The Light Within

When Lemech named his new son (at the end of last week’s reading, Gen. 5:29), he called the boy “Noach”, saying “this shall comfort us (yeNaCHameinu) from our work and the difficult labor of our hands.” But the name Noach was prophetic in a different vein, as the name also means to be at rest (“NaCH”). The Zohar, the fundamental work of the Kabbalah, of Jewish mysticism, says that “Noach” is thus a hint to the Sabbath, the day of rest. “Shabbos” is derived from the word “SHeVeS,” which also means to be at rest: “for in [the seventh day] He rested (“SHaVaS”) from all His work.” [Gen. 2:3]

In this week’s reading, Noach is commanded to make sure there is a light in the Ark, using the unusual word “Tzohar” (found nowhere else in the Bible) to indicate brightness like midday (“Tzaharayim”). The Avnei Azel writes that when we combine the numerical value of “Tzohar” with that of the Ark, “Tayvah,” the sum is the value of “Shabbos.” The Sabbath encapsulates both the Ark, the shelter from the flood, and the brightness within it.

We live throughout the week with work and other responsibilities, building up (and sometimes crashing down) around us. Shabbos is quite literally a shelter from the storm, and opportunity to withdraw from all the distractions and focus upon what is truly important. It is the busiest executives who, when they decide to fully observe the Sabbath, and stop using all electronic devices and not do business on that day, frequently remark that they don’t know how they survived without it.

Viewed correctly, the Sabbath isn’t about restrictions, but is the opportunity to focus upon the light within.

Another Chance to Change

Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, gave us a chance to reflect upon the past, and perhaps make some New Year’s resolutions for the future. So why do we celebrate Yom Kippur, the Day of Repentance, ten days later?

First and foremost, our Sages teach us that the Judgments made on Rosh Hashanah are not finalized until Yom Kippur. G-d is waiting, as it were, to see if we will give up our misdeeds and change course.

There is another idea, related to repentance itself. Sometimes the full measure of regret is only possible once we have improved our habits. Only after we have done better for a while can we look over our shoulders and say, “I should’ve done this a long time ago! Look what I missed because I didn’t!” So on Yom Kippur, having attempted to be on “our best behavior” for ten days, we express our regrets with a more complete understanding of the opportunities we missed along the way.

And there is yet another thought – that human nature being what it is, sometimes we make resolutions and find that all too soon we have failed to keep them. At that point a person can conclude that he or she can never improve, and give up hope.

The Chassidic Masters teach that that feeling of hopelessness is itself a terrible thing, to be avoided at all cost. The Evil Inclination’s ultimate goal, they say, isn’t merely that we sin, that we diverge from the path that G-d has set out for us. It is that we give up hope! Once there is no hope, not only will the past be repeated, but new misdeeds will be added as well.

Yom Kippur drives home the message that even the Day of Judgment isn’t final, that we always have the opportunity to truly put the past behind us. Yom Kippur gives us the power to go back and change the verdict. We are taught that the sanctity of the day itself absolves us from some minor transgressions; that is how powerful the day is, and that power is given to every one of us.

So what do we do with those resolutions which we made on Rosh Hashanah, only to break afterwards? We pick them back up, and try again. We do not give up hope, we don’t say that we simply can’t improve. On the contrary — we add new ones, we take the additional day to do an accounting and find paths to change ourselves for the better.

May we all be sealed into the Book of Life for a year of health, happiness and growth!

A Moment of Thanks

With the presidential race now so prominent in the collective American consciousness, the following story is especially apropos. In the Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in Jerusalem, there was an elderly native of the city who prayed with the Yeshiva each morning. On the morning following the presidential election in the United States, before prayers began, he went to one of the American boys and asked him who had won.

I don’t know if the young student knew the answer, but he was struck by the question. Why would an old man from Jerusalem care about the elections, so much so that he would go out of his way to ask about the results before prayers? Doesn’t G-d come first?

Asked for an explanation, the man replied that he was about to say a blessing thanking G-d for giving him the opportunity to be part of the Jewish People. Although everyone is created in the image of G-d and every righteous person has a share in the World to Come, to be called to serve G-d through all His Commandments is unique privilege. And when making that blessing, he wanted to think about the greatest and most powerful non-Jew in the world!

To give the story a bit of deeper insight, consider that this elderly gentleman lived in poverty in a small Jerusalem apartment. If I’m not mistaken, the protagonist used to sit in the back of the Bais Medrash (study hall), tying Tzitzis (fringes on the corners of garments) for a living while he reviewed the Babylonian Talmud by heart. He was quite poor, yet considered himself blessed beyond the most powerful man in the world.

Every one of us has our own individual set of challenges and opportunities placed before us. Our Sages tell us that we must say, “the entire world was created for me.” Whatever our situation, we have incredible blessings which we often take for granted. Most of us have legs to walk on, are able to breathe the air around us, and are able to marvel at a sunset. But even those who are not able to do all those things have many others for which to be thankful.

Rabbi Asher Z Rubenstein of Jerusalem offers another parable, related to the Commandment of Bikurim, bringing the first fruits to Jerusalem. After bringing Bikurim, we are told: “and you shall rejoice in all the good which HaShem your G-d has given to you and your house, you and the Levite and the stranger among you” [Deut 26:11].

Imagine a farmer who owns a few acres of land, works that land for a year, sees it produce enough food to feed his family, and happily packs a portion of his small crop to bring up to Jerusalem. But when he reaches the main road to Jerusalem, it is blocked by one carriage after another — each carriage laden with a different item, each offering as large as the farmer’s entire crop. And in the middle of it all sits one wealthy man in a gleaming carriage, the owner of all this bounty, produced off his land by hired help while he sat in the lap of luxury.

Suddenly, the farmer isn’t so happy anymore. Nothing has changed — except his heart. He feels inadequate, even jealous. That is the moment where the farmer must remind himself to “rejoice in all the good which HaShem your G-d has given to you and your house.”

Today, our world is filled with opportunities for us to feel that inadequacy. In the middle of an economy in which so many are unemployed or underemployed, we can now explore the lifestyles of billionaires as never before. There’s even a website for the “rich kids of instagram,” which features photos of wealthy young men and women (apparently taken from the Instagram photo-sharing site) enjoying their mansions, fancy cars and 12-course meals prepared by their private chef.

Your world was created for you, and no other. Hashem wants you to appreciate the blessings that you have, even among the challenges unique to your situation. That is the message of our reading. We should be thankful for what we have, and ask G-d to fulfill our needs — not those of our current or next president, nor those of a young man overwhelmed by wealth. We have something much more valuable, if we only recognize it — a world tailor-made just for us!

Sign of a True Leader

In this week’s reading, G-d explains to Moshe how his successors will be chosen. Hashem Himself will choose the leader, “who will go out in front of them, and who will come in before them, and they will go out and come in, and the congregation of G-d will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

If you ask most people what they think is the ideal form of government, they will probably choose democracy. When compared to communism, dictatorships, monarchies and oligarchies, we see their point. But is it really such a great choice? In the United States, tens of millions of dollars will be wasted this year to convince millions of people, most of them woefully ignorant of the candidates, issues, and policy choices, to pull one lever versus another — based entirely upon advertisements which willfully distort the opponent’s record and glorify the candidate’s own, and “news” reports whose partiality is obvious. If that is insufficient to give you second thoughts, one word: Egypt. That’s the country that just selected the Muslim Brotherhood, a “suspected” supporter of terrorism according to the US, to lead it. Gaza similarly elected Hamas, a murderous gang unquestionably in the same category. And for that matter, Hitler ysv”z was elected democratically as well.

Interestingly enough, the Mishnah [Sotah 9:15] says that one of the signs of the “footsteps of the Messiah” is that “the face of the generation will be like the face of a dog.” There are many explanations as to what this means, but one of them is that the leadership will lead in the manner that a dog leads its owner. The dog bounds ahead, but is limited, leashed by the owner. When they come to a street corner, the dog may choose to go in one direction, only to find the owner choosing a different one. Moments later, where is the dog? Out in front of its owner once again, “leading” in the new direction. That’s what democracy looks like!

The Avnei Azel explains that in order to be a true leader one must lead, rather than being driven by polls. The Jewish Nation must be a meritocracy, with a leader capable of uplifting the people, rather than being dragged down by them. He must “go before them” and lead the congregation, rather than looking over his shoulder to see which way people want to go, and then fulfilling their desires. Look how much abuse Moshe had to put up with because he wouldn’t do whatever the congregation wanted! And that’s what made him, although he was “the most humble of men,” also an unparalleled leader.

Think the Internet isn’t all that Dangerous? Think Again.

In the lead-up to the Internet Asifa, Rav Aharon Feldman wrote that the problems associated with the Internet do not begin and end with inappropriate content, and thus filters alone are not a solution. Rather, he explained, the Internet affects the way we think, our ability to focus, and the way that we interact.

As far as I know, HaRav Feldman has not even used e-mail. So how does he know something that Newsweek has now documented after exhaustive studies? “New research says the Internet can make us lonely and depressed — and may even create more extreme forms of mental illness.”

The answer, truthfully, is that this isn’t even a revelation of Rav Feldman’s gifted mind. Only the blind could question Rav Feldman’s statement in this regard… but of course, even a cursory examination of “Orthodox” blogs will remind you that the world is filled with blind pundits. Gedolei Torah have warned us about the Internet for over a decade, and those who wish to mock the Gedolim have demonstrated their own foolishness (not to use any of a number of less charitable adjectives) in their haste to attack. As I put it in 2000, when Israeli Gedolim first warned against the harm of unfiltered home Internet, “secular Israeli ferocity pitted itself against plain American clumsiness to see who could provide the furthest approximation from intelligent coverage.”

In 2000, though, Internet use was not so constant and so intrusive (and there were no blogs on which to find ferocity and clumsiness so neatly packaged together). The idea that someone might get up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, and then check his or her email before going back to sleep, was considered funny. [Today, Newsweek asserts that “more than a third of users get online before getting out of bed.”] So twelve years ago, it wasn’t as obvious as today that the Internet can do even more insidious — and just as damaging — harm.

Newsweek begins its coverage with the anecdote of a young man who created a documentary of the crimes of an African warlord, and publicized it via the Internet in an attempt to stop those crimes. But when the video got 70 million views in less than a week, the sudden exposure to digital “kudos and criticisms” overwhelmed the young producer. After a week of decreasingly-coherent Twitter updates, he “went to the corner of a busy intersection near his home in San Diego, where he repeatedly slapped the concrete with both palms and ranted about the devil.” The “sudden transition from relative anonymity to worldwide attention” drove him insane. Oh, and just for good measure, someone filmed his meltdown and stuck it up on YouTube.

The full article is certainly worth reading, but essentially, those questioning the need to warn people about the Internet (e.g. many who mocked the Asifa) deserve all of the same respect and consideration as those who question the need to warn people about using crack. Some quotes:

The current incarnation of the Internet — portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive — may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic.

Research is now making it clear that the Internet is not “just” another delivery system… The Internet “leads to behavior that people are conscious is not in their best interest and does leave them anxious and does make them act compulsively,” says Nicholas Carr, whose book The Shallows, about the Web’s effect on cognition, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It “fosters our obsessions, dependence, and stress reactions,” adds Larry Rosen, a California psychologist who has researched the Net’s effect for decades. It “encourages — and even promotes — insanity.”

China, Taiwan, and Korea… [now treat] problematic Web use as a grave national health crisis. In those countries, where tens of millions of people (and as much as 30 percent of teens) are considered Internet-addicted, mostly to gaming, virtual reality, and social media, the story is sensational front-page news. One young couple neglected its infant to death while nourishing a virtual baby online. A young man fatally bludgeoned his mother for suggesting he log off (and then used her credit card to rack up more hours). At least 10 ultra-Web users, serviced by one-click noodle delivery, have died of blood clots from sitting too long.

Then there was the University of Maryland’s 2010 “Unplugged” experiment that asked 200 undergrads to forgo all Web and mobile technologies for a day and to keep a diary of their feelings. “I clearly am addicted and the dependency is sickening,” reported one student in the study. “Media is my drug,” wrote another. At least two other schools haven’t even been able to get such an experiment off the ground for lack of participants. “Most college students are not just unwilling, but functionally unable, to be without their media links to the world,” the University of Maryland concluded.

Recently it became possible to watch this kind of Web use rewire the brain… The brains of Internet addicts, it turns out, look like the brains of drug and alcohol addicts.

A team of researchers at Tel Aviv University… published what they believe are the first documented cases of “Internet-related psychosis.” The qualities of online communication are capable of generating “true psychotic phenomena,” the authors conclude, before putting the medical community on warning. “The spiraling use of the Internet and its potential involvement in psychopathology are new consequences of our times.”

Interestingly, the article persists in claiming that “blaming the television for kids these days” is “silly and naive” — despite the overwhelming evidence of the effects of passive viewing on developing brains. Will they never learn?

A Letter, and A Response

Ms. Eisner,

You may remember that in February, I communicated with you about a particular post to the Sisterhood blog that I found inaccurate and unfair. Please be aware that I did not hear back from Ms. Birkner, but in any case, I think that there is a more endemic problem.

According to Ami Magazine, you claimed on behalf of the Forward that “we are not hostile. We are fair in our reporting and appropriately critical in our editorials.” You further claim in this week’s Podcast that your editorial about the Chassidic poor that you attempted to be “compassionate.” [My bad editing; obviously the intent was “regarding your editorial…” –YM]

I am sorry to say that I found no evidence of compassion (or even accurate comprehension) in your editorial.

You apparently did not discuss the issue with any of the many community representatives or assistance organizations, merely racking up Chassidic poverty to a lack of secular education and devotion to Torah and Talmud. In so doing, you omitted a simple analysis of the income necessary to support a large family, and how that compares to what a typical wage-earner brings home. Whereas the US median salary may be adequate for a family with 1.2 children (and a pet or two), a family of 5.8 children finds itself below the poverty line at the same income level. And with that many children, it is unrealistic to expect both parents to work full-time.

Why should those children be considered “undeserving” by any standard? And that is before considering the cost of a Jewish education, which is mandatory for any family that values Jewish continuity (and does not wallow in self-delusion about the mechanisms of same).

Your editorial was only one of four articles discussing the Orthodox which I found in a single three-day period, and all of them appeared, at least to me, to be biased against our community — and in at least two instances distorted the truth. I posted the following on Thursday: http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2012/06/21/even-for-the-forward/.

Since then, the Forward has sent me:

  • An article about Lipa’s bizarre video. Indeed, it is bizarre; no argument there. [Actually, there was a second article, too. –YM]
  • The second article in two weeks about the same organization for ex-Charedim, this one depicting a soccer game as fulfilling a dream for those leaving the “ultra-Orthodox” community. [I recall the dean of a yeshiva, from an outstanding Chassidic line, dropping in a layup. It wasn’t hard for him, as he’s quite tall.]
  • The claim that Yossi Gestetner’s resignation as NYGOP’s outreach liason to the Orthodox community indicates a “rocky start” to the entirety of GOP Orthodox Outreach — when the appointment itself wasn’t apparently even worthy of mention.
  • Another Sisterhood blog entry, this one about how halacha requires unusual practices in the bedroom to help with fertility issues. The fact that the Sisterhood chose to dwell on such an obscure topic might be perplexing, but the previous five Sisterhood posts tagged “Orthodox” concerned sex, (homo)sex(uality), gitten/Jewish divorce, sex, and, uh, sex. They do seem a wee bit preoccupied, don’t you think?

The Orthodox (and traditional Judaism itself) are depicted as both odd and antiquated, with the most positive coverage given to those who have left the community and organizations which have parted company with Orthodox spokespersons. It seems difficult to imagine the reader of all of these articles concurring with your description of the reporting as “fair,” or even saying that it lacks hostility to our community. Indeed, in yet another article, your veteran columnist JJ Goldberg characterized the projected scenario in which NY Jewry becomes predominantly Orthodox/Chassidic as, in effect, “apocalyptic.”

Continue reading “A Letter, and A Response”

Even for the Forward…

The Forward, bastion of liberalism and tireless advocate of the welfare state, has finally identified people who shouldn’t be receiving public support. But if you thought it was those lampooned by the rapper “Mr. EBT” for using their food stamps to stock up on snack food, you’d be mistaken. And if you thought the Forward’s newfound negativity was directed towards that segment of society that brought “baby mama” into the urban lexicon, well, you’d be wrong then as well.

No, although the Forward cites the question, “does the safety net help those who truly are in need, or does it shackle them to the kind of government assistance that stifles motivation and derails self-sufficiency?” — it has never indicated that it takes the latter opinion at all seriously. Until now. Because now “it’s time for the Jewish community to engage in this delicate, complicated debate,” because a substantial percentage of Jews are poor — because of “the ballooning birthrate in Orthodox families, particularly Hasidic ones.” “This,” the Forward soberly intones, and unlike that of, say, the crack user or the alcoholic, “is a poverty of choice, or perhaps more generously, a poverty of default. It is voluntary impoverishment.”

How dare the Chasidim have so many children! True, they might be preserving the Jewish future… but they won’t be wealthy! “Important though it is to support those who study Torah and Talmud, it is even more essential for the community to care for the elderly, disabled and others who are poor not out of choice, but because of unfortunate circumstances. The moral claim goes first to those who are poor involuntary, and so should our dollars.” Not only is this offensive, it is wrong from so many angles that one wonders where to begin. Are Torah scholars less worthy of Jewish communal support than scholars of romance languages and literature, jazz music, or modern dance? And is the Forward honestly claiming that when “the community” supports a poor Chasidic family, it must come at the cost of the elderly and disabled, rather than yet another multi-million dollar facelift to another Jewish-named concert hall?

Furthermore, of course, the above is predicated on a lie. The Chasidic community, at least in the US, is not the segment of the Charedim which is most likely to have men learning in Kollel for several years after marriage. On the contrary, Chassidim often work in positions which may be fine for most Americans, but which leave them stretching once they have more mouths to feed. So it’s really not about supporting “those who study Torah and Talmud” but those who are doing their best, yet believe that every child is worth “the entire world,” even if it means living in poverty.

It’s true, the Chasid with 10 children may be poor, but he is far more likely to be rich in happiness than the secular Jew on the Upper West Side with ten times the salary and one-tenth the children. And that’s not an opinion, it’s a statistic. For me, the simple and poor Chasidic fishmonger in “A Life Apart” was the exemplar of “the beauty, joy and fulfillment of a properly lived Torah life style” that Rabbi Adlerstein seeks. [You can see him at 2:20 on the video. I am sure the translation of his words made many viewers think twice.]

So this article wasn’t merely incredibly biased and offensive, it was also false. The week began quietly for the Forward, with several days of email with little evidence of the negativity towards the Orthodox (and especially Charedi) community that has been a regular drumbeat. But between this, a blog post about “Haredi Urban Legends,” and yet another story about the same Orthodox man accused of abuse, it’s clear that the lack of charedi-bashing was merely a momentary pause for air.

Oh, but there was even one more — “Orthodox Push Case of Jailed Businessman,” complete with a needless distortion in the subtitle, which reads “Mainstream Groups Split Over Campaign for Jacob Ostreicher’s Release.” In fact, there is no one who claims that Ostreicher was jailed because he is Jewish, which means that organizations like the ADL would not be involved — but this hardly means that “mainstream” groups have any doubt over the injustice done to Ostreicher or the need to free him from a notorious Bolivian jail. Apparently, the Forward could find no better way to describe a humanitarian appeal and congressional investigation — into what one FBI official called a “state-sponsored kidnapping” — than as a parochial effort with which “mainstream” Jews should not concern themselves. And to do so, they were prepared to misportray the sentiments of the head of the ADL.

So in just three days, the Forward managed to tally up four examples of needless anti-Charedi bias, complete with two articles worthy of several “Pinocchios” from the Washington Post. And the number of articles this week with positive news from a community filled with Torah and chesed, not to mention the community that is the only bright light in the dismal state of decline that is the NY Jewish community? Why, a big zero.

Bucking the Trend

This week, we read about the spies sent to look at the Land of Cana’an, who came back with a bad report — the land is filled with giants, they said, and even if we were to somehow beat them, the land consumes its inhabitants! Only two of the spies came back ready to talk about the “very, very good… land flowing with milk and honey.” Those two were Yehoshua (Joshua) from the tribe of Ephraim, and Kalev ben Yefuneh from the tribe of Yehudah (Judah).

The Torah tells us that Yehoshua’s name was really Hoshea, but Moshe added a letter Yud at the beginning of his name. He knew prophetically what was to happen, and prayed that “‘Y-h’ (G-d) should ‘yoshea’ (save) you from the plan of the spies.”
But what about Kalev? Who prayed for him?

The Talmud (Sotah 11b) points out that Kalev’s real name was, just like Hoshea’s, not the one given to us in the Torah. In I Chronicles 2 the descendants of Judah are recorded. He had five sons, the fourth of whom was Perez. Perez had two sons, Chetzron and Chamul. [Chetzron’s son Ram was the grandfather of Nachshon ben Amminadav, who “triggered” the parting of the Sea by entering the water — and Nachshon’s great-great-grandson was King David ben Yishai.]

Chetzron also had another son… named Kalev. This, the Talmud tells us, is the same person identified in the Torah as Kalev ben Yefuneh.

So if Kalev’s father’s name was Chetzron, why was he identified as Kalev ben Yefuneh in the Torah? The Talmud explains: because he was the son who “Panah” (turned away) from the plan of the spies.

Kalev had both the wisdom and fortitude to recognize when those around him were turning off the path, and to avoid following them “off the cliff.” There are times when “everyone” in society around us is doing and/or advocating for something very wrong, and it isn’t so easy to be in the minority, blindly following the old Sage (in this case, Moshe himself) who is surely leading us to destruction. May we all find the strength of Kalev to “buck the trend!”

A Moderate Life

Prior to Shavuos, our family went to a Sunday brunch celebrating the Bat Mitzvah of a cousin. At some point, I found myself in conversation with the uncle of the honoree, also a cousin and, of course, of my own generation. One of us got a text message, I believe, which turned the conversation to smartphones and the next technologies on the way. Although we’ve known each other essentially all his life (I have about five years on him), he eventually commented that he had to adjust mentally to the idea of talking about high-tech with someone looking like a yeshiva (traditional Rabbinic school) alumnus.

To those not familiar, I suppose it’s rather easy to confuse Orthodox Jews with the Amish, or the ascetics of other communities who shun technology, marriage, and other pleasures. But that is not what the Torah asks of us. As Maimonides advises us, the Torah looks for moderation in most every area.

In our reading this week, the head of each Jewish tribe brings an inaugural offering upon the completion of the Tabernacle. Each of those offerings was precisely the same. Yet the Torah, concerning which we are taught that every letter is holy and none is wasted, describes each offering in full detail, allocating the same six verses to repeat, practically word for word, what each Nasi brought on each day. Achira ben Einan of Naftali’s offering on day twelve is described with all the details of Nachshon ben Amminadav of Yehudah’s on day one. What’s the point of all that repetition?

Rabbi Shmuel Greinemann explains that it was no accident that Nesanel ben Tzuar of Yissachar chose, on the second day, to bring precisely what Nachshon ben Amminadav brought the day earlier. He knew that each of the tribes could engage in one-upmanship, compensating for and taking advantage of going later in line to bring something greater than the other Nesi’im had brought so far. Instead, Nesanel ben Tzuar chose a path designed to avoid any hint of jealousy, and to generate feelings of love and brotherhood. And every Nasi followed suit. That was what was so precious about each and every offering, warranting that it, too, be described with the same level of detail in the Torah itself as all the others.

We live at a time where keeping up with (and outdoing) our neighbors is a fine American (and even global) pastime. That is what the Torah asks us to avoid: to engage in moderation, live within our means, and encourage brotherhood rather than jealousy. And if we want to know how precious that is to G-d, we merely need to contemplate how much space He allocated in His Torah to ensuring that each Nasi was recognized for his personal contribution in this area.

I look forward to reading your comments!

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org

Peter Menkin interviews Yaakov Menken

No, no relation! Peter Menkin is an Episcopal writer, and this article appeared in the San Francisco Examiner and the Church of England Newspaper. Interesting style and all, you do learn a lot about Project Genesis via this article — so with his permission I’ve reprinted it here.

Interview: Internet Rabbi Yaakov Menken speaks about his Religious Education work with www.Torah.org

In an interview on Religious Education, Orthodox Rabbi Yaakov Menken talks of his work with the successful teaching website www.Torah.org and tells readers all about what to expect as students

by Peter Menkin

Founder and Director of www.Torah.org,
Rabbi Yaakov Menken of Baltimore, Maryland, USA

This is the second interview in three that constitute the final article-interview on Religious Education. The unique aspect of this interview has to do with the success of internet education and its use in the teaching of Torah and Jewish learning purposes, as well, of Orthodox Jewish adult education. In this interview with Religion Writer Peter Menkin, Director of www.torah.org spoke with the writer over a period of a few months, from December, 2011, through the 20th of March, 2012. Rabbi Yaakov Menken (no relation to the Religion Writer), speaks with an authority born of education, training, and experience. He shows a love of learning, and like the other three Rabbis who are part of this interview series of three about the internet learning site, with its 78,000 subscribers, Rabbi Yaakov has a warmth for the reality of the work and their experience in reaching out to both Jews and non-Jews in many parts of the world–in fact, worldwide as well as the United States. The phone conversations held from Peter Menkin’s home office in Mill Valley, California to Rabbi Yaakov’s office at www. Torah.org and his own home in Baltimore, went well.

1. Peter Menkin: There is little doubt in my mind that your work as Director, www.Torah.org is an internet success with 78,000 subscribers. In a conversation by phone, you talked some about advantages and such of internet learning—calling Torah.org a place for ongoing education (lifelong learning). To paraphrase your remark regarding continuing education –as this writer knows it as once known in California, USA — and your school purpose, continuing education is…much closer to our model, not because (the student is) going to get a credit. Lifelong education known to us as… religious study…a more fundamental obligation. It is one of the things we are expected to do. Tell us about this lifelong, fundamental obligation. Give us some about the, “Why,” and “What for…”

Continue reading “Peter Menkin interviews Yaakov Menken”