Oct 31, 2013

"A Divine Madness" cont.

In his lectures, Rabbi Miller spoke about his experiences in Europe on the eve of the war.  He was an American boy who was one of the few to make the voyage to learn in European yeshivos.  I remember hearing him describe, over twenty-five years ago, how he witnessed the chilul Shabbos in Slabodka. 

R' Miller, being an iconoclast, did not follow the frum party line which focused exclusively on the great yeshivos of Lithuania.  He described the deterioration of religious Jewry.  Although he spoke about this, apparently he did not feel that his manuscript about the Holocaust should be published in his lifetime. 

A very prevalent question asked by the irreligious and religious in the decades following the war was, "Where was G-d in the Holocaust."  This was (maybe still is) a question that kiruv rabbis had to expect.  R' Miller's book is his response to that question as the subtitle is, R' Avigdor Miller's Defense of Hashem in the Matter of the Holocaust." His position can be summarized as: the Holocaust was a fulfillment of what it states explicitly in the Torah, if you abandon Hashem, He will abandon you and you will suffer tremendously. 

"Blame the victim" implies that someone undeserving of pain, suffering, and sorrow is being accused of deserving pain, suffering and sorrow.  The premise of R' Miller's book is that the Torah spells out what we must do and what will happen if we don't do it.  Were we or weren't we faithful to Hashem?

The facts are, European Jewry, to a great extent, was comprised of Zionists, freethinkers, Bundists, Socialists, Communists, and Yiddishists.  Frum families were losing children rapidly to the secular world.  Sarah Schenirer's radical idea of schools for girls in the 1920's and 1930's was an emergency measure because girls were educated in Polish public schools and were dropping out of Yiddishkeit.

Although I can see how R' Miller's approach is true to Torah, it is troubling because of all the fine, frum people we know about who were destroyed and the destruction of frum life, shuls, sifrei Torah, yeshivos, i.e. those who did follow the Torah.  Furthermore, we don't see how destroying European Jewry accomplished anything.  Numerous assimilated Jews escaped or survived and numerous religious Jews who survived dropped their observance.  You had the resilient few who were frum previously and remained frum.  We don't see a mass teshuva movement happening during the war and subsequent to it.  That doesn't happen until decades later.  If the goal was to get European Jews back on track, did the Holocaust accomplish that? No.  And if that was not the goal, was the goal just to punish? Then why did so many assimilated Jews escape and so many pious Jews perish? But then, R' Miller is not talking about a goal; he is saying the Holocaust was a natural consequence of our behavior as spelled out in the Torah.

I'd find it interesting to read a sampling of book reviews written by Holocaust survivors.

Oct 30, 2013

"A Divine Madness"


A book with Rabbi Avigdor Miller z'l's perspective on the Holocaust has been published, posthumously.  It is quite provocative and controversial to the point that in a full-page ad, it shows the book surrounded by people's opinions:

"I would recommend this book to every Jew."

"I honestly would be terrified to give this book to a non-observant person."

"Solely defended the justice of the HaKadosh boruch Hu."

"This is a big change from the usual approach."

"I feel that this book stands at the brink of a crossroads in Jewish History.  The Jewish world can either choose to read it and take heed of its message, or carry on and reject it."

"I think this book should be banned."

"I'm buying ten copies for my children and rabbinical friends."

"Not likely to be a popular message."

"Hard to put down.  Read it in one sitting."

"The notes distracted me from the book's readability."

And the ad says: You Judge.  Your comments are appreciated.  First printing sold out. 

to be continued

Oct 28, 2013

Jews on Trial

October 28, 2013 marks 100 years since Mendel Beilis was exonerated.  The book, shown above, is a CIS publication.

Beilis was falsely accused of killing a young Christian boy in Czarist Russia.  It was not only Beilis being tried, but the Jewish people as well, of course.  So much hinged on this trial, it garnered international interest.  A psychologist testified as an expert witness for the prosecution that in his opinion it was a case of ritual murder, which doesn't do anything to improve my opinion of that profession! Beilis was in jail for two years until the trial took place.  When acquitted, he moved to Palestine with his family, and then to the United States.

There is a lot of material: here about the case.

Oct 26, 2013


Joseph - How One Man Can Make a Difference by Jack Doueck (Sephardic Press) is similar to the Shloimie! book that I reviewed: here in that it's about a regular guy named Joseph Beyda, from the Syrian community in Brooklyn, who excelled in chesed (who also died young).  The stories told about him are exceptional.  He did chesed I would never dream up and he did chesed that I might consider but not actually do.

It was published years ago and I started rereading it.  It's inspirational reading, though the inspiration is not worth much if it doesn't get us to do chesed ourselves!

I've realized that a trait that many super-chesed doers that I've read about have in common is that they are outgoing people persons: Shloimie, Joseph, Reb. Chaya Sara Kramer (Holy Woman), Rebbetzin Basha Scheinberg (The Grand Rebbetzin).  An exception might be Mr. Herman from All for the Boss because what comes across about him is the desire to do what is right. 

So I got to thinking, what about those who are not people persons? Those who are more introverted and enjoy solitude?

Nobody is excused from chesed and caring for and helping people doesn't have to be done in an overtly outgoing manner.  There are doers of chesed who are more low-key and we can find the role models that we can emulate.

Oct 25, 2013

The Truth Can be Hard to Take

There are two schools of thought about why children from frum homes go off the derech.  One approach ascribes a specific reason or reasons to the phenomenon such as learning disabilities, molestation, not having the fundamentals of our emuna, and unhappiness.  Pinpointing the cause enables us - parents, teachers, the community - to do something about it; to make sure it doesn't happen or to be alert and helpful when it is already a problem.

The other approach maintains we have bechira and therefore, parents and teachers can't take credit or blame when a child picks a particular way of life.  We can do our best to teach and provide a good environment, but ultimately, how children turn out is out of our hands.  And this explains why children from wonderful homes, where other siblings are fine and frum, can be the black sheep.

Many years ago, Rabbi Brafman (principal of the yeshiva of Far Rockaway) wrote, "the consensus of professional and lay activists working with at-risk teenagers and dropouts has been that the overwhelming majority of their clients come from broken homes, orphaned homes, dysfunctional homes, or unhappy homes."

He was criticized for 1) being wrong - after all, dropout children strikes the best of homes, and 2) causing pain to the parents of these children by implying they are at fault for their children's rebelliousness.

Back in 1999, an anonymous therapist described as having a large Orthodox practice in the NY area, wrote the following in a letter to the Jewish Observer:

In the course of working with countless troubled youngsters, I have had the opportunity to discuss these issues with many mechanchim, therapists, and lay activists.  It is indeed the consensus among all those with in-depth experience in this field that these youngsters come from unhappy homes.  In the vast majority of cases, there were serious problems in the parent-child relationship that predated the rebelliousness.  In other cases, the child had a difficulty (ex. learning disabilities) and the parents reacted with criticism rather than being supportive.

It does indeed seem like this problem happens in "the best of homes," but we need to remember that what we see as a "good home" is often not how the child experiences his/her home.  People in the field are often shocked by the discrepancy between the parents' public persona and their private behavior at home.

So, while no [normal] parents purposely make their child's life miserable .. if the child becomes seriously rebellious you can be fairly certain that they made serious and persistent errors in their parenting, most often by being persistently and unreasonably critical.

.. There is a great hesitancy among those in the field to publicly state what they privately know.  I believe that this hesitancy, however well intentioned, is leading to a fool's paradise... This desire not to hurt people's feelings is preventing us from helping them solve the problem which they want to be helped with.

Even if it was true that some frum children become rebellious without the home being a major contributing factor (although I have never actually seen such a situation, and have never heard of such a case), no one would deny that in the vast majority of cases, this is not the case.  Are we not contributing to the persistence of this tragic problem by denying this reality? Would we recommend that doctors not tell their smoking patients that they are putting themselves at a high risk of getting lung cancer, in order not to hurt their feelings? Should the fact that some people smoke without getting lung cancer and that some of those who contract lung cancer never smoked, blind us to the fact that smoking is a major contributing factor for lung cancer? Likewise, should our concern for their parents' feelings prevent us from publicizing the well establish risk factors for teen rebelliousness? This seems to be a clear example of misplaced and misguided rachmanus.

When I meet parents of rebellious children, I am, of course, empathetic to their pain and suffering.  But I also point out to them those aspects of their relationship with their child that have likely contributed to the problem.  I also suggest that that although this information may be painful for them to acknowledge, it can also be a source of hope.  By realizing that the problem does not strike at random, but rather has a cause, it is within their power to significantly alleviate the problem.  Parents who make a serious attempt at improving their relationship with their rebellious child often see dramatic improvement in their child's condition.

I have often been admonished by these parents and children for not making this information known to the community, to challenge the belief that there is an "epidemic" out there striking families at random and that parents are powerless to prevent or alleviate this problem.  It is for this reason that I have written this letter.

Oct 22, 2013

It's All About Love

In the September 2004 issue of the Jewish Observer, there was a letter by Dr. Bentzion Sorotzkin in response to a previous article about the dangers of the Internet.  What follows are some excerpts from his letter:

Some of you may erroneously conclude that exposure to the Internet, by itself, will cause someone to go off the derech or become involved in promiscuity.  If this was true, then one would expect that such tragic events would be significantly more prevalent in modern Orthodox communities than in more insular ones, since the people in the latter communities are much more shielded from outside "cultural" influences.

Judging from my professional experience, the sad fact is that the percentage of rebellious teens and promiscuous spouses are very similar in both types of communities.

Some may feel that the ends justify the means and therefore, it is worth using (inaccurate) scare tactics to encourage parents to protect their families from the spiritual dangers of the Internet.  However, there is a distinct danger to this approach.  It gives a totally inaccurate picture of the reasons for youngsters going off the derech or for couples to stray.  As a clinical psychologist, with many years experience working with rebellious teenagers in the frum community,  I can state categorically that the Internet has never been the prime factor in causing a child to rebel against his family's way of life. Rather, it is family conflict, often caused by parental mishandling of common childhood behaviors, that cause a child to rebel. 
When I meet parents of rebellious teens they often express shock that their children went off the derech when they worked so hard to shield them from outside influences. They are much less sensitive to the negative impact of their own harsh and critical parenting style on their children's future ruchnius level.     In a book of lectures by rosh yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg he states: "Show me the juvenile delinquent and in almost every case I will show you a person resorting to desperate means to attract the emotional warmth and attention he failed to get but so much wants and needs ... Aggressive behavior, when fully understood, is in fact nothing but love frustrated. It is a technique for compelling love, as well as a means for taking revenge on a society that has let the person down, leaving him disillusioned, deserted and dehumanized .. If you find rebels in society today, it is because they were never given the proper love.    A recent sefer on chinuch (Chinuch Malchuti) makes the following points: "Parents who treat their children with flexibility and do not overreact to minor infractions will have children who remain loyal to them and to their way of life.... "Educators who deal with dropouts relate that every single one only dropped out because he or she received insufficient love at home. None of them claimed that they left due to complaints against Hashem or the Torah. Lack of love at home is the reason for dropping out of yeshiva and for going off the derech. A child who receives sufficient love at home will never drop out or go off the derech."

Oct 18, 2013

Extended Toddlerhood

From another letter to a frum publication, written by an 11 year old:

My younger brother has ADHD too.  Even though he is already nine, he still bothers and pinches us all the time.  He doesn't listen to anything we say and including him in our games always ends in fights.  We have to hide our nosh and prizes because he takes them.  He used to smack me a lot, until I learned how to be smarter.  Now he mostly hits and bosses my younger brother; that hurts me even more.

Sometimes it gets so bad that I wish he was not my brother.  We can never do anything fun as a family because he always takes charge and ruins it for everyone.  It takes my mother so long to get him homework done that she almost never gets to help me with mine.  My mother has explained ADHD to me but I still get angry that he can't just control himself already.

My friend's brother has special needs and their family gets to do lots of fun things with Chai Lifeline.  It is not fair that no one knows what we are going through.  People can't see ADHD so easily and we are not sure that we want others to know.  I am glad he takes medicine now because it helps a lot.

Tell me, when a child hurts other people, ruins games, and takes what doesn't belong to him, does that sound like a disease? A mental illness? Or like a toddler?

As Dr. John Rosemond puts it:

"There is no such thing as having ADHD. It is not a biological condition. It is not a disease. It is a lifestyle condition. It is a developmental condition. And I absolutely know from much personal and professional experience that the behaviors we call ADHD can be corrected, cured, by parents without the assistance of psychologists (or drugs) in a matter of 3-6 months. It is not rocket science. If you understood that this is just extended toddlerhood - that's the first step to dealing with it."

Oct 17, 2013

ADD/ADHD Revisited

I haven't written about ADD/ADHD in too long, considering how often it comes up in frum publications and talks.  Previous posts on the subject include:
Refreshing! and
Diagnosis: Toddleritis and
This is ADHD? and
ADD - Attention Deficit Disorder - When Parents' Attention is Deficient .

This is from a letter written by a mother to a frum women's publication:

I have two children with ADHD (and five without) ...  I try with every fiber of my being to be supportive and nurturing towards my sons.  I understand their therapists' pleas for me to be patient and not to let everything get to me, and I can look away, but my other children can't.  When my 14 year old daughter completed a book report that she worked on for two weeks and then her brother came in and ripped it to shreds in a fit, it was difficult for me to comfort my daughter.  When she begs me, "Why do you let him? He never learns!" something inside me wants to snap.  She's right.  He's right.

And into all this walks the therapist and says, "Keep your cool - he'll come around one day, and we're giving him tools."  When he comes around, I might have five other bitter and angry and misunderstood kids.  They know their brother has his issues and they are kind and gracious, but sometimes they feel he ruins their lives.  My older son is medicated and in therapy and he has come a long way, but he has kicked more holes in the wall than we can ever fill.

First, I will say that my heart does go out to her.  She is a mother who cares.  Deeply.  And it sounds like she is trying to be a superlative parent.  My protest is not about her, but about a medical world that is destroying kids and their families as this mother describes. 

Although the mother does not say how old her boys are, they are obviously not two or she wouldn't be medicating and therapizing them.  How can our hearts not go out to parents who are told to be "supportive and nurturing" while not being told to discipline their children and how to do so to achieve results?

A child is destructive and all the therapist has to offer is a request for patience and reassurance about the distant future? The mother is realizing that this approach is undermining the entire household and is doing nothing to improve the situation. 

more on this soon

Oct 16, 2013

Shameless Indeed

As a follow-up to this post: here about inappropriate advertising in the frum world - I wrote a publication asking them whether their rabbinical board approved of an ad for ice cream that is for "pleasure seekers."

I asked:
How could this possibly be directed to your readership who are mevakshei Hashem, not mevakshei pleasure?
I ask that seriously. 
The wording of the ad is antithetical to our values.
Then I noticed a different ad, this one for a  sort of dessert/snack that combines bread sticks and chocolate.  The ad describes it as "The Cravers Combo" and promotes it as "shamelessly indulgent." No comment. 

Oct 11, 2013

Getting the Loving Message Across

Rabbi Noach Orlowek writes, "R' Yechiel Yakobson, one of Israel's revered educators, once met with a group of 'off the track' teenagers.  He asked them how he could prevent what happened in their families happening in his own.  They answered, 'You don't have to worry.  Your children know you love them.'"

R' Orlowek then writes, "At a wedding in Milwaukee, I sat at the same table as Rav Michel Twersky, who grew up in Milwaukee 80 years ago and attended public school, since there were no yeshivos there at the time.  I asked him how he and his brothers turned out to be such wonderful marbitzei Torah and paragons of Torah principles and Torah living.  When I asked the question, his entire demeanor changed.  Slowly and clearly, he said something that has never left me.  'We knew two things about our father, that he loved us very much and that he believed in us.'"

R' Orlowek goes on to point out that this is not to say that families where children have rebelled did not love their children.  "But sometimes, the message that they love their children does not come through clearly."

One approach to getting the message across is by seeing which "love language" means the most to a child.  Gary Chapman explained how he came to categorize five love languages, "Some of my encounters with couples through the years that brought me to realize that what makes one person feel loved does not necessarily make another person feel loved. For a number of years, I have been helping couples in the counseling office discover what their spouse desired in order to feel loved. Eventually, I began to see a pattern in their responses. Therefore, I decided to read the notes I had made over twelve years of counseling couples and ask myself the question, “When someone sat in my office and said, ‘I feel like my spouse doesn’t love me,’ what did they want?” Their answers fell into five categories. I later called them the five love languages."

It's simple and straightforward and worth looking up.

Oct 10, 2013

G-d's Calculations

I read a related idea to something I posted previously: here about how G-d has everything worked out based on our actions.  The idea can be read in its entirety as it appeared in Community magazine: here

The gist of it is, a sofer set aside some of his work time every month to voluntarily train two aspiring sofrim.  His colleagues said he was giving away valuable time in which he could be earning money.  He doesn't see it that way.  In his view, the time is well spent because it would otherwise be consumed by unpleasant things and he doesn't lose out at all.

According to his philosophy, if he is destined to lose work time every month, since this is part of life, he'd rather let his fellow Jews benefit from it.  "I am confident that these hours are lost time anyhow."

He and a colleague kept track of the time they spent working and the work time they ended up spending on other things.  The colleague was astonished to see that even with his volunteer work, the other sofer still worked more hours that month than he did, and that he lost time for various other reasons.

The conclusion: What is destined to be lost, one loses regardless, but you can utilize the loss of time for mitzvos and even save additional hours thereby!

Oct 9, 2013

Nach and Paying Attention

I was reading something where there was a parenthetical note about how none of the Shoftim were succeeded by a son*.  That stopped me short and I read it again, in incredulity. 

Why was I so astonished? Because kings are succeeded by their sons and Moshe wanted his son to succeed him and Rashi refers to this and it's discussed by the meforshim as to why it was Yehoshua.  And often, rabbinical posts are taken over by sons if they are worthy.  And yet, it never occurred to me that the Shoftim were not succeeded by their children!

And that got me thinking about how when I've learned Navi, I haven't thought much, and that was a perturbing thought.  In my defense, when it comes to Chumash we are taught early on to ask questions and there are constant questions and answers being offered.  This is not so for Nach.  There is less commentary and when Nach is learned, it is mostly to get the storyline and the meaning of the pesukim, without delving much into an analysis of every word.  But still ...

 * Gideon might be considered an exception

Oct 4, 2013

What a Mechaya!

There is a wonderful story told about R' Moshe Feinstein z'l, told by Rebbetzin Altusky in this delightful video: here beginning at 10:33 minutes.

It is worthwhile seeing the rebbetzin telling the story for many reasons: you hear it directly from the source, you hear it with all the nuances as she tells it, you get to see the wife of a great talmid chacham and teacher z'l, the daughter of Bessie who was a sister to Racoma Shain ("All For the Boss"), the daughter of the great rosh yeshiva, R' Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, and a special woman in her own right.

For more about the great posek and great Yid and human being that was R' Moshe, I recommend the revised Artscroll book which I review: here

Oct 2, 2013

Who Am I? part 2

continued from previous post

The article continues with the story of a girl from a wealthy neighborhood going to seminary in Eretz Yisrael and being amazed by the simplicity and purity of the kollel families there.  Over her year in Israel she heard about the idea of a woman supporting her husband as he learned.  She decided that this is what she wants.  She knew she couldn't manage for more than five years, but she was excited about this prospect.

Then she returned home and went back to life as she always knew it.  She thought about all the things she would be unable to have if she lived a kollel life.  She wanted a Torah home but wondered how she could support a family.

She consulted with rabbis, kollel wives, teachers, etc. and received a variety of comments, some of which supported her lofty goal and some of which knocked it.

"I didn't know what to think.  Was I just on a seminary high? How could it be that I was so sure about something a short while ago, yet now I was so tormented? Which was the real me? Am I the girl who really needs all these luxuries, all this money, all this stability and practicality .. making my seminary decision just a hasty, foolish, idealistic thought? Or am I really the seminary girl who 'saw the light,' and felts as if kollel was the right lifestyle to live, and I am just hesitating now because I'm back home?"

She concluded that a kollel lifestyle was not for her and turned down shidduchim suggestions with wanna-be longtime learners.  She wanted her husband to learn during their first year of marriage and take it from there.

Oct 1, 2013

Who Am I?

continued from previous post

I read an article by Malka Weisman about a girl with well-educated parents who herself was an ambitious student.  She had her sights set on an Ivy League college.  She worked hard and scored high on the SAT's in order to have a chance at winning an academic scholarship to a very expensive school.  She won the scholarship but her parents were still faced with hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay which they couldn't afford.  She took the SAT's again to get an even higher score and did all she could to achieve her goal.  In the meantime, she prepared to go to seminary in Israel.

She went to Israel and loved it and her classes.  But when she heard ideas that contradicted her secular educational goals, she chafed.  As time went on, she began to wonder whether her plan of attending a secular university was a good one for a bas Yisrael.

During Pesach vacation she received the exciting news that she had been awarded a full scholarship, but at that point, she wasn't that sure she wanted to attend it any more.  It was a wrenching decision, made after much agonizing, but she gave up the scholarship and decided to go to a program attended by frum girls.

Then she went back to the US and began to feel regrets over her decision.  People told her she had been brainwashed but she said nobody forced her to make this sacrifice.  She made it because she believed it was the right thing to do. 

"And I wonder, throughout all this, if I was really me when I made that decision.  'Me' is the academic girl who values education, who doesn't settle for anything less than the best.  'Me' is the girl who was accepted into the university of her dreams.  Who was the strange entity who 'changed her mind? If that was me, then who am I? Am I the person who was so excited to get accepted to my dream school, or the inspired seminary girl focused on the one, true, straight, Torah path in life? This is my identity crisis. Which person am I?"