Category Archives: Modern Orthodoxy

Who Owns The Holocaust?



Twelve years ago, the British Union of Jewish Students launched a project called 50 Days For 50 Years, an effort to commemorate the Holocaust by having Jews learn something each day for 50 days in memory of a Jew murdered in the Holocaust. A book of 50 essays written by leading (Orthodox) rabbis and scholars was published and the program was launched. In 2005, TRIBE, a section of the British United Synagogue (Modern Orthodox, Jonathan Sacks is their chief rabbi) relaunched the program under a new name, 60 Days For 60 Years. It then changed the name to 60 Days For 6 Million and "syndicated" the program to communities around the world.

Fine. To a point. Now groups like Aish and Ohr Somayach have gotten on the bandwagon (please see the pictures above for an example), and use this program as a way to draw non-Orthodox Jews to Orthodoxy and Modern Orthodox Jews to haredism.

But the problem with this program is deeper than subterfuge from Orthodox outreach organizations. First of all, many of the Jews who died in the Holocaust were secular or non-Orthodox, and they were secular or non-Orthodox by choice. They were Jews who left the backwaters of shtetl Orthodoxy for the bright lights of the Enlightenment. Is the proper way to remember those Jews learning Orthodox theology and theodicy?

Some of you will argue it is, claiming that Orthodoxy has a monopoly on theological truth. I beg to differ. Leaving aside the overwhelming failure of Orthodox rabbinic leaders leading up to the Holocaust (please see our discussion here), I would still argue that an Orthodox monopoly on this endeavor is wrong. Why? To me, it is too much like the Mormon baptisms of long-dead non-Mormons.

The proper way to do this, I think, is to take a Jewish text we all accept and study it or sections of it. For example, take the Pentateuch. Use the text to show how traditional commentary (like Rashi and Ibn Ezra) work, show how halakha is derived, codified and implemented. Show how the Documentary Hypothesis works, how modern Biblical Criticism works, and how Orthodoxy (for the most part) rejects it.

Another possibility is to deal with the exact issues the 60 Days program does, but bring varied, pluralistic responses to each one.

Of course, when an Orthodox organization sponsors an event like this, one expects the viewpoints to be Orthodox. That is why I don’t have much of a problem when the OU sponsors 60 Days, or the British United Synagogue does. But when Orthodox outreach organizations get involved, especially when those organizations have a history of deception and when their involvement is partially masked by community organizations like the Jewish Community Relations Council (please see above pictures) or the non-Orthodox day school, I think a line has been crossed.

Should the Holocaust be used as a marketing tool to bring Jews to Orthodoxy? If you think it should, shouldn’t information like Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman’s letter (which I first read in the Aish HaTorah beis midrash) and the behavior of the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe be presented right along with it?



Filed under Chabad and the Holocaust, Haredim, History, Modern Orthodoxy, Outreach

Haredim and the Holocaust, 2

UOJ quotes the infamous letter written by Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman telling a student not to go to YU or HTC (Skokie), even though it would get him safely out of Europe:

"I received your letter, but unfortunately there is nothing I can do. The yeshivos in America which can bring talmidim from overseas are the yeshivah of Dr. Revel (YU) and [HTC in Chicago]. However, both are places of spiritual danger because they are run in a spirit of disloyalty to the Torah. Therefore, of what benefit would it be to escape [Europe] from physical danger to spiritual danger."…

UOJ notes that later in the letter, Rabbi Wasserman suggests the student contact Rabbi Shlomo Hymen at Yeshiva Torah Vodas who, Rabbi Wasserman writes, will help him. But then UOJ continues:

Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman was urged [by Rabbi Henkin] to bring over all of his students to Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and Rabbi Shlomo Hyman had agreed to step aside as the Rosh Hayeshiva and gladly have R’ Elchonon take his place. Instead he went back to Europe where he was slaughtered along with his students . He is quoted in his "Kovetz Maamarim" as saying he intended himself and his students to be a "korbon" or a sacrifice, on behalf of American Jewry. So much for "daas Torah" and "gedolim infallibility".

Rabbis gave notoriously poor advice all during WW2; the above is only one example out of many rabbinic failures. From Hungarian hasidim to Chabad, from Litvaks to Galitzianers, rabbis failed. You can say this means God "hid" the truth from them, or you can say God never spoke to them in the first place. My money is on option number two.


Filed under Haredim, History, Modern Orthodoxy

Settlers At Play Again …

This video was taken in Hebron. The voices are of international observers there to protect Palestinian families from out of control settlers like this.

We need to make a choice. Behavior like this cannot be tolerated; neither can the atmosphere that causes it. Settlers teach their children hatred. It is true this is in part a reaction to the Intifada, but it is noxious, nonetheless. It is destroying Israel from within, and making Judaism not much different than the long line of fascist ideologies that oppressed us. If this type of behavior is the price of keeping Hebron, we must give it up. No piece of land, no matter how holy, is worth this.

[Hat Tip: Neo-Conservaguy.]


Filed under Crime, Israel, Modern Orthodoxy


Rabbi Shmuely Boteach writes:

Last week I delivered a sermon based on the Torah portion of the week and which compared Moses, the great Jewish redeemer, with Abraham Lincoln, the martyred American emancipator. When I finished, I was approached by an acquaintance who happens to be an Orthodox Jewish engineer. He seemed, up until that time, to be devout, educated, and sophisticated. But what he told me was sacrilegious, ignorant, and primitive.

This gentleman maintained that Lincoln was no hero, seeing as he had freed a people who were the descendants of Ham, the son of Noah, who was cursed for humiliating his father. “Ham’s children are black, and are condemned by God to eternal slavery,” he said. “There was even a rebbe in Poland who predicted that Abraham Lincoln would be shot for liberating a people against God’s wishes.”

I looked this man in the eye and said to him, “I’m confused. Judaism believes that every man is judged according to his actions. Now you are telling me that every black person in the world is cursed for something an ancestor did millennia ago. We Jews don’t believe in Original Sin, and we don’t believe in vertical accountability. So how can you tell me something so abominably racist like the fact that blacks are cursed?”

He responded that I was denying scripture. I told him that his views were repugnant to everything Judaism stood for in terms of the equality of all mankind.…

I remember my shock at seeing a book written by Rabbi Ahron Soleveitchik that strongly stated that racism of any kind has no place in Judaism. Why was I shocked? Because every Chabad and haredi rabbi I then knew was profoundly racist.

I was once driving with a head shaliach (the senior rabbi sent by the Chabad Rebbe to a particular area). We passed a bus stop at which a black man was kissing a white woman. The rabbi reacted with disgust. "It’s unnatural!" he screamed. "What is?" I asked. "Schvartes and whites shouldn’t mix. Races shouldn’t mix," he answered. I asked him if that was true even if the "schvartze" had converted. He fumbled for an answer, finally settling on "that depends on the situation." He hastened to add that the black convert would be a full Jew, and really should be able to marry any Jew, regardless of color. "So," I asked him, "would you let your son marry a black convert or the daughter of black converts?" "No!," he said. "Why not?" I asked. "It just wouldn’t be right," he said.

I used to write off this insanity as the side effects of living in or frequenting Crown Heights, with its years of racial tension. But the truth cuts much deeper. Orthodoxy in general and haredim specifically demonize the Other. Nothing is more "Other" than a black man.

I remember another haredi rabbi teaching that tselem elokim, the idea that man is made in God’s image, only applies to Jews. And we have the assertion in the Tanya, the so-called bible of Chabad hasidut, that every kindness a non-Jew does for Jews is only done for selfish reasons; non-Jews are not capable of altruism.

Boteach is right. Racism, as Rabbi Ahron Soleveitchik said, has no place in Judaism. It’s just too bad so many haredim don’t realize this, and that they have not realized it for so long.


Filed under Chabad Theology, Haredim, Modern Orthodoxy

State Looks To Prosecute Rabbis Who Called For Murder Of Army Commander

We noted two weeks ago that the nut jobs from the new "Sanhedrin" had issued a fatwa against a senior army officer. The State has now decided to open a criminal investigation against these rabbis. Ha’aretz reports:

The State Prosecution on Wednesday decided to open a criminal investigation against a group of rabbis who issued a halakhic ruling against GOC Central Command Yair Naveh for authorizing restraining orders against West Bank settlers. The rabbis ruled that in signing such orders, Naveh was guilty of crimes punishable by death according to Jewish law.

About two weeks ago, a group of rabbis linked to the revived Sanhedrin movement – or high court of Jewish law – ruled that Naveh was guilty of three crimes: "Causing the masses to sin"; being a "moser" – someone who informs against fellow Jews or hands over Jews or Jewish land to gentiles; and terrifying the public in a blasphemous way."

In their decision, the rabbis referred to a ruling made by the 12th century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, according to which "it is permissible to kill a moser everywhere, even in this time when the courts do not rule on capital cases."…

The signatories to the halakhic ruling include Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, the head of the Jerusalem Temple Institute; Rabbi Yehuda Edrey, of the movement to rebuild the temple; Bar Ilan Literature Professor Hillel Weiss; Rabbi Rueven Hass and Rabbi Ido Alba.

Leave a comment

Filed under Crime, Haredim, Israel, Jewish Leadership, Modern Orthodoxy

New Edah Journal Online

The new Edah Journal, now published by Yeshiva Chovevei Torah and renamed Meorot, is online now.

Leave a comment

Filed under Modern Orthodoxy

Does Teshuva Work For Sex Offenders?

Rabbi Dov Linzer of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah addresses this issue. Rabbi Mark Dratch and Dr. Michelle Freidman offer responses. Download by clicking this link. Source sheet can be downloaded by clicking here.

More Chovevei shiurim here.

[Hat Tip: Ben Max.]

Leave a comment

Filed under Crime, Modern Orthodoxy