Guest Posts

The Spiritual Roots of the Environmental Crisis

R Yonatan Neril / In our times we are beginning to witness the planet’s ecological balance weakening due to human influence: rainforests shrinking, deserts expanding, forests burning, the planet heating. What is driving the deterioration of the natural world? To be sure, there are physical reasons, as well as deeper societal structures causing our environmental challenges. Yet to answer ‘fossil fuels’ or ‘wood use’ or even ‘consumerism’ would provide only partial answers. Beyond the physical causes, the environmental crisis conveys a deeper message. The widespread degradation of the natural world indicates that our way of life is out of balance. Thus the environmental crisis also reflects a spiritual crisis. Ecological disruptions reflect the inner imbalance within billions of human beings. The change required of us to correct this is, to a significant degree, of a spiritual nature.

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Halakhic Jews and Modern Time

R Barry Kornblau / You might not have noticed it, but an unusual event happened at about 7:00 PM in New York this past Shabbat, June 30, 2012: we experienced a leap second. In Great Britain and in other places where it was turning midnight, accurate clocks did not move from 11:59:59 PM to 12:00:00 AM as they usually do. Instead, an extra second was inserted, so that clocks moved from 11:59:59 to 11:59:60 (a time that does not normally exist) and only then to 12:00:00 AM. I share this with you for two reasons. First, I have always been interested in mathematics, science, and the like, and we geeks are nothing if not evangelical about our geekiness. Second (pun intended), in the months since this addition of leap second was announced earlier this year, I have thought a great deal about the way halachically observant Jews relate to time, and I would like to share one of those thoughts with you.

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The Soul of the Stranger

R A Frazer / Israel faces a genuine dilemma about the best way to handle the influx of African refugees and migrants. Many people are already debating the policy decisions that will need to be made in this regard. Of greater concern to me than the specific arguments in this debate, is the shocking naked racism and hatred for Africans that it has exposed across all levels and sectors of Israeli society. From elected officials to people in the street, from the highly educated secular upper class to yeshiva students to the working poor, numerous Israelis seem to share a lexicon and intellectual framework which denigrates and dehumanizes Africans, belittles their suffering, and trivialized their plight. This in and of itself should sound an alarm for all of us that something is seriously amiss in the core of our culture and society. When the tone set by such speech boils over into outright acts of physical brutality, how can we fail to realize that we must, as a society, engage in introspection and self-evaluation?

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Convert on a Bet Din for Conversion

A Brief Comment on a Recent Teshuva by the Law Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly on Whether a Convert Can Serve on a Rabbinical Court for Conversion. Guest post by R. Michael J. Broyde Rabbi Michael Broyde is a law professor at Emory University, was the Founding Rabbi of the Young Israel of Toco Hills and is a dayan in ...

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Moses And Morse…

Guest post by Prof. Shlomo Karni Shlomo Karni was Professor of Electrical Engineering and Religious Studies at University of New Mexico until his retirement in 1999. His books include Dictionary of Basic Biblical Hebrew:Hebrew-English (Jerusalem: Carta, 2002). Moses And Morse… …the code for wireless transmissions, that is. The common practice used by wireless operators, especially in amateur radio communications, is ...

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The Attractions of Haredi Life

Hadassah Levy / The very title of William Kolbrener’s Open Minded Torah expresses a paradox that demands examination. As the name implies, the book supports an open-minded approach to Judaism, in which a variety of opinions (although not all) are considered legitimate. This represents the polar opposite of ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) ideology. Indeed, Kolbrener appears to be directly critiquing Haredi society. He rails against its narrow-mindedness, exclusivity, feelings of superiority, superficiality and intolerance. He criticizes simplistic readings of Judaism, reliance on segulahs, kabbalah and the belief that the faithful are rewarded in this world. There is also implicit criticism of those who choose to learn in kollel instead of interacting with the world.

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Ray Bradbury and Jewish Education in the Internet Era

R Jeffrey Saks / The news that science fiction author Ray Bradbury died yesterday at age 91 was a moment of pause and reflection for me. Not that I was such a huge Bradbury fan, or even a reader of sci-fi in general (despite having been a bookish kid, and a devoted Trekkie). In fact, aside from a few short stories I can’t otherwise recall, the only thing I had every seriously read of Bradbury’s was Fahrenheit 451 – and that as a ninth grader in 1984. Perhaps some curriculum planner noting the year decided freshman lit should cover the dystopian novels, starting with Orwell’s foreboding prophecy about the year we were living through. Perhaps it was because the Cold War was not yet over, and the cautionary tales of Animal Farm and the like were part of our indoctrination against anti-American worldviews.

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Mandating Prenuptial Agreements

R Michael Broyde / Recently, the Orthodox community has been rattled by yet another Agunah situation – this time in Philadelphia-Washington – and in all honesty, this is not the first and it will not be the last such case. Furthermore, we all know that genuine halachically viable solutions to the Agunah problem are hard to come by and might not even be within our grasp. But, we also know that Agunah problem can be functionally solved in practice, even if not in theory and the solution is clear and obvious: The Beth Din of America prenuptial agreement which can be found at really does work in almost all of the cases actually presented within the United States. Its structure – payment of money until a get is given – has a proven track record of actually delivering a get time after time and case after case. Everyone knows this. It is the vaccine against the agunah problem. But, like all vaccines, it has to be used before one has the illness – taking your vaccine after the fact never works.

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Reishit Bikkurim: A Guide to Shavuot Observance

Reishit Bikkurim: A Guide to Shavuot Observance Prepared for the RIETS Shavuot Yarchei Kallah Expanded and Updated Edition for Shavuot 5772 According to the rulings of Rav Hershel Schachter, Shlit”a Rosh Yeshiva and Rosh Kollel, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary Download here: link (PDF) Erev Shabbat Eating a Meal on Erev Shabbat: 1. One should refrain from eating a large ...

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Countering Destruction: Lessons from Noah

R Yonatan Neril / The story of the flood teaches of an important connection between human action and planetary health. Ten generations after Creation, all life on the planet had “corrupted (hishchit) its way on the earth.” In response, G-d told Noah to build an ark to save species from the impending flood that would wipe out all terrestrial life. Noah built the ark, brought the animals into it, and lived on it for the duration of the flood. He then sent a raven and afterward a dove to see whether the floodwater had subsided. After Noah left the ark, G-d made a covenant with Noah, designating the rainbow as the sign of the Creator’s commitment not to destroy the world. Although the flood and the life of Noah occurred thousands of years ago, these stories offer relevant and profound lessons for the world in which we live. When we take a deeper look at Noah, seeing him through the eyes of some of the various rabbinic commentaries, we can discover a portrait of a man who spent his life innovating a lifestyle of what today would be called environmental concern. Noah lived in a generation of corruption (hashchata), the same root as the word for destruction (thus, the mitzvah of “Bal Tashchit”– do not destroy). The commentator Bet Yaakov notes that this “hashchata” (corruption or destruction) caused G-d to respond measure for measure with hashchata (destruction) of living beings. Noah, the one man who had not corrupted (hishchit) the world, worked to prevent the total destruction (hashchata) of human and animal life when he built the ark, the vessel that would preserve the planet’s animal life. A fresh look at the life of Noah can provide us many lessons as we strive to bring our world back to a state of holy balance.

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