A Letter from the Editor

This issue of Jewish Action is my 36th, the last of my nine years of service to the Orthodox Union.  It has been a privilege to participate in the noble aspirations of this organization and to present Orthodox lifestyle and concerns articulately to its growing constituency.  Reflecting the mission of the Union itself, Jewish Action has sought to envelope its readers in a global kehillah that is not only well informed in Jewish matters, but cares deeply about them as well.  No doubt, this editorial vision will develop as the magazine continues to thrive.  As I take leave to pursue other literary goals, I would like to thank my outstanding staff members and the many readers, contributors and OU leaders who have made my experience as editor of Jewish Action a most gratifying one.

                                                                                                                             Charlotte Friedland

Orthodox Dropouts

Rabbi Grossman’s article (Fall 5761/2000) about dropouts was a home run.  The crisis in Jewish education/chinuch/parenting cuts to the essence.  The problem goes far beyond the usual suspects of disability and dysfunction.  Truly how devastating it is to a child or adolescent to find inconsistency between role models’ instruction and expectations for their charges and these mentors’ own conduct.

Seeing a parent cutting corners in his own observance will have an adverse impact on developing that child’s own observance level.  Similarly, a school/faculty hanhalah more pre-occupied with self interest/parnassah issues than in conveying concern, commitment and passion for both the talmidim/dot and for Judaism and Torah study will leave a student empty.

Additionally, it behooves yeshivot and seminaries to impart sincerity and genuineness to their graduates.  Encouraging derech eretz and commitment to Torah by merely citing the dictates of tomes written long ago is inadequate.  Performing acts of kindness or concern for others cannot be effectively taught by simply saying, “it says in . . .” without more.  Interpersonal mitzvot must be

taught not as obligations to be fulfilled but as core values.

The same attitude must permeate all aspects of Torah study.  What is more inspiring, a rebbe or morah teaching with the underlying passion of an intellectual or with the inspiration of gaining a glimpse of God’s will?  Unfortunately, all too often the emphasis in our schools is on ideological conformity and not individual development.  As a byproduct, the perception becomes one that Judaism is an exclusive club reserved for likeminded persons only.  Could an inquisitive individual thrive in such an environment?  Could such an educational or home environment survive disappointment or inconsistency?  Truly my desire is not to engage in yeshivah or frumkeit bashing, but to echo some of Rabbi Grossman’s concerns.

Bernard Antin, Esq.

Southfield, Michigan

Reading Rabbi Heshy Grossman’s description of “The Happy, Well-Adjusted Orthodox Dropout,” I was reminded of an innovative program that has become increasingly popular in Israeli yeshivos.  I’m referring to organized father/son study sessions held within the framework of the yeshivah.  Father and son both study the same text in chavrusa style and are then treated to a shiur on the subject.  There is no doubt that the scholarly interaction between the two is advantageous to both, and it further serves to reinforce the tradition of Torah being given over from one generation to the next.  Ideally of course, this should be done at home, but such is not always the case and indeed it is sometimes far worse, as Rabbi Grossman points out.  Such a program adapted to the U.S. might be helpful in getting both the potential dropout and his father back on the right track.

David Wilk

Jerusalem, Israel

Author Clarifies Goals of His Work

I would like to explain the parameters within which I envisioned and produced my work abut the Rav [The Rav: The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, reviewed in Jewish Action, Fall 5761/2000].

My goal was to produce a work in which I could recreate the world of the Rav in his own words.  I purposely avoided any analysis since I did not want the world to say, “It is Rakeffet’s concepts of the Rav.”  I trust I have succeeded to a certain extent in producing the Rav’s understanding of the world in which he functioned.

My monograph biography of the Rav and his family is more in the nature of an introduction to the insights.  Even there, I avoided my own interpretations and cited all the relevant sources.  For example, I am fully aware of the Rav’s correspondence with Rabbi Shragai of Jerusalem and I cite the letters in a footnote in volume I, page 76, note 63.

However, I must confess that I am also guilty of giving my own analysis and super-commentary on the Rav’s life.  I am privileged to be able to do this at the Gruss Kollel of Yeshiva University in Jerusalem where I have taught since it began a formal program in 1978.

So far, I have recorded 12 lectures on analyzing what I have written in my published work.  Almost an entire lecture was devoted to the correspondence between the Rav and Shragai.  I call these lectures the “Oral Torah” on the “Written Torah.”  There are many more to come, please God, until I finish going through all the pages of the two volumes.  These lectures are all recorded and available from the tape library of the Gruss Kollel.  However, I do not desire to see my insights published for another generation.  I want my two volumes to stand on their own merits and not to be confused with Rakeffet’s understanding of his rebbe.

There is a mistake in my tapes about the Rav’s life.  To the best of my knowledge, only one person caught it.  My dear student, Dr. Norman Gold of West Hempstead indicated to me that my description of the Rav speaking at the Oneg Shabbat established by H.N. Bialik in Tel Aviv in 1935 was not entirely correct.  While this event did take place, Bialik could not have been present.  He had died a few months earlier.  I simply was misinformed when this event was described to me many years ago by participants in the Oneg Shabbat.  What is true is that Bialik’s followers and colleagues were amazed by the Rav’s abilities.  Nevertheless, Bialik himself could not rejoice in hearing with his own ears the greatness of his rebbe’s great-great-grandson.

I must also note that I did, in fact, overstate the Rav’s height on the audiotape.  In all probability, his height was between 5’8” and 6’2”.

[See photo, courtesy of Mark Zomick.  Left to right:  Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Rabbi Chaim Heller, Rabbi Theodore Adams]

 Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff

Jerusalem, Israel

South African Jewry Ahead on Marriage Prep

Usually, South African Jewry considers itself several years behind developments in American Jewry.  It seems, however, that in the sphere of preparing couples for marriage, South Africa is way ahead.

I read in the Fall 5761/2000 issue of Jewish Action the two articles on marriage preparation by Rabbi Weinreb and Dr. Lasson, in which they urge recognition of the need, and cooperation on some programs yet to be fully devised and finalized.

South African Jewry has been addressing this need actively for many years, and has now reached the point where we have three separate programs up and running, and all couples registering for an Orthodox marriage must attend one, plus either or both of the other two.  This might make us unique in the Jewish world, and seems worth telling others about, as a guide and an inspiration to their communities.  I had the zechut to pioneer this effort and help bring it to its present state.  With congratulations on an excellent publication.

Rabbi N. M. Bernhard

Rabbi Emeritus of The Oxford Synagogue-Centre

 Johannesburg, South Africa

 Birkat Hamazon Over Wine

Rabbi Dr. Zivotofsky’s very eclectic and informative [“Legal-ease”] article (What’s the Truth about…Birkat Hamazon over Wine?) reaches the general conclusion that bentching over wine became uncommon when Jews lived in regions where wine was very expensive, and that, although it is not obligatory, it would be appropriate for us to revive the practice of bentching over wine nowadays, since wine is inexpensive.  And this, to the extent that “It would seem that if wine was a part of the meal, indicating its availability and desirability, it would be inappropriate to then bentch with a zimun and not use wine.”

However, there is a defense of the common practice to bentch without wine which, I believe, would have been worthy of inclusion in this discussion.  Although Rabbi Zivotofsky cites Rav Moshe Feinstein’s pertinent responsum from Orach Chaim (4:69) several times, he does not cite Rav Moshe’s responsum on this topic from Yoreh Deah (3:52,3) at all.  In the latter responsum, Rav Moshe writes that although some people have adopted the custom of bentching over wine, this practice has not been embraced by the learned.  He suggests that the reason for this is because in order to satisfy the kos shel brachah obligation, one must drink “a cheekful.”  And even more (a rvi’it) must be drunk in order to avoid any uncertainty regarding a brachah acharonah.  Since this amount of drunkenness makes focused Torah study difficult, talmidei chachamim have been wary of adopting this chumrah.

                                                                                                                        Avraham Steinberg

                                                                                                                        Kew Gardens, NY

Rabbi Zivotofsky Responds:

I appreciate Mr. Steinberg’s comments and thank him for citing the additional teshuvah of Rav Moshe Feinstein.  Before discussing that responsum, I just want to reiterate my main point, which may have been lost in the forest of details, that there is no incremental increase in the obligation to use a kos when there is a minyan.  The only transition point of significance is the presence of a zimmun.

I have some difficulty accepting that the reason people refrain from bentching on a kos is because they are wary of getting halachically “drunk,” thus impairing their ability to learn in depth.  The same halachah would apply to milk (!) (Shach YD 242:20), and yet even most talmidei chachamim do not refrain from having cereal with milk in the morning before going out to learn.  In addition, there are other ways to avoid the problem.  For example the Meiros Eynayim [S”MA] (Choshen Mishpat 7:11) rules that one may be lenient with regard to deciding halachah after drinking contemporary wine.  Additionally, this halachah does not apply to grape juice (Shach YD 242:19), an alternate beverage that can be used for bentching.

In the teshuvah cited by Mr. Steinberg, Rav Moshe suggests that the custom to not use a kos had probably developed due to the lack of wine.  He then raises the second reason regarding halachic drunkenness.  Although I do not fully understand the second reason, I cannot ignore it. One way of addressing it is in the specific line from my article quoted by Mr. Steinberg.  I addressed the scenario when wine is part of the meal.  In that case, Rav Moshe’s exemption no longer applies since the person has already drunk wine.  It is in that case specifically that I felt most strongly that it would then be appropriate to bentch over wine.

One more point of note from that teshuvah is that Rav Moshe suggested that people who do choose the meritorious option of bentching over a kos do so with the explicit reservation that they are doing so “bli neder,” that is, without accepting the obligation to always observe this practice, as occasions may arise when they cannot bentch over a kos.

Thanks for Anonymous Gift

I would like to thank the anonymous donor of a subscription to Jewish Action to me.  The magazine is well read in our house, and keeps us informed of vital information in the dati world.

Many thanks and wishes for health and all things good.

Batya Bender

Jerusalem, Israel


A section of the article on Rabbi Yosef Kafach (Winter 5761/2000) reads: …“Rav Kafach broached the possibility of undertaking a new translation of the [Rambam’s] commentary on the Mishneh Torah.”  It should have said the Mishneh. In another context, reference is made to his completion of a new edition of the Mishneh Torah in only two years.  The work took 12 years to complete, from 1984 to 1996.

This article was featured in the Spring 2001 issue of Jewish Action.
We'd like to hear what you think about this article. Post a comment or email us at ja@ou.org.