Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky: "To stick to one’s principles is indeed praiseworthy. But to know when to break them is gadlus!”
Alternative Approach [Verbal Victories / Issue 906]
I really enjoyed the article about Yanky Kaufman’s stuttering therapy program. While I would have loved to hear more about the techniques of the treatment, it was really fascinating and inspiring to hear about his own journey through this difficult speech impediment and how he was able to turn a difficult nisayon into his tafkid, something I think anyone could learn from.
One thing struck me in particular, though; that Mr. Kaufman tried traditional therapy methods and was not successful, which led him to discover and implement a system of his own, with which he successfully helps others, even though he is not accredited as an SLP.
I am and have always been a person who trusts the science, who doesn’t subscribe to alternative medicine or unconventional healing. However, it seems like recently more and more people in my life have been in situations where they have exhausted all traditional science/medicine options and were forced to seek alternative options that had incredible and unprecedented results. Anecdotal evidence to be sure, but regardless, it has deepened my appreciation for a story like this, which could be so useful to so many.
Thank you for your important work!
Sold Out [Yiddishe Gelt / Issue 905]
Reading your most recent Yiddishe Gelt installment, I was filled with the same sense of panicky dread that I feel when I’m standing in the store before Yom Tov, when I know I’m out of my depth. I’m not sure when outfitting your kids became a competitive sport, but by now it is, and I’m left in the dust of my more skilled competitors, who’ve somehow managed to find their girls matching dresses and accessories, to color coordinate the boys, and to find the baby matching socks, while I’m still desperately trying to figure out if this size ten dress runs true to size and if it’ll cover her knees and where are the boys’ sweaters.
I don’t know why manufacturers seem to consistently produce too little clothing to meet the needs of the frum community. Is this a deliberate attempt to create hype and increase demand for their stock? There’s no reason every store is sold out of everything weeks before Yom Tov. Why do I need the steely determination and brutal efficiency of a drill sergeant to dress my children in accordance with our community’s standards?
(Yes, yes, I could save all that time and stress by shopping in Target and Walmart, I can already hear the Inbox letters. But like it or not — and I don’t, especially — once kids get to be a certain age, we need them to fit into their peer group if we want them to be healthy and well-adjusted. And if that means that 90 percent of the kids in their class are wearing certain styles, guess where I need to shop?)
Like so many of us mothers, I’m juggling a lot — a demanding job, energetic children, and the stresses of running a frum home. Why should outfitting my kids for Yom Tov and Chol Hamoed add so much time and stress to my already overloaded schedule? Manufacturers and store owners — I’m already extending myself far beyond my budget to shop from you. Can you at least produce the clothing I need? If time after time, season after season, your stock is instantly depleted and your customers are scrambling, you need to consider changing something.
Until then, I’ll be over here in the back, desperately searching for that mauve romper in a size 9m.
New and Old [EndNote / Issue 906]
I have two words to say to Abie Rotenberg for pushing through his writers’ block and releasing Journeys 5: Thank you!
Like most people my age, I grew up with Journeys and those classic songs remain my playlist of choice. I would call my kids “second-generation Journeys fans” because they have no other choice. But they grew up with a mother who knows every word, inflection, and musical nuance of the first four Journeys albums, along with explanations for the songs, developed over decades of listening to them again and again.
Listening to Journeys 5 together with my children is a whole new level, though, because we are experiencing the newness together — learning the songs, discussing the themes, appreciating the variety and balance of the tones and genres. And it is such a pleasurable and wholesome bonding experience for all of us, one that I couldn’t have orchestrated in any other way.
I’ll admit that I was a touch skeptical that any new Journeys could join the nostalgic hall of fame of the first four. But I was proven wrong, as it is a masterpiece that combines the timeless Journeys brand with a current flavor.
Thank you, Abie, and everyone involved in the production, for the gift you’ve given this generation!
Chaya Suri Davidson
P.S. We totally agree that the songs matched the singers perfectly — you nailed it!
Justified Alarm [Text Messages / Issue 905]
I would like to commend Mishpacha magazine for its willingness to present a contrarian view and lend a voice to the position of Rabbi Eytan Kobre in his recent article covering the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Supreme Court justice nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. However, I am likely not the only reader who took strong exception to his vehement disapproval of the Republican senators’ probing of the candidate in that hearing.
While it is difficult to dispute Jackson’s sterling qualifications, impressive experience, and even temperament, I believe that it was reasonable and, in fact, prudent for the senators to express serious reservations about her candidacy for a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.
Jackson’s rulings demonstrate a propensity for misplaced compassion that does substantial societal harm by creating needless victims and preventing the full rehabilitation of the perpetrator. In addition, the judge has too often exhibited a judicial philosophy that has defied the plain meaning of the law where it did not comport with the progressive causes for which she appears to advocate.
Finally, her ambiguity regarding application of the law to pressing social and moral issues is of utmost concern in an era when all societal norms are facing a full-frontal assault. The senators’ questions were intended to expose these significant and, possibly, irredeemable flaws in Jackson’s philosophy and record.
My view is that all Americans, and in particular, frum Jews, should be alarmed by a Supreme Court justice nominee whose positions may represent a threat to public safety and religious liberty, both of which are values that we deeply cherish. We should therefore welcome the Republican senators’ thorough and vigorous examination of Jackson’s suitability for this position.
Menachem Zomber, Baltimore, MD
Just One Element [The Story That Never Grows Old / Issue 905]
Although your portrayal of Rabbi Wein as a celebrated historian is accurate, in headlining your article with the phrase “celebrated historian Rabbi Berel Wein,” you captured just one element in a multitude of leadership achievements.
Fortunately, you compensate by ending the article with his raison d’etre: “But the only absolute in Jewish history is that Jewish communities only flourish when there is a strong core of Torah learning and mitzvah observance.”
Growing up as a Monsey boy and fortuitously spending many years in his shul, I will share with you my impressions of “eclectic rabbinic visionary Rabbi Berel Wein.”
Rabbi Wein’s greatness lies in his ability to see the enormity and destiny of the Jewish People through the full kaleidoscope of Jewish leadership opportunities. People, he would often muse philosophically, grow exponentially and enhance their lives by changing career direction every few years.
As a three-time beloved shul rav, a rosh yeshivah in a prestigious yeshivah, a mechaber seforim, a noted author, a kashrus expert, and also as a historian, Rabbi Wein actualizes and lives his philosophy, and has become one of the most dynamic and exceptional rabbanim in modern history.
He practices his macrocosmic view that Torah learning and mitzvah observance afford everyone multiple opportunities to contribute to the perpetuation of Jewish life and the Jewish nation.
So, while it is true that he has contributed immensely to the Orthodox Jewish community’s awareness and appreciation of Jewish history, his major achievements are the thousands of lives that he has impacted, changed, and transformed through his legendary and remarkable positions of rabbinic leadership.
Allan Levy, Jerusalem
No Apology [The Story That Never Grows Old / Issue 905]
I enjoyed the interview with Rabbi Wein. I wish to clarify some of his remarks.
Contrary to what he says, the Spanish government has not formally apologized for the expulsion, which was issued in the city of Granada on March 31, 1492.
On March 31, 1992, as a journalist, I covered for different American publications the main event for the commemorations of the quincentennial, held at Madrid’s Bet Yakov synagogue. In attendance were the king of Spain, Juan Carlos, and his wife, Sophia, all the ministers of the Spanish government, and rabbis from Spain, Morocco, Israel, Great Britain, the United States, and Turkey. Chaim Herzog, president of Israel, on his first official trip to Spain, was among the politicians.
It was expected that the king would apologize for the expulsion at the March 31 event. He did not. In his speech at the synagogue, he touched upon “the moments of splendor and decadence Spain lived through,” as well as the times of persecution for political, ideological, and religious reasons.
“We now have the responsibility of turning this encounter and this country into a true place where future generations can gather,” he said. “May hatred and intolerance never be the cause for desolation or exile anymore.”
A thorough reading of the speech shows he never apologized for the expulsion. Neither have other high-ranking officers of the Spanish government.
The reason for not apologizing is simple: The 1492 Expulsion Decree was abrogated de facto by Article 21 of the Constitution of June 5, 1869, which established freedom of worship. “The exercise in private or public of any other religions [other than Christianity] is guaranteed to all foreign residents in Spain without any further limitation than the universal rules of morality and law,” it stated.
The Ministry of Justice, responsible for non-Catholic religions, decided to recognize the Bet Yaakov synagogue on December 14, 1968, the first officially sanctioned since 1350, basing its decision on the above-mentioned constitution.
Jews did not wait for an apology for the expulsion and began returning to Spain, mostly from North Africa, at the end of the 19th century. Although few in number, they settled mostly in Seville, Madrid, and Barcelona. The Bet Yaakov synagogue was preceded by one in 1917 that met in an apartment in downtown Madrid. It closed its doors in 1938.
Daniel Santacruz, Maale Adumim
The Benefit of Boundaries [Inbox / Issue 905]
As a successful, experienced teacher, I identified with the sentiments of the letter writer who said that children actually crave boundaries and frontal learning.
At times, principals may be unwilling to set the necessary boundaries for successful classroom and life experiences, often out of fear about what parents will say if their child comes home complaining. Principals who are afraid to impose rules, articulate expectations, and create boundaries sometimes create a culture in which boundaries that are necessary in the classroom are negated as soon as a child interacts with the principal. This is detrimental because it leaves the teacher on her own, with little support, and also teaches the child to “play” the adults in her life and find the ones whose buttons will be pressed the most, and give the most leeway, allowing boundaries to be crossed.
While this is problematic in a school environment, it can be outright damaging to these students once they enter the real world of shidduchim, relationships, and the workplace. Some of these students receive quite a shock when they find out that in the world outside of school, boundaries are a necessary and realistic part of life.
Students who experience firm boundaries rooted in joy and love during their school years ultimately benefit later on.
When to Break Our Principles [Principle of the Matter / Double Take — Issue 903]
I would like to share with your readers something I heard from Hagaon Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky ztz”l. I am not sure if it applies to Shaya or not; he surely should ask his rav what to do — presumably he has one. However, in general, it is good to know the following fundamental rule.
Reb Yaakov related that he was standing at the entrance to a shul in Brooklyn, where a wedding was about to take place.
Suddenly, a car pulled up and out came Rabbi Dr. Joseph Breuer ztz”l, the founder and chief rabbi of Washington Heights’ German community. He was known for his outstanding piety and his strict punctuality; but perhaps not so many are aware of his vehement anti-Zionist position.
As he approached the door to the synagogue, he noticed that on either side of the aron hakodesh waved an American and an Israeli flag. The rabbi promptly turned around and headed back to the car. When his driver asked him where he was going, Rav Breuer replied that he was returning home, since, as a matter of principle, he would not enter a hall with a Zionist flag.
The driver protested that the rabbi was old and frail and they had traveled a long way to attend the wedding, but Rav Breuer was adamant.
“A principle is a principle,” he said.
The driver asked if the Rav would at least go into the shul for a few moments and say mazal tov to the families, without remaining for the wedding. But the Rav responded that he could not enter the synagogue even for a moment.
Finally, the driver argued that the chassan and kallah would be very aggravated when they learned that the Rav had exerted so much effort to attend their simchah but had not remained. At this, Rav Breuer stopped to think, performed an about-face, entered the shul, and attended the wedding.
Reb Yaakov remarked: “It was then that I realized that Rav Breuer is a genuine adam gadol. To stick to one’s principles is indeed praiseworthy. But to know when to break them is gadlus!”
Rav Shalom Schwadron ztz”l related the opposite scenario.
A very pious young man came from Bnei Brak with his family to spend Succos with his widowed mother-in-law, who was thrilled that they would be with her all week.
However, after inspecting the succah, which was kosher, he discovered that it did not comply with a chumra (stringency) of the Chazon Ish ztz”l. He immediately announced that he would find another succah to eat in by himself, and leave his family with his mother-in-law.
Reb Shalom screamed from the pulpit: “Meshuganeh! Meshuganeh! How could he violate a strict Torah prohibition of causing anguish to a widow in order to fulfil a chumra? Did he think he was performing the Will of Hashem?”
May Hashem grant us the wisdom and the strength to always do what is right.
A Mashgiach from Yerushalayim
It’s the Small Victories [Light Years Away / Fiction Serial]
Light Years Away is one of my favorites reads in the magazine. Ruti Kepler’s excellent characters all feel a little extreme — Nechami denied herself everything, and her sister is afraid to bend on anything. Gedalia lives in a world of “no,” while Dudi only seems to hear “yes.” But watching them rub against each other offers so much food for thought.
I loved Shua’s observation this week — that an individual’s nisayon is custom-sized and that even if it looks simple to an outsider, it’s what Hashem delivered to him for his own growth.
It’s easy to downplay our nisyanos when they’re about the little things in life. What’s the big deal in biting back a sharp comment? I’m supposed to be proud of turning off the podcast when the guest started using vulgarities? This isn’t the stuff they’re writing ArtScroll books about — those are about saints, or sinners turned saints. The middle-of-the-road guy whose struggles look like a two on the Richter scale is never going to be profiled.
It’s easy to ignore the fact that it was thousands and thousands of good decisions that have kept us on the middle path. In a world getting progressively degenerative, staying on solid religious level requires walking up the down escalator.
When it comes to the stories we share with our children, we need to keep this idea in mind. Astounding tales of mofsim inspire awe — but can trigger hopelessness: That will never be me. Stories of the baalei teshuvah who left it all to embrace Torah can inspire us — but also hold the risk of engendering a sense of futility: I was born frum, so I can never change my whole life around for Hashem.
We need to share stories of little victories, of perseverance when tired or cranky, of the tiny good choices that, together, create the beautiful mosaic of a life well-lived.
No Substitute for Family [Light Years Away / Fiction Serial]
I’m a big fan of all of Ruti Kepler’s stories, but I think Light Years Away is the best one yet. Although the setting is quite different from my own environment, the characters and themes are so real and relatable.
Out of all the subplots, I’m most fascinated by the dynamics surrounding Dudi and the relationship between him and his family. There is clearly a lot of pain and misunderstanding all around, but what the author so exquisitely portrays is the love that underlies all of the complex interactions, and tethers Dudi to his siblings and parents, and them to him, despite the differences and disappointments.
After all the buildup, when Dudi offered to travel across the world with his brother and niece, I literally cried. It brought to mind a message I’ve been trying to convey to my own children over the past few years, during which time our community has experienced a series of internal conflicts that have resulted in unfortunate rifts between close family members.
I tell my kids: There is no substitute for family, not even the closest ideological ally or friend. Your family are the people who will drop everything to help you when the chips are down, and the ones who you know will always have your back, even if your daily lives don’t intersect on a regular basis.
Yes, it gets messy and complicated, and it might not be perfect. But you’ve been given the biggest gift in the world, so hang on to it with all you’ve got.
M. L. Stern
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 907)
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