Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Pain, Love, and Belief

Dan Ryenolds of Imagine Dragons (Jewish Journal)
Does pain make one a believer? That is the question explored by a popular song called ‘Believer’ by Imagine Dragons. (A song which I happen to love - but that is beside the point.)

In a  Jewish Journal article, Rabbi Eli Fink  spoke about  lead singer Dan Reynolds conflict between his views on LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Transgender) issues - and those of his Mormon Church. 

Although not being a homosexual himself Reynolds says that he has come to understand the pain LGBT Mormons feel  about their (and his) church’s rejection of them. However, Reynolds also loves his church and wants to change their attitude about this issue because the pain of ‘rejection, hate, and disgust’ felt by these otherwise devout Mormons. Pain that has caused an epidemic of suicide which many of them see as the only way out.

Rabbi Fink draws a parallel to modern Orthodox Jews whose values and lifestyle are very similar to those of their Mormon counterparts.  Many modern Orthodox Jews struggle with their sense of compassion for LGBT people and the forbidden nature of their circumstances based on their religious beliefs. Rabbi Fink admits that he too struggles with them.

After listening a bit more carefully to the song, I thought about its message. 

Can pain be a motivator towards observance? Can one be ‘beaten’ into belief and obedience? And is that worth anything? Pain might force someone to comply in the moment. But it will in the end do the opposite. Forcing adherence to a code of behavior through the implementation of pain will do the opposite once that pain is no longer there. 

Once someone leaves the environment of pain, they will run in the opposite direction of the source of that pain. So that if one is taught that the reason for their pain (whether physical or mental) is the Torah, they will almost surely run as far away as they can from anything to do with the Torah. The evidence for that is clear in the many cases of people that have gone OTD as a result of dysfunctional families or having suffered abuse. Whether it was physical, mental, or sexual.

In the case of being a homosexual, the emotional pain they might feel once they ‘come out of the closet’ and being rejected by their religious community could easily make them run away from their religion.

There is also pain as a matter of fear about what happens to your soul after death when your life gets judged and ‘pays for its sins’.  There is no getting around that. If you believe in the hereafter you believe that you will be judged on whether or not you were a faithful servant of God and followed His laws.

But should that be used as a motivator? Aside from acknowledging that Divine punishment in the hereafter is indeed part of our theology, using that as a motivator is just another way to inflict pain. Which is what those that have a same sex attraction feel by the rejection that often results when they ‘come out’.

As I have said many times, we are not now in any position to judge how others feel or act in the privacy of their own homes. That is between them and God. It is our duty however to treat every individual the way God intends us to. With, the love, dignity, and compassion for their struggles. They should be treated no differently than anyone else who might be acting any sinful way in private. All human beings are created in God’s image. We are required to treat them that way. This is something I have repeatedly advocated.

At the same time compassion only goes so far. It does not extend to condoning a lifestyle that is conducive to sin. It’s one thing to have compassion for those that have feelings like that. And to even have compassion to those that might act on those feelings in sinful ways. 

What we cannot do is celebrate it as an alternative lifestyle. Which is why for example I am opposed to gay marriage and believe the current government policy endorsing it is wrong. A document that legalizes a lifestyle conducive to sin  is a document that says there is nothing wrong with it and everything right with it. That one may take pride in living a sinful life and even celebrate it if they choose.

That’s where compassion ends and endorsing sin begins. And that is the crux of what’s wrong with current societal attitudes about being LGBT. It isn’t about live and let live. It’s about saying there is absolutely nothing wrong with behavior that the bible clearly says is sinful. Go right ahead and we’ll cheer you on! Which turns the bible into an archaic document that is counter to our modern sensitives.Which are based on solid scientific research. The bible’s views are therefore wrong,  irrelevant, and should be ignored. As should any other biblical dictates that our modern sensibilities don't agree with.

That makes a mockery of the Torah’s eternal truths and it implies that anyone believing in the Torah is an ignorant bigot. Which is of course the furthest thing from the truth.

There is a way to honor the Torah and the dignity of LGBT people. The key - as I have always said - is to love the sinner but to hate the sin – which of course means that one must have love and compassion  for those whose inclinations might nevertheless be conducive to sin and to avoid inflicting any pain on them -whether it be physical or emotional. I don't know if this was Dan Reynolds’ message. But it sure is mine.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Image Does Matter

Rabbi Yisroel Meyer Kagan - the Chofetz Chaim
Image or substance… which is more Important? The answer most thinking people would give is substance. At least it should be. As our sages tell us, ‘Do not look at the jug but look at what is inside of it. (Avos 4:20). Or as the popular saying goes, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’.

The wisdom of this should be apparent to all. And yet the one segment of Orthodoxy that seems to place more emphasis on image than any other segment is the Charedi world. Over the last 50 or so years Charedim have increasingly insisted on looking a certain way. One which clearly identifies who they are, what they believe, and how they live their lives. 

This is certainly true in the Chasdic world. But it is equally true in the Yeshiva world. The black hat, black pants, and white shirt have become the uniform of the Yeshiva world. I can’t even imagine a student – let alone a Rosh Yeshiva wearing a cap instead of a black hat. 

To the best of my knowledge the last Rosh Yeshiva to wear a cap did so in pre Holocaust Europe… a relatively minor fellow by the name of Yirsoel Meyer Kagan better known as the Chofetz Chaim! The Kipa of choice is now the velvet one. That is what they wear when not wearing a black hat. No card carrying Charedi would dare wear a suede or crocheted Kipa. Nor would they wear anything but a white shirt and black pants.

Those who wear the ‘uniform’ are considered Bnei Torah. no matter how strong or lax their observance might be.  Those that don’t are Chutz L’Machaneh… outside the camp (of Bnei Torah). Even those that are Orthodox. If they dress any other way than I described they are considered either ignoramuses, or ‘Krum’. Meaning that their Jewish values are distorted. No matter the level of observance or Torah knowledge.

It appears that the above advice of our sages has come to be ignored. If the Chofetz Chaim walked into a Yeshiva Beis HaMedrash wearing a cap today, he would be seen as odd. 

This is not to say that Charedim are bad people, God forbid. Most of them are good fearing sincere Jews of the highest order. that in many ways the rest of us should emulate. It’s just to say that it seems like they have elevated style almost over substance. Which what our sages warn against. 

This is not the way it was when I was in high school back in the 60s. Even when I was in Telshe. There were no uniforms then. Baseball caps and colored shirts were the norm back then. 

Why this has happened is beyond the scope of this post. I mention it in a context that might seem odd… that of the current President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. And the fact that the majority of the Charedi world (I’ve seen estimates as high as 80%!) voted for and supports a man whose image and style is anathema to their values.

The response most of them might give is that they do not support who he is. They support what he has done – and continues to do for those very values. I have in fact pretty much said the same thing. It isn’t only Charedim that feel that way. Most Orthodox Jews (who run politically conservative) do too. (Although there is a sizable minority of Orthodox Jews that are liberal and can’t stand him or his polices.)

Yes, I do support most of Trump’s polices - both foreign and domestic. I could not for example be happier with his policies on Israel and Iran (so far). Nor could I be happier about his tax policies and deregulation - which has stimulated an already healthy economy into almost unprecedented territory in certain respects (e.g the lowest unemployment rate in decades  - even in the black community).

And yet I cringe every day at how this man behaves and the constant embarrassing news that seems to come out daily about him. As it did again yesterday when a former black employee revealed that she heard a recording of Trump using the 'N' word. Something you would suspect only a racist would do. 

It is true that substance matters a lot more than style. But as Charedim clearly tell you (if not in words – certainly in deeds) style does matter. The way a person talks and behaves tells you about his character. When that person is the leader of the free world; the leader of the most powerful nation in in history - he ought to behave like a Mentch. And while Trump has been known to have been involved in many acts of kindness in his life, his daily behavior continues to be an embarrassment. Which makes me cringe. 

The influence this has on the public discourse has been horrendous. It has emboldened America’s worst elements from under their rocks to proclaim racists messages unlike any time since the early sixties - when racism seen as a positive value in parts of the American South. His alleged (and in my view very likely) past immoral behavior with prostitutes and 'Playboy' models is not the image a President should have. Evidence that he tried to cover it up does not help his cause either. Nor his his vindictive personality becoming of a world leader.

He is petulant, childish, selfish, egomaniacal, narcissistic and vindictive. None of which is flattering to any human being - let alone a President.  Imagine if there was a Charedi Rosh yeshiva whose knowledge of Torah and Poskim was encyclopedic and authored Seforim with the potential to become the most widely used in the Yeshiva world - behaved like the way the President did? If they can’t even countenance someone wearing a kipa made of slightly different material than what they insist on wearing, can you imagine the kind of condemnation a man like that would generate?!

And yet they look the other way when that man is the President - because  they like his policies. They might argue that the behavior and rhetoric of a non Jew doesn’t concern them. What difference does It make as long as his policies are the correct ones form their perspective. But image does matter. No one believes that more than Charedim do. 

They should realize that when they are seen to support a man whose values are anathema to theirs, they come out looking hypocritical. Instead of genrating respect for Toraah values supporting a President whose values are anathema to thiers will generate scorn. It will make them look hypocritical. 

It is not good for the country or the Charedi world to have a man like this as President. Even if his policies are strongly supported. It demeans his high office and lowers the level of discourse. It brings out the worst in people. It gives comfort to bigots and racists. And it lowers are standards of decency. 

You cannot separate the man for his policies. Sure… we can all say that his behavior does not reflect what we believe in. But we do not live in a vaacum. Another popular saying in Yiddish goes like this: Azoi V’Christltz Zich Yiddil’t Zich. When the nation in which we live lowers its standards ours are inevitably  lowered too. I I don’t believe there is any disagreement about that by religious leaders. Which is why the more rightward you swing, the more you try and isolate yourself from it. But isolation is far from foolproof. Especially these days. Which of course means that no matter how much you try to insulate yourself as a society form the culture, it will still affect you. 

We ought to care bout how our President behaves. And I don’t think there is enough of that right now. This is not to say that I am unhappy with Trumps polices.  As I said, I’m pretty happy with most of them. But I still wish he were not the President. I just can’t stand watching the news about him anymore.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Another Nail in the Coffin of Conservative Judaism

Yet another nail in the coffin of the Conservative Judaism was articulated by Jonathan Rosenblum and Eytan Kobre in last week’s issue of Mishpacha Magazine. 

Although Jonathan’s op-ed was about Kiruv, it clearly impacts what is happening to Conservative Judaism. (Reform Judaism has lost its claim to being a Jewish denomination by virtue of how they define being a Jew. And with 84% of Reform rabbis performing intermarriages, there is nothing to talk about - in my view.)

Jonathan lamented the fact that Kiruv of the type done by Rabbi Meir Schuster is no longer as viable as it once was.

Back in the latter part of the 20th century – just after the 6 day war, there was an explosion of interest in Judaism by secular Jewish youth of that day. (I was barely 20 years old then.) But the 6 day war was only part of the reason. My generation was a lot more idealistic then  - than the youth of today are.

I say this not to brag about my generation. I say it because it’s true. Back in those days many a young person made it their mission in life to search for the eternal truths that would give meaning to their lives. And as such they would go to ‘the ends of the earth’  to try and find it. As Jonathan describes it: 
(M)any were backpacking around the world. They might have spent months sleeping on a mat on the floor in an Indian ashram, been robbed and abandoned by pirates in Thailand, or have dedicated themselves to learning various Buddhist chants in Nepal. They were in quest of new experiences — and the further from anything in their lives back home, the better. 
Part of that trek brought many of them to the Kotel in some sort of homage to their Jewish background. From there they would proceed to their various exotic destinations in their search.  It never occurred to them to examine their own heritage first. …that it might contain some truths as well. So that when they were approached by Rabbi Schuster and asked if they would be interested in a lecture on Jewish philosophy, they usually accepted realizing that before they firmly and finally reject their heritage in favor of another, it might be a good idea to find out more about it.

That is one very important reason (albeit not the only one) why Rabbi Schuster was so successful. The youth of my day actually cared about their spirituality and honest enough to realize - when they were reminded of it - just how ignorant they were about it.

Today, in most cases that kind of thinking doesn’t  exist anymore, Jonathan notes. Ask a typical Jewish 20-something if he would be interested in a lecture on Jewish philosophy he would probably say ‘no thank you - that he knows all he needs to know about Judaism.

Why did my generation care more about their Judaism? I agree with Jonathan that there is a correlation to the increased rate intermarriage in our day. Back then there it was rare for even secular Jews to approve of their children marrying out. Today it is no big deal at all.  

The idea of being Jewish is becoming  less of a factor in the lives of most of American Jewry. Which is why there 70% of non Orthodox Jewry intermarriage rate. ‘So what if you’re not Jewish?’ ‘Why should that mean anything?’ ‘Who cares about the archaic religion of your ancestors - whose values are contrary to the values of modern day man?’ ‘ Why even bother to identify as Jewish?’ ‘Who cares?’

 Studies have shown that if you ask the typical non Orthodox Jew if he ever visited Israel (let alone the Kotel) or ever plans to, most would probably say, no to both.

I see no remedy for this. It is one thing to say that Kiruv of thr type successfully done by Rabbi Schuister is not longer as viable as it once was. But it so too is the near impossibility of the Conservative Movements to reverse this trend.

It is not for a lack of their trying. It is just that many of their attempts are proving to be more futile than the type of  Kiruv done by Rabbi Schuster has become.  And they know it. Which is why they have recently pushed so hard to be recognized in Israel – seeing traditional Israelis that are not fully observant as a natural constituency. While they may not be fully observant, they nonetheless care about being Jewish. They  may see this as best – if not the only - way to salvage their movements.

In the very same issue of Mishpacha, Eytan Kobre (someone I often disagree with – sometimes vehemently) makes a similar observation with respect to heterodoxy. On this issue we completely agree. Eytan is not just some right wing Orthodox Jew gloating over the Conservative movement’s demise. That isn’t what his op-ed is about. It is about what Allan Arkush, a respected non observant Jewish Judaic Studies professor has concluded.

He notes that there are the two competing ideologies that determined to how America viewed itself culturally. In the early part of the 20th century E Pluribus Unum  (out of many – one) was interpreted to mean that America is the great melting pot of assimilation where immigrants from all over the world came here to form one nation, one people with one common national identity distinct from that of their origin.

The latter part of the 20th century and early part of the 21st century saw a change in the  opposite direction.  One that interprets which the US motto as a unified nation of multi cultural immigrants that celebrates their ancestral heritage.

While that may be true for most ethnicities, Arkush concludes that it is not true for non observant American Jewry. They have followed the early 20th century model of assimilation to the point of almost devaluing their Jewish heritage. Arkush notes that Orthodox Jews are the only segment of Jewry where this is not true.  Orthodox Jews have not succumbed to the melting pot ideal.

Arkush laments that fact. As do I - and anyone that cares about the entirety of the Jewish people. The loss of millions of Jews to assimilation and intermarriage is tragic. As is the feeble attempts by the Conservative movement to change course. Eytan notes that this perception is echoed by Jack Wertheimer, a Conservative Rabbi and Jewish thinker. 

I realize that many Conservative Jews might disagree. But I think they have a long way to go to justify that disagreement.

Sad as all this is for me, I don’t see any remedy. I see only the exodus of masses Jews from Judaism. And at this point all we can do is watch it happen as even the relatively small amount of Kiruv opportunities decrease.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Whose Fault Is It, Anyway?

Aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in Gaza
Israel has sent over 180 rockets indiscriminately into Gaza where innocent Palestinians reside. Without any provocation.

OK - that never happened. But what would the word reaction to that be? I believe it would react with unprecedented outrage and fury. Justifiably so. How dare a country send  180 rockets into a city indiscriminately - endangering the lives and property of civilians that only want to live in peace and get on with their lives?  That they have grievances with their neighbors, whether legitimate or not, it does not justify the carnage that might be caused by sending a barrage of rockets into a civilian population.

Well the fact is that the reverse just happened. Over 180 rockets were fired into Israeli towns populated by innocent Jews that want nothing more than a to live in peace. 

Those rocket attacks were preceded by Palestinians in Gaza sending kites carrying gasoline filled balloons set afire for purposes into Israel. 

Which was itself preceded by Hamas operatives in Gaza trying to breach Israel’s border with them for purposes of terrorizing Israels. 

Which was preceded by Hamas terrorists from Gaza sneaking into Israel via underground terror tunnels built explicitly for terrorist purposes.

Very few if any criticism was offered about those things. The world practically ignored them. But when Israel finally retaliated, the world noticed. Yesterday the PBS News Hour had a segment  on this situation. While pretending to be impartial, their bias was clear. Israelis citizens were shown to be basically annoyed at fleeing from those rockets - into their hardened bunkers that protected them with their children somewhat traumatized by it.

But when it focused on Gaza, the carnage was clear. Gaza had no bunkers.  A single building Israel targeted that housed some Hamas terrorist leaders was destroying by a precision bomb. There were inevitably some injuries and perhaps even deaths. Which is almost impossible to avoid in densely populated Gaza. Israel’s only mission there was to protect its citizens from further rocket attacks.  They had no desire to hurt anyone.

But the message of that PBS report was clear. Israel’s response in Gaza looked far worse than the rocket attacks in Israel. The take away? Big, bad, occupying Israel used American fighter planes to commit a far greater atrocity upon the the poor Palestinians in Gaza. Who resort to crude means in their justifiable fight with Israel.

And that is why there are so many people on the Left (which includes much of the media) that sympathize more with the Palestinian in Gaza than they do with Israelis.  They blame Israel’s blockade of food, medicine, hospital supplies  and building materials causing Palestinians in Gaza to be in dire straits. That Israel only did that to prevent deadly weapons used to terrorize Israelis from being smuggled into Gaza - hidden among those necessities - is ignored. Even though they know that is the reason. 

The media instead portray Gaza as just reacting to an unjust boycott with the only means they have at their disposal: Rockets they somehow manged to have smuggled in from Gaza despite Israel’s best efforts to prevent that. They want the world to see how they live thereby generating sympathy for their plight which they blame on Israel. 

The media portrays it that way and the much of the world buys it and nods its collective head in compassion and agreement. Hard to argue with what you see. Which is a prosperous and strong Israel unjustly occupying a suffering people and keeping them down. And worse - killing some of them them in unjust military actions in Gaza.

That is precisely what Palestinian want the world to conclude. And much of it does. 

But that is the exact opposite of the truth. I have said it before and I will say it again. The fault lies with Palestinians leaders who have no interest whatsoever in making peace with Israel. They have no interest in building their economy and building their nation up. Not until they can re-occupy Palestine freeing it of Jewish domination. When they say ‘occupied Palestine’ they don’t mean the West bank. They mean all of Israel. Including Tel Aviv. If you listen carefully enough they speak of ‘the West Bank’ they speak about ‘Palestine’.

While many Palestinians would be happy to just live in peace and get on with their lives, their leadership - both secular and religious - will not rest until they get all of Palestine back. They firmly believe that Palestine belongs to them. That Jews have no legitimate claim to it. Ancient claims are meaningless - even if they are to be believed. Jews there now are illegitimate colonizers and occupiers having expelled indigenous Arabs (now called Palestinians) from the homes.

Even the idea that Israel was a refuge for Holocaust survivors is meaningless to them. They either deny the Holocaust or say it wasn’t their fault. Why should they pay the price?

This attitude is passed on generationally. Most Palestinians - even those that would like to make peace with Israel probably believe that narrative. They are just willing to settle realizing that continued conflict with Israel will only make things worse for them. They are realists. But the uncompromising idealists run the show.

Which is the real reason Gaza attacks Israel. That so many of them live in squalor is a tactic they use to their advantage – to point out how much Israel has made them suffer by boycotting vital supplies. That Egypt does the same is NEVER mentioned. It is only Israel that is to blame.  

Israel is the one that wants peace more than anything. Despite what Palestinians believe, the Jewish people has a ‘slight’ claim to that land too. A claim that is based on both history and the bible. A claim that Holocaust refugees had no where else to  go after people in home countries had occupied their homes when they were rounded up and taken to ghettos, concentrations camps and ultimately mass murdered in death camps. Survivors were less than welcomed back into their former countries.

Perhaps more importantly Israel would have loved to see Gaza prosper. They would have loved to see Gaza as a model for a future Palestinian state. When Israel left Gaza, successful agricultural enterprises were left behind for Palestinians to take advantage of. 

Instead Gaza Palestinians promptly demolished them. And immediately started attacking Israel. Can anyone imagine what things would be like for Palestinians now if they had asked Israel for help in building up their infrastructure and economy and started living more prosperous lives? 

I am 100% certain Israel would have accepted that challenge in a heartbeat. That could have eventually lead to a Palestinian state on the West Bank.  

Israel has no quarrel with Muslims or Palestinians per se. Israel’s only concern is for the safety of their own citizens. And for building up their own country. And ultimately to make peace with all of her neighbors. 

It is not Israel that attacks Gaza. It is Gaza that attacks Israel for only one real purpose – to rid Israel of the Jews and turn it into Palestine – an Islamic country.  Their underdog status is how they get away with their claims that it is all about Jewish occupation of poor defenseless Arabs. And with no other recourse except to use whatever crude means they have to fight their occupiers. Israel’s defenses against it are seen as aggression!

And much of the world agrees. Thankfully the majority of people in the most powerful nation in the world does not buy that narrative. At least those that know the facts.  Unfortunately the Left either doesn’t know or doesn’t care since for them – all they see is a rich and powerful country killing innocent civilians of a poor country. One that is unable to prosper because of an oppressive Israeli occupier.

It is one thing when people ignorant of these details react to news reports like the one on PBS. But PBS should know better. They are not that ignorant. They surely know the truth. And yet they present the Palestinian narrative as the more just one. 

I guess PBS and most other mainstream media outlets are victims of the same mentality. One that sees only the moment and has sympathy for the people suffering the most. How they can ignore the facts is inexplicable to me. Knowing what is behind all of this should make all the difference in the world. Why doesn’t it?

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Egalitarian Rights Versus Religious Rights

IDF parachuting instructor poses with her father, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva (TOI
Protecting religious rights or egalitarian rights... What should come first? The answer is not always an ‘either/or’.  Most of the time you can protect both. Unfortunately however sometimes you have to choose.

Israel is both a democracy of which egalitarianism is a prime tenet… and a Jewish state where Halacha should determine army protocol. As I’ve indicated many times. Judaism without Halacha is like a car without an engine. It might look like a car. But it isn’t.

These values have clashed in one of Israel’s most highly valued institutions, the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). 

There is not a doubt in my mind that God’s protection of the Jewish people in Israel is being done through the dedicated hard work and sacrifice of the Israeli  army. However, the army is not just Israel’s means of defending itself from its enemies. While that is obviously its main function by far, it is not its only function. The army must also have integrity and honesty in how it presents itself to the world, and to God. It cannot therefore abide illegality or immorality by its soldiers. A Jewish solider must act in ways that will give glory to God and glory to His people.

Giving glory to God means following Halacha. Giving glory to His people is to behave in a manner that will cause the rest of the world to see us as an example for them to follow. In other words to be a light unto the nations

In our world today, these values often clash. That is evident in the constant battle between egalitarianism and religion. One that has caused a lot of conflict between the left wing of Orthodoxy and the right wing. 

The modern world places the highest value on egalitarian ideals. They are considered supreme -  to be honored at the expense of any other value. Judaism does not see it that way. Egalitarianism is a value as long as it does not contradict Halacha. So that in the work place for example, women should be given the same opportunities as men - as well as commensurate compensation for equal work.  

Judaism  also places a high value on Tznius (modesty). The question is , how is modesty defined in Judaism.

As most people know, (or should know) modesty is as much a function of our behavior as it is about how we dress. As the prophet Micah tells us (6:8): ‘Tzne Haleches...’ Walk modesty with God. In our day when promiscuity itself has become a glorified value (as so often depicted in the entertainment industry) the religious focus on Tznius has been in trying to avoid it. 

As such there have been many books written on the subject that have taken a hard line. (Which is OK as long as it is made clear that there are other legitimate views about modesty that are not as stringent as those books make them out to be.) Modesty also entails the idea of men not gazing at women with lascivious thoughts. Something that is clearly forbidden to do. And to avoid situations that are conducive to that. (Something that would in my view – reduce incidences of sexual abuse if adhered to. But I digress.) 

It is against this backdrop that a recent dust up occurred in the IDF. From the Times of Israel
Dozens of religious soldiers from the IDF’s Paratroopers Brigade refused to listen to a female parachuting instructor earlier this week, turning their backs to her when she tried to give them a demonstration. 
That instructor was obviously insulted by seeing recruits turning their back when all she was trying to do was teach them their jobs.  On the other hand, these religious soldiers were just following their consciences - which are driven by religious values.

The army sided with the instructor and has pledged to be loyal to the egalitarian ideal. And ideal that was recently acted upon in a recent promotion of a woman to high rank and responsibility. That was followed by declaring it to the world with pride. The last thing the army wants is for the world to see a bunch of ‘religious fanatics’ undermining that strategy.

What was the right thing to do here? Honestly I’m not sure since I don’t know whether there really are any modesty issues that preclude a woman demonstrating to men - how to use a parachute. 

On the one hand I don’t see how that could possibly be immodest. Especially in that context. On the other hand I wasn’t there and I can’t imagine a group of dedicated religious soldiers turning their back to a female instructor without believing that - what she was about to do violated their religious values.

My thought is that common sense should prevail in situations where egalitarian values clash with religious ones.  In cases of doubt (like this incident) the IDF should make sure that a male instructor be the one demonstrating this technique to religious soldiers. 

Being egalitarian does not mean closing your eyes. There are plenty of soldiers that don’t have a problem at all with female instructors.  It is in those instances that the IDF can close their eyes and send a man or a woman to do the job. 

Why do something that will only generate controversy? Even if you don’t agree with the religious perceptive of those religious soldiers, what is lost by sending  a male instructor to teach these men? Is it impossible to do? I doubt it. I doubt that there are no male instructors available to teach parachuting technique.

Besides - the army now has Charedi units that actually honor these sensitivities. They have gone to great lengths to secure those soldiers religious rights and avoid having any women involved with them at all. That clearly demonstrates that it can be done. In my view it should always be done when religious sensitivities are involved and security issues are not affected.

One may ask why these soldiers didn’t just join a Charedi unit? That is a good question that I’m not sure I can answer. It surely would have solved all problems. 

I suppose that one answer might be that there just aren’t enough Charedi units to go around. They have limited space and cannot accommodate the increasing number of religious recruits. That should change in my view. Hopefully it will. But in the meantime I see no reason to not accommodate soldiers that have religious sensitivities – as long as it does not hamper the army’s mandate of protecting its citizens.

There is also the fact that many religious recruits might join the regular army instead of the Charedi units because they want to be trained in areas that are not yet available to the Charedi units.

That this is happening now and has never been an issue until recently is not really a question. There have been plenty of religious recruits in the army since the very beginning of  the state.  The vast majority of them being religious Zionists, who felt an obligation to defend their country. 

No where is that more evident that in Hesder units that had a reputation for taking the most dangerous assignments as a group. Hesder units are designed for religious Zionist recruits to alternate periods of Torah study and military service over a six year period. Hesder is done in regular army units. Not Charedi ones.

Hesder soldiers are as dedicated to their religious values as they are to the state. I do not recall hearing too many complaints (if at all) about their religious values being subverted. But that’s probably because women were not part of any type of combat units. Situations like the one under discussion would therefore never have happened.

(For the record, I oppose women serving in combat for reasons beyond the scope of this post. But that ship has sailed.)

There are some who might say to these recruits, ‘Stop being excessively Frum’ Just watch your instructor and learn. They will reason that female instructors do not behave in any way that would be considered immodest by just teaching them how to use a parachute. I might tend to agree with them (although – as I indicated – I’ve never seen such a demonstration and can’t know for sure.) 

It might be true that at a very basic level there is nothing immodest about a woman teaching men how to use a parachute. But it shouldn’t matter. If there are dozens of religious soldiers that see it as immodest their sensitivities should be respected. No one should have to concede to an egalitarian ideal that contradicts their religious values – as long as the ultimate goal of the army - protection of the Jewish people - is not undermined.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Loving the OTD Child

Chasidim walk past a “modesty sign“ in Beit Shemesh (JTA)
What is happening in the extremist suburb of Ramat Bet Shemesh - B  (RBS-B) is sickening. Although there is enough blame to go around and to be shared by both sides, it is the religious extremists that populate RBS-B that have the lion’s share of the blame in my view.  From JTA:
Long simmering tensions between haredim and teenage dropouts recently erupted in violence, necessitating police intervention in a city known throughout Israel as a microcosm of the religious kulturkampf being waged across the country…
On July 16, a haredi mob attacked a teenage girl. In a video of the incident posted online and shared widely on social media, the girl could be seen running down Nahar Hayarden, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, chased by what appears to be dozens of men in black hats and black coats who could be heard screaming about her allegedly immodest attire…
Less than a week later, shortly after the end of the Tisha b’Av fast, a second incident led to clashes between residents and several dozen teenagers who had gathered in the neighborhood. The police were called and several teens were arrested.
“I saw the girls come to the square and the extremists were here and suddenly I heard yelling and saw the haredim chasing the girls,” recalled Rudi, a 17-year-old dropout who hangs out on the corner of Rival Street. “The cops didn’t do anything. They call the cops every time we sit.”
Others had a different perspective on that evening.
“It was like a pogrom,” said Avner Steinhalt, one of the small number of non-haredi residents left in Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet. “It was one of the worst nights in this neighborhood.”
He recalled how tensions rose higher and higher during the days leading up to the Tisha b’Av fast day in July. Several days before the fast, a fight erupted between haredim and the teenagers, leading to the hospitalization of one of the teens. Finally, on the evening after the fast, some 60 young people gathered “to have revenge on the haredim.”
They found a small synagogue on Rival Street and “destroyed everything,” Steinhalt said. “Then they went out and started to hit some people in the road even though they did nothing.” 

Of course each side blames the other. But in my view, anyone with an objective eye can see where the real problem lies. It is in the intolerance of the extremists who reject anyone that disrupts their status quo.  And there are few disruptions in a town like that are as disruptive as OTDs living there. Why they became OTD is hardly a concern for them. They are a bad influence on their children that must be eradicated from their town.

OTDs are the antithesis of the extremism that they espouse and try to live by.  That is what these young people have rebelled against. A rebellion that includes, immodest dress, and contraband such as smartphones - and the movies watched on them. When a community chooses to isolate themselves from the rest of the world, it’s easy to understand why they get upset when people bring things from that world into theirs - flaunting them openly and exposing them to passing children.

Understanding why they do that – does not however mean that they have to react with violence to all who pass through their neighborhood and veer from their norm. For the zealots of that town, it doesn’t matter how observant a passerby might be.  If they see an individual that has crossed one of their very tight lines, the zealots among them react with violence. With at least the tacit – if not explicit - support from the rest of the community.

It would be one thing to see these OTD youngsters as trouble makers and delinquents.  Which is the wrong way to see them. (More on that later). They see even other religious Jews that way, too. . Religious Zionists have been attacked by their zealots. And even other Charedim don’t get a pass: 
Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush’s car was mobbed in Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet in April. Several months earlier a soldier driving through the city crashed into a lamppost after his car was pelted with stones and trash. Last month, a local extremist was arrested for breaking a woman’s iPhone. 
Unfortunately, there are many more examples of the intolerance that isolationism like theirs breed.

That said, the fact is that OTDs will often behave in antisocial ways that are disruptive to any neighborhood. And in a neighborhood like RBS-B, it’s pretty easy to be disruptive that way. So placing the full blame on  RBS-B extremists is wrong.

The situation in RBS-B raises a lot questions.

Does a community have the right to set its own standards of behavior and rules designed to uphold that standard just because its majority strives to do so? Do they have the right to harass passersby who don’t measure up?

In my view, a community has the right to set up its own standards. What they do not have the right to do is enforce them. Certainly not in violent ways. They must abide by the rule of law in the country or municipality in which they live. 

Passersby should honor their sensitivities by following their rules – if they know what are. It is the right thing to do. It’s called being a Mentch. Be that as it may - they also have the right to be selfish and ignore them. And certainly the residents who set up those rules have no right to enforce them. 

This is where RBS-B fails. And fails miserably. They believe that enforcing their standards outweighs civility or any law that violates those standards. Which in my view why this kind of thing keep happening so often.

More importanty to the issue at hand, Why did these young in RBS-B  go OTD to begin with? How did parents in those neighborhoods deal with them? How can a community of religious Jews allow this to happen? Does violence beget violence? Who threw the first blow?

Well… yes. Violence begets violence. That doesn’t make it right. It just makes it a fact. But what about those OTD kids? How in fact did it come to this? How can a parent not love their child enough to help them?

Most of are aware that there are a variety of reasons why a child will go OTD. But a good parent will love their children nonetheless, not matter what they have done. 

My guess is that the parents of these kids are so intolerant of any change in their behavior that if it deviates even slightly from their norm, they are given the alternative of ‘shape up or ship out’. Meaning if they keep violating any of their extreme standards…  Bye bye. You are not going to live under my roof and influence your siblings with your non observant ways. Have a nice life. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. 

In short, it is these very RBS-B resident that have created this ‘monster’. They are to blame. If they instead would love their children instead of rejecting them they might have seen a different outcome for them. It is their extreme level of intolerance that in my view is the real source of the problem.  

Alex Fleksher has written an excellent essay (available on the OU website) which can give us insight on this very issue. Taking a cue from Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers fame) she says the following: 
When Mr. Rogers says in his deliberate and gentle way, “Everyone longs to be loved. And the greatest thing we can do is let people know that they are loved and capable of loving,” it is not difficult to think about our relationships with loved ones, particularly children, and recognize the truth in his words. “Love is at the root of everything. All learning, all relationships. Love, or the lack of it,” is one of Mr. Roger’s most famous quotes. 
Alex goes on to develop this idea as a particularly Jewish one.

The bottom line is that love for a child should never be conditional. Intolerance should have no place in a loving parent’s heart. But intolerance is the middle name of extremists in places like RBS-B. Even as it applies to their own children, apparently. Ask Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush. 

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Breaking the Nuclear Deal with Iran

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei (WSJ)
I can understand why those who supported the nuclear deal with Iran did so. Their argument seemed quite solid. A terrorist regime like Iran equipped with nuclear weapons was an unprecedented threat to the world. They were on the precipice of pulling that off. Along with a ballistic missile system capable of delivering those weapons anywhere in the world. Including  ‘The Great Satan’ – America.  Of which masses of their devout  screamed ‘Death to America’. Which is practically their national credo.  

The the nations of the world had sanctioned Iran - boycotting doing any business with them. That really hurt them financially and brought them to the negotiating table.  Those negotiations led by the US resulted in a deal that removed those crippling sanctions in exchange for delaying further development and production of nuclear weapons for a period of at least 10 years. Which would have ongoing verification by international inspectors.

Much of the civilized world seemed to breath a collective sigh of relief. That deal has allowed international business dealings with Iran which has been beneficial for both Iran and the nations of the world that desired to do business with them.

Critics of the plan dismissed the deal since it did not stop Iran from getting the bomb. It only delayed it for 10 years (or perhaps a bit more  depending on who you believe).

It did nothing to stop them form developing a ballistic missile system capable of delivering nuclear destruction anywhere in the world. 

It did not stop Iran from being the worlds biggest state sponsor of terror - exporting it all over the world. They continue doing that with impunity. They send money and weaponry to surrogates in Lebanon (Hezbollah) and in Gaza (Hamas). They send troops to Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. 

They have not given up their sworn goal to destroy Israel and give it back to Palestinians like Hamas. All in their ultimate goal of spreading their version of Islam to the world .

In short this deal was not worth the paper it was written on. 

Supporters pretty much admitted that the deal was flawed in all the above ways but they claimed this was the best deal they could get. In the meantime they hoped that by releasing Iran from the severe sanctions regime they would become more integrated into the civilized world. And as such they would no longer seek nuclear weapons and instead appreciate the peace and prosperity that resulted from that deal and would no longer be a danger to the world.

They claimed that opponents of the deal could not have come up with anything better that Iran would have accepted. This was the consensus of all those nations of the world that participated and therefore – along with the US - signed that deal with Iran.

Which brings me to President Trump. He was was absolutely correct in canceling that deal. That the President's political opponents are upset by this should come as no surprise. But the nations that signed onto it are equally upset. if not more so!

The claim is that Iran will immediately resume development of nuclear weapons. But I suspect that it is not entirely for that reason those nations are so upset. I believe they are motivated more by financial considerations. Restoring those sanctions will hurt their economies. They want to trade with Iran.They are already doing so. Stopping it will hurt them big time.  Nuclear fears are at best secondary for them.

Those nations have pledged to continue to honor their commitment to the deal and continue trading with Iran. The US on the other hand has just issued a snap back of sanctions that were in place before that deal was singed. And they have threatened to boycott doing business with any nation that does business with Iran.  Follow the money. That has often been a pretty good barometer of determining motive. 

Let us examine what is happening now in Iran and see whether breaking the deal is a good idea or a bad one.

The fact of the matter is that the Iranian Revolution that turned Iran into an Islamist terrorist state nearly 40 years ago - was  not universally supported by all Iranians Only the Islamist followers of their exiled cleric, Ayatollah Khomeini. There were plenty of Iranians that were happy with the status quo under the Shah who tried to bring his country into the twentieth century - modernizing it by following the western cultural model of the United States.

But the Islamists were highly motivated and took over. The rest is history. Islamist Iranians might be happy. But the rest of the Iran is not. They are ruled with an iron clerical fist. Protests are pretty quickly put down. Sometimes brutally.  That is what happened there every time its been tried.

Meanwhile economic conditions in Iran have not really improved that much after the sanctions were lifted. Protests have resumed and are ongoing. Only now another cry is also being heard: ‘Death to the dictator’ (their current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei). Not only ‘Death to America’. Protests are breaking out all over the country.

Ever since the President announced that the US was breaking the deal with Iran, things have gotten worse – even before a single sanction has been snapped back into place: Their economy is in shambles. Their money is practically worthless. Business is down. People can't afford to buy anything there. And a lot of Iranians are blaming it on their government and its supreme leader. They accuse them of being inept and corrupt. I’ve even heard some older Iranians saying they wish they could return to the days of the Shah. Once the US sanctions fully set in - things will only get worse.

Iran’s obsession with producing a nuclear weapon is not what is on their minds now. They are far more worried that they will lose power and that their country will collapse .  

I have heard that it is the nature of torture that  people can be trained to withstand enormous degrees of it.  What will break them is when they get relief from it and then it is reapplied. That is what is happening here. The people of Iran know who is really to blame. And it isn’t only the US.  It is their regime and the clerics who run it. 

Under this kind of renewed and increased pressure - the current regime in Iran might just be willing to negotiate a new deal with the US. Just to stay alive. One that will get them out of the mess of an economy spiraling downward into oblivion - and instead into a more stable one under a new deal. The President has said he will meet with any Iranian leader at any time to discuss a new and better deal. No preconditions.

I believe this ‘carrot and stick’ approach will work. It will bring Iran to its knees - long before it will bring a nuclear bomb to the world. Sure. They may restart their nuclear program. But that would only make matters worse since Europe would have to snap back their own sanctions back into place (whether they like it or not). What good is having nuclear weapons if you can’t feed your people?

Iran’s leaders may be religious fanatics. But they are not stupid. Nor are they the martyrs they implore their people to be. They want to stay in power. And the US will be ready to set the terms for their survival. One that will make them give up their evil ways by verifiable means.

I know this is all speculation on my part. But it is my view and I believe that it is the most likely outcome.

Monday, August 06, 2018

What on Earth is Happening in Britain?

Guest contribution by Paul Shaviv 
Jeremy Corbyn - Will he be the next Prime Minister of the UK?
I am once again pleased to host another fine essay by Paul Shaviv, one of the most respected educators in Orthodoxy. Typical of Pauls modesty he identifies himself only as ...an expat Brit who now lives in North America (and has) just returned from a visit to the UK. I was not going to let him get away with that.

He touches upon topics frequently discussed here.While I ordinarily add a disclaimer to guest submissions along the lines of - the views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect my own, in this case they very closely do. His words follow in their entirety. 

England’s Jewish community is in uproar on several fronts.  The biggest, by far, is on the political scene – a situation which may be a harbinger for similar, serious, developments in other countries.  Here is a brief roundup:

The crisis with the Labour Party: 

Britain’s equivalent of the Democrats is in crisis over antisemitism at every level within the party.  For decades, the Labour party was the comfortable home to many Jews, and featured several very pro-Israel and pro-Jewish leaders.  This turned completely when the then (Jewish) leader of the party, Ed Milliband, made membership and voting changes in the party structure, opening the door to the unexpected election as leader in 2015 of a hitherto fringe veteran MP, Jeremy Corbyn. 

Corbyn is a hard leftist, of the neo-Communist school, and he brought into leadership positions a group of far-left individuals, all of whom identified with anti-West, anti-Establishment beliefs.  They were also sympathetic to Islamist movements, and various terrorist groups – the IRA, Hamas, Hizbollah and others. 

Under this umbrella, many anti-Israel and anti-semitic individuals apparently felt safe.  Jews began to feel uneasy in Labour, and the language of discourse began to include “Zio”s  (“Zionists” – a shorthand for Jews) and other abuse.  Jewish MP’s were under online attack in the vilest terms, and multiple episodes of abuse surfaced.  Half-hearted measures and “enquiries” seemed cosmetic only. 

This all recently came to a head with the refusal of Labour to adopt a widely agreed definition of what constitutes antisemitism (the IHRA document) – instead, without consultation with the Jewish community, adopting a compromised definition which left open all sorts of loopholes.  It didn’t help that Corbyn gave prominence to a fringe, far-left Jewish group, whose leader stated that she “only identified with Judaism in order to be able to attack Israel”; or that Corbyn’s past identification with anti-Israel groups keeps on surfacing.   

The conflict has escalated and escalated.   Over sixty rabbis – unprecedentedly in England, including Haredi, M O, Reform and ‘Liberal’ – published a letter of concern.  Jewish newspapers in the UK published a common ‘front page’, with a giant headline “United we stand!”. Two MP’s who accused Corbyn of antisemitism were within hours placed in party disciplinary process - contrasting with the laggardly process of disciplining Labour anti-Semites themselves…..

But where will this end?  It is unprecedented for the community to be in open conflict with a major political party like this. It is also unprecedented for the Labour party to treat any other community as it is currently treating Jews. 

If the party comes to power – and for many reasons, including Brexit and an incredibly weak Prime Minister, it is possible – where will the Jewish community, collectively and individually, stand? 

If it is defeated at the next election, will “the Jews” be blamed?   Jews of all ages and all persuasions are openly discussing emigration, and are resigning from the Labour party in droves.  For updates, just Google ‘Corbyn’…….    Stay tuned. 

Charedi schools against the Government: 

Rabbi Abraham Pinter of Stamford Hill - a Chasidic enclave in London
In the UK, even totally private (ie non-Government funded) schools have to meet minimum educational standards.  These include minimal literacy (in English) and numeracy standards.  More recently, they include the requirement of education regarding British society and ‘British values’.

For years, the Government ignored the Charedi sector, content to let this tiny group alone. Several factors have changed this:  the sheer growth in numbers of Yiddish-speaking schools; the growth of Moslem schools whose curriculum content has alarmed the authorities (and the necessity of treating all schools equally…); the growing trend against ‘faith schools’ in British society; and parallel concern about health and safety standards in yeshivot. 

The government, via its schools inspection service, (“Ofsted”), carried out a number of inspections of Haredi schools.  Several passed the inspections with flying colours.  However, the (mainly Hassidic) yeshivot in Stamford Hill cried “Gevalt!”. 

The requirement is not that schools promote other religions, multiculturalism, or LGBT lifestyles, or evolution – but that they tell the students that such phenomena exist in British society, and that tolerance of others (not necessarily agreement) is necessary.  

Well, there are clear signs that the younger generation of Hassidim (and Haredim) do not all agree with their leadership, and want higher ‘secular’ standards in their schools – particularly basic English skills.  In confrontation and refusal to even consider the Ofsted concerns, the yeshivot cannot win; and the leadership does not have the total support of the kehilla. 

Something has to change.

A third potential storm has only recently appeared on the horizon: In the course of a complex divorce case which reached the High Court, details emerged of an allegedly fraudulent process in which a young Haredi family obtained funds for house purchase to which they were not entitled; and the intricacies of which also enabled them to subsequently claim government housing assistance.  The sums involved were huge. 

The wife claimed that she had been coerced into this arrangement by pressure from her community, with the blessing of local London rabbis, and a ‘Grand Rabbi’ in Israel.  She alleged that these arrangements were widespread in her community.  The judge had harsh words to say, and the case and the alleged “widespread” irregularities were reported in the local (non-Jewish) press, and in the Jewish Chronicle. 

The rabbinate of the Haredi community issued a statement demanding that the judge withdraw his comments, and declaring that they did not approve of illegal practices in any context.  Online comment suggested otherwise….   If this triggers further investigations, trouble may lie ahead.

The Jewish community in England’s green and pleasant land has for centuries enjoyed a relatively peaceful and harmonious existence, with few crises.  The community as a whole has kept its profile low – suppressing, perhaps, the component of community/ethnic pride and activism which has played such a large part in American Jewish life.  Are things changing? 

Where will it lead?

Sunday, August 05, 2018

There is No Schism: “Modern Orthodoxy” has Two Fundamentally Separate Sects

by Moshe Kurtz

Moshe Kurtz
I do not normally post articles that have been published elsewhere. The vast majority (by far) of material published here is original. Including the occasional guest contribution. As a matter of policy I reject virtually all pre-published submissions even if I agree with what they say.

Today’s post (first published in the Times of Israel) is a rare exception to this policy. Moshe Kurtz, a  rabbinical student at Yeshiva University, has written what I consider a profound and insightful analysis of what is happening in the world of Modern Orthodoxy. It is a bit longer than what I normally post here, but it is well worth reading and deserves as wide a distribution as possible. It follows in it’s entirely.

It is an odd but recurrent reality that two schools of thought that bear diametrically opposed value systems will reach the same conclusion. Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, despite being an outspoken opponent of early Zionism, once wrote (Koveitz Ma’amarim, p. 161) that he hoped the founding of the State of Israel was the beginning of the ultimate redemption. He posited that Jewish history is full of dark times followed by a redemption commensurate with the difficulty of the challenges that preceded it.

Rabbi Wasserman contended that until now the Jews have always suffered through exiles designed by other nations, but today the Jews find themselves in an exile created by their own brethren, the Jewish State – certainly the redemption that God has in store must be the final one!

Ironically, Rabbi Wasserman’s opposition to early Zionism led him to the same eschatological aspiration shared by contemporary religious Zionists: The founding of the State of Israel is a harbinger for the End of Days.

This example is not the first or last time that two diametrically opposed Jewish schools of thought disagreed fundamentally yet agreed functionally.

We live in a time when Modern Orthodoxy is arguably forming a schism both institutionally and ideologically. For the purpose of this article, I use the term Right-Wing Modern Orthodoxy (RWMO) which includes the Right-Wing and Centrist Modern Orthodox establishments as one category, and Left-Wing Modern Orthodoxy (LWMO), which includes Liberal and Progressive Modern Orthodox establishments as the second.

I aim to change the way we think about Jewish denominationalism, and to argue the potentially upsetting, yet logically compelling truth, that Right-Wing Modern Orthodoxy and Left-Wing Modern Orthodoxy are fundamentally two diametrically opposed ideologies that merely give the appearance of forming a spectrum within one sub-sect due to similar functional policies. Hence, RWMO and LWMO, even when they agree on many practices, do so based on irreconcilably different value systems

The crux of my assertion is that within the vast spectrum of Jewish denominations ranging from Reform to Orthodox there are only two possibilities. One is either rooted in a fundamentally Western/secular ethos or fundamentally traditional values; everything in between represents a departure from one of the two baseline norms. Hence, Reform Judaism is both fundamentally and functionally rooted in secular moral values, whereas on the other extreme, chareidim are both philosophically and functionally traditional in their moral outlook.

Granted, neither of these statements are newsworthy. However, what do we make of this strange animal known as Modern Orthodoxy – is Modern Orthodoxy fundamentally traditional, just with some progressive tendencies, or is it essentially modernized but tries to reconcile it with halachah and traditional strictures?

My thesis is that both sides of this chakirah (dichotomy) are true, just for different types of “Modern Orthodoxy”. I argue that RWMO fundamentally values a traditional social model as the norm, albeit with deviations, while LWMO looks towards progressivism as an ideal state of affairs. This disagreement is the underlying point of contention causing a profound lack of understanding, and at times strife, between the Right-Wing and Left-Wing Modern Orthodox communities.

To move from the abstract to the practical, I would like to introduce a sub-dichotomy of egalitarianism vs. traditional gender roles as a proxy for the larger debate:

Take the innovation of Yoatzot Halachah and Maharats in recent years. One could view the two innovations as almost arbitrary points along a spectrum where certain rabbis feel comfortable drawing a line for women’s leadership. Some are comfortable ordaining women as full members of the clergy, whereas more conservative leaders only wish to delegate them (pseudo-)authority in the area of hilchos Niddah.

I want to argue that these innovations aren’t superficial phenomena of simply choosing where to draw the line – these are carefully deliberated choices based on each form of Modern Orthodoxy’s perceived ideal norms.

Here are the parameters for my theory:

(A) Each school of thought has a perceived norm or point of departure.
(B) Each party will only depart from that norm when there is a compelling reason to do so.
(C) They will only depart until the point that is necessary to satisfy the compelling reason of departure.

Now let us apply these rules to the Modern Orthodox controversy over women’s leadership:

(A) LWMO’s point of departure or baseline assumption is that men and women should have equal roles.
(B) They need to deviate from that norm due to the compelling reason to adhere to halachah.
(C) They will permit women to become rabbis because they will only deviate from the egalitarian norm as much as necessary – and as long as there is a way to find halachic justification they will utilize it to limit the deviation that was undesired from the onset.

(A) On the other hand, RWMO’s baseline assumption regarding gender roles is traditional in that men and women have differentiated roles.
(B) They find a compelling reason for women to become Yoatzot, to assist women in ways that men are not capable.
(C) They limit the authority to hilchos niddah (and even within hilchos niddah) since there is no necessity to deviate further from the baseline assumption of differentiated male-female roles.

Note, that I don’t believe that the positions of Yoetzet or Maharat inherently belong to divergent ideologies – rather, it is the argumentation used to advance each respective position that is reflective of disparate values. Also, it is not the case that RWMO rabbis are unaware of sources to permit women in Torah leadership beyond Yoatzot – rather they see no compelling reason to innovate and depart further beyond that point. Therefore, any further innovation would be perceived as being influenced by secular/liberal priorities rather than traditional Torah values.

However, when one adopts a fundamentally egalitarian point of departure, the claim of Left-Wing proponents is very cogent: Why would one choose to inexplicably draw the line of women’s leadership at Yoatzot when there are sources to justify and perhaps even encourage full clergy status?

 If the goal is to bring the Modern Orthodox community as close to egalitarianism and Western norms as possible, then it is indeed unreasonable to forbid full female leadership in light of sources that can support it.

This formula can be applied to other major points of controversy between the Left-Wing and Right-Wing Modern Orthodox establishments, at very least within the area of social policy, if not beyond. Take another example such as partnership minyanim. Why is it that members of LWMO have been major proponents of this innovation, while Modern Orthodox rabbis such as Rav Henkin have concluded that it is beyond the pale?

The reason here is that this new form of minyan runs contrary to the traditional norm, and RWMO has not been convinced that there is a compelling reason to introduce a seemingly progressive practice.

Whereas LWMO would desire in ideal circumstances to have a full egalitarian minyan, they would still need to reconcile it with halachic sources. Take a look at the partnership minyan guide provided on Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA)’s website – the whole premise is founded upon reinterpreting and finding minority opinions to justify the conduct.

It makes sense according to this formula: The utopian ideal is equal gender roles, the reason to depart is halachic stricture, and the limitation is to use the most lenient interpretation of halachah to minimize the necessary departure from the egalitarian baseline.

The fascinating conclusion that one can draw from this observation is that if one agrees to my analysis that RWMO’s point of departure is differentiated gender roles, and LWMO’s is egalitarianism, then RWMO has philosophically more in common with chareidi Orthodoxy, and LWMO with Reform than they have with each other!

The reason that we view them as points along a single spectrum within a sub-denomination we call “Modern Orthodoxy” is because each party has departed so far from their norm that they meet in the middle on almost every issue. It is chiefly in the area of social policy that we see a tear in the artificial binding that holds them together.

But in truth, RWMO is a more modernized form of chareidi Jewry and LWMO is a traditionalized form of Reform. The ideological rupture has always been lurking under the surface, and it has only been a matter of time until it reared its head. To put it in more moderate terms, LWMO is very similar to the new sect of “Halachic Egalitarianism”, with the one distinction that while the latter chose the route of “updating” the laws regulating halachic social policy, LWMO makes a valiant struggle to reconcile both the modernity and tradition that they value.

(For the reader who is familiar with general communal programming and events, this theory would explain why LWMO institutions are by and large more comfortable with collaborating on interdenominational programming with denominations to its Left, while RWMO leans towards programming with Orthodox sub-denominations to its right. I do not need to elaborate on this matter, as a regular reading of Jewish newspapers and scrolling of one’s Facebook feed can reveal this assertion to be true.)

I want to take this argument one step further and conjecture that even when RWMO and LWMO agree, it can be for completely distinct reasons. Generally speaking, when RWMO leaders promote women’s Talmud learning, they do so to advance Jewish Torah knowledge as a whole. In contrast, LWMO leaders will generally promote women’s Talmud learning with the (additional) goal of achieving gender equality. They will both support women’s advanced learning, but the values that went into that decision are disparate, and at times diametrically opposed, despite the same result.

Both RWMO individuals and LWMO individuals live in the same communities, attend many of the same synagogues and are even members of the same families. Both camps are similar on a functional level, and that is why they both live together. In my experience, many lay-people have difficulty noticing, or at least, articulating the underlying difference. The fact that some refer to the splitting phenomenon within Modern Orthodoxy as a schism is inaccurate – LWMO and RWMO are two ideologically different sects, and we are seeing the manifestation of these disparities in present time.

While this double-denomination theory of Modern Orthodoxy may sound disheartening, I chose to bring it to the public’s attention for two reasons. Firstly, I think it will enable anyone who identifies with the term “Modern Orthodox” to think about their ideology in a more nuanced manner.

Secondly, I think this theory has the counterintuitive potential to decrease strife and friction with the conventional “Modern Orthodox” community.

In my experience attending a charedi Yeshiva from childhood through high school, I heard a number of condescending remarks about Modern Orthodoxy – but, I can attest that most yeshivish rabbis do not concern themselves with the policies of YU or the RCA that run contrary to their philosophy of Torah Judaism.

The difference in our scenario is that RWMO and LWMO both share, and more importantly, claim, the identity and right to shape what we know as “Modern Orthodoxy”. Thus, for one side to claim that Modern Orthodoxy is more Right-Wing or more Left-Wing is an attack on the other’s very identity! Whereas the yeshivish world has the comfort and security of simply writing off what Modern Orthodox institutions do as something that is not their own.

Therefore, I would like to make the difficult, yet I believe accurate, proposal, that we accept the inherent ideological “schism” and begin to view RWMO and LWMO as two separate sub-denominations, even granting the view that both remain firmly within the bounds of Orthodoxy. With this model of thinking I hope that both RWMO and LWMO, or whatever they should be re-titled, will no longer feel mutually threatened, and that members from both sub-denominations will interact professionally and cordially while both remaining clear and resolute in their respective identities.

A response to Moshe’s article by fellow YU rabbinical student, Steven Gotlib can be found in the Times of Israel