Making a Difference at the MVC
As I was making my way through your Nov. 10 issue, the title of Jewel Safren’s column caught my eye (“Love Letter to Tom at the MVC,” November 10, 2022). I have known the “Tom” to whom she refers for over 30 years and consider him a friend. I emailed him the article and he was touched by it since it is unusual for anyone frequenting the office to express gratitude when being helped at the MVC, and certainly not in writing.
“Tom” is Tom Lodato, the manager of the Lodi office of the MVC. Rather than sit in his office he regularly works the floor, approaching people appearing anxious, weary from the long queues outside and inside the building, and others he is trained to spot as persons in dire need of assistance.
Helping people is really in his blood. He has lived his entire life in Bergenfield and currently serves as a councilman in that town, following the example set by his father.
I hope you will excuse me for my mind games. Living in New Jersey, I often wondered why there was an East Orange, a West Orange and a South Orange. but no North Orange. However, there is also an Orange, New Jersey. Surely, if there is an East, West and South Orange, shouldn’t Orange be North Orange?
This is kind of like the West Bank in Israel. If Israel has a West Bank, shouldn’t Palestinian Arabs also have claims to the East Bank of Palestine? After all, under Turkish rule for 400 years, Palestine had an east bank and a west bank. When England liberated Palestine from Turkish rule after WWI, Jews were offered a homeland in Palestine, which seemingly included the east and west bank of the Jordan River. So, what happened? A new entity developed on the east bank called Transjordan, or essentially, a piece of territory claimed by the Hashemite family, who were neither Palestinian Arabs nor Palestinian Jews.
To erase any connection between indigenous Jews or Arabs, the Hashemite family quickly dropped the Trans and became simply Jordan. Just as there is no North Orange, there is no East Bank of Palestine. In essence an Arab nation was created out of 80% of former Turkish Palestine. From the 1920s to 1948, which included the Shoah years, England controlled and limited Jewish immigration in the number of Jews who could enter Palestine (land west of the Jordan River). Thus, Jews could escape to Palestine in the 1930s but were denied a place of refuge from the Nazis because of Arab pressure and violence in what remained of Palestine.
In 1948, after partition and war, Jerusalem became East and West Jerusalem, even though Jews were in the majority of Jerusalem since the middle of the 19th century. Suddenly, part of Jerusalem became part of Jordan. Now the east bank of the Jordan River (Jordan) crossed the river and became the ruler of a part of the west bank of the Jordan River, which included a part of Jerusalem. Are you following this?
In 1967, in a defensive war, Israel forced Jordan out of the west bank of the Jordan River and reunited Jerusalem. While accepting Jordan’s control of the west bank of the Jordan River between 1948 and 1967, Arabs living in Israel refused to accept Israel’s sovereignty in any part of the land west of the Jordan River.
Quite simply, Jordan is the two-state solution often proposed for the Arab/Jewish claims to the land of Palestine. There is an Arab state in the land east of the Jordan River without any challenge from the international community. Certainly Jordan has more land than Israel, plenty of land to absorb the Arab refugees who have a claim to Palestine. Jews have had to live with displacement from lands in which they had lived for centuries. Israel was the first stop for Jews—and is also the last stop for Jews.
All Jewish refugees have been accepted by Israel, not to live in tents and not to be supported by a U.N. agency. Now that the remnants of the Jews have taken the desert and made it into a land of milk and honey and a powerhouse in the world of technology without the infusion of oil money, it has become the false narrative that somehow the Jews merely forced their way into the Promised Land that belonged to an established Arab Palestine that never existed.
Joel M. Glazer
The Israeli Elections
Jonathan Tobin is not wrong when he says that “those who think one Jewish state on the planet is one too many” did not need the election to Knesset of people like Ben-Gvir or Smotrich to back up their hateful biases (“Don’t Apologize for Ben Gvir or Anything Else About Israel,” November 17, 2022). Antisemites and Israel-haters will hate, no matter who’s in charge. And liberals who consider themselves pro-Israel but grossly overestimate the Palestinians’ desire for coexistence—and their agency even where the will exists—are dangerously naive.
Yes, democracy assures that (almost) anyone can run and be elected, and that everyone’s right at the ballot box is sacrosanct. But why isn’t Mr. Tobin deeply troubled about the rise of Jewish extremism in Israel? As Jews, we shudder when far-right candidates advance in France and Sweden, and win outright in Italy. Shouldn’t we also be worried when once fringe candidates— proud homophobes and ultra-nationalists who revere Baruch Goldstein—gain power in the Jewish state?
Kids Should Stay in Shul
In my pre-bar mitzvah years, my family attended a shul where the attitude was that not only should children not be heard, but that they should not be seen either. Family after family left that shul over time to more kid-friendly options. Today, that shul no longer exists!
Shuls are not only a place for people to daven. They’re also places where children learn how to daven themselves and also where they learn about their roles and place as members of the Jewish people.
I ask “Lots of Noise in Shul” (November 17, 2022) one question—what’s more important—your individual davening or the future of the Jewish people? For me, and many others, I think the answer is abundantly clear!
The Values of Modern Orthodoxy
I was rather taken aback by the way Mr. Feldstein (“Ryan Turrel and the Challenge of Modern Orthodoxy,” November 16, 2022) seemed to categorize what differentiates Modern Orthodox values from the values of our haredi brethren. Now, I have met Mr. Feldstein and know that he is a thoughtful, sincere and committed to Halacha person. However, the impression his article gave (I am assuming unintentionally), is that Modern Orthodoxy prioritizes one’s profession and education over Halacha and haredim do the opposite. I feel like this is a misrepresentation of the tenets of Modern Orthodoxy. Even a cursory reading of the thought of the Rav zt”l and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zt”l would suffice to see that they believed that Torah should be the primary focus of our lives, with an appreciation of Western civilization and culture serving as a means of enhancing that end. They did not think that our goal is to be as American as possible and to then view Halacha as a speed bump to be circumvented on the way to achieving that.
I would add that as a high school rebbe, I, thankfully, have never had to deal with the challenges of conflicts between my profession and Shabbat, kashrut and the like. I am sure those are difficult to navigate and do not think one should judge people who compromise the way the article suggested (attending meetings and conferences on Shabbat, classes on Yom Tov and the like), if they have not been in a comparable situation themselves. However, in all the scenarios Mr. Feldstein listed, our community has never held up those kinds of compromising on Shabbat and Yom Tov as a model to emulate and I would hope that we do not begin to do so now. This is a moment to re-evaluate our communal values and I pray that keeping Shabbat, in a manner beyond just not technically violating anything, should be what we strive for as our communal goal.
Noise, no. Children, yes!
Children light up shuls! (“Lots of Noise in Shul,” November 17, 2022)
Having watched my children and my friends’ children grow up in shul, and then my grandchildren and my friends’ grandchildren in shul—I know they represent the future of Yiddishkeit. Caring parents teach their children proper behavior in shul—and all is well.
As to noise, how about:
People who only see each other on Shabbat in shul discussing—you pick—sports, politics, business.
Medical professionals who don’t turn their pagers to “vibrate” so we can all be disturbed in the event that they get paged.
People who, as we’d say in Yiddish, “Oyz g’hackt a Ling”—coughed up a lung—who don’t have the common sense to stay home when they’re sick/coughing.
When I think of the 1.5 million children slaughtered in the Holocaust, HY”D—I look with great pleasure to see/hear children in shul.
Torah and Science May Be Two Sides of the Same Coin
In the past, I have written several letters which were printed in The Jewish Link, showing the correspondence of certain Torah teachings with scientific developments. As these similarities accumulated, it began to look like science and Torah may not just be complementing each other, but they may, in fact, be two sides of the same coin, just describing the same events in different ways.
For example, in a letter about creation, “How Torah and Science Mesh” (January 17, 2019), I discussed the remarkable correspondence between what Hashem said— “let there be light”— and what scientists say was a “big bang.” The apparent wide difference of the age of the universe between the Torah and modern science really comes down to the definition of a “day.” Scientists number the time of the evolution of the universe in billions of years, but to Hashem each event is considered only as a day. The actual description and sequence of the events are remarkably similar.
In a more recent letter, “Modern Science Still Racing To Catch Up to Ancient Torah Teachings” (September 29, 2022), I put forth another idea that science and religion may have a common nexus between the Torah’s view of an “afterlife”—teaching about neshamas in shamayim and techias hameisim—and modern scientists’ concepts about an individual’s “information” possibly remaining in the cosmos after death, and DNA cloning.
Although there appears to be an apparent disparity between science and Torah, disagreement is not unique to either science or Torah.
In the field of science, mass and energy were once considered to be entirely separate entities until Einstein showed they were interconvertible with each other. The same with time and space, which were once considered separate entities, but again Einstein showed that they were both part of the same fabric of space-time. A more current controversy in science revolves around the nature of the fundamental laws governing the universe. There are the immutable laws of physics which govern the macro universe, and those of quantum mechanics, which describe the laws of subatomic particles. A major problem in science today is that these laws are not compatible with each other, and break down in each other’s domain. Some of the greatest scientists, including Einstein himself, have so far been unable to resolve the differences and come up with one universal theory of the universe. But this will probably happen at some time in the future.
In the religious arena, the major Western religions have often been bitterly antagonistic to each other, but not necessarily because of different perceived fundamental “facts.” Christianity, Islam and Judaism all had a common origin, but followed differing paths and splintered along the way only under the influence of different apostles and cults. In Torah teachings, Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai disagreed on almost everything, but neither’s opinion necessarily invalidated the others. The same goes for Rav and Shmuel.
The point is that in the fields of science and religion, separately and jointly, there have been many areas of dispute, controversy, contradictions, and disparities in the past, many of which have gotten satisfactorily resolved. There is no reason to assume that many of the remaining apparent discrepancies may not also be resolved in the future.
On an individual level, there is now, and has always been, a continuum of people involved in both religion and science. Some of the greatest Talmud scholars have also been great scientists, and vice versa. One does not preclude the other.
Israel today is probably the best demonstration of the symbiotic interrelationship between science and religion. Eretz Yisrael was the beginning of everything 5,000 years ago. It was the font of Torah teaching. Now, just barely 70 years after the establishment of the modern state, the same people, in the same tiny piece of land, are a scientific dynamo. Israel is now recognized as one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world.
This whole discussion can therefore be distilled into one thought: that there seem to be enough points of intersection to posit that science and Torah are just two sides of the same coin, and are not completely separate entities. And, in what may be an act of divine irony, scientists themselves may actually be the agents of Hashem that bring His projections to fruition.
Kiddush Hashem? Chilul Hashem? Neither?
Many years ago, Chicago’s largest Jewish neighborhood, West Rogers Park, established its controversial eruv. An eruv allows observant Jews to carry on Shabbat in public spaces, which is otherwise a violation of halacha.
I recall one of the two rabbis responsible for its construction declaring something along the lines of, “The eruv may not be used to play ball.” At the time, I wondered whether he was making a halachic statement or a hashkafic one. My sense of it is that it was hashkafic. I do not believe there is any technical violation of Shabbat by shooting a few baskets in a playground when there is an eruv.
I nevertheless agreed with his sentiment as a matter of hashkafa. The idea of participating in a sport like basketball on Shabbat is surely not in the spirit of the day, which has traditionally been a day of actual rest conducive to spending time with one’s family and friends—usually at one of the two or three meals required. That custom has become entrenched across the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy by the vast majority of Orthodox Jewry. The idea of playing a competitive sport on that day may not technically violate halacha, but as a hashkafa I find it in poor taste. I am therefore disappointed when I see a group of kipa-wearing Jewish boys doing it.
The question is, even if playing basketball is technically allowed on Shabbat, how far can we go with that before it crosses a line? And what is that line?
This brings me to RyanTurell (“Ryan Turell and the Challenge Of Modern Orthodoxy,” November 16, 2022). He is a Modern Orthodox Jew who attended Yeshiva University and became a star basketball player on its team, which competed in intercollegiate Division III basketball games. Largely because of Ryan, the team went undefeated for the regular season. He was named the 2022 Division III Player of the Year.
That has earned the young man a selection by the NBA. He was drafted by the Detroit Pistons for one of their minor league teams. That is a first for a kippah-wearing, shomer Shabbat Jew.
Playing professional basketball often entails playing on Shabbat. Ryan goes to great lengths to avoid any Chilul Shabbat by staying in a nearby hotel and walking to and from games. The Pistons organization has been very accommodating by, among other things, providing him with kosher meals at the hotel where he stays on Shabbat.
But is playing professional basketball on Shabbat OK halachically, if one is being paid for it? I suppose there are ways of getting around that prohibition. But not everyone knows about those loopholes. A lot of Jews might mistakenly surmise that being paid to do a job on Shabbat is OK. But he is absolutely committed to his observance in such a public way. Perhaps it is even a Kiddush Hashem?
I’m pretty sure that the Haredi world would not see any Kiddush Hashem in a Jew playing professional basketball on Shabbat—regardless of the great lengths he goes to avoid desecrating it. They would feel that it sends the wrong message about what Shabbat is all about. Maybe they even consider it a Chilul Hashem; I don’t know.
But the effort Ryan goes to observe Shabbat as a professional basketball player cannot be ignored. Because that, too, sends a message—that one can pursue exciting careers while being observant. That one does not have to give up his yiddishkeit to pursue a dream that will entail impediments. If one is committed, where there is a will, there is a way.
So—assuming there is no technical violation of Shabbat—which is it? A Kiddush Hashem? A Chilul Hashem? Neither? Not sure I know the answer to that.
Don’t Celebrate Ryan Turell's Choices
I found Michael Feldstein’s “Ryan Turell and the Challenge of Modern Orthodoxy” (November 16, 2022), which extolled the virtues of YU graduate Ryan Turell’s decision to play in a professional basketball league associated with the NBA with its many games on Shabbat, deeply offensive. In fact, I question the propriety of your newspaper, under Orthodox Jewish auspices, printing the article at all, let alone on its front page.
I do not pretend to speak for the majority of observant Jews as Mr. Feldstein apparently does when he states that “most observant Jews are thrilled at Turell’s accomplishments and are delighted that he has been able to pursue his dream of becoming a professional basketball player while maintaining his faith.” Really?? Did he take a poll? Surely, Feldstein knows that it is much more likely that most observant Jews—hailing from the haredi communities—either couldn’t care less about Turell’s accomplishments or are offended at the suggestion that a Jew playing professional sports on Shabbat is something to be celebrated. It is also distinctly possible, if not likely, that many observant Jews outside the haredi community would subscribe to the haredi viewpoint on this issue. I certainly do.
In the end, Feldstein’s depiction of Tyrell’s decision as an “enormous contribution to the Orthodox world” in that “no longer will youngsters in Jewish day schools with dreams of becoming professional sports athletes be told that they cannot play because they are “shomer Shabbat” speaks more to Feldstein’s (non-Orthodox) values than it does to Turell’s “achievements” or to the values of Orthodoxy—Modern or otherwise. As an individual who still considers himself part of the “Modern” Orthodox community, I can only hope and pray that even within our community, Feldstein speaks principally for himself. I have no way of knowing, but frankly, neither does he.
Clarifications Regarding Ryan Turell
Based on the many comments I’ve received, it seems that my column on Ryan Turell (“Ryan Turell and the Challenge of Modern Orthodoxy,” November 17, 2022) has sparked an enormous amount of interest, about which I’m very pleased. A few comments and clarifications:
Rabbi Yaakov Blau suggested that I was implying that Modern Orthodoxy prioritizes one’s profession and education above halacha, and Haredim do the opposite. That’s not what I was saying. What I was suggesting was that Modern Orthodox Jews struggle with finding a balance between the two, while for Haredim such a conflict wouldn’t be an issue. I made it clear in the article that, in fact, there are many times when we may choose not to participate in a professional and educational activity in order to remain faithful to halacha.
Personally speaking, I don’t believe I could do what Turell is doing — more for emotional reasons as opposed to any halachic reasons (it’s just not the way I believe one should be spending their Shabbat).
With that said, I did feel it was important to write this article because I felt Turell was being unfairly criticized for the decision he made. I also believe he has been a positive influence on day school kids, in terms of being able to pursue his dreams while being true to his faith (at least as he has defined it).
I don’t pretend to speak for the entire Modern Orthodox community, as Meyer Muschel suggested. In fact, I clearly mentioned that there are those in the community who would find Turell’s actions objectionable from a halachic standpoint, and believe that the real kiddush Hashem would have been if Turell had decided to forego his professional dreams in favor of Shabbat.
I agree with Harry Maryles that Turell’s activities walk a very fine line between being a kiddush Hashem and a chilul Hashem. There is no single answer as to how to navigate the challenges involved in balancing professional and halachic matters -- Ryan Turell made his decision, and others must make their own decision.
It’s Too Dark in Teaneck
Senior citizens want a voice. Let there be light and smooth roads ahead. This is my wish for Teaneck. It’s too @#$% dark here. There are holes all over the streets. Most are afraid to drive and we’re even afraid to walk or even walk with walkers. This is discrimination against us. Why is Queen Anne and West Englewood lit up and we are not? Take action and start taking care of your senior citizens in this serious matter.
Distraught senior citizen (name withheld upon request)