The Forecast

     The likeliest outcome of this week’s election in Israel is that there will be no outcome. It doesn’t take an Einstein to realize that it is insane to do the same thing again and again and expect a different result. I am excited to be a new voter; by the next election – oh, perhaps after Succot – I will already be a veteran voter.

     That being said, there are certain points worthy of mention. The campaign has been devoid of issues except for one: “for Bibi” or “against Bibi.” It is as shallow as it sounds. The working assumption is that the Likud will again be the largest party. PM Netanyahu’s base is solid and its support for him is personal. It deems the endless media attacks on him and his legal woes as venomous fabrications. It is a populist support that should sound familiar to any American.

      Netanyahu’s run has been remarkable. On May 9, 2021, he will have served as prime minister consecutively longer than FDR served as the American president. But in a parliamentary democracy, that is astonishing and almost without parallel in the world. Angela Merkel has served as Germany’s Chancellor since 2005 but they hold elections every four years, like clockwork (it is Germany, after all) and the choice is binary. Italy, a fractious democracy like Israel, has had seven prime ministers in the twelve plus years that Netanyahu has been prime minister of Israel. He has “won” seven straight elections.

     That is not just a testament to his political skills, which alone could educate less gifted politicians. Timing the election so that Israel both acquired the Corona vaccines and distributed them flawlessly – an election on the cusp of a return to normalcy, springtime is here, Pesach days away – is exquisite, a case study in political management. And he projects an aura of leadership both because of his personal qualities and his longevity. Israeli teenagers have known no other prime minister. That is astounding.

    Timing, in life, also requires knowing when to step aside, and the longer Netanyahu has served the more vehement and angry his detractors have become. What infuriates them is that Netanyahu’s tenure has been marked by notable successes – a booming economy, a dramatic decline in terror, peace agreements with four Arab states, pressure on Iran, the relative absence of war, increasing integration of Haredim in the army and the work force, low unemployment (pre-pandemic) and others. What should infuriate others are the missed opportunities and the political zigzags that are products mostly of opportunism and unscrupulousness. Netanyahu has never failed to reach out to left-wing rivals who had condemned him during the campaigns to avoid forming a right-wing government. He has usually perceived his right-wing ideological allies (especially the Religious Zionists in whatever political form) as expendable, and only useful if his sole alternative is political oblivion. Those non-right wing saviors have included Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz and others. His only stable alliances on the right have been the religious right – the Haredi parties whose interests are parochial and frequently mercenary.

     And the missed opportunities are legion. Hamas and Hezbollah are not vanquished but are stronger. They have recovered from all the skirmishes and their threats loom on the northern and southern borders. What else? Extending Israeli sovereignty to Judea and Samaria in whole or in part, and even applying civil rather than military administration to Israeli residents there; reining in the excesses of the Supreme Court by limiting their jurisdiction (now infinite) and their authority to review and reject Knesset legislation (at least until such time as Marbury and Madison make aliya); preserving Jewish identity in matters of conversion, marriage, divorce, aliya, the Kotel, etc., instead of just kicking these cans down the road; giving secular American Jews veto power over Israeli initiatives, not recognizing that their own houses are in disarray and, as such, it would be disastrous to import their ideology and ideas to Israel; allowing housing prices to so escalate as to price the average Israeli out of the housing market. And there are others as well, engendering the conclusion that Netanyahu has often talked more boldly than he has acted and his default position has often been passivity, letting problems fester rather than taking a position and risk angering some group or another.

      His coalition choices have shown him to be so malleable that, given his outreach to Arab Israelis in this election in order to offset his loss of some right wing votes to Gideon Saar’s party, it is within the realm of reason that to reach the threshold of 61 mandates to form a government, he will reach out to the “moderate” Ra’am Arab party if they enter the Knesset. That would be a first, earth-shaking, but quite possible. Of course, it bears recollection that just in the recent past Netanyahu supported the expulsion from Gaza and then opposed it, supported the two-state illusion and then opposed it, so where he winds up in any term on any particular issue is somewhat speculative.

      There are other nuances that characterize this election. Each election finds some new parties competing, and this election’s flavor of the month is Gideon Saar’s “New Hope” party. It is as if “hope” alone is insufficient, but his electoral prospects are already diminishing. The leftist parties are in danger of disappearing, simply because their ideology speaks to fewer and fewer Israelis and their proposed concessions for “peace” even fewer. Yair Lapid’s “Yesh Atid” (“There is a Future”) party has endured more than a decade because, among other reasons, he presents the most compelling party name: “There is a Future.” That logic is irrefutable. Avigdor Lieberman’s “Yisrael Beteinu” has morphed from an anti-Arab party to an anti-Haredi party. Give him credit for honesty: he makes no effort to conceal his hatreds. But it is jarring to see his advertisements which our negative without even a glimmer of positivity or platform: “a government without Haredim.” That is disgraceful.

      The oddity of the Haredi parties is their seemingly fixed share of the electorate even as their percentage of the population escalates, to the chagrin of Lieberman. From four seats in 1977 (Agudat Yisrael), to seven in 2013 (as UTJ) to seven today with projections either seven or six seats in this election, they don’t seem to mobilize their base and certainly not attract any support beyond their base. Granted, I personally witnessed last week amusing signs in Meah Shearim prohibiting any Jew from voting in their “impure Zionist elections” but I don’t that influences more than a relative handful of people. Nor do their voters respond reflexively to the mandates of their rabbanim, the mythology of the seculars notwithstanding. Where are those voters?

     An analogous but somewhat more comprehensible enigma is the struggle of the Religious Zionist parties in increasing their share of the vote – even crossing the electoral threshold. As noted here, the religious Zionists are victims of their own success in integrating themselves and their values into the Israeli mainstream, even if they frequently tend to moderate or suppress those values on occasion. There are religious Zionists in a half dozen political parties and the RZ voter is not easily pigeon-holed. The most cherished values of Religious Zionism are not necessarily shared by every religious Zionist. People content themselves with being generally supportive, 80%, but that missing 20% can make the difference between having a truly Jewish state or just a gathering place of Jews.

     Thus, the capable Naftali Bennett, who has always drawn Netanyahu’s ire, is attempting again to reach out to the general voters while retaining his RZ base, a neat trick if he can pull it off. The danger has always been that he then presents his party as “Likud B,” which lures potential voters back into the camp of “Likud A.” The only truly RZ party defiantly calls itself for this election “the Religious Zionist Party,” so there should not be any doubt about it. And even that party, led by the talented Betzalel Smotrich, has its RZ critics because it linked up with even further right wing parties so those votes should not go to waste, an entirely plausible proposition that seems to trouble those who seek ideological purity.

      That too remains the outstanding feature of this election, so humdrum because of its redundancy that it has attracted little international interest. Every party except for Naftali Bennett’s Yamina has underscored with whom it will not sit, leading to a macabre game of musical chairs in which, when the music stops, not enough people are sitting and so there is no government. If only more parties and people here would adopt Ronald Reagan’s aphorism: “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally – not a 20 percent traitor.”

     The formation of a government will rest on a very narrow margin – a seat or two or three – but there is no reason to assume that there will not be another election in the fall, as long as PM Netanyahu heads the Likud ticket. If Moshe himself found his people ungovernable, what are we to say? At least let us find the common ground that unites us and build on that.

Jewish and Democratic

      Israel has long identified as a Jewish and democratic state (or democratic and Jewish, depending on one’s preferences). It is a point of distinction and pride, and notwithstanding that the definitions occasionally collide and sometimes co-exist uneasily, it is an admirable aspiration. They are certainly not incompatible although care should be taken to fully understand the areas of tension. The sources of law of each are different. A Jewish state contains within it some element of religious coercion even as a democratic state contains within it even a larger element of secular coercion.

     A key societal debate is the question of which definition will prevail in case of conflict: will Israel’s Jewishness be whittled down in order to accommodate its democratic yearnings or will some principles of democracy be minimized in order to maintain its Jewishness? This is a worthy debate that is almost never had.

     In fact, it is assumed by the elitists that democracy is the greater value. Their desire is that Israel be Jewish but not too Jewish, Jewish enough to distinguish itself from the rest of the world but not too Jewish that the practices, ideals and true values of the Torah should be incorporated in the governance of the State except in some loose, platitudinous way. In other words, Jewish in name but not in fact. Great care is taken that the “Jewish” part of the equation does not dominate and encroach on the “democratic” part, and that is a persistent interest and endeavor of the High Court. The State’s Jewishness, and its effect on the citizenry, are constantly measured.

     It is the “democratic” element that is rarely assessed, and that bears some analysis.

     We should be mindful of Winston Churchill’s aphorism that “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Nevertheless, clichés aside, it is certainly true that we are subject to “rule (kratos) of the people (demos)” in some form. The repeated elections foster the illusion that the people are ruling when in fact we are just voting, not ruling. The elections are usually inconclusive and there is no guarantee that the party we vote for will maintain its platform or principles once the election has passed. (Ariel Sharon’s “the fate of Netzarim is the fate of Tel Aviv” is only the most egregious example of a campaign promise not just violated –that always happens – but literally turned on its head.) It is merely being pointed out, without commenting on the merits, that despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s campaign assertion that the other parties similar in ideology to his “will form a coalition with Lapid,” to date he is the only prime minister to actually “form a coalition with Lapid,” something he did in 2013. Again, this is not a comment on the merits, just on the facts.

     It is also true that people’s patience for democracy wavers with the results. The ubiquitous protests against Prime Minister Netanyahu always call him a “threat” to democracy, perhaps unmindful, certainly unappreciative, of the fact that the demos keeps returning him to power. That is democracy, like it or not. Which is not to say that such a result is actually democratic, for the reality is that because of the vagaries of the parliamentary system of government, the Likud ruling party in the last election received less than 30% of the vote. That means that more than 70% of Israelis preferred someone else as prime minister, one reason that fuels the endless demonstrations.

     The more important breach of democratic norms occurs in the disproportionate power wielded by the judicial branch of government. The power of the Attorney-General is almost unbridled. He and he alone can decide whom to prosecute and for what crimes, which ministers can serve in the Cabinet, which laws should be passed by the Knesset and which laws he will overrule and many other vital aspects of governance. Proposed Knesset legislation is often quashed without a vote being taken for fear that the law in question will not pass muster with the AG, who after all is unelected to his position. He sits in judgment of Cabinet decisions and Knesset legislation. That is undemocratic.

      If the real source of power is unelected and irremovable, then democracy becomes a cliché and not a reality. On some level, it makes these incessant elections superfluous. We would be better off randomly choosing 120 teudot zehut numbers to serve in the Knesset and voting on who should be the Attorney-General as the kratos – the real rule and source of authority – rests with him. That is undemocratic.

      Ditto the imbalanced power of the Supreme Court that rules Knesset laws unconstitutional without there being a formal constitution. Those are the laws that are passed by the people’s house, the one true element of pure democracy. But the people’s house has been neutered. The unlimited standing rules give almost immediate access to the Court to anyone with a grievance. It allows the Court to sit in judgment of military decisions, budget issues, traffic patterns, matters of halacha, Knesset legislation, political appointments and a host of other matters not generally within the purview of a nation’s highest court. It is also unelected and for the most part, despite efforts to reform it, its members still have undue influence in appointing their successors. Politicians who question this setup often find themselves under investigation. That has stifled reform efforts. Prosecution becomes persecution when it lasts for years and years and is applied capriciously. There are no checks and balances. Power is in the hands of the unelected. The people get to vote again and again –but nothing changes. This too is undemocratic.

     For all the fear on the left of the Jewish state becoming too Jewish, there is not enough attention paid to the democracy becoming undemocratic. The ease with which individual and civil liberties were stifled in the past year in many democracies across the world, including in Israel, is actually mind-blowing, frightening in its scope and implications. Destroyed businesses, lost jobs and income, shuttered schools and shuls, troubled homes and children, home confinement and inability to travel all came from the heavy hand of government – all in the name of safety and all with uncertain results, as the latest literature confirms. Places without Draconian lockdowns fared as well or even better than places that drastically curbed their citizens’ freedom of movement.  All the while, the political class largely did not feel itself bound by these same regulations, routinely took liberties, and when caught apologized profusely but without real consequence.

     It is as if it is enough to extol “democracy” without actually being one, just like it is enough to declare we are a Jewish state without actually being one. It was Ahad Haam who first pointed out the difference between a Jewish state and a state of Jews. The latter is a refuge; the former is the fulfillment of the prophetic vision. How then do we ensure Israel’s success as a Jewish and democratic state?

     Power must be restored to the people, first by passing the Override Law that limits the Supreme Court’s review of Knesset legislation. Second, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court must be rigorously defined and unlimited standing curtailed. Not everyone with a grievance should have access to the highest court in the land but only those with “cases and controversies,” people directly affected by legislation or an official act and not just those who are offended by something. Third, the existence of both an Attorney General and a Minister of Justice is redundant and, under present conditions, just enables the mischief of the former – whoever he or she might be – in the form of unchecked pronouncements and power grabs. If he is to be the most powerful person in the land, then let the people vote on him.

     Israel’s definition as a Jewish state also needs to be reinforced.  With fundamentals of Judaism under assault in Israel – the sanctity of Shabbat and the definition of Jewish identity are at the top of the list –  Israel is becoming less and less a Jewish state even as it is becoming less and less a democracy. Shabbat must be observed in public as that is an essential definition of Jewishness. All organs that have a state imprimatur rest on Shabbat. Certainly, a government that closed stores and malls for two months for health reasons of dubious validity can close malls and stores every Shabbat for spiritual reasons of proven validity. What people do in private should remain private, the province of each person, nor should the state restrict anyone’s public enjoyments. Those are matters of conscience. 

     Matters of Jewish status must, of course, be controlled by Torah, not secular, authorities, as those are based on the Torah and not on legislation or court rulings. And a Jewish state – and not just a State of Jews – would have delayed the start of summer time until two days after the Pesach seder and not two days before it. (Whose idea was that?)

     Above all, a Jewish state fulfills G-d’s declaration that “This nation, I created for Me; it will relate My praise” (Yeshayahu 43:21, this week’s haftarah). It evaluates each deed, legislation and diplomatic venture on the basis of its furtherance of G-d’s praise. It elevates above all the purpose of life as the essential objective of statecraft rather than just revel in the appurtenances of life. Certainly this involves respect for Torah study and observance of mitzvot but also care of its neediest citizens, humanitarian assistance to others, the development of technology that benefits all of mankind, and an effective military that focuses exclusively on defense and not at all on social engineering.

      It is not that Israel is neither Jewish nor democratic today. Perish the thought. It is that both definitions can be enhanced in ways that better the lives of our citizens in all spheres and bring glory to the Creator who has afforded us, after almost two millennia of exile, this wonderful opportunity to reclaim our sovereignty, assert our uniqueness, and perfect the world according to His prescriptions.

The Conversion Controversy

    The Israeli High Court’s decision mandating the acceptance of non-Orthodox conversions in Israel as proof of Jewish status only for purposes of citizenship is not as momentous as it sounds. The original sin, so to speak, was the language in the amended Law of Return that severed “conversion” from “according to halacha.” That was followed by a capitulation to the non-Orthodox leadership in the United States that allowed their spurious conversions in the exile to be accepted here as well for the purposes of citizenship. Extending this concession to such conversions that occur in Israel is natural; failure of the political establishment to deal with this matter appropriately for over a decade is a sad commentary on the political establishment and its paralysis. But the decision affects so few people that it is no big deal per se.

     Why then is it misguided and dangerous? Because it reflects a complete lack of awareness of the nature of the heterodox movements and their deleterious effects on Jewish life in the exile. Aside from the  absurdity of lumping together all non-Orthodox conversions (in the United States, even the Conservative movement does not accept Reform conversions!), the decision further drives a stake into the concept of a Jewish state. While eliminating the Law of Return may be an ultimate goal of the religious and political left, the current dilution of the Jewishness of the state promoted by this decision has long term consequences. If Israel becomes a Jewish state in name only, but not in identity or in practice, social cohesion, already under siege, will deteriorate even further.

     No one has ever delegated to the Knesset or the High Court the right to determine “who is a Jew.” At most, they are authorized to determine “who is an Israeli,” and injudicious decisions like this one further divide people and inflame the Torah world against the State. The branches of government have no more right to opine on “who is a Jew” that they have to move Shabbat to Tuesday or Pesach to the winter. In truth, they can declare that any Mongolian, Zambian, Brazilian or American to be eligible for Israeli citizenship, but then at what cost to the concept, value and vision of Israel as the “Jewish State”?

     What makes this decision even more risible is that it exposes a profound lack of awareness about the insidious failures of the Reform movement in America. Look no further than a recent article in the Forward entitled “To truly welcome Jews of color, seminaries must ordain intermarried rabbis.” The article is mindboggling in a number of ways.

     Its main thesis is that Reform Judaism risks being accused of racism since it has so few black rabbis. The reason why it has so few black rabbis is that, apparently, most eligible Reform Jewish black men and women are in interfaith “relationships,” either married or living together without the formality of marriage. Since Reform presently does not accept those in interfaith relationships into their rabbinical school, the “unintended impact” of the anti-interfaith-rabbinical-students decree is that there are thus few black rabbinical candidates.

     Aside from the sheer insanity of seeing everything in terms of race – something that, literally, only racists do, and which today is an American obsession bordering on pathology – understand the various ways in which the argument is offensive to Jews, Jewish values, and Israeli life.

     Currently, only the Reconstructionists welcome intermarried clergy, which presumably means that their converts abroad and now in Israel must be accepted as Israeli citizens – even if they were “taught” their Judaism from their intermarried “rabbi.” Even Reform has not taken the step of welcoming intermarried clergy, as they still expect their “rabbis to be exemplars of a Jewish home.” Hence the chagrin of the writer.

     But he points out two facts that should shock Israelis and awaken them to the true catastrophe of the Reform movement in America and the sheer lunacy of importing it to Israel. According to this Reform Jew, “at least 72% of new Jewish homes are formed by interfaith couples.” Digest that – overwhelmingly, most marriages in America today involving a Jew are intermarriages, and factor out the Orthodox population, intermarriage in America is an uncontrolled avalanche destroying any semblance of real Jewish life.

      Additionally, he unwittingly notes the toll intermarriage has already taken on American Reform Jews. One reason why the hindrance to accepting the intermarried into Reform rabbinical school is upsetting to the writer is the astronomical rate of intermarriage means that “40 to 60% of [the] eligible pool of students isn’t eligible.” That means that so many Reform adults who might consider the rabbinate are already involved in interfaith relationships themselves. And this doesn’t even address the tragic reality that most Reform Jewish children are not Jews according to halacha.

     Reform converts in America  are rare in any event as Reform Judaism does not require conversion for the sake of marriage and most Reform rabbis will officiate at intermarriages. Presumably, most Reform conversions (obviously pro forma and not requiring Kabbalat Hamitzvot) are performed for the purpose of appeasing a traditional relative – or for Aliya. And that new oleh or olah might well have been trained by a rabbi who is either not Jewish or, if the current policy is changed, by a rabbi is in an interfaith relationship. Invariably, the policy will be changed, as liberal Jews in America cannot endure an accusation of racism. But what kind of Judaism is that? What could they be taught?

     The assault on Jewish identity, facilitated by the High Court and abetted by the pusillanimity of the political class, is staggering. The implications for the State of Israel are enormous if the organs of the State make a conscious decision to ignore true Jewish identity and commitment in its drive to be a state of all its citizens and perhaps of the world. Maybe the very idea of a “Jewish state” has become too parochial for the leftist internationalists who are in positions of power. That a tiny number of rabbis on the left fringe of Orthodoxy (or in the neo-Conservative camp) endorse this decision for the unity they think it will provide is fanciful, and they too ignore the calamity that non-Orthodoxy has wrought to American Jewish life.

     This problem has no vaccine but it has a known prognosis: total assimilation, renunciation of Judaism and Jewish life, anti-Israel activism, and then hatred. It should not be imported to Israel. Politicians should clearly express a commitment to passing in the next Knesset the “chok hahitgabrut” that will rein in the High Court’s jurisdictional and legislative excesses, and then pass a law confirming true Jewish identity as the foundation of the Law of Return. That will both bolster Israel’s Jewish identity and send a clear message to our non-Orthodox brothers and sisters – the relative few that are still Jews according to halacha – that the road to return is open to them, and they will be welcomed when they travel on it.

Ask the Rabbi, Part 11

For over a year, I have participated in an “Ask the Rabbi” panel responding to questions posed by the editor of the Jewish Press. here is the latest installment. This column, including the responses of my colleagues, can be read at Jewishpress.com

Should a Jew avoid living in Germany?  What about doing business there?

There was a period of time right after the Holocaust when there was discussion of imposing a cherem on Germany similar to the one placed on Spain after the Expulsion. It never came to fruition, which is not to say that it would have heeded in any event. And all Jews should live in Israel.

Nonetheless, singling out Germany because of the Holocaust tends to overlook the horrors perpetrated throughout Europe in recent and medieval times. There is hardly a country on that continent that didn’t persecute, torment and expel Jews. German Jew hatred was unique in the magnitude of their evil deeds but it was the culmination and apogee of European Jew hatred of more than a millennium.

Germany today is not the Germany of the Holocaust era. Ironically, there are few places in the world in which the Holocaust is as tangibly felt as it is in Germany. I have visited several times and was overwhelmed by the public manifestation of Holocaust history in, for example, Berlin, which has numerous photographs and exhibitions on its streets. A picture and caption reminds everyone that, here, on this street on this date, this number of Jews were deported to their deaths. This is in addition to the ubiquitous Stolpersteine, brass plates embedded in sidewalks containing the names and dates of deportation of German Jews who lived in the adjacent apartment. I saw these in Berlin and Cologne. Once you grasp what they are, you cannot ignore them. They are eerie reminders of the lives that were brutally ended.

Many young German citizens with whom I’ve spoken feel no guilt over the Holocaust (they didn’t perpetrate it) but they do feel shame that their country should have committed such a horrendous evil. It is not a reason to live there or do business there, but as for the latter, I like reminding people that Am Yisrael Chai. With G-d’s help, our nation survives and thrives.

Is it important to keep kids (who are old enough to come to shul) at their seats for Kerias HaTorah (as opposed to letting them play outside)?

Yes, assuming the premise of the question that the children are old enough to come to shul. Realistically, that age should not be younger than seven or eight years old, and asking a child younger than that to come and sit quietly places him in an awkward position. He is not a mini-adult, and the shul experience for him will be at best boring and at worst will subject him to incessant shushes from the adults in the vicinity. Neither is fair to the child.

Nor is it wise to bring a young child to shul and have him or her play outside. The child might have fun, but shul will always be deemed as the place to go to meet friends and have fun. What is lost is the sense of mora, reverence for the shul as a place of tefilah. Once lost (or worse, never inculcated in the first place), that child becomes an adult who also goes to shul to meet friends, have fun, and throw in a kiddush with liquor and delicacies.

A child who is old enough to feel awe for a shul should come, daven as appropriate, but certainly hear the Torah reading. He will develop a love for it. The parent can prepare questions on the sedra before and have the child find the answers during the Kriah.

Moreover, it is advisable for children from age nine or ten to listen to the Rav’s drasha as well. They will learn about Torah, the world, priorities in Jewish life, and develop a warm bond with their rabbi. Many times young adults have told me that they remembered something I said when they were younger than their teen years that mattered in their lives. Banishing children to groups for the duration of their youth is inadvisable. They will gain enormously from sitting next to their parents and growing spiritually from the shul experience.

Is there anything wrong with taking an animal from the wild and confining it to restricted living quarters?  In other words, are zoos “kosher”?

We should not romanticize life in the wild, which, for animals, is often nasty, brutish and short, to borrow from Thomas Hobbes.  It is true that animals are brought to zoos against their will and do not receive a salary for their efforts. But it is also true that zoos try to replicate the animals’ natural habitat (if only to keep them alive and well) and so they gain a measure of protection they otherwise would not necessarily have.

Additionally, we should not identify with animals, and ask “how would we feel if we were cooped up”? Animals are not “almost humans.” As long as they are treated well, then zoos do not present a moral problem. We maintain that animals were created to serve mankind; they are not our equals in the hierarchy of creation. Zoos bring joy to young and old.

Zoos are not only kosher, but as Chacham Ovadia Yosef pointed out (Yechaveh Daat 3:66), they enable us to marvel at G-d’s creations and sing His praises. It is recorded that the Terumat Hadeshen (in the 1400’s) walked some distance one Shabbat to see two lions that had been brought for display in his city in Austria. He had never seen lions before. Similarly, Chid”a traveled through much of the world and would visit zoos in every city that had one, both to satisfy his innate curiosity and revel in the greatness of G-d’s handiwork.

There are extensive discussions in the poskim as to the appropriate bracha that is recited upon seeing an unusual species or an exceptionally beautiful animal or bird (Meshaneh Habriyot, Shekacha lo b’olamo). The discussions alone underscore the permissibility and usefulness of zoos as well as the importance of visiting them, so that we may sense “How great are Your works, Hashem!” (Tehillim 92:6)

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, NJ and the Israel Representative for the Coalition for Jewish Values.