Are not the burgeoning populations of today’s yeshiva students — who have no desire to ever leave their study halls and are absorbed exclusively in individual contemplation — and religious Jews who cloister themselves in isolated communities and feel no responsibility to contribute to broader society, really a version of Christian monks, albeit with families?

This phenomenon is ripping away at Israel’s social solidarity, politics and economics, with many seeing it as a greater threat to Israel’s survival than her external enemies. While more intense and overt in the Jewish state, this dynamic is on the rise in America also. How many religious students or adults strive to connect to the Jewish people as a whole, not just like themselves? How many feel a deep responsibility to contribute to wider American society, participate in its public institutions or repay the benefits of America’s blessings? Sadly, too many rabbis and religious adults have lost interest in relating to the entire Jewish people in a real, not merely rhetorical, way. And many have even lost the vocabulary to deal with larger society’s burning challenges of social policy, the economy, poverty, justice and the building of a civil culture.

Eugene Korn, “In the Name of Judaism, Haredim Have Turned Inward,” The Jewish Week (20 April 2012), 20.

This trip shouldn’t be called ‘Birthright’ — it should be called ‘Birth responsibility,’” said Brett Levine, gesticulating as he spoke, a senior at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business with a major in finance. “As Jews, we have a certain sense of entitlement when it comes to Israel, and when it comes to our heritage. But what this trip taught me is that feeling entitled is not enough — we have a responsibility to our Jewish identity. We have a responsibility to Israel.

Hannah Dreyfus, “Birthright on Overdrive,” The Jewish Week (20 April 2012), 11.

I have never regarded material inequality — unless arrived at immorally, as it is in much of the Third World — as evil. Regarding people’s material status, two things should disturb us: a lack of opportunity to improve one’s material well-being and a poverty that is so bad that it deprives people of all dignity and hope. Neither condition has been prevalent in American life in my lifetime. On the contrary, America has been the greatest opportunity-giving society ever created.

Dennis Prager, “A Man and a Book,” The Jewish Journal (20-26 April 2012), 8.

Bondi says he has trouble with the Israeli definition of the word ‘religious.’ “In English, when you say ‘religious’ you mean someone who has a connection with God in some way. In Israel a ‘religious’ person is someone who belongs to a sector that observes halakha. We’ve crowned halakha as the new god. This was a posttraumatic Haredi reaction, after the Enlightenment, after the Holocaust – come, let’s focus on halakha. But it’s not Jewish.

Esti Ahronovitz, “Change of Heart,” (3 February 2012)

…the existence of both an overarching structure and an internal set of literary dynamics within Avot implies that the composition underwent an editorial process. The editor apparently employed the skeletal structure of the work as a framework within which selected contents were arranged according to associative and literary principles. Once these underlying principles are revealed, it becomes clear that Avot is not the result of a random and haphazard cumulative process but the product of a skilled craftsman. Consequently, the synchronic approach to the text rests on firm ground.
In the synchronic approach, the message or messages of the book as a whole become the primary concern. Although each saying makes its own statement, the editor employed these particular sayings to construct the broad statement of the book. In my opinion, the key to a viable interpretation of the text lies in the relationship between the prominent themes and the overarching structure of the work. The structure and contents of Avot express distinct messages, and the confluence of these messages is, most probably, the crux of the work as a whole.

Amram Tropper, Wisdom, Politics, and Historiography: Tractate Avot in the Context of the Graeco-Roman Near East (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 47.

Both form and content support and encourage the observance and the study of rabbinic Torah traditions. On the one hand, the chain of transmission offers a meta-legal, historical justification for the host of extra-biblical Torah traditions practised by the rabbinic community. Avot does not ground the halakhah on internal, legal considerations, but rather derives rabbinic authority from a creative historical reconstruction of the history of the Torah traditions. On the other hand, the contents of Avot offer an alternative justification for the observance and study of Torah that focuses on the theological realm. The theological message of Avot offers a vision of a God who, having granted the Torah on Mt. Sinai, cherishes and rewards the observance and study of the Torah of the rabbis. Thus the theological content posits the acceptance of the chain of transmissions’s claim and then, like the chain, supports the extra-biblical rabbinic traditions with a non-legal argument. While the form establishes the meta-legal foundations for rabbinic authority, the content articulates the theological ramifications of submission to rabbinic rule.

Amram Tropper, Wisdom, Politics, and Historiography: Tractate Avot in the Context of the Graeco-Roman Near East (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 50.

…concerning the scope of the biblical ban on intermarriage, close analysis of the sources indicates greater uniformity on this matter than is generally supposed. The tannaim do not generally hold that the Bible contains a universal ban on intermarriage. The attribution of such an idea to an important second-century tanna is the invention of the redactional layer of the Babylonian Talmud. The rabbis understand the Bible to contain only a partial ban on intermarriage (i.e., only certain nations are prohibited). Second, concerning the rationale for the Bible’s partial ban on intermarriage, rabbinic sources of all stripes – early, late, Palestinan, and Babylonian – attribute this ban to the moral-religious danger that such a union poses for the Israelite spouse. For the rabbis, the rationale for the prohibition of intermarriage is neither ritual nor genealogical defilement of Israelites. Nor do we find any echo of the Pauline and early Christian notion of carnal defilement.

Christine E. Hayes, Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 145-146.

…close analysis of Palestinian sources reveals that Palestinian rabbis read the biblical record very differently from the way in which it was read by some Jewish groups in the Second Temple and early Christian periods. Paul and later Christian sources join Ezra, Jubilees, and other Second Temple sources in constructing a universal prohibition of mixed marriages on biblical authority. In Second Temple sources, the consecration of Abraham and his seed to God entailed the permanent separation of that seed from the seed of Gentiles. According to Jubilees, the prohibition against the intermingling of these distinct seeds may be found in the Torah (Lev. 18:21, 20:3), and punishment for its violation is death. This prohibition and its punishment is understood to stand behind Phineas’ zealous execution of Zimri – the former being hailed as a hero in Second Temple sources – and to motivate Malachi 2:11, as well as Ezra’s dissolution of and interdict against mixed marriages. For his part, Paul denounces mixed marriages on the basis of the general prohibition against conjoining the holy and the impure.
By contrast, Palestinian rabbis maintain that biblical prohibitions of intermarriage (Dt 7 and 23) are partial only. The Torah contains no universal prohibition of intermarriage, and efforts to identify a biblical source for such a prohibition are severely suppressed (see the rabbis’ reaction to interpretations of Lev 18:21). This is not to say that the Palestinian rabbis were immune to concerns about such unions. Like their Second Temple predecessors, the rabbis condemned interethnic sexual relations. Nevertheless, the prohibition of such unions is understood to be rabbinic only (whether the eighteen decrees of Hillel and Shammai, a ruling of the Hasmonean court, or an even older authority). The Palestinian rabbis do not consider sexual union with a Gentile to be a capital crime, and although the Mishnah acknowledges the right of zealots like Phineas to deliver summary justice, Palestinian amoraim clearly disapprove of such zeal and seek to limit its power.

Christine E. Hayes, Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 157-158.

Every Jewish home should have a מהרי”ל. What does it mean to have a מהרי”ל? It means ספר מנהגים. It’s also good to have the שו”ת, but it’s important to have the ספר מנהגים. A Jewish home without a מהרי”ל is like I don’t know, but you should have one…, because מהרי”ל is quoted like on every page…. If you learn halakhah בעיון, the מהרי”ל is always quoted and it’s good to see the מהרי”ל inside….

Rabbi Baruch Simon, “Fasting of the First-Born, Part I” (2 April 2006) <>