Category Archives: Minhagim

“According to His Will”

     “This is the state of the contemporary Liberal world – the fear of giving offense has been self-inculcated in a group which must, now, consider literally every word and action for potential violation of the New Norms” (David Mamet, in The Secret Knowledge).

     That, as well as anything, explains the recent self-immolation of a colleague on the “Orthodox left” (perhaps, better, “left Orthodoxy”) who demeaned and denounced the daily blessing recited by men thanking G-d for “not having made me a woman” and opined that he has stopped saying it, in breach of a Jewish tradition that is several millennia old. Stealing from the non-Orthodox playbook, he castigated Orthodoxy for its “maltreatment” of women, and our “inherited prejudice that…women possess less innate dignity than men.” He even brazenly declared the blessing a “Desecration of G-d’s Name,” trampling any sense of propriety and humility and demonstrating the ability to leap over the spiritual giants of Jewish life in a single bound – quite a stupendous feat.

    To be sure, the condemnation of his remarks elicited from him a standard (and partial) retraction, apologizing for the stridency of the remarks but not their substance. This is the flip side of a fairly typical liberal criticism, the clichéd “it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it,” when, actually it is the substance, often irrefutable, that bothers them. Here, not only was the tone repugnant, but the sentiments were equally abhorrent – and were not only not withdrawn but educed defenders from the “left Orthodoxy” who are adept at finding the one source that seems to support their views (even if it doesn’t) and are blithely contemptuous of Jewish tradition, history, custom and the wisdom of our Sages. It is impossible to read his remarks without sensing that he perceives the Talmudic sages and their spiritual successors down to our day as, G-d forbid, small, bigoted, and immoral people who are his moral inferiors. One wonders why he can respect anything that they say, being so flawed, and why any of his students or congregants should care to study the opinions of those hopeless misogynists. A rabbi must have enormous self-confidence, to say the least, to set himself up as judge and jury over the guardians and transmitters of the divine word, and he must also be inordinately sensitive to feel pain when none is intended.

     Some of my learned colleagues have written eloquent articles about the provenance of this particular blessing, starting with the Yerushalmi (Brachot, Chapter 9) that explains it as referring to man’s obligation in Mitzvot that are numerically greater than those of a woman, a servant and a heathen. (See, e.g., Rav Dov Fischer at http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2011/08/08/who-hast-not-made-me-a-liberal-rabbi/). Another distinguished colleague wrote beautifully of an encounter with a woman who said that she loved the female version of the blessing – a woman correspondingly recites a blessing thanking G-d “for creating me according to his will.” She understood it as follows: women were the last entity created during the six days of creation, and therefore represented G-d’s special creation – the only entity created perfectly, “according to His will.” It is the man who recites wistfully that G-d did not make him a woman. Not only is that interpretation clever, creative, respectful of Chazal, and reflective of a joy and contentment with life, it also echoes Rav Hirsch’s commentary that women are spiritually superior to males and naturally closer to G-d than men are. I don’t have to agree – I think men and women are spiritually equal before G-d but just given different roles – to respect her satisfaction with her station in life. That is true love of G-d and love of Torah – the exact opposite of the embittered assault on Torah and Orthodoxy (among other sins – batei din, agunot, the lack of female rabbis, etc.) that emanated from the quarters mentioned above. The task of the Rabbi is to teach Torah to the unlearned, not reinforce their basest stereotypes, and one who chooses an interpretation of Chazal’s words that put them in a bad light, as opposed to teaching the many traditional interpretations that are holy and positive, is defining himself and his biases rather than the Torah. Indeed, it is peculiar that a rabbi who claims to be concerned with women’s spiritual dignity would find that dignity not in a uniquely feminine role but in rank mimicry of man’s role.

     We are living through a period of history in which “sensitivity” has become so acute that every word and deed is scrutinized by self-appointed moralists for even the possibility of offense, and in a world in which we try to co-exist with numerous individuals who are always taking offense about something or other. Some people are just thin-skinned, but today there are many who have no skin at all; they are just a bundle of raw nerves, claiming either victimhood or an unrestricted license to protect potential victims as they see it, and using that status as a club with which to beat the less-enlightened who do not share their views. There is little that, read a certain way, does not give offense, so here’s a brief list of blessings that the fastidious might also consider omitting:

     Blessed is Hashem…Hamelamed Torah l’amo Yisrael (who teaches Torah to His peopleIsrael) – might offend the world by singling out the Jewish people for our special relationship with G-d;

 …hamachzir neshamot lifgarim meitim (who restores souls to dead bodies) – might offend those who r”l die in their sleep;

She’lo asani goy (who did not make me a heathen) – might offend non-Jews;

She’lo asani aved (who did not make a slave) – might offend the working man;

 …pokeach ivrim – (who opens the eyes of the blind) – might offend the blind;

 …matir assurim – (who unties the bound) – might offend the incarcerated;
 … zokef kfufim – (who straightens the bent) – might offend the hunchback;

 …she’asa li kol tzarki – (who provides all our needs, i.e., shoes) – will offend Shoeless Joe Jackson;

… hameichin mitzadei gaver (who prepares the steps of man) – might offend the lame;
 …Ozer yisrael bigvura and oter yisrael b’tifara (who girdsIsrael with might, who adornsIsrael with splendor) – really offends non-Jews who apparently were not so blessed with might or splendor;

hanoten laya’ef koach (who gives strength to the weary) – will offend the exhausted who nonetheless wake up every morning;

Yotzer ha’meorot (who formed the luminaries) – offends evolutionists, and sounds too much like the claims of those right-wing creationists.

Habocher b’amo yisrael b’ahava (who chose His people Israel with love) – offends…well, it is obvious. There are many others. It is not that everyone will be offended by everything; it is rather that someone might be offended by some of them, and the sensitivity police will be on the case, poseurs all.

     And, of course, noten Hatorah (who gave us the Torah) – will offend those who do not believe that G-d actually gave us the Torah but assume it is a man-made ball of wax that can be shaped as they wish in order to conform to the prevailing political correctness of every generation.

   But I suppose that is the whole point of this exercise. My colleague prefers to abstain from this blessing citing the Rabbinic dictum “Shev v’al taaseh, adif” (“it is preferable to sit and not do…”) Of course, that dictum is our general recourse when we confront a conflict of laws – when an action will simultaneously fulfill and violate different commandments; it is does not at all relate to a case in which one chooses not to fulfill  mitzva because he has shamefully construed it as a “sin.” And what really is the source of the alleged sin, to add to Mamet’s quotation at the top ?

     One of my distinguished colleagues recently called attention to the introduction of the Steipler Gaon to his work “Chayei Olam.” The Steipler writes that too many Jews are spiritually perplexed – either a consequence of intellectual confusion or uncontrollable desires whetted by what they see in the world around them – and usually because they have gazed in the works of free-thinkers whose words are impure and transmit impurity, and this nonsense is retained in and shapes their minds. And then he writes (translation mine): “It is appropriate to respond to these confused individuals that do they really think that they are the first people ever to have these questions and doubts ? Does it take some genius to be thus confused ? Rather do you not understand that thousands of the giants of Israel in every generation wrestled with every possible question, doubt and angle – and yet their faith remained perfect and complete, in force, and they all served the will of their Creator with fear and reverence because their souls were pure and in the light of their understanding they saw the truth clearly – what is true and what is false and counterfeit… From the simple faith of all our Rabbis, you will be able to understand that for every question and doubt there are clear answers….”

     Part of humility is deference to those whose wisdom, deeds and moral attainments were greater than ours, and teachers of Torah should attempt to inculcate that deference – rather than affect an air of moral superiority. This most recent effort to impose the fleeting morality of modern times on the eternal values of Chazal does more than disparage generations of Jews – men and women – who properly understood the intellectual depth and moral goodness of our Sages; worse, it ordains every individual to pass ultimate judgment on every aspect of the Torah, filtering every detail through a subjective moral code that will differ from person to person. Such lacks more than just humility; it undermines the unity of the Jewish people, our faith in Torah, and our acceptance of the “yoke of the divine kingship.”

      Many have traveled down that road; few have returned. The substance is as shallow as the articulation was disgraceful. Both should be withdrawn, and the honor of our Sages and their formulation of our daily prayers, and the spiritual dignity of men and women, affirmed.

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Dating Self-Help

(This was originally published as an op-ed in the Jewish Press, on July 8, 2011.)

A recent piece posted on Matzav.com signed by “A Crying Bas Yisroel” chillingly lamented the plight of a young single woman, with fine personal qualities but without any family money or yichus, who sits forlornly waiting for her phone to ring with calls from shadchanim. Alas, the phone never rings, and for her, the shidduchsystem is an ongoing nightmare.

     Not coincidentally, but perhaps surprising to some, almost all the weddings I attended this past month were those of couples who had “long-term” relationships. They either met in high school or when high school age, or in Israel or their early college years, and almost all of them met on their own. They did not use shadchanim, but met the old-fashioned way: in healthy social settings where young men and women mingle naturally, without the pressure of “potential spouse” hovering over every encounter. That is not the norm in Jewish life these days, but perhaps it should be.
     That is not to say that the shidduch-system is failed, or failing, or broken. Too many people work too hard on setting up unmarrieds that it would be incorrect and insulting to say that it is broken. So it is not broken – but perhaps it should be a b’diavad (post facto) and not a l’chatchila (ab initio) system. L’chatchila, it would seem, Chazal emphasized that we should find our own mates. The Gemara (Kiddushin 2b) cites the pasuk “When a man takes a woman [in marriage]” and explains “darko shel ish l’chazer al ha-isha,” it is the way of men to pursue women [in marriage]. It is not the way of men, or shouldn’t be, to enlist a band of agents, intermediaries, and attorneys to do the work for them. By infantilizing and emasculating our males, we have complicated a process that should be simpler and made a joyous time into one of relentless anguish and hardship for many women.
    This is reminiscent of the life story of a pathetic man we recently encountered in the weekly Torah reading – Ohn ben Pelet. The Gemara  (Sanhedrin 109b) states that “ishto hitzilato”his wife saved him from the clutches of Korach. Ohn was an original co-conspirator who is not mentioned again after the first verse, because his wife explained to him the foolishness of his conduct (Ohn loses if Moshe wins and gains nothing if Korach prevails), prevented him from joining his fellow conspirators, and, as the Midrash adds, held onto his bed to prevent the ground from swallowing Ohn and then dragged him to Moshe to beg forgiveness. Ohn was a sad excuse of a man.
     Mrs. Ohn, in effect, saved her husband not only from Korach but also from himself. The problem with Ohn is that he perceived himself as an object, and not a subject or an actor. Ohn wasn’t a leader – he was a born follower, just an object for others to use, He just allowed himself to be yanked along by anyone – for evil and for good. He was just part of the crowd, the personification of the personality of weakness, dependence and self-abnegation. He took no responsibility for his own destiny.  An object is a tool of others; a subject is the master of his destiny. In the realm of dating and marriage, we are breeding Ohn’s by the thousands by freeing men from their obligation to pursue their potential spouses, and thereby relegating women to the dependent role of passively waiting to be the chosen one. Why do we do that, and is there a better option ?
    Some will argue that the shidduch system spares our children the pain of rejection – but part of life, and a huge part of parenting, is preparing our children for a world in which they will experience rejection at some point. That is called maturity.
     Others will argue, with greater cogency, that we prevent young men and women from sinning. Relationships that begin when couples are younger, or friendships that start outside the framework of parental supervision, can induce or lead to inappropriate behavior. That possibility is undoubtedly true, but can be rectified by applying a novel concept called “self-control,” which in any event is the hallmark of the Torah Jew. We do not tell people to avoid The Home Depot even if one wants to buy a hammer lest he shoplift some nails, nor do we admonish others not to shop in Pathmark because one might be led to sin by the aroma of non-kosher foods. Self-control and discipline are routine components of the life of a Jew. And, even granting that “there is no guardian for promiscuity,” it should still be feasible for a young man to talk to or display his personal charms to a woman without assaulting her.
     Sad to say, there is a promiscuity problem, even among some of our high school youth and certainly in college, that cannot be swept away. It can be resolved if parents take responsibility and sit down with their sons and teach them how to respect women – and sit down with their daughters and teach them how to respect themselves.
    Something is not normal, and against human nature as Chazal perceived it, for men to be so diffident, so timid, so Ohn-like, and sit back comfortably relying on others to procure them dates. Young men who would not allow others to choose for them a lulav and etrog do not hesitate to delegate others to find them a spouse. This also unduly delays their fulfillment of the commandment of Pru u’rvu (procreation). And something is not normal, and frankly, unfair, that young women have to sit by the phone for weeks and months waiting to be contacted by agents. As well-meaning as the system intends, it must be demeaning and deflating – worse than even the rejection that happens after casual encounters.
    What is the solution, or the other option? For those people currently of age and in the system, or for communities that would accept only the shidduch­-system, there is no other solution but to redouble our efforts. They will reap the reward, and also, sadly, the misery of those who choose to be passive in life. Obviously, unmarried men and women should be seated together at weddings to facilitate more natural, pressure-free encounters; it is so obvious, it is surprising that it is even debated.
    But for younger people today – say, older teens – there has to be a better way. The paradigm of “don’t smile/talk/socialize/date” until one is ready for marriage constricts the capacity of our young people to assume responsibility for their own lives. Many will disagree with me, even among my colleagues, but if we wish to minimize the heartbreak of so many of our young people, we must find healthy ways of encouraging interaction between teenagers – in shuls, in schools, in youth groups. We have to de-stigmatize self-help and personal initiative. For example, at a shul Kiddush, it should not be construed as abnormal or off-putting if a young man approaches a young woman who has caught his eye, and asks her name, and “would you like a piece of kugel?” That should be normal; at one point, that was darko shel ish. Indeed, that should be even more normal among people of marriageable age, and would consign the shidduch­-system to its appropriate b’diavad status, for people who have not been able to meet on their own. Perhaps the young woman whose lament was featured above should take similar initiatives as well.
     Dating at too young an age is certainly problematic, but teenagers who learn to socialize in groups demystify the opposite sex and learn appropriate boundaries, communication skills and modes of interaction. Such contact makes males more sensitive, and helps them learn at an early age that a young woman is not a shtender, in the Steipler’s elegant phrase, or a vehicle for their own gratification, in the modern lexicon. It certainly helps prepare a couple for marriage if they know each other longer than three weeks or three months, and the recent spate of broken engagements and early divorces in the Jewish world would tend to confirm that. And conversely, the plethora of recent weddings of couples in our community who know each other for years would corroborate that as well.
      I am mindful of the opinions of the gedolim who proscribe any male-female interaction before one is ready to marry, and those gedolim who permit such contact in controlled settings. As a community we have other options than the false choice of isolationism or promiscuity, and we need to strengthen our young men with the inner confidence to guide their own lives. There are too many people walking around with Y chromosomes who are not men. They have an Ohn-like existence, sitting back comfortably and letting others plot their destiny in life. They will never be masters, only objects who cannot lead or build or create. That does not bode well for Klal Yisrael.
      May Hashem bless with success the work of all shadchanim. But we need to shift the culture away from the passive indifference of the well-connected to the active pursuit of spouses by all, and thereby mold more assertive men and more confident women. That is because more is expected of us – as a nation that is called by G-d for greatness not mediocrity, to be active not passive, to be followers of G-d and leaders of mankind.

Rubber Band

       The Torah is defined as flint, a hard stone that is sturdy and unbreakable. It is therefore ironic that 5770 saw the Torah stretched as a rubber band, with the extremes causing the fraying of the bonds of Torah and Klal Yisrael and with no respite in sight.

       Take the women’s issues, for one. On the left of the rubber band, Orthodoxy was stretched to the breaking point, and likely beyond it, by such non-Orthodox innovations as female clergy and female prayer leaders. The negative reaction from the Torah community was as swift as it was unequivocal (as unequivocal as a free-thinking, stubborn nation can ever get), leading to the freezing of both innovations for the foreseeable future, if not permanently. (Why do I have the sense that there is more coming ?) While the retreat was alternately portrayed as either tactical or substantive, the bottom line was the same: an admission by the innovators that such actions have no place within the framework of the faithful Torah community.

    While the leftists were inappropriately shoving women into the public domain, the Haredi community in Israel was inappropriately shoving women far into the private domain. The right of the rubber band was stretched (broken ?) so that the Torah became unrecognizable. The trends started several years back, but became exacerbated in the recent past. There are Israeli communities these days with restaurants that have no public seating, lest it lead, I suppose, to mixed eating. It is a terrible infringement on normal family life, part of which involves families eating out together or husbands and wives taking time together. The Mehadrin bus lines that have become popular furthered this trend, with separate seating for women in the back (bad symbolism, there).

     The latter entered the public fray again with the recent announcement that the new, long-delayed (and I mean, long-delayed) light rail in Yerushalayim will have Mehadrin cars as well, with separate seating for men and women. This prompted the usual litany of complaints about the encroachment of religious law in the public sector, and about the coercive nature of that community. In truth, I understand the economics of both: faced with a choice of the Haredim starting their own transportation system or accommodating their requests, Egged simply catered to their customers and gave them what they wanted – a Mehadrin line. That makes good business sense. So, too, the director of the new light-rail system said that if Haredim boycott the light-rail, it will fail – so, again, a prudent business decision was made, although it would seem more logical to me to have separate female and male cars on the light-rail, rather than force women to the back of one car.

    It is the religious imperative of such a setup that escapes me. Where exactly does the Talmud, the Rambam, the Shulchan Aruch mandate such a separation in the public realm ? Rav Moshe Feinstein famously wrote that incidental contact even on crowded public transportation is sexually innocuous. Normal people are unaffected by it, and generations of pious Jews conducted themselves accordingly. One wonders what has changed. Just because something can be done – by sheer numbers of consumers – does not mean it should be done, and certainly not on a religious basis.

     Some argue that the Torah may not mandate such separations, but tzniut (Jewish modesty) always strives for higher standards. Yet, a group of Haredi rabbis recently prohibited the wearing of the burqa (only eye slits are visible), which a group of peculiar Jewish women in the Bet Shemesh area have donned, saying that Jewish law does not require such concealment. But on what grounds can it be prohibited ? The Torah certainly does not prohibit or demand it. As we have seen on the left side of the rubber band, just because something is not explicitly prohibited does not make it permissible, prudent, or sensible. There are customs and values that define the Torah community, and we twist and elongate that rubber band at our peril. Eventually, it snaps, and we become a people that are defined by our eccentricities rather than our wisdom, by behavior that is weird rather than rational, and by our segregation from society rather than by our integration in it and elevation of it.

     It is sociologically fascinating that it was the Edah Hacharedis that put the kibosh on the burqa, apparently sensing intuitively that this was beyond the pale. Certainly, nothing is simple, and the overreaction on the part of the Haredim can easily be seen as a response to the laxity in moral matters and relations between the sexes that characterizes much of Modern Orthodoxy, and of course the general society. In some quarters, tzniut  is openly derided, even as in other quarters it is taken to unprecedented excesses. And it goes without saying (all right, I’ll say it), that everyone fancies himself/herself in the sane, normal, mainstream, broad-middle of the Bell Curve. (My Rebbi used to say, accordingly, that each person feels that someone driving faster than him is a maniac, and someone slower than him is an idiot. Each person thinks he drives at the optimum speed.) But we do see how the extremes, right and left, dim the light of Torah and drive away Jews who unthinkingly perceive the Torah as having no real norms – subject to the whims of every generation and fad – or having no real limits in its demands on us.

    Rav Soloveitchik said it well, in “U’vikashtem Misham” (Ktav, page 54): “This is the tragedy of modern man: that, instead of subordinating himself to God, he tries to subordinate his God to his own everyday needs and the fulfillment of his gross lusts.” Or, said another way, in an exaggerated fear of his gross lusts. The Torah gave us the perfect prescription for all our needs – spiritual, moral, ethical, social, psychological and physical. As the New Year begins, it behooves all of us to reinforce the rubber band, find joy and fulfillment in the Torah we were given and not one we create ourselves, and find true service of Hashem in our subordination to His will.

With blessings for a shana tova, a good, happy and healthy year for all.

Modiin Journal #4 – Religious Life

This piece also dates from my mini-sabbatical in 2007, and… I wouldn’t change a word ! 

     The most noticeable change in the daily davening routine is the Birkat Kohanim that occurs every morning (twice on Shabbat) in Israel, except in a few isolated places. As a Levi charged with hand-washing duty, I step outside during every Chazarat Hashatz to take care of business, and, aside from the occasional bout of Carpal-tunnel syndrome (one shul had 18 kohanim !), I enjoy it immensely. The daily blessing is a feature of life that we do not have in the exile, and for reasons that are entirely unclear.

      While there are scattered Sefaradic congregations in the exile that duchan every day, the prevailing custom follows the opinion of the Rema (Shulchan Orach,  Orach Chaim 128:44): “It is customary in these countries that the kohanim do not lift their hands except on festivals, because then people are immersed in the jubilation of the festivals, and [only] the good-hearted person can bless. On the other days of the year – even on Shabbat – people are overwrought with concerns about sustenance and losing time from work …” And in Israel they are always cheerful, and not running off to work ?!

     This inference, needless to say, has been the source of enormous controversy – especially since Birkat Kohanim is incumbent on kohanim, one of the 613 commandments, and essentially not at all related to happiness or joy. The Gemara, for example, never mentions that the fulfillment of this mitzva is dependent on a joyous state, any more than any other Mitzva, or that an absence of joy precludes its observance. There have been several attempts among Ashkenazim to restore the daily practice even in the exile – and all have failed. Most famously, the Gaon of Vilna endeavored to do it, finding the traditional custom unsubstantiated, but the night before the practice was to have been reinstituted in Vilna, the Gaon was arrested on unrelated charges. He interpreted this as a sign from Heaven to desist.

      The Aruch Hashulchan (128:64) says there is no good reason why we do not duchan, calling it a “minhag garua” (terrible custom) – but says that it is as if it has been decreed from Heaven that in the exile we refrain from this daily blessing. The question is why, and what does all this have to do with happiness ?

       Jewish life here has a natural rhythm to it – part similar and part dissimilar to our experiences. We all have shuls, the davening is the same (except for the above), the noise during davening is about the same, and the forms of mitzvot are identical. There is an ease to the observance of kashrut here – restaurants and marketplaces – but, truth be told, it is easy in Teaneck too. But there is a welcome change in Israel that has happened so gradually that it has taken some people by surprise, and left others in denial. Here is a headline from last Friday’s Jerusalem Post: “Drastic Decline in Israelis who define themselves as Secular.” The Israel Democracy Institute reported that whereas in 1974, 41% of Israelis saw themselves as secular, that figure has decreased to 20% – with the religious population at 33% (but 39% under the age of 40 !) and the traditional at 47%. That is a sea change, and, of course, completely unreflected in the public persona of the state. That 20% secular population controls – with a stranglehold through manipulation of the law and the political system – the government, the army, the media, the police and the judiciary – and partly explains their current desperation to surrender to the Arabs at any cost and in defiance of all logic. But the effect of the demographic shift has a ripple effect on the rest of society. The ubiquity of religious Jews here is a sharp contrast to what we are used to – even in New Jersey.

       Modiin is a mixed city, and we live on an especially heterogeneous street – with religious and not(-yet?) religious Jews, Israelis and Anglos, Ashkenazim and Sefaradim. Of the many reasons we chose to live in Modiin, one was my desire not to live in an exclusively religious neighborhood as one finds in most parts of Israel. The cloistering of religious life is not a healthy development, and pleasant interactions in a mixed neighborhood can only bode well for co-existence and harmony among all Jews. “Live and let live” sounds reasonable to us, but, trust me, it is a revolutionary concept in the Middle East. On Israel Radio’s Reshet Aleph, the evening’s all-religious programming is termed Reshet Moreshet (literally, Heritage Network), with the catchphrase: “L’kal Yisrael yesh moreshet achat – All Israel has one heritage”. Indeed.

     That is not to say that there aren’t tensions that arise from two divergent world views. But the local disputes, such as there are, are understandable even in an American context: competition for slices of the municipal pie. Should vacant land be used to build a library or a shul, should another plot be a Chareidi elementary school or a religious-Zionist high school, should a temporary shul housed in a school be dislodged so the school can have a computer room ? The reality is that Modiin began 12 years ago with a tiny religious population that has grown exponentially in the last few years (including a disproportionate number of Teanecker’s !), and the current religious population is woefully underserved in terms of its religious needs. But that will surely change in the years ahead, as the politics and the politicians adjust to the new realities – and this is true not only in Modiin but elsewhere in Israel as well.

 

      What Israel lacks most is the sense of religious community that we have, for example, in Teaneck. Whereas our lives can revolve around the shul, and there is a community rabbi to whom we turn, that institution is mostly lacking in Israel, and American expatriates always tell me that is what they miss most. There is a nearby shul located on Shabbat in a school (known to the Israelis as the “American shul”), where they are trying to replicate that American-Jewish experience, with a fine young Rabbi, social and youth activities, shiurim, ruach, etc. – and they are in the early stages of what will surely be a successful endeavor and hopefully a template that other communities can emulate.

 

      But without a central Rabbinic figure, most shuls remain lay-driven (with all the positives and negatives that portends). They exist as a place to daven, period. (A Yemenite Jew, who had duchened – I had washed his hands – was called up for revi’i. When I inquired, the gabbai said he had wondered the same thing, and perhaps the Yemenites have a custom that the kohen can get any aliya. I responded that perhaps the Yemenites have a custom that a Yisrael can duchan too !) Without a central authority, strange things can happen.

 

      The bright side is that people become more involved because the success of each minyan depends on every person. While the local shul here remains to be built, there are minyanim on the street, and an especially beautiful Maariv minyan every night at 9:30 P.M. under the stars in the park on our corner. Literally out of the darkness within a minute from 9:29 P.M., approximately 25-30 people materialize, face Yerushalayim, and daven in the crisp evening air. In addition to a Monday night shiur in English, I have been asked to speak in several shuls (in Hebrew) on a number of occasions – and I have, surely coining a few heretofore unknown Hebrew words in the process.

 

      Religious life, then, is suffused with normalcy, except for the realization – by most people but especially olim – that to build Jewish life in the land of Israel is historic, momentous, and – there is no other way to say it – the way it is supposed to be. And perhaps that is what the Rema meant. Simcha is a sense of contentment and completeness about life, in which an aura of purposefulness and meaning prevails. The Birkat Kohanim reflect that state of being, and when we abstain from Birkat Kohanim in the exile – except when immersed in the joy and sanctity of Yom Tov – we recognize that we either can not or should not have that sense of completeness – the full blessings of Jewish life – on a regular basis.

 

       That feeling is limited to when the Jewish people live in Israel, fulfill the Torah and serve G-d in all aspects of life – as will be the destiny of all Jews, we pray, in the near future.                   

                                         Shabbat Shalom from Modiin !