Thursday, November 21, 2019

Are Orthodox Jews Racist?

Is Orthodox hatred of former President Obama based on racism? 
I am sad to report that I am a witness. The plain fact is too many Orthodox Jews are racist. Especially when it comes to black people. I hope it is not the majority. But it surely exists in enough numbers to make it a real problem. I have seen it too many times to count. It is expressed by all manner of Orthodox Jew - from right to left. I have written about this phenomenon many times in the past. And have unequivocally condemned this attitude and every instance of it where it occurred and became part of the public record. 

I am just as disgusted by the denials, whether actually believed by those making them or not. The kinds of denials that use excuses like the following. The word ‘Shvartza’ is only the Yiddish word for a black person: The word ‘Shvartz’ means black and the word ‘Shvartza’ means black person. 

Technically true that. I wish that is all that was meant. But honesty demands of us to acknowledge the truth. Which is that the word ‘Shvartza’ is a word is rarely used in any other way than in a demeaning or pejorative way.

I also remain unconvinced by the argument that any negative reference about a black person is really only meant as a general attitude about ‘the Goy’ – white or black. While that too is a Chilul HaShem, I don’t believe that is even true. Because if it were, they wouldn’t use the word ‘Shvartza’. They would use the word ‘Goy’.

What I will grant is that the racism expressed by so many of us is not meant to harm them in any physical way. I doubt that any black person has ever been attacked by an Orthodox Jew. 

Nor do I believe any Orthodox Jew wishes to hurt them mentally either. In the vast majority of cases - a racist attitude about a black person would almost never be expressed to his face or even publicly. But in private the racism is there. And when I hear it I am appalled by it. It is wrong - plain and simple!

I say ‘almost never’ because I am sorry to report hearing such racism made in public. It was during the 2009 Presidential campaign. I attended an event that took place on Shabbos where I heard a prominent Rosh Yeshiva warn everybody to ‘vote - lest that Shvartza gets elected’. I was shocked to say the least. Shocked that he felt this way and even more shocked that he expressed that view publicly.

To this day, I am convinced that the Orthodox animosity to President Barack Obama is fueled by racism. Just as I firmly believe that it will be denied – and ‘explained away’ as not being racist at all. Just about being opposed to his anti Israel policies. (Even accusing him of being an antisemite by some.) This is patently false. Obama is neither racist nor antisemitic. Unless one considers half of Israel anti Israel and antisemitic. (Just as Obama hated Netanyahu, so too does half of Israel.) 

While it is true that I too did not like some of his policies on Israel (especially the one that allowed the UN Security Council to condemn Israel), it cannot be denied that he was more generous with American aid to Israel than any of his predecessors in either party - and he had advanced military and intelligence cooperation between our 2 countries to unprecedented levels.

When it comes to racism - our liberal non Orthodox Jewish brethren are way ahead of us. The vast majority of them are not racist at all. Not publicly and not privately.

We can speculate about why so many Orthodox Jews us are racist. But none of these explanations (or better said – excuses) mean a thing. Racism is wrong. Thinking less of a person because of his color is not logical. It is based on emotions that begin with seeing people that look different as inferior human beings. An attitude that is fed by society that has been around since at least the days of slavery.  

I bring all this up as a wake up call in the context of an article by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein in Cross Currents. Rabbi Adlerstein is the interfaith director for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He writes about his observation of the waning support of Israel by Evangelicals whose youth are less scripture oriented and more inclined to follow the liberal and the more politically correct view that gives more credence to the Palestinian narrative than it does to the Israeli one. 

He calls this development gloomy but not desperate. At the same time he was encouraged by the support of black Evangelicals. Which remains high. 

But his bubble was burst a bit by what he encountered when he addressed one such delegation to Israel led by a black pastor who spoke to him before the presentation. He was dismayed by what he heard: 
(W)hen my host casually mentioned to me before the presentation formally began that at least two members of the group had walked into places and were told that they were not welcome – they assumed, because of their color. And they had been there less than two days. The worrying increased when an Ethiopian spoke of the years of what he perceived as racism he and his family had experienced since arriving – leading him to convert to Christianity. 
After hearing this, Rabbi Adlerstein says that the conversation quickly deteriorated to the racism they experienced from Orthodox Jews in America. The description of what they experienced is similar to my own observations.

I take no pleasure at all in making this observation public. I would prefer it were not so. I would prefer that these attitudes were the exception that proves the rule. (Who knows? Maybe these are actually the exceptions which Rabbi Adlerstein and I just happened upon. But I tend to doubt that.)

There is however a purpose in telling the truth. Which is an attempt to force ourselves to look in the mirror. And at the same time consider the antisemitic attitudes some people harbor about us as Orthodox Jews. We too are different. We make a point of looking different by - at the very least - wearing a Kipa in public. Some of us wear our Tzitzis out. And some of us – Chasidim mostly - wear clothing that is radically different than the rest of society. 

The more different we look, the less people will see us as equals. While from our own perspective there is the ‘dignity of difference’ (as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has so poignantly said) - to many non Jews (and even to some secular Jews) the opposite is true. And it doesn’t help matters when there have been so many media reports about Orthodox Jews being caught in a variety of bad behavior - whether sexual or financial.

Here’s the thing. We need to change not only our behavior, but the actual prejudice some of us have about people that look different than us. To put it the way Rabbi Adlerstein did: 
(A)s Torah Jews… we have to be both: right, and effective. That means increasing our sensitivity to the way others perceive us, whether we think those perceptions as justified or not. It should not be all that difficult, at least with those who are not anti-Semitic, and actually pro-Israel. 
The alternative is that we will not only lose their support, but will inadvertently be put on a collision course with groups increasingly stuck on their own parochial narratives. We should be smart enough to realize what the consequences of that might be.
 Indeed we should!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Fueling the Fires of Hate


Every time I see a something like this, it reinforces my views that there are influential rabbis who have no clue about the Chilul HaShem they are responsible for in expressing what passes or ‘authentic Jewish values’.  The attitude expressed in this particular instance (see below) is no doubt based on centuries of antisemitism throughout Jewish history.

He is not the first or only one to do so. There have been so many instances of religious figures of varying degrees of stature expressing unbridled hatred of ‘the Goy’ that I am beyond just being disgusted by it. I believe it affects the very fabric of the Jewish soul and in the process can cause great harm to the Jewish people.

Yes – antisemitism has been with us since biblical times. Jewish history is replete with a variety of instances of that ranging from mere negative stereotyping all the way to the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust. Which was preceded by centuries of overt antisemitic acts such as pogroms. 

That instilled fear and hate into the hearts of the Jewish people. There was a deep rooted suspicion of the Goy – believing that almost all of them were antisemites at heart – even if it might not always seem that way on the surface. The historically justifiable feeling among most Jews in Eurpoe was that the Goyim hated us and at best tolerated us for whatever they thought they could get out of us.

As I have also said more times than I can count, America is different. Yes antisemitism is alive and well in this country as we all well know. But the vast majority of Americans in the 21st century are not inherent antisemites. (Why I believe this is the case is beyond the scope of this post and a subject I have discussed many times.)

The problem is that the message of hating the Goy – at least in your heart has not changed. I have seen this more than once and have mentioned some them in the past. Just to mention a couple of instances:

A minor Chasidic Rebbe had made a recording and distributed it as widely as he could saying that although one must deal respectfully with the Goy on the surface for purposes of Shalom, one must hate them in their heart.

Another instance was when I inadvertently heard a recording of a right wing Yeshiva high school Rebbe giving a Hashkafa Shiur and speaking about the Goy in the most derogatory way one can imagine. And telling his students that this should be our attitude about ‘Goyim’.

What makes something like this more insidious is when a respected religious figure uses a source and interprets it to suit that hateful narrative. This is what troubled Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer  about what he read in a widely distributed Parsha sheet. 

Rabbi Bechhofer’s desire to counter the negative message of this individual as part of an article he was asked to write was denied. 

What is it that fellow said that upset us so much? It was in the context of returning a lost object to a non Jew and based on his interpretation of a Gemarah in Sanhedrin. His message was that God would in effect punish you if you did that. In trying to explain why that would be such a terrible sin he described what he believes is the typical Goy: 
I’ll tell you what (Goyim are) thirsty for. You walk in the streets early in the morning in a Catholic neighborhood, a respectable upper class Catholic neighborhood, and lying stretched out on the ground is a good Catholic. He’s drunk and he’s been sleeping on the street all night. I walked in the Catholic neighborhoods forty years ago and I saw that many times.
Drunk all night, fast asleep in the gutter; and then he gets up in the morning, staggers home, and tells everybody, “Ooh wah! What a time I had last night!” He’s proud of himself.
And did they expel him from their homes or from their churches? No! Never! It wasn’t even considered a chisaron. Many people admired him; they were jealous of him. It was an exploit! He would tell his friends about it: “Did I ever tell you about the time that I slept drunk in the gutter the whole night?!” A goy is satiated with drink! He wants mitzvos like he wants a hole in his shoe… 
Yes, there are people like this. Some of them might actually be Jewish. And some of those might actually be Orthodox. Even Charedi!

There are unfortunately plenty of Jews from the wide spectrum of Orthodoxy that suffer from alcoholism (and other forms of substance abuse). They too may find themselves in a gutter after a drinking binge. This fellow might have a more sympathetic approach to them saying they need help. But when it comes to the ‘Goy’ - that is his natural state. His drinking habits define him and even brags about it

To describe this as the typical  ‘Goy’ is a lie.  Unfortunately it is a lie he probably believes. And he preaches it as a respected Torah scholar.

To say I am outraged is an understatement. This narrative needs to be more than countered. It has to be publicly condemned. It undermines the wide respect we get from our non Jewish fellow citizens and fuels the fires in the belly of the virulent antisemite that does exist. Do we really need to feed their narrative about us with a biased interpretation of a Gemarah?

I for one absolutely condemn what this fellow said and believes. I can’t even begin to describe the harm someone like this does to our people. He  promotes a negative stereotype and perpetuates the hatred of the ‘Goy’ that originated in Europe. And he uses his reputation to hammer these thoughts into the psyche of – who knows how many of his readers. Does he think that a Parsha sheet written in English cannot possibly find its way into the hands of an antisemite? Does he think a non Jew that might happen to see that will not be negatively affected?

This is truly sick. Furthermore by denying Rabbi Bechhofer the oppotunity to respond in publicly they have in essence contributed to this false narrative.

Rabbi Bechhofer did however respond on his blog in the following way: 
It is difficult to know where to begin to critique these passages. They purport to be based on a gemara in Sanhedrin. This may or may not be a valid assertion. There are several legitimate understandings of that gemara that would not lead us to those assertions. But, much more to the point, the author of those passages utterly disregards the diametrically opposite approach that emerges from the words of Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach in the Yerushalmi, Bava Metzia 8b. 
This is the same Gemarah used by Rav Ahron Soloveichik in his book Logic of the Heart Logic of Mind. It shows how terrible the attitude of this fellow is and the possible Chilul HaShem that can result: 
Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach dealt in linen. His students said to him: “Rebbe, desist from this trade. We will buy you a donkey [to make an easier living as a donkey driver] and you will not have to toil so much.” They went and purchased a donkey from a bandit. The students subsequently found a precious stone dangling from it. They went back to Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach and said to him: “From now on you need not exert yourself.” He asked: “How so?” The students responded: “We purchased a donkey for you from a bandit and a precious stone was dangling from it.” Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach asked: “Did the donkey’s seller know that the stone was there?” They answered: “No.” He then said to them: “Go return it.” The students remonstrated with Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach: “Although theft from an idolater is prohibited, is one not permitted to keep an object that an idolater has lost?” He responded: “What do you think, that Shimon ben Shetach is a barbarian? More than all the wealth of the world, Shimon ben Shetach desires to hear [the non-Jew say]: “Berich Eloko d’Yehudo’ei” (“Blessed is the God of the Jews”). 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

What if They Worked Together?

Chasidic Yeshiva students in Williamsburg (JTA)
If there is anything that shows the need to be clear about the current debate over a secular studies curriculum in Yeshivas, these two JTA opeds are it. They both seem to favor positions that are at complete odds with each other. (I use the word seem on purpose. More about that later.) And both articulate legitimate concerns (pro and con) about the educational guidelines now being pursued by NYSED (New York State Education Department).

The arguments are well known by anyone following this important story. Accusations are flying by each side against the other as having nefarious motives.

Rabbi Yaacov Sebbag who is the principal of the United Lubavitcher Yeshiva Ocean Parkway makes the argument that implementing those guidelines would severely undermine his ability to serve his students. He is joined in that argument by The Council for American Private Education. It is a legitimate argument because as he notes the new guidelines require all private and parochial schools to to not only provide a curriculum of substantial equivalency with  that of public schools - it would require them to allocate the same amount of time per subject. That would leave virtually no time for religious studies. To put it the way Rabbi Sebbag did: 
The regulations would require our schools to limit the instruction we offer in Jewish studies and require us to replace them with classes in theater, arts, dance, consumer and family science, and other subjects that our parents and our school leaders do not want.  
To his credit, Rabbi Sebbag realizes that the focus should be on the few schools that do not have a secular studies curriculum. Not on his and other schools like his that have a dual religious/secular studies curriculum. 

(I wonder whether as a Chabad Chasid he would include focusing on those schools in Chabad that unlike his – do not have any secular studies curriculum. Or how he feels about the late Lubavitcher Rebbe’s directive to not have a secular studies curriculum in a Chabad school if it would be viable without one. As is the case in Crown Heights, the location of Chabad headquarters. But I digress.)

His primary point is one that I often make. Which is that until NYSED’s recent attempt to change its requirements into something untenable, most Yeshivos and day schools (i.e those that have a dual curriculum) have done pretty well in providing a substantially equivalent secular studies curriculum without undermining their religious studies curriculum. Graduates from schools like that have been enabled to attend a variety of colleges and universities including some of the top schools in the country.  That should have been NYSED’s focus instead of upending what has worked overall until now.

This brings me to Miriam Moster. She is the wife of Naftuli Moster whose organization YAFFED (Young Advocates for Fair Education) is responsible for  this turn of events. She makes the argument that if not for NYSED the schools that offer no secular studies would continue along those lines with impunity. Thus harming their students by continuing to deny them the education or educational tools they need to go any further in their educational lives. She said that she has been fighting for ultra-Orthodox students for nearly a decade. She insists that NYSED’s requirements should be supported. And described why she feels that way by describing what that kind of education did to her husband: 
He had grown up in the Belz Hasidic community in Brooklyn, attending Belz schools from nursery through post-high school. But in all those years, he never learned science, geography, history, how to write an essay or how to calculate a tip. Instead, he and his peers devoted as many as 14 hours a day to the study of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic religious texts. 
She explains that NYSED’s guidleines will assure that schools like the one her husband attended will comply with their new requirements. And then blames 2 religious organizations (Agudah and PEARLS) for trying to undermine that goal by insisting that there ought to be no regulation at all and that NYSED should return to the status quo ante whereby they left religious schools alone. 

In my view she has a valid point in expressing that fear. By returning to the status quo ante where schools like the one her husband attended were ignored – students that attend them will continue to be denied the education they deserve.

If one examines the two opposing positions carefully one will find that their goals are not really that far apart. Unfortunately that does not stop each side form accusing the other of nefarious motives.

The goal should be improving the education of those schools that defied NYSED’s original requirements. Insisting that they comply in the same manner that most Yeshivos did. The new guidelines go well beyond that and ought to be opposed. On the other hand the idea of going back to the past where Yeshivos were ignored and left to their own devices is not a solution either.

In my view the two opposing side would do well to coordinate with each other since they both more or less agree on the goal. Which is to leave most Yeshivos alone and focus instead on those that have little to no secular studies curriculum. 

Unfortunately the animus on both sides will make that as likely as my becoming a dotcom billionaire!  Can anyone imagine what could be accomplished if they did, though?

Monday, November 18, 2019

The New Normal That is the Orthodox Lifestyle

Mishpacha columnist, Alex Fleksher
“I had a talmid once who went to that yeshivah in America. He then decided to go to medical school. I guess he was really into gashmiyus (materialism).” 

This comment was made by a Rebbe to an American student studying in a yeshiva in Israel when he informed him  that he was going back to America to study in a Yeshiva there. If there is anything that illustrates the problem with Charedi Chinuch in Israel, this is it.

In my view this attitude contributes mightily to destruction of a well balanced future for our people. It teaches that the very idea of going to medical school has little other value than making a lot of money. There is not a single thought given to any possible altruistic motive... that it might be about saving lives and healing the sick. For him and most other Mechanchim in Israel the the primary purpose of medical school is to make a lot of money. It is an ‘either/or’ for him. Either you study Torah or you are pursuing materialism. 

Yes, doctors do quite well financially. And a few of them may be in it for the money. But the truth is there are a lot better and easier ways to make a lot of money. Many times over what a doctor makes. Ask Warren Buffet or any successful hedge fund operator. 

The line I quoted was from a Mishpacha column by the ‘invisible’ Alex Fleksher. The American student it was made to was her husband. (Invisible because as a woman her photo is not published in the print edition while photos of male columnists are. But I digress.)

Alex’s reaction to this attitude is absolutely correct. As it happens her husband actually ended up going to medical school and is currently a primary care physician who works ‘day and night’ to provide for his family. And still has the time for family, Torah study, and is active in his community.

There is  however a question about one of the issues she raises. Which is how to maintain the lifestyle of a typical middle class Orthodox family. If one factors in the massively greater expenses required of observant Jews who want to educate their children accordingly, it requires a pretty hefty income. Far more than what might otherwise be needed to live a middle calls lifestyle. The question is, what exactly does that entail? What is the minimal Gashmiyus that is required to be considered normal in that community?

It’s true that in he ideal, we should eschew anything that is not absolutely needed to live. Which is mainly food, shelter, clothing, and educating our children. In the ideal the rest of our efforts should be spent on spiritual pursuits. 

The best example of what that kind of life might look like is that of R’ Aharon Leib Shteinman. He lived in what most of us would consider an impoverished lifestyle. But to this Tzadik any improvement over the most basic of human needs was wasteful. As a potential donor soon found out when he offered to improve R’ Steinman’s physical surroundings. He absolutely refused! (Talk about being Sameach B’Chelko!)

The reality is that most of us cannot be expected to live like that. And that’s fair. There are in fact legitimate expenses that are required of an observant home that exceed  R’ Shteinman’s expenses many times over. Especially in America where parents have to worry about tuition for their children’s  education. Not to mention the additional cost of feeding them a Kosher diet that is both nutritious and tastes good. 

There are also seasonal expenses like Pesach. And if a family lives in one of the two coasts - housing expenses are through the roof! That is because of the need to live close to one’s Shul so one can walk there on Shabbos. Observant parents are forced to live in neighborhoods where housing is in short supply and in high demand. Thus increasing housing costs well beyond what they might otherwise be. There is no option to move to a less crowded neighborhood that is further away and might be less expensive. 

The typical non Orthodox Jewish middle class family has none of these expenses. Additionally there are also the same expenses the rest of society has. Such as saving for retirement. In other word living a fully observant lifestyle ain’t cheap!

But to what extent do we need to improve over that? Here is what Alex says: 
In addition to all this, we’ve got a little communal issue with consumerism. There’s no doubt that societal expectations have gone through the roof. So we need to do all of the above, and in style. Pressure to conform, to maintain our image, and to present a certain way so that we and our children feel good about ourselves wreak havoc on our credit card bills. 
Today’s “normal” necessitates significant salaries for all these things, yet the pressures apply equally to all. Braces, summer camp, high-end clothes for each season for every child. Car leases, updated homes and furnishings, and exciting vacations. Most of us are just trying to look and be normal, to raise our kids normally, and if this is the new normal, then we have to work even harder (or go into more debt) to have it all. Yesterday’s wants have morphed into today’s needs.  
But is that really the case? Are all of these expenses the new normal? In my view these ‘expenses’ can be significantly reduced. I concede that not conforming to societal expectations at all is a prescription for being socially ostracized. Even if it is unintentional. That cannot be good for the mental well being of our children. They cannot go around being deprived of every single discretionary item everyone else has. On the other hand do we really need to go full hog in that direction?

Alex suggests that the stress of earning enough to pay to cater to these new ‘necessities’ has the potential of wreaking havoc on our families: 
our race on the hamster wheel has the likely potential to impact stress levels, shalom bayis, and mental and physical health — of both ourselves and of our children. When our mental health is compromised and we are silently suffering, trying to muster up that love and enthusiasm for Yiddishkeit and raising our children to do the same, it’s a challenging feat. Judaism and its requirements (especially around Yom Tov) then feel like an insurmountable burden. 
I could not agree more. Alex suggest some areas where we might cut back on those ‘necessities’. While I agree with her, I think a lot more can be done. Do we have to - for example - buy the latest high end clothes for our children? Do we need to lease a new car every 3 years? Do we need to go on that ‘exciting’ vacation every year?

The answer to that in my book is no. Not if trying to provide it causes the kind of stress that can destroy a family. I think we would all do well if we understood that we need not keep up with the Katzes and Cohens in order to be well integrated into the community.  

Is that really true, though? Is it possible to live a ‘normal lifestyle’ without those kinds of expenditures? 

Consider this. When I was on the scholarship and tuition committee in my children’s elementary school, I saw appeals from parents whose incomes varied greatly. All them were what I would consider middle class observant Jews whose children were generally well integrated into their social groups. In considering requests for additional tuition relief we required each family to submit a family budget. 

The differences between what these families thought were ‘necessities’ were astounding. This tells me that one person’s necessities are another persons luxuries. A family with a relatively low income would list a far more modest household budget (by many thousands of dollars) than their wealthier counterparts. And yet all were well integrated into the Orthodox middle class. As were their children. 

Does this not speak volumes?

Sunday, November 17, 2019

A House Divided

Former US Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch (Politifact)
Let me say at the outset that Ambassador Marie Yovaovitch is clearly an honorable and able member or our foreign service with an impeccable 30 year record of service. There is little doubt in my mind that her dismissal by the President was politically motivated. It had nothing to do with her competence.

It was a disgusting tactic to smear this patriot as an excuse to fire her from her post as Ambassador to the Ukraine. I don’t think there is a soul on either side of the debate that would disagree with that. (She received a standing ovation as she left the House chamber after her testimony.) She did not have to be smeared by the ‘President’s men’. Especially since he did not need a reason to fire her. All State Department officials serve at the pleasure of the President. 

And yet the President (or his men - or both) decided to make up a reason for the firing. Adding insult to injury was a disgusting tweet by the President during Ambassador’s testimony smearing her further. That has been characterized by Democrats as witness intimidation. (I don’t think that was his intent. He was just trying to counter her narrative in real time, not trying to silence her or change her testimony.) 

The question at hand, however is whether the President committed a ‘high crime or misdemeanor’ that warrants being removed from office. The ‘crime’ in question is a phone call to Volodymyr Zelensky, the newly elected president of the Ukraine asking him to investigate Joe Biden’s son Hunter. Hunter Biden was placed on the board of Burisma, a corrupt Ukrainian company when his father was the sitting Vice President. 

It should be noted that the Ukraine had up to this point been highly corrupt. The US diplomatic core in the Ukraine was tasked to influence them to clean things up. At the same time the Ukraine was being threatened by Russian aggression and needed American assistance in the form of military aid to discourage Russia from attacking the Ukraine any further. 

Based on a conversation Trump had with newly elected Ukrainian President Zelensky - the President is accused of withholding (his already approved) aid as leverage to get him to investigate the Bidens. 
  
Was that a legitimate request? It has been made clear during the hearings that the American diplomats in the Ukraine believed that hiring the sitting Vice President’s son gave at least the appearance of a conflict of interest that could influence American foreign policy. 

Be that as it may, there is little doubt in my mind that Trump’s request was entirely political. He wanted dirt on Biden - his likely opponent (at the time) in the 2020 election. Was he going to hold back aid if that request wasn't fulfilled? I doubt it. There was no quid pro quo. At least not according to the 2 people that actually had the conversation with each other, Trump and Zelensky.

At the end of the day, that aid was released without the Bidens being investigated. Was it because (as Democrats insist) the conversation was exposed? Who knows. But the fact is that it was Trump who authorized the necessary aid in the first place. Aid which was denied by his predecessor. 

Back to Ambassador Yavanovich. It’s very likely that she was removed to pave the way for an ambassador that would forward Trump’s political agenda. But she was fired before that phone call was ever made. So other than creating more sympathy for the Democratic narrative and showing the President to be the scoundrel he is, there was nothing in her testimony that corroborated the accusations about the intent of that phone call.

That Presidents are political is not news. Nor is it news that they seek dirt on their political opponents. (They call it opposition research.) That does not make it right. But it is no less true. The difference here is that Trump is despised by Democrats (and Republican ‘Never Trumpers’) and is far more open in seeking that dirt. Making him an easy target for accusations about corruption.

So far every diplomat that testified has made Trump look bad. But again does all that testimony make what he did an impeachable offense? Or more importantly will it change the mind of anyone in either house of congress?  

I don’t think so. Thus far these entire proceedings have been a ‘show’ designed to paint the President in the worst possible terms. Which is not all that difficult to do anyway. But I believe that all it does is energize the base on both sides. Democrats are preaching to their choir while Republicans are preaching to theirs. 

The American people are as divided on this issue as are their representatives in congress. As things stand now, the Democrat controlled House will surely vote to impeach. And the Republican controlled Senate will surely vote not remove him from office. No one has changed their minds. If anything these hearings are hardening their positions.

So why are Democrats putting on this ‘show’? 

This is all about the 2020 elections. They want to make the President look as evil and as unfit for office as possible. The longer these hearings go on – the worse the President looks. Especially when the media’s narrative is identical to the Democratic narrative often using the same talking points. They are in complete sync with each other.

That being said, I want to give PBS coverage credit for being far more objective.They have thus far fairly presented both sides of the argument. Considering the fact that PBS generally leans heavily to the left, that is saying a lot.

Will all of this eventually have the Democrats intended effect on the 2020 election? That is hard to say. The base of both parties will surely be more energized. The question is what about the undecided voters? They will be the ones that will ultimately decide who will win the oval office in 2020.

My view has therefore not changed. Despite polls that seem to show that any of the top rated Democrats would win in a head to head match-up, my view is that these  proceedings will little impact on the undecided voter. I still believe it will be the economy that will sway them.

It is a well known truism that people vote their pocketbooks. If the economy is still soaring next November, the undecided vote will probably tip in Trump’s favor. Whether that is a good result or not depends on which political base you belong to. 

How do I feel about it? Not ready to endorse anyone until we have a clear winner among the Democrats. But I shudder to think what will happen to the economy if someone like Warren or Sanders is elected. 

Friday, November 15, 2019

Jewish Values? Or Torah Values

Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism
Rafael Castro makes a very salient point in an Arutz Sheva article. One that is often overlooked. But shouldn’t be.

There is little doubt that we are in the midst of a cultural war pitting religious values over social values. Rabbis of liberal denominations tend to promote their progressive values as Jewish ones. Which  are in reality not Jewish values at all. Many of those values are in fact the exact opposite of Jewish values.  

As I often say, Jewish values begin with Halacha. Which means Jewish law as defined by the Torah and interpreted by the leading sages of every generation throughout Jewish history. Any value that contradicts that – is clearly not a Jewish value. And yet virtually all rabbis of liberal denominations will make that claim without ever being challenged. I hear it all the time.

That not only promotes an anti Halachic agenda - it leaves a misleading impression to the world about what Jewish values really are. Castro’s illustrates this point with the following: 
I remember being derided in a Jewish social media community when I claimed that one can defend LGBTIQ marriages on many grounds, but not by claiming that the Torah defends them. My interlocutors had every reason to be perplexed: In Reform circles and liberal Jewish milieus it is 'orthodoxy' to claim that progressive causes represent core Jewish values. 
When this attitude is instilled in impressionable but idealistic Jewish Youth who have little to no Jewish background, the results can be devastating. Imagine a  group of young Jewish students at a university being addressed at a rally by the leader of a liberal denomination saying that the progressive values of our time  are core Jewish values. That will surely motivate these young Jews who maight actually care about Judaism (without really understanding it) to promote those causes believing that progressive values equal Jewish values! Clearly promoting a gay lifestyle (to cite one example) as a core Jewish value is gross mischaracterization of Jewish law. The exact opposite is true.

Is this the kind of ‘Judaism’ that the future holds? Is this how young Jewish students with little to no background will be indoctrinated to believe is authentic? Is this how non Jewish youth will identify Judaism? 

I hope not. Orthodox Jewish leaders need to speak up. We can ill afford to stay silent. We need to publicly challenge that narrative every time we hear it if we have any hope that the few non Orthodox Jews that will survive the massive attrition out of it – will understand what Judaism is really all about. Here is how Castro puts it: 
It is high-time that Jewish youngsters and the non-Jewish world realize that supporting Planned Parenthood, Jewish Voices for Peace or Palestinian independence is an expression of many values, except the Jewish values progressive milieus claim to champion.
This is the reason Torah-loving Jews need to reclaim the mantle of “Jewish values”. To fail to do so paves the way for over three thousand years of ethical and spiritual traditions to be conflated with ideological fads that undermine the Jewish people and the message God wishes humanity to hear from Jews. 
Could not agree more!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Why Antisemitism in America is on the Increase

Antisemitic incidents have increased in NYC (JTA)
Antisemitism is alive and well in America. I don’t think there can be any doubt about that. As an article in JTA notes the majority of hate crimes in New York are against us – the Jewish people:
Anti-Semitic incidents in the city have increased significantly this year, according to data from the New York Police Department. Through September, there have been 163 reported incidents, up from 108 over the same period last year — an increase of 50 percent. Anti-Semitic incidents make up a majority of reported hate crimes in New York City. 
That being said, I have not changed my view about the American people. The vast majority of which are not antisemitic at all. There is just too much evidence of that for me to believe otherwise. Just to cite one example of many is the reaction to the massacre of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last year. The sympathy – even empathy – that was so evident from across the wide spectrum of American citizens of all color, religion, and political persuasion, that I could not help being moved by it. That is the America I still see.  

And yet antisemitism has significantly increased. There were several incidents just over the weekend in New York: 
On Friday night, surveillance video captured a man throwing a brick through the window of a Hasidic girls’ school in Crown Heights. On the same night in the Borough Park neighborhood, at least three identifiably Orthodox men were punched by assailants. Also in Borough Park, multiple Orthodox Jews in Borough Park had eggs thrown at them over the weekend. 
So what gives? Is there some sort of undercurrent of latent antisemitism among the American people that I don’t see - being blinded by my love for this country?

No. As noted I have not changed my view at all about the American people. The fact is that religious tolerance is enshrined in the constitution. It is built into the DNA of the American people and its institutions. What has changed is that the antisemites that do exist are now increasingly acting on their hatred. They have been emboldened to hurt us. Not just with rhetoric. But physically The question again is why?

The all too easy answer for a lot of people is that it’s the President’s fault. Even though he is not an antisemite himself - his dog whistle racist rhetoric appeals to all manner of racists, bigots, and antisemties and has thereby opened the floodgates.

I suppose there might be some truth to that. But I seriously doubt that he is the sole – or even the primary source of that door being opened. I believe it is a lot more complicated than that.

The source is as ancient as Judaism itself. Esav Sonei L’Yaakov. Esav’s descendants hate the descendants of their ‘brother’ Jacob. Even though the vast majority of Americans are the exception to that rule - it still exists. Certainly in Europe. But even here in the form of all the fringe antisemitic hate groups on both the Christian right and leftist sympathizers with Palestinians who are mostly Muslim.

A lot of it is sourced in the Catholic Church that prior to the early 60s  blamed us for the death of their god. Even though Vatican II ‘absolved’ us of that ‘crime’, that hatred lingers on in the mind of those hate groups – who want to see an ‘all white Christian America’. Although most of these groups stem from a variety of protestant denominations that have broken from the Church they (protestants) have nevertheless inherited the Church's antipathy toward us. And the hate groups that have arisen out of them have taken that antipathy to an extreme form of hatred.

On the other hand, a lot of it can blamed on Islamic theology. Muslims consider non Muslims infidels – Jews being the most despised among them. Why Jews? It is in their DNA. Just as Martin Luther who was the first to break form the Church first approached us in the hope that we would accept him - and when we didn’t’ he turned on us… So too did Islam’s founder Mohammed. He approached us thinking we would accept him and when we didn’t he turned on us too.

So the original source of the hatred is religion based. I believe that this is the genesis of all antisemitism. Of course that is compounded by many factors – both historic and current - outside of their religions.

For one thing people are simply uncomfortable with difference. Sometimes they even fear it. So the more ‘Jewish’ we look, the more uncomfortable non Jews might feel around us. Most Americans can handle difference. But for those that can’t, it can be expressed in antisemitic incidents.

And then there are influential antisemites like Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan. He stokes hatred of us among his adherents.

All of this is exacerbated and accelerated via the internet where hate can be spread to the masses in an instant! And on a daily basis. With ease!

But some of it is our own fault. And… no this is not a case of ‘blaming the victim’. Not unless you think that’s what the ADL is doing: 
(Evan Bernstein, the ADL’s New York regional director) noted that some landlords in the borough are Orthodox, including some on lists of the worst landlords in New York City, which can breed anti-Semitic stereotypes…
…kids in the city are learning to hate from a mix of influences, including parents who might have lived through the 1991 Crown Heights riots, which began after a black boy was killed accidentally by a car escorting Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late head of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, which is headquartered in the neighborhood. The death touched off three days of rioting in which black youths attacked religious Jews, killing one.
Pastor Gil Monrose, who leads a church in Crown Heights and serves as the borough president’s director of faith-based and clergy initiatives, pointed to gentrification as a driver of increased attacks on Jews. As rising housing prices draw in newcomers and push out some longtime residents, locals may become frustrated and seek a scapegoat. Monrose also noted that overall crime levels are high in Crown Heights… 
Is there anything that can be done about it? Well as the JTA article notes, some things are already being done. But there needs to be more. One of which would be to stop giving the antisemites of the world additional reasons to hate us. Which for me means making a Kiddush HaShem whenever possible and perhaps more importantly - avoid making a Chilul HaShem like the plague!

Update on Disqus

While trying to find out the reason for the moderation problems I have come across an update which reads as follows:
Registered users must now verify their email address prior to posting a comment. Pre-moderation is always enabled for guest comments. 
From the Disqus website here is more information about that: 

Why is verification important?

  • Verification is required for all Disqus forums - If your account is not registered, you won't be able to post a comment as a registered user! If you have an unverified account, you'll only be able to comment as a guest, which is an option offered by some, but not all forums.
  • No impersonators - Verifying your email prevents others from using your email address when posting on sites using Disqus.
  • Fewer trolls and spammers in the discussions you love - Requiring email verification makes it harder for trolls and spammers to create accounts with fake email addresses.
Commenters are initially given the option to verify their email address after creating an account though verification links do expire over time. A new verification email can be requested from our email verification page accessible through your profile settings.

I don't know if this is the source of the problem. If it is, then it seems that by registering with Disqus by verifying your account will avoid your comments being automatically being placed in moderation. 

I hope this helps. And once again, thank you for your patience.

Disqus Problems

Please Note

There are problems with Disqus that have been placing many comments in moderation that do no belong there. I don't know why this is happening and I apologize.(I Just approved 20 of them) I have not changed any of my moderation flags. I presume the source of the problem is a glitch in Disqus that I hope will soon be fixed. In the meantime I will approve all deserving moderated comments (which are the vast majority of them) as soon as I see them. I appreciate your patience.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Orthodox Jewish Support of the President

The President addressing Orthodox Jews at a New York fundrasier (VIN)
It is rather well known that the President is supported by the vast majority of Orthodox Jews. I believe the figure is about 80%. I assume that’s because of polices that have been more favorable to Israel than by any their President at any time in history. But I am nevertheless still surprised at how enthusiastic that support is.

A video available at YWN shows the President addressing  group of Orthodox Jewish Americans (mostly Charedim) at a fundraiser where it looked like he was practically being deified by them! The MC of that event gave the President an actual blessing using God’s name (i.e. not HaShem). He then translated it to the obvious delight of the President.  The President then spoke to this group of Orthodox Jews touting some of those accomplishments. And the crowd seemed unable to get enough of him.  

OK. I get it. Any strong supporter of Israel; religious freedom; with a politically conservative leaning would deem his polices worthy of such praise. I even understand why they might want the President to feel that support and contribute to his re-election. But at the same time I sensed that this support was more than just a show. It was real. They LOVE this man. I believe that the enthusiasm of this group of about 400 Orthodox Jews is representative of the 80% that support him

However, his personal behavior; his rhetoric; his appeal to racists; his constant lying; the smearing of his enemies; and more…  is anathema to Jewish ethics. The idea of cheating on his wife and consorting with prostitutes and then paying them off to keep quiet tells us all we need to know about his values. I need not go on about his deplorable behavior, it is well documented and ongoing. I therefore find that kind of real enthusiasm somewhat perplexing. They seem to be completely blind to his flaws.

These mostly Charedim seemed elated - waiting for the President to address them. 

(It should also be noted that in Israel, it is not only Orthodox Jews that support him. As the President noted, if he were to run for Prime Minister he would probably win! That means even non Orthodox and center-left Israeli Jews would have to vote for him. And they probably would!)

The question is, how can a religious Jew see him that way? I know his polices on Israel and protecting religious right are deserving of that support. But what I see in this video is loving this man without any reservation. As though he could not do anything wrong. There seems to be a willful ignorance about the President’s obvious flaws. Flaws that in any other context would be condemned as un-Jewish… even used as an example of the kind of‘Goy’ that we should not emulate. I saw none of that. It is almost as though they were saying this is the kind of ‘Goy’ we should emulate! This does not go unnoticed by our children!

Of course they were not saying that. But neither have I ever seen anyone doing anything other than cheering this man. Just like his political base does. The same base that got him elected in 2016. I guess the vast majority of Orthodox Jews are part of that base. 

Just to be clear about my own view on this (which I have stated many times) I too appreciate his policies. Not only those that affect Jews and Israel directly but his economic policies. Which affect all Americans in a positive way. But at the same time one must recognize his flaws. This is not happening. To his political base which apparently includes 80% of Orthodox Jewry he has no flaws at all. And as an Orthodox Jew that concerns me.