Purification and/or Morality

Most discussions of the recent gathering at Citi Field have focused on the logistics of the event and the topic – the dangers of the Internet. With such a focus, however, we may very well be missing something of great importance. What struck my attention was the name of the organization staging the event: Ichud HaKehillos Letohar HaMachaneh, or the Union of the Communities for the Purity of the Camp.

It is my understanding that though this is far from the first use of the expression “the Purity of the Camp,” it has risen to prominence only in recent decades. I think it is a telling term, both for what it says and what it leaves unmentioned. And I would suggest that understanding its use might help us make some sense of contemporary dynamics in the Orthodox world.

Diasporic Reunions: Sephardi/Ashkenazi Tensions in Historical Perspective

Ethnic tensions among Jews are a transnational, diachronic phenomenon, amply documented by Jews as well as by outside observers. Tradition prescribes Jews to rescue other Jews from affliction, underscored by the halakhic concept of pidyon shvu’im (redemption of captives) and the talmudic dictum kol Israel arevim ze baZe, which teaches that every Jew is responsible for the other.[1] Yet, when the factor of physical remoteness between two communities was eliminated, these time-honored values frequently dissipated. As one eminent historian quipped, “ahavat Israel is inversely proportionate to distance.” [2]

Halakha and the Fourth Estate

Identifying the Problem

…the player directly responsible for Hapoel losing this critical game was the team's goalkeeper, Haim Cohen. His amateurish blunder in letting the ball slip through his hands gave Maccabi their first goal, and the second was the result of Cohen's poor positioning for the free kick. Nor was this the first game this season in which Hapoel has been let down by Cohen. His tendency to make mistakes under pressure has surely eroded his teammates' confidence in him; Hapoel manager Aryeh Rubin is rumored to be looking for a replacement...

Removing Obstacles

In what was probably the greatest Yom Kippur sermon ever preached, the prophet Isaiah enjoins us to “make a path,” to “clear the way,” to “remove all obstacles” from the path of the Lord’s people. We read Isaiah’s searing words today because we believe they speak not just to the inhabitants of ancient Israel but to us as well. The prophet’s urgent call to the Jews of his day, and to us, to observe Yom Kippur by clearing away all obstacles to our “fasting” in the way the Lord has chosen – to take decisive action ourselves – is consistent with the emphasis that Judaism has traditionally placed on human agency, an emphasis we will see affirmed later this afternoon when we once again recall the trials of Jonah.

Modern Orthodoxy: Definitions and Insights

Modern Orthodoxy: Definitions and Insights

By: Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen


I. Introduction

A popular contemporary rabbinic concern is to seek the essential quality that marks Modern Orthodoxy (MO) as a unique form of Torah Judaism.

In the middle ages theologians analyzed Judaism to assess its essential nature. Their concern was to locate a quality that should it be missing, then Judaism would not exist. A modern example of such an inquiry would be to seek the essential aspect of a car. A car even without air conditioning or radio is still a car. Yet, should a vehicle not have a motor, then it would no longer be deemed a car. What is, therefore, essential to Modern Orthodoxy?

Religious Belief, American Democracy, and our Inescapable Culture: Some Preliminary Observations

How ought religion, including Modern Jewish Orthodoxy, interact with America’s political democracy? And can it survive our current culture? Not surprisingly, these simple questions simultaneously point in many directions. However, my interest is specific. I wish to understand how secular politics and culture affect religion in the United States and vice versa. Although answers are complex, I do think that a few meaningful generalizations are possible.

A Winding Road to Mitsvot

A Winding Road to Mitsvot

(This article consists of two sections with different purposes. The first is an account of how I came to take on the observance of mitsvot, and what was going on in my family while that was happening. Though it is my personal story, it touches on issues that will resonate with others in various stages of engagement with halakhah. In the following section, I address a broader set of concerns that could be useful for potential ba’alei teshuvah, converts, and those who may be connected to them.

Lonely, But Not Alone

Judaism, to me, is not about laws but about music and musical notes. In all of its laws, I hear powerful sonatas that transform my soul: Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35, with its heights of intensity; Johann Sebastian Bach’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, with his iron fist, uncompromising dedication to detail, and strict adherence to rigid rules of composition, resulting in a phenomenal outburst of emotion. When I listen to these masterpieces, I encounter the thunder and lightning experienced by the children of Israel when God revealed His Torah at Mount Sinai. It feels like being hit with an uppercut under the chin and remaining unconscious for the rest of the day.