Archive for December, 2011


Since One God created both Torah and science, it is axiomatic that Torah and science can never be in fundamental conflict. Torah and science are manifestations of One God, the Author of truth. If Torah and science appear to be at odds on certain points, then either we have not understood Torah properly or we have not done our science correctly.

Rabbi Marc D. Angel, “Reflections on Torah Education and Mis-Education”, Conversations, Issue 6 (Winter 2010/5770), 32.

A simplistic, literalist approach to the words of Hazal continues to be influential—and very widespread. This is not only intellectually and pedagogically unsound: it is a degradation of Torah and Hazal, as pointed out by the Rambam. We all need to raise our voices for the sake of Torah, truth and the religious wellbeing of our future generations.

Rabbi Marc D. Angel, “Reflections on Torah Education and Mis-Education”, Conversations Issue 6 (Winter 2010/5770), 37.

…a basic truth of social systems: no effort at creating group value can be successful without some form of governance.

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (New York: Penguin Books, 2008), 283.

Our schools should not be teaching our children that dinosaurs did not exist. They should not be telling children that the dinosaur bones are just “dog bones swollen in the flood of Noah’s time”. This is not Torah education, but mis-education. Not only is there no religious necessity to teach such nonsense; it is a religious mandate NOT to teach falsehood. To cloak falsity in the clothing of religion is to undermine true religion.

Rabbi Marc D. Angel, “Reflections on Torah Education and Mis-Education”, Conversations Issue 6 (Winter 2010/5770), 34.

Jewish federations passed through three distinct historical stages. The first federation, the Boston Federation of Jewish Charities (established in 1895), was an association of volunteers that linked philanthropic institutions with Jewish social services. The purpose was joint fundraising, with a centralized budget. This model was adopted by federations in other communities around the country over the next half-century.
Before too long, an allocations function was added to the federation, as federation leaders began making decisions about where the money ought to go.
Over time, the growth and increasing complexity of the community brought a third stage of federation development. Today, federations are responsible for communal and social planning and for the coordination of social services—child welfare, services for the aged, family services, employment and guidance—in addition to fundraising and allocations.
This concentration of functions gives the federations and their leadership considerable power, to the point where federation is recognized as the Jewish “address” in a community.

Jerome A. Chanes, A Primer on the American Jewish Community, 3rd Ed. (New York: American Jewish Committee, 2008), 14.

The Talmud is, of course, the great reservoir to which R. Isserles turns as the first step in attempting to solve a problem. The question at hand is immediately referred to an identical or similar case in the Talmud. The second step is the weighing of the opinions of the ראשונים, i.e. Alfasi (רי”ף), Tosafists, Nachmanides, etc. expanding and explaining the text. The opinion of the majority is followed by R. Isserles and even Maimonides, whom he respected very highly, is disregarded if he was in the minority. After the Risonim, R. Isserles proceeds to examine writings of אחרונים, i.e. Mordechai, Ashri and Tur, and the latter is followed especially when the Tosafists agree with him. At this point, the Responsa of still later authorities are cited extensively in accordance with the well-established priniciple of הלכה כבתרא, paying due attention even to the opinions of contemporaries and to customs of Polish Jewry which the ב”י omitted. Thus, R. Isserles, in his Responsa as well as in the ד”מ and his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, served as a supplement and offered his community the code of Law adjusted to its authorities, customs, and needs. He spread the “cloth” over the table prepared by his contemporary, the ב”י.

Rabbi Asher Siev, “The Period, Life and Work of Rabbi Moses Isserles” (PhD. Diss., Yeshiva University, 1943), 57-58.

It was such qualities of character, namely amiability, consideration and tactfulness that made R. Isserles both beloved and respected by his colleagues and contemporaries. Not even once do we find him engaged in an overheated controversy which would result in enmity, as did R. Luria. Even when he dissented, it was done with consideration and regard for the feelings of his opponents. Little wonder, therefore, that R. Isserles was highly esteemed by all who came in contact with him.

Rabbi Asher Siev, “The Period, Life and Work of Rabbi Moses Isserles” (PhD. Diss., Yeshiva University, 1943), 30.

The most profound effects of social tools lag their invention by years, because it isn’t until they have a critical mass of adopters,adopters who take these tools for granted,that their real effects begin to appear.

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (New York: Penguin Books, 2008), 270.

Faced with an implacably hostile environment, some of those strongly committed to Judaism choose isolation. As one keen observer described it, “[T]he complete segregation of the ben Torah from the masses as such and from the masses as such and his retreat into a unique, almost hermit-like fellowship, closed his mind to the true challenge of halacha as a dynamic force and practical discipline. The tragic results are now discernible in every sector of Jewish life. The talmid hacham has attained a complete withdrawal from the people into a sectarian society with all its idiosyncrasies and eccentricities.”
The need for the faithful to signal loyalty to ever-narrower splinter groups has led to increasing emphasis on precisely those aspects of tradition that are obscure and unnatural, while the lack of opportunity for constructive sacrifice has given rise to socially costly signaling. Likewise, the need for the faithful to affirm an articulated narrative has become much greater, just as the specificity of the narrative has become more pronounced. Affirming the belief in the genius of the sages, the powers of the righteous, and the inevitable downfall of the wicked has become a litmus test of loyalty. Increasing monasticism and obscurantism have led to increasing defection. Each of these reactions has been triggered and exacerbated by the others and together they have constituted a vicious cycle, driving the community further and further away from a good equilibrium.

Moshe Koppel, “Judaism as a First Language,” Azure No. 46 (Autumn 2011), 89.

Learning in symbolic form that the past can be mastered is as important as learning in dramatic form that your choices resonate; being brought up to speed is as important as being brought up to grade. Fantasy fiction tells you that history is available, that the past counts.

Adam Gopnik, “The Dragon’s Egg,” The New Yorker (5 December 2011), 89.