Oct 30, 2014

Most Influential Pasuk

Earlier this year, I came across a book called "28 Verses that can Change your Life," which presented pesukim that can change your life.  In the introduction to the book, the author asks the reader what pasuk has been most influential in your life.

The question piqued my interest and I thought about it and asked numerous other people this same question along with "why this pasuk."  The answers I received were varied, interesting and sometimes beautiful and often touching.

Shortly after that, Aish did a piece on "Favorite Jewish Quotes" and asked readers to submit theirs.  And then Mishpacha's Family First had an article in which they asked women which pasuk in Tehillim is most significant to them.

How about trying it yourself.  Come up with your own and ask others.  It is enlightening!

Oct 29, 2014

Male Teachers in Girls' Schools

Beis Yaakov, from its inception, had female and male staff members.  Over the years it has always had male teachers in addition to the female staff.  Various high schools and seminaries have become associated with their male principals such as R' Mordechai Miller a"h of Gateshead, R' Binyamin Steinberg a"h of BY of Baltimore, Rabbis Teichman and Greenberg of BYA, Rabbi Aisenstark of BY in Montreal, etc.

With two recent seminary (in Israel) scandals that I know of, I've been wondering about this policy of male staff members having such a great involvement with female students.  Chassidishe girls' schools do not have male teachers.  They may have a male guest lecturer for a special occasion; otherwise, men are not interacting with the girls on a regular basis in the classroom, learning their names, marking their papers, answering their questions, etc.

Why are male teachers and principals deemed necessary in BY types of schools while Chassidishe girls' schools do not hire them? Are the Chassidishe girls losing out by not having male teachers and hashpa'ah? If not, why do BY schools have them, and if they are, is there a way to have male teachers while ensuring the utmost decorum and distance?

I'd like to hear what R' Wallerstein, founder of Ohr Naava and related girls' institutions, has to say about this!

Oct 27, 2014

Total Commitment to Torah

I read the following:

"And Avram took his wife, Sarai…and the souls they made in Charan." (12:5)

"Targum Onkelos explains v'es ha'nefesh asher asu b'Charan, "and the souls they made in Charan" as, v'yas nafshasa di shabidu l'Oraisa, "and the souls which they committed to Torah." This teaches us, notes Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, that the only commitment of substance, the only obligation that has value and endurance, is a commitment to Torah.
"Turning someone on," getting them to enjoy mitzvah observance, attending services in shul, are all wonderful beginnings, but the nefesh has not yet been made, success has not been achieved, until there is a shibud, obligation and commitment, to Torah study. Only then is there hope that the individual who has been "turned on" will not turn around and become "turned off." Torah protects and ensures the success of the transformation. Torah catalyzes the transformation and sustains the momentum.
Furthermore, adds Rav Ezrachi, one cannot have a shibuda l'Oraisa unless it is accompanied with a lech lecha, go for yourself, me'artzecha, from your land, etc. One must leave his original environment; break his ties with the past. He is committed to one thing and one thing only: Torah. When the separation is unequivocal, as it was with Avraham and Sarah, when there is a total severance from the commitments of the past, there can be a total commitment to Torah."
This leaves me wondering about the guidance given to those who are new to Torah observance.  I thought the current approach on the part of people involved in kiruv from various backgrounds is not to convince the newbie to throw his or her past away, but to encourage them to build on it.  Their schooling, their profession, their life experience, are often used to reach out to others.  How then, would this approach fit with the directive to Avrohom, which is also the directive to all of us, to leave everything behind?

Oct 23, 2014

As of now, Thursday night, I have no guest for the this week's "Shabbos Project."  I wrote here about last year's magnificent Shabbos Project in South Africa.  This year it is global and you can read about it here and see a heartwarming video about it here.
I tried inviting guests through Shabbat.com and got nowhere.  I hope you have more success.

Oct 19, 2014

Sensitivity to Subject Material

I met someone who expressed her dismay over frum publications referring to such sensitive matters as miscarriage.  Another person chimed in, saying today it's all out in the open and how years ago, we only had Marcus Lehmann to read and weren't exposed to these sorts of subjects, and do you remember how one magazine created a fervor with its article about sonograms ...

I said, what about what 10 year olds learn in Mishnayos Shabbos, for example.  That exposes them to plenty of "interesting" material.  The response was that from Torah they relate to it differently, it just passes them by.

Hmmm, guess it depends on the kid. 

Shortly after this discussion, I noticed "miscarriage" mentioned in one of the most conservative publications.  I remain unsure what the fuss is about when it concerns sonograms and miscarriages.  I suppose it's a big deal for those who do not tell their children that a baby is on the way and the children find out only when there is a mazal tov.  For the rest of us though, who don't consider an impending birth a great secret, I don't see what the problem is.  I suspect that if we discussed it further, we would discover that at the root of it is the fear that children will ask how babies are made.

Oct 5, 2014

Vidui Mitzvos

R' Kook, "... therefore, just as there is great benefit for rectifying the soul in confessing sins ... so too, in confessing mitzvos, so that he will rejoice with them in his heart and strengthen the pathways of his life in the way of Hashem."

Oct 2, 2014

Pouring Fuel on the Fire part 3

continued from previous post

 I had a long talk with one of the women responsible for the brochure. Her number was on it and I conveyed to her the negative comments I'd heard and she welcomed that.

She said 35,000 copies of this issue were sent primarily to schools all over the U.S. and the world. Some shuls got them too.

I brought up 4 negative comments:

1) It blames women and women resent that - she agreed that she would not want to be singled out for blame either, and she asked me whether I had seen flyers around directed at the men (I hadn't).

2) What about other issues like stealing etc. - she said anybody can work on improving any area they like. They focused on this because the rabbis they consulted with, when asked what the women should focus on, told them tznius.

When I said that in addition, tznius is a public transgression, unlike certain other aveiros, she added that breaches in tznius directly cause others to sin which is not the case with most other aveiros.

3) People take exception to the cause and effect message - she said that until she saw it in the sources, the Chofetz Chaim for one, she would have agreed, but what can you say when the sources directly attribute tzaros to lack of tznius?

4) About people thinking it's a negative message - she said two things: A) we need a wake-up call B) if you read all the material you see many positive things too

She sounded like a sincere woman who was truly troubled by the tzaros of Klal Yisrael and who, upon the guidance of rabbonim, chose to work on upgrading our tznius as a volunteer.  

It's 12 years later.  I think we can all agree that what we want are RESULTS, not to be yotzei "hochei'ach tochi'ach," and not to make people "feel good about themselves." Has tznius improved since then?

 If a softer, gentler approach is what people, they need to demonstrate that it's working.  We see that the communities which are tougher on tznius have women and girls who actually dress according to halacha. In the communities that try the gentler approach, the results are not obvious.

Oct 1, 2014

Pouring Fuel on the Fire part 2

continued from previous post

A response I've heard is, aveiros don't cancel mitzvos.  A mitzvah habo'oh be'aveiroh (a mitzva done in a sinful way) is a problem, but a mitzvah that is not related to the aveirah is another story. Tovel v'sheretz b'yado (immersing while holding an impure creature) is not a good example here because the purity upon immersion never took hold.  But if someone prays and then goes outside and eats treif, although eating treif is a sin, it does not cancel his prayer.  So perhaps the lack of tznius, as bad and terrible as it may be, does not mean that our prayers are a waste.

True, one should not refrain from davening even while violating the laws of tznius.   However, if we want our prayers to be accepted, and we all do, then it makes sense to find favor in Hashem's eyes while asking Him for something.  Children act on their best behavior before asking their parents for something.

And yet, Chazal say, even a burglar prays for G-d's help as he prepares to enter the home of his victim (Talmud, Tractate Berachos 63b in Ein Yaakov).  How odd that as he is about to commit a sin that may result in violence, even murder, the thief asks for the help of the One Who commands him not to do what he's doing!