Category Archives: Uncategorized

Is Metzitza Bipeh In Fact Dangerous?

A tentative agreement was reached yesterday between NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and an association of mohelim and Orthodox representatives with regard to the practice of metzitza bipeh.

An article of mine that appeared in Haaretz yesterday on the ostensible tie between the rite and the cold sore virus (which can be dangerous to babies) can be read here.

Letter to Editor in Hamodia

The following letter appears in this week’s Hamodia:


“John Doe New Yorker”’s diatribe against Mayor de Blasio is an unfortunate example of how some “commentary” these days in Orthodox media mirrors the worst of the angry rhetoric and illogic that passes for political commentary outside our community.

Emboldened by anonymity, the writer mimics the overheated labor union leader who blamed the mayor for indirectly causing the recent murders of two police officers.

The mayor’s sin?  Having publicly shared his personal experience of worrying about the safety of his son, who is black.  (Mr. and Mrs. de Blasio told their son that he should act respectfully and obediently in any interaction with police.)  That, the writer contends, told “society’s worst elements that the men in blue are the enemy.”

He then interprets the mayor’s efforts to keep the recent New York protests of grand jury decisions peaceful (which they overwhelmingly were) as a “failure to stand up for” police, as if police are always in the right – and as if declaring that falsehood would have discouraged, rather than encouraged, violent reaction.  What nonsense.

We visibly Jewish Jews are fortunate to live in a place and time when we do not feel threatened by the police.  If, chalilah, there were some rash of suspicious police actions against young members of our community, would Jewish mothers and fathers not be concerned, and not advise their children to act with caution in the presence of police?  If we wouldn’t, we would be criminally negligent parents.

One can feel, and express, support for police officers (who deserve it), be critical of those who refuse to accept a grand jury’s decision, and even point to excesses on the part of some minority activists, all without unfairly smearing innocent people.  We don’t have to buy into the crass “us versus them” narrative of partisan hacks.

Guilt for the murder of the officers rests only on the murderer and on those few miscreants who called for such violence.  That doesn’t make for compelling, righteously indignant op-eds.  But it serves truth, which is what we as a community and Hamodia as its organ should be fostering.

Rabbi Avi Shafran

“Overheard” — New Hamodia Column


“Overheard” is a new column of quotes and occasional commentary that is being published by Hamodia each Wednesday.  The first offering is below.



 “I know [Hamas] well.  They have no relation to Islam, from their highest ranking sheikh to the youngest of them. Many Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, asked me to marginalize Hamas and were opposed to my reconciliation deal with it.”

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, to the emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani during a meeting in Doha, according to the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.  Mr. Abbas also confided to Mr. al-Thani that Hamas tried to assassinate him in 2006.

(He should have taken his friends’ advice.)



“We Germans will never forget this.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, recalling how Nazi Germany started a world war that resulted in the deaths of millions and resulted in her country’s reluctance to enter into conflict.  In the case of ISIS, though, she continued, she believed her government had to make an exception, and deliver weapons to Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq.

(Who’d have thought that German militarism would ever be cheer-worthy?)



“What a world we live in.”

CNN host Brian Stelter, incredulous, to his audience after curtly dismissing his guest, British Muslim activist Anjem Choudair.  Mr. Choudair had defended choosing “9-11” when asked to count numbers for a studio sound-check, telling his host “Well, you know if you had a sense of humor, maybe you would have laughed.”

(Welcome to reality, Brian. Stick around a bit.)



“When they asked me questions about the Holocaust, because they hadn’t heard about it, it was very difficult to respond as a professor without getting emotional.”

Dov Waxman, a Jewish professor of political science, recalling his first teaching job in Ankara, Turkey, at the beginning of the Second Intifada

(“…hadn’t heard about it…”  As Brian Stelter said, “What a world we live in.”)



“On Sunday, there was a rally in London to protest something I never thought would need protesting in modern Britain: the rise of anti-Semitism.

Historian and Daily Telegraph (London) columnist Timothy Stanley

(Actually, it needs considerably more than protesting.)



“It could be seen as provocative in some parts in Brooklyn if it was parked in certain areas, I guess. It doesn’t really bother me too much.”

Unidentified Brooklyn resident, when asked by the New York Daily News for a reaction to a license plate “HAMMAS” on a black Dodge in the Bay Ridge neighborhood.  The car also sports a Palestinian flag.

(“All it takes for evil to prevail…”)



“LOL And how much is it in spare parts? Check and see if you can get kidneys or livers there is demand.”

A supporter of ISIS, responding in a tweet to a like-minded person who had tweeted that Yazidi captured by the group were available for purchase as slaves for anywhere between $180 and $350. 

(Hearts, however, they have little use for.)



“With love to Mom, from Avram. Lodz Ghetto. March, 1943”

Inscription on an amulet made from two old coins, found in the ghetto’s ruins by a Polish man whose heirs turned it over to the Shem Olam Institute for Education, Documentation and Research on Faith and the Holocaust, located in Kfar Haroeh in Israel.  The amulet was apparently intended to be a keepsake in the event its creator were to be murdered by the Nazis.



“We appear before you today, after having lost our dearest beloved, who was loved by young and old alike – the famous puppet, who angered the enemy for many, many years… the heroic martyr Muhammad Al-Arir, who would put a smile on the faces of children…”

The moderator of a recent episode of the Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV channel’s “Pioneers of Tomorrow” children’s show, paying tribute to the actor behind the giant bee character Nahoul, who was killed in the Gaza war.  Nahoul famously encouraged a boy from Jenin to attack his Jewish neighbors and “turn their faces into tomatoes,” and encouraged a little girl to follow her dream to become a policewoman so that she could “shoot the Jews.”  Nahoul asked her with a smile, “All of them?” and then, when receiving an affirmative answer, replied “good.”

(The only good malevolent giant bee…)


“He told them he was sick and didn’t want to eat.”

A fellow hostage of journalist Stephen Sotloff, H”yd, murdered by ISIS terrorists, describing how Mr. Sotloff managed to fast on Yom Kippur while in captivity.

(Yesh koneh olamo bisho’oh achas…)

© 2014 Hamodia

Pesach is Coming!

The two essays immediately below are several years old but I thought I’d post them here all the same, in honor of Pesach’s imminent arrival, and in the hope that readers might find them worthy of thought, or even of sharing at the Seder table.

Other Pesach pieces that might be of interest can be accessed by clicking on “PESACH” in the category list below to the right.



I’m happy to report that my regular weekly essay will now be appearing in Hamodia, a popular Orthodox daily newspaper.  The essays will appear in the Wednesday issue of the paper.  You can subscribe to Hamodia, which offers a wealth of worthy fare, by clicking here.

Hamodia is permitting me to post the essays shortly before each Shabbos following their print publication.  And so they will appear on this site then.

I will also be posting here other articles I have written, either for other periodicals or exclusively for the website.

Thanks for checking out this site, and please return often.


Note to Readers

I have added a new category to those listed to the right: “Oldies (Hopefully Goodies)”.  Older, often lengthy pieces will be posted under that category. 

The first article to be posted there is titled “Graphoanalysis: Science or Snow Job?”, and concerns the popular pursuit of divining people’s character from their handwriting.  It appeared in Ami Magazine in 2011.


Ksiva Vachasima Tova

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all visitors to this site a ksiva vachasima tova : May you be inscribed and sealed in the book of life for the coming year.

Thank you for visiting and reading the thoughts offered here.

Articles about Rosh Hashana can be accessed by clicking on “Rosh Hashana” in the “categories” list to the right, below.

May 5774 be a year of only blessings for you and yours.


What Da’at Torah Really Means

There’s been considerable buzz of late about what has come to be called “Da’at Torah,” the concept of trusting in the judgment of great Torah scholars regarding not only issues of Jewish religious law, or halacha, but issues of a sociological or even political nature no less.

In December, as Yeshiva University sought a new president, its long-time president Rabbi Norman Lamm explained why the opinion of leading talmudic scholars at the seminary was not afforded great weight.  “We don’t work on the concept of da’as Torah,” he said. “[T]here is no principle of infallibility that we accept.”

At a recent conference, the “Modern Orthodox” group Edah’s director, Rabbi Saul Berman, recounted how encounters with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik had left him with the impression that the elder rabbi made a distinction between religious matters, where “his authority on Halacha was binding,” and political or social matters, where they were not.  The implicit message, The New York Jewish Week’s Debra Nussbaum-Cohen wrote, was that “Modern Orthodox Jews are not bound by Da’at Torah,” a belief “prevalent in the haredi world.”

A week later, Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt pointed to a public apology that was offered by a respected rabbi for a misjudgment as proof that Da’at Torah is an inherently indefensible belief.

Whether Da’at Torah should be discounted by non-haredi Jews or not (not), and whether a rabbi’s admission of having made a mistake undermines the principle (it doesn’t), one thing that certainly does not help the cause of objective consideration of the idea is its misrepresentation.

Da’at Torah is not some Jewish equivalent to the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility.  Not only can rabbis make mistakes of judgment, there is an entire tractate of the Talmud, Horiut, predicated on the assumption that they can, that even the Sanhedrin is capable of erring, even in halachic matters.

What Da’at Torah means, simply put, is that those most imbued with Torah-knowledge and who have internalized a large degree of the perfection of values and refinement of character that the Torah idealizes are thereby rendered particularly, indeed extraordinarily, qualified to offer an authentic Jewish perspective on matters of import to Jews – just as expert doctors are those most qualified (though still fallible, to be sure) to offer medical advice.

Jewish tradition refers to Torah leaders as the “eyes of the community.”  That is because they see things more clearly than the rest of us.  Not necessarily perfectly.  And there are times when G-d purposefully hides things from even His most accomplished disciples.  But more clearly all the same.

What compels the concept of Da’at Torah is nothing less than belief in the transcendence of Torah.

In Jewish theology, Torah encompasses every corner of life.  It is not limited to matters of Jewish law and practice.  It extends to how one is to view happenings and face challenges, in one’s community, in one’s country, on one’s planet.

The phrase Da’at Torah may be a relatively new one, but the insinuation that the concept it reflects is some sort of modern invention by “unmodern” Jews is absurd.  “Emunat chachamim,” or “trust in the judgment of the Torah-wise,” has been part and parcel of Jewish tradition for millennia.  The Talmud and Jewish history are replete with examples of how the Jewish community looked to their religious leaders for guidance about social, political and personal decisions – decisions that, as believing Jews, they understood must be based on authentic Torah values.

The phrase “Modern Orthodox” seems to mean several very different things to different groups of Jews.  But if the word “Orthodox” is to have any meaning at all, it has to reflect a basic belief in the supremacy and scope of Torah.  And an appreciation of the concept of Da’at Torah – understood correctly – directly follows.

In the words of a great leader of Jews: “The very same priest whose mind was suffused with the holiness of the Torah of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer, of Abaye and Rava, of the Rambam and Ravad, of the Beit Yosef and the Rama, could also discern with the holy spirit the solution to all current political questions, to all worldly matters, to all ongoing current demands.”

Those words were written in 1940, as part of a eulogy for a great Lithuanian Torah-scholar and leader, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzenski.   Their author was Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

                                                    (c) 2003 Am Echad Resources

                          [This article originally appeared in The New York Jewish Week.]