I present an additional excerpt from my autobiography. A fuller (but still not complete) account of my year in Mir Yeshiva from the edited portion. The key points of the excerpt are the parts that discuss Menachem Begin which I highlighted in yellow.

Chaval al d'avdin! If only the ensuing leaders of the State of Israel had a fraction of his resolve and any measure of [his] Yiras Shamayim! How much better off we would be in our own eyes and in the eyes of the world.

Something to think about before we vote.

Menachem Begin Excerpt

Friday, February 6, 2009

Shidduchim V: There Must Be 18 Ways to Find Your Beloved

For those of you who are convinced that I totally wasted my time in Lakewood...perish the thought. Actually I wrote my first major Torah work although, until today, it hasn't been published. To compile this great piece of scholarship, I spent most of my few waking hours between dates trying to collect as many pirushim as I could on the famous saying of Chazal (Sota 2a):

וקשין לזווגן כקריעת ים סוף

I managed to amass an anthology of 18 pirushim and wanted to put out a kuntress like, maybe, The ArtScroll Kasha Zivugim but it never happened (I was holding out for more pirushim but I accidentally got married along the way and that put an end to the whole game).

And now, L'kavod Parshat BeShalach, (and with apologies to Tamar Ansh - who lives 2 buildings away from me) I have presented my anthology on the true meaning(s) of Splitting the Sea in the following embedded document.

Enjoy - feel free to comment and to submit more material to the anthology.

Kasha Zivugim

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Miracle of the Mahn - Then and Now

The Midrash tells us:

דבר יום ביומו מי שברא יום ברא פרנסתו מכאן היה ר' אלעזר המודעי אומר כל מי שיש לו מה יאכל היום ואומר מה אוכל למחר הרי זה מחוסרי אמנה שנאמר למען אנסנו הילך בתורתי אם לא

Dvar yom b'yomo - He who created "day" likewise created [each man's] livelihood. From here Rabi Eliezer HaModai would say, "Any one who has what to eat today and asks 'What will I eat tomorrow?' is from those who lack belief, as it is written, 'So that I may test them to see if they go in the way of my Torah or not.'"
ר' יהושע אומר שונה אדם שתי הלכות בשחרית ושתים בערבית ועוסק במלאכתו כל היום מעלין עליו כאלו קיים כל התורה כולה מכאן היה ר' שמעון בן יוחאי אומר לא נתנה תורה לדרוש אלא לאוכלי המן הא כיצד היה יושב ודורש ולא היה יודע מהיכן אוכל ושותה ומהיכן היה לובש ומכסה לא נתנה תורה לדרוש אלא לאוכלי המן

Rabi Yehoshua says, "A person can merely review two Halachot each morning and two each evening and engage in his crafts all day long and it can be considered as if he sustained the entire Torah."

From here Rabi Shimon ben Yochai would say, "The Torah was only allowed to be expounded by those who subsist on the mahn (i.e., those who do not need to be distracted by their personal necessities). How is this applied? Can one sit and expound while he [is concerned that he] does not know from where he will he will eat and drink and from where he will dress and cover? (I.e., such a person cannot have a clear mind to expound in Torah.) [But, in truth,] the Torah was only allowed to be expounded by those who subsist on the mahn."

Who are the אוכלי המן of today?

To answer this question, I am going to post the story of Perl the Peanut-Woman.

This story comes from a book that I found laying around my house when I was a kid. I say that it was found laying around the house meaning that I had no idea it was there until I chanced across it. Nobody ever read to me or my siblings out of the book and nobody ever mentioned that the book exists or referred to anything that it says. My siblings did not know about it, either. I have no idea how it even got into our house as it certainly was not bought new. I just happened to come across it sitting on some shelf one day and I opened it up and couldn't close it. And I have saved it as a treasure.

The book is a collection of very inspiring childrens' stories about G-d fearing Jews who were quite ordinary and quite extraordinary at the same time. Each story bespoke how these people displayed enormous courage and strength of character in the most adverse of circumstances. I have never stopped wondering if these stories are based on actual people but, as Moshe Yess says about his Zaidy character, it is certainly "partly about my bubby and zaidy and partly about yours".

The title of the book is Kasriel the Watchman and Other Stories. It was written in English in the early part of the 20th century by a man who called himself Rufus Learsi. Rufus Learsi is backward for Israel Sufur (Sofer?) but I discovered that his real name was Israel Goldberg. He was a historian and an ardent Zionist. It is difficult to determine from his later writings to what extent he was observant of Torah and Mitzvos but one thing is certain - he had a full-scale "chareidi" education.

The book tells tales about a number of characters including Kasriel the Watchman, Feivel the Fiddler, Jakie and Ruby, and Perl the Peanut-Woman. Perl was an elderly widow who had immigrated to America after the death of her husband and was spending her waning years living alone in a boarding house on the Lower East Side. She supported herself by selling peanuts at a local park and so she was known as Perl the Peanut-Woman. Despite her infirmities and her loneliness she was always in high spirits and a most selfless and G-d fearing woman. She would look after the sick and stand up for the orphans. She was the"'official" sounding board for anybody's troubles and she would always delight the neighborhood children with her stories. And all her stories were about "hers" - her late husband, her "Talmid Chacham".

Her sole comfort in life was to reminisce over her early years of glory. And what was her glory? To earn the necessities and keep home so that her husband could be free to do nothing but learn Torah.

This book was first published in the United states in 1925!!

1925! And in in all my 40 some odd years I have not seen a children's book in English that so aptly characterizes genuine Yiddishkeit. I was just so fascinated to see that in 1920s America, Jewish childrens' books, of which there were not many (in English, for certain) were promoting Torah values that only became popular decades later. And this, written by a renown Zionist activist! Incidentally, the author, who published the book in 1925, calls the book A medley of childhood memories as he dedicates it to his mother.

So now I present one chapter from the Perl the Peanut-Woman section of this book. It tells over the Rabi Shimon ben Yochai's message of the opening Midrash:

The ability to expound the Torah was only given to those who subsist on mahn.

And it tells a second message:

The ability to subsist on mahn was only given to those who expound the Torah.


ON FRIDAY night, when, after the lighting and blessing of the candles, Perl the Peanut-Woman sits down in the new-cleaned parlor of the house where she boards and waits for the return of the men-folk from synagogue, her appearance is so changed that she might be taken for a different woman. The red bandanna kerchief has made way for a bright black wig; in place of the red waist and green skirt she has put on a glossy brown dress; but above all, her face seems to have grown fresher, smoother, younger. The other women-folk sit in the parlor with her, the children crowd and chatter around her. That hour between the completion of the Sabbath preparations and the home-coming of the men from synagogue has such wonderful power and peace that it alone seems sufficient to bring rest from all the fatigues of the week's labors.

That hour, especially, brings to Perl hosts of memories of her toilsome past, memories made holy by the figure of him, her pious and learned husband whom she used to maintain in the study of the Law. A stranger in a strange house and strange land, she nevertheless loves to beguile herself by making all the Sabbath preparations every Friday, and waiting expectantly for the men to come back from synagogue, just as though her own would be among them.

To the children of the house and of the neighbors she has deeply endeared herself, and they come and make her tell stories of her past glory. Without knowing it, she often tells them the same ones over again, but they all listen with attentive faces and make believe it is all new and wonderful. And if any there are inclined to smile secretly or openly, little Jakie the newsboy threatens heavy punishment. For Jakie is Perl's most ardent friend, and often plays hooky from synagogue in order to sit with her.

"The `apikorsim', the unbelievers, these days, make fun of everything", says Perl but that is because mine, peace unto him, is no longer living. In his day he did things which would make them stop laughing fast enough."

Then all the children know they may expect a story of the wonderful powers of "hers", peace unto him.

"I am an ignorant woman," begins Perl; “but he, mine, taught me one chapter in the Scriptures, the one you will hear the men say when they return in a little while. It begins like this: ‘A woman of valor who can find her? For her price is far above rubies.' That chapter he made me learn because, he used to say, the great King Solomon had written it in my honor! And on Friday nights when he returned from synagogue and sang that chapter after his Sabbath greeting, he kept looking at me all the time, and my heart melted with happiness and pride.

"But, one Friday night—do you hear, kinderlach?—instead of pleasure I felt only pain and shame. What the trouble was? The trouble was a very great trouble. There was nothing to eat. I had worked and slaved like a horse that week, but the peasants had asked unheard-of prices, the mistresses refused to buy, competition was plentiful, and even old debts I was unable to collect. So all I could prepare for that Sabbath was some white bread and a soup seasoned with a piece of fat I had gotten from one of the cooks. You can imagine what kind of soup it must have been! Very bad, no? Well, just wait and see.

"Mine, peace unto him, enters with his Sabbath greetings as usual and begins the 'Woman of Valor,' walking up and down and stopping often to look at me and smile. I sat like a stone and would have liked the earth to open under me and swallow me. Mind you, I understood everything he was saying in the Holy Tongue. Finally, when he came to the verse `She is like the merchant-ships; she bringeth her food from afar', I could bear it no longer. The shame came up to my very heart and I began to cry bitterly.

"He, my Talmid-Chochem,—be the memory of the righteous for a blessing—just looked at me once—no more—and he knew everything at once. But he went right on and finished the 'Woman of Valor' right up to the end, just as though I deserved all the praise that was in it. But something there came into his face, I noticed, as if an angel from God had touched it. And I felt in my heart that something great, some miracle, was going to happen.

"He made Kiddush over the two white loaves, and when he tasted the first morsel his face just beamed with wonder.

“‘A taste like Paradise!' he said and smacked his lips. I took some after him, and I couldn't understand how the white bread, which I had made without even one egg, could taste like the best egg-cake I had ever eaten.

"'Perele,' says he to me again, 'tonight you will stay in your seat and I will do the serving.'
"Of course, I was going to protest, but, as I said before, he looked so strange, so serious, that I obeyed without a word.

"Then he takes one of the loaves, cuts off two slices, puts them into plates, keeps one for himself, gives me the other, and says:
“`Fish! Gefillte fish!'

“`Ah, you are laughing? Laugh, laugh! You wouldn't have laughed if you had tasted it. To tell you it tasted like fish is nothing! It tasted like the best fish that was ever cooked!

"Mine, may his favor shield us, was no more the same man. I looked at him and I had to turn away my eyes. His face was shining. The Presence itself seemed to be resting on it.

"After fish comes meat. He cut off two more slices of white bread and says: `Meat, chicken meat.'

"You can laugh as much as you like. But it had the taste of real chicken. Mine tasted like the drumstick. After the meat be served the soup I had made,—and what was that I said before about the soup? Never mind, but that soup was no soup; it was the richest and sweetest broth ever set on table. The taste of it is even now in my mouth.

"He filled the plates again—I had made plenty of it—and took some of the white bread and broke it into the soup.

"' Tzimmes,' says he. `Turnip tzimmes!'

"Well, you think it's a joke, hey? But the tzimmes was like all the things that came before. It was sweet and well-seasoned and of the freshest turnips.

"That night, kinderlach, I was in such a state that I did not dare ask him any questions. And for weeks afterwards I felt too great an awe to speak to him about the wonders he brought about that Friday night. But there came a time when he explained it all to me. And now I shall see how you will laugh!

"Do you know, my wise ones, what the children of Israel ate in the desert? Manna, no? Well, and do you know what the taste of the manna was? Yes, it was like wafers made with honey, as the Holy Book tells us. But it was more, and you can ask any scholar about it. The taste of the Manna was like the taste of any kind of food that the one who ate it was longing for. There! Now will you laugh? Could not he, my Talmid-Chochem, bring to pass what the Children of Israel could pass in the desert?"

And the face of Perl the Peanut-Woman beams upon her audience with triumph and exultation.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

All In a Day's Learning

For decades, it has always the focus of many struggling American Yeshiva families to try to supplement their income by sending in jokes to the Reader's Digest anticipating their lucrative payouts.

After that, they try Amway.

My niece, who is in "sem" here in Yerushalayim, came to visit us and bequeathed my wife with a few year-old copies of Readers Digest to reconnect us to our American heritage and to help wile away those precious moments of solitude with stimulating literature.
Well, one of the issues of our new cache dates to September of 2007 and in the joke section headed "All In a Day's Work" appears the following:

My wife was attending an all-day job fair, so I was surprised when the phone rang and I heard her weary voice.
"Everything all right?" I asked.
"Yeah," she said. "I just wanted to talk to someone I didn't have to be nice to."

Eliezer Langer

Ah-h-h. True yiddishe Shalom Bayis.

I know, I know, it was only a joke. And the $300.00 certainly came in handy.

I sure hope she found a job.