Monday, September 26, 2016

A Condemnable Act

Thousands of Jews protesting Israel at the UN  last week (Matzav)
There is a story about the Satmar Rebbe, R’ Yoel Teitelbaum that goes something like this:

When in 1968 Vice President Hubert Humphrey came to visit the Satmar Rebbe seeking his support for election to the Presidency, he asked the Rebbe what he could do for him. The Satmar Rebbe is purported to have said "Sell weapons to Israel!". People in attendance later asked the Rebbe, ‘How can you have advised Humphrey that way - when we know you are opposed to the State?’ The Rebbe supposedly answered that we have a disagreement with our family members but we don't want to see them hurt’. Supposedly the Rebbe added that when a Jew criticizes Israel it is anti Zionism. When a non Jew does that, it’s antisemitism.

One might admire the fact that the Rebbe did not let his antipathy to the State of Israel get in the way of protecting the people living there. And that he rightly labeled non Jewish critics of Israel – antisemites. One could admire that  if it were true. But apparently it never happened. The true story went something like this:

Humphrey visited the Rebbe and was treated cordially as he spoke about his support for Israel. The Rebbe listened to him without saying much. After leaving, the Rebbe was asked why he didn’t tell Humphrey that he was opposed to Israel. His answer was rhetorical, “What should I do, tell him about the Shalosh Shevuous (the 3 oaths mentioned in the Gemara which form the theological basis for his opposition to the State)?”

Was Rav Kook an Ish Tzar V'Oyev?
When asked whether a non Jew’s anti Zionism was tantamount to antisemitism he said, ‘No’. The video below explains all this – debunking the urban legend about the difference between the Satmar Rebbe’s public versus private persona vis-à-vis Israel. If the Rebbe was anything, he was consistent in his vitriol for the state.

As I’ve pointed out many times, his published statement that Rav Avraham Yitzchok Kook was an Ish Tzar V’Oyev - which basically compares him to Hitler - underscores that vitriol.

I have always maintained that it is the Satmar Rebbe himself that inspired people from extremists groups like Neturei Karta. Some of whose members have embraced Holocaust denying antisemites like former Iranian President Ahmad Amadinijad who along with Iran’s current supreme leader Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei has called for the annihilation of the Jewish state.

But Neurei Karta is not the alone in harboring this attitude. It is the same as the current Satmar Rebbe of Williamsburg, R’ Zalman Leib Teitelbaum - and virtually all of his tens of thousands (if not more) Chasidim.

When I have made this accusation in the past, I was severely criticized for it. The claim was that even though they did not support the state, they would never make the kind of Chilul HaShem that those ‘Ahmadinijad kissing’ Neturei Kartaniks did! Well, apparently my critics have been proven wrong. Because as reported by Matzav - last Thursday in front of the United Nations at exactly the moment that Israel’s sitting prime minister spoke, the Satmar Rebbe of Williamsburg succeeded in hosting thousands of his Chasidim in public protest against Israel. The supposed purpose was to oppose the new draft laws – which have already been defanged to the point of irrelevance by the very person they protested against.

They are of course entitled to express their views in public no different than any antisemite would. It’s called free speech. But I am also free to condemn it in public as a massive Chilul HaShem with the potential to do great damage to the Jewish people. Not to mention the fact that it could end up endangering the lives of all of Israel’s residents, including the many Satmar Chasidim that live there. 

That the US is now at its peak level of support to the Jewish State is based in large part (albeit not exclusively) on how the current politicians perceive American Jewish support of it. God in His infinite wisdom has given under 2% of the population tremendous influence on how their government treats Israel. 

But that support is not automatic. There are plenty of politicians in office that could easily turn on us. Some because they are closet antisemites, and some because they see the Arab world as a far more important strategic partner because of their oil and their exponentially greater  numbers. When these people see that many Jews – Jews that appear and claim to be the most religious among us protesting the state, that might turn the tide of support. Or at least lessen it to the point of reduced aid or elimination of aid altogether. It might also embolden more of those those politicians to support BDS which is increasingly becoming exposed as a purely anti Israel movement - and not just anti ‘West Bank settlement’ movement. 

I can’t blame the Chasidim themselves. They have been indoctrinated to see Israel only in the way the Satmar Rebbe sees it. In the rare circumstance that any of their Chasidim might see things differently, such dissent is not tolerated. That is the nature of relying on a supreme religious leader – whose views they see as Godly. If the Rebbe says it’s so, it is so. Period! End of discussion! Which is why so many Chasidim showed up for that protest.

What makes this protest so worse than those Neturei Karta protests is that Satmar is one of the fastest growing Jewish demographics in the world. They are multiplying exponentially with each succeeding generation - hating the Jewish state as much as their founder did. And becoming more public about it in greater numbers than ever. True - what Neturei Karta has done by raising he Palestinain flag, or attending pro Palestinians rallies, or by going to Iran to support their anti Israel views - are by themselves much worse acts. But they can be chalked up to a few crazies. When thousands of people show up to protest Israel at the UN during the prime minister’s speech - it is mainstream Chasidim doing it.

I therefore cannot condemn what they have done here enough. Unfortunately I am just a lone voice. And I’m sure there will be those that somehow find ways to defend them – adding to the Chilul HaShem – and the danger it may bring! 

I only wish other more prominent voices in the Jewish world would join me. It is time to once and for all sever any ties to this community and let the world know that Satmar does not speak for the Jewish people. Not even the Orthodox ones. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Chief Rabbinate's Folly

Rav Gedaia Dov Schwartz
Israel needs a Chief Rabbinate. If we are going to have a Jewish country, it has to be Jewish in more than name only - or even as a culture. It has to based on the very thing that makes the Jewish people a distinct nation, the Torah. Without which we are not a distinct people at all. It is the Torah that separates us from the rest of the world and gives us the right to exist as an independent nation in the land of Israel. As I often  heard Rav Ahron Soloveichik say, ‘Without the Torah, the Arabs would be right’. We have no more right to that land than the Arabs. 

But there is a Torah that gave us the land of Israel.We therefore have every right to be there – as a Jewish State. And defining that is key. Without a body that can interpret what does and does not make us  Jewish, we may as well just give up the title ‘Jewish State’. 

So when the issue of conversion to Judaism came up, I supported the idea of a central governing authority that would assure that all conversions to Judaism are legitimate. To an Orthodox Jew there is no other legitimate expression of Judaism than Orthodoxy. Which is defined as full acceptance of fundamental principles of our faith and uncompromising fealty to Halacha as interpreted by the most learned rabbis of each generation.

In furtherance of that goal the Chief Rabbinate has strengthened its control over what is and is not an acceptable conversion and has fought all non Orthodox movements attempts to have their conversions recognized. They have further coordinated their efforts with the North American rabbis in both the right wing and Centrist camp. The latter of which is represented by the RCA. 

The RCA for its part tightened up its own conversions by certifying which of their conversion courts’ converts would be considered legitimate. This needed to be done. I am personally aware of wholesale conversions in the past by certain Orthodox members of the American rabbinate that by most standards were sham conversions – done to satisfy parents who could not face the fact that their child was marrying out. This move has for the most part ended that practice.

Unfortunately the Chief Rabbinate has apparently not been the honest broker that these steps should have made them. There has been more than one instance where legitimate Orthodox converts have been rejected by them. In some cases there was some back-pedaling where those that had been rejected had later been deemed legitimate after all.

But that problem has not been solved. I don’t know what it is, but I suspect that there is a lot of incompetence in the rabbinate. Because in my view the unthinkable happened. If the story in Ha’aretz as reported in the Forward is true, one of America’s most Torah knowledgeable and ethical elder rabbis has been dishonored. Not just any rabbi, but the sitting head of the RCA Beis Din, Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz: 
The haredi Orthodox-dominated rabbinate rejected the conversions approved by Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, according to documents obtained by Haaretz
Itamar Tubul, who heads the rabbinate’s conversion department, rejected three conversions approved by Schwartz. He accepted a fourth, but it was turned down by the rabbinate.
Ultimately, the four converts in question were not recognized as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate, according to Haaretz.
All of the converts had approval letters signed by Schwartz, according to Itim, an organization that helps Israelis navigate religious bureaucracy. 
I could not agree more with the reaction of the RCA: 
Rabbi Shalom Bau, president of the RCA, said, “We have already begun an investigation into this latest disgrace and we demand a thorough report of how this could happen.” 
To call this a disgrace is an understatement. In my view this casts the entire current  enterprise of the Chief Rabbinate into question. They either have no clue what they are doing, or have let power go to their heads. Or both. I have been defending them albeit with some reservation because I believed they were acting in the best interests of the Jewish people. Even when they made some mistakes – which they clearly did. Some of which were corrected. Mistakes happen and as long as there is a good faith effort to correct them, I stood behind them. But this goes too far.

I hate to admit it, but all of the critics of the Rabbinate as currently constructed and empowered seem to have been right all along! If this is not corrected… if their decision is not reversed with a public apology to Rav Schwartz, they have lost all legitimacy in my eyes. 

That said, I am still a strong believer in the need for a Chief Rabbinate for the reasons I mentioned above. But not this one.  They are an embarrassment to the Jewish people! If they don’t change their ways, I call upon them to disband and be replaced by a new Chief Rabbinate - or at the very least I call for the resignation of those in leadership positions responsible for this kind of behavior to be replaced by rabbis that have a lot more integrity than they appear to have.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Chabad Outreach Model

Havdalah ceremony at a Crown Heights campus outreach event (RNS)
What should the goal of Orthodox outreach be to non Orthodox Jews? At first blush one might be tempted to say to convince them to become observant. Obviously it would be an ideal scenario to be able to convince God’s chosen people to obey His directives. Which He set forth in His Torah as interpreted by rabbinic leaders throughout history.

In some cases that does happen. But as Lubavitch-Chabad will tell you a very tiny slice of non Orthodox Jew that they reach out to, actually become fully observant. What Chabad will also tell you, somewhat surprisingly, is that full observance is not necessarily their goal. Or at least not their only goal.

‘Who is actually fully observant anyway?’ …they might ask. Every Jew sins. Some more. Some less. Even Moshe, the greatest prophet who ever lived – sinned, as the Torah quite explicitly tells us.

Their goal is to connect Jews to their Judaism enough so that they will want to do more. They start small and hope that Jews looking for truth will seek to constantly improve their level of observance – as we all should. The best way for someone to become fully observant is do it incrementally – at their own pace. Doing it all at once is often disastrous. Going from no observance at all to becoming fully observant all at once is a prescription for failure in many cases. The change is too drastic.

This is a lesson all outreach organizations must learn, if they don’t already know it. I believe the successful ones do.

Which brings me to an article by Menachem Wecker in Religion News Service about a study of 2,400 Jewish graduates and their interactions with Chabad. It was led by Mark Rosen, an associate professor at Brandeis University. It  might surprise people to find that so many of the Jews Chabad caters to, are not observant at all. And yet Chabad never harangues them for not making any progress towards further observance. Chabad believes that whatever progress they make – even if it is just instilling pride in their Jewishness where it wasn’t there before – is considered a success. 
Only 15 of the 2,400 respondents said they joined ranks and identify as Chabad. About 88 percent of those who visited Chabad at least once do not identify as Orthodox. 
According to the article, Chabad has 3500 centers in more than 85 countries! That is quite an accomplishment. If the percentages of Jews becoming observant through Chabad is the same as it is with the graduates of Brandeis, that is less than one percent! One might therefore question whether all that effort is worth it.

Well, of course it is. 1% is better than 0%. And that 1% adds up to a lot of Jews.Aside from that - their goal of just instilling pride in fellow Jews about their heritage is alone worth the effort. It is also true that any successful outreach first requires instilling pride in one's heritage. And even if they never become personally observant at all, they may be motivated to better educate their children Jewishly. If they don’t do that - at the very least they will appreciate their kindness and their not being judgmental thus in many cases becoming Chabad supporters for life.

There may be some that are turned off by Chabad and will go the other way. But my guess is that this is a very small percentage of those Chabad comes into contact with.

What many people don’t realize is that when Chabad sees a Jew becoming observant through their efforts,  they consider that a milestone no matter which Hashkafa they choose. This does not mean they don’t prefer that Jew become a Lubavitcher. They do. And they work towards that goal, too.

To that end, their outreach is specifically designed toward Chabad Chasidism. Their outreach includes teaching Jews uneducated about their Judaism - customs specific to Chabad but not necessarily mainstream. Without making that distinction. 

An example of that is their view that every woman in a household (even young girls under the age of 12) should light candles for Shabbos. Signs to that effect can be seen everywhere. However, the prevailing mainstream custom is that only the female head of the household (usually the mother) light candles. Chabad's approach steers their outreach prospects unwittingly to include Chabad customs without their realizing it is only a Chabad custom.

If I have any quibble with them (aside from the Messianism issue which is beyond the scope of this post) it is that. The vast majority of the Jews they have successfully convinced to become observant - become Lubavitchers. Chabad will argue that since they are doing the outreach, they have the right to persuade them to become Lubavitchers too.

I get that. But I just wish they would explain that not all the customs of Lubavitcjh are universal to all Orthodox Hashkafos – and show them all the options. This is what NCSY does in their outreach work. Those who become observant through NCSY can be found in just about all Hashkafic segments of Orthodoxy including Chabad. NCSY does not favor one Hashkafa over another. They favor only the ‘fit’ of an individual to a Hashkafa. In my view this is a better approach.

But you can’t argue with success. Nor can you argue with the kinds of religious goals they set. Nor the fact that they retain a positive relationship with every single Jew with they have had any interaction. Even if they do not become observant at all. Nor with the massive numbers of Jews that have become observant through them which probably outnumbers all the Jews that became observant through other outreach programs combined! On this level we all have a lot to learn from them.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Right Choice

Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman superimposed on an image of YU (Forward)
“Two years ago, the school lost $83 million. Last year it lost another $84 million. And six months ago Moody’s reported that it expects the school’s financial condition to continue to deteriorate.” This excerpt from a Forward article by Josh Nathan-Kazis in the Forward underscores the question he asks in the title: “Can New President Ari Berman Save Yeshiva University?

Losing $167 million in two years ain’t beanbag. Institutions with major budgets like those of Yeshiva University cannot survive if things keep going in that direction. Which is what Moody expects to happen. Of course Josh is not the first one to publish these concerns. Forward columnist Bethany Mandel asked the same question in a previous Forward article – asserting that Rabbi Berman was the wrong man for the job. And that in order to avoid the school’s collapse, YU needs a money man rather than a scholar at its helm. I hear her point. But I cannot agree with her conclusions despite what seems to be the catastrophic financial crisis YU is in.

It’s true that the survival of YU supersedes the Centrist Hashkafa of Torah U’Mada it promotes. If there is no school, it can’t promote its Hashkafa. But the reverse is also true. If a President is hired based strictly on his fund raising ability – the Hashkafa of the school can easily be compromised. At the very least it will have no direction and no one at the helm to articulate its ideals. YU’s centerpiece – its essence - is Yeshiva (RIETS). From which all else flows. That could be reduced to just another program of the university. Which would in my view be a disaster.

It is true that  both the Yeshiva and the University are essential to the core value of Torah U’Mada. But the primary function of a Yeshiva University should be the Yeshiva. Torah study is the primary value in Torah U’Mada. Mada (secular knowledge) is secondary, albeit of high value and to be studied diligently. It cannot be the reverse.

Current YU president Richard Joel’s immediate predecessor, Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm,  knew that. He should be seen as the prototype for all future Presidents. That is the kind of President YU needs now. He articulated best YU’s mission and philosophy. He was the rabbi/scholar hired to replace another giant, Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin.

When Dr. Lamm took over, YU was in financial crisis as well. I don’t know if the crisis was of current magnitude, but YU was definitely in deficit mode. Yeshiva University’s directors could have gone the financial route then too. It may have been the prudent thing to do, considering that without funding, YU might have eventually closed its doors. And yet they chose a scholar. Not a fundraiser.

Dr.Lamm rose to the occasion. Under his tenure, YU’s financial fortunes were reversed. By the time of his retirement, they had a surplus instead of a deficit. At the same time YU’s philosophy was not only maintained but clarified and promoted by its president. He was not only a scholar but a Talmud Chacham. This is what the image of YU president should be.

What about the financial crisis? Ye of little faith! Being a scholar does not mean you cannot rise to meet the financial needs of the school. Dr. Lamm proved that. To the best of my knowledge he had little to no fundraising experience and yet was able to put YU on its financial feet – and then some! Torah  and Mada are not mutually exclusive. And neither is Torah knowledge, scholarship, and fundraising ability.

In my view someone like Rabbi Ari Berman is the right man for this job. Like Dr. Lamm, he was a pulpit rabbi before he became YU’s president. And like Dr. Lamm he is both a scholar and a Talmud Chacham. Ironically both men served as rabbi at the same synagogue before coming to YU. Although Rabbi Berman had a bit of a detour – living in Israel where he received his PhD from Hebrew University, that just adds to his resume in my view.

We are at a pivotal time in Jewish History. There are many forces pulling us in opposite directions. The left is trying to pull us away from tradition while the right pursues an ever increasing type of insularity. There has to be a strong institution with a strong leader at its helm that resides in the center – living and loving Torah while engaging with the rest of the world without compromising our values. That will be to our benefit and to theirs.

That is what I believe YU’s mandate should be. It has been and still is considered the flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy. Perhaps the only ‘ship’ of Modern Orthodoxy. YU should lead the way and be a light unto ourselves, the Jewish people, and to the world. At the helm of such an institution you cannot place a fundraiser. You need someone with a background and credentials that can articulate the mission of the school. That was Rabbi Dr. Lamm.  And that is what I believe Rabbi Dr. Berman could be – given the chance.

What about the money? You have to have faith in quality people that they will to rise to the occasion. Based on what I have read about him, I believe Rabbi Berman is that man. I agree with his vision of Achdus. It is the right message for our time. I will end with an excerpt from the Forward that excerpted my own excerpt of a Cross Currents excerpt from Jewish Action magazine - to which I say Amen:   
(Rabbi Berman’s Hashkafos published in old edition of) Jewish Action magazine, resurfaced this week in the widely read Orthodox blog Emes Ve-Emunah. In the 2-decades-old article, written while he was at The Jewish Center, Berman advocates solidarity between the Modern Orthodox and the ultra-Orthodox. “The more we emphasize this for ourselves and develop intra-Orthodox programs that focus on our common bond of Torah and mitzvot, the more likely it will be that we can develop into one united community,” 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Objectifying Women and Women as Rabbis

Shabbos without mothers or daughters (TOI)
Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is a friend. I met her on my last trip to Israel. She is an intelligent woman whose sense of fairness and justice I admire. I often agree with her view on how certain segments of Orthodoxy treat women. But sometimes I don’t. Her latest contribution to the public discourse is featured in the Times of Israel and demonstrates both.

Shoshanna discusses two entirely different aspects of how women are treated and asserts that in both cases, there are great injustices being done. I agree with her on the first and disagree on the second. I have discussed both issues in the past. She knows my views.

First there is the issue of erasing women entirely from the public square. I am with her on this 100%. Her point is that it has become increasingly popular in right wing circles to erase women from the public square.

In the more extreme right of certain Chasidic groups this has always been the case.  But this idea has been slowly creeping into the mainstream. Orthodox publications that in the past have had no Halachic - or even Hashkafic - issue with publishing pictures of modestly dressed are now beginning to restrict them.

Not long ago, for example, Agudah published 2 pictures of a group of Agudah activists that were in Washington DC. One picture had all of the participants in it. And one had the women photo-shopped out of it. They did this to accommodate those who wanted to publish a picture but do not publish pictures of women.

The Agudah Moetzes apparently see nothing wrong with publishing pictures of women. And even though I disagree with them about photo-shopping women out of a picture, I understand why they did it. They did it out of respect.  So that to those who will not publish such pictures they offered a photo-shopped version of it sans women. They simply want the publicity in as many Orthodox publications as they can get.

We are beginning to witness this type of censorship more than ever. It’s almost becoming the norm. 2 major Charedi magazines refuse to do it even though they know there is nothing wrong with it.  Why? What possible reasons does even the extreme right have for not publishing pictures of women?

They will explain it a question of Shmiras Eynayim – guarding your eyes. Men are too easily enticed by the sight of a woman – even in a picture. To avoid being a Michshol – a stumbling block to their male readers they have simply avoided publishing any pictures, not matter how modestly a woman is dressed. That normal men are not enticed by the sight of a modestly dressed woman seems to be lost on them. In our day women are as much in the public square as men. We all encounter each other all the time in all places. Which kind of makes eliminating pictures of women for purposes of Michsol ridiculous. Shoshanna also notes another argument they make. That they do this as:   
a direct response to the permissiveness and sexualization of women in contemporary society and a way to protect them from men’s inevitable attractions. 
That one segment of Orthodoxy still feels this way is up to them. However, once other segments start doing it, it hurts all of us. How does it hurt? Shoshanna explains: 
Erasing the female form objectifies women just as much as the secular world’s overexposure does. And removing all images of mothers and daughters implies that a normal nonsexual image is somehow lewd and improper. And so we end up with images of Shabbat tables with no mother or daughters. 
I am in complete agreement with her on this. But then she touches on an entirely different subject. Which has been the source of much controversy: leadership positions (as in rabbis) for women in the realm of Orthodoxy.

There I am in total disagreement with her. But not for the reasons she suggests. She believes strongly that women should be able to do whatever a man does as long as they are physically and intellectually capable of doing it - limited only by Halacha. In principle I agree with her. Outside of Orthodox Judaism, the only qualifications for any position in the world are the 2 things I mentioned: physical and intellectual capacity. Gender should not be a factor at all. But when it comes to leadership positions in Orthodoxy that is another story.

I have no personal issue with a female rabbi. I have mentioned this before. When I was a rabbinic student in the early 70’s I wrote an essay in a now defunct Chicago Jewish publication advocating the ordination of women. I saw no problem with it then. But I failed to consider the break with Mesorah (tradition) this would be. Although there are other reasons breaking with Mesorah is the one most frequently given by those opposed to  it.

For me, the more important issue is the broad based opposition to it by virtually all of mainstream Orthodox leadership. The one thing my opposition is not based on is misogyny. To imply that there are misogynistic reasons for my opposition is insulting.

Like it or not, unless there is legitimate dissent among the Poskim - we do have to listen to the majority rabbinic leadership in cases where their agreement crosses Hashkafic lines. And that is the case here. Even if there is a legitimate opinion by a Daas Yachid – a rabbi of stature who can show them why they are wrong. 

At the risk of citing an analogy to illustrate this point - there is a famous story of the Tanur Shel Achnoi in the Gemarah in Bava Metzia (59b). God gave man the rabbinic authority to do decide matters of Halacha using certain hermeneutic principles. When they arrive at a decision based on them – it is the law even if they are proven wrong by a rabbi of stature. The highly respected rabbi in the Gemarah that tried that was excommunicated!

The opposition to female leadership roles in Orthodoxy is just about universal except for the extreme left. You can’t assert your views against that kind of opposition no matter how knowledgeable you are or how righteous  you view your cause.

This is not to say that women can’t have any public role in Orthodoxy. They can and they do. But there has to be a consensus… an acceptance by at least some legitimate rabbinic segment of Orthodoxy if not all of them.  This is the case with Yoetzet Halacha - which I support. As it stands now, only the most extreme left wing of Orthodoxy accepts women as rabbis. (Some would argue that segment is no longer even Orthodox).

What about the prophetess Devorah? Was she not a leader? How could she as a woman do it while we say a woman today cannot? The answer is quite simple. She was a prophetess and accepted by all. Being a prophetess puts her into an entirely different category that even the brightest and most talented woman or man in our day! But perhaps more importantly - Devorah was accepted by all! She was the exception that proved the rule.

I cannot therefore support Shoshanna in this. It has nothing to do with my own personal views. It has to do with acceptance. If a woman is not going to be accepted by virtually all of the mainstream leadership, then she cannot be considered a leader in Klal Yisroel no matter how many laypeople or individual rabbis on the left do.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Who Will Be More Effective Against Terror?

The recent spate of exploding bombs in New York and New Jersey (and a series of stabbings by an Islamist radical in Minnesota - making sure that his victims were not Muslims) once again raises the question of how safe we are from terrorist attacks.

After 9/11 unprecedented steps were taken by the US government to protect us from the kind of savagery perpetrated by suicidal radical Islamists on that day in 2001. Including the creation of the new cabinet level Department of Homeland Security.  For the most part this has kept us relatively safe. At least when compared to European countries. But being ‘relatively’ safe is not the same as being safe – as this weekend has shown.

Thankfully no one was killed or seriously injured from those bombs. But the same cannot be said about other attacks this country has experienced from radical Islam. Boston, Orlando, San Bernardino, among other locations have experienced terrible carnage at the hands of those ‘true believers’.

As much as security has been increased in this country ...and as much as we seem to be safer than Europe, we are not free from the terrorism that is Radical Islam.

One may ask, ‘How can we improve our security?’ What can we do to eliminate or at least significantly reduce the incidence of deadly terror that hasn’t been done yet? This brings me to the current Presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Most people know that I am voting for Clinton… or more precisely against Trump. The reason is quite simple. As bad as Clinton might be, Trump scares me. I don’t want his impetuous hand on the nuclear trigger. Nor do I like his seat of the pants decision making process. Or his waffling on the issues while denying his views have ever changed. Or the other blatant lies which he refuses to acknowledge. Or his penchant for insulting women, immigrants, and the handicapped among others. Or his support from racists, bigots, and antisemites like Louis Farrakhan and David Duke. Or his lack of any experience governing. Or his obvious lack of knowledge on many issues of the day. Any one of those reasons is enough to reject his candidacy, let alone all of them. But I’ve said all this before.

There is one area, however, where his rhetoric is far more appealing. It is his determination to more effectively deal with Radical Islam. While it is true that he has not revealed his plans about how to do that, I like his attitude. So does the electorate, apparently. Mrs. Clinton’s double digit lead in the polls over Trump has completely evaporated. (Although that's probably due as much to her e-mail troubles, her own penchant for lying, health issues, and some foolish statements about Trump voters - as it is to his anti terror rhetoric).This means that half of the voting public in this country prefers Trump over Clinton! And no... half of them are not ‘deplorables’.

I have said in the past that based strictly on what I believe to be a better attitude towards Israel and its current leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, I would vote for Trump enthusiastically. Add to that his greater determination to fight radical Islam, and it would otherwise be a no brainer.

But there are those other ‘little details’ I mentioned. So the ‘no brainer’ is to vote for Clinton. I just wish she would be a little more ‘Trump-like’ in her approach to radical Islam. The initial responses of the two candidates to the bombings in New York and New Jersey tells you the story. 

Trump said that we have to get tougher. Clinton said we need to examine the facts before we make any conclusions. Well… of course we have to examine the facts. But I did not hear any determination in her voice. Not this time and not really ever. What I have heard is a lot of gobbledygook about how it isn’t Islam doing this. It is just Jihadists doing it… as though Islam had nothing to do with it.

First let me reiterate what I have said many times. Most Muslims abhor what is being done by Islamist radicals in the name of their religion. The vast majority of the mainstream Islamic community – both lay leaders and clerics - have forcefully condemned it each time it has happened.

I live among Muslims here in West Roger Park. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t see several women dressed in Burkas walking down the street. They do not bother me in the slightest. They are as peaceful as can be... and very polite on those occasions when I interact with them. In fact there is a Muslim owned and operated grocery store near my home that has a sign in its window saying they carry products bearing an OU, OK, or CRC kosher symbol! 

But you cannot get away from the fact that in just about every single case of recent terror in Europe and in the US, the perpetrators were motivated by a version of Islam that is preached by numerous Islamist clerics all over the world. This is an Islamic problem despite protestation to the contrary by peaceful Muslims and political apologists like Hillary Clinton.

What can Clinton do? …one might ask.  Even if she granted that the problem is sourced in a radical version of Islam (which she hasn’t done and probably never will)? Well for one thing she should be advocating for the kind of extreme vetting of Muslims entering this country that Trump is advocating - and not increasing the quota of Muslim refugees.

Still, my heart goes out to these refugees, the vast majority of whom are suffering the ravages of war and are not terrorists. Of course this Medina Shel Chesed – benevolent nation - should be taking in these refugees under normal circumstances.  But these are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary measueres.

All it takes is one. All it takes is one radical Islamist to sneak into this country disguised as a refugee and perpetrate the kind of terror experienced last weekend in New York and New Jersey by an immigrant from Afghanistan. 

In this regard, Trump is right. Much as we would like to live up to our reputation as a benevolent country, protecting our citizens comes first. Which is why many states (including my own - Illinois) have barred Muslim refugees from entering. There is a reason Europe has had so much terrorist carnage recently. They have allowed a virtual free flow of Muslim refugees into their country. It was therefore impossible to vet them all properly and Islamist radicals snuck in disguised as refugees. While extreme vetting may not be foolproof, it is a lot better than opening up the floodgates.

Would a Trump presidency improve our security? Will his polices more effectively deal with terror? Will his administration be more adept at ridding the world of ISIS and like minded radical Islamists? I don’t know. But I assume he would be listening a lot more to his hawkish advisers than to his dovish ones… as our current President does.

Hillary Clinton whose overly cautious approach combined with a political correctness - both of which mimics Barack Obama’s approach - will produce the same results we have had till now. The last thing we need is more of the same. Ask the families of the victims in Boston, Orlando, and San Bernardino. 

It’s too bad Trump is so unqualified for the job (for all the reasons I mentioned above – and probably a lot more). Because on the issues of Israel and fighting terror, I like what he’s saying a lot more than what I hear Clinton saying.

Monday, September 19, 2016

East Ramapo – Revisited

Guest Contribution by RYS

Some members of the East Ramapo School Board as constructed last year
Just over a year ago, in June of 2015, I had written post about the optics of an Orthodox Jewish majority running the East Ramapo Central School District. They were democratically elected by an electorate that is predominantly Orthodox.  At the time I said that they had done nothing wrong in executing their duty and that the problems of underfunded public schools in that district were probably sourced in a flawed state allocation formula.

But I also said that ever since the school board had come to consist predominantly of Orthodox Jews, the perception of a flourishing Jewish parochial school system versus an underfunded public school system just looked bad – even though there was nothing untoward going on.  Which is why I chose the title of that post to read: Sometimes Being Right – is Wrong.

That post generated a heated exchange totaling a whopping 267 comments.

The following is a response to that post and many of the comments based on subsequent developments. It is authored by RYS, a frequent commenter here. RYS grew up in and is part of the Charedi community in the New York area; and attended traditional Yeshivos both in the US and Israel. He learned in Kollel for a number of years and has spent the last 30 years in a variety of positions in Jewish communal service. I know his identity and have had many email correspondences with him. He currently has an important communal position, and is a passionate defender of the Charedi world (albeit a bit over the top on occasion). Even though we occasionally disagree, I respect his views. His words follow:

First I would like to thank Rabbi Maryles for this opportunity. Full disclosure we have has a lengthy correspondence over this issue for the last few days, when he was kind enough to offer me a guest post to elaborate. Being how much pride Rabbi Maryles takes in his blog, taking great care that all posts both his own and guest ones are of the highest quality, I will do my best to live up to those standards.

For the last few years there has been lots of talk both in the general media, as well as here on Emes V’Emunah about the East Ramapo Central School District (ERCSD) in a suburb about 30 miles north of New York City in Rockland County. It is an issue that has aroused passions on each side, has been debated endlessly in the New York State Legislature, and was recently a major issue in a local election.

For a brief background, the village of Monsey, NY (which is part of the town of Ramapo) has been transformed from a sleepy hamlet 50 years ago, to a major Orthodox Jewish population center with Greater Monsey now including a number of surrounding towns including Spring Valley, Wesley Hills, New Hempstead, Concord, Forshay, Pomona and others. It is teeming with shuls , yeshivas, shopping and all other amenities, and includes two exclusive incorporated all Chasidic  villages.

As with any group, these new residents began using their democratic rights and involved themselves in the political system. And this included the most local of all, elections to the local school board. And in due time the orthodox/Charedi representatives became a majority of the school board, which was roughly in proportion to their share of the population.

As the orthodox population grew, the Board was faced with a major dilemma. In NY State, schools are funded in two ways. One is through property taxes, which is why more affluent suburban areas generally have better schools, as their tax revenue is higher. Whatever is not covered by property taxes, the state makes up the shortfall. However the state formula is based on the number of children enrolled in the public schools in each district. This is what caused the dilemma in ERCSD. Although there are about 25,000 schoolchildren in the district, only about a third attend public schools, as the vast majority attend yeshivas and other private schools. This consequently caused major budget shortfalls.

At the same time there are certain services that are state mandated for every child whether they attend public or private schools, including special education, remedial services and others. And so the Board either had to deny children their state mandated services or cut back in non essential areas of public schools like music sports etc. The cuts also included selling unused buildings as the public school population dwindled.  Some of these cuts were painful, but with perennial funding shortfalls the board had no choice.

It didn’t take long for ugliness to ensue. Parents of public school children accused the democratically elected board of favoring the yeshiva children over their own and unfortunately many of these accusations had anti Semitic innuendos. The ERSCD was hit with a lawsuit accusing the board of depriving their children of a proper education, and the local elected officials got involved. One Elllen Jaffee a local assemblywoman even questioned on the floor of the New York State assembly if the orthodox Jews were legitimate voters as seen in this video.

As a result of this vitriol, calls were raised for an independent monitor with veto power over the democratically elected board. Thankfully the State Senate had the good sense to realize that such a monitor would be a blatant violation of the will of the local voters.

This month New York State held primary elections for the state legislature. Ms. Jaffee was up for re-election and was opposed by many in the orthodox community due to her antagonism towards those voters to whom she questioned their legitimacy. At the same time in a neighboring district, Aron Wieder a former School Board president, and currently a member of the Rockland County legislator ran in the Democratic primary. If successful , Mr. Wider would be the first Chasidic member of the New York State Legislature.

Once again the election brought out the usual complaints against the orthodox community. In an op ed in a local publication called the Rockland Voice, one Jeff Gillies in responding to an exhortation by Mr. Chaskel  Bennett, a trustee of Agudath Israel of America urging people to vote with the quote “If You don’t vote you don’t matter”, wrote:
The deeper problem in Rockland County is that the ultra-religious sects for whom Mr. Bennet is working seemingly hold a belief that the electoral victories of their community comes with a license to trample the rights of the minority. This belief is the antithesis of everything our founding fathers worked to achieve, but it is also the simple truth of the matter. 
So according to Mr. Gillies, voting for what you believe and for your rights is the antithesis of the founding fathers. Pretty strong words.  And in a video postedon a Facebook page, Ms . Jaffee’s opponent Tom Gulla was lampooned as a creation of the “bloc”, while Aron Wieder was viciously caricatured as a member of the Taliban.

For the record both Ms. Jaffee and Mr. Wieder prevailed, although Mr. Wieder still has a Republican opponent in November.

On a blog post here a year ago last June dealing with  this topic, Daniel Schwartz, a frequent commenter here, and a former president of the school board (who is not Charedi) was harshly attacked in the comments section primarily by an avowed atheist, using the moniker Rational (sic) Thinker, one who voluntary refrained from commenting here when the moderator placed him on permanent moderation due to his inability to keep his atheistic opinions off the blog. To his credit Mr. Schwartz refused to engage in any substance, just simply stating that the matter is before the courts and he will fight his battles there.

Well…the courts have spoken.  As reported in Hamodia last week a federal appeals court upheld the right of the ERCSB board to fund yeshiva programs and that there was no harm done to public school parents. It is particularly noteworthy that the judge in his decision recognized that the underlying problem stems from an underfunded system.

 In addition the state, recognizing the issue here has allocated an additional $3 million specifically earmarked for the public schools which is greatly alleviating the underlying problem.

In light of the above, I believe a retraction and apology is in order for all those who questioned the veracity of this school board.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

When Prejudice Trumps Rabbinic Authority

Image for illustration  purposes taken from YWN
Prejudice. An ugly word, in my view. Prejudging anything is unfair and unjust. Especially when it comes to people. Nonetheless we are all victims of it. Whether as recipients or as adherents. As recipients the Jewish people needs no commentary. But as holders of prejudicial views there is a lot that needs to be said.

Just a few days ago I was present at a conversation where a good friend of mine – an otherwise  truly decent fellow – spoke in derogatory terms about a minority. Casting them as a group in a less than favorable light. Although I made a point of it being a prejudicial comment - the conversation proceeded without comment by anyone else - as though it was a commonly known fact. 

I have been around a long time. And this kind of talk is common. Of course you will never hear anyone say it in public. But in private conversation it is almost a forgone conclusion – common knowledge about the inferiority of certain groups of people. ‘We all know it’s true.’ But we can’t say so publicly’... seems to be a common attitude. Not by all of us. Hopefully most of us would not feel that way. But certainly far too many of us do. I hear it all the time from otherwise  fine and decent people. Good people that would give you the shirt off of their backs if they thought you needed it.

One can speculate why this is the case, There are a variety of reasons that this kind of prejudice exists. But the one thing that is common among them all, is that it is wrong! Judging someone unfavorably because of his skin color, ethnicity or religion is evil. There are no ‘ifs ands or buts’ about it!

What happens when these prejudices arise in institutional situations? What happens for example when a child is denied entry into a school because of such prejudice? A few years ago, there were serious attempts by some Charedi girls schools in Israel to bar Sephardi students. Officials at those schools denied the accusations of discrimination as the reason. (Don’t they always?) They claimed that new rules were instituted to assure compliance with certain religious standards. The problem was that for some ‘strange reason’ it only affected Sephardi girls. For some reason, only they did not live up to the new ‘religious standards’ of the school.

If I recall correctly both Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv - and later, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman didn’t buy those arguments and insisted that those girls be admitted to the school. Arguments that these girls would lower the standards of the school if they were admitted fell on deaf ears. Because both of these religious leaders understood that the real impediment to their entry was ethnic prejudice against Sephardim.

Well a similar situation has now reared its ugly head again, it appears. Parents whose children were denied entry into Charedi school complained to Israeli officials this time. From YWN
While the matter of discrimination in chareidi girl’s high schools (seminar) is not new, this administration, perhaps more than any preceding it, has announced it will not tolerate such policies and will act immediately and swiftly to prevent it. Previous governments have declared war and promised to end it, but this administration is actually taking the necessary steps, making good on threats to cut school funding.
In the latest incident, Director of the Education Ministry Chareidi District Itzik Zahavi has taken stern action against five high schools accused of continuing to discriminate against girls.
In a letter sent to the schools, it is explained that if they continue to refuse girls assigned to the schools by the ministry, they will face a harsh response including cutting their budget from the ministry. The schools that received the letter include Darchei Rachel (Mendelson), Netivot Chachma (Modi’in Illit), Bnos HaRama (Beit Shemesh), Ateret Rachel (Tiveria) and Einhorn.
Ministry Director-General Michal Cohen explains she has decided to accept the appeal filed by parents claiming discrimination.
Zahavi explains the schools have remained defiant despite earlier warnings and the ministry will not tolerate the discrimination, hence the budgets to the school will be cut. 
These schools are not going to take this threat sitting down. From YWN
As a result of “state involvement in chareidi education” an urgent gathering has been announced for principals of Beis Yaakov high schools, being held on Sunday night 15 Elul. The Union of Seminaries (frum girls’ high schools) is arranging the urgent assembly, reportedly at the behest of HaGaon HaRav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman Shlita…. to discuss how to respond to the state’s involvement regarding who is and is not accepted to schools. 
I have no idea what Rav Ahron Leib Shteiman will say. But I hope he will continue to fight the discriminatory policies of these schools. That said, I understand why he might not. He may very well feel that any government interference in the Charedi educational system should be fought. (I’m sure this is the hope of those schools). R’ Shteinman may feel “Let’s get back control of our schools – and then deal with the discrimination issue - in house - later”.

Perhaps. I can understand it but I don’t agree with it and hope it doesn’t happen. If these schools haven’t listened to their own leaders - who have in the past condemned discrimination... or if they have somehow circumvented their leaders’ admonition with “rules” that somehow end up applying only to certain ethnic groups, then the government should step in. My hope is that R’ Shteinman will surprise them and stand his (anti discrimination) ground.

It may not be pleasant to have the government get involved but one has to consider the consequences if they don’t. Because as history seems to have shown - when it comes to discriminatory policies, they apparently don’t listen to what their leaders say. Which results in great hurt and an injustice for these young Jewish girls. When prejudice trumps rabbinic authority, maybe - just maybe - the government should step in.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Antisemitism or a Chilul HaShem?

Image from Shan and Toad - a high-end children’s clothing retailer (JTA)
“When you talk about Jews, especially Orthodox Jews… you’re talking about money.” “The money of ill gotten gains.”  “Jews are a bunch of unethical crooks out to take financial advantage of their gentile neighbors.”  “Who they see as a bunch of rubes - suckers begging to be swindled!”

I can’t think of too many antisemitic canards that are more stereotypically applied to the Jewish people than the above. Thankfully in this great country of ours, the vast majority of the American people know that this is a lie. Or do they? Read on.

The above sentiments are – and have been – the sentiments of antisemites throughout our history. The great playwright William Shakespeare utilized that stereotype in the character of Shylock, the subject of his play, The Merchant of Venice. Shylock was a moneylender that loaned money to his rival Antonio – using as security an actual pound of his flesh if he did not pay him back the loan. When Antonio defaulted on the loan, Shylock demanded his pound of flesh.

Many have defended Shakespeare on several grounds. One of which is by pointing to Shylock’s famous monologue ‘Hath not a Jew eyes?’ It shows that Shylock was created by the very antisemitism he experienced as a Jew living in the Christian Europe of his day. ‘The villainy you teach me I will execute’ says Shylock.

I am here not to bury Shakespeare, nor to praise him. I am merely pointing out that the stereotype of Jews financially abusing their gentile neighbors has been around for a long time.

That the American people mostly realize that the Jewish people are not like this is perhaps only by the grace of God. Because unfortunately, there have been too many incidents of this by people that are identifiably Orthodox Jews. Which gives the American people ample reason to judge us that way. Grace of God that they generally don’t!

It takes but a few very public religious Jews displaying illegal or unethical behavior for people to jump to the erroneous conclusion – that all Jews are like that. Which is why I – as an Orthodox Rabbi - so quickly condemn them when stories these are reported in the media. I am not going to name names. But if you have been reading this blog long enough, you know who they are. The list of names spans all Hashkafos: Charedi, Yeshivish, Chasidic, Sephardi, and Modern Orthodox.

Well now there is another reason to further that negative stereotype. And it involves more than one public figure. It seems there is a pattern of unethical – and even dishonest behavior on the part of entire Orthodox communities. Or at least enough people from those communities that may result in the most widespread Chilul HaShem (based on financial fraud) in my lifetime. From JTA:
On Wednesday, JTA reported that Shan and Toad, a high-end children’s clothing retailer, had a very specific return policy: Customers could return non-sale items for a full refund — except for residents of five communities in New York and New Jersey, all of which have a significant Orthodox population.
Those living in those zip codes, which include Brooklyn and Passaic, New Jersey, could exchange unworn items or return them for store credit only — a policy that some decried as discrimination against Orthodox Jews.
But in an e-mail to JTA sent Thursday, Shana Laub, the owner of the online shop, denied allegations that her company’s return policy was in any way discriminatory against Orthodox Jews.
“Thank you for the opportunity to explain my return policy and its genesis and hopefully repair both any damage done and my reputation,” the message read.
(Store owner Shana) Laub emphasized that her store accepted returns from all areas, and that residents of these five areas could still return unworn clothes for store credit. She said she implemented the more restrictive return policies because “the survival of the business had been threatened by abuse of its return policy among customers in a few concentrated areas,” she wrote.
She continued: “Those customers would place large orders and return all, or nearly all of the items they had purchased, often in poor condition, and only after a substantial delay.”
Taking advantage of a return policy is one thing. But using a purchased item and then returning it for a full refund is Geneiva! A violation of Jewish law. (As if anyone might think it isn’t!) People that do that are guilty of deception and theft. They are so careful to observe ritual laws like Shabbos and Yom Tov; keeping Kosher;  fasting on Yom Kippur; keeping the very difficult laws of family purity; laws; praying daily... that they do all these things and more religiously - and  yet feel absolutely no guilt stealing from non Jewish or non Orthodox Jewish merchants that are only trying to make a living - belies their actual religiosity. 

Being a religious Jew does not mean only keeping Shabbos. It means not stealing! (As if that isn’t obvious!) It means not being deceptive by pretending to buy merchandise, use it, and then return it for a full refund!

I have known people that do this kind of thing. Suffice it to say that I didn’t think much of their ethics. But the fact that this practice seems to be so widespread is a shock to me. If I weren’t an Orthodox Jew - knowing that most Jews do not behave like this, I would draw the very same conclusions with which I began this post!

What kind of Jewish education have we Orthodox Jews had that allows so many of us to cheat others without an iota of guilt?! I suspect not a very good one!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

You Can’t Make a Cheeseburger Kosher

If it were up to me, I would make cheeseburgers Kosher. If it were up to me I would change a lot of Halachos. I might even get rid of all of them and become a humanist. Or maybe a hedonist. Or both.

But of course I can’t do that. Because I am not God. I am a believing Jew whom God has commanded to lead his life a certain way. This is why I follow Halacha. Although I do love much of the Torah’s requirement of us - like Shabbos – I am not necessarily in love with every single detail of it. But I follow it because I believe that the ultimate good can only be defined by God. That I don’t like or understand a Godly directive, is irrelevant to my following it. 

Those directives are what the Torah and its interpretation by the sages in the Mishna and Talmud is all about. As is the interpretation of those sages by Rishonim (medieval commentators) and Achronim (later commentators) all the way up to our day and going forward.

This and our belief system as outlined by Maimonides 13 fundamental principles of faith is what Orthodox Judaism is all about. (While there has been some recent discussion challenging some of Maimonides 13 principals for a variety of reasons, mainstream Orthodoxy considers them all important. Discussion of this is beyond the scope of this post.)

As an Orthodox Jew I am required to advocate for observance of Halacha to all Jews in all cases. This is based on the principle of Kol Yisroel Areivim Zeh LaZeh. Every Jew is responsible for the welfare (both material and spiritual) of his fellow Jew.

How to go about that is a legitimate question. I am a believer in the honey approach over the vinegar approach. The one thing I oppose is what has come to be known in Israel as ‘shoving religion down people’s throats’. I am opposed to legislation that does that. Because instead of winning over the hearts and minds of the vast majority of Jews in Israel that are traditional to one extent or another (but not Orthodox) you end up alienating them. In some cases turning them into enemies! 

‘The ways of the Torah are pleasant’. That should be the guiding principle when trying to show non observant Jews the beauty of a Torah observant lifestyle. If we want to convey this message we need to inspire them. Not hit them over the head with a hammer.

This is one of the reasons I oppose things like closing down all the streets or public parking lots in Jerusalem on Shabbos. Much as I would like to see the holiest city on the planet be fully Shomer Shabbos, forcing non observant Jews to do that is the wrong way to go about it.

But this approach has its limits. There are some areas of Halacha that may upset the majority of Israelis that nevertheless must be maintained in the public domain. One of those in the area of conversions to Judaism. If one is to be true to his beliefs one cannot allow those beliefs to  be undermined because they are not popular. Even in a Democracy like Israel. Because Israel is not only a Democracy, it is Jewish State. Which brings me to a story in the Forward that reported on a recent poll taken of both Israelis and Americans: 
A large majority of American and Israeli Jews say Israel should recognize marriages and conversions performed by Reform and Conservative rabbis.
poll conducted by The Jerusalem Post and the American Jewish Committee found that 74 percent of American Jews and 62 percent of Israeli Jews believe the non-Orthodox rites should be recognized. The findings were released Tuesday.
In Israel, the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate controls all religious ceremonies — including marriage, divorce, conversion and burial — and those performed by non-Orthodox clergy are not recognized by the state.
The survey of 1,002 Americans and 500 Israelis also found that a plurality of American Jews, 48 percent, think Orthodox control of the Rabbinate weakens ties between their community and Israel. A similar portion of Israeli Jews, 54 percent, do not want Orthodox control over religious matters in their country. 
While this poll was about marriages and pluralism at the Kotel as well as conversions, I want to focus on conversions. Which in my view is the most important of those issues. 

I never had any doubt that non Orthodox Jews would favor allowing non Orthodox conversions. But as a public policy matter that affects the personal status of every Jew, recognizing conversions which are not considered valid by all denominations would create a Pandora ’s Box of who is and is not considered a Jew. Which among other things affects who a Jew can Halachicly marry.

It’s not that I don’t want to be fair to non Orthodox rabbis. I would love to be. But I can no more accept a non Halachic conversion than eat a cheeseburger, much as I would like to do both.

That said, if I saw a non observant Jew eating one at a McDonalds, I would never go in there and admonish them – embarrassing them in public. I wouldn’t even do it in private. Although I may be obligated to get them to stop admonishment is not the way to do it.

But when it comes to public policy that affects us all, I have to take a stand that is unpopular to the majority and oppose the Jewish State passing a law that would recognize non Orthodox conversions. There has to be a system in place that assures that every conversion done is recognized by  all. Not just some. If not, you have chaos! Recognizing conversions by one denomination that are not recognized by another would make Israeli society more divided than ever!

This is not about rejecting fellow Jews. This isn’t about shoving anything down anyone’s throat. This is about making sure that when someone says he is a Ger Tzedek – a righteous convert, that he or she is accepted by all.

That being said, I do think there has been some heavy handedness in this department by the Chief Rabbinate. And some serious controversy about which Orthodox conversions are and are not accepted. That has to be corrected. I believe that people of good will can accomplish that. What cannot happen, however, is to abandon Halacha in favor of the public will.

*The original  photo accompanying this post has been replaced. It was too easily linked to the post title by readers which made it seem like the title was message about the person in the photo. Although that was never my intent. I now see how that mistake can easily be made. I apologize for that. And specifically apologize to that individual, his family, and friends if it cost them any embarrassment.