Friday, December 30, 2016


By Rav Dov Fischer

For Zion's sake I cannot hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I cannot rest silently.  And so I write our shul.

It is the fifth day of Chanukah.  This week of Chanukah, our people find ourselves under attack.  It is not “unprecedented” attack.  We have faced worse — much, much worse. Yet, once again, we are under attack by the usual outright haters (the Arab world, the tyrannies like Venezuela and Cuba in South and Central America and in Africa, the communists like China), by the “friends” we don’t need like France, Spain, Italy, and New Zealand, and by our “true friends who do us a favor by telling us what is best for us” like the Obama-Kerry Administration.  Today John Kerry gave us advice for 70 minutes.  I just had the opportunity, through the miracle of the internet, to hear his advice. His tone was condescending and arrogant.  It would have been nice if he had spoken to Iran, China, or Castro that way.  However, Schoolyard Bullies are afraid of getting hit; they are tough specifically with people whom they expect will not hit them back — and they usually wait to attack only when they are pretty certain that they have a quick get-away route planned before their targets can rebound and can hit back.

It is no secret that this Rav of this Shul supports Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. I have been supporting them for nearly fifty years. Moreover, that support for Judea and Samaria is a core foundational hallmark of the nearly 150 congregations of the National Council of Young Israel comprising nearly 25,000 families.  Nor is it for me only a matter of talking the talk, offering a nice sermon.  Rather, I have walked the walk.  In 1985, my family were among the first 35 families to create a new Jewish community in Samaria — the Ginot Shomron community of Karnei Shomron.  There are now approximately 7,000 Jews living in Karnei Shomron, which now is a small city.  If Wikipedia is correct, our initial 35 families now comprise approximately 4-5,000 of those “settlers.”    Barack Obama and John Kerry, along with their UN cohort, call people like my family "settlers in Occupied Palestine."  In truth, they are Jewish residents of beautiful communities in Samaria (Shomron) and Judea (Yehudah).

I remember the struggle in that first year.  We had arrived from all parts of the United States.  We from New Jersey.  Benny and Marge from Cleveland.  Dan and Judy from Chicago.  The Harrows from Beverly Hills -- we all were so excited to have a Beverly Hills family in town because they were going to build a swimming pool in their backyard, so they had no trouble making friends.  Nat and Fran from Long Beach.  Sammy and Sue from Far Rockaway.  Sharon and Jerry from Cleveland.  Two or three of us were rabbinic families.  A few accountants, lawyers, doctors.  There was this couple from England; she trained horses.  This new family who kept borrowing our outdoor broom without permission.  Harry, a semi-retired guy, who helped persuade me to start a weekly Talmud Class in my home, in our finished basement. 

The sewage in our neighborhood that first year of construction was terrible, and there was an outbreak of Hepatitis A.  The electric company had not yet hooked up all the homes to the main grid, so some of us had to run cables to our neighbors’ homes to have electricity.  It was a 20-minute walk to the bus stop, and the bus came once “every so often.”  One evening, one of my daughters cut her chin badly in a freak accident, and I had to carry her somehow for half an hour (because a 20-minute walk takes 30 minutes when you are carrying a three-year-old) to the bus stop while compressing a handkerchief against her chin to staunch her bleeding.  By miracle, the bus came "sooner than later," and we got her to the hospital in Kfar Saba, where they had just innovated a new way to deal with severe lacerations that effectively promoted healing without stitches and thus without scarring. Meanwhile, the phone lines in the neighborhood regularly disconnected.  (It was before cell phones; indeed, maybe we were the reason that cell phones were invented.)  But we lived there because we were reclaiming Jewish land that G-d promised to us.

Were we "settlers" in "Occupied Palestine"?  What "Palestine"?  When Jordan occupied that land from 1948-1967, there were no "Palestinians" complaining that Jordan was "occupying" any "Palestine."  The very word "Palestine" was always a synonym for "Israel."  In the 1960 movie "Exodus," Paul Newman's Ari ben Canaan is trying to help the people aboard the ship reach Palestine.  The original name of the Jerusalem Post was the Palestine Post.  The original name of the United Jewish Appeal was the "United Palestine Appeal."  The American agency that raised funds for the Irgun was called the "American League for a Free Palestine."  The very term was assigned to Israel by the Romans after they expelled us from Israel when they destroyed the Second Holy Temple; they drove us into a two-thousand-year Exile and sought to distance the land from us by naming it for the Philistines of the Bible.  This was six centuries before Mohammed.  The Romans drove us from Jerusalem and re-named the city for one of their gods.  For the next two thousand years, we prayed three times daily for a return to Jerusalem, and we even have included that prayer in the grace after every meal we have eaten these past two millennia.  We fasted in sackloth with bitter tears, with lights dimmed and candles flickering, reading Lamentations, as we remembered Zion and Jerusalem these two thousand years of Exile, never waiving our claim.  During all that time, no Arab country ever yearned for or made Jerusalem a capital.  Muslims face Mecca and Medina in prayer; we Jews always have faced Jerusalem.  When Jordan illegally occupied East Jerusalem for nineteen years from 1948-1967, driving out its Jewish inhabitants who had been living there for centuries, the King never once visited Jerusalem in the two decades he occupied it.  So again the question:  What "Palestine"?

We Jews once lived in France, but they threw us out in the early 1300s and told us effectively to “go back to Israel.”  England threw us out in 1290 and told us effectively to “go back to Israel.”  Italy put us in ghettoes in 1555.  Spain threw us out in 1492 and told us effectively to “go back to Israel.”  Portugal the same in 1497.  By the early 1900s, we were being driven out of North Africa, out of Eastern Europe.  Those Jews who remained ultimately were murdered.  Germany — well, let’s just be polite and say they told us to “go back to Israel.” 

So over the centuries we were driven out and murdered during Crusades, Blood Libels, Inquisitions, Pogroms, and Holocausts with the understanding that no one had a place for us, and we should just go back to Israel.  Some who got out of Germany alive, on ships like the “S.S. St. Louis,” were barred from America’s waters.  They, too, found that they had nowhere to go.  Other ships had similar journeys: The “Struma” (all Jewish passengers drowned at sea while no country would admit them), the “Patria” (barred at Haifa port from debarking), the “Exodus” (not as sanguine a result in real life as in the movie).

We live today in magical times.  Our grandparents barely could have dreamed of a day when Jews would have a land of our own in the land of our ancestors.  And yet today Israel is real and is a normal part of our lives.  It no longer is a dream.  For that dream to have become real, it cost 6,373 Jewish lives in 1948 — included among those dead were nearly 2,000 Holocaust survivors — who withstood the onslaught of seven Arab armies determined to destroy the country before it even breathed life.  For those of us who remember 1967, we recall how uncertain we were then whether Israel would survive the attacks from Egypt, Syria, and Jordan all at once — and that precarious fate is why Nasser closed the Straits of Hormuz, legally an act of war, and then gained UN Secretary-General U Thant’s instant agreement to withdraw the UN “peacekeeping force” from the Sinai.  They were going to “drive the Jews into the sea.”  I was thirteen-years-old then, and I remember.  I remember reciting the Tehillim in eighth grade.  I remember watching the news, as early news reports and claims from Egypt and Syria described having destroyed the Israeli air force and spoke of Jews being slaughtered and fleeing towards the Mediterranean with nowhere left to flee for their lives.  I remember.  Do you?

Israel never would have been in the “West Bank” if Egypt and Jordan and Syria had not started that war.  Israel never would have reunited Jerusalem if King Hussein had acquiesced to Israel's pleas that he not open a third front on the east.  But he and they made war — and they lost.

These past few weeks in shul we have been reading about the “West Bank” every week.  Only it is not called that in the Torah portions. Avraham and Sarah lived in Hebron.  Yitzchak accompanied his father to Mount Moriah at the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem, and he went to Beer Sheva.  Yaakov and the boys lived in Shechem; Yosef later was buried there.  Rachel died and was buried on the road to Bet Lechem.  These are the very center of the Jewish homeland.  (Spoiler Alert:  Nowhere in the Torah will we ever read in any forthcoming parsha about Tel Aviv, Haifa, Raanana, or Kfar Saba. But we read of Eilon Moreh and Bet El. The very heartland of Israel is in Judea and Samaria.) 

For those pundits and politicos who would assign this week’s nastiness to Bibi Netanyahu, I think of what I have learned in two decades as a litigation attorney.  It is true:  When you let the other side order you what to do, and you back down and concede most everything they demand of you, and you do not stand up for your very survival — it really is true: people like you better!  Just give them everything they are suing you for.  Just agree to all of their terms and conditions without standing for your rights. Back down on everything. Suddenly, they no longer are calling you "stubborn" and no longer are scowling.  Rather, as you sign everything away to them at the mediation, they smile at you, toast to your health, invite you to their country club. They love you!  Sure, your business will go bankrupt, and you will disappear from the face of the earth, but people will say: “Geez, what a nice guy!” They will send you a Christmas card and a Kwanzaa card and will wish you a very happy Hhhanukkah. Indeed, were Jews ever more popular on film and screen, on stage and in literature, than after the Holocaust?  The Ivy League schools started diluting their anti-Jewish quotas and started allowing us to attend.  Major law firms began allowing Jews to practice among their associates.  Banks suddenly allowed Jews to apply for executive positions. A new Chancellor of West Germany arose and warmly placed a wreath at Yad Vashem and shed a tear.  It was lovely.

The reality is that America became strong by seizing land all over this continent — just plain taking it.  Since there was no Torah or Holy Biblical Testament to justify the original Thirteen Colonies expanding to grab all the land on the continent and “occupying the territories” and “settling them,” we Americans just proclaimed that we had a “Manifest Destiny” to take all of it.  The term was coined by John L. O'Sullivan, a journalist, in 1845 in an atmosphere and time when President Polk was moving to annex Texas.  Yes, we paid Napoleon cash, fair and square, for Louisiana and the land comprising much of fifteen of our states. (And Abraham bought the Cave of Machpela.) But we outrightly annexed Texas.  And we forced England to give us Oregon on fear of annexation.  And President Polk further forced Mexico to concede to us all or part of what would become the states of California, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado,  and Wyoming as parts of the "Mexican Cession."  Remember the Alamo?  It is an interesting story:

We drove the Indians out of their homes and ancestral lands all over this continent, from the Cherokee in North Carolina to the Seminole in Florida, all the way up through the Great Plains. We force-marched tens of thousands into Oklahoma.  Thousands of Native Americans died amid the “Trail of Tears.”   Eventually we contained them in concentration cam. . . — er, in "reservations." We signed agreements with them, and then we breached our signed pledges.  We did it because, as Custer’s men experienced, the country could not abide a Two-State Solution.  The America that we know today was fighting for its identity and its very life.  The country, for its survival and success, needed one direction.  And a century later, as we understandably were frightened after Japan sucker-bombed Pearl Harbor, hitting us blindly without warning that we were at war, we frantically and frenziedly rounded up more than 100,000 loyal American citizens of Japanese heritage, and we forcibly interned them in California concentration camps.  The man who would be known as the most liberal of U.S. Supreme Court justices, then Gov. Earl Warren of California, authorized the round-ups, and the United States Supreme Court, voting 6-3, upheld the constitutionality of rounding up more than 100,000 Japanese Americans and depriving them of their equal rights as American citizens and their basic human rights. Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944).  That is what America did only a few decades ago.

We who deeply and intensely love America, who are firecely loyal and boldly patriotic to America, who seethe with fury as we see American flags burned by ignoramus college students who know nothing whatsoever of what America is and the greatness and goodness and kindness into which America has evolved, nevertheless understand that the road to getting America established was challenging.  And this is the Government now pontificating to Israel as she tries to survive amid a sea of enmity and medieval barbarismn that is even more difficult than being bordered by Mexico in the South and by Japan across an ocean.

No people ever have been as kind and forthcoming, as the Jews of Israel have been, to a second demographic in their country, who aim to destroy them. In Israel, the Israelis have been far more forthcoming than many of us among American Jews ever wanted them to be.  But it was for them to decide, not for us in America.  So they gave up so much at Camp David and so much at Oslo.  They gave Arafat a quasi-country — the "Palestine Authority" — and all Arafat had to do was teach a new generation to stop hating us so much.  He even promised in writing that he would do just that: stop the incitement to hate.  The Japanese and Germans did that after World War II, teaching people to stop hating, and now America acknowledges the pain and suffering caused by the destruction of Hiroshima, grateful for Japan’s friendship today, even as Japan acknowledges the pain and suffering caused by the destruction at Pearl Harbor, grateful for America’s friendship.  History is not erased, as it cannot be, but we now are friends and allies.

Arafat chose to proceed along a different course. After promising a new tone and direction, and getting his polity and his money, Arafat chose to use the new mass-media at his control to teach a new generation of Arabs to hate Israel and Jews even more.  So his schools use textbooks that teach children to hate Israel and all Jews.  His TV and radio teach that.  The summer camps for children teach that.  Their children’s TV shows teach the hate.  They name streets for terriorist murderers.  They pay monthly stipends — for life — to families of people who have murdered Israelis. 

These are Israel’s neighbors. It is not Canada, and it is not MexicoAmerica speaks of building a wall to keep out undocumented aliens who come here for jobs.  Israel has had to build a wall to keep out suicide bombers and radical Islamist terrorists who come solely to maim and murder.

When Israel offered Arafat 97% of Judea and Samaria, under the ill-fated governance of Ehud Barak during the Clinton years, Arafat responded by rejecting the offer and igniting the first Intifada.  And so it always has been.  They will not make peace with Israel and will not compromise.  They will not accept a Jewish country in the Middle East. They just won’t.

Meanwhile, Amricans should consider: Even if Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah got Israel out of the way, what country would “they” be?  Their claimed polity is divided into two completely separate geographic polities.  The Gaza and the “West Bank” have nothing in common.  They are geographically apart. Their economies are completely different.  Gaza is ruled by Hamas — an Al Qaeda/ISIS South.  In Gaza, they build underground tunnels with cement they are given to build homes, and they shoot rockets at Jews from schoolyards, hospitals, and rooftops of apartment buildings. Indeed, every few years Hamas kills leaders of Fatah.  Meanwhile, Abbas now is in the eleventh year of the four-year term to which he was elected in 2005.  He won’t hold new elections because he is a dictator.  "Palestine?" This is no country.  The two segments have less in common than do India and Pakistan — and how long did that jigsaw puzzle of a singular polity last?

Abbas walked away from talks with Israel nearly eight years ago, as soon as Barack Obama, who began his Presidency with a trip to Cairo bypassing Israel, made clear that he was inserting himself into the region with an agenda.  Abbas saw that the new American President would be doing the heavy lifting for him.  Obama demanded an Israeli “settlement freeze” so that an environment “conducive to peace talks” could resume.  Prime Minister Netanyahu infuriated his own base at that time by agreeing to the freeze.  No one remembers today that Netanyahu wanted so much to have good relations with Obama that he agreed to freeze construction in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in Judea and Samaria. All Bibi demanded was that Abbas recognize the right of Israel to be a homeland for Jews.  Abbas thereupon walked and never talked.  He got a freeze without engaging in talks. Ultimately, the freeze continued for nearly a year, but there never were talks.  It was a one-sided Israeli concession that achieved nothing. Abbas has not talked with Israel for years.  Finally, after seeing that the construction freeze was binding Israel unilaterally with no purpose, Israel resumed building.

Jews have been living in Judea and Samaria for thousands of years.  The Jewish presence in Jerusalem, even during the worst of the Middle Ages, was so manifest that the main area of Jewish life there was known as the “Jewish Quarter” of Jerusalem.  We all know the Jewish Quarter.  Many of us have been there.  Many of us have visited several times. We have been to the Kotel.  Christians likewise know that Jews always have lived in Jerusalem.  Christians know about the Beit HaMikdash and the Temple Mount.  It is all recorded throughout their Bible, too.  Those who deny or even question the Jewish connection with East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount inexorably deny the authenticity and veracity of the central theological document of the Christian faith.

Yesterday John Kerry reiterated Barack Obama’s position, refusing to veto a Security Council resolution that said explicitly that Jews are barred from living even in East Jerusalem, even in the Jewish Quarter, even worshipping at the Kotel.  The only other period in modern times that Jews were barred from the Kotel was the 19 years from 1948-1967 when Jordan occupied East Jerusalem.  In those days, Jordanian snipers had guns pointed, and Jews could not dare go to the Kotel.  Now, if the United Nations could have its way, they would return us to such a world, and yesterday John Kerry spoke for 70 minutes justifying his and Barack Obama’s support of that position.  It was a nasty and mean-spirited 70-minute lecture, a parting shot from a Schoolyard Bully before turning away to run for safety before the target's big brother arrives in three weeks to offer some added protection. 

As for the Obamas and the Kerrys, once they pass from posing danger we turn a page.  We leave them to their destinies, and we focus on ours. They are soon — in 22 days — to be part of our past.  As I recite Al Hanisim and as I light menorah candles this week, I am reminded by the recitals about the Chashmonaim and the Syrian-Greeks of yore, of how we Jews never forget our past.  We remember the heroes of our past.  We remember everyone in our past.  And we learn from them all as we chart our futures.  They become names we never forget as we teach our future generations:  comparatively good names like Darius and Cyrus, other names like Haman and Nebuchadnezzar, more contemporary names like Adolf Hitler and Joszef Stalin, other names like Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg.  We remember all of them, and they became part of an eternal heritage and lesson.

East Jerusalem is our future.  Karnei Shomron is our future.  The 800,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem and throughout  Judea and Samaria are our future.

Those Jews are not moving anywhere.  Not the 20,000 Jews in Ariel nor the 50,000 Jews in Betar Illit, nor the 64,000 in Modi’in Illit nor the 37,000 in Maaleh Adumim, the 16,000 in Givat Ze’ev, the 8,000 in Efrat, the 7,000 in Kiryat Arba. No one is going to move 800,000 Jews out of their homes. Not the foreign minister of New Zealand and not the governments of Senegal and Venezuela and not Barack Obama and John Kerry. 

Rather, our future is to watch the Jews of Jerusalem and all the rest of Judea and Samaria soon grown to a million.  They will soon.

Many of you do not know this — I am surprised that none of the pundits on TV or in the newspapers comment on this, so maybe our shul will be the only ones who now know it — but the fact is that the United Nations Security Council actually voted once before to ban Israel from settling another area, declaring the Jewish presence there to be permanently illegal.  On December 17, 1981, in Security Council Resolution 497, they voted to declare as illegal the act by Menachem Begin’s Government extending Israeli law into the Golan Heights, by which Israel effectively had annexed the Golan into Israel.  That was 35 years ago — two years before Starbucks ever sold a cup of coffee outside Seattle and four years before Blockbuster opened its first store with the novel idea of renting out VHS tapes.  It now is 35 years later.  By 1989, eight years after that UN Security Council vote, the forbidden Jewish population of the Golan Heights had grown to number 10,000.  By 2010, the population there had grown to 20,000.   The plan is to expand to 30,000 by 2020.   The local Druze, who had thought they would get the land from the Jews after the Security Council vote, now have come to terms with a permanent Jewish sovereignty. And as they look across the border into Syria, the Druze know they could do worse.  (Too,

despite the BDS noise, many of us here get our Yarden Wines from the Golan Heights.  Don’t you, too?$2520Heights

We now are planning for Year 50, the fiftieth anniversary of Israel’s June 1967 reunification of Jerusalem and liberation of Judea and Samaria.  It will be a great 50th year.  There will be fresh new faces — new Jewish babies born up and down the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, new faces of new residents continuing to move into and expand those communities and fortify the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem, and — who knows? — perhaps even a new American embassy and an American ambassador to Israel based, for the first time in American and Jewish history, in Jerusalem the Eternal Capital City of the Jewish People.

As Jewish destiny unfolds in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, where will Barack Obama be? Maybe on a golf course in Martha's Vineyard.  Maybe on a salsa dance floor in Havana. Maybe co-authoring a New York Times op-ed with Jimmy Carter.  And what of John Kerry?  Maybe he will be on a bicycle ride somewhere in Paris.  Maybe at a James Taylor concert, singing  "You've Got a Friend." And maybe teaching a college course on "Middle East Peacemaking and Negotiating Peace with Iran" at some liberal arts college in the northeast where students receive trigger warnings from microaggressions and enjoy safe spaces with coloring books where they can explore mindfulness amid cups of hot cocoa and gobs of Play-Doh.

Their retirement awaits them in three weeks. A worn page closes.  Jewish destiny awaits the Jewish people.  A new book opens.

Happy Chanukah.  Chag Chanukah Same’ach.  I attach Psalm 122 and Chapter 62 of the Book of Isaiah.

Rabbi Dov Fischer
Rav, Young Israel of Orange County
Irvine, CA

Psalms Chapter 122 תְּהִלִּים

א  שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת, לְדָוִד:
שָׂמַחְתִּי, בְּאֹמְרִים לִי:        בֵּית יְ-וָה נֵלֵךְ.
1 A Song of Pilgrims, of David. I rejoiced when they said unto me: 'Let us go unto the house of the L-RD.'
ב  עֹמְדוֹת, הָיוּ רַגְלֵינוּ בִּשְׁעָרַיִךְ, יְרוּשָׁלִָם.
2 Our feet are standing within thy gates, O Jerusalem;
ג  יְרוּשָׁלִַם הַבְּנוּיָה כְּעִיר שֶׁחֻבְּרָה-לָּהּ יַחְדָּו.
3 Jerusalem, that art built as a city that is unified as one;
ד  שֶׁשָּׁם עָלוּ שְׁבָטִים, שִׁבְטֵי  קָהּ--עֵדוּת לְיִשְׂרָאֵל:       לְהֹדוֹת לְשֵׁם יְ-וָה.
4 To there the tribes went up, the tribes of the L-RD, as a witness unto Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the L-RD.
ה  כִּי שָׁמָּה, יָשְׁבוּ כִסְאוֹת לְמִשְׁפָּט: כִּסְאוֹת, לְבֵית דָּוִד.
5 For there were set thrones for judgment, the thrones of the house of David.
ו  שַׁאֲלוּ, שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלִָם;    יִשְׁלָיוּ אֹהֲבָיִךְ.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may they who love thee prosper.
ז  יְהִי-שָׁלוֹם בְּחֵילֵךְ;         שַׁלְוָה בְּאַרְמְנוֹתָיִךְ.
7 Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.
ח  לְמַעַן, אַחַי וְרֵעָי אֲדַבְּרָה-נָּא שָׁלוֹם בָּךְ.
8 For the sakes of my brethren and companions, I will now say: 'Peace be within thee.'
ט  לְמַעַן, בֵּית-יְ-וָה אֱלֹ-ינוּ    אֲבַקְשָׁה טוֹב לָךְ.
9 For the sake of the house of the L-RD our G-d I will seek thy good.

Isaiah Chapter 62 יְשַׁעְיָהוּ

א  לְמַעַן צִיּוֹן לֹא אֶחֱשֶׁה, וּלְמַעַן יְרוּשָׁלִַם לֹא אֶשְׁקוֹט, עַד-יֵצֵא כַנֹּגַהּ צִדְקָהּ, וִישׁוּעָתָהּ כְּלַפִּיד יִבְעָר.
1 For Zion's sake will I not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her triumph goes forth as brightness and her salvation as a torch that burneth.
ב  וְרָאוּ גוֹיִם צִדְקֵךְ, וְכָל-מְלָכִים כְּבוֹדֵךְ; וְקֹרָא לָךְ שֵׁם חָדָשׁ, אֲשֶׁר פִּי יְ-וָה יִקֳּבֶנּוּ.
2 And the nations shall see thy triumph, and all kings thy glory; and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the L-RD shall mark out.
ג  וְהָיִית עֲטֶרֶת תִּפְאֶרֶת, בְּיַד-יְ-וָה; וצנוף (וּצְנִיף) מְלוּכָה, בְּכַף-אֱלֹ-ָיִךְ.
3 Thou shalt also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the L-RD and a royal diadem in the open hand of thy G-d.
ד  לֹא-יֵאָמֵר לָךְ עוֹד עֲזוּבָה, וּלְאַרְצֵךְ לֹא-יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שְׁמָמָה--כִּי לָךְ יִקָּרֵא חֶפְצִי-בָהּ, וּלְאַרְצֵךְ בְּעוּלָה:  כִּי-חָפֵץ יְ-וָה בָּךְ, וְאַרְצֵךְ תִּבָּעֵל.
4 Thou shalt no more be termed “Forsaken,” neither shall thy land any more be termed “Desolate”; but thou shalt be called, “My delight is in her,” and thy land, “Espoused”; for the L-RD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be espoused.
ה  כִּי-יִבְעַל בָּחוּר בְּתוּלָה, יִבְעָלוּךְ בָּנָיִךְ; וּמְשׂוֹשׂ חָתָן עַל-כַּלָּה, יָשִׂישׂ עָלַיִךְ אֱלֹ-יִךְ.
5 For as a young man espouseth a virgin, so shall thy sons espouse thee; and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy G-d rejoice over thee.
ו  עַל-חוֹמֹתַיִךְ יְרוּשָׁלִַם, הִפְקַדְתִּי שֹׁמְרִים--כָּל-הַיּוֹם וְכָל-הַלַּיְלָה תָּמִיד, לֹא יֶחֱשׁוּ; הַמַּזְכִּרִים, אֶת-יְ-וָה--אַל-דֳּמִי, לָכֶם.
6 I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, they shall never hold their peace day nor night: 'Ye that are the L-RD'S remembrancers, take ye no rest,
ז  וְאַל-תִּתְּנוּ דֳמִי, לוֹ:  עַד-יְכוֹנֵן וְעַד-יָשִׂים אֶת-יְרוּשָׁלִַם, תְּהִלָּה--בָּאָרֶץ.
7 And give Him no rest, till He establish, and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.'
ח  נִשְׁבַּע יְ-וָה בִּימִינוֹ, וּבִזְרוֹעַ עֻזּוֹ:  אִם-אֶתֵּן אֶת-דְּגָנֵךְ עוֹד מַאֲכָל, לְאֹיְבַיִךְ, וְאִם-יִשְׁתּוּ בְנֵי-נֵכָר תִּירוֹשֵׁךְ, אֲשֶׁר יָגַעַתְּ בּוֹ.
8 The L-RD hath sworn by His right hand, and by the arm of His strength: “Surely I will no more give thy corn to be food for thine enemies; and strangers shall not drink thy wine, for which thou hast laboured;
ט  כִּי מְאַסְפָיו יֹאכְלֻהוּ, וְהִלְלוּ אֶת-יְ-וָה; וּמְקַבְּצָיו יִשְׁתֻּהוּ, בְּחַצְרוֹת קָדְשִׁי. 
9 “But they that have garnered it shall eat it, and praise the L-RD, and they that have gathered it shall drink it in the courts of My sanctuary.”
י  עִבְרוּ עִבְרוּ בַּשְּׁעָרִים, פַּנּוּ דֶּרֶךְ הָעָם; סֹלּוּ סֹלּוּ הַמְסִלָּה סַקְּלוּ מֵאֶבֶן, הָרִימוּ נֵס עַל-הָעַמִּים.
10 Go through, go through the gates, clear ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway, gather out the stones; lift up an ensign over the peoples.
יא  הִנֵּה יְ-וָה, הִשְׁמִיעַ אֶל-קְצֵה הָאָרֶץ, אִמְרוּ לְבַת-צִיּוֹן, הִנֵּה יִשְׁעֵךְ בָּא; הִנֵּה שְׂכָרוֹ אִתּוֹ, וּפְעֻלָּתוֹ לְפָנָיו.
11 Behold, the L-RD hath proclaimed unto the end of the earth: say ye to the daughter of Zion: “Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.”
יב  וְקָרְאוּ לָהֶם עַם-הַקֹּדֶשׁ, גְּאוּלֵי יְ-וָה; וְלָךְ יִקָּרֵא דְרוּשָׁה, עִיר לֹא נֶעֱזָבָה.
12 And they shall call them “the holy people, the redeemed of the L-RD”; and thou shalt be called “Sought out, a city not forsaken.” 

Friday, November 28, 2014


This past week, the Orthodox Union issued a brief statement aimed at criticizing a shul rav who had posted on his personal blog some strong views on how to deal with the scourge of murder that has taken place these past two or three weeks in Israel.  The rav, who is one of the most respected and prominent rabbonim in America -- and how I wish I could be a member of his shul, just to hear his weekly divrei Torah (sermons), but libi b'mizrach va'ani b'sof ma'arov (My heart is in the East, but I am in the utmost corners of the West) -- is deeply respected and revered among hundreds of his colleagues in the American Orthodox rabbinate.

What struck me most about the utterly inexplicable OU posting is that, by way of contrast, the O.U. seems incapable of addressing the real issues on its plate, as several of its shuls fall under the sway of a non-Orthodox neo-Conservative Judaism rabbinate that brings in and normalizes within Orthodox Union shuls deviations from mainstream normative halakha.

This is no secret.  Orthodox Union rabbis know this.  Orthodox Union laity know this.  It is the same kind of running embarrassment within the Orthodox Union that was true twenty years ago until the Baruch Lanner scandal finally erupted on the pages of Gary Rosenblatt's Jewish Week.  When Rosenblatt broke the story, the Orthodox Union circled its wagons, and all the Orthodox Union management came to Lanner's defense.  There were endless accusations of "loshon horo" and repeated defenses of Lanner replete with recounting the accolades rightfully attributable to NCSY.

As a child of NCSY -- I was in NCSY, my wife was a chapter head in NCSY, my kids all were in NCSY, one of my daughters met her husband in NCSY, I was a rabbinic chapter advisor in NCSY -- no one needs to tell me about how great NCSY is.  But I also knew of Baruch Lanner.  As I joined the chorus supporting the Jewish Week's revelations, I also was condemned for spreading not only the truth but also for calling for a shake-up within the Orthodox Union.  And indeed the OU finally capitulated to a growing chorus of indignation and condemnation, agreed to appoint an outside committee to investigate itself, fired certain highly placed OU executives, somehow gave a pass to some others, and life proceeded with NCSY cleaned up and made beautiful for a new generation.

There now exists in the Orthodox Union a growing deviation from Jewish law in several of its synagogues.  Rabbis from a neo-Conservative Judaism framework have been entering certain OU pulpits in outlier communities, and slowly the OU brand is becoming treif.

I will say that again: The Orthodox Union mark, the Orthodox Union trademark is becoming treif -- non-kosher -- a non-kosher Orthodox Union logo, as it embellishes the stationery and letterhead of certain Orthodox Union synagogues in America.  With one deviation from Jewish law after another.  The point has been reached where an Orthodox Union logo, an Orthodox Union trademark, an Orthodox Union symbol may assure me that Heinz baked beans and ketchup are kosher -- and G-d knows that NCSY and Yachad are amazing -- but an Orthodox Union symbol, an Orthodox Union trademark, an Orthodox Union logo for a synagogue no longer assures that the temple truly is compatible with the Orthodoxy associated with Modern Orthodox Judaism, with Centrist Orthodox Judaism, with the Judaism of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), with the Centrist/Modern Orthodox Judaism associated with Yeshiva University, with the Centrist/Modern Orthodox Judaism associated with the Rabbinical Council of America, and certainly not with the Orthodox Judaism associated with the name of HaRav HaGaon Rav Yosef Dov (Ber) Soloveitchik zt"l.

This tragic recognition of the non-halakhic inroads that have entered Orthodox Union synagogues in several parts of America and in Canada is a wide-open unspoken reality, an embarrassment and a shame to the Orthodox Union name and trademark, to the very kosher logo of the Orthodox Union, separating its revered kashrut operation dramatically from the deviations from Jewish law that now have entered several Orthodox Union places of worship.  Until now, it has seemed appropriate to keep the not-so-secret "secret" under wraps, but since the Orthodox Union has opened a new door and turned a new leaf, arrogantly manifesting the audacity of publicly criticizing a great American rav of a great and courageous American shul, it is time to ask the Orthodox Union to look within.

We all have been in shuls where a rabbi gets up on Shabbat morning and, in his sermon, makes some inane comment like "Hamas are terrorists with no place in the human order, and if the leader of Hamas were to walk into this shul right now, I would say it right to his face!"  What courage!  Like the leader of Hamas is going to fly to some American suburb to come into that shul -- what, for Kiddush Club?  And that phony courage, that false bravado, is exactly what characterizes the Orthodox Union's alacrity to criticize publicly one of America's most respected and prominent Orthodox rabbonim for advocating strong ideas that parallel ideas published previously by the likes of Attorneys Nat Lewin and Alan Dershowitz for dealing with the same scourge.

All while lacking the courage or the basic decency to look within its own network of synagogues to deal directly and proactively with the expanding sub-network of neo-Conservative Judaism rabbis entering some of its temples, bringing with them sharp deviations from halakhic Judaism and from the Centrist mainstream norm.

We lived through this once before, during the early phases of the Baruch Lanner Scandal.  Let us see whether the Orthodox Union has grown in self-direction and integrity since that time, and whether it is prepared finally to take public responsibility for the way that several of its houses of worship in America and in Canada now are staining and tarnishing the mark of the Orthodox Union, the logo of the Orthodox Union, the symbol of the Orthodox Union -- and the very name of the Orthodox Union.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Today, on November 19, 2014, I attended the regularly scheduled bi-monthly meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Rabbinical Council of America in my capacity as a fifth-year member of the RCA's NEC, now in my second term.  Although I will not disclose here anything else discussed at that meeting, I write to say that the NEC and its officers -- including RCA President Leonard Matanky and RCA immediate Past President Shmuel Goldin and RCA National Director Mark Dratch -- explicitly and expressly confirmed to the entire NEC that the statement published by the Jewish Week regarding Rabbi Pruzanky's status on the NEC is absolutely false.  Absolutely no one -- not a single person in the entire RCA -- is calling for Rav Pruzansky's "removal from the Executive Committee."  It is absolutely a lie, an outright published falsehood, explicitly confirmed in public as a lie less than one hour ago.  I heard this with my own ears, in the presence of 40 of my rabbinical colleagues, straight from Rabbis Matanky and Goldin.

Look, let's face it: there are millions among 300 milion Americans calling for Barack Obama's impeachment.  All it takes is 1 percent of Americans to want him impeached, and you have 3 million calls for impeachment.  And, if the Jewish Week absolutely must pursue this deeply troubling line of inquiry and reportage, there obviously are scores of members of Rabbinical Council of America calling for Rabbi Matansky's immediate resignation as President of RCA.  As an RCA NEC member, I get emails and phone calls like that: "Is there any way we get him to resign or to impeach him?" But, for goodness sakes, come on:  Honestly, is that news?  Is it honestly worth a Jewish Week news story that scores of members of Rabbinical Council of America presently want Rabbi Leonard Matanky to resign as President of RCA because of a wide range of matters -- not least of which certain judgment decisions made regarding the Washington D.C. mikveh matter over the past two years -- that have happened within and outside RCA during his 18-month tenure, on his watch and within his ambit?  Or that more than 100 members of RCA have endorsed a demand that he retract a personal attack against another RCA member?  I don't think so.  I don't think it is anybody's business.  Rather, that is what happens when you get the proverbial two Jews alone in a room.  Two Jews, three opinions.  A thousand rabbis -- I cannot even begin to contemplate the number of opinions.  Just learn an amud of shas, and see all the opinions.  Doesn't Abe Foxman, revered as he is, have detractors within ADL?  Doesn't Mort Klein within ZOA?  This is the way of Jewish organizations.  Frankly, this is the way of democratically governed bodies.

As a matter of fairness and honesty, it would be the right thing for Jewish Week and its editor publicly to apologize to Rabbi Pruzansky and to acknowledge errors in its report.  Not a single RCA person -- beginning with its present President and its immediate Past President, and continuing through 40 rabbonim who attended today's regularly scheduled bi-monthly meeting of the National Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America -- ever has heard even a whisper or intimation questioning Rav Pruzansky's special status as one of the RCA's most prominent and respected national leaders, and certainly nothing along the lines of the Jewish Week's report.  This was stated openly and forthrightly.

Finally, it was reported at today's NEC meeting that RCA previously had sent an internal stinging rebuke of Rabbi Avi Weiss -- according to what we were told, far more stinging and far more accusatory, with the ultimate condemnation that was one step short of convening a full Membership-Expulsion Committee (Vaad HaKovod) -- to the entire RCA membership.  I do not remember ever seeing that report in the Jewish Week.

Rabbi Dov Fischer
Rav, Young Israel of Orange County, CA
Adj. Prof. of Advanced Torts Law, UCI Law School
Adj. Prof. of Advanced Torts Law, Loyola Law School
Member, National Executive Committee, RCA
Former Chief Articles Editor, UCLA Law Review

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Rabbi Dov Fischer

It is one of the most dishonest scandals ever to have been fabricated — fashioned falsely out of one of the most horrible scandals ever to have happened truly.

By now, all Jews throughout the world have read of the incomprehensible incident that saw a rabbi in Washington, D.C. arrested on charges of surreptitiously filming women in a mikveh dressing room.  For several weeks, with jaws dropped, we have had little to say.  During that vacuum, opportunists have jumped in, the disciples of Rahm Emanuel who taught that a politician “never should let a crisis go to waste.”

There is no question that Orthodox conversion standards in the United States, adopted by the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and validated by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in a magnificent agreement this past summer, have brought sanity and order out of chaos.  Through a program that RCA calls “Gerut Protocols and Standards” (GPS), a non-Jew converting to Judaism through an American GPS Bet Din L’Gerut (Conversion Court) now enjoys a clearly defined program, serious and delineated requirements, and a remarkable peace-of-mind assurance that the conversion never will be annulled retroactively, will be respected and honored from the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli — and, more importantly, in the Cities of Judea and the Gates of Jerusalem — and for all time.  A GPS conversion means that a convert’s great-grandchildren will be recognized as authentic Jews long after ancestors have gone to their Heavenly reward, long after the rabbis of the Conversion Courts have gone, for all time to come.

This remarkable GPS system has virulent opponents. Predictably — and quite understandably — Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist groups (all phenomena and outgrowths of Nineteenth Century anti-Semitism in Germany and the early Twentieth Century aftermath, thus making those groups irrelevant to Israel’s Sephardic demographic majority) oppose the Chief Rabbinate’s adherence to halakhah (Jewish law) in setting the rules of Judaic conversion.  More interestingly, a radicalized left wing on the outskirts of Orthodoxy, calling itself “Open Orthodoxy” and based out of the Chovevei Torah Academy and the Maharat (Woman Rabbi) Academy, oppose GPS.  They, through their “rabbinical” arm, “International Rabbinical Fellowship,” want every rabbi in America to be autonomous and to have the power to run his or her own conversion court, according to their own practices at their own local congregations.  For two years, “Open Orthodoxy’s” IRF Conversion Administrator has been the only “Dayan” (Judge) ever ordained a Religious Judge by the Chovevei Torah Academy, himself remarkable for publishing ubiquitously that he does not even believe that Patriarch Abraham existed.

When word of the mikveh-camera scandal broke, RCA urgently convened immediately, on the eve of Shmini Atzeret, and unanimously suspended the accused voyeur.  His synagogue rapidly suspended him.  His friends were in shock.  And, in a vacuum of crisis, the cynics did not let the moment go to waste.  Rather, they converted the tragedy of the moment — a local synagogue rabbi with unbridled access and keys to the mikveh of his congregation, arrested for violating his congregation’s trust — and they conned the public with a version turning the mess into a full-scale assault on the national GPS system.  They found left-wing publications happy to abet the con.  And in the con version of this scandal, they converted a local minister’s ostensible moral turpitude into an unbridled assault on the finest institution ever created in the West to bring order out of chaos in the world of American Judaic conversions.  Suddenly, they published attacks on the GPS system, seeking its overthrow, so that they might supplant it with their preferred chaos where every local rabbi or “Maharat” (“Open Orthodoxy” woman rabbi) does what is fitting in his or her eyes.  May G-d protect the great-grandchild born to someone undergoing such a rogue conversion by lone wolves whose identities today will be indecipherable to future generations.

The RCA, under withering heat from the far-left wing of the American Orthodox community, the camp that ordains women as rabbis, decided to mollify the squeakiest of wheels on the Left and set up a committee to look at GPS and to evaluate future best practices.  RCA promises that it will not change an iota of the GPS halakhic structure but merely will explore ways to finesse and fine-tune aspects.  In and of itself, that can be beneficial and deserves cautious support.  And, yet, it is remarkable how the Radical Left GPS opponents of RCA and of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel — remember that Rabbi Avi Weiss, the Father of “Open Orthodoxy,” used the New York Times Op-Ed Page to publish a virulent attack against the Chief Rabbinate of Israel only recently, pressing “Open Orthodoxy’s” demand that Reform conversions be recognized in Israel — have intimidated RCA into forming the committee.  The whole situation is akin to a local State Bar of attorneys, presented with a local lawyer who sneaks a video camera into his client’s bathroom, reacting by initiating a thoroughly unrelated nationwide investigation into the practices of the United States Supreme Court.  Here, a local rabbi apparently perpetrated what otherwise might have been perpetrated by a miscreant temple janitor with keys to the mikveh or by a female mikveh attendant with lesbian voyeur tendencies.  One example is as unbelievable as the next, but this apparently happened.  And it has nothing to do with the American GPS system.

If GPS is to be revisited, here are the Fischer Conversion Principles that I respectfully put forth:

1.  The National GPS Administrator and all Rabbinic GPS Oversight Officers should not be Dayanim on any conversion courts.  The roles should be separate.  One cannot supervise himself.

2.  Every conversion candidate should be required to find a Rabbinic Sponsor.  That Sponsor must not be a member of the Conversion Court but should be a separate resource and passionate advocate — the heart and voice of the Conversion Candidate, an intermediary with the Bet Din.

3.  Conversion candidates should be given a formal syllabus and curriculum from Day One, and they should be advised that a proper Orthodox conversion in America typically will take between one and two years.  The timing will depend on many factors including the candidate’s progress in learning, in adopting practices and observances, moving to live within walking distance of an Orthodox community, establishing a pattern of arriving home timely for Shabbat, and the like.

4.  A candidate should be presented, from the outset, with the formal fee structure of the Bet Din.  That fee structure, based on current American economies, should be approximately $500. The Sponsoring Rabbi should be barred from accepting any fees or emoluments.

5.  Conversion candidates should not be approached for donations to any Jewish organizations, associations, or causes related to the Sponsoring Rabbi  or to any Dayan (Judge) of the Bet Din.

6.  Every candidate’s primary Judaic studies teacher should be a mentor of the same gender.

7.  Every candidate should be assigned a “Mentoring Lay Household,” namely a husband-and-wife couple within the congregational membership who assume personal responsibility to befriend the candidate, to voice otherwise-unspoken concerns to the Sponsoring Rabbi, to arrange regular Shabbat dinner and lunch invitations, and to assure the candidate’s warm social integration within the congregation.

8.  Every six months, the candidate should receive a formal written evaluation briefly stating the Bet Din’s assessment of the candidate’s progress and estimating how (s)he is progressing on her timeline, so that (s)he can pursue important personal life plans and aspirations related to work, domicile, love, and marriage.

Rabbi Dov Fischer is author of General Sharon’s War Against Time Magazine (Steimatzky: 1985). His political commentaries have appeared on the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, National Review,  Los Angeles Times, and in other major American publications.  He formerly was Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review, is an adjunct professor of law at two prominent American law schools, and is Rav of Young Israel of Orange CountyCalifornia.  He is author of Jews for Nothing (Feldheim: 1983) and is in his fifth year as a member of the National Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. His writings can be found at Home -  As with all of Rabbi Prof. Fischer’s writings, this commentary expresses his own views.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Tarbut v'Torah (TVT): Jewish Education's Crisis of Failure in Irvine, Orange County, California

When I was ordained in March 1981 with s'mikha from HaRav HaGaon Harav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik zt"l and Rav Nahum Lamm shlit"a at Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), I undertook to be a Rav b'Yisrael, a rabbi and teacher in the greater Jewish community. I have been a Rav for 30 years and have practiced in pulpit and community rabbonus for more than 18 of those years. It is because I love the Jewish People, and particularly because I am devoted to the Judaic education of young people -- of all ages, of all backgrounds -- that I write this considered commentary on my profound disappointment over what I have seen and experienced first-hand at the Irvine-based community day school called "TVT" or Tarbut v'Torah.

Irvine is not New York or Los Angeles, and – given its Jewish demographics – it is proper, even for an Orthodox Rav, to modify expectations in light of the reality of the community and what it realistically can accept in terms of Jewish education, what it reasonably can sustain. I write from that recognition and perspective.

I have been in Tarbut / TVT. I know many of its students. I deeply care for them.

I am deeply pained that, for exactly the same money – or even significantly less – that has been invested in the school, Tarbut / TVT could be a fine community Jewish Day School. Instead, it does not meet its mission as a community Jewish Day School. One readily can discern the focus that donors devoted on the campus grounds and the externals of the facility, but a more experienced and trained eye discerns sadly the lesser focus devoted on the quality of the Judaic component of the academic program. (It is beyond the scope of this commentary to opine on the school's secular program or its administration. Neither approbation nor disdain should be inferred from this commentary regarding either of those two subjects.) This severe weakness is commonly perceived, and it is commonly acknowledged among Jewish educators outside the community. It is discussed quietly among rabbis of all Jewish denominations in Orange County, several of whom lament privately that the Morashah Day School extends only through sixth grade. However, it is regarded as rabbinic-career political suicide to say it aloud, with attribution, within the Jewish community of Orange County. I thank G-d for imbuing me with the courage to write this.

It is not difficult to know what a formal Jewish education can offer its students. Throughout Southern California, there are noble efforts to that effect. Institutions under Orthodox auspices are not the only ones. There are noble efforts under Conservative and Reform auspices, too. In Woodland Hills, in the San Fernando Valley, Bruce Powell has created a burgeoning model of a community Jewish Day School. Tragically, however, Tarbut's / TVT's Jewish studies program is dramatically weaker than one finds at many fine Jewish schools run in the United States under Reform or other denominational auspices.

The students at Tarbut / TVT deserve better. I know many of them personally. Many are bright -- and they would love to learn more. They are quite capable of being taught text knowledge. Certainly, at a tuition of some $15,000 per head, they deserve it. TVT / Tarbut should be a school where capable students learn Jewish knowledge, book knowledge, side-by-side with secular curricula. But it is not. I know this from very personal knowledge: from what I personally have seen, what I have tried to share of myself, and -- primarily -- from what parents themselves privately and confidentially have brought to my attention throughout my three years in Orange County. I have spoken privately with select students and with select faculty through three years here. There is great fear to speak openly about the lacunae. "Rabbi Fischer," I am asked, "Please do something about this. Please say something. Please write something. Please tell what is happening -- or, more accurately, what is not happening -- here. But, please, promise me that you will not quote me. My friends will attack me. My children will lose their friends. Please do not quote me."

There is no need to fear. I will not quote and will not attribute. I speak only as a Rabbi of 30 years -- as a Congregational Rav and as a professional Jewish educator. I speak only in my own name, and I bear full personal responsibility for every word I write here. For a period now extending through several years, Tarbut V'Torah (TVT) consistently has failed its parents and students, failing to transmit a substantive Judaic knowledge foundation to the vast majority of its students. The academic lacunae are palpable, and the failure to transmit substantive Judaic information and to inculcate meaningful Jewish learning is manifest. Given the expansive and lush grounds on which the Tarbut V'Torah campus is situated and the $15,000 annual tuition charge for each student, this poignant institutional failure to achieve the results charted at leaner, more modestly funded Jewish Day Schools operated throughout America under Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox auspices respectively cannot be attributed to a lack of material wherewithal, thus amplifying the concern.

At Tarbut / TVT, the students are not taught to navigate a Chumash. They do not learn Chumash text as part of their curriculum between grades 1-12. They cannot read a Rashi commentary. Over 90% never even have heard the most basic terms that children at any other Jewish Day School would have learned. The kids should be looking and learning inside real texts – Chumash, Rashi, Mishnah.

The level of Hebrew reading at Tarbut / TVT concerns me. I have met any number of parents who have brought their 12-year-old sons and 11-year-old daughters into my office, to start them on the paths of their respective bar- and bat mitzvahs. I would take out four Siddurim -- one for the student, one for the Mom, one for the Dad, and one for me. Typically, I also would invite our Youth Director to participate in the session, handing him a Siddur, too. I would ask the student kindly to read something in the Siddur so I could gauge the level of intensity needed for the forthcoming curriculum of bar/bat mitzvah study. The experience typically would be profoundly disheartening.

This educational shortfall is universally recognized among Jewish educators and rabbis in the region, but there is an understanding within the community that discretion is appropriate. One Youth Director after another who has worked with me has seen first-hand and experienced the Tarbut / TVT failure. Each has expressed amazement. The Youth Director would sit in my office with me, as we -- and the parents -- would gauge the prospective bar/bat mitzvah student’s Hebrew reading to assess the need and plan out a learning program. Because I always would have the Mom and Dad in the room with us, too, as the child would read Hebrew from the Siddur, the parents also would be startled.

As in public schools, where many parents consign pedagogical authority to the employed teachers without always investigating what is being taught and how, many of the parents of TVT students understandably do not investigate what their children are learning at Tarbut V'Torah, often because they understandably do not know how to check or what standard to expect. They are not professionally trained Jewish educators, and they understandably do not have a skills set in that area. Yet even they know that something is severely wrong when their intelligent child, after six years at some $15,000-a-year, sits in the Rabbi's office at age 12 or age 11 and barely is able to read a line of Hebrew smoothly, much less to identify basic Judaic concepts or terms.

If the parents lack the skills set, how then do they know there is a problem? Consider that I do not read Chinese. But if my son, after attending a Chinese-language class for six years at $15,000 a year, were asked to read from a Chinese book, and he were to articulate only a handful of syllabic sounds in a sixty-second minute, and then were to stop after just a few more syllables over three or four more minutes, I would be quite unsettled. And if he then were to turn to me, seeing my dismay, and say “Don’t be angry at me, Dad. I really am trying, but I can’t read this so well. It is a foreign language with a different set of alphabetical characters.” Well, after six years -- and knowing how well my child is able to acquire other knowledge skills -- that would tell me something very sobering about my $90,000 investment.

That is the core of the problem at TVT / Tarbut v'Torah. For those less professionally trained and experienced in the area of Jewish pedagogy, the difficulty to recognize the scope and depth of the problem is amplified and obfuscated by two factors:

(1) A small number of TVT / Tarbut students independently are intensely home-schooled by their parents, after school and on weekends, because those parents are among the proportionately few in South Orange County who enjoy the Judaic background and skills-sets sufficient to perceive that their respective children otherwise are not being taught a meaningfully substantive Judaic knowledge base. Then, after being home-schooled, those proportionately few children are presented to the broader community as “proof” that TVT / Tarbut is doing a fine job.

(2) The second obfuscation is more subtle. The Rabbi and the temple Youth Director -- whether Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, or Orthodox -- is assigned, within the separate institutional framework of the temple that provides services for its members, to train the 12-year-old boy or 11-year-old girl, over the course of the following 8-12 months leading up to bar/bat mitzvah, to essentially quasi-memorize the bar/bat mitzvah service. Thus, on “Bar/Bat Mitzvah Day,” those present at temple hear a young lady or fellow chant and otherwise lead aspects of the service with the perceived erudition that implicitly comes with years of training, learning, and study.

But the actuality differs. Professional and experienced pedagogues in secular schools have encountered this same educational phenomenon when first meeting a child entering the first grade. The child is tested in entry-level reading skills and is given a page, or several pages, to read. The child reads beautifully. The parent beams proudly, but the teacher methodically reaches for a second book of similar grade-level, but written by a different author, illustrated with different pictures. Inexplicably to the parent -- but all-too-common to the trained pedagogue -- the same child cannot read from that comparable book. The trained pedagogue instantly discerns that the child was taught "sight reading," not phonics. Thus, the child essentially has quasi-memorized that first book, page by page. But the child remains helpless when exposed to other illustrations, another page lay-out. The child has not yet been taught to read. Many pedagogues maintain that there nevertheless is some value in teaching "sight reading" if it encourages a foundational love for books and love for reading among nursery children and kindergarteners. However, by eighth grade, it is recognized that "sight reading" is not sufficient.

The same phenomenon underlies the Bar/Bat Mitzvah phenomenon. The Tarbut / TVT student leads the service at the temple. Perhaps she reads from the Torah. Perhaps he reads a Haftorah. Perhaps she leads a portion of the prayer service. Yet, if the same boy were to be asked -- only moments later -- to read also from the Haftorah that appears on the page that precedes or follows his Bar Mitzvah Haftorah, the result well could surprise. Likewise, the boy or girl is taught essentially to quasi-memorize portions of the prayer service that he or she leads. But if he or she were to be asked moments later, quietly and confidentially, to read in the same Siddur from prayers that appear a few pages before or after what he or she has been taught essentially to memorize, the results well could surprise. Thus, for the audience -- the assembled congregation -- an appearance of erudition redounds to the school's reputation. Would that it were so!

Ultimately, then, the need in Orange County is not exclusively for a Brooklyn/Los Angeles-quality yeshiva day school. Naturally, as an Orthodox Rav, it is my goal and dream to see a Jewish Day School of such caliber established some day in Irvine so that my Orthodox rabbinical colleagues and I do not have to endure the enormous logistical challenges and difficulties of having our children educated two hours away at YULA in Los Angeles. But as a Rabbi who recognizes the variegation of the Jewish demographic locally and understands with the experience of a career spanning a quarter century what is at stake and what realistically can be achieved for the Jewish community that I love and whom I am dedicated to serve -- an Irvine-based South Orange County Jewish community of more than 100,000 Jews who are not predominantly Orthodox but who deserve excellence for the tuition dollars being invested in their most precious resources, their children -- it is deeply, deeply painful to watch profoundly bright and capable young children in our community being denied exposure to substantive Judaic knowledge.

As a Rabbi, it devolves on me to observe aloud that wonderful, bright young people are processed year-after-year through Tarbut's / TVT’s revolving doors at a tuition rate that certainly implies a substantive education, yet that demands from and offers them so much less than one typically would find provided to graduates of a Jewish Day School run under Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, or Orthodox auspices.

I know the children because my focus as a Rabbi always has included attending with utmost concern to elementary students, teens, and college students. I know, first-hand in the confidentiality of my relationships with families of Tarbut / TVT students, how deeply so many of those parents are pained. There are parents who literally have broken down, crying in my office. I know, from that same base of direct and confidential personal knowledge, how relieved those parents are when the year-long quasi-memorization process ends, with their sons and daughters emerging from the Bar/Bat Mitzvah having publicly presented the appearance of having a Judaic education. I know the scope of what rabbis in Los Angeles -- who may speak more candidly on the subject because they are outside the penumbra of political fall-out and personal exposure when speaking -- think of TVT / Tarbut. (The school's reputation outside Orange County and its environs is one that I have not encountered in my quarter century in the Rabbinate.) From a career in the rabbinate, I know what other Jewish community and denominational schools can and do teach their charges.

It thus is a matter of grave public concern, compelling a Rabbi to speak out, even as it is a matter of political suicide in South Orange County to discuss this subject publicly with candor. But I am a Rabbi, and that is my calling. It is my soul's yearning. It is incumbent on me to share these concerns publicly. We need only view the greater American society's economic fall-out, in the face of the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae setbacks that were perceived by many who knew that the system was in grave danger but who chose not to speak because their personal political considerations for advancement and personal fundraising opportunities diverted them. And, then, one day Bear Stearns collapsed, and then Indy Mac, and then Lehman Brothers. Yet, with deference to the significant economic and financial institutional concerns of an American polity in which I share, I feel obliged even more to share the present concern. The need for a dramatic overhaul and re-conception of Tarbut V'Torah (TVT), its mission, and its educational aspirations for students and parents who deserve better is most compelling because, at bottom, we are talking about the right of Jewish young people to receive the substantive education they deserve and for which their parents believe they are paying. They are good young people. They are capable of learning great things. And, if they miss these opportunities to grow in Jewish text knowledge -- the study of Chumash, Rashi, Mishnah, Talmud, and so much more -- during their childhood and teen years, they may never get that opportunity later, once "life happens."

And what will they have left to pass down to their children?

This statement of public concern concludes with one more area of attention. A Jewish community day school that offers its students the opportunity to participate in formal daily prayer services lays a foundation for them to have an option to grow spiritually in yet another way, and also to learn the skill of navigating through a prayer book. Those who daven daily are not perfect. But if tefilah -- Jewish prayer (davening) -- is taught with sensitivity and formal training, it sometimes can assist a school's administration and faculty in an effort to guide young people from evolving in their teens towards the coarseness sometimes found in segments of external society. Coarseness is the hallmark of teen evolution in certain circles of society, but the Jewish Day School model aims for something more noble and uplifting. Dirty words, filthy language, coarse sexual references and humor are not compatible with a successful Jewish Day School model. TVT / Tarbut should offer its students the opportunity to pray every day -- a formal Shacharit option each and every school morning, with all boys age 13 or over donning tefillin and with Sephardic boys wearing a tallit in the tradition of their parents. Such prayer need not be mandatory, but it should be a formal curricular offering in much the same way that so many other community Jewish Day Schools offer. Similarly, Tarbut / TVT should offer a formally scheduled Mincha prayer opportunity, even if only optional, every afternoon.

If there is no one else to lead such a daily Shacharit service, I publicly volunteer to lead it. Just as I remain available -- as I have for three years -- to teach Torah text as a formal faculty member. I extend that offer because it is easy to offer analysis and observation when one is not prepared personally to accept a challenge and take up a gauntlet. But the faculty member need not be I. Nor need the prayer leader be I. But it is time. And if not now, when?