Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A New Low for Satmar

A new low - comparing the IDF to Auschwitz!
Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach’s disgusting tactics in opposition to Charedim serving in Israel’s defense forces is pretty well established. As indicated a few days ago here, his tactics consist of a reprehensible series of protests that are nothing less than one big Chilul HaShem after another. 

But Peleg, (Rabbi Auerbach’s party) is not the only one using disgusting tactics. The Meah Shearim/Neturei Karta crowd that believes in dismantling the State of Israel and handing it over to the Palestinians pretty much feels the same way about the Israeli army. Recall their own disgusting tactics in that regard. They have called Charedi army units whorehouses! They have distributed posters with ugly caricatures of religious Jews in uniform to look like a members of the Nazi SS. They have hung Charedi soldiers in effigy. They have even attacked them physically when they wandered into their midst. 

I have always considered Satmar to be of the same mind. They have expressed their own contempt of - and disgust for Israel’s army. And yet Satmar’s defenders have always claimed that even tough they are opposed to the State and opposed to army service by Charedim they would never stoop to that kind of low.

Well, now they have. In one of the most deplorable posters I have ever seen, they compare the IDF to Auschwitz! I kid you not. (See above) This was not in Israel. It was in Monsey. And lest anyone think these posters are being printed and distributed by some extremist faction of Satmar, think again. They urge people to attend Satmar’s large Shul in Monsey to raise money to fund their opposition. They are comparing Rabbi Michel Dov Weissmandel’s crusade to save Jews from in Auschwtiz during the Holocaust to their own crusade to save Jews serving in the IDF. 

If there is anyone in a leadership position in Satmar that has spoken out against this outrageous tactic, I have yet to see it. My guess is that they all support it. They all agree with Rabbi Auerbach’s tactics despite the disruption and pain it causes to others. 

What about the Chilul HaShem of it all? I am 100% convinced that they think it is a Kiddush HaShem. Which should really be no surprise since Satmar's founder, referred to  Rav Avraham Yitzchok HaKohen Kook, one of the Gedolei HaDor of his time, as an Ish Tzar V’Oyev. A phrase used in Megilas Esther about Haman – the Hitler of his time!

It should also not be lost on anyone that there are mainstream Charedi rabbis that have attended Satmar rallies supporting R’ Auerbach in his mission to reject even registering for the draft even though getting a Torah Umnaso exemption is just a formality. That is the government policy for the IDF and is accepted by the mainstream Charedi leadership in Israel.

I have to question why the mainstream Charedi leadership in Amercia, has not come out with a condemnation of – not just these tactics - but of Satmar itself! How can they condemn a relatively small group of leftists formerly known as Open Orthodoxy and ignore the huge numbers of people in Satmar that do or support these kinds of things? It might be easier to just condemn the tactics. But that does not go far enough. Saying that it is extremist faction among Satmar that is responsible for it lets them off the hook. They are not to blame. 

Really? I think they are very much to blame. When a poster like this come out urging attendance at their largest Shul in Monsey for fundraising purpsoes, I don’t think you can talk anymore about the extremists among them. I think you have to be talking about their mainstream.

I realize that American Charedi leadership does not want to alienate such a large group of religious Jews – perhaps the largest and fastest growing demographic in all of Orthodoxy. Especially since one or more of their own leadership has supported their past tactics. 

But I don’t think you sacrifice an ideal on the alter of false unity. Just because they look Frum and act Frum in so may ways, does not make their behavior here any less reprehensible. Satmar has crossed yet another line. They need to summon the courage to speak out against mainstream Satmar as group. Ignoring them as the source and blaming renegade extremists -while one or more of their own attends their anti IDF- anti Israel rallies is in effect allowing this kind of Chilul HaShem to continue under their banner!

It is more than high time that the mainstream Charedi leadership completely breaks with Satmar just as it has with Liberal (Open) Orthodoxy. The sins may be different. But the Chilul HaShem Satmar continues to make with tactics like these makes it imperative that they take a hard stand. The time to do that is now. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Charlie Rose?! Not Possible!

Charlie Rose interiews Putin
If one wants to understand why it is so difficult to believe that a highly respected figure in any given community is guilty of sexual misconduct of any kind, I think yesterday’s revelation about Charlie Rose is instructive.

I don’t know Mr. Rose. Never met him. But I was a fan. He seemed to me like a man of great honor and integrity in a business where that is sorely lacking. He had an ability to disarm world leaders during sit-down interviews on his PBS television show. At 75 years of age, I don’t know if there was anyone more respected in the television news business than Charlie.

I am kind of a news junkie. Which is why I have my morning coffee watching the CBS’s Morning News every morning. I record it since it begins at 7:00 AM while I am in the middle of studying Gemarah (Daf Yomi). I looked forward every day to watching a 20 minute uninterrupted newscast by this respected reporter who along with his 2 female partners co-hosted the show. Charlie seemed like a mentor to them.

I wondered how those two female co-hosts would react to the tawdry revelations by his victims about their mentor. This morning I found out. Clearly they had the right approach. They condemned his behavior and applauded his victims for coming forward. But you could see the disbelief and disappointment written all over their faces. It transcended their words. They simply could not believe that their partner and mentor for whom they had in the past expressed so much respect and admiration; a man that had not displayed anything but warmth and professionalism - could have done anything like that. But he did. He admitted it in an apology he made publicly. (How ‘nice’ that he apologized now after being exposed!)

This might be one reason why there has been so much resistance by some rabbinic leaders to reporting suspicions of sexual abuse directly to the police. They look at the people that have been suspected of it in their own community that garner similar respect and wonder how it is possible? In many of those cases, those respected individuals have denied it – claiming that allegations of abuse are false and the result of some sort of personal agenda. They just cannot get themselves to believe that an individual that is one of their community icons could ever do what he was accused of doing.

One may recall exactly that kind of reaction by the Satmar community to accusations of abuse and rape by Nechemya Weberman of one of his ‘patients’. It might now be a little easier to understand it. They could not – and did not believe this highly respected man who had ‘helped’ so many teens at risk; a man who exuded an exemplary religious lifestyle, a man who was so religious; so Godly that he recited Tehillim throughout his trial in his seat next to his lawyer – hardly paying any attention to the proceedings; a man whose family stood by him and his denials throughout his trial and after… They could not believe such a man was capable of doing what he was accused of. He was the ‘Charlie Rose’ of Satmar. Only instead of admitting it, he denied it.

It was pretty easy for the rest of us to see him as guilty. The cold hard facts of sexual abuse came out during his trial. He was found guilty. But to his peers in the world of Satmar? Impossible. They rejected the verdict and blamed it on lies by his accuser and on the antisemitism of the court and the jury. To them Weberman was hero being punished because of what he looked like - A Chasidic Jew.

I get it now. After seeing how Charlie Rose’s colleagues reacted to the devastating accusations against him even after he admitted it – I can understand why Weberman’s colleagues in the religious community whose reputation among them was similarly high - reacted to allegations about him when he denied it.

Much like the denial about Shlomo Carlebach’s sexual abuse by so many of his fans. A man like that?! Impossible. He too was the ‘Charlie Rose’ of his fan base.

Please do no misunderstand. I have not changed my views at all about reporting suspicions of sex abuse directly to the police, no matter how respected the suspected abuser is. That is is a no brainer for me. But at the same time, I understand the resistance to it.

What is happening now is something I never in a million years would have believed could happen. I had always believed that sex abuse was the province of sociopaths that could never gain any respect. Their narcissistic personalities would have prevented them from it. 

How wrong I was! These are all sick people. They are not always purely evil. In some cases there is a lot of good in them too. Otherwise they could never garner any real respect from their community, let alone become icons. Obviously the bad far exceeds the good. Because they carelessly and recklessly disregarded the value of the human life they destroy. By their disgusting behavior they ruin lives. Apologies like those of Charlie Rose that come after they have been exposed are disingenuous and pretty meaningless in my book.

I am still in a state of shock about all this. When is it all going to end? It seems like every day, new revalations about sexual misconduct of one type or another comes out about yet another prominent individual - about which one would have never expected it. How many prominent people are there that have yet to be exposed? They must all be shaking in their boots!

If you would have asked me just a few weeks ago whether so many icons would be outed so quickly as remotely abusive, I would have answered ‘No possible way!’ And yet here we are. The list is of prominent people so accused (going back to the 70s) is breathtaking. In both their number and station: 

Bill Clinton, Roman Polanski, Bill Cosby, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Anthony Weiner, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, James Toback,  Kevin Spacey, George Bush (41), Elie Weisel, Shlomo Carelebach, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Afflek, Louis CK, Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Moore, Jeremy Piven, Mark Halperin, Al Franken, Charlie  Rose… 

This is just a partial list. There is probably more to come. Will it ever end? Who’s next?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Talking the Talk is Not Enough

Police doing their job in Bnei Brak (Jerusalem Post)
I hate to keep talking about this. But it keeps happening. Once again protests by followers of Rabbi Shmuel Auebach took place – disrupting the peace in Charedi enclaves. This time it was Bnei Brak. Streets were shut down by a bunch of brain dead young people (and some that are not so young – but just as brain dead) who are protesting the consequences of their leader’s decisions. 

Regardless of your feelings about drafting Charedim into the military, what these people are doing with these protests is one big Chilul HaShem after another.

It would be one thing if their young were actually being drafted. As long as Israel has compulsory military service - drafting Charedi youth is something that I would personally support for all but the elite. The rest should at most delay it for a year or two to pursue full time Torah study and then ‘share the burden’ with fellow Israeli citizens by serving in some manner.

But they see it as a violation of their principles because of the negative religious environment they perceive the military being. I’ve argued against this contention and I am not going to repeat it here. It is beyond the scope of this post.  But let us for argument’s sake say they are right about that and refuse to serve for that reason.

The fact they don’t have to. Not a single Charedi youth is being drafted. All the government has asked them to do is register for the draft and apply for the ‘Torah U’mnaso’ (Torah study is their profession) exemption. Which they are immediately granted. They can then go right back to the Beis HaMedrash for as long as they want. That is not good enough for Rabbi Auerbach and his followers. For them, it is better to go to jail than to even register with the IDF.

He and his followers have the right to feel that way. But his claims of preferring to sit in jail rather than register is a bold-faced lie. Because they have done everything in their power to violently protest it when it happens. And they don’t care a whit about the consequences. They don’t really want to spend a minute in jail for their beliefs. They would rather cause disruption and damage. They would rather inconvenience innocent people that even agree with them about the ‘evils’ of the military. They do not care. Nor do they seem to understand the Chilul HaShem that makes.

Lately more draft dodgers that have refused to register have been sent to jail. That is the reason for the recent protest in Bnei Brak.  The police were called in and they ‘took care of business’ treating these brain dead protesters like the criminals they are.

Watching videos of that in the Jerusalem Post without context might make some believe they were watching police brutality at work. That’s what it looks like in those videos and in the pictures. But looks can be deceiving The police were just doing their job by trying to restore the peace. 

These protests aren’t even helping them succeed in their goals. Israel is not gong to change the law because of these protesters. They are just going to arrest more people.

Registering for the draft is not the same thing as serving in the army. This is the view of the mainstream Charedi leaders who have urged all of their young to register and then get on with their Torah study. Rabbi Auerbach has decided that it is much more important to make a statement and that it is worth being Mevatel (abandoning) their Torah study for that. 

For what?! What does he gain?  The reasons for his opposition to the army ate identical to those of mainstream Charedi leaders. Why does he feel it is worth telling his followers to stop learning and go into the streets and cause riots, and then possibly thrown in jail? Why does he feel it is worth disrupting the lives of everybody else – including like minded Charedim on the subject of the army? Why does he think it is a Kiddush HaShem instead of the Chilul HaShem it clearly is?

What kind of leader does this? I’ll tell you what kind. No kind. Rabbi Auerbach is not a leader. He is a man leading his followers like lemmings over the cliff. I don’t know what that is but it is not leadership.  

The police are cracking down more than ever on these people. I would like to see public support for them by the mainstream Charedi leaders that have already condemned Rabbi Auerbach. They apparently see the same thing I do – Bitul Torah and a massive Chilul HaShem. But words are just that – words! They should be the ones calling the police when they see a protest and thanking them publicly in print for breaking up those protesters. They ought not to be trying to get those draft dodging youth out of jail either (as I recall one Charedi Keneset member doing a while back). Let Rabbi Auerbach and his followers live up to their word of preferring jail to registering for the draft. The more they do it, the more they should be  in jail. As should those that participate in these violent protests.

And let mainstream Charedi rabbis cheer on the police and support those jails sentences.

It does not do the Charedi world any good for the mainstream to look the other way – with a sort of sympathetic eye that signals support of their goals while condemning their methods. They do not have to give up their beliefs that army service is the key to assimilating out of religious observance (wrong though I believe them to be). Let them believe as they wish and comply with the law. That is what they tell their young to do by registering. 

Condemning these people hasn't stopped them. They need to do more than that. It may not be pleasant to see Charedi youth sitting in Israeli jails. But that is a problem of their own making and their stated preference over registering for the draft.

Besides, these young protesters do not have to follow Rabbi Auerbach. There is a simple way for them to stay out of jail and continue learning Torah without interruption. It’s called following the law. Register for the draft! Refusing to do that is causing a major upheaval in the Torah world.  Publicly supporting the police and the jail sentences for those young Charedim that violate the law is one way to counter that Chilul HaShem.

If they do nothing or continue to only pay lip service condemnation of it – this kind of thing will continue and probably increase! And that is not good for anyone.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Violence Will Not Help Their Cause

Reform leaders and activists using force to get their way at the Kotel (Jpost)
The Kotel is open to every single individual that wishes to pray there. Including Popes and Presidents. When they enter the Kotel Plaza to pray, they respect the traditions preserved there since the Kotel came back into our possession back in 1967. Claims by Heterodox leaders that the Kotel is open only to Ultra Orthodox Jews is pure unadulterated nonsense. It is a lie put forward by those whose motives have little to do with a desire to have their prayers heard by God.

The complainers are not at all about praying to God - the way the vast majority of people that come there to pray are.They are about doing it their own way. A way that violates the sensibilities of the of people that regularly pray there - and have prayed there for decades. Israel has no obligation to satisfy the desires of those that prefer a mode of prayer that upsets the sensibilities of others. This is what they are really demanding. Doing it their way. In other words it’s not about God. It’s about them. They care little that their mode of prayer upsets the majority of Jews that pray at the Kotel.

To what at first seemed to be to their credit they had agreed to a compromise that would have given them an expanded and updated section of the Kotel which they currently have so they could pray as they wish. And to the credit of the Charedi Keneset members they acquiesced - even though they believe that the preferred Heterodox mode of prayer is illegitimate. They did not protest.  

But when it became abundantly clear that this was more than just about getting their own space – but about getting equal recognition with Orthodox Jews, Charedi parties cried foul. This was not the what the agreement was originally understood to be. Charedi members of the Kenesset  then changed course and vehemently protested. The Israeli government backed down from the agreement. This has outraged heterodox leaders. They are livid – claiming that Israeli government is reneging on its deal with heterodox leaders.

It is now more than clear that this is what Heterodox rabbis want. The Kotel deal was nothing more than a ploy to get recognition and legitimacy. They have admitted as much publicly. So much for reneging on the deal. It is not reneging on a deal when the deal was just a façade for a purpose that Orthodox leaders would never agree to.

We can debate all day long about the value to Israel of Heterodoxy in America. There are those that say that without the support of Heterodox Jewry, Israel would lose 90% of the financial support they get from the US (90% being the percentage of non Orthodox Jews in America). 

That is a debatable claim. I tend to doubt that a full 90% of non Orthodox Jews even care about Israel. With an intermarriage rate of 70% - most of those 90% don’t even care if their offspring will be Jewish.  Donations to Israel have seen a steady decline in recent years that have little to do with what’s going on there. 

My advice to Heterodox leaders is to stop crying ‘wolf’ about that. Most of those 90% don’t think about the state much at all. They just don’t care one way or the other. Israel has no religious value to most of that 90% Sadly  a lot of those Jews seem to have more sympathy for the plight of Palestinians than they do about the welfare of the Jewish State. Praying at the Kotel is not on their radar at all.

What is the real motive behind this push for recognition? Why now more than in the past? They’ve had 70 years to push forward their agenda for recognition. Why this sense of urgency now? The answer lies in the above-mentioned statistics. As discussed here many times, Heterodoxy is dying. Their membership is plummeting. Gone are the days where the newest synagogue edifices that were being built were Conservative of Reform. Almost all the building is being done today is by the only segment that is growing: Orthodoxy. Conservative and Reform synagogues and temples are either closing or consolidating.

Their leaders see the handwriting on the wall and they are looking East for salvation. But the majority of the people of Israel don’t really care about heterodox movements. It isn’t that they oppose them theologically the way Orthodoxy does. They just don’t care. Heterodox leaders are trying to make them care.

To certain extent some secular Jews in Israel are buying into their argument of not being  treated fairly by the government. But they have no interest in joining Heterodox  movements. As has often been said about secular Israelis, the synagogue that they do not attend - is Orthodox. They aren’t interested in any kind of ‘doxy. Whether Orthodoxy or Heterodoxy. They like being who they are: Traditional Jews that observe many but not all of the Mitzvos.  Becoming a Conservative or Reform Jew is a meaningless goal for them.

This leaves heterodox leaders with a very small ideological base of support among Israelis. Their claims to the contrary notwithstanding. It does not bode well for their future. This is their last gasp at preventing extinction.

Although one might surmise from all this that I am gloating, that is far from the truth. I am not celebrating their demise at all. I in fact lament their failure to instill any sense of Jewishness among so many of their members. As noted - the children of the 70% that are intermarrying will for the most part (…yes, I know there are exceptions) either not care about their Judaism or that of their children – or worse their children will not even be Jewish at all. That is nothing to celebrate. It is something to cry about. 

That is why violence on the part of Orthodox zealots when they collide with Heterodox activists - is so upsetting for an Orthodox Jew like myself. On the other hand there is absolutely no excusing what  - in a similar vein - leaders of the Reform movement did last week. From the Jerusalem Post
Violence broke out at the holy site on Thursday as a group of Reform rabbis and worshipers sought to enter the plaza with Torah scrolls. The group was forcibly prevented from doing so by police and Western Wall security officials.
The group had been praying at the Robinson’s Arch site designated for egalitarian prayer at the southern end of the Western Wall, at a special service marking the recent ordination of the 100th reform rabbi in Israel.
(Reform leader Rick) Jacobs acknowledged that when the group was told it could not enter with the Torah scrolls they continued to press forward and physically “asserted” their way into the Western Wall plaza.
“We had to with strength, assert that we are allowed to be in that place. And we asserted our way into that space and there was a lot of resistance by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation guards,” (said) Jacobs.
Jacobs said the incident expresses “very loudly and clearly that we’re not going away.” said Jacobs. “We’re not going to wait for our rightful place to be protected. 
I am really sickened by what they did here. How desperate they must be for recognition if they had to resort to this. This make them no different than the Orthodox zealots that have used violence in opposition to them.  Their excuse is the lie about being denied a place at the Kotel. They are not being denied that. They are just being denied the legitimization of upending 2000 years of Jewish tradition for the sole purpose of self preservation.

Friday, November 17, 2017

What is This Guy Thinking?

Ivanka Trump made the following comment to the Associated Press when asked about about Judge Roy Moore, Alabama’s Republican nominee for the US Senate: 
“There’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children. I’ve yet to see a valid explanation and I have no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts.”  
I think she’s right. And so does just about anyone else that has been following the Roy Moore saga. But for those that haven’t. Roy Moore has been accused of sexually molesting teenage girls as young as 14. Many years ago when he was a prosecutor in his thirties. He has vehemently denied all accusations. Most of the reaction to this has been to believe his accusers. Apparently the crimes he has been accused of are no longer prosecutable since the statute of limitations  ran out a long time ago.

Few people doubt the credibility of those women. Even conservative House and Senate members of his own Republican Party. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has asked him to step down and has threatened to expel him for the Senate should he win the election. That has not, however, stopped his core supporters in Alabama from not only continuing their support, but doubling down on it. They believe that all these accusations are politically motivated because of their timing.

I admit that for a moment, those thoughts occurred to me too. The timing was definitely suspicious. Why have these accusers come out at this particular moment when it was too late to change the ballot and substitute someone else in Moore’s place? Were they politically motivated with an agenda of getting one of their own elected? If that is the case, it probably worked. Moore’s double digit lead against his Democratic opponent has vanished. Polls now show that Democrat, Doug Jones now leads Moore by as much as 12 percentage points.

I suppose anything is possible. But there is little doubt in my mind. The accusers are not lying. It has been well established by professionals who deal with sex abuse that the vast majority of those kinds of allegations are credible. In Moore’s case, there are just too many accusations from around the same time by girls of about the same age for them to all be lying. 

Why did they wait decades before revealing what Moore did to them? Experts say that it is not uncommon for victims of abuse to not report sex abuse when it happens. I think that might be because they are embarrassed by it and just want to get on with their lives in most cases. They do not want all the negative attention it would have brought upon themselves - fearing public disbelief or accusations like it was their own fault (blaming the victim). Why then did they do it at this particular time? 

That’s an easy one. It probably had nothing to do with the election. What it did have to do with  can be answered with two words: Harvey Weinstein. His exposure as a serial sex abuser has generated the #metoo campaign. Which has been encouraging victims of sexual misconduct (both male and female) to come forward and tell the world what happened to them, no matter how long ago.

This is a wonderful development. A lot of respected people have been exposed as sexual predators of one sort or another. Prominent names keep coming up. Almost every day there is a new revelation of a prominent member of society who has been accused of such behavior - far to many to list. The latest being Senator Al Franken. This phenomenon will allow our culture to ‘clean house’! All of these people will at long last suffer the embarrassment and dishonor they deserve. And hopefully be removed from the ‘public square’ (as some already have).

I don’t think this will eliminate sex abuse. There will always be sociopaths that will seek to gratify their own sexual appetites – and find innocent victims to do so, They will be Dr. Jekyll by day and Mr. Hyde by night. That is the nature of the universe. And its been that way since the beginning of time. 

What it will do is  make people a lot more aware of the problem and better able to protect themselves. It will hopefully also change the culture of victims hiding abuse for fear of embarrassment into a culture of immediate exposure of the abuser – and the prosecution of predators (and their enablers where that applies).

We of the Orthodox Jewish community should be pleased at this development. Our values are Torah values where crimes of sex are deemed the most unholy of acts. Jews are a Goy Kadosh – a holy people. Holiness demands that we remove ourselves as much as possible from forbidden sexual acts. And there is little more disgusting than forcing sex abuse upon innocent children. 

Which brings me back to Roy Moore. Or more specifically to what appears to be an Orthodox Jew publicly defending him. In front of a camera. I don’t know who that Charedi looking fellow in the above screenshot is . But I do know that, while he might mean well, what he has done is a Chilul HaShem. And whoever he is, he deserves to be called out for it!

Why did he do that? I guess he feels the ends justify the means. Whatever it takes to get someone into office whose public views match their own. In this case, Judge Moore is on the same page with this fellows religious agenda with respect to the moral climate of this country. Moore is campaign is based on that. The fellow in the picture said as much. He claims that all these accusations are being made because of Judge Moore’s position on morality.

I’m sorry. Even if this fellow is right and Judge Moore’s views are the Torah’s views - siding with the devil is not the right way to go about promoting that agenda. It is instead the way to show the world we don’t care how we get our own religious agenda done as long as it gets done. If it takes the devil, so be it. The absurdity of that should be obvious. Siding with a sexual predator for purposes of supporting a higher societal standard of morality is absurd!

I used to think Judge Moore’s views did in many ways reflect our own. Before running for the Senate he was most famous for putting up a sculpture of the Ten Commandments on the front lawn of his courthouse. He was sued for that by the ACLU - accusing him of mixing church and state. He was ordered to take it down. He defied the ruling. 

At the time I supported Judge Moore. How could a monument to the Ten Commandments displayed on public property be any worse than a display of the Nativity scene we find on public property during this time of year? At the time I felt he was being persecuted for seeing the values of the bible as a moral guide.

But now that he has been shown to be a hypocrite, I place no value on him. And neither should anyone that calls themselves a religious Jew. Ivanka Trump is right about him. How sad that this fellow doesn’t understand that his means do not justify his ends. They counteract them.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tzohar - A Positive Force for Change

Avichai Barlinksi (TOI)
In yet another example of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate’s shameful behavior, Rabbi Dov Lipman describes the awful experiences of a Ger Tzedek.  A Ger Tzedek is a righteous convert to Judaism about which there is no doubt about the validity of the conversion. Because of the Rabbinate’s negligence in their obligations during the conversion process of a non resident, Avichai Barlinski (formerly Brendan McLaren) had to endure an expulsion from the country he so loved - leaving the people that inspired him to convert. 

Avichai’s credentials as a Ger Tzedek should not be questioned. His conversion was eventually carried out in Bnei Brak by the religious court of R’ Nissin Karelitz. And yet because of the Rabbinate’s carelessness he was still forced to leave the country. (Whether a court outside of the Rabbinate’s jurisdiction has a right to do that is a legitimate question but beyond  the scope of this post. For purposes of this essay, I don't think anyone should doubt the validity of this particular conversion.)

To say that I am outraged by this is an understatement. And yet I still believe that a Jewish State needs an authoritative Jewish body to define exactly what is and isn’t Judaism. I have therefore been reluctant to advocate for its demise. As bad as it seems to be, Israel would be a lot worse off without a Chief Rabbinate. A Jewish State needs a  rabbinate with the authority vested in by by that state to set policy on religious matters.  

At the same time, it is becoming abundantly clear that by the way the Rabbinate currently operates, it is failing miserably in some areas. The question is what to do about it.

During my last trip to Israel I had an opportunity to meet with officials of Tzohar, an independent rabbinic organization consisting of over 800 Religious Zionist rabbis. It is currently headed by Rabbi David Stav. I found them to have what the rabbinate seems to be lacking: compassion, integrity, and the determination to help people. 

They were not created as an alternative to the Rabbinate. But they have seen the ill will generated by the kind of thing experienced above and wanted to do something about it. They wanted a more user friendly rabbinate instead of the aloof and seemingly uncaring one that has been so characteristic of the Rabbinate lately. In that goal they are willing to do what it takes to help people achieve their goals in both Halachic and expeditious ways. They are  willing to work – and have worked with the Rabbinate in order to smooth the process. Turning potentially excruciating processes into a more pleasant ones. 

Tzohar officials  gave me examples of such cooperation. But they also gave me examples of ineptitude, injustice, corruption, and fraud on the part of some of the Rabbinate’s member rabbis. Yes fraud. But then again, why should that be so unexpected when their previous Asheknazi Chief Rabbi pled guilty to corruption and fraud (to the tune of over $2 million)?! Thankfully the current Ashkeanzi Chief Rabbi is an honorable man.

Do I think that Tzohar should replace the Rabbinate? The truth is that despite my very positive experience with Tzohar they are not without controversy. I still don’t know enough about them to say they should replace the Rabbinate. Nor do I think that is even their goal. Their goal seems to be fairness and justice.  They want people that come into contact with religious authority to have a positive experience.

Not that I think there is even the slightest chance of it - but I think they should merge. The Rabbinate could use a huge dose of the above-mentioned attributes. Which they are currently lacking and Tzohar seems to have in spades. I’m sure that Tzohar would agree to such a merger because that would benefit everybody. Unfortunately I doubt that the Rabbinate will have any part of giving up complete and total control of everything. I think they would sooner pound salt than give up any of their power.

Where does that leave things? Apparently, Tzohar continues to do good things. As reported by YWN, Tzohar is about to open up a Kashrus training center that will train both men and women to be Mashgichim (Kashrus supervisors): 
It now appears clear to all except officials in the Chief Rabbinate of Israel that the latter’s monopoly over kashrus supervision in Israel has come to an end. While the Chief Rabbinate continues to fight to maintain the status quo that existed in the past, others are looking to the future, including Tzohar Rabbis, with the organization offering training to certify one as a mashgiach kashrus.
The Tzohar Rabbinical Association, in cooperation with the Emunah movement, will soon develop a training course for mashgichim. The course said the two organizations will be subsidized and will take place in the form of seven weekly and intense meetings.
Tzohar Chairman Rabbi David Stav said: “We at Tzohar believe that it is essential to include in the kashrut system women who can perform the supervision functions in an excellent manner, and we know that there are other organizations that want to join us. 
I am happy to see progress on this front. Kashrus supervision is one of the areas of the Rabbinate that seems to be fraught with ineptitude and corruption. Hopefully that will now come to an end. Newly trained professionals will proliferate. Eventually the Rabbinate will see the wisdom of hiring these people. I hope.

Ending the Rabbinate’s monopoly over Kashrus is a good move – provided it doesn’t create another monopoly. What should happen is for the two organizations to combine at least on matters of Kashrus. 

My hope is that the same thing happens in other matters over which the Rabbinate has exclusive control. As it currently stands they are perceived as inept, coercive, and unfriendly. The bottom line is assuring that Halacha is followed in matters defining Israel as a Jewish State it. That is what the rabbinate is supposed to be about. However, defining and applying Halacha in the State of Israel need not be the torture it seems to have so often become. It is more than time to make that a positive experience for the people of Israel.  I believe that Tzohar is making a difference. I hope it that at the very least it continues to do so and forces the Rabbinate to change into what it could be rather than what it is.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A False Claim?

Rabbi David Niederman
Rabbi David Niederman seems like an affable fellow. For those that don’t recognize that name, Rabbi Niederman is the director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg. Which among other things includes Satmar’s  educational system. I say affable because I am reminded of his appearance on the TV show, ‘Last Comic Standing’. (Yes, you read that correctly.)  He was shown encouraging one of Williamsburg’s residents - a non Jewish black female stand-up comic who had come to his office to seek his blessing before appearing on that show. ‘Affable’  is my impression of his personality.

This has nothing to do with an op-ed he recently wrote in the Daily News. I just wanted to present a realistic impression of him. Which is positive. The op-ed in question however is troubling, if not deceptive. It is yet another in a series of responses (some might say defenses) to attacks against the educational system of the type he is in charge.

The charge is that in most of the schools of that type there are little to no secular studies. A charge that has caused them much grief over the last couple of years. Naftali Moster, an expatriate Chasid took this charge to New York education officials who promised to look into it and to follow up with sanctions for non compliance of government mandated educational standards.

Rabbi Niederman asserts that these charges are ugly and demonstrably false: 
There are more than 425 Jewish schools in New York State, with more than 165,000 students. Of those schools, 275, with more than 110,000 students, are in New York City.
This system is not monolithic. What is true across the board is that each child educated in a yeshiva is there because his or her parent made the choice to enroll them there. That is a right parents have had for almost a century, ever since the United States Supreme Court recognized the “liberty of parents to direct the upbringing and education of children.”
We take our obligations to our students seriously. Simply stated, the allegation that our schools don’t provide any instruction in English and don’t offer secular education — one that has been repeated often since an advocacy group started promoting it — is false…
Hundreds of our principals and teachers have attended professional development classes and teacher training tied to that curriculum and those textbooks.
Students obtain critical thinking, analytical, comprehension and literacy skills that are no different from those of successful students everywhere. Our teachers employ a Socratic method of instruction, in which students are required to analyze passages and defend their interpretations. You would be hard-pressed to find sixth-grade classrooms elsewhere that so resemble law school
None of these claims are outright lies. He’s probably right about most of those over 400 Yeshivos. He’s also right about the skills learned by these students in their religious studies classes. Anyone that has ever studied Gemarah in depth will attest to that.

This is all well and good. But as I said, misleading.

No one disputes that most Yeshivos comply more or less with core curriculum requirements. What he fails to mention is that the schools he is in charge of do not. They are a small portion of the overall total of yeshivas. But to the best of my knowledge they are nearly 100% of Satmar type schools. (If I am wrong about that, I will be happy to be proven wrong.) 

Claims that hundreds of principals and teachers are being trained to teach courses that would be in compliance with those standards may also be true. But how many of them are from his community? And even if there are some, will they be implementing what they have been trained to do?

I find it hard to believe that a system so entrenched in a Hashkafa that devalues secular studies to the extent that they don’t offer any will suddenly change course on their own. I therefore don’t think they have. Nor do I think they will unless they are somehow forced to do so. (Again, I will be happy to be proven wrong.)

What about his claim that Yeshiva students attain advanced study skills unlike students in public education.? He’s right about that. But as any educator will tell you, the skills learned in analyzing a piece of Gemarah are not enough to get you very far beyond high school. Those who want to get a higher education will find themselves struggling to catch up. Some do and some don’t. Point being that they are all at a major disadvantage.

Rabbi Niederman says that his community values a more spiritual life and therefore forgoes the types of careers that so many Americans seek for their children. They don’t become doctors or lawyers. But they do end up with decent jobs as entrepreneurs, teachers and shopkeepers; electricians and plumbers.  I suppose his point is that a higher education isn’t needed to succeed financially in his community which in any cases downplays materialism.

But demographic studies have shown otherwise. Places like Satmar’s Kiryas Joel are among the poorest cities in America. I am also reminded of a description by an expatriate Skverer Chasid that used to be a religious studies teacher in New Square of how he was paid. It was with ‘scrip’ - vouchers that are honored by city’s religious vendors.

I would also add that obtaining a higher education does not preclude living a more spiritual life. There are a lot of Orthodox University trained professionals that are very spiritual.

This is why I still support enforcement of the requirement of Yeshivos to have an equivalent core secular studies program. This is not interfering with a parental right to teach their children how they see fit. No one, least of all me, is asking the government to tamper with their religious studies program. All we ask is that they include the same kind of basic education offered in the vast majority of other yeshivas. For the benefit of their world and the benefit of all

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Frum Shaming

An  outrageous flyer
OK. I know I probably should not be talking about Shaitels because I am a man. But I am not without an opinion on this subject.  Besides being a man has never stopped me from discussing women’s issues before. Why stop now?

Two articles about Shaitels have been published recently. One in the Forward by Avital Chizhik Goldschmisdt and the other in the Times of Israel by Alexandra Fleksher. I thought I would add my 2 cents. Which is probably more than my opinion is worth. But here goes.

First my disclaimer. I have always had difficulty understanding this particular Halacha which seems illogical by its very nature. The Gemarah (Brachos 24 A) cites R’ Sheshes telling us ‘Seir B’Isha Erva’. The (uncovered) hair of a woman is considered nakedness! Without getting into details this Halacha is derived biblically making it a D’Oraisa – a biblical level requirement.  And yet hair covering does not apply to all women. Only married women.  

Women that have never been married do not need to cover their hair at all. And they don’t. Even in right wing circles. Why is ‘married’ hair nakedness and ‘unmarried’ hair not nakedness?. Hair is hair, isn’t it? This conundrum has never been explained to me in satisfying ways.  

Be that as it may, married women are required by Halacha to cover their hair. And yet there was a time in the not too distant past when most religious (non Chasidic) women abandoned this Mitzvah. Even in pre Holocaust Europe as noted by R’ Yechiel Michel Epstein in his magnum opus, the Aruch HaShulchan.

But times have changed. The vast majority of Orthodox Jewish married women of all Orthodox Hashkafos cover their hair. Even Modern Orthodox women - at least of the Centrist variety. Usually with a wig, better known in the religious world as a Shaitel (which is Yiddish for wig).  This paradigm shift is in part due to the improved Jewish educational situation in our day. But it is also due to the improved ‘look’ of the Shaitel.

Today’s Shaitel is not your grandmother’s Shaitel. Back in the days of yore, a Shaitel looked like a Shaitel. You could tell a woman was wearing one a mile away. Why wear one if is was so unappealing? I guess it was still better than covering the hair with a plain looking head scarf scarf. 

But in recent years Shaitels have become so realistic, that in many cases it looks better than natural hair. One might think that is a good thing. I certainly do. A beautiful and flattering Shaitel is a great incentive for observing a Mitzvah that might otherwise still be ignored. Now, most people that are not attuned to this Mitzvah won’t even realize that a woman with gorgeous hair might actually be wearing a Shaitel.  That makes life a lot easier for women to cover their hair.

(One of the by-products of that is that most of the Charedi women I know look far more attractive after they are married than they do before they are married. Not because they are now more of a ‘forbidden fruit’. But because of their newly purchaced hair.  And wardrobe to match. Which they did not have before marriage.

I find this ironic and counter-intuitive. One would think that women who want to get married should look more attractive before marriage then after. The opposite seems to be true in Charedi circles. I’m not sure why that is. But I digress.)

Not everyone thinks that attractive Shaitels is such a great idea. In fact some people think it undermines the very intent of covering the hair. And have accused women that have these beautiful wigs of trying to look like prostitutes! I kid you not. From the Forward
Digital flyers were recently sent around the Orthodox community’s wig makers. The senders’ names were kept anonymous.
“Dear Jewish women,” it screamed in all-caps. “How badly are you trying to look like a prostitute? How important is it for you to slap G-d in the face?!”
The flyer featured a collage of images of young Orthodox women in voluminous, long wigs… 
As columnist Chizhik Goldschmidt notes, this is the Frum version of slut shaming. She then theorizes that this type of reprimand is just a symptom of a larger issue. That of the disappearing woman in Orthodoxy. I agree with her about this phenomenon. And have discussed my fierce opposition to things like the increasing tendency of Charedi publications no longer publishing pictures of women. But I don’t think that this is about that.

Frum Shaming is based an obsession with Tznius that is an over-reaction to increasing sexual permissiveness in our culture. They are placing the burden on women – casting all woman as temptresses whether they intend to be or not. They see a beautiful woman and say, ‘Stop being so beautiful!’ Because it will make men sin by virtue of just looking at you! 

In their eyes, a woman should stay home and out of the public eye as much as possible. So as to aid men in their quest for holiness. The sexes must be separated as much as possible outside of the home. So that men will not ‘God forbid’ be tempted to sin. Even if that means demeaning women by accusing them of being virtual harlots for simply trying to look their best. 

What about trying to convince men to control themselves? Why isn’t that emphasized instead of pacing the entire burden on women? I think it’s because the Tznius zealots are extremely self centered. It doesn’t occur to then that ‘Frum shaming’  hurts people and probably does more harm than good. Which undermines their entire purpose. No one will be ‘Frum shamed’ into compliance. If anything pressure like that might cause some women to just give up covering their hair altogether.  

Which brings me to Alexandra Fleksher. She wrote a beautiful description of what this phenomenon is all about in the Times of Israel. Hard to disagree with her conclusion. Which reads: 
Modesty is a challenge for many women today. The influence of popular culture doesn’t help. Instead of paining these Jewish women who are wives and mothers through disgracing and coercive methods, maybe recognize the stark reality that the only way this trend is going to change is if Hollywood says so.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Throwing Extremists Out of Orthodoxy

Charedi Soldier  hung in effigy (Arutz Sheva
A step in the right direction. The Jerusalem Post reports that the extremist Charedim behind ‘a vitriolic campaign of incitement and harassment against Haredi IDF officers involved in recruiting Haredi conscripts, as well as against enlisted Haredi soldiers’ - have been found. A Charedi IDF officer hired detectives to find them. They  were sued by him in court. The suit was successful and the court awarded him over 500,000 Shekel.

I said it was a step. But it is a baby step. One that could use a lot of nourishment. One of the more unfortunate circumstances in right wing circles is that even though the majority of their mainstream rabbis don’t approve of that kind of behavior, and have even condemned it, they have not gone far enough. They still consider the people that harbor and inspire these extremists to be a part of their right wing religious community. They have refused to call them out in ways that are similar to the way they have called out the extreme left. 

In part I believe that their justification for a more tolerant view of right wing extremists this is that they are fighting for the same religious principles. Their disagreement is only with their tactics. Which end up becoming a Chilul HaShem. They refuse, however, to take the next step and reject them from Orthodoxy the way they have with the extreme left. 

I realize of course that the problem the right wing leadership has with each extreme is different. They see the extreme left crossing lines of Halacha in the sense of tolerating heretical beliefs and, among other things, advocating inappropriate roles for women in Judaism.

The extreme right is seen as observant of Halacha. They do not tolerate heretical beliefs and do not advocate inappropriate roles for women. Not only that, but they even see their stringent way of life as most admirable.  I have seen more than one article in Charedi publications about the world in which these extremists reside (either physically or spiritually) - painting their way of life in the most glowing of terms. It is almost as if when someone has a beard and peyos and dresses a certain way they are automatically part of our group.

What the right wing leadership seems to fail to acknowledge is that their religiosity extends only in the realm of Bein Adam LaMakom (BALM). Their Bein Adam L’Chavero (BALC) is extremely limited to those people with their own narrow Hashkafos. Those that have a different Hashkafa are rejected by these extremists groups. They consider them unworthy of any respect. Instead they see them worthy their disdain. Even if those others are right wing themselves. Which is why they can harass in the most grievous of ways fellow Charedim that have joined the army. And why they can stage mass protests or a ‘Day of Rage’ at the expense of everyone else.  Including other Charedim. They are zealots in that cause to the point of some of their more violent among them inflicting physical harm on Charedi soldiers. This is a clear violation of BALC.

Violating BALC is a far greater departure from God’s will than BALM since violating BALC includes a violation of BALM as well. And yet the right wing extremists are still considered within the fold. Saying that their behavior is a Chilul HaShem while praising their way of life is a contradiction. True, not all of them are zealots. But they are all of the same opinion about Charedi soldiers or how to address those grievances.

Why is there greater tolerance of right wing extremists over left wing extremists? Despite their strong criticism of the Chilul HaShem they cannot get themselves to reject these people from Ortodoxy itself. Apparently their BALM is just too admirable. Their BALC may be defective. But their BALM is so great that they cannot be rejected. They also look ‘Frum’.  Charedi leaders look at them and see themselves. It is almost as if they are looking in the mirror. How can they expel from Orthodoxy people that are so Medakdek in Shmiras Shabbos, and Kashrus, and matters of Tznius? ...people that are ‘Moser Nefesh’ for that way of life?  They just can’t do it. Besides they are really fighting the same fight albeit in misguided ways.

Right wing leaders lavish praise on BALM and rarely deal with BALC. Chalav Yisroel, Yashan, Tznius, Torah study, rejection of the outside world… these are the virtues most often extolled. Treating a fellow religious Jew whose Hashkafa is different than yours with respect – not so much.

One doesn’t have to look too far to see examples of this. When Satmar had a rally supporting the Charedim in Israel that refused to register for the draft, it included at least one mainstream Charedi Rabbinic leader. When Rav Matisyahu Solomon organized an Assifa (gathering) at Citifield a few years ago he invited Satmar to participate and agreed to whatever demand they made just to have them there.  And yet when it comes to honoring a Talmid Chacham from Yeshiva University… No way.  The ‘Grand Rabbi’ of a minor Chasidic sect can sit on their main dais at the Siyum Hashas held every 7 ½ years right along with members of the Moetzes. But not Rosh Yeshiva form YU. Despite the fact that there are many moderate right wing rabbis that will tell you privately that they don’t agree with this policy.

Therein lies the problem. Rejecting the extremists of the right may not change the facts on the ground. The terrible behavior taking place in Israel by right wing extremists will likely continue.  But so too will the behavior of the extremists on the left. The right wing leadership reacted to the left by throwing them out of Orthodoxy. Isn’t it time for them to do the same thing to the right? Not because it will change anything. But because it is the right thing to do. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

An Insulting Response

Elana Maryles Sztokman
I must have really struck a raw nerve. A while back around the time of Rosh Hashanah I had written what I believe was an open gentle plea to my cousin, Elana Maryles Sztokman, asking her to reconsider her choice to become a Reform rabbi. A Choice she made in a very public way. To which I responded in the same public way. (Had she asked me privately I would have responded to her privately.)

That was recently followed by what can only be considered a tirade against me in 2  Facebook posts.  She considers me guilty of ‘blind hatred’ and ‘Sinat hinam’.  I would only ask anyone who believes those were my intentions – or worse - to read (or re-read) my original post to see if they have the same reaction. Her post generated comments that are among the most hateful I have ever encountered.

Let me be clear. I have no ill feelings towards my cousin. Not even after her reaction. I have supported some of her positions in the past – which I made l clear in my post.  Something she chose to ignore in her reaction to it.

For the record, I believe she thinks she’s doing the right thing for the Jewish people. I also believe that could not be more wrong about that. Why that is – is beyond the scope of this post. I have dealt with this issue at length. Many times.  For purposes of this post, I will just say that we disagree and that I too believe I am doing the right thing for the Jewish people. I just want to address her November 8th belated response and her subsequent response to comments I made there.

Aside from ‘blind hatred’ and ‘Sinat hinam’ Elana accuses me of being arrogant. I am not arrogant by nature. Believing in the rectitude of views that are widely held by the vast majority of  Jews across virtually the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy is not being arrogant. I am entitled to believe what Elana is doing here is a serious breach in Orthodoxy. A view that is not unique with anyone that has a clue what Reform Judaism has always stood for. It is not ‘Chutzpah’ (as she says) to say that.

In my post I asked her to consider her family heritage... a family that would no doubt have been very opposed to what Elana is doing. She said the following in response to that: 
(E)very time women seek to follow our own minds and our hearts, there is someone there to claim that we are actually owned by others, by our ancestors, by an abstract community, by some kind of other-worldly obligation. Wow, I am so done with that. 
I responded in a comment that by saying that - she trashed her heritage. Perhaps I exaggerated. But certainly I did not say that she should be ‘owned’ or ‘obligated’ by them – as she suggests. Only that she should consider their views. Saying she is ‘done with that’ means that she no longer values what they believed. Which generated my retort – exaggerated though it might have been.

But Elana did back pedal a bit and responded in 2 Facebook posts to my plea to consider what her ancestors would say. She suggested that after ‘having a conversation with their Creator’, they would now approve of what she is doing.

I’m sorry.  Elana has no way of knowing what that conversation would be like or what her ancestors would say based on it. And neither do I. No human being can know that. All we can do is look at how those ancestors lived their lives – and surmise what they might have said based on that. 

I can say without fear of contradiction that her grandfather, David, a founding member of Agudath Israel of America would not approve of any of his grandchildren becoming a Reform rabbi. And I believe the same thing is probably true about her grandmother, Beatrice Maryles Fink. 

Elana wrote a beautiful tribute to her back in 2013. Therein she said the following: 
Beatrice Maryles Fink, z”l, who was a woman ahead of her time. She was one of a handful of Orthodox Jewish women who, in the 1930s, studied at Hunter College on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and received bachelors’ degrees…
They were as religious as they were serious about their secular learning, and despite many contrary stereotypes, they had no problem attaining advanced degrees while remaining fervently Orthodox…
(S)he married my grandfather, Cantor David Maryles, z”l, who apparently was proud of having a smart wife.  
I completely agree with Elana about this. Elana said she was proud of her grandmother precisely for breaking stereotypes while remaining fervently Orthodox. I am too. I wonder, though, if Elana sees the irony in this comment now that she has decided to become a rabbi in the Reform movement. I find it highly unlikely that a woman that remained fervently Orthodox would approve of her granddaughter becoming a Reform rabbi. 

Elana also accuses me of using a ‘toxic trope’ in asking why she didn’t answer my questions in her response. I admit I used the word ‘question’ inappropriately. I meant that she did not respond to the plea made in my post. I think she actually knew that. And yet she proceeds to attack my character. She implies a nefarious anti woman intent into a word that I mistakenly used.

Does she really believe all those things she said about me… and the things said about me by those commenting in her post? Why has she chosen to - not just ignore those comments but to even agree with them? She should know from my writings that I am nothing like that. And yet she allows this trashing go on uncontested. Is this not being Motzi Shem Ra?

Elana tells us how much more dedicated to the Jewish people she is than me. She pays taxes in Israel and sends her children to the army. I actually applaud her for that. In this sense she outshines me. I live in Chicago and do neither of those things. But there are other ways to be dedicated to the Jewish people. Hopefully I qualify for some of those.

The fact is that I have sided with Elana when I thought she was right. For which she thanked me publicly. (e.g. - an incident on an airplane in which she was made to change her seat.)

I am not anti woman and support the advances women have made in society. I even support the advances women have made in Orthodox Judaism (such as the advent of Yoatzot – of which Elana’s sister is one) and I credit feminism for those advances.

Even though I disagree Elana’s version of feminism, I have never asked her to publicly reconsider it, wrong though I think she is. But becoming a Reform rabbi is a horse of an entirely different color. That crosses all lines. You cannot be Orthodox and Reform at the same time. Even if you remain observant - as some Reform Jews are.

I am dismayed at Elana’s response and the comments it continues (as of this writing) to generate. I can only surmise that - as I noted above - I must have hit a raw nerve. I doubt that this post will change the hearts and minds of the people commenting on Elana’s Facebook posts. But I do hope she at least reconsiders her own unfair comments about me.