Guest Posts

Fossils and Faith II

Prof Nathan Aviezer / Professor Mark Perakh begins his second article (hereafter, Perakh 2) by claiming that 13 years ago, his friend sent me a copy of his first article (hereafter, Perakh 1) and asked me to reply, but I “chose to ignore the request.” I have no such recollection, but one cannot be certain of exactly what happened 13 years ago. The replies of Perakh 2 to the criticisms that I raised against Perakh 1 are feeble. For example, the well-known chicken-and-egg paradox regarding the origin of life is dismissed in Perakh 1, Sec. 9, by means of an analogy to runners in a stadium. To my demonstration (“Reply to Mark Perakh”) that the analogy is completely false, Perakh 2 replies (p. 4) that his analogy was “just an illustration.” A false analogy illustrates nothing but lack of understanding.

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Being a Good Neighbor

Dr Akiva Wolff / Living in this world means being a neighbor. This fundamental principle is so deep in the Jewish tradition that it is found in the very roots of our native language. According to 19th Century sage, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch: [The Hebrew word] shachan means both to dwell, and also to be a neighbor. Therein lies the highest social ideal. In Jewish thought, to dwell means to be a neighbor. When a Jew takes a place on earth to be his dwelling place he must at the same time concede space and domain to his fellow men for a similar dwelling place. Being a good neighbor, as we will see below, is a Jewish obligation. It can also be a tremendous challenge. On the one hand, we all have physical needs and wants to satisfy in order to live in this world, especially in order to live satisfying, productive and enjoyable lives. On the other hand, much of what we do to satisfy these needs and wants can negatively impact our neighbors – everyone and everything in our environment. This is especially true in modern times, where there are so many more people, with so much technology, living on a material level beyond the dreams of our ancestors. How are we to negotiate the challenges involved in being a good neighbor? Should we deny our own needs and wants in order to avoid causing harm? Can we just ignore the welfare of others, and put our own needs and wants first – like so many around us seem to be doing? How can we manage to live our lives within the dynamic tension of trying to satisfy both, often conflicting sides?

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Societal Shock and Awe

R BP Mendelson / In last week’s Torah portion, Yosef accused his brothers of being spies since they entered Egypt through ten different gates (see Rashi, Gen. 42:12). They responded that they were searching the city for our lost brother. Apparently, they recognized that they had done something wrong to Yosef and now, having done teshuvah, wanted to find him and buy him out of slavery. They were looking for him! They arrived in front of Yosef but did not recognize him because he grew a beard (Rashi, Gen. 42:8). I don’t get it. When you are looking for someone whom you have not seen in over 20 years, you expect that he will look a bit different. The brothers know that Yosef is no longer a seventeen year old child anymore. Wouldn’t they have tried to picture him in their mind’s eye with a beard? Why could they not “see” him?

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Women Wearing Tallit?

R Michael Broyde / I have to confess that when I sent this piece out to some of my colleagues and friends to read, I received a very thoughtful but actually saddening reply from one of my close friends. He stated (somewhat edited) as follows: There is, I think, a larger issue looming here, independent of the context of this particular question. Our community is divided into three groups. (1) The first are those who are members of the Modern Orthodox community whose allegiance to our community and its practices are not really dependent on intellectual satisfaction, but are driven by more spiritual ideas. (2) The second are people who are simply content to have a less progressive life in their religious existence than in their professional life, for social, family or other reasons. Both of these groups will be content with your essay. But there is a third group present in our community. This group (3) is not content with a halacha that is lacking modern day sensibilities. This essay argues that we are stuck with various conventions and attitudes even when halacha could afford much greater flexibility. All of us worry if we are providing the right responses for this group, which is made up of people who are who are looking for the same intellectual openness, progressiveness and creativity in all spheres of their life, including Judaism. They are, for sure, less traditional than the rest of the community, but fully bound by halacha. We are at risk of losing this portion of our community and we have to work harder to address the religious needs of this population as it is one that you and I probably identify with most closely. If we are not careful, after writing these kinds of reasonable but conservative responses for a few more decades, you will see that you have not been meeting the needs of this group and we will all agonize over a failed opportunity to strengthen this vital segment of our community.

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Walking But Not Falling

R Heshie Billet / Suffering is an inextricable part of the human condition. As members of that fraternity, we must all face it in whatever inconvenient and untimely way it confronts us. The instinct to question the fairness of the trauma is understandable but impractical. The prophets did not shy away from questions. Moshe Rabbenu challenged G-d on the enigma of Jewish suffering in Egypt and the apparent futility of his mission. Yirmiyahu wrote a book, Lamentations, which begins and ends with questions. But in the end, the true response to a traumatic event is practical realism with a realistic plan to emerge from the unpleasant reality. If we have a child whose circumstances challenge parents, we are told to help the child based on the reality of his needs, “ba’asher hu sham”. In the words of Chazal, “chanoch la’na’ar al pi darko”. Educate the real child, not the virtual, ideal child you may prefer to be dealing with. If in the end we wish to rebuild Zion, then Yeshayahu tells us to bring justice to Zion. G-d says to Moshe to tell the Israelites to stop complaining about the Egyptians pursuing them on the banks of the Sea of Reeds. Rather, move forward into the sea and escape the enemies!

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Toward a Wiser Use of Energy

R Yonatan Neril / One of the most significant sustainability challenges of our time is how we produce, use, and relate to energy. Prior to the industrial revolution, the most important sources of energy for human uses were animals, people, wood, wind, and water. This changed with the invention of the steam turbine, internal combustion engine, and jet engine, and the use of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas and of nuclear power. While these technologies greatly increased material standards of living among human societies, they also have driven significant environmental changes which are beginning to have noticeable impacts worldwide, including climate change, the BP oil spill, and Japan’s nuclear crisis. What can we learn from the Jewish tradition about how to use energy responsibly? Use Energy Wisely The Jewish tradition teaches us to use energy wisely. In some cases, wasting energy is a violation of Bal Tashchit, the prohibition not to waste excessively. For example, the Talmudic Sage Mar Zutra stated, “One who covers an oil lamp [causing the flame to burn inefficiently] or uncovers a kerosene lamp [allowing the fuel to evaporate faster] violates the prohibition of Bal Tashchit.”

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On The Prefix ‘Vav’

Prof Shlomo Karni / The prefix “ו” belongs with the group of the other prefixes, ב, כ, ל, presented here in an earlier note [1], and it follows their general rules. However, it deserves a separate exposition due to a unique property that it has, not shared with the other prefixes. A. As the conjunction “and”, it is normally vowel-less, i.e., marked with a ‘sheva’: וְאִיש, וְהָאִיש . Exceptions to this rule are: 1). Before the letters ב, ו, מ, פ it is voweled with a ‘shuruk’:

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Sexual Misconduct and the Question of Rehabilitation

Dr. Nachum Klafter / There are, presently, a number of scandals in England, Israel, and America involving rabbis who are alleged to have engaged in forbidden sexual relationships with large numbers of women. I have personally heard first-hand allegations from victims, and highly credible second-hand reports from the victims’ psychotherapists and close relatives, against three individuals. In two cases, the rabbis advertised themselves as psychotherapists and developed large and lucrative practices as glatt-kosher, frum therapists, who practice according to Torah-based principles rather than the assumptions of modern psychology which originate in the secular world. Neither of those “therapists” is licensed. In the third case, the accused is a senior rabbinic figure who serves as the manhig [spiritual leader] of important religious institutions, including serving as a dayan on a Beit Din. He has been the spiritual guide for numerous congregants and community members. Individuals close to these scandals have asked for my assistance in advising rabbonim about how we can discern which rabbis or therapists who have violated sexual boundaries can be rehabilitated if they receive the proper help and treatment, and which cannot be rehabilitated and therefore should simply be removed from their professions so they will no longer have access to vulnerable individuals. I have prepared the following brief essay on this topic, which I thought would be of interest to readers.

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Monotheism, Abraham and Hurricane Sandy

R Elchanan Poupko / One transformative concept that monotheism has introduced into the world is the notion of kindness. While many members of earlier societies maintained favorable relationships with one another and even helped the weak among their own group (clan, people, co-believers), monotheism was the first to introduce an unrelenting, demanding and proactive kindness towards the “other.” No longer should one only demonstrate “protective kindness,” reserved only for members of the in-group. Monotheism set a new standard--the pursuit of kindness. It was only once monotheism entered the ball park that the individual was excepted not only to be complacent to acts of kindness but to pursue it; to go out of one’s way to help the other, the stranger, the wretched, the dispossessed.

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Orientation Revisited

Note: R. Michael Broyde’s article on the proper orientation during prayer (link) elicited spirited response. Two writers sent the essays below to respond. R. Yehuda Rock taught in the Otniel hesder yeshiva and was rosh kollel in Boca Raton. His article on this subject appeared in Alon Shvut 154. R. Yehuda Herskowitz lives in Jerusalem and works as a writer ...

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