October 29, 2015

Chimen Abramsky

Chimen Abramsky was one of those geniuses who dwarves most intellects. He was a modest, loving man, self-taught, who became a lecturer and visiting professor at Oxford, London University, Harvard, and the Hebrew University, to mention only some. He was Sotheby’s and the world’s expert on Judaica.

For much of his life he was a convinced Marxist. Born in Russia, he was allowed to leave in the 1920s with his father (other members of the family were held hostage by Stalin) and came to London as a young man. He soon became one of the brains and prime movers of the U.K. Communist Party, even supporting the Stalinist regime. Until he eventually saw the light.

I met him on several occasions in the house of Jack Lunzer, the indefatigable businessman turned collector of the largest Judaica library in private hands. Chimen was elfin, with a mischievous smile. His rapid-fire delivery of scholarship, still in a thick Russian Yiddish accent, was mesmerizing.

It was Chimen who told me about the Russian ideologue Plekhanov’s bon mot that in history “the inevitable always comes about through the accidental”. He also told me that after the Shah fell, in a short time the Tudeh Party, the Iranian Communist power, would seize control. They never did of course. He was an atheist with a deep love and respect for Jewish culture. He was hardly known beyond left-wing and academic circles, and his passing was largely unnoticed by the community at large. His grandson Sasha has written a well received book, The House of Twenty Thousand Books, in which he connects his grandfather’s massive collection of books and documents to his life.

The name Abramsky carried awesome weight in my family because of his father, a great and imposing Talmudic giant and commanding authority. He was the religious kingmaker in Anglo-Jewry and possibly the single most influential factor in creating modern Anglo-Jewish religious life. Yehezkel Abramsky, known as one of the most brilliant rabbinical scholars in Eastern Europe, was sent to Siberia for refusing to stop teaching Torah or to give in to the party’s demand that he publicly say how well the Jews of the Soviet Union were being treated. After a great deal of pressure, he was freed and came to London. Chief Rabbi Hertz appointed him head of the Beth Din and his ally in trying to assert the values of Torah over the semi-assimilated Anglo-Jewish petty aristocracy, who at that stage dominated the United Synagogue, and who were very lukewarm towards Zionism.

Amongst his earliest innovations was his scheme to identify the most talented young men studying in yeshivot in Britain and send them off to one of the great academies of the East. My father was one, and he went to Mir in Lithuania. I remember his telling me that Dayan Abramsky had promised to arrange for a scholarship to support him, but it never materialized. My father could not afford a warm winter coat. His own parents were far too poor to help him, and he suffered through the freezing arctic cold. But my father recounted this without malice. When he returned to begin his career in the rabbinate, Dayan Abramsky had recommended him as one of “his boys” in contrast to the graduates of Jews College, the more anglicized training institution for Anglo-Jewish ministry.

In 1944 Chief Rabbi Hertz and Dayan Abramsky persuaded my father to leave his position as Communal Rabbi of Glasgow and come to London to help them fight the battle for Orthodoxy. He was appointed Principal Rabbi of the Federation of Synagogues. After Hertz died in 1946, the final shortlist to succeed him was Israel Brodie and my father, even though my father was only 32 at the time.

Many years later, meeting Ben Elton in New York (who had written his doctorate on the chief Rabbinate in the UK), I discovered that Abramsky had actively undermined my father’s candidacy and supported Brodie. I found this strange, given that Brodie was a typical Jews College Anglo-Jewish minister whereas my father was a Lithuanian educated yeshiva man. Naturally I wondered whether Abramsky simply thought my father was too young, too ambitious, too overreaching, or whether it was too humiliating to have his protégé in what was after all, on paper at least, the most senior position in Anglo-Jewry. My father must have known, but I never ever heard him say anything critical of him, which was typical of my father who readily forgave a long list of people others would not have. He never bore a grudge.

In 1958 my father sent me to Yeshivat Kol Torah in Jerusalem, and he insisted that I call on Dayan Abramsky, who lived nearby. He received me most cordially. Three years later I was back in Jerusalem studying at another yeshiva, and Dayan Abramsky sent a message asking me to come and see him. I arrived to see him sitting, studying Talmud with a small bald younger man (who was not wearing a kipa). He interrupted his study and told me that my father had asked him to tell me that he was very seriously ill and that I had to return to England. And that was the last I ever saw of him. A few years later (after my father had died), I met Chimen and recognized him as the man who had been sitting at the table studying Talmud with a bare head.

I recount these reminiscences for two reasons. One is out of admiration for my father, who clearly had not been treated all that well by Dayan Abramsky and yet nothing had detracted from his admiration and respect for him. Of all the rabbis he knew in Israel, the Dayan was the one he trusted to convey the awful news that he was dying and had the authority to tell me to return home.

But I also want to emphasize the other side of the Dayan’s personality. He had this awesome reputation for fierceness, uncompromising commitment to the strictures of Orthodoxy. He was a fighter for Torah against both the communists and the pseudo-Orthodoxy of the Anglo-Jewish aristocracy. Yet when it came to his son, he was so sensitive to his individuality that even knowing full well how far Chimen had strayed from what mattered to his father more than anything else, he could tolerate it with love and tenderness. What a salutary lesson and one that too few great men seem capable of following.

October 22, 2015

To Kill Or Not To Kill

The painful scenes from Israel of young Arab men and women killing civilian men, women, and children randomly is all the more depressing because most of them are not the products of poverty or unemployment but, on the contrary, what we might call "middle class". They have all been given an education that has conditioned them to hate. I accept that anyone suffering from "occupation" will feel profound animosity, and I blame the political leadership on both sides for perpetuating a situation where neither side has the leader willing to do what it takes to really strive for a solution. It is equally clear that no matter what the rest of the world might say or do, no one will succeed in imposing a solution from outside.

Jews are subjected to constant internet reminders of Muslim hate preachers inciting violence and murder in Israel and encouraging their followers to attack Jews wherever they are. And Arab audiences can see the smaller number of Israeli extremists calling for crude retaliation. I have no doubt that the majority on both sides detest violence and want to find a way of living in peace and dignity.

I am not concerned here with the morality of the Palestinian position. That is their problem. They need to wake up to the fact that they have a sick preoccupation with martyrdom and death. Neither do I give a fig for biased opinions that cannot tolerate the very idea of a Jewish state capable of defending itself and report the situation in Gaza as if Egypt did not have a common border too.

As a rule Israelis, police and soldiers are constrained by moral laws even if there are some who ignore them. Failing an agreed peace treaty, conflict is inevitable. The Judicial system allows attackers their day in court. Earlier this week, the three terrorists who pelted the car of Alexander Levlovitz with rocks on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, leading to his death, were found guilty of manslaughter, not murder. Israel even takes its attackers into its hospitals. It is not uncommon for Palestinian bombers, fighters or assailants shot mid stabbing spree, to lie just a few beds down from the civilians they’ve just tried to butcher.

I believe it is right that there is a debate on the moral issues amongst Israeli Jews. What do you do when an Arab knifeman has severely injured Israeli civilians (or soldiers for that matter), is then shot and disabled and needs treatment to survive? First medical responders either come from Magen David Adom (MaDA), which is predominantly secular, and ZAKA, which is Charedi, very Orthodox. MaDA policy is to decide who is most severely injured and gives that person priority regardless of whether it is the aggressor or the victim. ZAKA says Jewish lives come first. On this issue I side with ZAKA. Victims should always be given priority over attackers.

But there’s another debate, this time between two rabbis. One, Rav David Stav, represents the middle, moderate ground of religious opinion. The other, Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, is typical of right-wing ultra-nationalists. The question was asked of Rav Eliyahu, "What if a terrorist has attacked and injured an Israeli and is disabled? Should he then be shot dead or not?" Rav Eliyahu argues that he or she should be shot dead on the grounds that, as we have seen on YouTube, even shooting a terrorist several times did not stop him continuing to attack victims. Rav Eliyahu uses Jewish law to argue that self-defense requires us to remove any threat to life, even by killing. So when in doubt, kill him (or her). The trouble is that Rav Eliyahu has been guilty of the most dangerous, provocative statements in the past that frankly do stand comparison with Palestinian hate preachers.

In 2007, according to report in The Jerusalem Post, and not denied, Rav Eliyahu advocated "carpet bombing the general area from which the Kassams were launched, regardless of the price in Palestinian life." Eliyahu is quoted saying, "If they don't stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand. And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don't stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop." In March 2008, he called for "state-sanctioned revenge" against Arabs. According to Haaretz, in an article for the newsletter Eretz Yisrael Shelanu ("Our Land of Israel"), Eliyahu proposed "hanging the children of the terrorist who carried out the attack in the Mercaz Harav yeshiva from a tree". Such language, even if one sympathizes with the pain, is unforgivable.

Compare his words with those of Rav Stav, who argues equally from a Jewish legal position that we only have an obligation to disable a terrorist, if we can, and an injured terrorist can easily be restrained or incapacitated.
". . .people who are not involved in murderous activities and those who no longer pose a danger must not be harmed. The blood boils when you see Israeli Arabs, young and old, who have been making their livelihood from Jews, murdering children, soldiers, women and men indiscriminately, without any gratitude. It is precisely on such days that the strength and uniqueness of the Israeli society is put to the test.

"These days, when the boiling blood is mixed with civilian willingness and resourcefulness, it's important to maintain our moral superiority: To avoid harming a person who is uninvolved in murderous activity, and to avoid harming those who have already been neutralized and no longer pose a danger. Harming a terrorist who has been neutralized causes double damage: The collateral damage is when these images are distributed, and the main damage is harming our moral norms. We will not stoop down to our enemies' despicableness, and we will not contaminate ourselves with a moral breakdown."
Some may not feel comfortable with Rav Stav’s idea of Jewish exceptionalism, but at least he cares about morality and public perception rather than crude physical aggression.

Rabbi Stav has a record of speaking out against religious narrow-mindedness, shortsightedness, and primitiveness. In the past, speaking out against the refusal of the Chief Rabbinate to help facilitate conversions of non-Jewish Russians living in Israel and serving in the army, he needed police protection from right-wingers. Such is the nature of "civilized" debate in Israel. Rav Eliyahu, on the other hand, represents everything I cannot stand about extreme right-wing attitudes. They produce the vigilantism that saw groups of Israeli youths with sticks trying to get at disabled terrorists. Thankfully the police were able to prevent them. But they couldn’t prevent an innocent Eritrean being bludgeoned to death after being mistaken for a terrorist and other cases of mistaken identity. Once the dogs of terror are unloosed, reactions are inevitably raw, and one needs voices of calm, not provocation.

I know there is a strong argument to treat aggression with force, particularly where that is clearly the currency of the prevailing culture in the Middle East. But talk that dehumanizes, that encourages violence, whichever side it come from, is what makes matters worse. Because once you get used to the language and actions of aggression, it is very difficult to return to normality. Rav Eliyahu is the type of example I reject. Rav Stav’s is the one I admire. Rav Eliyahu's diminishes; Rav Stav’s elevates.

October 15, 2015

Rosh Chodesh

This week we have celebrated the New Month of Cheshvan. Sometimes it is called Mar Cheshvan because, so goes the official story, it is the only month with no special days and is therefore sad (Mar). They really liked anthropomorphisms in days gone by. So that is why we add the adjective. In reality it has more to do with the ancient Akkadian name of the month: “AraChashman”. Many of the Biblical months were taken from the Babylonians, such as Nissanu, Tammuz, and Adar. Others come from Ugarit, and the Bible itself cross-uses different local pagan names such as Bul, Ziv, and Eytan. But my interest here is not in the names.

The New Month is the most neglected Biblical holy day of them all. Probably because it is not a day when one needs to stop working. No, that can’t be right, because on Chanukah and Purim, which are certainly popular, we can work as normal if we are so inclined, and they are not even Biblical festivals. And not because it occurs at least 12 times a year, because Shabbat happens much more often. My pet theory is its association with penance, since most people prefer happy occasions.

The Torah includes the New Month, Rosh Chodesh, in its list of festivals, and in the Temple there were special ceremonies. Included were sin offerings. The two goats mirror the two-goat sin offerings on Yom Kipur. Thus Rosh Chodesh was associated with atonement, a sort of mini-Yom-Kipur. Coincidentally, the Babylonian word “sin” was the god of the moon. People in ancient Israel used to go up to the sanctuaries on the new moon (2 Kings 4). After the destruction of the Temple, the liturgy, in its nostalgia for the lost past, harked back to Rosh Chodesh rituals in the Temple.

But its major significance in the old days was the fact that we have and had a calendar that is both lunar and solar, and they used to rely on witnesses appearing before the religious authorities every month to confirm the start of the new month, which was then communicated through a chain of bonfires around the Jewish world. The detailed procedures of testimony are laid out in the Talmud and encapsulated in the Maimonides codes. Once the calendar was calculated, arithmetically one knew exactly when the moon appeared and much of the significance and ritual fell into abeyance.

The Talmud says that one should make a blessing over the new moon, as well as lots of other natural phenomena. With no explanation, it also says that women were to have a day off from work on Rosh Chodesh (Megillah 22b). We know that in times gone by the poor only got holy days off work, but I have yet to find a satisfactory reason as to why Rosh Chodesh was chosen to give women an extra day off and why this did not include second days too. Perhaps it was a way of giving it more significance.

For most men Rosh Chodesh is just a day (or two days, as this month) like any other weekday. Except that in our morning prayers we have Hallel, as we do on every happy festival, Musaf (an additional service), and in addition we read from the Torah. And we say the prayer for festivals, “Yaaleh Veyavo”, in the appropriate places and in the Grace After Meals.

The custom of Kiddush Levana, Sanctifying the Moon, emerged sometime in the fifteenth century, seemingly a Kabbalist innovation. It is practiced still in many communities on the first Saturday night on which one can see the clear new moon of each month. This is not that frequent in the Northern Europe I grew up in. Which probably explains why it required the Middle Eastern mystics to come up with it. Similarly, the use of the repeated refrain “Shalom Aleychem”, which is borrowed from Islamic prayer ritual, attests to its later origins. And the declaration that “David is the King of Israel and will live for ever” indicates a response to those religions that sought to supersede Judaism.

But in our day, feminists of one hue or another have adopted Rosh Chodesh as their private festival. Sometimes it involves Mikvah parties, when groups of ladies go for an optional extra immersion. Some denominations have been creative with special Rosh Chodesh meals, cups of wine, dancing, and New Age meditation.

How did that come about? Here’s my theory. The moon has always had a bad rap in most societies. It represents darkness, which was when evil spirits and devils wandered the world causing havoc and distress, sucking blood and life out of innocent maidens. The moon was associated with sin and female seduction of otherwise good men. Witches came out at night and rode their broomsticks towards the moon. And madness became so linked to the moon that the very word for madness, “lunacy”, came from the Latin word for moon, “luna”. And it But reigning over all was Lilith, the spirt of the night.

Lilith does not figure much in Jewish lore before Medieval times. There is only one brief mention of her in the Talmud. Lilith really only came into her own in Medieval Jewish narratives, when everybody, including Jews, was fearful and superstitious. Religious authorities even encouraged it as a tool of keeping the masses under control. It’s not very different nowadays in many quarters of our credulous world. Lilith, according to these stories, was Adam’s original partner but refused to accept his dominance. More liberal feminists, liking the idea of an independent female figure, adopted her as their mascot, and indeed named one of the founding magazines of the movement Lilith.

So with Lilith on board, Rosh Chodesh, among certain groups of our people, becomes a day devoted to appreciating women. I fully support women’s rights (which is not necessarily sameness) and detest any manifestation of male chauvinism.

October 08, 2015

Creation

There are a myriad issues and challenges that we all face every day. Coping with life can be exhausting and exhilarating. But needing to know when exactly the universe or the earth were created is surely is not amongst them. Some people choose to believe it all happened 5776 years ago precisely, either on Rosh Hashanah in the seventh month or in Nissan, the first month. Others incline towards scientific theories that posit a date many millions of years ago.

According to Wikipedia (the easiest, quickest, but not necessarily the least disputed source readily available nowadays):
"The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model describing the development of the Universe. Space and time were created in the Big Bang, and these were imbued with a fixed amount of energy and matter; as space expands, the density of that matter and energy decreases. After the initial expansion, the Universe cooled sufficiently to allow the formation first of subatomic particles and later of simple atoms. Giant clouds of these primordial elements later coalesced through gravity to form stars. Assuming that the prevailing model is correct, the age of the Universe is measured to be 13.799±0.021 billion years."
Well, you can see how out of date I am because whereas I wrote above about millions of years, Wikipedia gives it as billions. That’s inflation for you. But notice too how the text says “prevailing cosmological model”, which keeps all options open and is not doctrinaire. It simply means “based on the current evidence”, which might of course change one day, in either direction. When it comes to the age of the earth, the author of another Wikipedia article is a trifle more dogmatic:
"Earth formed around 4.54 billion years ago by accretion from the solar nebula... One very large collision is thought to have been responsible for tilting the Earth at an angle and forming the Moon. Over time, the planet cooled and formed a solid crust, allowing liquid water to exist on the surface."
All this is important information for anyone who wishes to be up-to-date with current scientific theories. Indeed anyone interested in having a conversation with an educated person nowadays will need to assume that these opinions are the default ones. But that does not stop many apparently intelligent people from believing something altogether different, to the effect that the world is only a matter of thousands of years, not billions. I once knew a professor of nuclear physics at King’s College London, no less, who believed, or said he believed, precisely that. Not only, but almost everyone who calls himself or herself Charedi, Chabad, Chasidic, not to mention all the significant Ba’al Teshuva (internal evangelical) movements within Judaism today, also claims to believe that.

Creationists are a breed of people who believe that God created the heavens and the earth in whatever manner and time frame the Almighty “chose.” If that were all, I might be amongst them. But most of them go a step further and also dispute the age of the universe based on a literal reading of the Bible, assuming that Biblical “days” are the same as ours. Which in itself raises problems, as the sun was not “put in place in the heavens” until the fourth day. Of course the age of the universe does not necessarily have any bearing on whether God created it all, because you can have your cake and eat it by believing that it was God who initiated the Big Bang. Time scales, as much in the Bible, were based on earlier Sumerian and Mesopotamian calendars, just as Western calendars are products of Christian theologians.

But what this dispute really highlights is the difference between “Emunah Peshutah” (simple, unquestioning belief) on the one hand, and belief that is prepared to accommodate science and rationalism on the other. The world in general is indeed divided along these lines on almost everything from climate change to whether a Sunni has the obligation to kill a Shia or a Kofir and vice versa. It's not unlike the difference between people who are superstitious and those who are not, between those who choose to follow the herd and those who stand apart. Not everyone has a high I.Q or a penchant for philosophy. No two people are the same, so why should we expect everyone to think or feel in exactly the same way?

I believe in freedom, in the right of individuals to make their own choices wherever possible (provided they do no harm to others they disagree with) about how they live and what they choose to believe. If they want to believe in little men from outer space building pyramids, that’s their right. If they want to believe that all Jews want to control the world, are in league with the devil, drink human blood for evening cocktails, that is their right, no matter how crazy or illogical. But once they try to harm anyone, they should be disabled before they kill someone.

Does it really matter to me how many thousands or millions or billions of years ago the earth was created? I am interested, but it really makes absolutely no actual difference. My relationship with God and the way I live a religious life are not at all based on scientific knowledge, but on internal spiritual intuition. You might call it “Simple Faith”. It is in one way. But I draw its line at the essential, not the peripheral. I do not believe that smashing willow branches on Hoshana Raba is a matter of life or death. It is significant, but a custom, after all, however ancient.

As we begin this week reading the Torah again, starting with creation, what I take from it is not a scientific theory but rather the idea that there us a spiritual dimension to our lives as well as a physical one. To reject or deny either is to limit one’s capacity to cope with life, to enjoy it. Our task is to strive to fulfil our potential in whichever we we are most inclined. Belief, religion, is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

October 01, 2015

Two Day Festivals

Judaism began with 40 years of wandering in the desert, with plenty of time to celebrate festive days. Its calendar, based on both the solar and the lunar system, was the product of agricultural societies in the northern hemisphere. There was a commercial element, it is true, but nothing like the brute, mechanical, industrial societies that developed in the nineteenth century, which spawned our modern world.

Nowadays humans are divided into three categories. There are those who inherit their wealth, those who have to work for it, and those who rely on government handouts. It is the poor middle class, squeezed now from both sides, who must find living a Jewish religious life the most stressful nowadays, over three thousand years since the religion was founded.

In our advanced western societies, we live in an ethos where work has become an end in itself rather than simply a means of supporting one's family or surviving in order to accomplish more meaningful goals.

Work group peer pressures often expect us to put in the hours, to come in early and leave late not because the work demands it, but because appearance requires it. You have to show how dedicated you are, to the point where work must be your ultimate priority. Even if this might work to weed out the slackers on one level, it is bound to lead to other levels of dysfunction. But still, this is the zeitgeist.

So how does someone who is religious cope with these demands? I don't only refer to Orthodox Jews, but anyone of any religion which requires a measure of commitment to values and routines that are not necessarily compatible with work. What about Christians who do not want to work on Sundays or Muslims who want to fast all day during Ramadan? Well their problems are nothing when compared to ours!

Take this year. You take off your Shabbat on September the 12th, and then the following evening it's the Eve of Rosh Hashanah--two days off work, Monday and Tuesday. If you are strict, you will have the Fast of Gedaliah the day after. That leaves Thursday and Friday when you are double-tasking to make up, then wham, on Friday evening comes Shabbat again. OK, so you have Sunday and Monday as normal, but then Tuesday evening is Kol Nidrei and on Wednesday Yom Kipur. And you know it takes a day to recover your physical rhythms. But with barely time to regain your equilibrium, it is Friday night, and we are into Shabbat again.

Yes, it's true that you have now survived the heavy part and it's the Festival of Sucot, which is much less cerebral, more sensual, and more fun. Except, if you are building a Sucah where do you find the time to do all the work involved in setting it up and decorating it? What about all the cooking someone has to do for the holidays (unless you are hyper rich so can afford those pricey kosher hotels). Come Sunday evening Sucot begins, so no work on Monday and Tuesday.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday you're playing catchup again. Friday evening it’s Shabbat. Sunday morning and it is Hoshanah Rabba, with a much longer morning service. Sunday evening it's the final two days. First Shmini Atzeret and then Simchat Torah with lots of dancing, drinking, and eating, and you are utterly, utterly exhausted and drained, even if you do feel virtuous and spiritually cleansed. Regardless, come Wednesday you had better be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at work, because everyone thinks you have just had a holiday.

In other words, out of 25 days you have taken off 13 for religious days.

If you are self-employed it might be easier ( although it might cost you more). If you are employed by a religious Jew you can get away with it. If, like me, you have worked in Jewish education or the rabbinate all your life, you will have no problem. If you live on welfare or belong to a Chasidic court where work always takes a backseat it is easy. But otherwise? If your employment is in the general workplace, how the heck do you manage without having a nervous breakdown? I honestly do not know, and I can only hope the Almighty is very understanding of those who cannot!

One might argue that this only goes to prove that Judaism was always intended as a religion to be lived within a community where everyone was adhering to the Jewish calendar. It is true that in Israel it's so much easier because everyone has Jewish religious days off and of course because as a rule they only keep one day instead of two.

Except that Rosh Hashanah is two days in Israel as well and has been for more than two thousand years, because Rosh Hashanah is the only festival that starts on the first day of the month. In ancient times the lunar calendar that decided on New Months was fixed by visual sighting. Temple routines were exacting, and different days had different routines. So if you didn’t find out until the last minute on a Monday that the New Moon had already begun, it might have been too late to carry out the complicated rituals. As many Jews were by then living in Babylon, and the old system of lighting bonfires from Jerusalem took so long, they decided that keeping two days for Rosh Hashanah would be the easiest solution.

The fact is that since the days of Hillel the Second, around 380 C.E., our calendars have relied on calculation, not sightings. We know precisely when the first day of Rosh Hashanah is every single year. So why do we still keep two days on all the other festivals, too, wherever we live in exile? Perhaps it was some sort of penalty for living outside Israel. Except that living in Israel adds so many extra agricultural rules that do not apply in the diaspora that it at least balances out. You can come up with any number of ingenious justifications and explanations. The simple fact is, it is tradition!

But, you might wonder, what if tradition is so demanding that it actually prevents people from keeping it? Doesn't the Talmud say, “You cannot impose on the community new laws they simply cannot adhere to?”  The trouble is that such arguments are both relativist and the thin edge of the wedge. Once you start overruling laws and customs on the grounds of difficulty, it is so easy to slide down the path of convenience and indulgence.

Here’s the core of the issue. Those parts of Judaism that do indeed drop days do not see a rise in attendance and observance. On the contrary, once you start reducing officially, the slide begins all the way to assimilation. If I had any evidence that removing second days would help Jews become more observant, I’d be inclined to support it, but I don’t. Those for whom Judaism is not a priority do not even keep one day. And those for whom it is, find a way of coping, however hard.

It is not easy. But it really is worth it. The more that the secular, material society encroaches and imposes, the more important it is to have an alternative value system and way of life. That way you get the best of two worlds. Nothing worthwhile comes easily.