Sunday, May 26, 2013

First, Understand "The Burden”

(This post is a satirical mirror-image of an article by Eytan Kobre in Mishpacha magazine. Only a few key phrases have been changed from Mr. Kobre's article.)

Of all the aspects of the avoidance of work and military service by Eretz Yisrael’s bnei Torah, one must be addressed before all others. Before we consider whether there is any way to explain our worldview to chareidi Israelis in terms they can understand and accept, there is a far more important question to ponder: Do we, shlomei emunei Yisrael, accept and understand it? Do we perceive why this is evil? Do we appreciate just how great a danger this poses to our nation?

The unfortunate answer, to a very large extent, is that we do not. There is a huge, perhaps unprecedented misunderstanding about this issue. This is evident simply from the conversations one has and hears, as well as from numerous other developments. A sampling:

  • A magazine produced by and for Zionist Jews features an MK describing how charedim have a "right" to create communities that are educated towards poverty and financially supported by the rest of Israel, under the banner of "United Torah Judaism." To insist upon educating towards poverty in defiance of Chazal's statements about how one must teach one's son a trade, and about how one should support one's family and even take a lowly profession rather than live off charity, is not exactly Torah Judaism.
  • A frum website features a chareidi gadol's three prohibitions for Eretz Yisrael’s frum community: serving in army units (even chareidi ones), participating in national service programs (even chareidi ones), and enrolling in job-training institutions (even chareidi ones). It is an astounding exercise in selfishness and self-destruction which, when practised by disadvantaged populations in inner-city America, we all recognize as a a tragedy. But somehow, its author’s background as a Gadol HaDor is supposed to give him carte blanche to legislate such distortions. It does not.
  • The aforementioned politically-involved Gadol HaDor, whose policies sought, quite simply, to end the Religious-Zionist community as we know it, is eulogized with high honor in an American magazine aimed at ehrliche Yidden in the Centrist and Modern Orthodox community.
We must attain clarity on what is at stake and what precisely we believe. Let us begin with that on which both sides agree. Haredi spokesman Eytan Kobre recently stated that while Iran is “a formidable enemy,” it does not represent “an existential threat” to Israel. Rather, it is “the Zionist project" that “poses a greater threat than … Ahmadinejad.”

Let us ignore for now, if we can, the breathtaking demonization of fellow Jews that statement represents. The man is right — Ahmadinejad is not the problem. There is, indeed, a threat different not only in degree but in kind, an existential one, facing the Jews in Israel, but it is not that slithering Persian snake and his mad pursuit of a nuclear device with which to bring about his dream of a world without Jews. It is there, of course, that the meeting of minds with Kobre ends, and a gaping chasm wider than all the universe opens between him and us.


The great catchphrase that has all the wise men, all the ostensible Gedolim, shaking their heads and clucking their tongues in unison, is “Daas Toyrah.” By this they mean that the burden of defending our nation has been determined by the Gedolim to be effected by those who learn in kollel.


We dissent. The crux of the matter is not who protects our nation, but who threatens it. And now, stand warned: I will pronounce what is for many Jews an insufferable heresy. True, we live today in a Torah-oriented Jewish world, in which “Daas Toyrah” is invoked endlessly to permit the airing of the most outrageous of views in Judaism’s name. As a result, there’s very little anymore that’s still regarded as blasphemous, but I’ll now say something that remains so: Nevuchadnetzar couldn’t destroy the Beis HaMikdash, nor can Ahmadinejad destroy Eretz Yisrael. Only Jews, those most spiritually potent of creatures, whose “feet are planted on earth, but whose heads reach the highest heavens,” can.


There, I said it. Actually, I didn’t say it — Rav Chaim Volozhiner did, in his Nefesh HaChaim (1:4). But please understand: In speaking thus, Rav Chaim, the Vilna Gaon’s prime disciple, was stating an axiomatic truth of the Judaism of the ages, albeit with a kabbalistic framework that was unknown to most of the Rishonim and strongly rejected by some. He was expressing a principle so fundamental to the Judaic worldview that it leaps from the pages of every sefer in Tanach and every masechta in Shas: Spiritual reality underlies — indeed, gives rise to — physical reality and thus is the far more real of the two, with the latter mirroring the former.


Welcome to Jewish reality — also known as reality according to the
non-Maimonidean rabbinic authorities — where spiritual causes bring about material effects, both positive and negative; where the “action” all takes place in the spiritual realms, with the ensuing this-worldly results, substantive as they seem to the human eye, being mere afterthoughts. Our deeds, ours alone, activate spiritual forces on high that, in turn, determine the course of human affairs.

Whatever your views may be on the particular issue of the Israeli draft, if you identify as a genuinely believing non-Maimonidean Torah Jew, you subscribe to this way of seeing the world, and it informs the way you live your life. It is why you insist on not working on Shabbos and Yom Tov, believing that G-d will bless your household for declaring Him Master of your destiny; it is why you pray thrice daily for all your needs; it is why you trade the so-called “high cost of Jewish living,” as expressed in money, time and convenience, for the riches of a spiritually elevated life that connects you to the Eternal One and through Him, to eternity.


And so, if we are to be religiously consistent, it is through the prism of this irreconcilable divide over the fundamental nature of reality that the attempt to avoid military service and working for a living must also be viewed. What most threatens Israel’s future existence? The Torah is unequivocal on this: Not an Iranian mushroom cloud, but Jews — and especially fervently religious ones, who are more accountable for their actions — acting un-Jewishly.


Incidentally, one need not be a benighted Religious Zionist, his big tomes of Scripture and Talmud in tow, to believe that Israel’s fate is bound up with its inhabitants’ conduct — one can even be, say, Eytan Kobre. Not unlike a Southern Baptist preacher, the lawyer-turned-Torah-spokesman has only the Gedolim to guide him, yet he has famously, and admirably, stated that he believes our claim to this land to be based on adherence to the Torah and Talmud. Well, now, they say “talk is cheap,” but ought he not to be held to his words?


So we open the Torah and read: “You shall observe all My decrees and all My ordinances and perform them; then the land to which I bring you will not disgorge you” (Vayikra 20:22). Let’s charitably assume for the moment that transgressing “all My decrees and all My ordinances” doesn’t, G-d forfend, include things like avoiding paying taxes and shirking military service without one of the Torah's explicit exemptions (as Moses himself said, "Shall your brothers go to war while you remain here?"). But surely, at a minimum, it refers to the litany of sins set forth in the immediately preceding verses: sexual immorality and all the rest.


So when we read that Agudath Israel has instructed rabbis not to report suspected pedophiles to the authorities without the permission of rabbis who have no training in such matters, and who have proven completely incompetent and to have covered up for molesters in the past, what are we to think? What does the estimable Mr. Kobre think of his community serving as a blight unto the nations? Does he ever ponder what the Author of Leviticus thinks of the fact that just minutes from Kobre's law practice in Brooklyn, countless minors are abused for unspeakable purposes — or can’t he spare a minute from plotting the next diatribe against the Zionists?


And what guarantees Israel’s safety? Jews acting like Jews and doing those things that Judaism teaches bring blessing and peace and sustenance and every manner of good fortune into the world. And among these, our Sages teach, none can remotely compare to Torah study for the protective merit and abundance of blessing it affords. Which is why one wonders why charedi yeshivos fled the beleaguered Ashdod and Netivot region as soon as troubles started with Gaza, and why they are so desperate for financial help from the Zionist government rather than relying upon the abundance of blessings afforded by Torah study. Perhaps it is because they are aware of the deficiency of their Torah study; as our Sages teach, Torah study is most beautiful when accompanied by derech eretz. Moreover, as wonderful as the modern invention of the kollel is for their contribution to the contemporary profusion of Torah learning, there’s no gainsaying the Torah's clear pronouncements, codified by Rambam: the only exemptions from military duty are for men with new homes, new vineyards or new wives, and not for those who wish to learn Torah. Furthermore,
there’s no gainsaying Chazal's clear pronouncements: kol Torah she'ain imo melachah sofo betelah vegoreres avon, any Torah that is not accompanied by work leads to neglect and sin; and that kol she'aino melamed es beno umnos ke'ilu melamdo listos, one who does not teach his son a trade is as though he has taught him to steal.

So let me understand: Now, as this fragile little country, whose 65-year history has been a string of wondrous miracles, faces the apocalypse being feverishly readied by the lunatic of Teheran, now is the opportune time to insist that the temporary measures invoked after the losses of the Holocaust must be concretized into a complete and permanent reformation of traditional Torah society? Now, with the returns of the Charedi project in, and the result a country where hundreds of thousands of Yidden are condemned to poverty with all its associated problems of shalom bayis, theft and other tragedies; where charedi youth are so disenchanted with the lifestyle that is forced upon them that many rebel and come to a tragic end in Yerushalayim’s holy streets; where the drive to segregate themselves from wider society is so strong that reporting serial molesters to the authorities is regarded as mesirah — and all the while vicious enemies encircle us — is this the moment to insist upon the negation of the traditional Jewish community, where working for a living is considered normative and praiseworthy, and everyone is united as one people to follow the Torah's laws and values which stand between us and a violent vomiting out of the inhabitants of this most spiritually sensitive of lands?


44 comments:

  1. "whose policies sought, quite simply, to end the Religious-Zionist community as we know it,"

    What is meant by this?

    Thanks.

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  2. I would change it to "Understand the first burden". After the sin of Adam and Chava, the first burden placed upon mankind was to work for a living to feed themselves and their families.

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  3. Wow I think you might have just killed him.

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  4. Brilliant job of smacking Kobre upside the head!

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  5. >>"whose policies sought, quite simply, to end the Religious-Zionist community as we know it,"

    >>What is meant by this?

    Getting rid of Religious Zionists from their rabbinate, and having marriage and geirus in the hands of people like Tropper.

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  6. Rabbi Eytan Kobre writes in his article:

    "Spiritual reality underlies — indeed, gives rise to — physical reality and thus is the far more real of the two, with the latter mirroring the former.

    Welcome to Jewish reality — also known as reality, period — where spiritual causes bring about material effects, both positive and negative; where the “action” all takes place in the spiritual realms, with the ensuing this-worldly results, substantive as they seem to the human eye, being mere afterthoughts. Our deeds, ours alone, activate spiritual forces on high that, in turn, determine the course of human affairs."

    *************

    Do not our our deeds originate in the physical world, not the spiritual world? Thus even if our deeds affect the spiritual world, which in turn affects the physical world, then isn't this the same as saying that our (physical) deeds, and not the spiritual world, is the ultimate cause of events in the physical world?

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  7. > Spiritual reality underlies — indeed, gives rise to — physical reality and thus is the far more real of the two, with the latter mirroring the former.

    Wasn’t that Plato’s idea?

    Isn’t Greek philosophy treif?

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  8. This post makes me sad. Both sides have valid points. I would have thought that as rationalists we would be able to do some brutally honest soul-searching and try to detect some common ground (through his admittedly condescending tone) instead of just "smacking Kobre upside the head" and mocking him by using his own insulting and hyperbolic language against him.

    Kobre thinks Religious Zionists are the problem, and Religious Zionists think Hareidim are the problem. We're both wrong - this polarization that is getting more extreme by the day is the problem.

    We must remember that indeed we do have common ground: the supremacy of Torah law and values in our worldviews, though we might disagree at times as to the exact parameters. Hillel told the potential convert "Love your neighbor as yourself - the rest is commentary." The Hareidim don't have a monopoly on forgetting this principle. Both they and we have a lot to learn about it.

    The quote from R' Chaim is very apt here, and can be explicated further thus: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

    Someone has to be the grown-up in the room and call for dialogue to work toward unity. If it won't be them, why can't it be us? Our goal doesn't have to be all or nothing. Live and let live will do just fine.

    At very least, can't we avoid using language like "smack him upside the head" and "you might have just killed him"? We are rationalists haggling in the marketplace of ideas, not bullies in a schoolyard.

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  9. I think that the simpler and perhaps more accurate counter-argument is to simply note that he makes no real argument and in fact kind of admits he doesn't have one.

    1) First he laments the fact that various "frum" voices agree with his intellectual enemies because it weakens his view this this is a conflict between believers and non-believers.

    2) The rest of the article lists out the various disagreements with his ideological opponents on issues like tolerance for homosexuals. Since this really has nothing to do with the draft, the best he can do is to ask "[is] now [...] the opportune time to drag talmidei chachamim from their shtenders with brute physical or fiscal force, in a grand social reengineering scheme?" It almost seems like he doesn't really believe strongly in what he is defending.

    The parody tries to turn this around to show that the Charedi community has its own problems, but I think that this is the wrong argument. The right one is: no one has the right to shirk risking his life for the common defense of the state regardless of community or his other merits.

    Disclaimer: As an American with no military experience, I have to plead somewhat guilty myself and cannot personally criticize anyone who fears service, although it is a bit different because we have an all-volunteer force.

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  10. "having marriage and geirus in the hands of people like Tropper."

    That the charedi gedolim wanted to put all conversions all over the world in the hands of Tropper is sufficient proof that they should not be automatically followed.

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  11. The problem is not those who are truly learning. Everyone admits that they should be exempted. In fact, the us exempted "theological students" even during WW2.Perhaps a good solution would be to make them an arm of the army rabbinate. The problems is the vast majority who are not.

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  12. Why do you fabricate a quote to Kobre? It doesn't do your post any good and it undermines the moral force of your post. If there are people in the mainstream Agudist (as opposed to Satmar/ Netureia Karta types) who state that Zionism is more of a danger than Ahmendinejad to Israel, find a real quote that says that. I didn't get that from Kobre's post at all. Shmulee

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  13. Kobre is a lawyer who has taken on a guilty client and must make the best of it.

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  14. "It is an astounding exercise in selfishness and self-destruction which, when practised by disadvantaged populations in inner-city America, we all recognize as a a tragedy."
    What on earth are you talking about?

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  15. Most of the Charedi press is simply making things up ("The Destruction of the Torah World", etc.). See my post I feel like it's 1984 ...

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  16. I wrote the blog post about the chareidi gadol's three prohibitions for Eretz Yisrael’s frum community. If you read the post you can see clearly that I was not agreeing with the prohibitions, but in fact I asked some very tough questions about them.

    The question that needs to be asked is where will the money come from? If job training, secular studies etc. are prohibited how will people make a living? Live on handouts? Is that really the traditional Jewish way?
    ...
    The Charedi world has this idea that everyone is out to get them, that the secular want them to become irreligious. IMHO, from my experience working in Israel (with mostly Chilonim) this is simply not true. In fact, my experience is that they respect the religious people that they interact with at work. The average Chiloni has no interest in making anyone irreligious.

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  17. Yes, I know. I was just trying to match Kobre's original language.

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  18. Oh please, "Unknown", get a life. Unless you're from Alabama you should have understood my statement metaphorically, ie "great comeback".

    Yes, we should find common ground with ALL people of good faith. Unfortunately, much of the Chareidi media and their apologists have gone berserk and become completely irrational, spouting cascades of lies and venom. These are not among the rational people who are capable of finding common ground. Their lies and hyperbole need to be exposed. And actually, Rabbi Slifkin's witty response is one of the gentler ways to do so.

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  19. "now is the opportune time to insist that the temporary measures invoked after the losses of the Holocaust must be concretized into a complete and permanent reformation of traditional Torah society?"

    This is a myth. There were never any such temporary measures after the Holocaust. The current system of kollel for the masses does not originate in the post-Holocaust era- it happened decades later. Here in Israel, before Begin, some 80% of charedim worked. Full time learning was limited to the elite. In the U.S., the mass kollel movement is the legacy of R' Schneur Kotler, not Rav Ahron who passed away in late 1962. Thus, in the U.S. the mass movement began some 20 years after the founding of BMG, in Israel it was 30 years after the Ben Gurion deal. This has little/nothing to do with rebuilding!

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  20. "
    Getting rid of Religious Zionists from their rabbinate, and having marriage and geirus in the hands of people like Tropper.

    May 27, 2013 at 1:11 AM"

    Hmm. Well, maybe I don't understand the issue fully, but I really don't see how that would "end" the religious zionist community. Maybe that's a bit of exaggeration? It seems to me like a power grab or consolidation of power for the haredi rabbis, sure, but how would it somehow end religious zionism?

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  21. It's just as valid as describing R. Dov Lipman as someone who is trying "to end the chareidi community as we know it."

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    1. But I am sure you would characterize such descriptions of R' Lipman as irresponsible. So should that be the standard that your writing strives for?

      Delete

  22. G*3 asked about the Platonic idea of the physical world mirroring the spiritual. The charge is leveled at Kabbalistic/chassidic ideas in general that they're simply neo-Platonic. Does anyone have any sort of information how these ideas entered into Jewish thought? I don't think the Ba'al Shem Tov read Plato's Republic.

    (I know that Yehudah HaLevi and Ibn Gabirol were considered neo-Platonic, but I want to know why/how that became mainstream in kabbalistic thinking.)

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  23. Yehuda, Google origins of the kabbalah by gershom scholem. There's a pdf ebook available. it's a bit dense and dated, but thorough.

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  24. It is widely accepted by poskim (in the Chareidi world and beyond)that Kol Korei's from Rva Elyashiv are not reliable.

    You know that yourself.

    How can you so deeply defame a G-dly man based on such a dubious source!

    RNS shame on you!

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  25. "It's just as valid as describing R. Dov Lipman as someone who is trying "to end the chareidi community as we know it.""

    Well, "just as valid" is obviously a relative term, but what if one doesn't consider the above - about Lipman - valid at all (which I don't) ?

    Are you saying the entire post is an ironic one directed towards those haredim who are overreacting to the draft? Maybe this whole thing just flew over my head.

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  26. Yes, you missed the point - click on the link at the beginning of the post.

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  27. Menachem Lipkin,

    I did understand your comment as metaphorical, and I stand by my point.

    I refuse to believe in the sort of mass insanity you allege. There are elements within the Hareidi camp that are convinced it's their way or the highway - there are those in any camp. But there are also those who, approached sincerely, with true intent for public good, will respond in kind.

    We have some very strong points, and they need to be said. All I'm saying is that we need to be willing to listen as well.

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  28. brooklyn refugee sheigitzMay 28, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    are you going to do the same thing to Jonathan Rosenblum's piece in the Forward?

    Don't you just love how the charedi community just loves getting BT spokesman with advanced Ivy League education to do their propaganda. No one ever bothers to ask how it is that the children of these people will probably finish high school with the reading comprehension level of a sixth grader (i bumped up two grades for having educated parents).

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  29. 1. It was absurd of Jewish Action to publish such an obsequious, centerpiece tribute to R. Elyashiv. Hardly any reader of that magazine subscribes to R. Elyashiv's viewpoint. Indeed, I was upset and angered to learn that the OU headed to him for its kashrus questions. Is it due to R. Elyashiv that the OU made the riddiculous decision to label as "dairy" food only made on dairy equiptment? Apparently we need a new hechsher, not obsessed with "high standards" (= chumrahs)

    2. At the same time, Eytan Kobre is right that it was foolish of JA to glorify a charedi woman going into the army. I saw at least one writer, Rabbi Reuven Spolter, wrote a letter to them this issue calling them out on it. It was wrong not only for the reasons Kobre correctly pointed out, but also because - like it or not, JA - women are not the same as men, and their obliogations and responsibilities are different.

    So in one article they write a paen to charedim, and in the next they take the exact opposite approach. that's not called "diverstiy of opinion", that called "a magazine that's losing its sense of direction."

    Gershon Pickles

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    1. Why is not "diversity of opinion"? Why can't I, a typical yuppie, barely-learned but loyal MO Jew, admire both R' Elyashiv and a Charedi woman in the army? The are both living lives more dedicated to Am Yisroel than mine or my neighbors.

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  30. Who now offers a vision detailing how the Jewish State can function with all its Jewish population sectors in harmony? What we appear to have instead are numerous visions of how to undercut the other guy while looking out for #1. The other guy lacks value unless he can be reprogrammed to think precisely as we do.

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  31. Old Jewish Grammar palMay 28, 2013 at 7:45 PM

    Would you entertain the thought of publishing a monograph on the difference between your way of speaking negatively on the Gedolei Yisroel and that of Korach's?
    The similarities are astounding.(except korach had 250 men where as judging by the responses to this post you only have 30)
    Nosson, this blogsite claims to follow the views of Rambam, have you ever researched the topic of being Mevaze Talmidei Chachamim according to the Rambam? Honestly? Nosson, no need to respond now, i want you to think about where you are going with this blog long and hard in bed tonight.
    Have you no shame?
    Do you realise that from the simple reading of Shulchan Oruch if you would have been around 400 years ago the Gedolim would have put you in a nidu for the way you speak on the ziknei hador?
    You cannot continue this way, seriously.
    Nosson, i have tears welling up in my eyes, you can do so much more with your life, is this what you want to be remembered for? by your 30 fans who cheer you on to give another jibe at the ziknei hador?

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  32. At least three thousand readers of this post, actually. Including many talmidei chachamim, even in the charedi world, who firmly agree with me. And, for the record, I have researched the topic of disputing talmidei chachamim extensively, including Rambam's views. Have you?

    The "Korach" card is easy to throw out, but why do you think that it applies to my side rather than your side? Why don't you throw it out against Kobre, whose language vis-a-vis other rabbonim I was merely copying? Maybe you're the Korach, for going against Chazal? Do you realize that if the charedi community had been around in the times of the Rishonim, they would have been blasted for going against the values of Chazal?

    Also, stop with this silly "Old Jewish Grammar pal" moniker. Have the guts to give your name, if you claim to actually be an old pal. It will also help you take more responsibility for your words.

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  33. The presumptousness of the more vocal elements in the Hareidi world is well illustrated by the commenter who apparently claims to be a childhood friend of Natan. The idea that people, who some have 'elected' to the status of gedolim, are equivalent to Moshe or even lesser prophets is astounding. The adage of the sages, "Yiftach bedoro keShmuel bedoro" is not truly relevant to those 'gedolim', but is instructive nonetheless. Yiftach was a formally recognized leader by an entire region of the Jewish people in the times of the Judges. Even so, his vow should never have been allowed to go into effect since it was both mistaken and destructive. How much more so should the poorly considered pronouncements of 'gedolim', recognized as such by only the Haredim, be subject to criticism and disregard. Not that this entitles anyone to heap abuse on talmidei chachamim. However, R' Natan is careful not to be guilty of such behavior. He has many sympathizers who fully support his views on the subject.

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  34. Does Kobre ponder what the Author of Leviticus thinks of the fact that just minutes from the Kanievski/Steinman/Ponovez/Kollel Hazon Ish abodes in Bnei Brak, thousands of women, including many minors, are bought and sold every day of the year in broad daylight for unspeakable purposes — or can’t he spare a minute from fighting the next yeshiva funding cut, thinking that more kollelim, rather than accepting communal responsibility and directly addressing social and moral problems will help the rest of Klal Yisroel?

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  35. G. Pickles,

    R. Spolter wrote about the working women article, not the chareidi soldier article.

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  36. If I may simply comment on the exercise Rabbi Slifkin- brilliant job deconsturcing that piece in mishpacha (is it mishpocha?) magazine.

    allow me to לחזק את ידך.

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  37. Avi Greengart,

    I'm talking about Reuven Spolter's letter to the editor in this edition.

    Pickles, G.

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  38. It's just as valid as describing R. Dov Lipman as someone who is trying "to end the chareidi community as we know it."

    Not quite. I think it's reasonable to say that Lipman is pro-actively trying to end the chareidi community as we know it.

    No, he doesn't want to make them irreligious or have them lose their sincere devotion. However, he wants to end the cycle of ignorance and dependence. That is also part of what unfortunately defines the Israeli chareidi world as we know it today. While, we believe that's a GOOD thing and furthering TORAH TRUE goals, it doesn't change the fact that Lipman is looking to bring change to their world as it exists today.

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  39. A very, very clever parody. What a shame that this Kobre guy will probably never read it or, if he does, that he will likely fail to grasp how incisively you've skewered his laughable article.

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  40. Clarification PleaseMay 31, 2013 at 5:50 AM

    What is non-Maimonidean about the concept of sechar v'onesh? I mean, isn't the idea that our spiritual state dictates our material blessings not only mefurash in numerable pesukim but also in numerous comments of Rashi, Ramban and yes, even the Rambam (for example perek 9 of hilchos teshuva)?
    You may disagree with certain actions by the charedi tzibbur, but it is clear that any Torah hashkafa must believe that Divine blessings (such as safe living conditions in Eretz Yisrael) are contingent upon our commitment to Torah and mitzvos. Of course we must do our hishtadlus too by having an army etc. but the Rambam writes quite clearly that if we learn and perform mitzvos properly, there will be no threat of war in the first place.

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