Q. Do you guide/teach/lecture only religious Jews?
A. I work with people of all ages from lots of different backgrounds, from 6 continents (I’m still working on Antarctica – trying to play up the black-and-white connection with the penguin market). Many of my clients are Charedi or Modern Orthodox Jews, but I often work with Jews of other affiliations, as well as other groups.
Q. Are you Charedi?
A. What makes you say that? I’m not much for labels myself and, when asked, prefer to call myself, “Jewish.” If you have to put me in a box, “Charedi” makes sense. We live in a Charedi town (Telzstone, near Jerusalem), send our kids to Charedi schools and, as Charedim tend to do, defer to the great rabbis of our generation.
Q. Do you provide tours of the Charedi community for outsiders?
A. I’m often called on to speak about Charedim and/or guide Charedi neighborhoods like Meah Shearim or Bnei Brak, which can be challenging for the non-Orthodox to penetrate and understand on a deep level. I try to provide a non-apologetic, no-nonsense overview in which all questions are welcome. Some are concerned that I might find certain questions offensive. I don’t take offense easily, even when it might be convenient to play the victim card. The contrary: I like tackling the hard issues.
Q. Are there any topics you’re afraid to address?
A. Generally, the more verboten the topic, the more intriguing I find it. My understanding is that Torah encourages a person to learn and think, and has a view on every subject. Students should able to ask any question. That’s at least what I tell my students. I give a class in Ohr Somayach every year that deals with “hot botton” topics like feminism, recreational drug use, suicide, Zionism, kabala, cloning, tattoos, angels and demons, love and marriage, science and tradition, and the Torah view of Christianity, Islam, and the many various Jewish movements and sectors. I’ve been collecting files on each of these and about 100 more over the years that I’m constantly updating and fine-tuning (see lecture section for recorded classes).
Q. What’s unique about your approach to history?
A. I’ve been developing a history curriculum for the past 25 years, a labor of love that may become a book or series. The current iteration is posted here in 138 hour-long lectures that begin with Creation and cover the expanse of history from a Torah perspective. Jews have always retained historical consciousness, but they rarely studied “history” as a focus until the enlightenment, when academics like Heinrich Graetz began writing their versions of past events, sometimes significantly at odds with rabbinic tradition. Orthodox scholars have responded by trying to present a Torah version, with varying success. My history project attempts to combine the best from all of the above with an emphasis on Torah and Chazal (the rabbinic sages), and with special attention to the moral lessons from the ages that remain directly relevant today.
Q. Does your non-religious, UC Berkeley, Dead-Head past still inform your consciousness?
A. People who become religiously observant would be foolish to reject their past in its entirety. Torah is sophisticated. There’s potential good and bad in everything, and the wise go through a process of personal “borer,” selecting the good from the bad in trying to forge an ideal life. I used to love the media – movies and music and television – and could hold my own in Trivial Pursuit. Today the idea of going to the movies strikes me as a waste of time. Why watch artificial people lead synthetic lives when there’s so little time and so much holiness to pursue in our own relatively brief time on this planet?
Q. So who won best supporting actor in 1948?
A. That would be Walter Huston in Treasure of Sierra Madre, obviously. Silly question. Okay, so it’s still up there, indelible, but more like a relic than anything I consciously try to retain. My kids can do similar tricks with Torah verses and Talmudic passages, and they’re the lucky ones.
Q. Did you ever consider including more descriptions of yourself like “charedi tour guide,” “haredi tour guide,” “orthodox tour guide,” “rabbi tour guide,” “rabbi who likes to guide Eretz Yisroel while teaching Torah,” “tour guide orthodox,” “frum guide in Israel,” “frum tour guide,” “touring Eretz Yisroel frum,” “frum tours in Israel,” or just plain “Israel tour guide” to make your website more google-friendly?
A. That doesn’t sound very professional. Maybe if someone else asked it as a question?