"May Hashem continue giving His nation tools to enhance and enrich Torah life, and the ability for us each to make the right choices in their use"
Banging on the Door [For the Record / Issue 854]
Re your nice Pesach edition article about the Yekkehs who came to the Mir, I would like to share a story I heard from my uncle, Rav Shamshon Refael Weiss:
On his way to the Mir from Germany, he visited the Chofetz Chaim for a brachah. The Chofetz Chaim inquired where he was from and where he was heading. Upon hearing his response, the Chofetz Chaim began stroking his hand, saying, “I always had a question. Chazal teach us that Torah machzeres al achsaniah ahelah — Torah returns to the place it was hosted. Germany was historically home to great Torah giants. Why is it that intense Torah learning has not returned to Germany? My child, the hand of Torah is bloody from banging on the closed door trying to return to Germany. You will open the door!”
Indeed, Rav Weiss was instrumental in bringing to the Mir other German talmidim such as Rav Binyomin Zeilberger, Rav Uri Hellman, Rav Naftoli Neuberger and (his brother-in-law) Naftoli Carlebach.
Rav Weiss had great nachas when his son, Rav Yisroel Meir, rosh yeshivas Nachlas Halevi’im, married the daughter of Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, the Mirrer rosh yeshivah.
Rabbi Moshe Halberstadt
Price Is Right [Expanded Sound / Issue 854]
Thanks for capturing the lovability and simchah of Avrumi and Shea Berko. I just wanted to note that although Shea Berko is one of the most popular and sought-after wedding singers out there, and an amazing performer, his price is reasonable.
It was my dream to have him sing at my wedding — I wanted the energy that he brings to a room — but I didn’t even think of calling, because he’s one of the “brand names” and therefore I assumed not in my budget. I did end up calling a few weeks before the wedding, and was shocked at the reasonable price (although, he wasn’t available anymore).
Some singers charge insane amounts of money per gig, just because they can. Shea is definitely one of the singers that can charge a fortune and still get booked. But he doesn’t, and that proves a level of menschlichkeit that really impressed me.
Genius Chord [Expanded Sound / Issue 854]
I am a great fan of the Berko brothers, especially of the simchas hachayim series; I was so excited to read about them. Even more exciting was to figure out the E flat minor used for “tinosen li” — such genius!!
Mendy Kantor, 12 years old, flute, guitar, and piano player
Lemons to Lemonade [My COVID Hero / Issue 854]
I read about the COVID heroes with interest. The heroes for our family were those who pivoted and designed special Zooms for our children, providing them with kosher, educational, good, clean fun.
I nominate Rabbi Ari Schonfeld of Night Seder America, for his wonderful program that he continues until today. His lessons are fun, inviting, and interesting. His innovative game “That’s My Psak” is the highlight of our week. Rabbi Schwartz from Camp Romimu hosted a Jewish trivia game show two nights a week with a fun leaderboard and great interactive Torah topics. Sara Younger of Summer Playland hosted dance parties and kids’ exercises.
Menucha Classrooms featured great guest author interviews, lessons with Morah Tirtza, and singing lessons with Devorah Schwartz. The great people behind TorahAnytime and the other great Jewish apps provided us with insightful Torah content.
Then there were the businesses that pivoted in a heartbeat, like Elisheva Perlman from the Anelis Group, who took Ohr Naava’s Brooklyn Market and got it virtual in a matter of days.
These people took life’s lemons and turned them into actual lemonade.
We are not a technology-rich family and although its use for me was bittersweet, I have to say our communities rallied together and really made lockdown with kids tolerable and memorable.
May Hashem continue giving His nation tools to enhance and enrich Torah life, and the ability for us each to make the right choices in their use.
Family Comes First [Money Talks / Double Take — Issue 854]
The current Double Take presented what is probably a pretty common occurrence. The well-to-do mechutan refuses to fulfill his promise of “full support” for the young couple and the boy’s parents agonize but do nothing. Then, when the girl’s parents call to ask their mechutanim to help push a shidduch for their older daughter, the boy’s parents demur.
Message to the girl’s parents: Chinuch doesn’t start after your daughter gets married. You had 18 years to bring her up properly, and now is not the time to make sure she’s not “spoiled.” Your son-in-law is a very responsible young man, taking tutoring jobs that deny him his afternoon and night seder. Saying that you “don’t believe in this spoiling mentality” is a thinly veiled excuse for acting miserly. They are living in a machsan (a converted storage room typically located in the building’s garage with no windows). And at a machsan’s going price of $400 to 700 for 14 square meters, (150 square feet) your total monthly is not even half of what your daughter’s seminary year cost you!
Think about it; for another few hundred dollars per month, your children could live comfortably (my son rents a beautiful three-bedroom in Ramat Eshkol for $1,500). Instead of buying love and gratitude, you’re buying acrimony with both your own children and your mechutanim, to the point where the latter won’t even help you with a shidduch! Not a very good return on your dollar.
Ask your rav: “Who comes first with my charity funds: my children learning in Israel or alternately, any other good cause at home or abroad?” I believe that you create an inherent Yissachar-Zevulun obligation when you financially support the couple. You don’t live in a machsan and you don’t count every penny — and neither should they. She’s working and he’s getting a kollel stipend. What more should they do?
Message to the boy’s parents: Saying that you have three girls on their way into the shidduch market doesn’t absolve you from helping your son right now. Man up to the job! Get on the phone and tell your mechutan that he’s not living up to his commitment and recount in detail the children’s ongoing situation. Keep it clear that you have no intention of starting a fight with him. Finish by saying that your first daughter is starting shidduchim in X months, and you will not have any surplus funds at that point. But right now, the kids need an extra $Y amount per month to make ends meet, and you (yes, you) will give them that extra amount for the next X months. After that, you expect him to pick up the slack.
Follow immediately with the offer that you would be pleased to help with his older daughter, but only if he puts a commitment in writing to supply $Z monthly and mortgage money when the time comes.
Then it will be their decision how or whether to proceed. Your mechutanim are good people. When they fully grasp the issue, they won’t let the older daughter’s shidduch slip away, and they won’t continue to put pressure on your son’s marriage over a few dollars.
There’s one more thing you must do. When your mechutanim do come through, you must constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to show your hakaras hatov. If you’re together for a Yom Tov, buy him an aliyah. At your next chasunah, call him up for a brachah under the chuppah. Give him bentshing at your next son’s bar mitzvah. Send them a beautiful shalach manos every year. For their next vort, order an expensive bouquet. The result will be his telling his wife, “Listen, they don’t have money to help, but they really appreciate everything we do for the kids!”
Heavenly Taste [Endnote / Issue 854]
I tremendously enjoyed reading the story of Yom Tov Ehrlich’s “Yakob” in the Endnote section of the Pesach edition.
A few years ago I spent Yom Tov in the beit hachlamah-cum-Pesach hotel in Telshe Stone. The food was absolutely delicious. I always try to speak to the chef when I eat out, to thank him for the wonderful food and try to wheedle a recipe or two. When I inquired who the Pesach chef was, I was told, “It’s Yakob’s grandson.”
That explained the heavenly taste and siyata d’Shmaya of the delectable fare.
Laya Zryl, Jerusalem
P.S. I went home with some of the leftover jam when Pesach was over.
Enough Hatred [Role Play / Issue 854]
The article entitled “Role Play” in your expanded Pesach edition really spoke to me, at least the part about being a cop for a day. I have been a resident of Bnei Brak for almost 50 years and I served here as a volunteer traffic policeman for over 15 years, until I was forcibly retired last Adar at the age of 69.
What your actor, Oded Menaster, experienced for a single day, I experienced for those 15 years — and I took it to heart even more so, because I was a volunteer who knew that he was saving lives in the city of Torah and chassidus.
One Erev Yom Kippur I was exiting the mikveh when a chassid comes up to me and says, “I’ve been waiting for you to come out, I need to ask for mechilah from you. It was that time that you were dealing with a suspicious object….”
I immediately interrupted him and told him that I remembered the incident well.
One of the tasks the traffic police used to take care of was handling suspicious items found on the sidewalk. (In Israel there is a real fear that these items could be hiding explosives.) One afternoon, we were sent to Rechov Rashi to check out a suspicious package. As the commander of my team, I tasked one of my fellow cops to stand next to the item to ensure that no one touched it, until the police sapper came to do his thing. We always tried not to cordon off the street until the sapper arrived, so as not to interrupt the flow of people and cars, but it was absolutely necessary to keep any unsuspecting person away from the possibility of blowing us all up.
In the meantime, I was trying to keep people at bay, asking everyone to distance himself from the actual threat. A chassid comes up to me, points at my fellow policeman who was standing next to the suspicious package and asks, “Why is he allowed to stand there?” I answered with all the seriousness in the world — “That’s because we are moser nefesh for Klal Yisrael.” His response was simply to laugh in my face!
And this is what I said to that chassid who was waiting for me outside of the mikveh on Erev Yom Kippur. “What really bothered me about the entire incident was that you cannot even fathom that Israeli policemen are moser nefesh for Klal Yisrael every day of their lives.”
So that’s why I could identify with the author of your article and cry at the same time because of the hatred that the chareidi world has for Israeli policemen. And if you ask, “What about the hatred in the other direction,” ask yourself “Aren’t frum people supposed to act differently from the irreligious?”
I was brought up to love all Jews. There are enough haters in the goyishe velt.
That’s Not Self-Care [Who Cares / Calligraphy Supplement]
Esty Heller’s story about the woman engrossed in “self-care” was gorgeously written. I really disagreed though with the message — that self-care means taking care of those you love.
Self-care means taking care of yourself so you have the energy to take care of those you love. It means taking off your shoes and sheitel when you get home from work, before taking over the reins from the babysitter; it means having a big glass of water before and after you nurse the baby; it means eating a nutritious lunch before the kids come home.
It doesn’t mean self-indulgence, like taking days off work to spend in the mall, going for mani-pedis, and overspending on full-time cleaning help. That was Raizy Neuman’s mistake; she had the two concepts, self-care and self-indulgence, confused.
Let’s not be cynical about self-care, it’s really a necessity, especially for parents of large families.
Paying the Price [Inbox / Issue 853]
A letter in this week’s issue makes the assumption that the chassidic community — which I belong to — suffered similar or less COVID hospitalizations and deaths than the general population, despite completely ignoring the pandemic since the end of spring 2020.
I’d like to alert you to an important study done by the chassidic Yiddish-language publication Der Veker that showed convincingly that our community unfortunately suffered — and is still suffering — disproportionately.
The journal analyzed all the deaths reported weekly in the Satmar newspaper Der Yid, from October 2018 to January 2021, and the data showed clearly that the percentage increase of deaths throughout the pandemic has been up to four times that of the general New York population.
Since no one disputes that the virus travels from person to person, it shouldn’t be surprising that our extremely large, packed events with no precautions, where handshaking and singing abound, would actually cost lives.
Since there’s no other way to clearly and factually determine our death rate (the government doesn’t categorize Jews or chassidic Jews as a separate group), this data is the best we have. If it’s not absolute proof, it is at least raglayim l’davar that unfortunately no miracle has happened: Extreme and frequent (and unnecessary) contact among thousands of people, with absolutely no precautions, has a price in blood.
Thanks for your great work.
I’m Not the Demon [Inbox / Issue 853]
I was gratified to see the topic of men’s emotional abuse by women addressed in the magazine. It was so chillingly close to home to read the following words: “It takes years until we realize that what we are going through is called abuse, and then we are lost on what to do, and so we suffer in silence.”
What should a husband do when he comes to this realization after many years of ups and downs in his wife’s moods, when there are already many children? When the husband holds a public position that would be jeopardized by divorce? When the therapist the wife goes to is not at all qualified in this, and simply buys into the wife’s narrative? When the wife is so charming to everyone else, but behind closed doors despises, berates, and belittles the husband? When the wife is angry at the husband for months at a time? When the wife tramples over the husband, yet claims it is she who is not respected? When whatever the husband says or doesn’t say is wrong, then twisted around and thrown back at him?!
Then the husband is forced to go along with all the abusive demands, including money, time, halachic standards, not being able to fulfill his abilities and reach his dreams, and after all that to still be at the starting point of being accused of not valuing her, not respecting her and the like. It’s like a bottomless pit that the husband is always trying to fill, but will never be able to.
My feeling always was that my wife is fighting her “demons,” but she thinks I am the demon. It was very helpful to me when I finally spoke with some trained people in the field, and they assured me that I am not the problem. This ended years of me beating myself up, thinking, “If only I had done this or said that, her explosion and wrath would have been avoided.” I was awakened to the realization that no, the problem is not me, and since then I no longer allow her moods to “touch me.”
No, this does not fix the problem, but at least I know what and where the problem is. If only rabbanim were more familiar with this phenomenon, and also knew which therapists are qualified to deal with this. If only there were not such a stigma attached to divorce.
At the moment, these wives are able to play the victim while taking the stand of: “I will make your life miserable, yet I will ensure that nobody knows about it, and you won’t be able to do anything about it.”
The only solace is what the Gemara promises to those who have a difficult wife.
Just to end off with a good line: A man comes up to Heaven and sees two lines of men. One is very long, and in the other line there is just one man. He is told that the long one is for henpecked husbands, and the short one is for non-henpecked husbands. He approaches the man in the short line and asks him, “Why are you in this line?” to which the man responds, “My wife told me to stand here.”
A husband who is there
Why We Need Placebos [Outlook / Issue 853]
I regularly enjoy and learn from Rabbi Rosenblum’s views and insights. I am also extremely impressed with our frum community’s rapid response to providing convalescent plasma for other patients with COVID-19. However, I respectfully disagree with Rabbi Rosenblum’s opinion that “RCTs [randomized clinical trials] raise ethical problems because ‘unlucky losers’ in the placebo group may die as a result of not receiving the potentially life-saving drug.”
As a clinical trialist for over 30 years, I would emphasize that the point of RCTs is to provide the highest level of scientific certainty of the benefits and risks of a given medical treatment. It is the gold standard for how we establish effective therapies and write evidence-based guidelines for standard-of-care practice. If we knew the treatment was effective (which cannot be reasonably ascertained through smaller or uncontrolled studies), we would not need to compare it to placebo.
All treatments, including convalescent plasma for COVID-19 infection, carry potential risks. This is exactly why RCTs are required to determine the risk/benefit ratio. Reassuringly, all RCTs have independent data and safety-monitoring committees review the trials as they are ongoing. They can stop the trial early for any convincing signs of either efficacy or harm.
Most recently, several well-controlled RCTs of high-antibody-titer convalescent plasma for COVID-19 did not demonstrate benefit in either outpatients with early, mild disease or sicker, hospitalized patients. Hence the value of RCTs in clearly demonstrating the lack of efficacy despite suggestion from earlier, smaller studies of possible benefit. There have been innumerable RCTs across all areas of medicine, including life-threatening conditions, that have shown harm from a potential treatment such that the placebo-treated patients did significantly better. Potentially life-saving drugs can also cause more harm than benefit.
Without RCTs, we cannot know with reasonable certainty whether a treatment is truly helping, not helping, or causing worsening health. This is why it is crucial for both patients and physicians to have “equipoise” about the different treatment options (or placebo) in a given RCT. This means that all involved are willing to provide informed consent and be enrolled not knowing if the new treatment will be helpful, neutral, or harmful. Further, an independent Institutional Review Board (IRB) provides rigorous oversight to ensure that all RCTs are ethical and appropriate prior to any individuals giving informed consent to enter a RCT.
Medical treatment advances slowly because of the need to conduct safety, tolerability, and finding the right dose studies (phase 1), smaller RCTs of potential benefit and risk (phase 2), and then the definitive phase 3 trials that determine the more definitive benefit and risk.
This process was extremely accelerated and efficiently executed in the development of the COVID-19 vaccines (Project Warp Speed), for which many of the study participants ethically received placebo to ensure that the degree of any potential harm and the actual degree of benefit of the vaccines could be accurately assessed prior to their rollout to the public.
Steven R. Levine, MD
Yonoson Rosenblum replies:
No one denies that RCTs are a valuable evidentiary tool. The problem is when they are viewed as the exclusive source of information about the efficacy or safety of medical treatments (see Dr. Norman Doidge, “Medicine’s Fundamentalists,” Tablet, August 13, 2020.)
As Dr. Thomas Friedan, the head of the Centers for Disease Control under President Obama, puts it, “Despite their strengths, RCTs have substantial limitations…. [Other] methods of obtaining evidence for decisive action are receiving increased interest, prompting new approaches to leverage the strengths and overcome the limitations of different data sources.”
For one thing, RCTs are subject to manipulation. Let us say that a pharmaceutical company tests a vaccine against a “placebo” containing the same adjuvant as the vaccine. The fact that the vaccine produces no more adverse events than the placebo does not prove that the vaccine is safe. Adverse results in both groups could be the product of a toxic element — e.g., aluminum — in the adjuvant.
Moreover, studies have shown that in many RCTs, the effort to remove all “confounding factors” leads to groups being tested who bear little resemblance to the real-world patients the medical treatment is designed to help.
Finally, when there is good reason to believe that a particular treatment is effective, I cannot be as sanguine as Dr. Levine about the fact that two percent of one control group or four elderly patients in another control group died — versus none in the groups receiving the treatment.
Ambassadors in Action [Solve Our Image Problem / Issue 852]
Many leading askanim were posed the question of “How can the average frum Jew be a good ambassador?”
I grew up in a very small Orthodox community (less than 40 frum families) and now live in an out-of-town city where, although there is a large frum community, we are still clearly a minority of the population. As such, my experience has always been that I know that I am different, that people perceive me differently, and that any of my actions, good or bad, reflect on the entire Jewish People as a whole and the Orthodox community in particular.
As your “average frum Jew,” I humbly submit some of my own suggestions.
As Rabbi Paysach Krohn relates in one of his lectures: “A Jew says thank you.” Make sure you thank anybody and everybody that assists you: the check-out person in the grocery store, the pharmacist when you pick up a prescription, the flight attendant on a plane, the receptionist in the doctor’s office.
Always greet everyone, and greet them with a smile. Berachos 17a relates, “It is said about Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai that that no one in the marketplace (even a non-Jew) ever was able to greet him before he greeted them.” There is no reason not to say good morning to people we pass on the street, to cashiers in stores, to our mailmen and delivery people.
If you have nonreligious neighbors, send them shalach manos on Purim, a jar of honey or a honey cake for Rosh Hashanah, and a cheesecake for Shavuos (this way you get a little kiruv done as well).
When you are a passerby at an intersection and a car is waiting, try to cross as quickly as you can — maybe even do a quick jog the last few steps — and wave to the car acknowledging to them that you are sorry that you held them up. This is especially the case when a large group is crossing at once such as after shul let out. You probably do not realize it, but the driver is probably thinking Why can’t those inconsiderate Jews cross quicker — they are taking so long and making me late.
Leave small gifts for people who help you. For example, leave out a cold soda or bottle of water for a mailman on a hot day. If you have workers doing projects in your yard, bring them something to drink or a snack; bring snacks to the local fire or police station to show our appreciation for what they do for us. If you have a doctor’s appointment, bring a plant or snacks for the office staff.
If you work in an office building, bring snacks for the security guards, parking attendants, and other workers who assist you on a daily basis (also a really good way to get rid of excess shalach manos, chometz before Pesach, or non-kosher gift items that were received around the non-Jewish holidays).
In my local bank, there is a bell you can ring to say that you received good service from the tellers. Every time I use the bank, I ring the bell — I have never heard anybody else ring it. Whenever I ring it, every single worker in the bank looks up and smiles. It has gotten to the point that if I forget to ring it, the teller reminds me to do so. I am sure I am known in that bank as the religious Jewish guy who always rings the bell.
To implement any of these suggestions does not require much time, effort, or money, but the benefits could be immense in creating thousands of instances of kiddush Hashem and preventing chas v’shalom chillul Hashem.
Los Angeles, CA
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Issue 855)
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