Category Archives: issues of morality or ethics

Critical Race Leery

“Critical Race Theory,” which rests on the assumption that racial bias remains hard-wired in our country’s laws, policies and institutions, is dangerous nonsense. But perfectly legitimate topics for discussion and inclusion in school curricula are things that many mistakenly conflate with CRT. Those two points comprised the topic of my Ami column last week, which is at  https://www.amimagazine.org/2021/10/27/critical-race-leery/

Parshas Chayei Sara – What to Tell the Shadchan

When parents of young people seek proper husbands or wives for their sons or daughters (or when the young people do the seeking themselves), one or more of a number of factors are usually considered. For some people, the “quality” of the family of the prospective mate is paramount. For others, his or her yichus, or ancestry, plays a major role. 

Others, still, look for someone of financial means, if only to ensure that the potential couple won’t be overly pressured by legitimate economic needs. 

At the beginning of Klal Yisrael’s development, we find Eliezer, the servant of Avraham Avinu, tasked with finding a proper life partner for Yitzchak. Eliezer was a wise and accomplished man, someone who was not only wholly dedicated to Avraham but who (as per a drasha based on the adjective “damesek” used before Eliezer’s name [Braishis 15:2]) “would draw up and teach” (“doleh umashkeh”) all that he had learned from Avraham to others (Yoma, 28b). He is described by Chazal as “an elder who sat [and studied] in yeshiva” (ibid).

In fact, were it not for the fact that, at the start of Klal Yisrael, a Cna’anis would be unfit to be one of the Imahos, Eliezer’s own daughter would have fit the bill.

So, at least at that point in history, at least general yichus mattered. As did family, since Avraham asked Eliezer to look for Yitzchak’s shidduch among his kinfolk.

But we don’t find Avraham offering his servant any further guidance about how to find the right person. Avraham, it seems, knowing Eliezer’s high level of wisdom and character, relied entirely on his faithful servant’s judgment.

And what Eliezer clearly sought out in a mate for Yitzchak, as per his prayer that he be guided to a young woman who will gladly give him and his camels water (Beraishis 24:14), was a person exemplifying chesed — kindness. 

Beyond all other priorities, whether worthy or less so, what most matters when it comes to shidduchim, is the character of the potential life partner. 

All else, even if it may seem important, is secondary.

© 2021 Rabbi Avi Shafran

In NYDN – Antisemitism on the Loose

https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-anti-semitism-on-the-loose-20210826-lyc2iv4etzanvcbgku3r3cu7ei-story.html

New York Daily News, Aug. 26, 2021

by: Avi Shafran

A very old, very wry, very pointed Jewish joke:

Goldberg is in the waiting area of a European airport holding the handle of his large suitcase and looking agitated. He approaches one traveler and asks him, “What do you think about Jews?”  The fellow smiles benevolently and responds, “They are very fine people.” Goldberg thanks him and moves to another person, asking the same question. The response: “All humans are equal and worthy of respect.” Then to a third traveler; same question, similar answer.  Then another, and another. Ditto.

Eventually, though, one of the accosted responds differently: Taking a deep breath and glowering at his questioner, he says, “They’re the scum of the earth, greedy plotters to overtake the world, killers of babies, causers of wars and cheats!”

“Ah!” says Goldberg happily, looking heavenward. “Finally! An honest man!” And then, turning to the spewer of the hate, he asks “Would you mind watching my suitcase while I use the restroom?”

There are indeed regions of the world where the populaces, ignorant and gullible, can be relied upon to swallow and regurgitate the most hateful canards about Jews, and who are all too ready to hate people they’ve never met as a result. 

But surely not in the Western world.

A few items from recent days:

August 19. A school, a synagogue and a bus shelter were spray painted with antisemitic messages in Toronto.

August 20. The Los Angeles County District Attorney charged two former Torrance police officers with vandalism for allegedly spray-painting a swastika on the back seat of a car.

August 21. A man punched a 64-year-old Orthodox Jewish man as they passed one another on the street in the heavily-Jewish neighborhood of Stamford Hill. Earlier in the day, the same man punched a Jewish child in the neighborhood.  In a separate incident on Aug. 12, a 72-year-old Jewish man was slapped and had his kippah knocked off his head in another suspected hate crime in London.

August 22. Robert Smart, an evangelical Christian who lives in Florida, was outed as a prolific QAnon antisemite. He has more than 300,000 followers on Telegram, where, as “GhostEzra,” he posts Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial and “a slew of conspiracy theories that often range from obliquely to explicitly antisemitic,” according to Logically, an organization that tracks disinformation online and uncovered his identity.

August 23. An 18-year-old Jewish man wearing a kippah in Cologne, Germany, was beaten by a group of 10 attackers in a public green space and taken to the hospital with a broken nose and cheekbone.

August 23. A man violently slapped a Jewish man in the face, in front of the victim’s wife and five children, at the children’s pool area of an Aventura, Florida hotel’s resort water park. The assaulter’s wife, according to police, called the victim’s wife a “dirty Jew.”

When, as occasionally happens, I meet a fellow Jew who is convinced that if you scratch any non-Jew hard enough, you’ll find an anti-Semite lurking beneath, I vociferously disagree. I’ve experienced (in addition, to be sure, to my share of Jew-hatred, including both verbal and physical assaults) too many acts of non-Jews’ kindnesses, and known too many good people who don’t share my religion or ethnicity.

And so the joke about Goldberg, I know, is an exaggeration.  But perusing the news on almost any given day, I know, too, that exaggerations aren’t fabrications. They may overstate a case to make a point.  But the point is often, as it is here, an entirely valid one. 

Goldberg may be a joke. But antisemitism isn’t.

Parshas Balak – Invitation to Murder

Were a donkey to suddenly develop the power of speech and address me, I would, I’m quite sure, be flabbergasted.

Faced with just such an asinine address, though, Bil’am isn’t struck silent and doesn’t collapse in shock. In fact, he seems entirely unfazed, and simply reacts to his donkey’s protest — “What have I done to you that you struck me these three times?” — by responding “Because you mocked me!” (Bamidbar 22:28-29). 

What occurs to me as a possible explanation of his nonchalance is that he had become so oblivious to the difference between animals and humans — and indeed related to his beast as a partner in life — that the shock factor simply wasn’t there. True, the donkey had never spoken before, but maybe the animal simply hadn’t had anything to say until then.

The view of man as a mere fur-less ape is evident, too, at the end of the parsha, where the idolatry of Ba’al Pe’or celebrates the base physical functions that humans and lower creatures share in common. 

The idea that humans are a mere subset of the animal kingdom has been taken by celebrated “ethicist” Peter Singer to its logical conclusion. Human infants, he has said, are “neither rational nor self-conscious,” and so, “The life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog or a chimpanzee.”

Equating humans and animals, which is common in our times as well as in ancient ones, isn’t just a means of legitimating debauchery. 

It is nothing less, when truly internalized, than a prelude to murder.

© 2021 Rabbi Avi Shafran

Parshas Shemini – And That Could Make All the Difference

Even those of us with limited exposure to farm animals can easily differentiate between a cow and a donkey. Which leads Rashi to explain that when the Torah refers to our need to differentiate between the meat permitted for us Jews to consume and that which is prohibited, it means distinguishing between things like “a trachea [of a permitted animal] that has been cut exactly halfway across [which doesn’t satisfy the requirements of shechita] and one that has been more-than-half cut.”

A rather fine distinction, of course, a matter of a millimeter or less. 

Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin, zt”l, sees it as a template for judgments to be made throughout our lives.  There is a mere hairsbreadth’s difference between holiness and its opposite, he notes in his sefer LaTorah V’lamoadim. He cites the Talmudic account of Rabi Meir’s recollection of Rabi Yishmael’s words upon hearing that Rabi Meir was a sofer. “My son, be very careful in your work… for if you omit a mere letter or add one [which, in certain cases could radically change the meaning of a word], you could destroy the entire world.”

Similarly, Rav Zevin notes, we are enjoined to see ourselves as if we are half-worthy and half-unworthy; and Rabi Elazar ben Rabi Shimon adds that the world itself can be dependent on its merits outweighing – even by a single mitzvah – its demerits.  And so, with each decision we make, we should imagine that only choosing correctly will preserve the world.

Even a mere momentary thought can be that crucial element, he adds, since a marriage effected by a man who betroths a woman “on the condition that I am a completely righteous person,” but whose subsequent actions indicate otherwise, requires a divorce to be dissolved.  Because, as the Gemara says, “perhaps he had a thought of repentance” when he betrothed the woman on the condition.

The words of Robert Frost, in his famous poem, “The Road Not Taken,” come to mind.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

We often make decisions in our daily lives without considering that our choices could be potentially life-changing, even earth-shattering.” But, in fact, any of them could be.

© 2021 Rabbi Avi Shafran