Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Is Orthodox Judaism Fundamentalism?

A firestorm of controversy has erupted over a recently released series on Netflix entitled My Unorthodox Life. It features an individual who chose to discontinue her practice as an Orthodox Jew. The individual now alleges that the practices of Orthodox Jews and its commitment to halachic observance as fundamentalism. The individual is not content with her own decision to leave her faith but campaigns her family and others to abandon their commitment to faith. There are too many distortions and inaccuracies depicted in this series and, quite frankly, beyond this space's scope. Instead, I would like to address and respond to a central theme of the series. The show's primary theme is that halachic observance is full of illogical restrictions and results in fundamentalism which the show compares to Muslim Fundamentalism. Unfortunately, this narrative misrepresents the entire purpose of the Mitzvos and why we have an opportunity and privilege to adhere to it. Our Rabbis have taught that Mitzvos are a means of connection to G-d in this world. When a person fulfills a mitzvah, the individual connects to G-dliness and holiness in this world. If an individual does not recognize the true meaning of Mitzvos and halachic practices, he will consider the ritual as a mindless restriction. It is our responsibility to properly educate our children and students that the ultimate purpose of the Mitzvos is because G-d loves us and gave us a medium of connection to Him in our finite days of this world. This idea is articulated in this weeks parsha, as it states וַיְצַוֵּנוּ ה' לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת־כָּל־הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה לְיִרְאָה אֶת־ה' אֱלֹקינוּ לְטוֹב לָנוּ כָּל־הַיָּמִים. This is translated as "Hashem our G-d commanded us to perform these Mitzvos and to be in awe of Him, as it is good for us". Every time a person stands in prayer and utters the words Baruch Attah Hashem or Blessed are you G-d, he gets more connected to the divine presence of the Al-Mighty. Indeed, it is sad and painful to go around mindlessly practicing rituals without appreciating the larger mission of connecting to G-d and having a relationship with Him in this world. Even if a person does not choose to outwardly abandon their halachic observance, they walk around unfulfilled and empty. The damage that this Netflix series will cause remains to be seen. There has been a variety of reactions from the Jewish Twitterverse and beyond. My Unorthodox Life should serve as a wake-up call for all of us to examine the consequences when a healthy relationship with Hashem is not at the foundation of Orthodox Jewish life. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch 

Friday, July 16, 2021

Reflections for Tish B'av

As we approach the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, we are once again asked and called upon to mourn over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. This particular year, the notion of mourning for a tragic event that took place nearly two thousand years ago seems more distant than ever. Yes, of course, the destruction of the holiest site in Judaism was a terrible tragedy. Still, one can reasonably ask, with everything going on in the chaotic times of 2021, don’t we have more pressing things on our mind to be concerned about than the destruction of a Temple that occurred nearly two thousand years ago? There’s a raging pandemic of Anti-Semitism that appears to be not only increasing but gaining a prominent foothold even in the previously thought Goldene Medina (golden country) of America. There doesn’t appear to be an area of mainstream American society that is immune from this ancient form of hatred directed against our people. American Jews were rudely reminded of this reality during the most recent round of hostilities in Gaza. There were several Jews that were physically attacked in broad daylight by individuals that simply used the Gaza conflict as a pretext to shield their Jew-hatred. American Jews are starting to ask themselves really uncomfortable questions, including if the unthinkable can occur in the Land of the Free. With this growing crisis in the background, why is there such a requirement to mourn over an ancient tragedy? It’s important to remember that the mandate to mourn on Tisha B’av is not simply for the destruction of the Jewish Temple/ Beis Hamikdash. That tragic event reflected a new world order that we are still suffering from.—The world at that time of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash went into a state of Hester Panim or G-d’s concealed face. The basic understanding of this is that although G-d’s presence is always in this world, the manifestation of His presence is far less profound and significant than in earlier generations. The destruction of the holiest site in Judaism reflected the reality of a spiritually bereft world. Unfortunately, we have only slipped further in our state of Hester Panim. This somewhat explains an issue that has vexed our community of faith for centuries. We struggle to reconcile how a just and benevolent G-d can allow such pain and tragedy to occur in this world. While this question can never fully find a satisfactory answer, understanding the concept of Hester Panim gives us some context. This spiritually bereft world with G-d’s hidden face begins to explain (but not entirely) how there can be such pain and tragedy in the times that we find ourselves. The partial removal of His presence allow blessings to be absent and curses to multiply. When we sit on the floor and mourn on Tisha B’av it would be worthwhile to not only reflect on the awful consequences of Hester Panim but also to pray for the day when G-d’s face is no longer hidden from us but revealed to us in the fullest way possible with our people reunified in a rebuilt Beis Hamikdash in Jerusalem! Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch 

Most Destructive Word in the English Language

I have always been intrigued by the “word of the year.” This last year of 2023, Merriam Webster designated “authentic” as the WOTY (word of ...