Friday, October 30, 2009

Caveat Emptor: Tefillin Fraud

As we all know, extreme care must be exerted when purchasing Tefillin and Mezuzot. Many people (especially from חו"ל) buy at specific emporia in Meah Shearim and Geulah, often assuming that if we order Tefillin with all the Hiddurim, that that is what we'll get.

Today, I encountered a case where a pair of tefillin which were specially ordered were barely kosher, and the Sofer who checked them informed me that the ktav was an obvious case of 'get it over with minimally, who cares about the person who wears them.' In this case, the parshiyyot were written in a mishmash of Bes Yosef and Ksav Ari. The tefillin fetched good money, needless to say.

They were purchased at HaMeyfitz at 70 Meah Shearim Street, which had been known for being a bit cheaper for Gasos Tefillin than the competition. Obviously, you get what you pay for.

There are many upstanding Sofrim in Israel (and I can recommend more than a few. Noone should buy into the 'it's Merah Shearim and the Sofer is a Hassid/has a long beard/looks right therefore reliable' trap.

Anyway, HaMeyfitz should not be trusted.

HaShem Yismarenu me-remiyah,

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Shabbat Elevators are Forbidden! (or, so they now say)

[Notice the almost explicit slap at Zomet.]
[ UPDATE: The fallout from this declaration has been swift and furious. Both of the insitutes that deal with the interface between Halakhah and Technology stood by their guns and defended the use of Shabbat elevators. I suspect that the observant public will vote with its feet (literally) and keep using the elevators. In the end, all that will be achieved is a further diminution in rabbinic dignity (and, I fear, the dignity of Jewish Law, as well).
There's another aspect of this issue that relates to my ongoing discussion of Modern Orthodoxy in Israel. I understand from a well placed source that a group of very serious Haredi rabbis consulted with an expert on elevators and their halakhic implications. After hours of careful discussion of the intricacies, and why the permitted versions are fine, they left this religious scientist with the clear impression that: זיי האב'ן גאר ניט פארשטאנ'ן (ie 'They didn't understand anything'). The prohibition against using elevators was published not long afterwards.
This is yet further proof that there is something profoundly deficient in a Torah world where the halakhic authorities lack basic literacy in the sciences (including social sciences). You might not need to have a degree (as proven by R. Moshe Feinstein זצ"ל and R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach זצ"ל, who were able to engage scientists and other experts). A degree usually does help. After all, Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל did study Physics with Max Planck, the pioneer of Quantum Mechanics, and that enabled him to address issues far out of the usual purview of the contemporary halakhist.
However, it is such illiteracy that Haredi and Hardali rabbis advocate. They fight to keep the three R's out of the schools. One brags on the radio that he lacks a High school education. And so on and so forth. Judaism will only be the loser from this state of affairs. Yes, there is room for principled difference of opinion. First, however, you need to know what you're talking about.]

I Love Charles Krauhammer!

Obama's French Lesson

By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, October 2, 2009

"President Obama, I support the Americans' outstretched hand. But what did the international community gain from these offers of dialogue? Nothing."
-- French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Sept. 24

When France chides you for appeasement, you know you're scraping bottom. Just how low we've sunk was demonstrated by the Obama administration's satisfaction when Russia's president said of Iran, after meeting President Obama at the United Nations, that "sanctions are seldom productive, but they are sometimes inevitable."

You see? The Obama magic. Engagement works. Russia is on board. Except that, as The Post inconveniently pointed out, President Dmitry Medvedev said the same thing a week earlier, and the real power in Russia, Vladimir Putin, had changed not at all in his opposition to additional sanctions. And just to make things clear, when Iran then brazenly test-fired offensive missiles, Russia reacted by declaring that this newest provocation did not warrant the imposition of tougher sanctions.
Do the tally. In return for selling out Poland and the Czech Republic by unilaterally abrogating a missile-defense security arrangement that Russia had demanded be abrogated, we get from Russia . . . what? An oblique hint, of possible support, for unspecified sanctions, grudgingly offered and of dubious authority -- and, in any case, leading nowhere because the Chinese have remained resolute against any Security Council sanctions.

Confusing ends and means, the Obama administration strives mightily for shows of allied unity, good feeling and pious concern about Iran's nuclear program -- whereas the real objective is stopping that program. This feel-good posturing is worse than useless, because all the time spent achieving gestures is precious time granted Iran to finish its race to acquire the bomb.

Don't take it from me. Take it from Sarkozy, who could not conceal his astonishment at Obama's naivete. On Sept. 24, Obama ostentatiously presided over the Security Council. With 14 heads of state (or government) at the table, with an American president at the chair for the first time ever, with every news camera in the world trained on the meeting, it would garner unprecedented worldwide attention.

Unknown to the world, Obama had in his pocket explosive revelations about an illegal uranium enrichment facility that the Iranians had been hiding near Qom. The French and the British were urging him to use this most dramatic of settings to stun the world with the revelation and to call for immediate action.

Obama refused. Not only did he say nothing about it, but, reports Le Monde, Sarkozy was forced to scrap the Qom section of his speech. Obama held the news until a day later -- in Pittsburgh. I've got nothing against Pittsburgh (site of the G-20 summit), but a stacked-with-world-leaders Security Council chamber it is not.

Why forgo the opportunity? Because Obama wanted the Security Council meeting to be about his own dream of a nuclear-free world. The president, reports the New York Times citing "White House officials," did not want to "dilute" his disarmament resolution "by diverting to Iran."
Diversion? It's the most serious security issue in the world. A diversion from what? From a worthless U.N. disarmament resolution?

Yes. And from Obama's star turn as planetary visionary: "The administration told the French," reports the Wall Street Journal, "that it didn't want to 'spoil the image of success' for Mr. Obama's debut at the U.N."

Image? Success? Sarkozy could hardly contain himself. At the council table, with Obama at the chair, he reminded Obama that "we live in a real world, not a virtual world."

He explained: "President Obama has even said, 'I dream of a world without [nuclear weapons].' Yet before our very eyes, two countries are currently doing the exact opposite."

Sarkozy's unspoken words? "And yet, sacr? bleu, he's sitting on Qom!"

At the time, we had no idea what Sarkozy was fuming about. Now we do. Although he could hardly have been surprised by Obama's fecklessness. After all, just a day earlier in addressing the General Assembly, Obama actually said, "No one nation can . . . dominate another nation." That adolescent mindlessness was followed with the declaration that "alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War" in fact "make no sense in an interconnected world." NATO, our alliances with Japan and South Korea, our umbrella over Taiwan, are senseless? What do our allies think when they hear such nonsense?

Bismarck is said to have said: "There is a providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children, and the United States of America." Bismarck never saw Obama at the United Nations. Sarkozy did.