Letters – Fall 2018

High Cost of Burial
As a rabbi, I truly appreciated Rabbi Akiva Males’ article entitled “What’s In Your Anti-Cremation Toolkit?” (summer 2018).

However, I believe there is one main issue that was not addressed in the article. Often relatives point out that a cremation costs about $1,000 while a burial costs $10,000 or more. Seniors tend to be tight on resources and do not want their children to bear the cost of burial. They therefore often choose, in their words, “the easy way out,” and opt for cremation.

Would the price difference merely be $1,000 to $3,000, it would be much easier to convince them to opt for a Jewish burial, but when the price difference is thousands of dollars, unfortunately, “money talks.”

I would like to know what arguments can be made to address this issue. I have often had to collect significant funds in order to convince people to fulfill the mitzvah of a Jewish burial.

Rabbi Moishe Y. Engel
Chabad shaliach
Long Beach, California

Rabbi Akiva Males Responds
I thank Rabbi Engel for his comments. He is, of course, correct in that it is the relatively low cost of cremation that contributes to its growing popularity in certain segments of the American Jewish community. What then can the Orthodox community do to better “sell” the concept of a traditional Jewish burial when cremation costs are significantly lower? I believe two points need to be considered.

The ultimate reason why Judaism has always insisted on burying its dead is because this is what halachah requires. For Jews whose decisions are based on traditional religious practice, burial will remain the only option—despite its price. On the other hand, for Jews whose decision-making process is not based on traditional Jewish practice, unfortunately, cremation’s lower cost makes it a more appealing option. (Isn’t this the same factor which determines who will pay for kosher meat versus non-kosher meat—or any of the other additional expenses associated with living one’s life in accordance with halachah in twenty-first-century America?)

Additionally, it is incumbent on the Orthodox community to do what we can to keep the costs of a traditional Jewish burial as low as possible. This will make the expense of burial more bearable for Jews who are motivated to follow Jewish tradition. This might also make burial a stronger option to be considered by those whose commitment to Jewish tradition is more tenuous. (The OU is to be commended for its efforts towards such a project. [See our ad on page 89 for information on the OU’s Levaya program, which offers affordable fixed-price halachic funerals.])

The rise in cremation is directly linked to the degree that Jewish tradition plays in guiding people’s lives. (This offers us another important reason to share the beauty of Torah living with our fellow Jews.) Commitment to halachah is the most effective means of stunting the growth of the cremation epidemic that is rapidly seeping into the American Jewish community.

In the meantime, my article attempted to offer some tools that might influence a person whose commitment to Jewish observance is not strong enough to offset the seeming advantages of cremation.

 

Women’s Leadership
I was sorry to read about the closing of the OU Women’s Branch (“Paving the Way for Women’s Leadership” [summer 2018]) for two reasons: (1) it described the demise of an organization responsible for so much good during the past near-century, and (2) it completely ignored the role of Rebbetzin Rebecca F. Goldstein (my grandmother) in the establishment of OU Kosher, along with that of her husband, Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein. Their efforts were described so aptly in an article that appeared in the summer 2011 issue of Jewish Action entitled “The OU: Pioneering the Kosher Food Industry” written by Shulamith Z. Berger.

At the same time, it should be emphasized that the demise of the Women’s Branch indicates that it was a victim of its own success, elevating the role of women to the point where they now have senior leadership positions in the general OU.

Rabbi Aaron I. Reichel, Esq.
New York, NY
Author of The Maverick Rabbi (on the former OU President Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein)

 

I found it inspiring to read about how women decades ago joined forces to address societal challenges in the Jewish community.

As a coordinator of twice-yearly neighborhood shidduch meetings since 2005, I would like to propose a new role for shul sisterhoods: to join together to confront the shidduch challenge facing our generation of American Jewry. Perhaps this can be accomplished by each shul having a representative who keeps an updated list and profiles of its single congregants, with groups of women networking with representatives from around the country for shidduch ideas.

When asked what motivated her grandmother to start the Women’s Branch, Nancy Klein responded, “. . . the women felt that alone they had no influence, but if they banded together, they could accomplish something.”

Today, too, individual women hesitate to suggest shidduchim for a variety of reasons. Let us “band together!”

Hindy Mandel
Lakewood, New Jersey

 

Need for High-Quality Frum Literature
In the most recent issue of the magazine, Moishe Bane, president of the Orthodox Union, penned an essay entitled “A Community in Search of a Culture,” in which he states: “We need to ensure that our day schools are . . . preparing future generations of Orthodox Jewish authors. We should encourage the creation of high-quality Orthodox literature for children, teens and adults.”

Thank you, Mr. Bane!

It is crucial for the Orthodox community to have books that are engaging, well-written and of high quality that will appeal to all Jewish youngsters.

While there has been growth in the Jewish fiction market recently, particularly for children, we need books and authors that will speak to those Orthodox youngsters who are regular readers of popular fiction, such as Pinkalicious, Junie B. Jones, Percy Jackson and Harry Potter.

Faygie Holt 
Author of the Achdus Club series
Livingston, New Jersey

 

Israeli Chareidim Joining the High-Tech Industry
I enjoyed reading “The New Chareidim,” (by Yocheved Lavon [summer 2018]) which highlighted the rising number of Chareidi men and women who are entering high-tech fields. As president of the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT), I am grateful for the article’s coverage of JCT’s role at the forefront of this important socioeconomic revolution in Israel and I thank Jewish Action for bringing these efforts to the attention of the American Jewish community.

One notable section of Lavon’s piece focused on David Asher, a Chareidi cyber analyst who got a job after taking a short-term course. We applaud all of the important efforts to help Chareidim join the workforce. While David’s story is inspiring, there is an interesting alternative path that has recently emerged at JCT.

We at JCT believe that short-term educational programs are not enough. We have just concluded the first cycle of the Cyber Elite program for our software engineering and computer science graduates. Cyber Elite is an eleven-month program, developed in partnership with the Rashi Foundation’s Cyber Education Center and the National Cyber Directorate of the Prime Minister’s Office.

This year, thirty-one graduates (sixteen men and fifteen women, studying separately) spent an extra year studying cyber training, while simultaneously working in R&D in the cyber departments of multinational companies, aerospace and defense companies, or cyber startups. It brings a whole new perspective to the issue of Chareidim in Israeli high-tech. Today, Chareidim constitute less than 1 percent of the senior technology positions in Israel. The primary path to senior positions in Israel’s cyber industry has been participation in military cyber units, which makes the field virtually inaccessible to those not traditionally represented in these units. The JCT program not only enables Chareidim to enter hi-tech, but provides them with unique added value.

Cyber Elite challenges Chareidi students, invests in their abilities and enables them to reach the upper echelon of cyber security. It is not a quick fix, but rather targets a path that is likely to lead to national and even international leadership in the cyber world. We have already seen the results. In addition to excellent feedback from all the companies where Cyber Elite graduates work, 20 percent of all finalists in the recent national Cyber Challenge contest of the Israel National Cyber Week were from Cyber Elite.

The program is also a key driver for empowering religious women in Israel. The fifteen women who graduated from Cyber Elite have been placed in the security operations of aerospace and defense companies, the cyber departments of Fortune 500 companies, and cyber startups, among other companies. With programs like Cyber Elite, members of the Chareidi community can truly reach their full potential in the workforce.

Professor Chaim Sukenik
Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT)
Jerusalem, Israel

This article was featured in Jewish Action Fall 2018.