Friday, October 09, 2015

Syria and the Putin Option

Russian President Vladimir Putin
I have been reluctant to post my feelings about this because I’m sure it will be an unpopular view on both sides of the political aisle. But I believe it is the truth and have decided to add my 2 cents.

The Middle East is in total chaos. I don’t think there can be any dispute about that. Nor can there be any serious argument that this has created the single biggest refugee problem since the Holocaust.  The primitive and brutal version of Islam that is ISIS has taken over large portions of Syria where most of these millions of refugees are from.

It is no secret how ISIS came to power. It was the mistaken belief by Western democracies – most notably the United States – that toppling dictators in the Middle East would result in democracies similar to ours. When Iraq was attacked by the US, the goal was to remove the brutal  regime of Saddam Hussein and replace it with a democratic government.  The result was a power vaccum filled by the religious fanatic savages of ISIS.

They moved into Syria quite easily after Syrians, (inspired by other Arab countries that successfully removed dictators in Egypt and Libya) tried to oust their own brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad. Those other countries were successful, so why not Syria? It didn’t take long for chaos to ensue in that country. Unlike those other countries, Assad decided to fight for hard his regime by any means necessary – brutally killing many of his own civilian citizens in the process.

Now the world has to deal with the millions of refugees  - the largest portion of which are fleeing Syria, their once peaceful country.

ISIS Jihadists are not the only group fighting Assad. There are pro western militias fighting there too. The US supports them. Ironically those groups and ISIS are fighting a common enemy in Assad.  In essence the pro west militias and the US (and its western allies) have identical goals in defeating Assad. But so does ISIS. Iran on the other hand supports Assad. So too does Russia. They too want to destroy ISIS. But unlike the US and its allies, they want to see Assad in power.

How’s that for a complicated situation?

One has to wonder what would be the case now, had the US not attacked Iraq. I think the answer is well known to all – even if some of us don’t admit it. Saddam Hussein was a feared man. Using chemical weapons - he slaughtered tens of thousands of his own people (Kurds) that opposed him.  As long as he was in power, ISIS did not have a chance. That all changed when Hussein was overthrown by the US.  Our good intentions ened up paving this hellish road. We stirred up a hornet’s nest. No one could have predicted ISIS.

I don’t blame President Bush for his decision to invade Iraq. He was clearly wrong in my view. But hindsight is always 20/20. He believed in the power of democracy. But the Middle East is not ready for a western style democracy.  They are a religious culture dictated by the rules of Islam. The same rules that govern every Jihadist terrorist group. Even though theirs is  the most extreme and violent interpretation Islam, it is a legitimate one in the eyes of every Jihadist butcher. They are absolutely convinced they are doing the will of God – and they have many clerics that will back them up.

This is what we are fighting.  An idea based on religious beliefs. An idea where one can sacrifice his life more willingly – knowing that he will reap an instant reward in heaven. An idea that is picking up steam and many converts via slick internet campaigns on social media.

What to do…

I hate to say this, but I believe that Russia’s Vladimir Putin is on the right track on this particular issue. President Obama is on the wrong track. Putin’s goal is to put Assad back in power. They need to rid Syria of ISIS in order to do that. In this they are on the same page with the US.  

So for the first time since World War II they are sending their military into Syria to get that job done. They seem to be doing what’s necessary. Air attacks and –it appears - boots on the ground.  They have attacked the pro western militias in the process as part of their goal of restoring Asaad. Much as I hate to see Assad back in full control in that country, it is better than the violent chaos we have now. 

I have no illusions about Assad. He hates Israel as much as ISIS does. That was true about Saddam Hussein too. If he could he would annihilate Israel in a heartbeat! But based on the stalemate of 3 years of civil war in Syria and an ISIS that has taken over large portions of that country, that is the best option we have right now. Under Assad’s regime (and that of his father before him - and even before that) Syria lived in relative (and I emphasize relative) peace with Israel (except for 6 day war in June of 1967 and the Yom Kippur war of 1973). There were no refugees fleeing the country. 

ISIS is the most dangerous group of people in the world. By far. They must not be allowed to succeed. They must be defeated. Russia seems to be the only one serious about it.

The US is upset by Russia because they are undermining the pro western rebels there. But the US has done nothing to help them other than a few air strikes. One of which has recently hit a hospital – killing volunteer doctors and their patients. The bottom line for the US is that there is no leadership. Our President is afraid to act in ways that would be effective. Iran knows that. ISIS knows that. Even the pro west rebels know that.

True the US public does not want to send its sons into the Middle East inferno. But if that is the only way to defeat this monster a true leader would bite the bullet of public dissatisfaction and do what’s necessary. Instead of just standing by for 3 years and watching ISIS take over.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think sending in US troops to support the pro west rebels would be a good idea anyway. Even in the unlikely event that they would succeed in overtaking both ISIS and the Assad regime, the resulting democracy might not look any better that Iraq does. Which would leave a power vacuum for a resurrected ISIS to once again take over. Just as they did in Iraq.

Unfortunately the best option among a group of bad options is to allow Assad to retake control and rule Syria with an iron fist, just the way his father did and the way Saddam Hussein did in Iraq.

If I were President Obama, I would let Russia do its thing right now.  Putin is showing leadership where Obama is not! They want Assad in power, in order to achieve that, they must destroy ISIS. I feel bad for the pro western rebels fighting Assad. I agree with them in principle. But they are not a realistic solution to the problems of the Middle East.

Putin may be a thug and a bully. But when he’s right - he’s right. If Russia succeeds and ISIS is destroyed, the world will be a safer place.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Why Do They Embrace Orthodoxy?

I often say that there are two types of people that fascinate me. Those that are raised as Orthodox Jews and abandon it - commonly called ‘Off the Derech’ or OTD. And those who go the other way – non Jews or secular Jews that go from a completely secular lifestyle to an Orthodox Jewish one (converts and Baalei Teshuva or BTs).

There have been a variety of memoirs published by OTDs that have been quite poignant in describing their journey away from observant Judaism. For me, the most memorable was Shulem Deen’s honest account. Which gave me not only a glimpse into why he left but also described his former community of Skver. Which showed both its beauty and draw… and its warts.

But there is practically nothing written about the journey towards Orthodox Judaism.

(Except for ArtScroll type books and articles designed and read almost exclusively by the Orthodox Jewish public. These books are mostly inspirational stories that make us feel good about ourselves – seeing others joining us and thus improving their lives. But as with all ArtScroll type book or stories - anything negative is left out.  ArtScroll type publishers are true to their creed of never saying anything negative that would put even the slightest negative light on anything Orthodox – even if it’s true.)

Rabbi Avi Shafran has commented on the dearth of such published stories in a Forward article: 
Why is there no counter-flood of essays and books by some of the many who came from other Jewish places to Orthodoxy? Why no vivid descriptions of what impelled them toward traditional Jewish observance? Why no accounts of the emptiness they experienced in their secular lives, or the inadequacy they perceived in less observant ones? 
Although  he answers the question somewhat , a far better answer has come in a subsequent Forward article by Julie Sugar, a BT.

She lists her reasons which supplement the 2 listed by Rabbi Shafran. But these are more than just reasons, they tell you something about the converts and BTs themselves. Things which many people may not realize about them. Which make them real people – and not some inspirational and yet unrealistic ArtScroll caricature.

As Ms. Sugar points out - becoming an observant Jew is not as interesting as a once devout Chasid like Shulem Deen becoming a non observant atheist. Publishers want to sell books and the latter will by far sell better than the former. Which as she also points out has a limited readership. Other than Orthodox Jews, there aren’t going to be too many people buying that book.

Another fact that is omitted by an ArtScroll type BT memoir is the fact that past relationships do exist. They do not go away. Non Jewish and/or non observant friends and family (especially parents and siblings) still have strong ties. Although not always the case, I’m sure that in many cases those family and friendship bonds do not go away just because you start keeping Shabbos. Especially if your friends and family are accepting of you. The things you might say about your past that led you away from it and into observant Judaism could easily be hurtful to them.  I see that as a major impediment discouraging anyone from writing about his journey toward observant Judaism.

And then there are the secret doubts or even regrets a BT or convert may once in a while feel – even while fully embracing their new lifestyles. She calls it an ‘imperfect return’. An honest memoir would mention that. An ArtScroll type book would not.

There are also the many absurdities that even someone raised observant sees. An honest memoir would mention that too – and not just plaster their story with only the positives of their new lifestyle. As she indicates, there are Halachic reasons for these apparent ‘absurdities’ that will explain why we observe them. But at the end of the day, they are going to seem absurd to most normal people no matter how well we try and explain them. The excellent example she gives is not being able to carry an umbrella on Yom Tov when it’s raining.

I applaud Ms. Sugar for her honesty.  She tells us why a memoir about becoming observant is important: 
It matters because you are a human being who has gone on an extraordinary journey, and your life is wildly different now than it was or five or ten or forty years ago. You see the world through the lens of this story, and you feel deeply that there is something about this way of seeing — this way of being — that others should know about too. 
I would humbly ask her to write that book  - warts and all. It would be not only be fascinating reading – it would contain the truth - which in my view is far more inspirational than that of the typical ArtScroll variety.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Women - and Charedi Publications

Hamodia Publisher Ruth Lichtenstein (Columbia Journalism Review)
I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton. For a variety of reasons unrelated to this post. But there one positive thing that may come out of the next Presidential election if she is elected. Charedi publications that refuse to publish pictures of women may have to start doing so.

This may seem surprising if one considers their stated reasons for that policy. They consider images of women to have the potential to arouse erotic thoughts in men. Even if they are dressed by the strictest standards of modesty in their clothing.  Here is how Mrs. Ruth Lichtenstein explains it in an article in the Columbia Journalism Review
When I asked her about women, she said excluding them in photos was a matter of modesty. “Purity and modesty are natural to women, not public exposure,” she said. “It is unfortunate that modern times deny women this precious quality and instead turn them into objects.” She said that the paper’s policy not to publish women’s photos comes out of “respect for women’s rights for privacy and modesty.” “We are backed by thousands of years of Jewish tradition,” she added. “We do not compromise our values.” 
The problem with this approach as I and others have said many times is that it doesn’t stop there. Those segments that tend toward this attitude have (in some of the more extreme cases) tried mightily to erase women from the public square entirely – as if they don’t even exist. Kavudah Bas Melech Penima - the honor of the daughter of the king (a Jewish woman) is internal – they interpret to mean that a woman should never be seen in external circumstances. As much as is humanly possible she should stay at home and venture out only if absolutely necessary. 

In one of the more extreme examples of this attitude, some clearly misguided adherents of this approach spray painted over the word ‘women’ in the sign over a women’s health clinic in Bet Shemesh. Though I’m sure that even the zealots of this approach felt this was going too far, it is clear where the motivation to do that came from.

As many thoughtful people – both men and women – have said, erasing women completely from the public square sends a very negative message to young girls in that society. And it is not the message that they wish to send (about modesty) it is a message that women are non entities – unimportant invisible ‘actors’ whose function is to cook, clean the house and have lots of children. Never to be seen or spoken about - or even spoken to, if possible.

I can’t imagine a more depressing feeling being developed in a young girl raised to believe that her sole function in life is to be a cook, cleaning lady, and birthing machine - to be hidden from all but her family. Nor is it healthy for a young boy to be raised to believe this about women. Thankfully most of the religious world does not go to such extremes: 
(E)ven though they won’t run photos of women, the papers are largely run by women, who by and large have stronger secular educations than ultra-Orthodox men. 
And yet they continue to project an attitude that belies this truth by refusing to publish any pictures of women. 

Their policy of not publishing any pictures of women is about to be challenged if either of the 2 current female candidates win the Presidency. They may actually violate their stated modesty principles. How can they never publish a picture of the President of the United States? That would be a major insult to the office.

How can they violet their principles? The truth is that they won’t be. Only the principles of a portion of their constituent readership: 
In interviews, the editors of four major English-language ultra-Orthodox publications, three of them published in New York and one in Jerusalem, said that they are reevaluating their no-women policy in light of the Clinton candidacy, but would not make any final decisions alone. As with all important decisions, they will take the question to the boards of rabbinical advisors with whom final authority over the publications’ content rests. One of the editors, a rabbi himself, said that a Clinton victory could spell a change in the longstanding no-women policy in his paper and the others. 
The only conclusion one can have here is that refusing to publish pictures of women was never for modesty reasons on the first place. It was to cater to a demographic that does. Even if for some reason they decide not to publish any pictures of even the President if when is a woman, the fact that they are even considering it shows that modesty has nothing to do with it.

I believe they will begin publishing pictures of the President if she is a woman. The question is whether they stop there? Will they only publish pictures of her and no other woman? That would be insulting in the extreme to other women - if you ask me.  How can you not publish a picture of – say Rebbetzin Kanievsky for reasons of modesty and at the same time publish a picture of a President Clinton or President Fiorina? How will they explain that Tznius standards may be violated for one and not the other?

Whether one admits it or not, these magazines are influential on their readership. So - much as I am not a fan of Mrs. Clinton it is quite possible that she may be the agent for change in the world of Charedi publications. If that happens - it will be a change for the better that is long overdue. 

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Shemini Atzeres - the Season of Simcha

The Chasam Sofer makes a very interesting comment about Shemini Atzeres. He says that this particular Yom Tov does not have any special symbol or Mitzvah act that enhances our observance of the Yom Tov. He notes that on Pesach we have Matzah. On Shavuos we have the Shtei HaLecham – the 2 breads brought with the sacrifices of the day. On Sukkos we have the four species (commonly called Luvav and Esrog).  On Rosh HaShanna we have the Sofar. And on Yom Kippur we fast.

On Shemini Atzeres we have only the holiness of the day. This says the Chasam Sofer is all we need. V’Hayisah Ach Sameach – Shemini Atzeres is all about the Simcha of Yom Tov. This is the focus on Shemini Atzeres.

As we complete this holiday season - my wish to all of my readers and commenters a truly joyous Yom Tov. Chag Sameach

Friday, October 02, 2015

Family Comes First

Rav Meyer Maryles
My son and his family are here for a family Simcha and for Sukkos. This is a rare occasion. My entire family is in Chicago. All 4 of my children, their spouses and all of my grandchildren. Happily - it is taking up a lot of my time. Much as I intended to do so, I do not have any time to write a new post today.

As a side note, those who are able to attend and are so inclined, my son, Rav Meyer Maryles will be giving a Shiur this Shabbos at 6:45 PM at the Agudah of West Rogers Park. (After Mincha).

To all my readers and commentors, have a Good Shabbos.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Misguided Motivation

There is an interesting – if sad  video in Ynet (which can be seen below)about those women in Israel that wear Burkas. Ariela Sternbuch  went undercover (no pun intended) into this world to see what it is all about – and ‘filmed’ it. These women believe that covering up every inch of their bodies – including their faces -in public  is what God demands of them.

I have written about the Burka Women before. Needless to say they are in my view, grossly in error about that. But this is what can happen when modesty in dress is over-emphasized. This is not to say that Tznius in how one dresses isn’t important. It is. No one – men or women - should walk around in a manner that provokes lustful thoughts in others. However, since men are more inclined to have such thoughts via the visual, it is they that should be careful to avoid immodestly dressed women or images of them. To the extent that women can help men in out in that regard by avoiding immodest dress is a value that should not be ignored.

The question is, how far should a woman go to help men out in that regard? Aside from the basic Halachic requirement to cover up those parts of the body that are considered Erva, to my mind it is a function relative to the customs  in the society in which one lives. So that in a country like Iran a Jewish woman should respect the modesty standards of that country – even if it goes beyond our own Halachic requirements.

In a country like Israel or America, modesty standards are far less than what Halacha requires. So that one need only fulfill the basic requirements of Halacha. This does not mean that if someone wishes to dress even more modestly than Halacha requires - that they can’t do so. Of course they can. But where does one draw that line?

To be frank, I’m not sure. But I believe I can say with a high degree of confidence that wearing a Burka is not it. It goes way too far. There is no Halacha – or even a Chumra -  for a woman to cover her face. Nor is there a Halacha that requires a woman to be shapeless and wear what is basically a tent over her body. What that ends up doing is distorting what being modest is all about. Modesty is more than about what one wears. It is about how one behaves in public and in how one deals with their fellow man.

So why the Burkas? The women in this video explain their reasons. They see themselves as temptresses sent here on earth by God for the purpose of undoing that status in the extreme. But listening to them reinforces my belief that they have taken cues from the constant haranguing from a variety of rabbinic leaders that that say - the way that women dress is the cause of all of our problems.

So these women take t all to heart and indeed blame themselves  – as women – for all the problems in the world. There is no extreme that goes too far in the goal of Tznius. A goal that if not fulfilled will cause men to have forbidden lustful thoughts and possibly even immoral acts. They have decided that it is God’s will – indeed it was why they were created – to cover up every inch of their bodies, and avoid being in public as much as possible. In those instances that they must go out – to do so when the likelihood is least that men will be there.

They look at how our Arab cousins dress and say, their level of Tznius is better than ours. It behooves us to be at least as modest in dress as they are. And this is how they raise their children.

By their own admission this is a great sacrifice. It is not being done to achieve greater spirituality – although clearly they feel that by doing this – they are. It is being done because they see this as their mission in life given to them by God.

It is indeed ironic that the very thing that makes a someone an Oved HaShem – doing what God wants – that they are so misguided in what they believe that to be.  As sad as this is, the motivation of these women is far more in line with what Judaism is all about, than it is with those women who seek personal spiritual fulfillment.

Contrast this with – say – those women who feel they can only be fulfilled as a Jew by donning Teffilin, or being called to the Torah – something which God does not require of women. For these women elevating their own spirituality is what they seek to accomplish. The Burka women seek only to fulfill God’s will as they understand it.

But motivation that is misguided is still wrong. Because it leads to behavior that ends up making a mockery of Judaism in the eyes of the world. Not to mention the psychological harm it causes to their children

Thankfully they are a very small group of people. But they are large enough to capture the attention of the media and bring ridicule upon God’s chosen people. And for that reason alone thy need to be re-educated to see just how wrong they are interpreting what a Jewish woman should look like.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Unacceptable Provocation by Religious Zionist Jews

Birchas Kohainm  (priestly blessing) at the Kotel
This is not going to be a popular view among my Religious Zionist friends. But I believe it is Emes. There was an Arab protest (mostly religious Muslims in Jerusalem) on Sukkos as Jews were on their way to the Kotel. Not that things like this haven’t happened before. They have. Sometimes violently. I recall for example Muslims on Har HaBayis throwing rocks down onto visitors at the Kotel a while back. I’m sure this type of thing happens more often than is reported. (Although in all the many times I have visited the Kotel it never happened.)

I can’t help thinking that this particular violent behavior by religious Muslims is a direct result of those Religious Zionists that feel they must assert their rights to pray on HarHaBayis (The Temple Mount - where the Beis HaMikdash once stood). They seem to be constantly challenging the Muslims on the mount by going up there to pray. The most extreme example of this was when – not long ago - a devout Religious Zionist Jew active in the so called ‘Har HaBayis Movement’ (Temple Mount Faithful) was practically murdered for going up there and praying.

Everyone was rightly upset that a man was practically killed for practicing his religious beliefs. There was universal condemnation of that from all sectors of Judaism  - my own condemnation included.  

That said, I do not see the justification for this kind of provocation. Yes, Har HaBayis is ours. That is made clear in the Torah. But now is not the time to make those assertions.

First of all there are parts of Har HaBayis that no one is permitted to set foot upon today because of our presumed state of Tumah (spiritual impurity) that can only be fully cleansed through the ashes of the Para Adumah (red heifer) and immersion in a Mikva. We have no such ashes today because there has not yet been found a completely red hefeir that does not contain more than a single non red hair and that has not been worked in any way.

Now it is true that there are some areas of Har HaBayis which do not require such spiritual cleanliness which technically one is permitted to stand upon. But most Poskim (virtually all the Charedi ones) have said that one should not rely on this area and just stay off of the Temple Mount completely. That has not, however, stopped groups like the Temple Mount Faithful from alighting there.

I’m sure (or at least I hope) that in most cases it’s about the desire to pray as close to Israel’s holiest site as possible. The problem is that there is another religion in control up there that will not have it. For many reasons. Some of which should be understood - even to those of us that believe that we have the right to be up there.

Imagine for a moment if the situation was reversed. We finally had a Para Adumah and the Beis HaMikdash was rebuilt.  Somehow the Muslims were in control of the State of Israel and we lived there as 2nd class citizens. (Which is how Muslims traditionally treat Jews that live in their countries.) But we were now in control of Har HaBayis.

Imagine if a devout Muslim wanted to pray in the Azara - close to the Kodesh HaKadoshim (Holy of Holies in the Beis HaMikdash) which they too believe is holy. We wouldn’t allow it. If they forced their way up there and prayed close to the Holy of Holies, would that not upset us? It would be an outrage! We would surely be as upset at them as they are now at us.  

This of course does not justify the violence. But I hope it at least illustrates why they are so upset by a Jew praying on the Temple Mount. They know we are in charge overall. And that our military might could easily enable us to take over Har HaBayis. They see people alighting in that area who have sworn to destroy their holy mosque and build their own holy house of prayer.  Of course they are going to be upset by that.

Going up there even for religious reasons (especially for those reasons from their perspective) is a major provocation and threat to them! This is not the time to do this. Firstly because most Poskim don’t approve and more importantly there is no productive end to it. There is no way that we are going to get back Har HaBayis before Moshiach comes. Any attempt to assert our rights there serves only to antagonize the devout Muslims praying up there – which ultimately incites them to be even more violent.

To say they attack us anyway is a poor excuse in my view. One does not pour gasoline on a fire just because there is a fire anyway.

So as much as I believe we have every right to pray up there, I protest anyone who decides to do it before Moshiach comes. Nothing will be gained except a lot of Jews getting hurt - in some cases seriously. Not to mention the Halachic problems with it. Or a world watching that will see this as a bunch of religious fanatics from an occupying force causing trouble for the poor underdog Palestinians.

For the time being we should be satisfied with what we do have. The Kotel - which is closest non controversial point to the Makom HaMkidash. This is the site that is almost universally approved for all Jews to visit and pray. If the Religious Zionist zealots would stop provoking them by going up there, I’m sure that there would not be any protests on Sukkos like the ones in the video below; protests that are quite scary – especially for little children.

I therefore support all government efforts to prevent these people from going up there by whatever means necessary. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Erring on the Side of Safety

Guest Contribution by a Noted Religious Psychologist

R' Henoch Plotnik signed  on to the  Kol Koreh
I was sent the following from a respected religious psychologist that chooses to remain anonymous. He is considered an expert in the field of sexual abuse. It was sent in response to my recent post on Rav Dovid Cohen’s endorsement of a Kol Koreh signed by 100 Charedi rabbis requiring suspicions of sexual abuse to be report directly to the police. It follows unedited in its entirety.

My two cents.

Aside from agreeing with Rav Dovid, I have a few comments to note.

There are two overlapping issues here, crime and psychopathology.  Therapists do not treat crime, and the criminal justice system cannot remedy or cure psychopathology.  In an effort to tease these out a bit, while both can coincide in the same individual at the same time, let’s expound.  When an incident of molestation occurs, a crime has been committed.  

This single incident alone does not determine pathology.  Any review of criteria in the DSM would note that various symptoms, conditions, or behaviors must have a duration or repeated events in order to qualify for a diagnosis.  This is actually accurate, because a lapse of judgment does not indicate a disease or disorder.  That is unquestionable.  This would mean that there needs to be an alternative explanation to the “ruach shtus” that is behind every aveirah, which although it sounds like mental illness, does not exempt one from culpability.  

And there is a clear halacha about the exemption of a shoteh from responsibility.  There are many episodes of molestation that involve a single or limited number of events.  This situation might not qualify for a diagnosis of pedophilia.  Such cases might be prosecuted for the criminal aspect of victimization and the involved damage, but would unnecessarily be handed off to therapists to treat.  Such individuals cannot be cured because they are not ill, any more than someone who committed any other aveirah.

In pedophilia itself, there are different underlying issues.  There may be a (1) perverted sexual attraction.  There might be (2) sexual addiction.  And there may be (3) sociopathology – a criminal victimization tendency.  Of these three, it is generally believed that #2 is treatable (I agree).  #1 is subject to the current debate on SSA.  I believe in theory that it is treatable, but there is no current knowledge of just how to accomplish that.  #3 has never been shown to be possible, despite the massive investment of governmental bodies to insist their prison system is rehabilitative.

In this regard, someone shown to be a serial molester belongs incarcerated for life, to protect society.  Limited sentences become comical, as several cases in the media indicate.  However, there is a sometimes complex and intricate judgment to make – whether an offended is a serial molester or not.  How much of a risk is he (or she)?  

I am firmly convinced that there is nary a Rov, however great a scholar, talmid chochom, or boki in Shas and Poskim, who has the skills to assess this.  Most mental health professionals lack such expertise.  Even the most highly trained would be making an educated guess (and I would rely on that).  

So how is anyone to make a judgment of “raglayim ledovor”?  In theory, this sounds responsible – it would attest to the risk level.  In reality, I have no clue how anyone, including the greatest gadol, could do this.  Perhaps there is a “ruach hakodesh” factor, where a gadol would possess the ability to read the future and know that there will never be another victim.  Are we permitted to rely on this?  Even Chassidim who ascribe “ruach hakodesh” type powers to their rebbes would struggle with this.

So Rav Dovid is clear on this, and we should also be so.  We have a situation where there is a safety issue, and we need to be ready to err on the side of safety.

Have a great, wonderful, and Simcha filled YomTov.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Defining Modern Orthodoxy as Centrism

Centrist leader, R' Aharon Lichtenstein, ZTL 
I found the debate between Rabbis Avrohom Gordimer and Michael Chernick enlightening. The truth is that I agree and disagree with both of them - although I object to the insulting tone used by Rabbi Chernick. The subject is Modern Orthodoxy and how to define it. This is a subject that is dear to my heart since I consider myself Modern Orthodox.

I have discussed this issue in various ways and contexts many times. My definition is very simple and very broad. Modern Orthodoxy first and foremost is exactly what the name implies it is. It is Orthodox (which is the subject) and modern (which is the modifier adjective). 

Orthodox is defined in the dictionary as: conforming to established doctrine especially in religion.

Modern is defined by that same dictionary as: relating to the present time or the recent past

This means that we Modern Orthodox are loyal to what defines us as Jews: The Torah and Halacha derived from it. The basic elements of modernity are secular education, ethics, and culture. We have a positive view of that - with a caveat that rejects anything that contradicts the Torah.This is where the debate between Rabbi Gordimer and Rabbi Chernick comes in.

Rabbi Chernick rejects Centrism (sometimes referred to as  Right Wing Modern Orthodoxy) as being Modern Orthodox - considering it a form of Charedism defined as simply wearing modern clothing and speaking passable English. While this is true about Centrists it hardly defines them. 

Centrists, he says, are beholden to Daas Torah – meaning that they too rely on Poskim (albeit their own) just like Charedim. Modern Orthodoxy, he says, rejects that notion and sees that authority belonging strictly to the Morah D’Asra - the communal or synagogue rabbi of any given community. That may be true for the most part. However meta Halachic decisions have always been referred to by the Morah D'Asra to people more knowledgeable than themselves. 

Centrist rabbis realize that there are Torah giants that can make more informed decisions than themselves. This is not an impediment to Modern Orthodoxy as I defined it above. 

Another important distinction is how we view the State of Israel. Centrists have a positive view of it and support it. Charedim have a negative view of it and at best tolerate it and at worst condemn it and its founders.  That positive view lies anywhere between a Religious Zionism seen as near messianic to a view that sees no inherent messianism in the State but nonetheless sees it as a very positive development for the Jewish people since Israel was, is, and always will be our God given homeland. Not to mention the fact that it was a haven for Holocaust survivors displaced after the war.

In this sense all of Modern Orthodoxy is the same. But there are other incarnations of Modern Orthodoxy. One is what I call MO Lite, where I fear many Modern Orthodox Jews lie. Jews in this segment see themselves as Modern first and Orthodox second. Which sometimes means that they will compromise Halacha they consider trivial in favor of modernity.

As I understand it, this is due mostly to being Jewishly under-educated (either by circumstance or by design) . Having been raised Sabbath observant; in Kosher homes; and belonging to an Orthodox Shul they tend to continue along those lines generally. In other words they are more culturally Orthodox than they ideologically Orthodox. 

The other category is Left Wing Modern Orthodoxy - which has morphed into Open Orthodoxy (OO). I believe that Rabbi Chernick defines Modern Orthodoxy this way. While he doesn’t say so explicitly, his definitions can easily fit into that category. 

They have openly rejected the wisdom of their great mentors and substituted their own wisdom to make decisions so controversial that it has placed them outside of anything that can be called Orthodox. 

Just recently one of their bright lights has called for accepting biblical criticism as one legitimate approach to the Torah. Which is identical to the Conservative Movements position. Both OO and the Conservative Movement apparently accept (but do not demand) the belief that the bible was written by different people in different eras and redacted (rather poorly) into one book. They have also bowed to spirit of the times in rejecting centuries old tradition in favor of modern concepts of ethics.

This is not modern Orthodoxy. This is as Rabbi Gordimer points out neoconservative Judaism.
That said, I disagree with Rabbi Gordimer on why we seek secular educations and engage with modern culture. Here is what he says:
Modern Orthodox Jews can remain fully engaged in the broader world and its educational and cultural offerings, they can dress in contemporary Western style, speak with enlightened articulation. 
In this I agree with Rabbi Chernick. This can easily be a description of a moderate Charedi Jew. Rabbi Chernick identifies this as Centrism which he does not consider to be Modern Orthodox. I disagree.  Centrism is more that moderate Charedism. It is not passive interaction with the culture. It is active. We do not only see utilitarian value in it. We see intrinsic value in secular knowledge, culture and ethics. I always think of what Rav Aharon Lichtenstein said about the English Literature he studied at Harvard. It gave him a much deeper understanding of certain portions of Tanach. Rav Lichtherstein was the embodiment of the Modern Orthodox Jew - the Centrist. He is the role model we should all follow. Not those that have rejected tradition as antiquated.  

Rabbi Chernick points out we are obligated to adjust to the times. I agree. New circumstances require new Halacha. But new innovations in Halacha must be developed in ways that are consistent with past innovations. As Dr. Eliezer Berkovits once told me: We do not adapt the Torah to fit the times. We apply the Torah to the times. In the view of most Centrists - only the greatest rabbinic minds of our time are capable of decisions that change our traditional way of life. Not the Mara D’Asra (which means community or synagogue rabbi).  

No matter how well educated he is Jewishly – he is no match for a someone like Rav Soloveitchik who was is immersed in Torah. Only people like him, or Rav Lichtenstein in his day, or people like Rav Hershel Shachter in our day can make the kinds of ground breaking decisions that OO rabbis make. Which are based more on what their constituency wants than on the unbiased decision making process of a great Halachic mind.

I understand why they do it. They see it as Kiruv (although I never heard them use that word). 

Rabbi Chernick says: 
Many conditions of modern Jewish life are unprecedented. Therefore, creative halachic responses to these new conditions are required for successful Torah living and the healthy continuity of the mesorah. 
This is true. But the idea that a synagogue rabbi has the ability to see things without any bias - or authority to make major changes in tradition cannot be - nor has it ever been - an accepted approach to innovation. Even if it is for purposes of ‘drawing Jews into greater mitzvah observance’. That is the job of someone more objective and outside his immediate influences.

As I have said so many times in the past, the future of Judaism rests with Moderate Charedim (the overwhelming majority) and Centrists.

I know I will be accused of seeing only my way as the right way. Guilty as charged. I do. As far as Modern Orthodoxy is concerned, this is what I truly believe. I believe Centrists are the true bearers of Modern Orthodoxy and it will be they (us) who will ultimately perpetuate it into the future. OO (what LWMO has evolved into) is in my view destined for failure in any Orthodox context. MO-Lite Jews will only survive as Orthodox if they become more serious about their religious ideology and join with Centrists (or moderate Charedim). They or their children will otherwise either assimilate out of Judaism - or join the left which will take them out of Orthodoxy

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Rav Dovid Cohen on Reporting Sex Abuse to the Police

Rav Dovid Cohen
By now it is rather well known that the Agudah Moetzes requires that all suspicions of child sexual abuse be first reported to a rabbi so that he can decide whether the suspicions are credible enough to report to police.

I believe that when they made this declaration it was in response to Rav Elyashi’s Psak that any suspicions which have ‘Raglayim L’Davar” (loosely translated as credible evidence) should be reported directly to the police. The Moetzes felt that the layman is not capable of determining what is considered halachicly credible evidence and therefore he must first vet all such suspicions before a Rav. 

Their fear was that innocent people will be accused and that their lives will be ruined – even if they are later found to be innocent. While that may be a legitimate concern, there is near universal agreement that when a child says he was abused, it is rarely if ever made up. 

That has resulted in a lot of terrible injustices. In one rather famous case a huge Talmid Chacham that gave Shiurim in Lakewood’s BMG was hounded out of town because he reported his son’s abuse to the police without the permission of rabbis involved in the case. (Although I have been informed that one of those rabbis actually did give him permission to report it to the police.)

I’m told that a lot of child sex abuse is not reported when rabbis get involved. I think that’s what the Kol Korei (public posting) signed by 100 Charedi rabbis urging people to go directly to the police - was all about. These rabbis, chief among them Agudah Dayan Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst actually defied the Moetzes requirement to vet all suspicions before a rabbi first. Why did they do this? Perhaps they were given a crash course in the devastation suffered by victims. I was told by an activist involved in that letter that one of those rabbis told her, ‘We were living in the dark ages’.

Whatever the reason for it, it was obviously the right decision. The question remains as to why there are some glaring omissions from this august list? There are some prominent names missing that have not signed. I can’t answer the question. But if I had to guess, I would say that they are ‘team players’. Meaning that they will not defy any edict the Moetzes comes out with. They consider that defying defying Daas Torah!  Which leads to another question. Why did those card carrying Charedi rabbis that did sign feel it was just to defy the Moetzes?  And why after all does the Agudah Moetzes continue to insist on reporting to rabbis first? 

Could the answer be that they simply don’t realize the devastation sexual abuse causes to the victims? This is exactly what Rav Dovid Cohen, a world class Posek suggests in an interview (which can be heard below) with Rabbi David Lichtenstein:  ‘I am not very tolerant of Rabbanim who don’t know how to eat this thing’…‘They don’t know what molestation is all about.’ ‘And that’s why they perhaps feel that it’s nothing’.

One may recall that Rabbi Cohen had made some controversial statements about another issue in the past. Which were extremely upsetting to me and to which I strongly objected. But the fact is that he is still a world class Posek and is the Posek for Ohel.

Rav Cohen was asked in that interview about whether he supports that Kol Korei. He said he enthusiastically does and doesn’t understand why it was even necessary. With rare exception he always advises people to do so. So he too is in opposition to the Agudah Moetzes postion on this matter.

In response to a question about why this is not Mesirah (informing on a Jew to secular authorities) he said that it is a matter of Halacha based on the Shulchan Aruch. When a community is endangered there is no such thing as Mesirah (in cases where the death penalty is off the table - which is the case with sex offenders). He further explains that children are believed in these cases in order to protect the community. Based on this and the high incidence of recidivism, he believes that convicted molesters should be jailed for life. Not as a punishment. But as a protection for the community.

Rabbi Cohen further says that rabbis are not trained like psychologists that specialize in sex abuse. They are not therefore the ones to consult in these matters. In fact he says that those who do not report suspicions of abuse directly to the police are not only NOT violating prohibitions of Mesirah, they are actually violating the clearly stated Mitzvah in the Torah of ‘Lo Samod Al Dam Re’eacha’ – ‘Do not stand (idly by) on (while) your friend’s blood (is being spilled)’! A molester is a Rodef (a pursuer whose goal is to damage you or others). The Halacha is that one must do what is necessary to stop him.

A sex offender is a Rodef. And putting him (or her) in jail is what’s necessary in most cases in order to stop him. Firing him from a job or ‘kicking him out of town’ just places the Rodef into other communities where he can continue his abuse.

It’s gratifying to see yet another world class Posek stand up to abuse in responsible ways. Whatever criticism one might have of Rabbi Cohen, it cannot be denied that he is a believer in doing the right thing as he understands it and will vigorously pursue justice no matter who opposes him - or what people say about him. He stood up for Rabbi Natan Slifkin and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein when the rest of the Charedi world accused (and still accuses) the former of heretical writings and the latter of Shmad (facilitating the conversion of Jews to Christianity). He is indeed a man of courage. And for this he deserves credit.

Hat Tip: JCW