Liberty, Restored

Last week’s New York Times coverage of haredi economic muscle ended on a rather sour note. Both the print story and the accompanying video clip offered the story of a young man who capitalized on his experience in one of the pizza capitals of the West (Deal, NJ) and opened up a pizza restaurant in Ramat Beit Shemesh – bet. After enough people expressed their displeasure with the fact that his store sat both men and women, reportedly through visiting upon him various projectiles in the from of tomatoes, hot oil, and gasoline – along with a death threat – he relocated to the safer precincts of RBS-alef. (“You can get a lot further with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word.” – Al Capone.) There, he found the haredi clientele much more to his liking.

American Pizza’s sign shows the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Asked why, Mr. Shmueli said he consulted his rabbi. “The rabbi told me that the Statue of Liberty is a problem, spiritually speaking,” he said. Liberty is “chofesh,” which implies pure freedom. “Haredis don’t have chofesh,” he said. “We are servants of God.”

Rabbi Chaim Malinowitz, the always fearless General Editor of the Artscroll Gemara (Bavli and Yerushalmi) and Rav of an RBS shul, was moved to respond with a letter to the New York Times:

As the rabbi of a fast-growing synagogue in Ramat Beit Shemesh, I find the cited rabbi’s remark concerning the Statue of Liberty at the end of your article embarrassing and absurd (although I am not sorry that Lady Liberty fails to adorn a pizza store). As thousands upon thousands of Jewish immigrants to the U.S. can testify (including my father, of blessed memory, who entered the U.S. in 1948 after Hitler’s horrors), the Statue Of Liberty was, and remains, a symbol of selfless protection and freedom from tyranny, persecution, and vicious anti-Semitism. Immigrants would become teary-eyed when visiting it. If the good rabbi would bother to learn about its inscription (“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore…”) he would know that the freedom which it represents is not the freedom of hedonism and self-indulgence, but the freedom of choice, a primary and fundamental value in Judaism, and one for which the United States of America deserves the world’s, and particularly Judaism’s, boundless gratitude.

Our thoughts, exactly.

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22 Responses

  1. LOberstein says:

    There is something very sad that a rabbi thinks that the Statue of Liberty is not a fit symbol of freedom in a positive sense.This is the result of a lack of secular education , a very narrow world view based on funamentalist beliefs pretending to be true Torah Judaism and the adoption of extreme miscngenist views of women. If some people want to buy out the whole first class section of an airplane so their rebbe doesn’t sit in the same room as a female, that is their money and their life, but don’t tell me that is what I need to do to be a Jew. It is their version but not the only version of Torah. If you want to pretend tht the world is flat or that the sun revolves around the earth, don’t throw a rock at me for thinking you are benighted.

  2. rejewvenator says:

    The inscribed poem was written by a Jew, Emma Lazarus, whose freedom of self-expression was most certainly not a Hareidi value, just as her pursuit of a life of letters and literature is anathema to that world. I’m delighted that in the halls of Artscroll there may yet be found someone who can see the beauty of that statue, its values, and the Jewish woman whose message rang so powerfully in the ears of so many, both Jew and non-Jew.

  3. ja says:

    Rabbi Henkin zt”l
    writes positively about America and what it stands for. R Kook zt”l on his visit to America

    “The image of the Liberty Bell and the verse engraved upon it, evoked by Rav Kook in his message to the President, was again referred to by him in a speech on June 22 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the bell is located. Rav Kook said that the bell was one which rang out the freedom of America. He explained that the verse engraved on the bell, “And you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants,” spoke of liberty achieved after forty-nine years of work. Freedom is so important, he said, that one must work forty-nine years to achieve it. This is true for the individual, to whom the verse is addressed, and much more so for a nation. He then placed a wreath of flowers on the bell and said that freedom can be a crown of thorns or a crown of flowers, depending upon how it is used. In America, freedom is used properly, and therefore, it is a crown of flowers”

    R Moshe zt”l (

    “And if so, the government of the United States, which already 150 years ago set as a law for its government that they will not espouse one particular belief or system, rather each man can do as he pleases, and the government will only ensure that one man does not swallow his fellow, they are doing the Will of G-d, and therefore they were successful and they became great during that period. And we are obligated to pray for them that Hashem grant them success in all that they endeavor.”

    They were all wrong?

  4. Ari says:

    Disturbing on several levels.

    The most topical is that the gentlemen felt the need to separate the genders in this setting. I can certainly understand the desire for separate seating during religious activities
    — after all, Miriam led a women-only celebration after the splitting of the Red Sea. And there was a women’s section in the Beis Hamikdash. And I can even sort of understand separate seating at an entertainment venue.

    But for a restuarant? That seems, well, dysnfunctional.

    Second issue is this urge to consult rabbonim on the most prosaic of matters. I think that, if desired, das Torah from a qualified, sensitive rav should pervade many aspects of one’s life. But the need to get a hechsher on a stock image of a New York landmark? Isn’t that taking it too far? (Truth be told, I am surprised that the rav also didn’t pasken that the statue was a) avodah zarah and/or b) a forbidden likeness of a woman.

    And my third objection: the projection of religious values into political life. I’ve always thought that the same religious and social liberties that have enabled Jews to openly practice our faith may, necessarily, allow lifestyles that are at odds with Judaism. Do I have to like it? No. But I have to have the maturity to accept it, however reluctantly.

  5. mb says:

    Yup, America the great Satan, Israel the little one.

    Sound familiar?

  6. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I agree with Rabbi Adlerstein about the nature of the American form of government with its freedom of choice for those who are privileged to have been born there or to have entered its borders. But let us not forget the restrictive legislation which cut off this possibility for less-favored minorities in the 1920s, especially the Jews of Eastern Europe, and the policies of the Administration and the State Department which facilitated the Holoaust. Today the Administration and the State Department facilitate the establishment of a Palesstinian state which will be a direct ideological descendent of the Mufti of Jerusalem who organized Islamic SS units and egged Hitler on to the Final Solution. The Jewish establishment then (Stephen Wise et al.) and the the Jewish establishment today, with its Oslo photo-ops on the White House lawn, is not sufficiently aware and certainly not doing anything about it. In such a situation perhaps the Statue of Liberty with its inscription is rather mocking for those who died and their surviving relations. It is still true, however, for illegal Hispanic immigrants. Perhaps both Ms. Liberty and the menorah of the State of Israel should be put on hold for a while as symbols.

  7. joel rich says:

    Ger vtoshav anochi – some people forger to be gerim, some toshavim. It’s called living the vida dialectic 🙂


  8. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Toby Katz and Shira Schmidt, is being a woman writer anathema to Chareidim as rejewvenator says? Have you encountered hostility towards your own literary endeavors? What about Sarah Shapiro and Sara Yocheved Rigler – did Artscroll get bad press for publishing their books?

  9. tzippi says:

    Why does the rabbi say that liberty is chofesh (which he understands as pure freedom) and not cherus (which AFAI understand may connote positively channeled freedom)?

  10. James says:

    It is bothersome that a chashuv blog as yours advertizes a rated R movie with cursing.

    The ads you accept associate you with them-like it or not.

    I would write a letter to the editor if Jewish Action ran an ad for this movie or something like it, and I equate you at least with the standards of a Jewish Action.
    If people come to read a blog, they want to know that there will be nothing wrong with the ads.

    I do love your blog-def. one of the best I’ve seen. Perhaps bec. I like it so much and have gained so much Torah from it is why this issue bothers me–the fact that a ‘non-Torahdik’ ad is being displayed.

  11. Sarah Shapiro says:

    Thank G-d Rabbi Malinowitz and Rabbi Adlerstein are responding to the Times article. I saw it and immediately tried to forget it, without success.

    I wish a little sign would come down from heaven with instructions: either to develop the equanimity needed to ignore the trivialization of Orthdox Judaism and Orthodox Jews in the world’s press, or to take it as seriously as I fear it should be taken.

  12. YM says:

    I think what we have here is a difference of opinion between Rabbi Malinowitz and Mr. Shmueli’s rabbi as to what the Statue of Liberty stands for. Mr. Shmueli’s rabbi is 100% correct, we don’t believe in Chofesh. We are servants of HKB”H.

  13. tzippi says:

    YM, so it’s eiter freedom or servitude? What about not chofesh, unbridled freedom from, but true freedom TO make the choices Hashem wants? Yes, those choices are to serve Him but I fear that this phraseology will lead some to feel that this servitude is a crushing burden, not a glorious exercise of freedom. This is how my teachers introduced the concept of freedom apropos to the Exodus.

  14. Avigdor says:

    The rabbi’s view of American liberty is simply wrong as a factual matter.

    American political liberty refers to a restriction on government power, not a restriction on private power. For example, the First Amendment’s “freedom of speech” clause is a restriction on the power of government to restrict speech. It does not require (or even imply) that private individuals are limited in their ability to restrict their own speech or impose private penalties on others whose speech is rude, insulting, offensive, or simply wrong.

    The rabbi should like this type of liberty. It allows people and groups to order their own lives. So within this larger framework, Orthodox Jews are free to restrict their liberty in any way they like, including accepting the full yoke of halacha. It is this type of political liberty that has enabled traditional Jewish communities to exist and thrive in America is ways that are unprecedented in history.

    But without this framework of liberty, the majority culture will be likely to impose its mores on everyone else. And Orthodox Jews would likely be harmed more than most other people if that would occur.

  15. barry says:

    Why does the rabbi say that liberty is chofesh (which he understands as pure freedom) and not cherus (which AFAI understand may connote positively channeled freedom)?

    Comment by tzippi — November 5, 2007 @ 9:28 am

    For the same reason that members of that community assume that Hatikvah’s “Lihiyot Am Chofshi b’Artzeinu” specifically meant “to be unbridled by religion in our own land” rather than the more basic intent–‘to live as a free people in its own homeland’. They committed the logical fallacy known as Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc.

  16. michoel halberstam says:

    As an aside which I think bears mentioning, please note that the gemara in Taanis gives as one reason for why the 15th of Av is a Yom Tov, that it was the day Hosea ben Aylah removed the roadblocks preventing Jews from Malchus Yisroel to go to the Bais Maikdash in Yerushalayim after a hiatus of hundreds of years, when such aliya to the Temple was forbidden to them by the kings of the north. The gemara notes that, despite this action, the northern kingdom went into exile in the days of Hoshea ben Ayla, because people failed to take advantage of this new found religious freedom. Today we would say ( a la our RBS friends) that such freeedom was a bad thing, because it allowed people to make the wrong choice. However, Chazal recognized that Freedom is always good, and instituted a Yom Tov. If any one has a different take, that’s ok, but the notion that Chachmei Yisroel approved of freedom of choice is alive and well at my house.

  17. lacosta says:

    halevai that american style chareidi judaism can survive against israeli style— both in US and in Israel. and it is clearly endangered in the US….this would destroy the connection between haredim and MO that exists in US, like the disconnect between hareili-DL in israel…


    What has not been comnented on is that while it was not OK to have the Statue of Liberty adorn the pizza parlor (“Give me your tired, your poor” — has ve-shalom), it was Ok to have the World Trade Center adorn it. Apparently freedom is bad unless it us the freedom to make a lot of money. Or is it that the WTC was attacked by Islamic terrorists, who, of course, saw it as a symbol of everything that they hated and that is wrong with the West, e.g., ideas of freeom because, after all, we are suppoed to submit to God… Sound familiar?

  19. Shalhevet says:

    For the same reason that members of that community assume that Hatikvah’s “Lihiyot Am Chofshi b’Artzeinu” specifically meant “to be unbridled by religion in our own land” rather than the more basic intent—’to live as a free people in its own homeland’. They committed the logical fallacy known as Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc.
    Comment by barry — November 5, 2007 @ 6:37 pm

    It’s interesting to note that some of the original Religious Zionists changed “Lihiyot Am chofshi” to “Lihiyot am Torah” (to be a nation of Torah). They, too, understood the former statement as “to be unbridled by religion”, and not their hope of two thousand years.

  20. One Christian's perspective says:

    American Pizza’s sign shows the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Asked why, Mr. Shmueli said he consulted his rabbi. “The rabbi told me that the Statue of Liberty is a problem, spiritually speaking,” he said. Liberty is “chofesh,” which implies pure freedom. “Haredis don’t have chofesh,” he said. “We are servants of God.”

    In all honesty, does anyone really have pure freedom ? Even free will can be a burden because one wants to follow G-d’s commands and to be in His will but OTOH one must fight to over come urges that are not pleasing to G-d. In the cast of the Statue of Liberty, does it not ONLY reflect freedom from political tyranny or the rule in the land ?

  21. David Farkas says:

    Again the obsession with the New York Times. I suppose people of Rabbi Adlerstein’s generation will never get it; that paper has no meaning or significance for anyone under the age of 50. There are many blogs with more of a readership than that paper has today. And if you’re worried about changing attitudes – the readers of the NYT are no more inclined to changing their views than is Rabbi Adlerstein.

    Rabbi Chaim Malinowitz is indeed courageaous. Not for writing a letter to the editor, but for standing up to and refuting the claims of the agunah lobby we constantly hear. As Rabbi M. noted in an RJJ article on the Get law, there are as many, or nearly as many, agunah men as there are women. You just don’t hear about them b/c they do not have paid lobbyists and support groups.

    I suppose some people, if they would only know RM from his articles on gittin, would call him a RW Charedi. Others, who might only know him from this letter to the editor, would call him a LW liberal. It just goes to show you, life is never simple.

  22. Ori Pomerantz says:

    One Christian, I think that was exactly the point – that the rabbi Mr. Shmueli consulted didn’t realize what the statue of liberty stands for.

    Having said that, I don’t think the Charedi ideal for Israel is a minimal government that stays out of religious affairs.

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