Rabbi Benjamin (Benny) Lau does not look the part of a revolutionary.
At 47, his youthful appearance, warm smile and engaging personality have helped him become a popular Orthodox rabbinic figure in Jerusalem, where he has revitalized the Ramban community synagogue in Katamon and heads the beit midrash program at Beit Morasha, a communal and educational leadership institute for observant men and women.
Please stop writing out against us,” read the e-mail message I received recently from someone who identified himself as Chaim, a local haredi man, pleading with me not to be “the lackey for people who have no idea what Torah is. Please.”
I responded to his e-mail with one of my own, and before I knew it we were back and forth in an exchange I’ve found both fascinating and frustrating.
On the eve of Tisha b’Av 15 years ago, I wrote one of my first columns in my new post here about the rabbinic teaching that the Holy Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE and again in 70 AD on Tisha b’Av (the ninth of Av) because of sinat chinam, or causeless hatred, among the Jewish people.
I tried to make the point that the problem still plagues us, and noted that Jews of all stripes, from Orthodox to Reform to secular, can and should find things to admire about each other.
What lessons can we take away from all the embarrassing reports about Agriprocessors, the largest kosher slaughterhouse in America, accused of abuse of both animals and workers in its Postville, Iowa plant?
The plus side is that the controversy has sparked a long-overdue discussion about the larger meaning of the mitzvah of kashrut, a conversation that includes values as well as ritual and could result in some substantive improvements. But there are those who contend that such talk is likely to have little impact on the multi-billion dollar kosher food industry.
No matter what you call them — Hebrew schools, religious, congregational or supplementary schools — they have long been the whipping boy of American Jewish life, blamed for providing a superficial education and the most negative Jewish experience in a young person’s life.