Letters to the Editor

Flipping Out
I really enjoy your publication. However, I was quite surprised when I read the review by Shana Yocheved Schacter of Flipping Out (summer 2009). I understand that many of the issues described are real and that a book such as this may be very helpful for certain families. But I would have expected the reviewer to mention that the term “flipping out” has very negative connotations. The book insinuates that a child who has shifted from a Yeshiva University mentality to a Chareidi outlook has flipped out. The cover of the book has the words “flipping out” with a large picture of a black hat. I find this insulting. Is this how we want to describe a precious neshamah who wants to come closer to his Maker?

The reviewer writes that the book describes “[the teens’] newly adopted serious commitment to the primacy of Torah learning and observance of mitzvot . . .” among other concerns. Is this not the concept of “Ki hem chayeinu veorech yameinu?”

As a graduate of the Machal program of Michlalah Yerushalayim, I remember when Rabbi Yehuda Cooperman, founder and dean of Michlalah, told us that someday our children may want a higher level of Torah observance and religiosity, and we should not stand in their way.

I also found the juxtaposition of this book review and the special section “Voices from the Campus” interesting. The section begins with a quote from a study by the Avi Chai Foundation that found that “two out of three Jewish college students change their level of Jewish observance during their college years. Notably, they are almost twice as likely to decrease their observance as they are to increase it.” Is this what we prefer for our children over increased religiosity?

Cleveland, Ohio

Shana Yocheved Schacter Responds
Sara Heimowitz’s letter reflects our community’s collective concern for ensuring our children’s continued commitment to Torah study and halachic observance. The year in Israel is meant to intensify their prayer experience, Torah study, halachic knowledge and observance and chesed and middot, while helping them develop a meaningful relationship with God, the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. Of course, all this is laudable. But “flipping out” is a phenomenon of an extreme shift in thinking and behavior and, as I indicated multiple times in my review, an exception to the rule. Furthermore, unlike the impression given in Ms. Heimowitz’s letter, the intense Israel experience does not have to come at the expense of the principles of Modern Orthodoxy to which the families of the students described in the book ascribe. Students, parents and educators alike, in Israel and America, must work together to create responsible Jewish adults who will incorporate the influences of their year spent in Israel into a lifetime of being caring and committed Jews.

Revisiting Birkat haChammah

In the spring 2009 issue of Jewish Action, Rabbi Dr. J. David Bleich masterfully explained the message behind Birkat haChammah (“Birkat haChammah: An Evocative Blessing”). In the process, he reviewed some basics regarding the Jewish calendar, but it appears he made a slight error. He wrote: “Daily recitation of tal umatar, a prayer for rain, begins with the advent of the rainy season in the Land of Israel. The rainy season is deemed to commence on the sixtieth day following the autumnal equinox.” Tal umatar is indeed linked to the rainy season, but there are two different rainy seasons. In Israel we pray for our water needs (which are indeed great) beginning on the seventh of Marcheshvan, which in the days of old would have enabled the Jews who had come from afar to celebrate Sukkot to return home prior to the onset of the rains. In the Diaspora, as Rabbi Bleich noted, the tefillot begin sixty days after the autumnal equinox (as determined by the Shmuel/Julian calendar), but that is not when the rainy season commences in the Land of Israel. It actually marks the start of the period in which rain is needed in Bavel of old—modern-day Iraq—such that Jews in the Diaspora are actually praying for a good year of rain for Iraq, not for Israel nor for their present locale (Ta’anit 10a with Rashi; Iggerot Moshe, OC 4:17). There are interesting halachic discussions pertaining to one who made an error regarding the recital of tal umatar when his local water needs differ from those in Iraq, but the baseline halachah is that outside of Israel tal umatar commences sixty days after the autumnal equinox—in line with the climatic conditions in Iraq, not those in Israel.

Beit Shemesh, Israel

Rabbi Dr. J. David Bleich Responds

Yasher koach! My language was indeed imprecise. An accurate explanation appears in Contemporary Halakhic Problems, Vol. III (New York, 1989), pages 37-38. Rabbi Zivotofsky’s correction is a bit less imprecise but still somewhat inaccurate. It is to be assumed not that “there are two different rainy seasons,” as stated by Rabbi Zivotofsky, but that the rainy season in both the Land of Israel and in Bavel commence at roughly the same time, i.e., following Shemini Atzeret, as evidenced by commencement on Shemini Atzeret of the recitation of “mashiv haruach umorid hageshem—He who makes the wind blow and the rain descend.” In Israel, tal umatar, the prayer for rain, begins on the seventh of Cheshvan in order to allow olei regel to return home prior to the onset of rain. In Bavel, the prayer is delayed until sixty days after the equinox, not because the natural rainy season begins later, but, as stated by Rashi, “because [Bavel] is a place [of] low [elevation] and does not need as much rain.”

Getting Schooled in Tuition
Re the difficulty of dealing with the rising costs of education (“Addressing the Tuition Crisis,” by Rabbi Saul Zucker, summer 2009): Another option is available that unfortunately was not mentioned in the article.

Israel is not only the land that Hashem loves and designed especially for the Jewish people, but it is also a place where even private yeshivah education costs are minimal.

Perhaps Hashem is speaking to us, sending a message urging Jews to come home.


Support for Obama
There are many of us in the Orthodox community who support President Obama and what he is trying to accomplish in the Middle East. As an Oz VeShalom Religious Zionist [member of the religious peace movement], I do not believe that supporting the settler movement represents the best practice or enhances Yahadut in Medinat Yisrael. It would be nice if our voices could be heard in Jewish Action.


This article was featured in the Winter 2009 issue of Jewish Action.