Making Sense out of Senselessness

Some reflections for Yom HaShoah.


  1. #1 by Norm Pressman on April 23, 2009 - 12:35 pm

    Do you agree with Rabbi Munk’s asertiont hat nonorthdox Jews are “Ignoramuses”, that orthdox Jews can’t enter Conservative and reform shuls and that listening to a women singing can lead to impure thoughs?

    Do I assuem correctly that you did not attend the Shoah ceremony at Shaare Zedeek because it was a conservative shul

  2. #2 by torahideals on April 24, 2009 - 9:40 am

    Dear Mr. Pressman:

    Your question left me wondering more about your own motives than about Rabbi Munk’s ideology, and further investigation confirmed my suspicion that you had misrepresented Rabbi Munk in your email to me by taking his words out of context (although you did quote him fully on your blog). I am hesitant to respond out of concern that you might similarly take my own comments out of context, all the more so because of your caustic and superficial remarks about some of my articles. Nevertheless…

    Although I concede that Rabbi Munk’s language may have crossed the line of political correctness, the totality of his letter to you makes it clear that he has contemplated seriously whether the reasons behind the ruling of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein continue to apply today, i.e, whether or not the prohibition against Torah Jews attending Conservative or Reform synagogues remains relevant. I do think it is fair to say that many in the Conservative and Reform movements, whether rabbis or practitioners, lack any true understanding of the established Torah system of law and tradition that has kept the Jewish people and Jewish culture vibrantly alive for 33 centuries.

    The Torah itself makes it quite clear that it is an eternal document and therefore cannot be legitimately changed through the slightest addition or omission, while allowing (and indeed mandating) the rabbinic “fences” that are designed to protect the integrity of the law in response to societal evolution. (Since the times of the Sanhedrin, however, the implementation of these “fences” has been rare indeed.) Ultimately, the reason for the objection to attending services in Conservative or Reform synagogues is to prevent the appearance that, by participating, the Torah community grants legitimacy to movements which, according to their own doctrines and practices, reject the timeless underpinnings of Jewish law.

    Regarding the matter of a woman’s voice, most observant Jews adhere to the prohibition against a man listening to a woman sing. I would add that the sages possessed a far greater sensitivity to the subtleties and nuances of human sexuality than we do. Just as their formulations for a healthy sexual relationship between man and wife can be surprisingly frank, so too is the degree of their concern for personal privacy and sexual exclusivity sometimes difficult for us to fathom. With half of all Americans polled as saying that they have had or expect to have an extramarital affair, perhaps we should be less cavalier in dismissing ancient wisdom that has served us well for a hundred generations.

    My final point is, to my mind, the most important. The Talmud describes a type of person it calls a ba’al machlokes — one who sows discord for no purpose other than the perverse pleasure he takes in fomenting strife. Like the disseminaters of computer viruses, such people apparently believe they have no positive contribution to make to the world and therefore find validation only in the amount of damage they can cause. And so I ask you, Mr. Pressman: in an era when, more than almost anything, the Jewish people in particular and mankind in general need to focus on the many values we have in common and work toward communal harmony, can you really find no better pass-time than devoting your efforts and energies to the unworthy goal of trying to further divide a community desperately in need of harmony and mutual respect?

    If you choose to quote me, please quote my entire letter verbatim, from beginning to end.

  3. #3 by Norman Pressman on April 25, 2009 - 6:43 pm

    Rabbi I published your response in full. Here is my response to you. And thank very much for the virus your our your friends stuck onmy computer. Isn’t there a prohibition against doing that on Shabbat?

    Friday, April 24, 2009
    Reply to Rabbi Goldson

    The Orthodox generally believe that people like me, who they think are ignoramuses and “Balla Malachoes,” are ignorant of Jewish history. But most of us know our roots. For instance, we Jews are literally a tribe. A tribe that has split into clans. If you check your old Hebrew school text or Sunday school bible, you’ll refresh your recollection that there were originally twelve Israelite tribes, ten of which were taken into captivity by the Assyrians and lost forever (The “Ten Lost Tribes”), leaving only Judah and its smaller cousin Benjamin, which were in turn exiled by the Babylonians. After the Persian conquest of Babylonia, the two last tribes returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple and there was essentially one tribe, “Judah” or “Jews.”

    Tribes traditionally divide into clans, and the Jewish Tribe is no exception. I belong to the Jewish clan of Jews whose brains have evolved to the point that we don’t believe — to paraphrase that late great Rabbi George Carlson — that there is an invisible Man in the sky who watches and controls our every move. My clan started with men like Spinoza at the time of the enlightenment and the beginning of critical scientific thought. About then, most educated people began to realize that the Torah/Bible did not adequately explain the nature of the universe and was a mythical text. The ideas of Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Einstein put a logical end to the Torah as a rulebook for human behavior and origin of life and the universe itself. Most Jews, including me, belong to the same clan and maintain our Jewish identify, but in different degrees we reject the sexist and mythical practices of the Orthodox clan.

    Rabbi Monk’s and Rabbi Goldson’s responses exhibit the fact that their thoughts have not evolved because they believe that the Torah/Bible is the literal word of a god who not only created the universe but can violate the rules of physics he established when he created it. If their premise is correct, then their conclusions about the role of women and legitimacy of the non-Orthodox movement make logical sense. Thus our fundamental disagreement is that my clan has evolved and their clan lives like it imagines Jews lived for the past 3,300 years (although they dress not like 11th century BCE Hebrews/Israelites but like 18th century Polish noblemen).

    I’m not trying to convince these rabbis to join my clan. What I’ve been asking is why should my clan subsidize a clan that thinks we are ignoramuses and apostates, and especially when they disrespect our religious leaders, women and houses of worship. Does the Catholic clan of the greater Christian tribe subsidize schools for the Greek Orthodox or Lutherans?

    Also, note that both rabbis resort to name-calling and both falsely claim that I have quoted Rabbi Munk out of context. But I’ve quoted accurately and completely. To be fair, I quoted Rabbi Munk when he probably didn’t expect to be quoted — sort of like when Michael Richards (aka “Kramer”) got caught in his racist outburst. As a lawyer I’ve noted that when an opponent is caught by his own words, he frequently claims that he has been quoted out of context. Here, it’s hard to see how that argument flies. If the rabbis are unhappy with my quoting them, their real argument is with themselves because I’ve used their unedited words to expose their beliefs and what they are teaching to Jewish children. Jewish kids of the Orthodox clan are going to high schools where they are being forced to memorize the Torah, in the same way as Muslim kids are coerced to attend Madrases where they are forced to memorize the Koran.

    Finally, Rabbi Goldson accuses me of “sowing dissent,” but I’m just reaping what he and the Orthodox clan have sown. I wouldn’t send my children to his school or teach them what is being taught at Block Yeshiva. My point is that my clan should not be supporting another clan that believes the supporting clan is apostate and illegitimate. If Rabbis Munk and Goldson believe they should not enter a non-Orthodox schul because it would imply support, what don’t they understand about my equivalent argument that non-Orthodox Jews should not support a school that believes that men should not listen to a woman sing?

    And if I were a ba’al machlokes as Rabbi Goldson says, how would that change the fact that Block Yeshiva teaches that men should not hear women sing? (Please understand that this bronze-age belief goes to the point that Block’s all-girl elementary feeder Bais Yakoov school produces a musical each year where they don’t allow the girls’ own fathers to attend the production, apparently out of fear that fathers will have unpure thoughts about their own daughters, like their ancestor and clan member Lot.)

    I am aware that this blog may further split a splintered tribe — our clans should learn to get along — but how is it possible when we have rabbis like Munk and Goldson, who appear typical of the haredim? Remember, I came to the Yom Hashoah ceremony to hear the riveting stories of our Shoah survivors, and Rabbi Munk and Goldson did not because of their petty tribal differences.

    The question remains and is unanswered by the rabbis: Why should my clan support their clan’s school?

  4. #4 by torahideals on April 25, 2009 - 10:14 pm

    Well, this pretty much speaks for itself.

    My friend, Dave Weinbaum, who has no religious affiliation whatsoever, explained his extremely generous donation to Block Yeshiva with the simple assertion that if not for authentic Torah Judaism the Jewish people would be extinct.

    I really only have one question for Mr. Pressman: what makes him think it was my friends who infected his computer?

  5. #5 by Dave Weinbaum on April 26, 2009 - 8:50 am


    Just for the sake of opining since my friend Rabbi Goldson mentioned me, here’s my thoughts on the subject you and the Reb are debating.

    Either you believe the laws rendered by G-d via Moses are legit or you don’t. Why some Jews want to tear down those that submit to those rules is beyond me. As one whose Jewish education stopped at Bar Mitzvah and whose parents weren’t religious, I don’t feel it’s my right to put down those that do practice Judaism as G-d laid out.

    While I don’t see myself as becoming a Jew in the sense that I comply with all laws, I can CERTAINLY support those that do. They are keeping true Judaism alive.

    That said, the Reform and Conservative movements away from true Torah teachings should not be entirely demonized from the obeyers. Gentle and patient persuasion should be used from their vantage point IMO.

    After all, Norman, When they come for us, and they will, we will ALL be considered the same…JEWS.

    Time to stop the self-demonizing and prepare to battle our common enemies.

    Keep the debate up…but keep it civil.

  6. #6 by Norm Pressman on April 28, 2009 - 9:03 am


    You make some good points. When they come for us and have come for us they come for us all.

    And you are right that either you are either in the clan which believes in the literal truth of the Torah or you don’t. I don’t

    I agree that we should respect each other regardless of our clan membership but the admitted fact that the orthodox (to the right of the modern orthodox) won’t enter a non-orthdox shul or listen to a female cantor even on Yom Hashoah indicates that that clan has no respect for my clan.

    As to my computer infection- I’ve got no evdence only a coincidence.

    I don’t suggest that you did this but only perhaps a zealous follower.

  7. #7 by torahideals on April 29, 2009 - 10:34 am

    One point has been seriously overlooked here: Knowing that many in the Orthodox community would be unable to attend the Yom HaShoah ceremony for halachic reasons, why did the organizers not choose a venue, such as the JCC, that would be acceptable to the entire community, and find a male cantor that would not be objectionable to anyone so that all the Orthodox could attend?

    Herein lies the ultimate hypocracy: refusing to accomodate the religious sensitivies of the Orthodox, then using their inability to participate as an excuse to denounce them as intolerant.

  8. #8 by Norm Pressman on April 29, 2009 - 12:30 pm

    Your point about a neutral location makes sense and I understand that the Holocaust Museum is trying to take care of this for next year-but your demand for a male cantor fails to take into account the sensitivities of the non-orthodox community who believe women are equal to men and don’t share your views which I won’t characterize with an adjective.-It would be like a secular Jew saying we didn’t want to have Rabbi Munk speak because he said we were ignoramuses or that Rabbi Zuravin shouldn’t appear because was a shill for the Rubashkin family. A program for the commemoration of the the Shoah should cut a wide path and not not put people on different sides of a figurative m’heitzah

    A fair compromise would be to have the program at the J with celebrants from the entire community including female cantors, orthodox rabbis and female rabbis-But I understand that certain segments of the orthodox community (including you?) won’t even appear on the same stage with non-orthodox rabbis or females cantors and rabbis? Correct me if I’m wrong.

  9. #9 by torahideals on May 1, 2009 - 12:46 pm

    Mr. Pressman continues to raise the same points again and again as if he hasn’t been given answers, raising the question of whether the answers ever interested him at all. He views the world with an unapologetic double-standard, demanding civility and tolerance while giving none. He decries name-calling but resorts to it himself. He invokes reason without applying any in support of his own positions.

    Mr. Pressman fails to understand what so many in modern Western culture fail to understand: some people still have values that they refuse to sacrifice before the insidious gods of political correctness and moral equivalence.

    According to Torah law, Jewish men are prohibited from hearing a woman sing. Is it a VALUE or a PRINCIPLE among the non-observant to have a woman cantor? Is it more discriminatory against women to have a male cantor than it is discriminatory against men to have a female cantor?

    What Mr. Pressman really means by compromise is that others should compromise their principles for no reason except because he wants them to. There is no defensible reason for not having designed the Yom HaShoah ceremony in a way that the entire Jewish community could participate without being forced to choose between halachic observance and Jewish unity. Those who force others to choose one over the other are responsible, whether consciously or inadvertantly, of dividing the community.

    As are those who misrepresent people who live according to religious standards and values.

    Indeed, some Orthodox rabbis have concluded that certain leniencies based upon the Talmudic record allow them to bend this rule; others have concluded that those leniencies are not adequate to permit compromise in this case. Neverthgeless, the rabbis within the Orthodox community who come down on different sides of the issue do not excoriate and denounce one another. They understand that within the boundaries of Torah observance there are legitimately different opinions arrived at through the methodology handed down by our sages, and they are therefore able to respectfully disagree. This is vastly different from the wholesale condemnation of Torah tradition with no justification other than a list of scientists, philosophers, and thinkers.

    Ultmiately, it is the Torah system that teaches and instills critical thinking, commitment to values and standards, respectful debate, and the ideal of Jewish unity. Of course, we are all human beings; there may be individuals whose tempers lead them to stray across the lines of propriety, and we may all occasionally err in our choice of words.

    Be that as it may, courtesy and civility are not synonmous or even compatible with political correctness and moral equivalence. I don’t have to acknowledge that every conceivable expression of human behavior is a legitimate “life-style choice” or that every ideology is morally sound in order to be respectful. What I must do — if I have a shred of intellectual integrity — is to be sure I understand the opposing position before I condemn it as petty or irrational.

  10. #10 by Norm Pressman on May 4, 2009 - 12:08 pm

    Rabbi Goldson:

    Most Jews in the the mainstream Jewish community recognize leaders, rabbis and cantors of either sex (or sexual orientation–the later even if they are orthodox). You don’t. Suppose next year’s program was in the J gymnasium and had women cantors, reform and conservative rabbis on the Bimah, with the women cantors not singing but carrying the Torahs. You are the talmudic scholar; I am a mere simple son. Tell me, would that satisfy you? Or, am I correct that haredi rabbis are forbidden to appear on the same bimah with apostate rabbis and women? Further, if there were prayers recited, would you require the women to be behind (or on one side of) a mehitzah? Finally, Rabbi, you are incorrect–I have not insulted you or called you names. I have not suggested that you are not a Jew. I have merely quoted your own words completely and without editing.

  11. #11 by torahideals on May 8, 2009 - 11:26 am

    Mr. Pressman asserts that my accusation of name-calling is incorrect. A look back through his comments reveals that he has called Rabbi Zuravin a “shill,” has compared Torah institutions to Muslim “Madrases,” has denigrated those who adhere to traditional Jewish beliefs and practices as “petty… bronze-age… [and un]evolved.” Like all who employ double-standards, he feels entirely justified in condemning others for behavior he freely engages in himself.

    More to the point, yet again he chooses to ignore that his questions about Torah law and sensitivity have been answered. Since he does not like the answers, he simply continues his tirade.

    To answer his last last question, I think it likely that if a community Yom HaShoah memorial service were held in the JCC and without a woman singing, most if not all of the Orthodox rabbis in the community would be in attendance. If the organizers truly desire the participation of the Orthodox community, the logical approach would be to include a member of the Orthodox community in the planning stages to address any issues that may conflict with Torah law.

    However, I have a question of my own for Mr. Pressman. Since he rejects the halachic basis of the Orthodox for not participating, would he require the Torah observant community to abandon any and every religious principle in the name of Jewish unity? Would he require us to violate our Sabbath or holiday if the program organizers scheduled the memorial service for Saturday afternoon or Yom Kippur? If the organizers arranged a non-kosher buffet reception, would he require the Orthodox to forsake their dietary laws in the name of communal harmony? If so, is nothing sacred? If not, how does he know where to draw the line for a belief system he holds in such open contempt?

    When did Norman Pressman become the ultimate arbiter of Jewish morality?

    How ironic that Mr. Pressman insists that his fellow Jews compromise their religious values to prove their solidarity with the victims of the Nazis, those hideous creatures who delighted in coercing pious Jews in the death camps to trample upon their own laws and principles.

  12. #12 by Norm Pressman on May 11, 2009 - 10:45 am

    Can you be a Jew if you don’t believe in Myth?

    I have been essentially asked how I can be a Jew if I don’t believe in the truth of the Torah. Here is my answer:

    We have a common heritage which probably can be traced to the 8th or 9th century BC (or maybe earlier if you believe that Kings David and Solomon were real as opposed to mythical.) After the Diaspora our ancestors kept certain customs and invented others such as mitizah b’peh and all of the Hasidic customs.

    Over time, our ancestors,especially those in France and Germany as opposed to Lithuania and eastern Europe started to realize the Torah was a set of myths as opposed to the word of a non-existent deity who watches over humanity. The key is this set of myths bound our more recent enlightened ancestors together even though most of them realized they were myths.

    I enjoy reading parts of the Torah. “The Rape of Dinah” for instance is an excellent allegory of how our people evened the odds and beat a superior foe. The story of Ruth is an example of how we are open to accept converts. The book of Esther is a primary on intermarriage.

    When the first scribe reduced Genesis to writing do you think he had the benefit of the Hubble telescope-did he know the special and general theories of relativity let alone Newtonian mechanics? Did he understand Darwin?.

    And while I am open to the possibility that somewhere in he universe something happen which somehow created the first DNA strand and it was brought to earth or that there is some unknowable pre-big bang force which created the big bang-I see no evidence that there is a God like force in the form of a big man in the sky who wrote the Torah and watches over us. Further, I don’t think you really do either and I’ll deal with that question later today or tomorrow.

    I’ll re-state the question as follows: “Can the only people of antiquity to have survived antiquity continue to survive as a group once the myth that previously bound it together is exposed as a myth?” and “Is it necessary to pretend that we believe that the myth is real for us to survive?”

    You and your orthodox friends either believe in the myths or in the case of modern orthodox don’t necessarily believe in them but believe the rules of the Torah must be obeyed to preserve our tribe. I and most of my mainstream Jewish friends don’t believe in the myths.

    If you were correct that it was necessary to perpetuate the Torah’s myths to preserve us as a group I don’t think I could, for example, pretend that it was necessary to stone a woman who had tricked her husband into believing she was a virgin on the wedding date.

    The whole idea of the reform, and possibly the conservative movement, is to try and keep us together in a world which has seen the Torah’s myths unraveled If these movements fail, our tribe may well go out of existence-that’s why you as an orthodox Rabbi should praise the reform and conservative movements instead of trying to subvert them.

  13. #13 by torahideals on May 11, 2009 - 1:57 pm

    Again and again and again, Mr. Pressman has ignored the questions he has been asked and the answers he has been given. It has been evident from the beginning that he has no interest in discussion. He has made up his mind, and he will not be swayed by facts or logic. Mostly, he craves attention.

    Nevertheless, sometimes it is necessary to engage those who refuse to listen or learn for the benefit of those who might be influenced by hearing their assertions without hearing responses. To that end, these exchanges may have been worth the investment of time for those who sincerely seek answers to some of the questions Mr. Pressman raised — questions that could have been expressed respectfully had the questioner not been firmly committed to the objectives of ridiculing, stereotyping, misrepresenting, and dividing the Jewish community.

    And so I encourage those readers who have not wearied of this thread to review the back and forth, to recognize for yourselves how Mr. Pressman offers no cogent defense for his positions and disregards the arguments that easily refute his assertions.

    Of course, blog comments are hardly the place for meaningful philosophic discourse. Therefore, I am adding a list of links that respond to Mr. Pressman’s questions more thoroughly. For those who sincerely seek answers, I believe these will provide much food for thought.

    As for those who continue in the effort to reason with Norm Pressman, I advise you to turn your attention elsewhere. He has enjoyed his 15 seconds of notoriety. It’s time to move on.

    Articles on Torah and Science

    Torah and Morality

    Torah and History

  14. #14 by Norm Pressman on May 11, 2009 - 2:34 pm

    Rabbi-You’ll note that its you who has enjoyed 15 seconds of fame as you got many comments on your blog.

    I also encourage every Jew to read read Rabbi Goldson’s pieces-and if one agrees with his philosophy that he/she make healthy contributions to Block Yeshiva so that more young Jewish children can be educated in his image. If you don’t agree, consider making a contribtuioon to an Israeliof US based based mainstream Jewish charity and suggesting to your Federation solicitor that while you will NOT reduce your Federation contribution you beleive that supporting Bloch is bad for the community.

  15. #15 by torahideals on May 11, 2009 - 10:23 pm

    Finally, a positive suggestion! Here’s the link to donate to Block Yeshiva:

    Of course, studetns at Block are not educated in my image or anyone else’s. They are taught a respect and a passion for Jewish tradition and the skills to succeed in every facet of material and spiritual life. Talk to some of our students and graduates. I guarantee you’ll be impressed.

  16. #16 by C. J. Aschkenasi on March 5, 2010 - 2:49 pm

    I have done an intensive analysis of Mr. Pressman’s arguments and other than his benighted arguments, I have found that if you take the letters in “Norm Pressman”, you can rearrange them to spell:
    …among many other words. If Mr. Pressman would please supply his middle name, if any, to this forum, that might supply some more vowels so that we might more fully understand the secret kaabalistic messages hidden in his name, and perhaps explain why he was sent to our planet.

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