Joshua Halberstam

A Tale of Trade-offs

‘Yes, Rabbi Wolf was gargantuan,” I tell my children. “A giant of a man, with more hair protruding from his knuckles than I had on my head, even back then when it was covered with thick curls. He was the one we were sent to for serious disciplining. But he wasn’t the mightiest rebbe in our yeshiva.” No, in this all-important debate that raged for years in the halls of my school, I stood with those who favored Rabbi Chafkin. “The man could rip right through a Brooklyn telephone book….saw him do it with my own eyes.”
My kids offer a polite, glazed half-nod. They’ve heard these recollections before, the thinly veiled comparisons of my yeshiva escapades with their own more temperate school experiences.

Reviving Jewish Ethics

A Code of Jewish Ethics:

Volume 1: You Shall Be Holy By Rabbi Joseph Telushkin Harmony/Bell Tower, 576 pages, $29.95. * * *|The seven deadly sins, codified most likely in the 13th century, have enjoyed sustained notoriety, both ecclesiastical and in the public imagination. What is most noteworthy about these “capital sins,” as they are

The Myth of Jewish Guilt

What is it about Jewish guilt? One woman says she forever diets because of her Jewish guilt, while another blames Jewish guilt for her constant overeating. Jewish guilt is the culprit for why you are so tidy, or so messy, date too much, or too little, indulge your children or discipline them. Jewish guilt explains why you worry about your parents,

As Empathy Fades

Let us now think of the tsunami. Few do anymore. It’s been months since those waves washed across Asia and across our television screens; our sympathies, once so stirred, have receded with the calming of the waters. This is only natural, of course. Empathy is bound to ebb with passing time as surely as the ebbing of the tides themselves. But

Passover’s Lesson? It’s an Open Book

Soon we will sit down for the Seder and do what Jews do well: talk, eat and talk some more. And as we’ve done for 2,000 years (almost precisely so), we will turn to the Haggada for the story of our Exodus and then proceed to improvise stories of our own.Indeed — I’m tempted to say, alas — the Haggada has increasingly become a Rorschach

Will the Left Finally Talk About What Matters?

For years I’ve tried to get my students to talk about “it.” “It” can be almost any controversial issue, but we never get there; my students, like most of my academic colleagues and New York City Upper West Side friends, and the American left in general, have long ago ceded actual moral judgments to others, i.e.,moral conservatives. And

Once Upon a Jewish Fairy Tale

Recently I joined my colleague, Nick, a visiting professor from Rhodes, to shop for suitable books to read to his children here in the States. He was appalled by the available choices.“Incredible. You Americans still tell your children stories about princes and princesses? Didn’t you fight a revolution to get beyond that?” He decided

Who Is a Jewish Traitor?

In this politically heated season, some Jews are eager to label others Jews, including political leaders, as traitors; many more refuse to think in these terms altogether, finding the entire exercise distasteful. But we can’t afford either this rush to judgment or such easy dismissal of the challenge. Traitors endanger the core commitments

Rosh Hashanah

A couple of months ago, I joined in a moment of mass ridicule. The occasion was a front-page article in The New York Times about ultra-Orthodox women burning $2,000 wigs because the hair had been traced to idolatrous Hindu rites. How peculiar, we thought.The deeper peculiarity, however, was not my reaction to wigs and idolatry, but to the notion