Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Tomorrow (Wednesday, December 30th) Arukh haShulchan Yomi begins Hilkhos Masa uMatan. Laws about fiscal honesty, about maintaining our character.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, December 30th) Arukh haShulchan Yomi completes the laws of shul, and begins the workday - Hilkhos Masa uMatan. Laws about fiscal honesty, about maintaining our character. Orakh Chaim siman 156. Arguably the most important siman in all four Turim of the Tur, the Shulchan Arukh, and the Arukh haShulchan.

If you just want to join us, now is the perfect time.
Even if you just want a taste of learning Arukh haShulchan, this is among the most significant opportunities to do so.
Tomorrow's learning begins in Orakh Chaim siman 155, and includes 156:1-5.
Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
has been giving a daily shiur in Arukh haShulchan Yomi. Siman 156 begins at 10:09 in the attached video.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Rischa D'Araisa Season 2-Episode 17-Responding to the Public: "Sheva Zekukin DiNura"- A Lightning Round with seven topics suggested by our listeners


Rischa D'Araisa Season 2-Episode 17-Responding to the Public: "Sheva Zekukin DiNura"- A Lightning Round with seven topics suggested by our listeners

Rabbis Bechhofer and Kivelevitz offer quick yet concise answers on selected queries from listeners over the past few months.

Topics dealt with

1. Political Hebraism of the founding fathers


3. The consistent ignoring of the ban on eulogies at funerals occurring on Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah and Erev Shabbos.

4. Greater exposure and circulation of the psakim and Divrei Torah of Rav Nota Tzvi Greenblatt Shlita

5. The permissibility of studying the works of Shmuel Dovid Luzzatto and others who denied the authenticity of the Zohar and the received mystical tradition.

6. The Agudah's vilifying of Yeshiva University and other centrist Orthodox groups and their Halachic positions.

7. Who chooses who are the 'gedolim'? What are the requirements to obtain a seat on the Moetzes?

Give us 35 minutes, we'll probably make someone angry.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Netziv on "Esav Sonei L'Yaakov"

 Extraordinarily important! 

Ha'amek Davar, Bereishis Perek 33 Pasuk 4.

Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2-Episode 16: Is the principle of Daas Torah an alien concept that has taken root with destructive results?

 Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2-Episode 16: 

Is the principle of Daas Torah an alien concept that has taken root with destructive results?

Rabbi Bechhofer finds support for his previously stated opinion on unquestioning reliance on Gedolim (specifically Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita) in a  from Rav Mayer Twersky.

In the article, Twersky delineates two archetypes of great Torah personalities, one, while steeped in Shas and Poskim, remains keenly sensitive to the nuances of society, while the other, in his quest for holiness, has become out of sync with the real contours of the mundane world and its halachic needs and priorities.

He underscores the damage that can result when the latter is called on to give direction on matters beyond pure Issur and Heter and the intense difficulty of backpedaling once the decree has been issued.

Twersky also rails against the concept of Daas Torah, claiming it was an idea not accepted in pre-war Europe, and he bemoans the primacy it has assumed in the Yeshiva world.

Rabbi Kivelevitz asks Bechhofer if Twersky's critique lands with much force in the communities of North America,where a Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah is charged with issuing measured directives with input from each member of the presidium.

The pair discuss whether Daas Torah fealty differs greatly with unwavering belief in the Admorim of Chasidim.

As an example of how the by product of a decidedly non-Halachic, secular event can be glorified transformed and memorialized as a fervent religious day of praise and worship, Kivelevitz points to the newest Chabad "Holiday", the 5th of Teves, and speculates that in a different time, the spectacle of having to take an einekel to court and expose the deep sibling rifts in Rav Yosef Yitzchack Schneerson's children would have been quietly endured.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

We Jews are a people of destiny – Jewish Independent

Great article by our son in law!

We Jews are a people of destiny

It was heartbreaking to read Rabbi Denise Handlarski’s op-ed titled “Harris-Emhoff’s significance.” [Jewish Independent, Nov. 27] Heartbreaking, yes. Shocking, unfortunately, not at all. Almost every single Jewish family, including my own, has a relative or close friend who has intermarried or has seriously contemplated intermarriage were the opportunity to present itself. A 2017 Jewish People Policy Institute study shows that, in the United States, 60% of non-Orthodox Jews, aged 40-44, are intermarried. In the 35-39 age bracket, 73% are intermarried; the percentage rises to 75% when dealing with those between 30 and 34. We are clearly witnessing a dramatic upward trend.

Rabbi Handlarski, ordained by the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, an institution that focuses on living a life with a cultural Jewish identity through a “non-theistic philosophy of life,” expresses her excitement over this popular trend and its prevalence among families of our global leaders. She writes, “Jewish communities have spent the past several decades trying to stop intermarriage. These efforts have failed…. It’s time we embrace our pluralistic and diverse families….”

It is true: we have failed. We have failed as a people to teach about the centrality of Judaism in our lives, the impact we, as a small nation, have made upon the entire world, the destiny of our future and the need to secure our traditions, beliefs and values within our families.

However, as a believer in God and the mission that we, the Jewish People, were charged with more than 3,000 years ago, the embracement of a non-Jewish spouse is: 1) an option that is simply not on the table and 2) even if it were on the table, the acceptance of such marriages is a recipe for failure for anyone with an interest to preserve Judaism.

Why is intermarriage off the table?

There is a well-known atheist, European author and philosopher Alain De Betton, who speaks about Atheism 2.0, a version of atheism that also incorporates our human need for connection, ritual and transcendence. He believes that religion adds a great deal to the world, but he just doesn’t believe in God.

De Betton articulates a defence of the halachic system that is both true and profound. He states: “The starting point of religion is that we are children and we need guidance. The secular world often gets offended by this. It assumes that all adults are mature – and, therefore, it hates didacticism, it hates the idea of moral instruction. But, of course, we are children, big children who need guidance and reminders of how to live. And yet the modern education system denies this. It treats us all as far too rational, reasonable, in control. We are far more desperate than secular modernity recognizes. All of us are on the edge of panic and terror, pretty much all the time – and religions recognize this.”

I once heard an insightful comment from a rabbinic teacher of mine: the word “mitzvah” has two very different connotations – a good deed and an obligation. For an action to be a good deed, it just needs to embed an inherent goodness. To fulfil a commandment means that there is a Commander. As soon as I acknowledge that I am doing a mitzvah, I am metzuvah – I am commanded and there is a Commander. Therefore, God’s word comes before mine.

Even if my rationale leads me to the conclusion that intermarriage expresses the positive values of acceptance and diversity, God has already decided that other values, perhaps unbeknownst to humankind, outweigh it. Maimonides, the 12th-century leading philosopher and codifier of Jewish law, writes in his code of law: “There is a biblical prohibition when a Jew engages in relations with a woman from other nations, [taking her] as his wife or a Jewess engages in relations with a non-Jew as his wife. As [Deuteronomy 7:3] states: ‘You shall not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughter to his son, and do not take his daughter for your son.’”

In truth, the conversation should stop here; it is a law from God and there is nothing more to discuss.

Why is intermarriage destined to fail?

However, not all of us find the word of God a compelling argument, or believe in His existence to begin with. To that group, the statistics should speak for themselves.

Rabbi Handlarski admits that there are very real grounds to fear assimilation, but, she argues, Jewish pride and identity can and does exist within many intermarried families. However, a 2013 Pew Research study showed that more than one in five Americans identify themselves as without a religion, more than two-thirds do not have any affiliation with any synagogue, and more than a third believe that Jesus being the Messiah is compatible with Judaism. The average Jew in North America knows who Jesus and his mother were, but they cannot name our forefathers, foremothers and who was married to whom. The average Jew knows more about Christmas carols than they do about Jewish liturgy.

Doron Kornbluth, author of Why Marry Jewish, writes that even among intermarried families who raise their children as “Jews only,” a mere 11% of those children would be very upset if their own kids did not view themselves as Jewish. The fears of assimilation are very real indeed, and there is an undeniable and direct causal link between intermarriage and assimilation.

Former British chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, in his book The Dignity of Difference, writes that the prohibition to intermarry is not racist or intolerant; just the opposite! Without diminishing our love and concern for any fellow Jew, irrespective of her choices, Rabbi Sacks explains that, in our day, global cultural homogenization threatens to

destroy all minority groups and their culture. When we have a bit of everything, we represent nothing. This global phenomenon impacts many minority cultures and limits their impact on the broader world. In order for the Jewish people to continue to spread their values and be a light onto the nations, we must secure and safeguard our tradition from the threat of homogenization. We must first ignite a light before it can shine on others. To choose “romantic” love over faith is to set the trajectory for all future descendants towards a path of Jewish annihilation.

Finally, a few years ago, a guest rabbi lecturer was speaking here in Vancouver. He told the following story. A few years back, he was speaking to university-aged students and, a few minutes into the talk, a young woman raised her hand and said: “Rabbi, we are in attendance today for you to

answer just one question: Why should we marry Jewish?” He responded, “The question is not, Why marry Jewish? The question is, Why isn’t Judaism the central and integral part of your life such that ‘Why marry Jewish?’ is not even entertained as a question?”

The real question we must ask ourselves is, What does it mean to be a Jew? Are we culturally Jewish? Are we socially Jewish? Is our Judaism the same thing as Zionism? History has proven that none of these defines Judaism. Judaism has existed for thousands of years, and the state of Israel is but 70 years old. A Jew from Eastern Europe lived a drastically different cultural life from the Iranian Jew. Judaism is a charge that we were given at Mount Sinai to live a life in service of God, to better the world, and to pass the commandments and values down from generation to generation. It is a heavy responsibility, but history has proven that we can persevere with great pride and fulfilment.

Today, Dec. 18, is the last day of Chanukah. Ironically, if we saw any beauty in intermarriage as Rabbi Handlarski views it, then there would be no holiday, no celebration. The essence of Chanukah is about strong-willed Jews and their ability to withstand the pressure of Greek culture and to retain their identity. “Maoz Tzur,” the song that we sing when lighting the menorah, is all about the survival of the Jew throughout the centuries and our ability to maintain not just some of our values and traditions, but all of them. The solution is not to accept defeat. The solution is to become more aware of our history, understand what it means to be a Jew – today and every day – and live towards a viable future.

Rabbi Ari Federgrun is associate rabbi at Congregation Schara Tzedeck.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2-Episode 15 - Generating Controversy: Should we celebrate Rav Chaim Kaniyevski's fight for installing outdoor generators in every Charedi community for Shabbos use?

 Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2-Episode 15 - Generating Controversy: Should we celebrate Rav Chaim Kaniyevski's fight for installing outdoor generators in every Charedi community for Shabbos use?

The Charedi Alon Divrei Siach 

(It should be noted that the consensus of poskim is to allow use of the municipal electric power.)

Rabbi Bechhofer's Shabb0s guest,  noted a possible lack of concern for Nizkei Schechenim.

Bechhofer's reserach revealed that indeed a number of civil lawsuits have been filed against Charedi builders, which have resulted in rulings on behalf of the plaintiffs.

When pressed by Kivelevitz to explain how Rav Chaim, could be oblivious to these concerns, Bechhofer described the revered sage as someone whose conception of real world problems differs from that of the average person.

Rabbi Bechhofer argues on one hand that Rav Chaim should not be considered a true Posek, then alternatively suggests that elements of Rav Chaim's directives more in line with derech eretz might have been intentionally omitted in the recounting of the Sar HaTorah's opinion.

Either way, Bechhofer suggests that some of the self proclaimed followers of Eretz Yisroel's leading Charedi Gadol, are not free of base hypocrisy and triumphalism clothed as pure kanaus.

Kivelevitz tends to believe that the severity of the noise level might be overstated, especially in a country that is regularly overrun by various sounds of commotion.

He further extolls the noble elements of a Charedi life that are on full display in those neighborhoods, which despite the cacophony, are a blessed contrast to Muslim noise and to the secular and Christian noise that needs to be endured in many major metropolitan areas in the Northeastern United States.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The last shiur on Hil. Keri'as HaTorah. We begin Hil. Beis HaKnesses tomorrow. Arukh HaShulchan Day 202 147 15 149 3

The last shiur on Hil. Keri'as HaTorah. 

We begin Hil. Beis HaKnesses tomorrow. 

A whole new section. Jump right in!

Thanks to Reb Micha Berger​ for envisioning and implementing this great project!


Monday, December 07, 2020

Rischa D'Araisa-Season Episode 14-Reversing Footsteps-Reaching those who have left Charedi life

Rischa D'Araisa-Season Episode 14-Reversing Footsteps-Reaching those who have left Charedi life

Moved by an article in the New Yorker that sketches the travails and anguish of formerly Chasidic persons who have left frumkeit, Rabbi Kivelevitz asks Rabbi Bechhofer if there is a method to reach these persons before organizations like Footsteps push them beyond a point of no return to any semblance of practicing religious behavior.

Bechhofer indicates the fine work being done by a Jew in the Citybut is pessimistic of ever seeing a strong success rate due to the milieu that fostered the disenchantment to begin with, and the skeptical attitude of many Chasidic parents towards the outreach professionals.

Kivelevitz counters with a description of the work done in the past by the Yeshiva of Newark.

Bechhofer believes that there is no great wave occurring and is more disturbed by the continuous anti-Orthodox media coverage which has only intensified during the Pandemic.

Kivelevitz offers an approach that banks on an optimistic hope that positively crafted interesting articles submitted to secular magazines and more programs like Shtissel can stem the negative barrage.

Update: R' Herschel Maryles used our discussion as a springboard for a blog post in which he dives more deeply and more positively into the Jew in the City/Project Makom efforts: 

Monday, November 30, 2020

Rischa D'Araisa Season 2-Episode 13-Let's make this Yud Tes Kislev more about the Graz than the Baal HaTanya

 Rischa D'Araisa Season 2-Episode 13-Let's make this Yud Tes Kislev more about the Graz than the Baal HaTanya

The Rabbis sketch the enormous impact Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi has had on all of Klal Yisroel,with Rabbi Kivelevitz wanting to emphasize the major contribution of the Shulchan Oruch HaRav.

Rabbi Bechhofer probes how the Rav's refashioning of the Shulchan Oruch compares with the earlier work, Rav Mordechai Yoffe's Levush, and Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein's Aruch HaShulchan.

Kivelevitz makes the case for distinguishing "the Graz" qualitatively and in purpose from those works with sharp somewhat startling assertions, which Bechhofer agrees to.

Please contact us at

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2-Episode 12-A Halachic Prescription for Celebrating the First Covid-19 Thanksgiving

Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2-Episode 12-A Halachic Prescription for Celebrating the First Covid-19 Thanksgiving

In anticipation of the Thanksgiving Holiday,Rabbi Kivelevitz recaps some of the salient Halachic opinions regarding the celebration of the day by prominent Poskim with Rabbi Bechhofer appending his own customs and approach.

Bechhofer cites Abraham Lincoln's 1863 proclamation as instructive to the religious nature of the day,while Kivelevitz believes the language and context of the directive has important lessons for recognizing God's care and grace especially after the last ten months of fear and death.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

A Tidbit About my Grandfather zt"l: When Sami Rohr Wanted to Sleep –

When Sami Rohr Wanted to Sleep –
Op-Ed by Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski: The response of Rabbi Dov Yehuda Schochet to Sami Rohr's refusal to join a Torah shiur teaches us a lesson from this week's Parsha and how we must take advantage of every opportunity.

When Sami Rohr Wanted to Sleep

Op-Ed by Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski: The response of Rabbi Dov Yehuda Schochet to Sami Rohr’s refusal to join a Torah shiur teaches us a lesson from this week’s Parsha and how we must take advantage of every opportunity.

By Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski -Director of Chabad of Basel in Switzerland

R. Sami Rohr z”l once told me that when he was a refugee child in Basel during the Holocaust, Rabbi Dov Yehudah Schochet, who was then the rabbi of the charedi community in Basel, asked him to come to a class on Tehillim on Shabbat morning, before the services. “And it wasn’t a Chabad shul that started at 10:00 am; this meant coming at 7:00 am.”

Sami refused, saying to Rabbi Shochat: “I have one day a week to sleep, and you want me to come and learn?”

But then, the rabbi looked him in the eye and said: “You have one day in the week to learn, and you want to sleep?”

The rabbi won.

There is a passuk in this week’s parasha that carries so much meaning and gives us a direct message for our own lives, and it is not even one of the most popular psukim in the parasha.

It is not part of the story of the birth of Yaakov and Esav, nor does it tell of the fascinating relationship between them. It isn’t even part of the saga of the wells that Yitzchak dug. It is a passuk that comes after the story of the digging of the last well – Rechovot, as it was named. But, as mentioned, this passuk can teach us the way to live.

“For now Hashem has granted us room, and we can be fruitful in the land.” So said Yitzchak. At first glance it sounds like a sigh of relief: the quarrels are a thing of the past, Hashem has given us some room and now we can sit in peace and quiet for a bit. Yes, this is a commentary that many will accept happily, but not the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a Jew who didn’t know what the word “rest’ meant. Anyone whom he met immediately received a directive to do something more – usually double what he had been doing until then. It couldn’t be that if Hashem gives us some more space, we will sit and rest.

The opposite is true: If you have reached a state of relief and space, Hashem has granted you rachavut, this is the time and place to focus on expanding your fruitfulness, whether fruitfulness in the simplest meaning of expanding the Jewish family, or, like Yitzchak, who had only two children, fruitfulness expressed in actions – influencing the world and other people.

And that is exactly the question: When Hashem gives us a bit of peace and expanse, is it so that we will sleep another hour, or so that we will be active for another hour?

By the way, Sami Rohr z”l implemented his Rav’s directive in other areas of his life as well. Whenever he reached another level in his material abilities, the Jewish world felt it through the tzedakah he gave.

His physical “fruitfulness” as well – his sons and daughters – are continuing his way.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Meseches Derekh Eretz Zuta part 1 and Playlist Link

First in a new series on Meseches Derech Eretz Zuta

(and a link to the playlist)

We are using the commentary of Rabbi Yitzchok Eliyahu Landau of Vilna (author of my favorite commentary on the Siddur, the Dover Shalom, found in the Siddur Otzar HaTefillos). 
The commentary can be followed or downloaded at

The complete playlist is at

Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2-Episode 11-Cloaking Devices: "itztala sheaino shelo"-Does being caught in a lie about their past achievements invalidate a Rav from ever being considered a Manhig for Klal Yisroel?

Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2-Episode 11-Cloaking Devices: "itztala sheaino shelo"-Does being caught in a lie about their past achievements invalidate a Rav from ever being considered a Manhig for Klal Yisroel?

I have added to Rabbi Kivelevitz' "Program Notes" below. My additions are in brackets.

Thinking about [the vast lies and exaggerations that we have experienced over the years from President Trump, and the fewer] lies and exaggerations President-elect Joe Biden has spoken that have not stood in his way from assuming the highest position in our land, Rabbi Kivelevitz asks Rabbi Bechhofer about Rabbanim that have been similarly caught telling falsehoods about their past that are part of a false narrative of achievement and study.

Rav Herschel Shachter underscores that the Issurei HaTorah that mention sheker are concerned with denying a financial debt, falsifying a past history would violate the Mitzvah of Vehalachta Bidrachav, as one of the prime attributes of God is Emes.

Bechhofer believes that after a sufficient censure-ship period [of contrition and humility], the Rabbi who has been caught in this distortion, should be welcomed into the community of scholars and be allowed to rise to prominence and leadership.

[Please see my series on the Laws of Lying and the Alter of Kelm that I referenced during the program. The specific reference to the Alter from Kelm is in Ma'amar 9.]

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Hosting Illegal Yeshiva in his Basement - Response | Shani Bechhofer | The Blogs

Hosting Illegal Yeshiva in his Basement - Response | Shani Bechhofer | The Blogs

Hosting Illegal Yeshiva in his Basement – Response

A couple weeks back, posted an op-ed by an Orthodox Jewish father explaining why he is risking a fine by hosting a yeshiva in his basement.  The article can be found here:  Comments responding to his post were, to put it mildly, negative and accusatory.  I would like to suggest that we read his account a little more carefully and empathetically.  It provides insight into the pressures and dynamics of the current circumstance in which so many parents find themselves.  It is a very sad article, yet it is good to have it out in the open.  I encourage you to read his article before you read my response.

* * *

It is extremely difficult to raise children, especially during hard times. The author (“Anonymous”) describes experiencing a significant parenting challenge. His response is to accept the offer of a workaround that frees him from having to confront this challenge and that absolves him from the parental responsibility to work at solving it.  Unfortunately, that workaround is both illegal and dangerous.  The school should never have offered him this option.

Rather than judge Anonymous and condemn him as a public health menace, it would be more constructive to analyze the situation that led to his dilemma and to unpack it, with empathy, since he certainly represents thousands of other parents experiencing a similar parenting challenge.   His experience reveals some of the gaps and failures in our communal and educational systems – specifically in supporting and educating parents – that require attention and ought to be addressed.

School-Parent Expectations and Support

Anonymous is not the first person to discover that it is hard to motivate children to daven[1].  Parents and educators struggle with this challenge.  It is the subject of countless parenting seminars, educator conferences, research articles in Jewish education journals, even doctoral dissertations.

In our Orthodox communities, parents are able to mostly offload this responsibility onto schools and camps.  Some of these institutions are more successful than others at tefila[2]  education.  Parents are generally not confronted with our struggles with tefila education.  But once schools closed for the pandemic, many parents like Anonymous had a rude awakening. 

Anonymous tells us that during the months school was closed, his children “had nothing to drive them to get up” on time.  His son “had been neglecting his prayers.”  That is to say, Anonymous expected his 11-year-old son to be motivated and disciplined enough to perform the sort of davening at home – on time – that he was able to do (or that Anonymous imagined he was able to do) at yeshiva.  When his child failed to meet these unrealistic expectations, Anonymous and his wife felt helpless and inadequate.  He contrasts this with the “enormous sense of pride and accomplishment” he had felt back when his son was small and the expectation was “simply repeating a single sentence that he had heard every day since he was born.”

Where did Anonymous acquire these expectations?  How much did the school educate the parents about home davening expectations for one’s children in general? Is it fair to ask teachers to provide realistic guidance and expectations to parents when they, themselves, elicit davening behavior through methods unavailable at home?

This father focused his article on his son, and on davening[3]; but parents have been struggling with various behavioral expectations, both religious and non-religious.   What sort of support did schools provide parents during the months school was closed?  Merely sending home star charts with lists of daily tasks for tracking children’s successes and failures, compliance and non-compliance, is not only woefully insufficient; in many families during the recent shut-downs, it became a source of stress and feelings of inadequacy, a brightly colored rebuke hanging on the refrigerator.

In what ways could the school – and other communal institutions – have tried to help Anonymous to feel proud and accomplished as a parent by providing the requisite skills and guidance? Is the yeshiva inadvertently conveying the message that a full and healthy Judaism isn’t possible for children if they are at home with their parents and not in school?

I ask these rhetorical questions not to criticize but to encourage schools to think about their chinuch[4] partnership with parents in a new way.  But it is not only on schools.  Our communities should be able provide the sort of parenting support and training that goes beyond hiring a speaker to give a 7-part lecture series.  The experience of parents like Anonymous exposes one of the gaps in our communal support[5] for families, upon whom there are so many stresses, even without the extra stress imposed by Covid19. 

“This seven-month layoff has been more than trying for my children,” Anonymous writes.  Based on his article, it has certainly been at least as trying for him and his wife.  Is it possible that the school in the basement exists for their benefit at least as much as for the benefit of their children? 

Remote Learning: Schools and Parents Balancing Risks

Davening was not the only concern Anonymous expressed when contemplating another extended school closing.  Anonymous is not the only parent in New York concerned that his children are falling behind educationally due to school closing or reliance on distance learning during this pandemic.  I assure Anonymous that his children are not the only ones who experienced a pandemic-setback in mood, social skills, and self-regulation as well.  These are indeed serious concerns.

I am not sure what effort his children’s school was making to address these concerns, however, because Anonymous declares that the school rabbis and principals “understand that remote-learning does not work.”  As an educator, I find that statement very troubling, and not least because I have recently heard it elsewhere, bandied about as an axiom.  Remote learning is not ideal as an all-day, long term approach.  Most of us are not that great at it yet.  But there are competent and creative ways to provide effective remote learning, and it is the responsibility of schools to find out about them and prepare themselves to deploy them should it be necessary.  There are technologies that can be used without exposing children to the internet.

Besides, the choice isn’t either 100% remote learning done poorly or stuffing a teacher and 27 kids (above age 10 especially) into an enclosed basement without social distancing or souped-up ventilation.  Masks are good, for sure; but even surgical masks are inadequate protection[6] for this set-up 6.5 hours a day at a time of community spread.  Why did they not at least hold these classes in the back yard, which would reduce risk significantly and be legal, for as long as weather permitted?  There are great personal microphones for teachers, usable with masks.  Why no dividing kids into smaller “pods” to minimize risk?

Let us continue to read carefully, because Anonymous does not seem to have come up with this outrageous plan by himself.  He is thankful to the school for “decid[ing] to set up classrooms in people’s homes,” and for refusing to accept the “edict” of the duly elected governor.

The school has given Anonymous more than a solution to his parenting challenges; they have also provided him a familiar Jewish narrative in which to embed and thus justify his action. We are resisting the evil edict of a Jew-hating tyrant in order to save our children and our religion!  It is easy to slip this on and feel as virtuous as a Maccabi, especially if one is risking substantial financial loss.  This school has unethically placed a michshol[7] before struggling, stressed-out parents.  Will the Board of Directors cover the fine if it is levied? Insurance, legal fees?  Can they absolve him and his wife of guilt feelings if ch”v someone sickens or worse as a result of this stunt? Are they even paying to clean Anonymous’ basement floor? Anonymous doesn’t say; but he is grateful to the school for putting him and his wife in this position.

Meanwhile, the school as an organization has seemingly been too inflexible to rise to the challenge or to productively adapt to changing circumstances.  Why bother to train teachers in new instructional strategies that would make them successful in a situation that school districts across the country are also confronting?  Why bother to work with communal organizations to provide parents with tools and support that would free them of some of their dependency and make them better partners in the chinuch of their children?  Why bother with these when one can simply flout the law (turning otherwise law-abiding parents into calculating, garbage-shlepping scofflaws) and get away with doing exactly what one has always done?

I believe Anonymous truly has been convinced that he is doing what is best for his children’s “spiritual, mental, and physical health.”  No longer is he helpless; now he is “moser nefesh[8]” for his children and his faith.  He is proving to all that, in his words, “our teachings mean more to us than money.”

This mesiras nefesh, however, does not strengthen his family or make them more skillful parents.  It does not push his kehillah[9] to do a better job of stopping the virus’ spread so that schools can open and stay open.  It does not push them to address the stresses of today’s Orthodox families.  It is an escape to a pretend world in which we can imagine ourselves heroic martyrs battling an old, familiar enemy.  It is an indulgence in the fantasy that financial martyrdom is the sufficient and laudable response to whatever problems we face.

As a mechaneches[10] I feel obligated to remind us that there is actually a very real world with very real dangers and challenges, and the Torah places upon us the very real responsibility to face them without flinching and to identify new solutions in accordance with Torah values.  The Neviim[11] were actually very explicit that merely sacrificing huge quantities of expensive property at the Bais Hamikdosh[12] is the easy way out; changing our ways, as individuals and as communities, is the hard work that the Creator values.  To paraphrase them, we ought to be prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable; conducting ourselves with utmost integrity; valuing justice over power; and having the courage to face adversity without turning to the nevi’ei sheker[13] telling us what we wish to hear.  To save lives rather than to risk them.  To take responsibility rather than to shift blame.  To honor our elders rather than put them in danger.  To conduct ourselves honorably rather than draw the ire of public officials upon ourselves.  These are standards to which we should hold ourselves and one another.

Anonymous, by the way, is not the first father to commit an illegal and highly irresponsible action when an opportunity arises to do what he perceives to be in the best interest of his children.  The school unethically used its perceived moral authority to convince him to ignore his conscience.  His choice can be understood, but not justified, and certainly not emulated.  This is all very, very not okay.

[1] Pray (Yiddish)

[2] Prayer

[3] This focus is itself worth exploring.

[4] Education

[5] Imagine if the model of chosson or kallah classes were adapted as parent classes for couples blessed with their first child.  What an additional blessing if it became the norm for first time parents to learn from a non-judgmental teacher about basic principles like a child’s need for attachment, love, security, and structure, especially if that person were available over the years to coach and support them.

[6] Plexiglass does not replace social distancing and is ineffective against aerosolized droplets.

[7] Stumbling block

[8] Self-sacrifice

[9] Community

[10] Jewish educator

[11] Prophets

[12] Temple

[13] False prophets

Dr. Shani Bechhofer is an independent Jewish education consultant and researcher in Monsey, NY. In addition to working with schools on strategic leadership, training and coaching principals, evaluating agency and foundation programs, and researching the Bais Yaakov movement, she is a local community advocate for good government and intercultural dialogue in Ramapo, NY.

Does the Belief that God has Emotions Render One a Heretic?

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2 Episode 10- Message to the Agudah: Conflating "Yeshivish" in the U.S with Charedi in Eretz Yisroel is a mistake

Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2 Episode 10- Message to the Agudah: Conflating "Yeshivish" in the U.S with Charedi in Eretz Yisroel is a mistake

In a signing ceremony in Yerushalayim two weeks ago of the World Zionist Organization,a coalition that included the Orthodox Union, Yeshiva University, Touro College, Bnei Akiva, AMIT, the RCA, the National Council of Young Israel and Torah Mitzion resulted in Yaakov Hagoel, being named the organization's first religious Jew to serve as the Chairman of the Executive. The agreement signed distributed control over Zionist institutions and departments to a wide range of Jewish organizations and factions, from Orthodox to Reform and from Right to Left.

This prompted Agudath Israel to issue a "Statement on Charedi Principles" explaining why they did not join and claiming that those who did were acquiescing to

the dogmatic statements that were part of the The Jerusalem Program's foundations of Zionism which are:

"Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people,

it brought about the establishment of the State of Israel,and a Jewish, Zionist, democratic and secure State of Israel is the common responsibility of the Jewish people for its continuity and future.

The State of Israel and Jerusalem, its capital, is central in the life of our nation.

Aliyah to Israel from all countries and the effective integration of all immigrants into Israeli society is a goal we must work for.

Strengthening Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state and shaping it as an exemplary society with a unique moral and spiritual character, marked by mutual respect for the multi-faceted Jewish people,

needs to be inculcated to our children as something to constantly strive for.

Eretz Yisroel's destiny is rooted in the vision of the prophets, striving for peace and contributing to the betterment of the world.

We will ensure the future and the distinctiveness of the Jewish people by furthering Jewish, Hebrew and Zionist education, fostering spiritual and cultural values and teaching Hebrew as the national language;

Despite being geographically spread throughout the world,we will nurture mutual Jewish responsibility, defend the rights of Jews as individuals and as a nation, and

represent the national Zionist interests of the Jewish people, and struggle against all manifestations of anti-Semitism.

We will do all in our power to further the

settling of the country as an expression of practical Zionism."

The Agudah deems these ideas,which give such prominence to statehood as a rejection of Torah as the major factor that defines our people and in essence condemned persons identifying as Charedi for joining the group.

Rabbi Bechhofer takes exception with the conflation of Charedi and the Bnei Torah of America.

Rabbi Kivelevitz feels that the chance to bond with one voice in a time of world crisis should be a benefit that trumps any suggestion that there has been an abdication of principle as the platform is secondary to the benefits to Torah institutions that will ensue.

Kivelevitz and Bechhofer both believe that issues in Eretz Yisroel need to be put on the back burner when so much tumult exists in America which Agudah can address together with other Orthodox mosdos.

Rabbi Kivelevitz offers thoughts on the passing of Rav Dovid Feinstein Zt"l and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks,Z"l

while Rabbi Bechhofer criticizes those who davened fervently for Donald Trump's  re-election,and Rabbi Kivelevitz urges all Jewish organizations to warmly congratulate Joe Biden on his victory.