Most Torah Jews who speak English today face serious
challenges that many are not even aware of. While our freedom
to practice the Torah is effectively unfettered, many of our
basic beliefs, attitudes and values are under ferocious
assault in the world around us.
When recalling past threats it is convenient to focus on the
difficulties we had in observance: the Greeks banning bris
milah, for example, or outlawing Torah study in Frankfurt
almost 200 years ago. By this measure, life today is pretty
good. Worldwide, aside from a few threats to shechitah
in Europe, Jews currently face few pressures against
observing the laws of the Torah. Wherever we are, we can
pretty much do as we -- and Hashem -- please. When a
challenge of this sort arises, we are prepared to face it and
The assault on our beliefs is also relatively clear and
familiar. We know that there are many who disagree with our
cherished principles -- from Moslems to Jewish heretics. But
the same tolerance that allows us to practice as we wish,
also allows us to preach as we wish, that is, as Hashem
wishes. The challenges in this area are also pretty frontal,
and we have, unfortunately, a lot of experience meeting
The more serious challenges are to our attitudes and values.
These threats come at us from all sides, and especially from
down below, where our deepest moral and intellectual
For example, it is well known that modern society places
little value on families. Men and women do not bother to get
married, and even when they do get married, they often do not
build a traditional family that includes children. The Torah
community sees this and stands in firm opposition to it;
almost everyone gets married and everyone accepts that they
should get married.
Yet how many of us can explain why women do not vote in the
Torah community and what this has to do with the family?
The components of the traditional community are families.
Each family has one vote that summarizes and expresses its
interests. When a separate vote is given to married women,
that implies that they have separate interests that are not
fully represented in the collective vote of the family.
Having them decide independently how to vote further
encourages both the men and the women to see themselves as
distinct individuals and not as members of a family. It
shifts their perspectives. The components of the modern
community are thus individuals.
This shift has many great and small effects, most of which
are exceedingly difficult to trace. It could merely affect
our satisfaction with our lives. Or it may have a more
serious consequence, such as having seven children instead of
ten. It is impossible for a human being to know; only Hashem
can evaluate the contents of people's hearts.
Another example is the fast pace and personal pressures that
are so much a part of modern life. Everyone knows that you
must not discuss the stock market on Shabbos. But how many of
us manage to achieve that sublime spiritual serenity that
used to characterize the Jewish Shabbos in the days when
mundane life was simpler and easier to fully leave behind?
How many of us recognize and go to meet the challenge of
truly living one day of the week as time in Olom Habo, purged
of all daily concerns?
These are just two small examples. But they are typical of
dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of other such attitudes and
values. They should help us realize that we have plenty of
work during Elul.