I am delighted to announce that my new book, “Repentance for Life,” has been published by Kodesh Press and is available for purchase at Kodeshpress.com, the finest stores and on line. It is most appropriate for this season of repentance. As part of the book release, the Five Towns Jewish Times interviewed me, and I present here their questions and my answers.
- What inspired you to enter Rabbanus?
It was always a dream of mine from the time I was a young. I had grown up watching my father Wallace Pruzansky a”h and then Rav Berel Wein both practice law and succeed in the Rabbinate. That became my career path as well, as an attorney and then a Rabbi. And I was privileged to learn from my rebbe muvhak, Rav Yisrael Chait of Yeshiva Bnei Torah of Far Rockaway, how to convey the timeless and sophisticated ideas of Torah in a way that would be receptive to modern minds. I owe all of them a great debt of gratitude. My objective always was to open minds to the majesty and profundity of Torah and try to shape the world according to the Torah.
- What are the most critical issues affecting Klal Yisrael in contemporary society?
We are now suffering the consequences of two generations of assimilation and intermarriage. Both have engendered a loss of Jewish identity (except in a shallow ethnic sense) and a concomitant distancing from Torah, mitzvot and support for Israel. Worse, estrangement from Judaism is perceived as just another choice. In a society where religion itself is not valued, and personal autonomy is cherished, Jewish commitment has become even harder to convey to children. It can only be reversed by conceding there is a problem – we are not there yet, outside the Orthodox world – and then focusing on Torah education and increased observance of mitzvot.
- To what do you attribute the insidious spread of anti-Semitism?
Jew hatred has been a persistent phenomenon, as the sages taught us, since we received the Torah at Sinai. The face and targets of the hatred change from time to time but it will exist until Moshiach comes. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks pointed out quite cogently, Jew hatred was first religious in nature, then it became racial and now it is nationalistic. There are Gentiles – to be sure, not all, and I believe not even most – who resent our existence, our faith, our connection to G-d, our value system, our homeland, our success and our status as the chosen people. They will never be mollified. Education can persuade a small handful of these enemies but most are implacable and uneducable.
- What can be done to quell this cancer?
Unfortunately there is no cure for what Jean Paul Sartre once called a “passion,” and therefore not subject to rational dialogue. Obviously, priority should be given to Jewish self-defense, especially in an era when the police have often retreated from confrontations with evildoers. What compounds the problem is that Jew hatred – alone among the hatreds of various ethnic groups – has its defenders, apologists and overt supporters. Only attacks on Jews are greeted by some voices, cited by the media, saying that “they deserved it.”
We should not have any illusions that there is a panacea. There isn’t. Jew hatred will always be a facet of exile and, ultimately, only Aliya solves the problem. That is not because there is no hatred of Jews in this part of the world – we know it exists – but at least in Israel the response to Jew hatred is building the future. It is a positive, affirmative response. In the exile, the response can only be defensive, with survival the sole purpose.
5. Do you feel that we, as Jews, should be more politically active? Please elaborate.
I have always thought it critical that Jews become active in politics, and not just for parochial Jewish interests like support for Israel or funding for Jewish education. The Torah presents to the world, through the Jewish people, G-d’s morality. We are privileged and obligated to disseminate that to the nations, especially in the current environment in which each person or group fabricates its own values and virtues – many of which are antithetical to Torah. We sell short ourselves and our mission when we are apathetic about the propagation of Torah values. Thus I am delighted to serve now as the Israel Region Vice President for the Coalition for Jewish Values that in just a few years has made quite a difference on the American scene.
- What was your objective in writing this book?
I wanted to share the thoughts on teshuvah that I had transmitted during the 26 years I was privileged to serve as spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, New Jersey. Frequently, at the conclusion of my Shabbat Shuvah Drashah people would come up to me and say, “you must publish this!” So, now I have!
- What are some of its unique aspects?
What struck me over the decades, and I think will surprise the reader, is the multifaceted nature of teshuvah. There are so many areas of life that can be enriched through probing the area of repentance generally. Teshuvah entails more than just feeling guilty, begging forgiveness, and moving on. It is life transforming, and done properly makes us better, wiser, and more thoughtful people. There are 18 essays in the book that encompass many of life’s issues and challenges, and repentance is at the core of all them – ranging from happiness, the ways of peace, love of Jews and the land of Israel to forgiveness, children, suffering, the world to come and fear of sin.
- What message would you like to convey to my readers?
We are on the cusp of a new world order. The last few years have shaken so many assumptions that we have about life. So much that we have taken for granted has been shattered. The norms of our lives have been upended. We should try to ascertain what the divine message is in all of this and act upon it. Perhaps the ideas contained in my book can facilitate in part our personal preparation for the new era that will soon dawn, we pray, with the coming of Moshiach.