Friday, January 19, 2018

Integration

Image from the Jerusalem Post
Integration is a good thing. But there are some on both sides of that issue that might oppose it - for fear of being contaminated by the other side. And there may even be a grain of truth in that fear.

I know what you are thinking. But stop thinking it. I am not in any way a racist. I’m not talking about that kind of integration. I am talking about Israel - and integrating Charedim into general society.

On the Charedi side the opposition is based on the belief the secular values that dominate Israeli culture (most of which they consider negative and even anti Torah) would rub off on Charedim if they were to intgerate. On the secular side the opposition is based on the fear that Charedim will somehow  end up imposing their way of life on them.

But the fact is that we can all learn from each other. We can all be good neighbors. Charedim will continue to live their lives in that manner in which they were raised as American Charedim that live in an integrated society do. There are a lot of neighborhoods that have both Charedim and secular Jews -and even non Jews living together. 

And secular Jews can continue to live their lives as they see fit. Good neighbor will respect each other and not force their own ways on their neighbors. Not only can we learn to live with each other, we can all learn ABOUT each other and end the stereotypical negative images so often portrayed in the media that caters to their own demographic.

The fact is that it is already happening. At least in the workplace.  Asaf Malchi , a researcher for the Ministry Labor and Social Affairs reports that there are a considerable number of Charedim entering the workforce. And getting the proper training for good jobs: 
In the previous academic year there were approximately 1,200 ultra-Orthodox students earning advanced degrees (graduate and above), and of about 10,000 ultra-Orthodox graduates, a considerable proportion have the academic training required for relevant fields in the civil service with degrees in law, business administration, medical professions and social sciences. 
A recent decision by the Israeli government gives ‘Affirmative Action’ status to Charedim that want to integrate more easily into civil service in various positions.  I am not a fan of Affirmative Action, because that tends to lower standards for reasons unrelated to qualification. But Malchi suggests that it is quite the opposite and that a lot will be gained by it: 
Without success stories, it will not be possible to recruit additional ultra-Orthodox candidates to this sector. Therefore, affirmative action for ultra-Orthodox integration in the civil service must be carried out fairly, by empowering and improving the ultra-Orthodox human capital through new policy in the education system, both schools and universities, and the military and appropriate conditions accepted by the Civil Service Commission. 
I agree with this goal. But I am not sure I agree with putting lesser qualified students ahead of more qualified students into these schools - if that is what is happening.

All in all, this is great news. But I do not believe it is enough. Because I believe there  are still many Charedim that are losing out because they lack the basic education needed to succeed in those schools and are unable to catch up.

The real answer to this situation is along the lines I have been advocating for quite some time. Requiring Charedi schools in Israel to offer a core curriculum of secular studies comparable to the Charedi schools in the US. In that way, Affirmative Action will not be necessary and admission to schools will once again be merit based rather than diversity based. At least in theory

I also have to wonder if those numbers reflect American Charedim that immigrated to Israel? If it does, that is not a n accurate reflection of how many Charedim in Israel with no secular studies background get advanced degrees. Because most American Charedim that make Aliyah had some sort of core curriculum that better enables them to seek such degrees. Although I will admit that 10,000 Charedi undergraduates is a pretty sizable number even if it does include some American Charedi Olim.

So while I am pleased to see more Charedim getting the education and jobs they need to support their families, it does not seem like nearly enough, considering the tens of thousands of them are not doing it.

For me the the goal should be a system that enables a lot more Charedim to get the education and training for those good jobs than is currently the case.  Because there are probably a lot of Charedim that are so ill-equipped in secular knowledge that they are unable to catch up. Until that changes, I’m afraid all of this affirmative action will produce only limited results.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Improper Use of the Torah to Support an Agenda

Far-fetched as it might seem, I believe that Satmar Poskim and the leaders of the far left wing of modern Orthodoxy have a lot in common.  At least as it pertains to how they use the Torah or Torah based sources to promote their agenda.

Rav Gershon Edelstein recently commented about the compassionate and accepting ways parents should treat children that have gone OTD (are no longer observant). How does that compare to a Halachic work on the subject written by a couple of highly respected Satmar Dayanim? Their views are in diametric opposition to Rav Edelstein’s views.

Rabbi Yair Hoffman has done a great job analyzing the flaws in their argument in a YWN article. Flaws that are based on a selective Psak by Rambam about Apikursim  (heretics) which they apply to children that have gone OTD. The Rambam says that Apikursim should be shunned by the community. And that any attempts at Teshuva on their part should not be believed and rejected. 

There is however a 2nd contradictory Psak by Rambam. There he says that not only do we accept their Teshuva, we seek it out! The Satmar Dayanim ignore that 2nd Rambam and base their views exclusively on the 1st one.

How the contradiction is resolved is dealt with by Rabbi Hoffman and is beyond the scope of this post. But it is worth noting that most commentators explain the 1st  Rambam as referring to a situation where it is clear that Teshuva will never be sincere - if done at all. Besides, even the first Rambam may not apply in any case. There are myriad reasons why some young people go OTD and not all of them are based on being a heretic.  

What I believe to be the case is that these Satmar Dayanim have an agenda. They want a particular outcome and use only those sources that facilitate it. Their goal is to keep their world a ‘pristine’ one - free of outside influences that would negatively affect their children. Clearly (to them) an OTD child that overtly violates all manner of Halacha is such an influence. And must be kept out!  Other children can ‘learn’ from them and end up OTD themselves! The OTD child must be excised from the community. Get rid of the ‘rotten apple’ before it spoils the whole ‘barrel’! What about welfare of the OTD child? They see it as a necessary sacrifice for the good of the whole.

This may be somewhat speculative on my part. But I believe that based on how isolated from the rest of the world they are for the above-mentioned reasons, it isn’t all that unreasonable to make this assumption.  Thankfully their views are their own and run counter to the vast majority of other Poskim and mental health experts that deal with this problem.

Which brings me to leaders on the far left wing of Orthodoxy. They do almost exactly the same thing. They quote from the Torah to show that their social justice agenda is based on the Torah.  But like those Satmar Dayanim they base their interpretations onthe outcome they want to see. This was dealt with very succinctly by Rabbi Jeffery K. Salkin in a Moment Magazine article.

Just to cite one example of many where he shows this to be the case, let us look at the oft quoted ‘Justice, Justice you shall pursue!’ (Devorim – 16:20). The far left sues that phrase to pursue all manner of social justice causes. They see an underdog being mistreated by society and want to help him.

But as Rabbi Salkin points out, the Torah has an entirely different intent for that phrase. It is used as a blueprint for a judicial system where justice is blind. Equal justice under the law. The Torah clearly demands a system where no one is favored. And specifically states that an underdog (the poor) not be favored. Pursuing social justice might bias one in favor of the underdog. But the Torah tells us that justice demands that everyone be judged on the merit of their case. Not on how disadvantaged they might be.  

The left ignores the Torah’s actual meaning and uses a phrase that not intended for the way they use it. A social justice agenda. 

The left use of the Torah is as outcome based  just like Satmar’s use of it. They both have agendas and use it to justify the outcome they seek.

This is not how one should approach the Torah. The right thing to do is to leave biases, prejudices and preconceived notions of right and wrong at the door. And to seek the truth without any agenda, no matter how noble that agenda might be.

This is why it is important to see things objectively without filtering them through the colored lens of a preconceived agenda. Something I try to do here.  

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Writing a Sefer Torah is Not Teshuva

Celebrating a Sefer Torah donated by a convicted sex offender (Forward)
The current popularity of writing a Sefer Torah and donating it to a Shul is something that has been troubling me for some time now. One may ask, why this Mitzvah is so troubling to me?  Well, it isn’t the Mitzvah per se that is so troubling, It is the fact that millions of dollars have been poured into this project. Jewish money that could have been used far more wisely.

If money grew on trees, I wouldn’t be so troubled. If charitable institutions weren’t so desperate for funds (just to stay alive in some cases)… especially our day schools, high schools and Yeshivos, I’d be fine with it. I would even be supportive of doing it if there was a shortage of Sifrei Torah in the Jewish world.

That was probably why this phenomenon started. There was a shortage. But surely there no longer is a shortage. And yet it seems like every Monday and Thursday we see another Torah dedication ceremony where someone spent well over $50,000 to have it written. They are often donated to Shuls that have plenty of Sefrei Torah of their own.

Imagine if all of this money went to our schools instead of yet another Sefer Torah?

But I am not here to talk about that. I just had to get it off my chest. I am here to talk about a specific Torah dedication that an individual from Chabad  organized. From the Times of Israel
An event...was held in Golders Green a fortnight ago honouring a Sefer Torah and its donor. Chabad news outlets describe “over 1,000 men, women and children” participating in a “joyous” event.  
Ordinarily I would have just shrugged this event off as just another Torah dedication. A Torah written with money that could have been put to better use. But this case was different, as Yehudis Goldsobel, the author of that article, notes: 
I was made aware of this when a journalist contacted me for my thoughts considering the scroll’s donor, a convicted sex offender, is the man who abused me. I read the article with the accompanying photos and felt the air knocked out of me. There, in the pictures, were prominent members of Chabad Lubavitch – the same Lubavitch that don’t want to include me. This is the community that shunned me. 
The event was attended by many of Chabad of the UK’s top rabbinic brass. As Yehudis also notes, there is no way they could have not known about what the donor was convicted of. It was well publicized. And yet they celebrated the Torah dedication and the fellow that donated the Torah as though he was some kind of hero for doing this! 

Now it is common to make a public display of donating a Sefer Torah. It is usually done with much fanfare. It includes a traveling band and a marching processional that accompanies that SeferTorah under a Chupa as various dignitaries are honored by giving them turns to carry it under that Chupa. The processional starts at the donor’s house and proceeds toward the Shul in which it will be housed. There’s lots of singing and dancing... lots of people from the wider religious community either participating or observing. Chabad is particularly concerned with such publicity seeing it as celebration that can also be used as an outreach tool.

This is what happened here. But that is not all that happened. Other organizations in the British Jewish community responded like this:
Rather than instant condemnation of this behaviour of Chabad Lubavitch UK, the Board of Deputies issued a statement about “remorse” and “genuine repentance” of offenders, closely followed by the Jewish Leadership Council using the moment to boast about its member organisations having “robust policies” in safeguarding.
Yes, repentance is important and ought not be sneered at. Everyone has a right – an obligation even – to do Teshuva.  But donating a Sefer Torah is not Teshuva. Even great remorse at having committed a sex crime is not Teshuva. Although that is certainly part of it, it is not nearly enough. 

Teshuva requires that a penitent first asks forgiveness from his victims. Without that, no matter how remorseful they may be the Teshuva is not accepted by God. You cannot ask forgiveness from God without first asking for forgiveness from the person you hurt. In this case it was obviously not done. The sex offender just skipped over that part as though spending money to write on a Sefer Torah was enough.

Surely these Jewish leaders in the UK know this. It is basic. Teshuva for violating sins between man and one’s fellow man requires the fellow man’s forgiveness first. They completely ignored that. And along with the donor’s victims. If anyone wants to know how victims of abuse feel – one can just tune in to the nightly news and watch victim impact statements currently taking place at the sentencing phase of serial sex abuser Larry Nasser’s trial 

Chabad of the UK seems to have been completely oblivious about what an event honoring a sex abuser must feel like to his victims. They did eventually condemn the event and the donor – and rejected his Safer Torah. But it was only after two weeks of media outrage and the strong condemnation by UK Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis.

Hopefully Chabad of the UK will have learned something from this experience. I hope it is this: Instead of talking about the importance of a sex abuser doing Teshuva and thereby restoring his reputation without him doing what is necessary, they will instead focus their attention on the victims, their rehabilitation, full acceptance back into their community, and eliminate once and for all the stigma of being survivors in the Frum world! When Chabad puts their minds to something - it gets done. Let's hope they put their minds to this.

As for that donor, if he really wants to do Teshuva,  I’m sure he knows what he must do first. One thing he has hopefully learned by the all of the negative attention he got from this is that self promotion via a Torah dedication is not it.

Post corrected and updated Wednesday 1/17/18 at 7:27 PM 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Oness Rachmana Patrei?

Ponevezh RoshYeshiva, R' Gershon Edelstein in his Bnei Brak home (VIN)
God absolves sin committed by force. (That is what the transliterated Hebrew title of this post means.) Is it true that when someone sins, they should be judged as though they were being forced to sin via various inclinations and desires…  and that they do not sufficiently understand what they are doing?

This rationale has been used by the far left in Orthodoxy to excuse gay sex committed by homosexuals. Which to the best of my knowledge has been completely denounced by all mainstream Orthodox Jewish leaders in both the Charedi and Centrist world.  I agree that this is a rationalization by the left because of a misguided sense of compassion for gay people. Who have a very high incidence of suicide.

And yet there may be some truth to this idea after all. Which can be found in the correct approach to children that have stopped being observant – the so called OTD phenomenon.

Please do not misunderstand. I want to make it absolutely clear that I still believe that the ‘Oness Rachmana Patrei’ argument is being misapplied by the left. Even if it is for reasons of human compassion. Interpreting it that way would for all practical purposes erase from the Torah a clearly stated Halacha. But still… read on.

How serious is the OTD problem? Dead serious. There have been more than a few incidences of suicide by OTD children that were contributed to - at least in part – by parental rejection.
Unfortunately the reaction by far too many parents to a child who has gone OTD is indeed rejection. Being thrown out of the house- and into the streets is not at all uncommon.  Especially in Charedi homes. Fortunately there are compassionate people in the Charedi world that have risen to the occasion. They are heroes.

Why are OTD  children from Charedi  homes more vulnerable to these circumstances? The answer should be obvious. When a child goes OTD there, it shows big time. Which makes it a huge embarrassment to the family. In Modern Orthodox homes it is a lot easier to keep secret.

The embarrassment to a Charedi family involves hurting the other children. Shiduchim are more difficult for them. If the community finds out a young person went OTD - the siblings will have a harder time getting married.

This kind of reaction may seem reasonable to some people. But to those of us that value human life and the dignity of man, it is completely unacceptable. What kind of parents value their families reputation at the expense of one of their children? Even when it makes their lives more difficult? I should think that any parent that sacrifices a child in that way is probably not worthy of being called a parent. Which might help explain why a child would go OTD in the first place.

What should a parent do with a child that goes OTD? Most experts on this phenomenon say that one must shower them with unconditional love and acceptance as a member of the family. But that often comes with a caveat. Which is that if the OTD child somehow disrupts the family peace with overt violations of Halacha and fails to comply with minimal rules designed to protect the other children, then it is permissible (perhaps even advisable) to throw them out of the home.

But that would be the wrong decision. Even if a rebellious OTD teenage son were to bring a girl into the house for illicit purposes, they should not reprimand him and certainly not throw them out.  God forbid! They should instead shower him with warmth and kindness.

I wish I could  say these are my own original thoughts. Although I am in complete agreement with them, I don’t think I would have gone so far. At least not on that last example. But the above advice is not mine. It is the advice of a ‘progressive’ Rav by the name of Gershon Edelstein.

Some in the Charedi world might be familiar with that name. It belongs to a man that many Charedim in Israel feel is the heir to the ‘throne’ formerly occupied by Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, ZTL.  R’ Aharon Leib  was considered the Gadol HaDor by most mainstream (non Chasidic) Charedim in Israel. R’ Edelstein is the Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh. And it doesn’t surprise me that a man that so many people feel is the Gadol haDor has so much compassion for a fellow Jew – even one that has gone so far away from the path in which he was raised. A man like that deserves the title. And his advice should be heeded.

Why does R’ Edelstein feel this way? From VIN
During (an) interview, Rabbi Edelstein said that the basic attitude to children who become non-religious should be that they are being “forced” to sin by various inclinations and desires, and that they do not sufficiently understand what they are doing.  
Although the questions put to the rabbi were frequently rather leading, Rabbi Edelstein nevertheless insisted throughout that only a non-confrontational attitude of “friendship” by the parents would have any affect in preventing him or her from being further distanced from Judaism and the family. 
“It is forbidden to shout at them, it’s like putting a stumbling block before the blind,” says the rabbi, meaning that by reprimanding them such children would be likely to further distance themselves from religion, and said that pressure on them “damages and hurts them.” 
Asked whether or not parents should insist that a boy wear a yarmulke or a girl dress modestly, Rabbi Edelstein responded “God forbid” saying that doing so would only distance them. 
Not much to add other than ‘Amen’!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Is The President Really a Racist?

Senator Dick Durbin and President Trump 
There appears to be some controversy about whether the President actually uttered the words attributed to him last week. Words the media were quick to jump on. Myself included. If the report by Democratic Senator Dick Durbin is true, then I stand by my assessment. His words about immigration to the US by people from underdeveloped nations were racist.

If, on the other hand one believes some of the Republican senators who attended the same meeting, then he apparently did not say anything like those words – and did not even use the profanity Senator Durbin said he did.

There was one Republican senator at that meeting who seemed to indicate that the President did say something inappropriate. He did not say exactly what it was other than the fact that he protested it at the time. 

There is no way of knowing what was actually said. Or what was meant by it. For his part, the President denies he said it - although he admitted he did have some very harsh words on the subject immigration policy.

Who should we believe? The reports issued by partisan politicians need to be taken in the spirit of who gave them. To say that one politician is more credible than another is in and of itself partisan. I’m not even saying that anyone lied. Sometimes people hear what they want to hear… or interpret things they hear from their own biased perspective.

What is true however is that whatever the President said, no one walked out of that meeting suddenly in righteous protest. A remark like that should have caused them all go walk out in unison! Even the senior senator from Illinois (Durbin) continued to stay at the meeting after he heard the alleged statement. That he seemed so righteously indignant about belies the fact that he waited 24 hour to tell us about it.

The truth is that I never saw the President as a racist until this event. It actually surprised me. He has no history of racism at all. Reports about some of his real estate holdings in the past having had racially restrictive polices notwithstanding.  Unfortunately restrictive covenants were quite common back in those days in certain hotels… many of them restricting Jews too. And yet I’m pretty sure that the President is not an antisemite. That he may have looked the other way and not done anything about it is a black mark on his record. But not unusual in those days and it doesn’t necessarily make him a racist today. That he has made comments last year that appeared racist is just a function of his inarticulate ways. As I discussed at the time.

After reflecting on this a bit over the weekend, I have backed off on my view that his comment was necessarily racist. I am no longer sure it was. If one looks at the context of the discussion when the alleged comment was made, one can reconstruct what might have really happened in the Oval Office that day. The discussion was about US policy on immigration.

The current policy is called the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. Better known as‘the Lottery Program’. Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1990 which makes available 50,000 visas annually to be issued by the State Department.  It’s purpose was to increase diversity among our population by selecting people from formerly low immigrant countries. About 20 million apply for the lottery each year.

What the President and many politicians have tried to do is end this policy. And replace it with a merit based policy similar to that of Canada. Which looks at things like education and skills. In other words it looks at how much an applicant can contribute. The current policy ignores merit. 

I completely understand why a Canadian type system would be preferable. The more an immigrant can contribute to society, the more we should prefer them. A merit based system does that.

This does not mean that we should disallow unskilled or uneducated laborers into the country. Of course we should. They are the ones doing the unskilled labor that needs to be done  but few Americans are  willing to do. Keeping the process random skews immigration in favor of those with the least to contribute.

If a country has a low ratio of ‘merit’ applicants and another a high ratio, it is understandable for a government to choose more people from countries with the higher ratio. Looking at all the commentary over the past few days, I think this is as plausible explanation of what he said - as it is to say what he said was racist. If that was the context, then the desire to change the current lottery program into a merit based program similar to Canada’s is not racist at all. It would not have anything to do with the color of one’s skin.

Once can debate the merits of changing the policy, but if this is a description of what was actually discussed then saying he is a racist based on it is incorrect. Unless you are a Trump hater. Then it’s axiomatic that he is.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Principles Behind the Controversy Over the Wall

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kotel (Jerusalem Post)
The debate has not gone away.  From an editorial in the Jerusalem Post
After passing a resolution to establish a third prayer plaza at the Kotel for egalitarian prayer, including an upgrading of the entire site, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet retracted the decision in June, setting off an unprecedented crisis with the Diaspora. 
They blame this crisis on a power hungry Prime Minster that puts his own needs ahead of the country’s. Needing the Charedi powers to remain in his coalition, he caved to their demands to retract the Knesset decision under threat of their bolting his governing coalition. Thus throwing Israel into new elections. Elections that the polls show he would lose.

This my be true. But it is unfair to characterize the debate as one of caving to special interests at the expense to the nation by means of alienating Diaspora Jewry. Unfair - that is - unless one does not care about the Jewish character of the nation. At its heart that is what the debate is really about. If one is Orthodox, then one believes that the Jewish character of the state is directly related observance of Halacha as stated in the Torah and interpreted by the sages.  Still, even with this in mind sometimes certain compromises can be made in the name of Shalom (peace).

Which brings me back to the compromise. Yes, Israel ought to be true to the compromise the Keneset agreed  upon as understood at the time. It was voted upon by the Knesset with the abstention of the Charedi parties in the very attempt to preserve Shalom. 

But it has become abundantly clear that the compromise was not what it seemed to be. That was stated with clarity by a leader of  the Conservative Movement.. The Kotel issue was just  means to their real end which was establishing pluralism in Israel - with each denomination having equal legitimacy. 

I can’t blame the Conservative and  Reform Movements for their quest. Nor for being so upset by the Prime Minister’s decision to reverse the decision. But I can also understand why Orthodox Jews refuse to grant them that and oppose any attempt to do do it. For Orthodoxy it is a matter of religious principle - just as much as egalitarianism is a religious principle for Heterodoxy. 

While the Charedi parties opposed the idea of giving any part of the Kotel for egalitarian purposes, they recognized that this was not the hill worth dying on. They wanted to avoid the obvious religious war that would result. Which is why they abstained when the Knesset voted to expand and upgrade the existing egalitarian space. But when details became clear they protested it. Because the way the deal was structured it gave heterodox movements legitimacy by partnering them with Orthodoxy over over Kotel access. 

Obviously this is not acceptable to Orthodoxy. Because not only does that mean the government will be granting legitimacy - Orthodoxy itself will!

And yet it every editorial that deals with this issue frames it as simple a refusal by Orthodoxy to allow an egalitarian space and a capitulation to that by the Prime Minister for political gain.

Yes, the Jerusalem Post is right about this issue alienating much of Diaspora Jewry. The question is why is this the case? The answer is not as obvious as this and other editorials would lead one to believe. 

I would be willing to bet that the majority of the 90% of American Jewry that is not Orthodox doesn’t even know about this issue. Or care that much about it that much as a personal issue if they do. It is  likely that most of them will never visit Israel, let alone the egalitarian space at the Kotel. Those who have in the past went to the traditional space without protest - respecting the Orthodox tradition established there. However, when asked about it as an issue and presented as a denial of egalitarian rights, they indeed see it no other way. They are going to side with the heterodox argument. 

The ones really screaming about this, though, is the heterodox leadership. They are near apoplectic in the anger they express.  The secular Jewish media is more than happy to give them a platform to show their anger and present their views as the only justifiable ones. As did the Jerusalem Post editorial.

I understand their anger. It isn’t easy realizing just how much in danger of extinction your movement is in. They see Israel as a new frontier with a natural constituency among the majority of Israelis that are not Orthodox but traditional. Heterodoxy has been around a long time. Long before the State of Israel was created. Yes, they currently have a presence there. One which is probably a lot more vibrant than than their American counterparts. They have always wanted recognition. But never anywhere near with the fervor they have now.

That said, I agree with one thing they say. Without these movements, there would have been a lot more Jews assimilating out of Judaism. These movements have in the past helped their members to retain a Jewish identity. At least culturally. But I don’t think that is working anymore. The current generation of secular Jews are increasingly rejecting the need to be Jewish at all.

If these movements suddenly disappeared - it probably would accelerate their exit even more rapidly than their already accelerated exit from Judaism.  So there is a downside. Or at least there was. I’m not sure if it matters any more to the current generation.

This is not to say that the Prime Minister has reneged on the deal based on principle. I agree that for him it is probably about retaining power and pandering to the religious parties. But that does  not diminish the principle behind it. I only wish editorials like the one on the Jerusalem Post would reflect those principles too instead of always presenting one side.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Af Al Pi Kein... (Nevertheless...)

The President of the United States
I can’t. I just can’t! He has gone too far. What he said yesterday sickens me. I cannot support our President no matter how pro Israel he has been; no matter how accommodating to the Orthodox Jewish community he has been.  

The things he has done for us no President before him has done. Just to name a few of the more obvious ones: his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; the commutation of Rubashkin’s sentence to time served; his choice of a very pro Israel US ambassador to Israel - who is an Orthodox Jew; and the appointment of a superb UN representative  whose eloquence on behalf of Israel has never been articulated as forcefully as it is now.

Then there is the fact that his daughter and son in law are observant Jews (if not fully Orthodox); his grandchildren are Jewish, and one of his top advisers on Israel is a pro Israel Orthodox Jew.

And then there are other things he has done not specifically targeted toward us. Which have nonetheless benefited us. Among those other things - his tax cuts will put more money in our pockets (at least for those of us living outside of high tax states like New York and California); his pro business approach to the economy has spiked an unprecedented bull market on the various stock exchanges. Which has substantially increased the value of retirement accounts (like 401Ks or IRAs) invested in them. 

Yes, these are all good things. For which we should all be grateful. Nevertheless, this man should resign. He should not be the President of the United States.  

This was obvious to me before the election. It should have been obvious to anyone with any sense of dignity. And even more obvious now. What he said about immigration from countries that are populated mostly by poor black people can only be said by a man who is racist at his core. I am not going to repeat his racist condescending vulgarities. Anyone even slightly following the news already knows what he said. For those who don’t - a quick Google search will get you there in a hurry. (Not that any refined individual would want to go there.)

There is no explaining it away. Trying to do so will only reinforce the obvious. Saying that he meant that he prefers educated immigrants from more developed countries over uneducated ones from underdeveloped countries is just a more polite way of saying the same thing. But he didn’t bother being polite. His diarrhea of the brain prevents  him from thinking before he speaks. The man who calls himself a genius is anything but!

It’s a good thing that this great country is so strong. Because that means that we can survive this man. The country will continue to flourish. And most of the rest of the world who is so disgusted with him will just wait it out. Although that wait might just last another 7 years.

One might ask, how on earth can a man who is so obviously unqualified – even after being given a chance to rise to the occasion once in office – and failing - be re-elected? That question was almost as legitimate before he was elected. No one expected he would win the Republican nomination, let alone the Presidency, least of all the President himself. He showed us who he was well before November of 2016. Believing he might change once in office was just wishful thinking. He won despite his obvious flaws, lack of any experience in public service, or any real qualification for office. With 80% of Orthodox Jewry having voted for him!

Why? How could such a man win? The short answer is that it was the will of God. For reasons known only to Him, he wanted this egotistic, narcissistic, immoral, infantile, vulgar man to become the leader of the free world. The President won the election against all odds. Now that the odds against his re-election are greater, it won’t matter. I have a feeling he will be re-elected despite his historically low public approval ratings.

I hope I’m wrong. I don’t want to see another 7 years of this embarrassment of a human being leading this country. But at the same time, I also hope that the very pro Israel administration that is also friendly to so many Orthodox Jewish values continues. I fear that his Democratic opponent in the next election will not be as friendly; reverse some of his pro Israel decisions; and replace his pro Israel foreign policy staff with a more ‘even handed’ one.

Which is why I am hoping for an impeachment – and removal from office. Or a possible resignation from office. Because his replacement, the Vice President, will be just as pro Israel and friendly to many Orthodox Jewish values as the current President is, if not more so. And he will restore the honor and dignity to the Oval Office that the current occupant has sledge-hammered out of existence.

I am hoping for it. But I don’ see it happening. Because I believe the President has not done anything impeachable. And all of these investigations will end with a giant thud.  Besides - as I said, if it’s God’s will that he remain in office, he will.

But one can hope. And pray.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Tolerance Yes – Celebration No

Dr. Saundra Epstein, director of the Welcoming Shuls Project. (NJJN)
Update
My apologies to Rabbi Geretz for misleading readers about his actual view with respect to Miskhav Zechor. The implication in the post as originally written was that he permitted it. I have had communications with him  about this. He is clear about it being completely forbidden.  I am truly sorry for this error and any anguish I caused him. The post has been corrected to eliminate any such implication. - HM

Rabbi Daniel Geretz is one of a handful of YCT (Yeshivat ChoveveiTorah) ordainees whose compassion for every human being has translated into questionable religious tactics. I have had a few e-mail exchanges with him and am 100% convinced of his sincere intentions and the belief that such tactics are in line with the will of God. This seems to be a common characteristic of YCT graduates. They place human dignity on a very high level. Which is indeed the will of God.

But there are instances where specific attempts at human dignity are clearly not in that spirit. How, one may ask, is that possible that treating a fellow human being with dignity is not in the spirit of what we know of God’s will? The answer is when God clearly expresses that the common behavior of an individual violates His word. 

Honoring a loving relationship where that love is often expressed by behavior that is clearly forbidden by God as recorded in the bible is an obvious case like that. Rabbi Geretz’s misplaced compassion appears to override that. An article in the New Jersey Jewish News quotes him saying the following: 
“I can’t wrap my head around a refusal to wish a mazal tov to a gay or lesbian couple following a same-sex commitment ceremony.” He feels saddened when Jews who self-identify as Orthodox can’t find an Orthodox synagogue where they feel comfortable.  
Compassion does not mean celebrating a forbidden relationship.  But that is precisely what the LGBT community is asking for. And Rabbi Geretz in a sincere attempt to show human dignity to a homosexual couple by celebrating their union is clearly wrong.

This of course does not mean we ostracize gay or transgender people. But neither does it mean we celebrate a situation that invites opportunities to commit serious violation of Halacha. If you are a Jew, believe in God, and that His will is recorded in the Torah - you cannot have it both ways. There has to be a limit to what can and cannot be celebrated in a Torah oriented community. If a union between 2 people is forbidden it is the height of absurdity to publicly congratulate people who are involved in it.

Rabbi Geretz is not the first or only one to do this. It was done not long ago in the Shul of YCT founder Rabbi Avi Weiss. In a published announcement they celebrated the engagement of a homosexual couple right along with the engagement of heterosexual couples. (They have since removed that announcement and promised not to do it again after being admonished by the OU).

Rabbi Geretz remains undeterred. As does all the of the other synagogues that are participating in a new LGBT initiative for its Orthodox members. It’s called The Welcoming Shuls Project (WSP). This is a program that seeks gay friendly Shuls that are welcoming to gay people and their families.

According to the article there are 103 Orthodox Shuls across the country that have signed on to the program. However, it appears that most of them do so surreptitiously - fearing repercussion from mainstream Orthodox institutions such as the OU.

I believe they are right to fear repercussions. Because it is obvious from this article that WSP is more than about welcoming gay people into their shuls. It is about celebrating them.

I have said many times in the past that we are obligated to treat every human being with dignity, regardless of who they are attracted to. If an individual has a same sex attraction, it is their business. As long as people don’t make their sexuality a public issue, they ought to be welcomed unto a Shul. But if they do make it public - that ought not be celebrated. 

Because celebrating it is in essence celebrating a sinful relationship. I think that is the goal of programs like WSP mirrors the goal of the LGBT community. They do not seek only compassion and understanding. They do not only acceptance. They seek to normalize forbidden homosexual sex making it equivalent to permitted heterosexual sex. In a world that does not place much value on biblical teachings, that makes sense. Why, after all, would anyone see a problem in any kind of consensual sex between 2 consenting adults?

If, however, one does value biblical teachings as God’s will - then one has to consider that to be the primary consideration, regardless of the compassion and understanding one might feel about it otherwise.

This is where many well intended left wing rabbis fail. Their compassion is so overwhelming that they are nearly blinded to biblical injunction. When confronted with it some have tried to interpret that injunction out of existence with extreme rationalizations about what the Torah actually means – turning that injunction on its head and - in practical terms - permitting the forbidden.  All in the name of a misplaced expression of human dignity.

I therefore continue to protest this new push to celebrate gay unions. Even as I understand the good intentions behind it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Rewarding Murderers Cannot Buy Peace

IDF roadblock in the Nablus (Shechem) area  (Jerusalem Post)
I am not a fan of Israeli settlements. At least not those that are deep into the West Bank. Which are primarily settled for purposes of asserting Jewish rights to all of Eretz Yisroel. I am in fact opposed to them. Not because I don’t believe we have that right. We do. As an Orthodox Jew I believe we have that as a God given right.  I am opposed because of the danger to our people living there.

Palestinians believe that what we call Eretz Yisroel is all theirs. And that the European Jews came there to snatch that land from them for their own colonialist purposes. They deny our religious claims to the land and counter them with religious claims of their own.

Our secondary claim that Israel serves as a home for Holocaust survivors is countered by them - saying that Holocaust was not their fault. It was not of their doing. It was Europe’s fault. Why should they suffer the consequences of housing so many Jewish survivors?

One of the most pro settler Gedolim of the 20th century, Rav Ahron Soloveichik put it this way: ‘If not for the Torah the Arabs would be right’. Those were his exact words.

Who is right? It depends who you ask. I believe it was Zionist pioneer and Israel’s first President, Chaim Weizmann who said something like, ‘The Arab-Israeli conflict is between right versus right’. 

What is the solution to this conflict? If I knew the answer to that I would deserve not only the Nobel Peace Prize, I would probably be the most deserving recipient of it ever!

The question is what do we do with what we have? How can we achieve a peaceful co-existence with an implacable Palestinian leadership? It is now over 70 years after the State of Israel’s creation and over 100 years since the Balfour Declaration. 

There are 6 million Jews living in Israel. It is the the most powerful nation in the region. It has nuclear weapons. It has one of the most stable economies in the world. It has contributed a great many Nobel Prize winners to the world in a variety of fields. It has contributed greatly to the advancement of science and medicine. It is the only democracy in the Middle East. Time tested! And it preserves and protects the rights of all its religious minorities. Israeli Arabs can even run for the Kenesset - and do. There are 18 Arabs serving in that capacity right now! 

Palestinians on the West Bank do not have much of any of that. They blame it all on Israel’s occupation. But the truth is that could have the freedom to achieve as much as Israel does if they would just be willing to make peace. No one would stop them from achieving it. In fact I am 100% convinced that Israel would even help them. Common sense dictates that when you have two peoples claiming rights to the land, the only solution is to compromise and agree to live together.  

Israel was more than willing to compromise. They were ready to give Palestinians almost every single thing they asked for in July of 2000 during the tenure of Ehud Barak. Including East Jerusalem. They turned Israel down and instead increased their violence toward them.

In August of 2005 under the tenure of the late Ariel Sharon, Palestinians were given Gaza unilaterally as a gesture and possible first step towards an ultimate peace treaty. They have answered that with a continuous flow of indiscriminate rocket attacks funded at the expense of their own people.

Terrorist attacks were a common occurrence in Israel - often perpetrated by Palestinians. They would blow themselves up in a crowd of innocent Jews. On public buses or in crowded restaurants. That forced Israel to build a wall on the West Bank border so that terrorists could no longer sneak through so easily. Although sometimes they did and perpetrated mass murders - the frequency of that has decreased considerably.

Even if one might agree that Palestinians have a legitimate claim to the land, I believe it is obvious that it is they who are mostly responsible for the lack of any serious negotiation between the two sides.

And yet the entire world sees only the Palestinian side of the issue. Which is reflected in the one sided condemnations of Israel in the UN. Thankfully the most powerful nation in the world now has an administration that sees things as they are. Not as the Palestinians narrative would have you believe. I don’t thank anyone denies that Palestinians have legitimate claims. Nor that their people suffer. The question is why do they suffer? And why can there be no peace?

I think US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman said it best
An Israeli father of six was killed last night in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists. Hamas praises the killers and PA laws will provide them financial rewards. Look no further to why there is no peace.
This was in response to the latest terrorist attack on the West Bank. In a drive by shooting 20 bullets were pumped into Rabbi Raziel Shevach, a father of six while he was driving near the settlement outpost of Havat Gilad.

Yes, it is dangerous it is to be driving in the West Bank.  Which as I said - is why I am opposed to having settlements there. But there is absolutely no justification at all for this kind of terror. It was a brutal act of murder by an individual that is indoctrinated to hate us. An individual that sees every Jew as though he were a Nazi.

This is the real problem. It is clear as the sun that Palestinians consider this murderer to be a hero. As they do all others like him. There is no condemnation. Only praise as ‘martyrs’!

Well… not only. They also reward their families with financial stipends of support after one of them ‘martyrs’ him or herself. They may occasionally pay public lip-service condemnation to such brutal attacks. But actions speak louder than words. 

There are those who will try and counterclaim that there are instances of Israeli terrorism against Palestinians too. Showing that Israelis are no better than Palestinians when it comes to terrorism.

Aside from the vastly greater number of terrorist attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, versus terrorist attacks by Israelis against Palestinians - there is the fact that Israel does not reward Israeli terrorists or their families. They condemn the terrorists. And they prosecute them when they are caught. In fact some of them have committed acts of terror against their own government.

And Palestinians have the gall to say that the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has killed the peace process?! And the gall to ignore rewarding terror as though it has nothing to do with it?! This isn’t Hamas doing it. It is the so called moderate Palestinian Authority!

I am so sick of their perspective being so embraced by the nations of the world. So much so that they condemned recognizing Jerusalem as harmful to the peace process while completely ignoring the terrorist elephant (and his admirers) in the room. Thank God we now have an administration that sees the truth and has appointed people to make sure the truth is spoken loudly and clearly to the world. It’s just too bad that the world is too deaf to it.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

An Ideology of Extremism and its Consequences

Street scene in Ramat Bet Shemesh - Bet (Jerusalem Post)
To absolutely no one’s surprise - least of all mine - an Israeli soldier was attacked by an extremist living in Ramat Bet Shemesh (Bet). One may recall that ‘Bet’ is populated in large measure by the more extreme type of Charedim that one finds in Meah Shearim. Many of its residents are originally from there.

In this case an IDF soldier was driving his car through their main thoroughfare. One of their residents pelted it with rocks, one of which went through the windshield causing him to lose control and crash into a pillar. He was taken to the hospital and thankfully sustained only minor injuries.

I am beyond condemning this act – which of course I still do. I am even beyond blaming the ideological education of the person that committed it. Which of course I also still do. This has not changed. 

Obviously the ultimate blame is on the rock thrower himself - personal responsibility always taking top billing.  But there is no  getting away from the fact that the extremists that attack Israeli soldiers  do so because of the hatred instilled in them against the State and its institutions. Of which the army is one of the most prominent. An attitude of hate can easily translate into seeing every soldier as the enemy. And just because most of  Bet’s extremists wouldn’t throw rocks at anyone, doesn’t mean that a there aren’t some that would – based on the same hatred they all have.

As I have said many times, people that commit crimes like this need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I’m glad to see that Bet Shemesh Mayor Abutbul (who is Charedi and presides over all of Bet Shemesh and its suburbs) has condemned this act. From the Jerusalem Post, here are his words: 
For those extremists to get out and leave the city,” adding that they were not conducive for unity in the city.
“I condemn this [incident] in the name of the law and in the name of Jewish law,” said Abutbul, and called on the police to find and punish the perpetrators. 
But the repeated condemnations are not enough. It keeps happening. We can say all day long that the people that commit these kinds of crimes are hoodlums no different than the hoodlums that exists in the slums of New York and Chicago. Having long Peyos and wearing the traditional garb specific to the Chasidic world makes them no less hoodlums than an inner city gang member. It is only a matter of degree. That is how they should be seen. But it doesn’t make any difference.

One cannot overlook the targets of their aggression and why they choose those targets. This is what is missing in all of the condemnations. Urging that community to rid themselves of this element is like talking to the wall. As is urging them to support law enforcement and hand the perpetrator over to the police. They will not do it!  

Why won’t they? I suspect that they are of a mind to say something like… ‘OK. What he did was wrong.’ ‘But his heart is in the right place.’ ‘We need to protect him from the authorities and teach him not to express his justifiable animosity towards the government in violent ways.’ ‘Handing over to the authorities who are like Nazis - is clearly wrong.’ ‘It is Mesirah of the highest order!’

I’m glad Mayor Abutbul doesn’t think that way. His views are more mainstream. But all of his condemnations aren’t worth a dime. Not that they aren’t sincere. I believe they are. But he is wasting his breath. There are a lot more where that rock thrower came from.

There have also been protests by non Charedi activists about this kind of thing in the past. As there was once again here. That clearly hasn’t worked either.

What needs to be understood is that it isn’t the behavior of a few delinquent Jews that is the source of the problem. It is the ideology. That is the real problem. Until that is properly dealt with, this kind of thing will surely happen again. And again!

Normally I would not think it justified to fight an ideology. People are entitled to believe what they wish. But when that ideology produces violent anti social behavior, it must be fought – if that is the only way to curb it. In this case, I think it is.

How do you fight an ideology? I don’t think you can with any degree of success. The ideology of the extremists in Bet is one that is so entrenched that it would be impossible to change it. It is an ideology that predates the state itself. Telling them they are wrong and using every tool in the book to show them why - will be like talking to the wall. But something has to be done. And it needs to be done by the Charedim now in charge of city government in Bet Shemesh.

Speaking out is not enough. They have to ‘hit’ them in their ideological anti state ‘belly’.

For example, Israeli flags should be placed throughout all public areas in Bet with security cameras facing them. So that anyone desecrating a flag will be caught, quickly indentified, prosecuted to the maximum extant of the law.

The city of Bet Shemesh should hold public events and rallies in support of the army and the State  – right in the heart of Bet. They should schedule a rally there with Israeli flags, representatives from the military and the government with public speakers (preferably Kipa wearing ones)  extolling the army and expressing gratitude to the army and the state for providing them protection and the services that make living in Israel a civilized and pleasant experience.

There should be a massive police presence there (a show of force, if you will) to disabuse anyone of the notion that they can disrupt it. The national anthem should be sung by a kipa wearing Israeli – preferably a Charedi singer.

These events should be held often and the participants should be mostly Charedi. The crowds attending should be overwhelming and as Charedi as possible. …  all cheering and showing support for the army and the state.

This will not change their minds. But it will show them just how tiny the number of people with their ideology is.   And who knows…. it might make enough of an impression on them to do more to prevent these kinds of attack in the future.