Archive | December, 2007

Too Many Trees, Not Enough Forest

12 Dec

Before I begin this week’s musings, I just want to express openly my thanks to the many well-wishers and those who are offering their prayers on behalf of my son, Naftali, and his fellow soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces. Naftali was home for Shabbat Chanukah, and when I showed him your messages, he was quite touched by the outpouring of support.

Now, as an observant Jew, I am a strong believer in the importance of mitzvah observance – in all areas of halacha. I believe that the halachic system serves as the foundation of Jewish identity and Jewish continuity. I am completely at peace with the recognition that not all Jews will opt to observe the halacha in a rigorous fashion, some out of conviction, others out of sheer ignorance. However, it is my hope that all Jews will respect the importance of the halacha, even if they have chosen not to fashion their lives according to its teachings.

It is important for we who have chosen to take the halacha seriously to make sure that our observance of its details serves to guide our lives and, at all times, project divine calling that we have accepted upon ourselves.

This brings me to one of two emails that came to my in-box this week….

Shabbat observance addresses many very detailed issues in our lives…even the issue of brushing our teeth. I will be honest with you – I do not brush my teach on Shabbat. (I do rinse in the morning and night, so no need to keep your distance if we happen to be together for a Shabbat.) I abstain for a number of halachic reasons, none of which I choose to get into at this point.

The email that came my way brought attention to a “technological advance” in Shabbat tooth-brushing – the development of the “Shabbos Toothbrush.” This simple invention has been developed to obviate the halachic issues and enable people who are concerned about the halacha to brush their teeth on Shabbat with reliable rabbinic authority.

Read all about it at:

It took me a few days to figure out what it is that bothers me so much about this new invention. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for enlisting technology in the service of halachic observance. That’s not the issue.

Franky, I feel like it reflects the growing disparity in priorities for Am Yisrael. It is indicative of a world of Jews who live among the trees of Jewish life, and pay lip-service to the forest.

Each month I receive a publication from a prominent rabbinical organization in the United States, addressing kashrut issues. One feature that seems to be present each month is the ongoing clarifications of which slurpee flavors are under reliable kosher supervision this month, and which ones are not.

It makes me chuckle…and then it makes me cry.

In my opinion, the halachic Jewish world of which I am a part is focusing so much energy on issues like slurpees, Shabbos toothbrushes and “the original tefillin sweater” (see same website) that they are running the risk of becoming completely out of touch with the realities of Jewish existence today….and, even worse, completely disinterested with what’s really happening all around them. Focusing so much energy on issues like these gives us a superficial sense that we have made it, that all is well for the Jewish people. My fellow halachic Jews run the risk of fooling themselves into believing that all is well, that Baruch Hashem , all that there is to be concerned about now is how we can find ways to meet the most strict halachic standards, and that in doing so, we will do our part to bring the Messiah closer….

Wake-up and smell the cholent.

The Jewish forest is burning down around us….here in Israel we are still dealing with serious existential issues, even if there are no buses blowing up around us. Assimilation continues to be on the rise, and hundreds of thousands of young Jews worldwide are expressing Jewish identity and brotherhood in worldwide rock concert festivals(see The Eight

What I am advocating is simply this: don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees! Those who are committed to thorough Jewish living must remain conscious of the fact that we do not have the luxury of finding satisfaction with the newest high tech ways to brush our teeth on Shabbat or to seek out and destroy the camouflaged bugs on our lettuce.. this DOES NOT replace our collective responsibility to keep our eyes open to the condition of worldwide Jewish life around us and make that our foremost priority.

I hope that you all had a wonderful Chanukah celebration and, in the spirit of Chanukah, I pray that we will all find a sense of rededication to the central issues confronting our people today.