Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ah Freilichen Purim

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Purim is the one holiday that celebrates a miracle that occurred during exile. It is the only neis that took place after Matan Torah outside of Eretz Yisroel that is commemorated as a major Yom Tov. The riveting events of Purim therefore speak to us in a language that has a special resonance, especially in an age when the need for salvation on so many levels is so acute.

Shoshanas Yaakov. Klal Yisroel is compared to the rose, a beautiful flower surrounded by thorns. We, too, feel the stab of thorns wherever we turn in our two-thousand-year exile. Yet, the analogy to a rose goes deeper. As long as the rose remains attached to the branch, it is protected from the thorns, and it retains its beauty, its freshness and its vitality. The thorns have a protective quality, preventing the rose from being easily severed or consumed.

So, too, the Jewish people. Once we remove ourselves from the tree of Torah which has sustained our people for millennia, we open ourselves up to the dangers of being ripped apart by destructive forces seeking our downfall. Yet, as long as we remain on the branch, the very thorns that can shred us also serve to protect us from annihilation, by reminding us of who we are and compelling us to stay connected to our source.

Our enemies who seek our ruin constantly remind us of our heritage as they seek to prevent us from becoming too entangled with them. The thorns, and our tormentors, bring us together and bring out the best in us. We don’t recognize our strength until outside factors attack one of us and we band together to defend our own.

And thus we sing, “Shoshanas Yaakov tzahalah vesomeichah.” The rose of Yaakov Avinu, the remnant of the glorious heritage of vitality and beauty, was able to overcome the lethal thorns of Haman and Amaleik. The legacy of those events became a watershed of hope and inspiration for Jews throughout centuries of persecution, in every corner of the globe.

The message it carries is as alive and relevant as ever. Our standard of living may be higher. We may seem to be better off than our grandparents. But we suffer other afflictions. There are so many areas in which we are hurting. The economic situation in this country is in shambles and the current administration doesn’t seem to be able to right the ship. Too many people are unemployed or working at jobs for which they are overqualified and underpaid. The incomes aren’t able to keep pace with the expenses.

Yeshivos and charity institutions go begging and are hanging on by a thread. People have difficulty paying yeshiva tuitions and the schools are unable to properly pay the rabbeim and teachers.

We are a generation orphaned by the passing of those rare “Mordechais” of our people who stood in the breach. In their absence, the generations grow weaker.

What are we to do? Purim’s message to the Jews of all time is to never surrender to despair, to keep our grip on faith, and to trust that Hashem will save His beloved children.

The Jews of Shushan had begun to feel that all hope was lost. The lot was drawn and their fate was sealed. Mordechai and Esther taught them the power of prayer and fasting. They rose to the challenge, and thanks to the leadership of Mordechai and Esther, G-d heard their tefillos and accepted their teshuvah. A day marked for sadness and death was transformed into a day of celebration and deliverance.

It is written in the sefer Kav Hayoshor [Chapter 97} that anyone who needs rachamei Shomayim should set aside time on Taanis Esther to say kapittel 22 in Tehillim. It begins with the words, “Ayeles Hashachar,” a reference to Esther Hamalkah. Upon completing that kapittel, one should pour his heart out to Hashem and mention the zechus of Mordechai and Esther. In the merit of these tzaddikim, Hashem will respond and open the gates of rachamim.

When we say in the pizmon of Shoshanas Yaakov that “sikvosom bechol dor vador,” we are saying that Purim teaches us to sustain hope and to pray with broken hearts to Hashem in every generation, whenever we are threatened by evil.

The Alter of Kelm wrote in a letter that we should say Shoshanas Yaakov all year round and not only on Purim. The lesson that a Jew who places his faith in Hashem will be saved is applicable not only on Purim, but on every day of the year as well.

Esther sent a message to the Chachomim, asking, “Kisvuni ledoros - Transcribe the tale of the miracle of Purim for future generations” (Megillah 7a). Esther, who the Gemara (Chullin 139b) states is hinted to in the Torah in the posuk, “Ve’anochi hastir astir - I [Hashem] will hide Myself.” This is more than a simple play on words. It is a reference to the period during which Esther Hamalkah lived and the miracle in which she played such a seminal role.

Esther, who was a prophetess, perceived that the miracle in Shushan was unprecedented. She thought that it would lead to a return of the Jews to Eretz Yisroel and a rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh. But she also saw that the Jews were destined to return to exile and live for many years in a matzav of hastir astir, when Hashem’s “Face” would be hidden from them.

She saw that throughout the ages, the Jews would repeatedly be threatened with annihilation. She understood that they would require a means of fortifying their spirits to enable them to persevere despite their travails. Thus, she reached out to the Chachomim and requested that the megillah depicting the story of the Jewish people’s salvation in golus through hidden Divine intervention be transcribed, in order to inspire her people in times to come.

Esther worried about Jews in the periods of hester, and Chazal saw the reference to her through the posuk of hastir astir. She worried about Jews who, centuries later, would need an infusion of emunah and bitachon to be able to withstand the nisyonos that threaten them.

In order to merit redemption, we must be united as were the Jews of Shushan. As long as we are separated and splintered, the kitrug of Amaleik is upon us. We are only strong and able to defeat our oppressors when we act as one people, not as disparate groups, each pulling in a different direction.

Achdus requires us to recognize that there is more than one legitimate understanding of Torah. Shivim ponim laTorah. Divergent customs handed down through the ages due to the wandering of the Diaspora should be respected. Every valid path that reaches the same destination has legitimacy. All paths join as a mega-highway ascending to Heaven.

The posuk in Megillas Esther (3:8) describes the situation among the Jews of the time of the gezeirah as “mefuzar umeforad,” scattered and splintered. The salvation arrived after Esther pleaded with them to become unified, to become bonded to one another in one cohesive group. That call for solidarity - “leich kenos es kol haYehudim (4:15) - was heeded by the entire nation, who engaged in fasting and teshuvah and poured out their hearts tefillah.

We seek to foster that unity on Purim day, when the spiritual energy of the miracle that took place in Shushan 2,366 years ago is the strongest. Thus, we undertake activities that bring about a spirit of brotherhood, such as mishloach manos, matanos la’evyonim, reading the megillah communally, and gathering with family and friends for a large festive meal that, if possible, should include the poor and downtrodden.

We engage in actions which remind us not to judge people by their looks, and to peer beyond the surface, into the soul. We masquerade about, symbolic of our golus wanderings, from one side of town to the other, and then back again, with our faces painted and covered and our clothing a bit bizarre, as we reach out to strangers and friends with Purim cheer.

We think of the less fortunate and seek to brighten their lives. We pray that in the merit of our kindness to fellow Jews, Hashem will show us mercy and hasten our personal redemption.

Let us try to put behind us the pettiness and small-mindedness that divide us and rally together for important causes to help people in need. Let us try to spread simcha and sasson wherever we can, by being besimcha ourselves, and not yielding to bleakness, irritability, self-absorption and fatalism. Not only on Purim, but all year round as well!

Ah freilichen Purim.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Confident Simcha

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

We live in an era that celebrates celebrity status. People sacrifice a great deal to achieve stardom and garner attention. If we were to look closely into our own hearts, we would have to admit that each of us, too, in various ways, seeks out public approval to reassure ourselves that we count and that we are significant.

The need for approval is so basic to human nature that it tends to shape people’s actions and perceptions more profoundly than we realize.

Have you ever noticed how the wisest, most dignified people keep their opinions and knowledge to themselves and don’t seek to impress others with their abilities? It is those who are lacking self-esteem and deeper intelligence who make the most noise and are constantly trying to impress everyone.

A person who is secure in his beliefs and confident in who he is doesn’t crave public acceptance. Such a person can accomplish much more, because he will always do what is right, no matter what people around him say.

If you don’t need the support and adulation of the people around you, you don’t have to cater to other people’s whims and you don’t have to move with the styles. You have the strength to persevere and seek true accomplishment in this world.

This is why Chazal constantly admonish us not to seek honor, because the drive for honor and public respect forces one to compromise on ideals and the truth. One who distances himself from the limelight and shuns popularity has a better chance of staying true to his faith in Hashem and withstanding the temptation to compromise on his principles.

The Alter of Kelm explains that this is the meaning of the posuk in Mishlei (3:35) which states, “Kavod chachomim yinchalu.” For a true chochom, chochmah is a nachalah, an inheritance. It is an integral part of him that no one can take away. One who needs others to validate his chochmah doesn’t really possess it in the first place. In his dependence on others, he forfeits his claim to chochmah, along with a part of his self-respect.

The Alter states that the objective of Amaleik in every generation is to demoralize the Jewish people and cause them to seek the recognition of others. He says that this is the meaning of the posuk we recently lained in Parshas Beshalach (17:11), which states, “Vehaya kaasher yorim Moshe es yado vegovar Yisroel.” When Moshe was able to keep his hands and heart upraised, not permitting them to fall as a result of Amaleik’s disdain and mockery, Klal Yisroel triumphed. If they were to look to Amaleik for acceptance and honor, they would suffer defeat.

Chazal explain that “Kol zeman sheYisroel nosim libom la’Avihem shabaShomayim, vegovar Yisroel.” For victory to be complete and lasting, Am Yisroel must follow Moshe’s example, turning to Hashem, and only Him, for approval.

This is what is meant by the posuk in Megillas Esther which states, “UMordechai lo yichrah velo yishtachaveh.” Mordechai would not lower himself to Haman. Despite Haman’s preeminence in the kingdom, Mordechai ignored him. He was totally unconcerned with Haman’s opinion of him. He remained devoted to Hashem and His Torah and therefore was able to overcome Haman and his henchmen.

A story is told of a Sefardi chacham, Rav Chaim Sinvanni, who was extolling the virtues of two fellow chachamim. To the surprise of those around him, Rav Chaim expressed his opinion that one of the chachamim was greater than the other.

The story behind his assessment was as follows. The Rav Chaim was hosting the two other chachamim, in addition to a third guest. The host set down a meal before the guest and urged him to partake. The fellow explained that he was embarrassed to eat by himself and would rather not eat alone. The host then urged the chacham who was nearby to join the guest in eating. The tzaddik explained that he fasted on Mondays and Thursdays of Shovavim, the weeks of Shemos through Mishpatim, which are said, al pi Kabbolah, to be especially appropriate for teshuvah. Since it was one of those fast days, he couldn’t join him in the meal.

They called in the other chacham and asked him if he was interested in eating lunch with the guest and he readily agreed. He sat down and ate with the other fellow, keeping him company.

That person who partook of the food was the bigger tzaddik, the chacham explained. He, too, observed the custom to fast during the weeks of Shovavim. However, he hid his tzidkus from people. He didn’t want anyone to know that he was fasting. Thus, when the Rav Chaim called him in to eat lunch, he didn’t explain that he couldn’t do so. As painful as it was for him to break his custom, he washed and sat down and ate.

The one who hides his nobility from others, the one who shares his secrets only with Hashem, has reached a higher level of lesheim Shomayim than most. His actions are purer and his reward is greater. This is not to suggest that there is anything wrong with people knowing when you do something good. The yardstick by which your good deed is measured is the motive behind it. Is your aim to give nachas to the Borei Olam or are you driven by the need for respect from other people?

When you do the right thing for the right reason, free of the desire for recognition from others, your actions come from a loftier plane. They reflect a person secure in his beliefs and not likely to be swayed by personal agendas.

A chossid once came to his rebbe and asked for a bracha for his new business partnership. The rebbe asked him if he wrote up a contract with his partner. When the man said that he hadn’t, the rebbe asked for a pen and paper. “You must have a contract,” he told the man. “Without a contract, you are heading for trouble.”

With that, the rebbe said, “I will write a contract for you.” He wrote two letters, an alef and a bais. The man looked at the rebbe as if the rebbe was mocking him.

Rebbe, this is a multi-million dollar deal. Why is the rebbe poking fun at me?” the man asked.

The rebbe explained the contract. “Alef - if you will deal with emunah and if you will have emunah, then you will have bais, bracha. Remember that.”

People who are unshakable in their emunah can withstand the worst trials. Those who are not strong in their belief in the Borei Olam fall apart at the first real challenge.

I have a new friend, Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin. He is sitting in jail in Iowa for crimes he didn’t commit, awaiting sentencing. We hope and pray that the sentence will be overturned on appeal when the truth is finally brought to light. A terrible miscarriage of justice will then be righted.

The jail is freezing cold. He has no warm kosher food. Without a clock to tell time by, days and nights merge in dreary confusion. Despite his immense suffering, he is besimcha. He says that he is an eved Hashem, and if Hashem wants him to serve Him from a dungeon, then that is what he will do.

Sholom Mordechai is a simple, straightforward, good person. Not long ago, he ran a $135 million business and now he is locked into an unheated cinderblock room. How does he maintain his sanity? With emunah, with bitachon, and with Torah. He learns Shaar Habitachon of Chovos Halevavos every day. He literally knows it by heart. As he has been doing every day for decades, he awakens before dawn to learn and recite the entire Tehillim before davening.

Locked up far from civilization, with every reason to lie in bed depressed, Sholom Mordechai learns Chumash, Gemara, Mishnayos and inyonei chassidus every day. He doesn’t daven like a man in solitary confinement with only a cement slab to call a bed and no amenities except for his seforim and bitachon in Hashem. He davens out loud, with kavanah, as if he were a chazzan in the shul in his old town of Postville, Iowa. He sings as he davens as if he’s been transported to another place.

He never dreamt that he would be where he is now. He stays sane only bekoach haTorah. He won’t turn on the TV in his cell. Ever. Not even to know the weather, not even to know the time. So if you’re feeling bad for yourself for whatever reason, think about Reb Sholom Mordechai and count your blessings.

If his life had been built around sports, cars, fun and games, then, stripped of these diversions, he’d be finished. But his life was always built around Torah and avodas Hashem. So now, robbed of his freedom, he can still be strong. He doesn’t let Amaleik define him. He defines himself, even in his bitter matzav.

What happened to him is extreme. Where he finds himself is the extreme of what can happen to a person, but it provides a lesson to us in our daily lives. What happened to him is so hard to fathom that it beggars the imagination. But to speak to him, to witness his endurance and his trusting faith is to come away with a profound sense of connecting with someone for whom Torah and emunah are not just words, but powerful, tangible realities - the only anchors in a world gone mad.

We need Torah to maintain our equilibrium. We need chochmah to be our nachalah.

This is the meaning of the posuk we discussed previously: “Vehaya kaasher yorim Moshe es yado vegovar Yisroel.” When the Jewish people uphold Toras Moshe, they have the power to overcome Amaleik in all his guises, and despite his machinations aimed at undermining our faith and destroying us.
May we merit the ultimate simcha of Adar with a nitzachon over Amaleik and a complete and lasting yeshuas Hashem that comes keheref ayin.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

True Religiosity

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

It is the perfect trivia question for a young child: In which parsha does the Torah recount the immortal words of “naaseh venishmah”? Invariably, the child will think long enough to recall the parsha which discusses the Aseres Hadibros and then proudly answer, “Parshas Yisro.”

Actually, the words naaseh venishmah are recorded in Parshas Mishpatim. The posuk (24:3) states, “And all the people answered in one voice and said, ‘We will do - naaseh - everything that Hashem has spoken.”

It is in posuk zayin that the Torah says that Moshe read the Sefer Habris to them and they said in response, “Naaseh venishmah.” Why is it that naaseh venishmah is found in Parshas Mishpatim and not in Parshas Yisro, the parsha of Kabbolas HaTorah?

The Medrashim are replete with exegesis on the superlative reaction that the recitation of these two words caused in the creation. Chazal in Maseches Shabbos (88) tell us that when Hashem heard the Bnei Yisroel say, “Naaseh venishmah,” He asked, “Who revealed to the Bnei Yisroel this special secret that is used by angels?”

What is so special about naaseh venishmah that it is a term ascribed to celestial bodies? To us, it seems understandable that the Jewish people in the desert, having been awed by Hashem’s power, agreed to follow all that He would tell them to do. These are the people who had seen the Mitzriyim being punished with makkos for enslaving them and disobeying the word of Hashem. They had witnessed the miraculous splitting of the Yam Suf, which was a more awesome sight than ever witnessed by the greatest prophets. How could they not accept the word of Hashem?

Moreover, they had heard from their parents of the promises that Hashem had made to their forefathers. As they neared the exile and redemption, they had benefited from the leadership of Moshe and Aharon and were intimately aware of the G-d of their parents and grandparents. Why would they not be prepared to accept His guidance and direction?

It would appear that there is more to naaseh venishmah than an unconditional acceptance of the word of G-d.

In last week’s parsha, the Torah states, “Vayishmah Yisro,” literally translated to mean that Yisro heard of all the great miracles that Hashem had done for the Jews. The Torah, describing Yisro as the kohein of Midyan, states that after hearing of these wondrous events, he took leave of his native land and traveled to join the Jewish people in their humble desert encampment.

The man who had achieved power, fame and prestige in Mitzrayim and Midyan was so moved by the stories he had heard that he made the life-altering decision to forsake all and move into a tent with his children and grandchildren.

Perhaps, when Chazal praise the phrase that the Jews unanimously used to accept Hashem’s dominion over them, it is because when they said “venishmah,” they were referring to the nishmah of Yisro. They were stating that they were prepared to follow Hashem even if that meant forsaking all and living in a barren desert. They were saying that they would do all that Hashem asked of them, whether they understood it or not, and even if it meant living a life of depravation and isolation. They were totally subjugating themselves to the will of Hashem.

Thus, when they responded, “Naaseh venishmah,” they were using language normally used by malachim, whose total purpose in creation is to serve the Creator. Through their own bechirah, they chose to suppress their natural and independent-minded impulses and affirm that they would be prepared to do whatever it takes to follow the word of Hashem. They wouldn’t only follow the letter of the law, but they would also be prepared to travel to the ends of the world and give up everything they had spent a lifetime acquiring in order to follow the devar Hashem, just like Yisro had done. They wouldn’t question or demur. The Torah would be their roadmap through life and they would follow it scrupulously, whether they understood its reasons or not.

Because they had expressed their absolute acceptance of the will of Hashem, they merited receiving the Torah and all the blessings reserved therein for those who follow in its path. They were given double crowns, one for naaseh and one for nishmah, to show that they had risen to fulfill the ultimate purpose of creation. As Chazal expound on the word Bereishis, “Bishvil haTorah shenikreis reishis…ubishvil Yisroel shenikre’uh reishis.” The world was created for Torah and for Klal Yisroel. By accepting the dominion of Torah without reservation, they earned the crown of creation.

Because they had shown such devotion to the word of G-d and the Torah, Hashem told Moshe at the beginning of this week’s parsha, “Ve’eileh hamishpatim asher tosim lifneihem.Rashi quotes the Gemara in Eiruvin which explains that Hashem told Moshe that it wouldn’t suffice to teach the laws two or three times until the people would be able to repeat them. Instead, he had to lay everything out for them like a table set with ready-to-eat food. The halachos must be related in a way that the people can understand the underlying principles.

This served a practical purpose, as the people and the judges would be able to extrapolate the laws to various situations.

But perhaps there is another way to understand Hashem’s instruction to Moshe that he ensure that the laws be understood by the people. The deeper reason for this is, because of the Yidden’s extreme acquiescence and announcement of total subservience to the word of Hashem, they were rewarded and obviated of the obligation to always act without understanding why. Hashem was telling Moshe that since they were prepared to completely transform their lives, they had passed the test and were deserving of the assurance that they properly understood the laws.

They were given the crown of Torah to signify that they would be able to learn and understand all of Torah if they would purify themselves and devote their lives to it. Those who pursue the Torah and observe it flawlessly not only can be crowned with the keser of naaseh for their actions, but also for nishmah, for dedicating their lives to its study. Attaining this level of holiness and understanding was only possible after Klal Yisroel said, “Naaseh venishmah,” and proclaimed that Hashem’s word would be their guiding light, whether they understood it or not. Only a people so dedicated to Torah could be blessed with the gift of being able to receive the Torah and also comprehend its laws.

The true indication of whether a person is sufficiently devoted to the word of Hashem and possesses the proper degree of fidelity to Torah is the manner in which the person acts regarding the laws taught in Parshas Mishpatim. The way a person conducts himself in business dealings with other people demonstrates his true level of religiosity. One who cheats, steals and lies in the course of his financial dealings has shown that he is not really a believer. Rather, he thinks that he must bend the law in order to earn money that in reality Hashem sends him.

One who is dishonest and defrauds people is, in essence, denying the laws of the Torah which clearly define how we must conduct ourselves. He thinks that he will get away with it and rejects the punishments the Torah prescribes for those who harm others.

Thus, the test to determine whether a person is worthy of the keser Torah of naaseh venishmah is the way he conducts himself relative to the halachos of Parshas Mishpatim. Therefore, the narrative pertaining to the Jew’s response of naaseh venishmah is in Parshas Mishpatim and not in Parshas Yisro. Acceptance of the Aseres Hadibros is not yet an indication that the person is a naaseh venishmah Yid. Adherence to the laws of Mishpatim is.

Let us all search our hearts and wallets and make certain that we are as scrupulous in our financial dealings as we are in our observance of Shabbos and the other cardinal laws. We will thus ensure that we are worthy of the brachos reserved for those who cling to the Torah with sincerity and we will merit as much nachas as Yisro.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

What makes one Jewish person Orthodox, another Conservative, and a third Reform? What is it that has defined Orthodoxy ever since that term was formulated to describe our way of life?

When the Reform movement began, its proponents claimed that they were simply interested in reorganizing davening to make it more orderly and beautiful. They shortened the tefillah by removing parts that they claimed were no longer understood, relevant or necessary. There was absolutely no attempt to tamper with the fundamental underpinnings of Yiddishkeit or make any readjustment to the doctrines which are at the foundation of our religion. Nor did they amend any halachos or observances.

That all came later. It was in 1885 that the Reform rabbis, meeting in Pittsburgh, issued their proclamation to do away with all the “rituals” that they deemed to be “relative” and “dispensable.” They discarded the Torah and removed it as an influence in their lives. They did away with awaiting a return to Eretz Yisroel and established, for all intents and purposes, a new secular religion.

The Conservatives also began as a seemingly harmless group devoted to maintaining halacha but concerned with tweaking a few observances here and there so that they would conform with the times. Everything else came later. At their founding, they referred to themselves as “Historical Judaism,” as they sought to counter the radical inroads of the Reform.

Conservatives sought to implement certain minor changes and amendments, and promoted them all as being consistent with biblical and rabbinic precedent. They maintained fidelity to the traditional form and precepts of Judaism and did not deviate by changing any of the laws, not even the language of prayer.

Eventually, the Conservative movement also degenerated and became a religion without a God, constantly seeking to amend its observances and conforming with the prevailing notions in style at the moment. To them, the mitzvos of the Torah, which we cherish and observe as the word of Hashem, as we seek to draw closer to Him, are the stuff of legend which are followed in order to feel good and feel part of some glorious ancient tribe with fabulous customs and recipes.

The Conservative yeshivos and rabbinic organizations became tools of the secularists. Although they may have been founded with good intentions and employed Talmudic scholars, they became pedestrian-level institutes of sophistry, doing little more than providing a cynical religious cover to a meandering, secular, assimilationist organization.

Orthodoxy was the term given by the Maskilim to those who remained loyal to the Torah,halacha and minhagim as handed down through the generations. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, “Orthodoxy looks upon attempts to adjust Judaism to the ‘spirit of the time’ as utterly incompatible with the entire thrust of normative Judaism which holds that the revealed word of G-d rather than the values of any given age are the ultimate standard.

“The Orthodox community, institutively realizing that liturgical reforms were only the beginning of a long-range process designed to change the tenets and practices of Judaism… reacted with an all-out effort to preserve the status quo.”

Orthodoxy regards with great alarm even the slightest tampering of any part of the tradition. It refuses to recognize or participate in any united collective religious organization that deviates from - or reforms in any way - traditional halachic Judaism, which is based upon observance of the Shulchan Aruch.

We have repeatedly written about Rabbi Avi Weiss and his innovations. We have written exposés about his yeshiva, Chovevei Torah, and its graduates. He is at it again and authentic halachic Orthodoxy is once again sleeping at the wheel. We feel that it is about time that he be considered outside of Orthodoxy. Once and for all, the collective bodies of Orthodoxy should declare that he has driven himself out of the camp.

One can’t help but detect the gleeful tone of The Jewish Week’s report last week, that opened with the breathless lead, “The Orthodox world is one letter - the letter “i” - away from calling a woman ‘rabbi.’”

The report continues:

“Sara Hurwitz, who has for almost a year filled rabbinic roles at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale alongside the Orthodox shul’s longtime rabbi, Avi Weiss, recently took on the new title ‘Rabbah’(pronounced ra-BAH).”

A similar report on the same matter was issued by the JTA: “Sara Hurwitz, who has been performing rabbinical duties at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in New York City, last year had been given the title of Maharat - a Hebrew acronym that stands for a leader in legal, spiritual and Torah matters.”

The report goes on to state that, “Rabbi Avi Weiss, spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute and Hurwitz's mentor, said the acronym had failed to take hold and that Hurwitz would henceforth be called ‘rabbah,’ a feminized version of the title ‘rabbi.’

“‘This will make it clear to everyone that Sara Hurwitz is a full member of our rabbinic staff, a rabbi with the additional quality of a distinct woman’s voice,’ said the statement issued by Weiss’ office.

“Hurwitz, who has served at the Hebrew Institute for nearly seven years, has completed the same course of training and examination as male Orthodox rabbinical students.”

Her curriculum was modeled after that of the male students at the liberal rabbinical school Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (YCT) in Riverdale, which Weiss founded and leads.

It must be noted that the rabbinic training program that this woman and her male colleagues undergo at YCT is not close to the level of scholarship required to become anything that even resembles a rabbi who is a competent religious leader and halachic decisor. Chovevei Torah students learn an approximate average of 67 minutes of Gemara per day. Contrast that with Yeshiva University’s Undergraduate Yeshiva College Mazer Yeshiva Program, which requires a minimum of approximately 4.5 hours per day of Gemara, or a yeshiva like Bais Medrash Govoah in Lakewood, which has a minimum of some 8 hours a day, and you start to realize what the extent of Ms. Hurwitz’s “same…training and examination as male Orthodox rabbinical students” really is.

What is really important is that even if she would truly be qualified, the title is an oxymoron. The word “Orthodox” cannot possibly be joined with the terms “female rabbi,” “rabbah,” “maharat,” or whatever one chooses to call the position, because authentic halacha does not permit such an arrangement, period.

The concept of an “Orthodox female rabbi,” which both Rabbi Weiss and Ms. Hurwitz claim to be legitimate within Orthodoxy, is actually anything but Orthodox. Indeed, it follows that not only is Ms. Hurwitz not an Orthodox rabbi or rabbah, but Weiss himself, by setting her forward, behaves in a clearly un-Orthodox manner and should no longer be called an Orthodox rabbi.

The sad truth is that we are not surprised by this new development, and, if things continue with little reaction from authentic Orthodoxy, we will not be surprised when Weiss releases his future press release saying that they have decided to do away with the “rabbah” title and have chosen to make things simpler by calling her “rabbi.”

Avi Weiss has a long history. He kept on pushing the envelope as far as he could and waited to see if anyone pushed back. When there was none, he took the next step, and the next and the next. By now he has clearly stepped off the cliff of Orthodoxy and descended into a different realm.

His establishment of his so-called “Open Orthodox yeshiva,” Chovevei Torah, and the “maharat” title are ways of testing the waters. He waited to see if anyone would cry out and protest. No one did, so he advanced to the next step.

The truth is that there was one solitary cry of protest - by this newspaper. Over the years, Yated Ne’eman has been consistently chronicling Weiss’ aberrations and raising its voice in protest, but it has been a lone voice in the wilderness. Orthodoxy in general - right, left and center - has been deafeningly silent on all of this. Weiss has heard the silence as one hears a thunderbolt. He has determined that if the only one who really cares is the Yated, then certainly he can move forward with his agenda. And he has.

We cannot allow someone whose guide is 20th century feminism, rather than halacha as codified by Chazal and practiced by religious Jews throughout the ages, to continue to hijack and attempt to redefine Orthodoxy. The rabbinic ordination of Sara Hurwitz was the culmination of a clever campaign which surreptitiously sought to synthesize feminism with normative Judaism through a series of incremental steps.

Weiss’ actions are even more brazen than those of the original reformers, yet he has succeeded in evading the eye of scrutiny and is permitted to parade as an Orthodox rabbi.

Why should we care? For the same reason Jews cared for the past three hundred years when reformers of all stripes advanced their agendas. We fought back and repelled them out of the normative community. There is no reason that Weiss should be permitted to speak in our name. There is no reason that students of his rabbinic institute should be allowed to label themselves as Orthodox and compete against frum candidates for open pulpits in synagogues across the country.

Having learnt from the Maskilim of previous centuries, the students of that movement in this century demonstrate that they have learned from the mistakes of the former. Without seeking to entrap the masses on an individual level and convert them to their beliefs, they concentrate their efforts on a communal level, aiming to conquer pulpits in communities across the United States and Canada in their bid to corrupt Orthodoxy.

Zacharias Frankel, referred to as the Conservative movement’s intellectual ancestor, wrote that, “The means [of transformation] must be grasped with such care, thought through with such discretion, created always with such awareness of the moment in time, that the goal will be reached unnoticed, that the forward progress will seem inconsequential to the average eye.”

If Weiss is not condemned, he will not stop with “maharat,” or “rabbah,” or whatever other silly name he comes up with. Pretty soon it won’t be considered silly, and there will be more and more aberrations, if the phenomenon is permitted to take hold.

Yes, it is late. We should have dealt with this earlier. But it is not too late.

This is not a time to remain silent.

Weiss is succeeding in trampling, with impunity, on our most prized possession. We can not just stand on the sidelines and watch.