Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A Masterful Analysis of a Troubling Issue

Chasidim - Do they not care what the world thinks of them -of Jews?
He nailed it! Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein’s post on Cross-Currents expresses my views almost to a T on an issue that has been troubling me for a long time. Which is how the Chasidic world view themselves in contrast to the outside world - and that they present themselves to the world in a manner that seems to not care how they are perceived. Thereby constantly embarrassing the rest of Orthodox Jewry; often causing a Chilul HaShem in the process.

Rabbi Adlerstein was reacting to a 3 part series about Chasidim by Elizabeth Llorente on Fox News. His ‘verdict’ was that the Fox presentation showed the most overtly religious Jews among us behaving deplorably. Not because of any reporter bias. That, he said was pretty much unbiased.

I touched upon this after seeing the first of that three part series last week… and had a similar reaction. Only Rabbi Adlerstein said it so much better than I did – in a clearer and more detailed way. Rather than paraphrasing, I am going to do something I rarely do: excerpt heavily from that post… and let Rabbi Adlerstein speak for himself (I urge readers to read his article in its entirety at Cross-Currents): 
Elizabeth Llorente had the luxury of telling it like she saw it… As an outsider looking in, she was not unfair. Some in our community will yell – as they always do – “anti-Semitism” whenever crimes and misdemeanors are discovered – oblivious to the fact that everyone today is fair game. The screamers have convinced themselves that the core goodness of our community is so obvious and manifest, that only a hater would fail to see it. How we wish that were true…! 
(Llorente got some things wrong…. and some quotes may have been taken out of context or edited unfairly with possible bias). Be that as it may, what viewers and readers saw and read contained some disturbing sequences, regardless of how they got there. This series was not just another article in one of myriad journals. Fox News is big. It is where a plurality of this country is most comfortable getting their news. The images it creates will linger.
The airing of extremely harmful ideas about part of the Orthodox community in the most public of forums leaves the rest of us with unenviable choices: either defend the indefensible, or declare that they are not us. One strikes at our sense of truth; the other at our connection to other observant Jews, with whom we disagree about many issues, but with whom we share the most important things in life – our commitment to Torah and mitzvos. 
At least three destructive notions emerged:
1. The best defense that the Hasidim came up with against the charge that they are gaming the system of government entitlements is that it is entirely legal. This is true. It is a deeply flawed system, and many groups take advantage of it, all staying within the limits of the law. There is nothing illegal in doing a better job than most groups in filling out the documents, so that yours get approved.
But there is also nothing illegal in those others learning to hate you – in feeling that they have become patsies whom you are conspiring to divest of as much of their money as you can. Are they expected to simply accept that it is their tax dollars that are keeping your system afloat, and feeding its growth, generation after generation? Have we Jews forgotten that we are more vulnerable than all of those other groups who are doing the same, but are not going to pay the same price?
What do we think happens when the following is projected on the screen in bold, large font letters, are allowed to linger?
The average yeshiva graduate: •speaks little or no English, •has few or no marketable skills, •earns a household income well below the average Brooklynite’s, •marries young and has many children, and •is forced to rely upon public assistance to support his large family.
50-70% of Hasidic Jews are on public assistance…
What is everyone else thinking? Have we forgotten to be mindful of what others think? Are we shallow enough to believe that what is legal is necessarily ethical – or wise marketing for ourselves? 
2.  Hasidim were portrayed as dismissive and contemptuous of everyone else. They acknowledged their isolationism as justified by the threat of the alternative: a world of drugs, crime, and no values. Now, some of us would debate whether or not the problems they point to – arguably present in parts of the non-hasidic world – are the only colors on the palette that should be used to paint a picture of what is outside.
Can anyone, however, think that it is a good idea to tell millions of people, “You are worthless failures at conducting yourselves like human beings. Only we have it right. That’s part of the reason you shouldn’t object to supporting us. Pretty obvious, sucker, no?”
Viewers saw absolutely no minimal regard or respect for people outside the community. Here is how the on-screen spokeman dismissed opponents of the expansion of eruvin to new areas: “If these little towns want to putz around with racism, no problem. We have and we shall overcome them. … They’ll be running for cover, because the lawsuits will be coming…These are none other than racist low-life bastards.”
3. The contempt that the spokesman showed for others included casual racism – the very racism he attributed to others. He reported on an attempt to mix Jewish kids with non-Jewish kids at an event in the same school district. He pointed with pride to the fact that none of his kids had ever heard a particular four letter word beginning with the sixth letter of the alphabet. On the other hand, the “Latino” kid kept liberally describing things he didn’t like with a different four letter word, prompting the spokesman to pull his team after a half hour, declaring that the game was over. Our side was not going to run the risk of being contaminated by the other.
But any point he scored in showing the innocence of the Jewish kids was offset by attaching a label-of-origin to the offending party, displaying animus for an entire group. 
Rabbi Adlerstein contrasts this with an introspective article by Shlomi Gil in Mishpacha Magazine. One which I too had dealt with not long ago. Mishpacha took a hard look at a serious problem and did not sugar coat it, or make excuses. They dealt with the unvarnished truth openly and honestly. I pretty much agree with Rabbi Adlerstein’s assessment here too. Which can be detected in my own piece on it.

Fox presented a pretty damning picture of a world in ascendancy. It is no secret that the population of the Chasidic world increases exponentially (there’s that word again) every generation – increasing its numbers more than any other segment of Jewry. It is not unreasonable to assume that with the decline of the non Orthodox population numbers  Orthodox Jews will at some point be the defining component of Jewry in this country. Chasidim like the ones in the Fox series will be the largest segment.

I shudder to think of that. What was portrayed in this series might just be the way all observant Jewry will eventually be seen. And turn the perception of Jews in America from being the most admired people in the country to the most hated. Sadly, I do not see anything to indicate otherwise.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Nation of Immigrants – and Yet…

Holocaust era assistant Secretary of State, Breckenridge Long
I’ve more or less avoided dealing with the issue of illegal immigration. Not because it isn’t important. It clearly is. I have avoided it because it has been almost impossible for me to formulate exactly what is the right path to take.

Especially since it is my people who paid very dearly for being denied immigration to the US just before and during the Holocaust because of immigration quotas. Although it turns out that actual quotas were never filled because Assistant Secretary of State, Breckenridge Long, an antisemite was in charge of issuing immigration visas. 

He slowed immigration to the United States for hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing persecution and murder by Nazi Germany. I am therefore very sympathetic to people trying to get into this country that are persecuted by their government.  

Reluctant as I am to discuss it, I have given it some thought, and have decided to wade into it. Although my views are not set in stone by any stretch - and subject to change,

First let me state the obvious. The punitive measures currently being used by our government against people crossing the US border illegally are inhumane! Children are being separated from their parents who are detained in virtual cages. To listen to the cry of a child begging to stay with a parent as he or she is being hauled away and imprisoned is beyond heartbreaking! I can’t imagine a greater psychological trauma to a young child than that.

The US may be acting fully within its legal rights, but it is not acting morally or with any sense of compassion. So as an observant Jew - I join religious leaders of all faiths, including every Jewish denomination - from Reform to Orthodox who have themselves joined in common cause and condemned this practice. I was also pleased to see the Agudah express these sentiments in a public statement (available at Cross-Currents).

That said I fully understand the need to limit immigration. Every nation has a right to protect its borders and serve its own interests. So unless there is persecution involved where asylum comes into play, an open border would mean flooding the country with people desperately poor seeking jobs for menial pay just  to feed their families. While we must have compassion for these people, we can’t allow unlimited immigration. It would flood the market; hurt the American worker and alter our way of life by lowering our standard of living. (I should note that it is a real tribute to the United States that illegal immigrants do so much better here than in their countries of origin even doing menial work for menial pay.)

As it stands now there are about 50,000 illegal immigrants per month sneaking into this country. Some are actually trying to escape persecution. Most are just seeking a better life for their families. And some are just plain criminals that ought to be punished to the fullest extent of the law and then deported (Unless they have committed a capital offence for which they are sentenced to execution or life imprisonment.)

All law abiding people seeking a better life are welcome here. We are a nation of immigrants. But only if it is done legally. Those who don’t must pay a price for breaking the law. Unless they are being persecuted in their country of origin - they should be deported immediately upon being caught. Those who claim persecution should be given a hearing. If their claims are found to be legitimate they should be granted asylum. One thing that should not happen is separating children from their parents. That is just plain cruel.

It distresses me that this issue has become so political. President Trump is not wrong to worry about the criminal element crossing our borders. Many of those criminals are violent. It is sometimes difficult to know which immigrant is a violent criminal and which one isn’t. They don’t exactly carry signs that say ‘violent criminal’ when they cross the border. Securing the border is not an evil Nazi-like plan. It isn’t even a Breckenridge Long type plan. There should be no prejudice involved.

The most troubling aspect of the illegal immigration issue (aside from the current one of separating children from their parents) is what to do about the so-called ‘Dreamers’. These are illegal immigrants whose parents sneaked into this country bringing them in as young children. They had no choice in the matter. Meanwhile they were raised as Americans and know no other way of life. Deporting them may technically be legal - but at the same time grossly unfair and in my view - immoral!

‘Dreamers’ should be given immediate legal status and a path to citizenship. Their parents should be given legal status too. But I would not reward them with a path to citizenship, because they broke the law getting into this country. However, in cases  where persecution was involved, I would cut those parents some slack and give them a path to citizenship too. Even though they did not go through proper channels by asking for political asylum at the time. Compassion dictates this course of action, in my view.

Protecting our borders from the criminal element is a legitimate concern. As is preventing hundreds of thousands (perhaps even millions!) of immigrant per year sneaking in to simply better their lives and those of their families. Bettering one’s life by immigrating into this country is what America is all about. But it must be done legally. For those that don’t, there must be consequences.

And yet, even as I say this I am mindful of how my own people were treated when they tried to immigrate to America before and during the Holocaust because of Nazi persecution. If only more of them would have sneaked in illegally, Jewish lives would have been saved.  However, the key word there is persecution. Which the State Department ignored  because of an antisemitic assistant Secretary of State.  And that makes all the difference in the world.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Michael Chabon's Nihilism

HUC honorary PhD recipient, Chabon and his sponsor Tamara Eskenazi (JTA)
Pulitzer Prize-winning author,  Michael Chabon, has made quite the splash in the Jewish media.

I hadn’t paid much attention to him since he is outside of my Orthodox Jewish orbit. I usually don’t lend much credibility to statements about Judaism from an avowed atheist. His views are unlikely to have any impact on me or my beliefs.  I was sure I would disagree with him but that hardly mattered. 

Although I do on occasion pay attention to what some non Orthodox Jews say, it is usually either because they have made comments in concert with Orthodoxy (eg. Jack Wertheimer and Daniel Gordis), or because those comments did somehow impact us and required a response (as in challenging the religious status qou in Israel). Otherwise I tend to ignore them. I believed that a Jewish atheist giving an address at the commencement exercise of a Reform seminary (HUC) was completely irrelevant to authentic Judaism as Orthodoxy defines it.

Michael Chabon’s views certainly qualify as having no relevance to the Torah; my beliefs and way of life; or to anyone who believes in the truths of the Torah. So he fell easily into my usual practice of ignoring them. That was the case until I happened to read an editorial by Chicago Jewish News publisher, Joseph Aaron. (It was about having compassion for Roseanne Barr ...which I actually agree with him about – but is beside the point of this post). He mentioned Chabon in passing. Here is what he said that precipitated my discussing it: 
Michael Chabon …delivered a diatribe against Jewish inmarriage. Chabon, author of several acclaimed novels, spoke about how he once wanted his children to marry Jews, but now opposes the idea of Jews marrying Jews. He also spoke of his own atheism and dislike of obligatory Jewish rituals, and asserted that the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt was fabricated.
As for Jewish inmarriage, he called it a ‘ghetto of two’ and said, “It draws a circle around the married couple, inscribing them and any children who come along in the figurative wall of tradition, custom, shared history and a common inheritance of chromosomes and culture.” He added that “Any religion that relies on compulsory endogamy to survive has, in my view, ceased to make the case for its continued validity in the everyday lives of human beings.” 
One may be surprised to find that I actually agree with him - if you do not believe in God or in Judaism as defined by Torah.  Why indeed perpetuate a people based on common chromosomes or culture?  Marrying your own kind under these conditions is racist - is it not? If I were an atheist. I would be cheering him on… saying that in-marriage is counter to the universal principle of equality.

When HUC was challenged about allowing Chabon this kind of abhorrent rhetoric – even giving him an honorary doctorate - they responded that they invite political debate at a Jewish university!  But I must ask them why they continue to promote Judaism for at most cultural reasons based on a racist ideology?

Is the Jewish view of marrying in all that dissimilar from the Nazi version of Aryan race forbidding the taint of non Aryan marriage?  Where they wanted to keep the race pure - free of being contaminated chromosomally or culturally?! Of what value is Jewish culture? Is it so much greater than that of other cultures that it must be saved and carried forward genetically? And for what purpose? The purity of the Jewish race?! If the Torah doesn’t matter what possible justification can there be for perpetuating a form of racism?

Chabon’s comments directly challenge Reform Judaism’s raison d'être. Reform does not require belief in the Torah – nor do they even require belief in God. More than any other denomination they define Judaism culturally – seeing tradition as a means of Jewish identity.  By ‘doing Jewish’ we can propel ourselves into the future. They now realize with without any tradition at all; by just assuming the ethics without any of its unique practices - they will end up without any Judaism at all. Whoops! There gores the entire movement! They therefore now urge (but do not require) observing as much of Jewish tradition as they can as a means of perpetuating their Judaism.

I actually believe this is a positive step for them. But without believing in the Divine nature of the requirements of Halacha and Jewish traditions, why bother? Who needs Judaism? Why give in to what is an obvious racist mentality? Once you realize that, then the State of Israel ends up being a racist society as well!

While one may justifiably point to the fact that the creation of Israel gave survivors of the Holocaust a place to go, surely that is no longer the case. Besides even if you don’t believe in Judaism you can still create a humanitarian state that would do the same thing.  One that will always give safe haven to the persecuted. Why limit it to only Jews? Isn’t THAT racist too?

If you do not believe in the Torah and the uniqueness of the Jewish people as chosen by God to follow His word - what justifiction is there for a State to be Jewish? Is it so that we can perpetuate the joy of Gefilte Fish?! Well… guess what. You can still enjoy Gefilte Fish even if you are an atheist!

The ONLY reason to oppose intermarriage is if you believe in God and His Torah. Which tells us that we – His chosen people - are a ‘kingdom of priests and a holy nation’.  And that the value in maintaining and perpetuating our people into the future is a matter of God’s will.

One might say that such beliefs are racist. To a certain extent they are. We believe that we are a better people because our beliefs and practices are based on a Godly mandate for His people.  This might be called ‘positve racism’ as opposed to ‘negative racism’.  

First because it isn’t entirely based on genetics. Those not born Jewish may convert  based on the desire to serve God at the higher level of being a Jew. Through conversion they become part of our ‘race’ equal in stature to those born Jewish.

Furthermore we do not persecute non Jews. We are required to see them all for what they are:  created in the Image of God - each having the ability to serve God through the laws mandated for non Jews (The Noahide laws).  We are required to treat all of mankind with the dignity and respect all of God’s human creations deserve.

That being said, I admit to still being appalled that a Jew has become such an antisemite! He might have a point – allowing his perspective.  But for a Jew to so reject his heritage to the point of hoping it disappears  from the face of the earth (even though he might deny that - it is impossible not to draw that conclusion) just makes me sick!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Another Orthodox Sexual Predator

Yaakov Shapiro
I remember my reaction to Frumteens when I happened upon it a few years ago. Frumteens was a website that catered to troubled teens seeking answers to difficult questions about Judaism. I recall being put off by the over-the-top authoritarian way he answered those questions. I was outraged at the bashing and delegitimizing of Hashkafos that were different from hard core right wing view of the moderator.  

I couldn’t believe that someone had the nerve to set himself up as the expert on all matters Jewish without the slightest bit of humility. I thought - what terrible way of reaching out to young people. How dare he speak that way about other legitimate Hashkafos?!

The moderator did not identify himself.  I remember thinking that he must have known he would get negative feedback and simply wanted to avoid that – and focus on the ‘Kiruv’ work he was doing. He must have truly believed in what he was doing, I thought. We now know who that moderator was. His name is Yaakov Shapiro. 

Frumteens no longer exists. But Shapiro did not go away. He found a new niche: Supporting the anti Israel views of Satmar. They found out about his position on this and both factions of Satmar (Zalman and Aharon) hired him as a spokesmen for their views.  From a website called Hasidic News: 
In recent years Satmars got wind of his peculiar anti-zionism and picked him as the ideal public relations spokesperson for the Satmar shittoh (opinion). Satmar adherents founded True Torah Jews for the purpose of disseminating PR material that is antithetical to Zionism. The movement has a website, professionally produced videos, Facebook page, Youtube channel, etc.
An important objective for Satmar was to differentiate itself from the Palestinian-allied Neturei Karta: True Torah Jews makes it clear that Zionism does not represent Judaism, but it does not hold hands with Israel’s enemies as the more radical Neturei Karta does. Unlike Satmar adherents, R. Shapiro is eloquent, well-spoken, well-groomed and able to persuasively and succinctly explain the shittoh to the uninitiated in fluent English.
Zalmanite moguls contribute financially to True Torah Jews –but so do the Aaronite masses. In the Aaronite anti-Zionist convention this past Sunday, R. Shapiro can be seen in a professionally-produced video reporting from the scene. 
I have seen some of his stuff and suffice it to say, it made my stomach crawl. 

It has now been revealed that Shapiro has been accused of being a sexual predator. New accusers are coming forward. He joins a list of other ‘distinguished rabbis’ who have done the same thing. I have to agree with Rabbi Natan Slifkin, who made the following observation on his blog: 
I believe  a disproportionately high number of predators in roles that put them in contact with vulnerable females - counselors, to'anim, etc. - because they recognize that these lines of work are likely to provide many opportunities. 
This aligns with the view of experts in the field of sex abuse that say the same thing about pedophiles. They tend to be charismatic and find jobs around children – as teachers, camp councilors, and outreach. They place themselves into an environment rich with the targets of their abnormal desires - targets vulnerable to their predation. They befriend; pay lots of attention to them; and develop deep and trusting relationships. This is called ‘grooming’. The sexual abuse that follows is a result of that trust. Rabbi Slifkin notes that Shapiro used that technique for his victims - young teenage girls:
Shapiro would drive around in a red Camaro, picking up teenage girls for counseling sessions 
I suppose I should feel a sense of being vindicated about my original negative impressions of him. He disgusted me long before he was discovered to be a sexual predator. But that is not what I am feeling now. 

He still disgusts me. But now I am just plain angry that he has been able to carry out all of  these nefarious acts with impunity. The damage this man has done incalculable. He has poisoned the minds of young people with his hateful rhetoric about Hashkafos other than his own; he has preached hatred of  Israel to countless numbers of people... And now we are finding out he is a sexual predator with – who knows how many victims under his belt. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Using Weddings as a Shidduch Resource

Typical Charedi Chuppa (YWN)
Well… it appears one of my ideas regarding the so-called Shidduch crisis has actually found some currency among the right wing. I for one am very happy to hear of it.

Although it is being done in a somewhat more methodical way, it is nevertheless a huge step in the right direction. I just believe that if they eliminate the ‘middle man’ there would be an an additional means of achieving the same goal. Which is for young Charedi singles to meet for Shidduch purposes. More about that later.

This idea is the subject of an article by Rabbi Yair Hoffman in YWN where the following idea was executed at a wedding at the Rye Town Hilton: 
Single friends of both the Chosson and Kallah and their parents were contacted and asked to submit their resumes. The parents then placed the chosson’s friends and the kallah’s friends in a side room at the weddings, on separate sides.  They then packed the room with circulating shadchanim and instructed them as to what to do. They had received the resumes in advance.  It was all done in a very tznius manner.
The prospective shidduch got to meet each other – then and there.  The Rye Town Hilton has numerous lobbies, walkways, and other venues to make for a perfect venue for the couple to meet and talk.  The shadchanim worked hard – real hard.  They worked both sides of the Mechitzah. 
Finally! …a common sense, natural, and obvious resource (at least in my view) is being taken advantage of. I can’t remember how many times I have mentioned weddings as an option. The idea of young men and women of marriageable age being completely separated at such an event in light of the number of singles having difficulty getting married is incomprehensible to me. And yet that is the status quo in Charedi circles.

I suppose that in the past - the idea of meeting that way seemed to lack Tznius (modesty). Additionally it lacked the ‘requisite’ research that goes into the Shidduch process where Shadchanim (professional matchmakers) find out as much as they possibly can about their clients (i.e. parents’) children – factoring every demand into who they will or won’t recommend as a potential mate for their child. No matter how ridiculous some of those demands may be.

While that may be a more efficient means of finding compatibility - it often ends up in unnecessary rejections by parents of potential mates for their children. Often the compatibility that might actually have with each other is a lost opportunity because of some of the more frankly stupid demands. Like what kind of table cloths a family uses on Shabbos.   Especially when parents have unreasonable expectations for their child’s eventual spouse.

I am not here to discourage using Shadchanim. They have a legitimate place in finding suitable marriage partners for young people. And most of the time they do work out well. But I have often wondered how many Shidduch prospects were lost because of excessive over-the-top demands by a parent about the families the prospective date comes from - or because of the unreasonable expectations about who they are setting up with their child.

So, yes…  meeting in this new (for Charedim) manner is a huge step in the right direction where the ‘research’ found in the submitted resumes will not necessarily carry as much weight  considering that the opportunity at hand not be wasted.  It should at the very least eliminate the kind of artificial demands about the kind of tablecloths a family uses on Shabbos.

This does differ somewhat from my idea about simply sitting singles together at the same table at the wedding dinner. The same type of resumes that were used at that Rye Town Hilton wedding can be used to seat compatible young men and women at a wedding feast. But even this modified method of doing it puts to bed the idea that it is not sufficiently Tznanua (modest) to meet that way. It is just a way to increase the odds of a successful courtship. Rabbi Hoffman addressed the Tznius issue with the following: 
At the outset, some of the Rabbonim were very concerned.  Will this turn the wedding into a disastrous breach of tznius?  The Kallah’s father assured the concerned Rabbonim that the Shadchanim, who were Bnei Torah, would make sure that things went well.  Most of the Rabbonim who heard of it were for it. One or two, however, still had some hesitations. 
How successful was it? Rabbi Hoffman addressed that too: 
And they (the Shadchanim) were successful beyond anyone’s imagination.  Numerous couples met.  Some spoke for 30 minutes.  Some spoke for an hour.  A number of shidduchim were made that night.  Some dated this past Thursday evening.  Others are dating on Sunday. 
Will this help improve the odds if it becomes the ‘new norm’ (as rabbi Hoffman puts it)? I think the answer is obvious. Of course it will!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Jewish, American, and International Support for Israel

Israeli Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett (WJD)
There has been a lot of angst of late about American Jewish disaffection with Israel.  Which should be a concern for anyone that cares about the welfare of the Jewish state.  Israel’s Minster of Diaspora Affairs, Naftali Bennett, who addressed a conference of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) expressed that very concern. He said it keeps him up at night and worries him more than does Iran.

The question is why is this the case? Why are American Jews abandoning Israel’s cause? There was a time where most American Jews defined their very Judaism by their support for Israel. Other than that there was little else they did that distinguished them as Jews. They were basically indistinguishable from their non Jewish American neighbors. Social justice is what concerned the more idealistic Jews among them.  As did the soft antisemitism of the time that had quotas for Jews in ivy league universities and barred Jews from from certain country clubs. 

But all American Jews who were mostly non observant loved Israel and supported her with massive donations - raised by Jewish federations. They viewed with pride Israel’s idealism as expressed by secular Zionism with socialist type communes (called Kibbutzim) working to make the desert bloom. In those days it was all about building up  the country.

That kind of idealism has all but disappeared in Israel  right along with most Kibbutzim. Today’s Israel is more like America where the profit motive fuels economy. They saw a country whose pioneers were idealistic, where Jews that lived in and worked on collective farms (Kibbutzim) were all working for the same cause of bettering the society in which they lived.  The profit motives seemed at most to be secondary if they existed at all. That is what socialism is all about. And they were doing this while under the threat of constant attack from hostile neighbors. It was a time where the labor government ruled and believed their reign would last forever. 

That changed after the Six Day War, especially when the Israeli electorate turned rightward – and voted labor out of office replacing him with Menachem Begin. From that moment on the country started moving away from socialism and more towards capitalism. Kibbutzim started dying out as a result.

That is one reason support has waned. But in my view – by far not the most important one.

There are at least 2 other factors that better help explain this new disaffection. One is the huge influences anti Israel Leftist professors in universities. Some of it so extreme that it refuses to see Israel as anything other than an oppressor state that should be boycotted and protested. Unfortunately there are a lot of young Jewish students – ignorant of their own heritage that easily buy into that narrative.  They boycotting Israel see it as a socially just cause.

Another big factor is one Bennett alluded to. American Jews have almost completely lost their Jewish identity and have no reason to support a Jewish State. They also see injustice in the fact that Heterodox rabbis have been barred from any official influence in Israel because of out sized influenced of the religious parties in the Knesset.  That good people like those rabbis are denied any power in a Jewish democracy is a huge turnoff to many American Jews. And those rabbis make sure their voices are heard on this matter – which of course exacerbates their apathy.

90% of Jews in America that are not Orthodox have raised their children with hardly any real identifiable Jewish content at all. Urging their children to have a sense of social justice is hardly a value unique to Judaism. Why should any of those children care if they are Jews? This is probably why the intermarriage among the 90% that are not Orthodox is over 70%!

Naftali Bennett’s concerns  are therefore very real and based on the existing reality of a Judaism in America that has little if any resemblance to actual Judaism.

I actually had an online debate about this with a dear friend who identifies as liberal. He believes that Israel’s move to the political and religious right is what causes this problem. He worries that the above mentioned American Jewish apathy will substantially reduce its generosity and irreparably hurt Israel. He believes Israel needs that financial support and can’t afford to lose it.

He further believes that the policies of Israel’s current government alienates world support too. And that Israel cannot survive as a nation – isolated form the rest of the world.He also laments the bipartisan support Israel had until the current Israeli government alienated the Democratic party.  He does not believe it benefits Israel to lose or substantially reduce bi-partisan support. 

I agree that ideally it would be best to have bi-partisan support in congress and have the support of all the nations of the world. I also agree that Israel has lost and will continue to lose some American Jewish support. But I do not agree that it will hurt Israel to maintain its current policies. It is not a one way street with Israel The US needs Israel too. Which is why financial aid, military and intelligence cooperation increased substantially under a President who couldn’t stand Israel’s leader. 

Trade with Israel benefits the nations of the world too. It is not a one way street. It has contributed mightily to the welfare of the entire world through its accomplishments in a variety of fields.

What about the money they will lose from Jewish American donors? My hope is that Israel will at some point no longer need their donations. A point that they have already reached. Their economy is strongest its ever been.  Sure, Israel does not want to lose any support. Everything helps. But if they lose some of it, I do not believe it will destroy them; will not even hurt them that much in the short term; and in the long run they will be better off.

I therefore believe that Israel’s current religious ‘move to the right’ is a good thing. (Even though I would tweak it a bit for reasons beyond the scope of this post). Because at the end of the day, Israel was given to the Jewish people so they could serve God through Torah and Mitzvos. Without that, there is no reason to have a Jewish state at all.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Band’s Visit

Scene from The Band's Visit (Playbill)
10 Tony awards.

Tony is the name of the award given for achievements in theater production on Broadway.  It’s comparable to the Oscar for movie production. The play that won those 10 awards including best musical, best actor and best actress was The Band’s Visit.

For a variety of reasons (mostly because of: the ridiculously high ticket prices – making it a rich person’s entertainment medium;  the fact that I do not live in New York City; and a tone to so many of its productions that are anathema to my values ) …I don’t normally pay much attention to Broadway.  

But last Sunday night the play that won all those awards was about a subject near and dear to my heart. Peace between Israelis and Arabs. First my disclaimer: I did not see this play. But I have seen and read enough about it to know its premise. Which is a fairly simple one. It is the idea that there is a humanity between peoples far more uniting than their differences are dividing. People of different cultures, values, and ethnicity, can in fact find common ground in their humanity that surpasses and overrides all their politics.

The story is about an Egyptian police band that got lost and somehow ended up in a sleepy Israeli town in the Negev desert. There is no hotel or transporation. They settle in to a small restaurant owned by an Israeli woman who offered them lodging. Throughout the course of their stay they overcome their barriers, and find companionship with each other through an undercurrent of shared melancholy.

The implied message is that if we all just shed our politics, we could get along famously – in the brotherhood of man. Who wouldn’t want something like that? It doesn’t matter whether you are politically right wing or left wing. True peace is the ultimate goal for everyone.

There have in fact been numerous programs that have tried to make the same point this play does. Integrating the two worlds in microcosm. Well intentioned people  that ‘threw’ together young Jews and Arabs who have been indoctrinated to be suspicious of - and mistrust each other. By working together for a common goal unrelated to their politics their mistrust and suspicions melt away.  It happens every time it’s tried. The idea being, if it works in microcosm, why can’t it work in macrocosm?

As things stand now, it can’t. As long as Islamic fundamentalism rules, there can be no realistic rapport developed between the two peoples.

There is little likelihood that the kind of good will that exists in these small groups can overcome over 100 years of hatred against the Jews that Arabs have been indoctrinated with through their faith. Especially when they are the ones calling the real shots among their people . As does Hamas in Gaza. Is there any sane person that believes that the leader of Hamas would ever find common ground with any Jew – whose very presence in the holy land represents an impediment to fulfillment of one of their religious imperatives?!

Scenarios like the one in the play amount to nothing more than wishful thinking at this point. Wishful thinking cannot be the basis for policy. That is a prescription for disaster.

The Band’s Visit was likely an excellent play with good intentions. But I would not be surprised if that wishful thinking by voters factored into their huge number of awards Sunday night.

What about all that talk about the American Left (of which Broadway is a hard core member of) abandoning Israel? It would seem that they haven’t. At least not the kind of Israel depicted in this play

What they seek is not the kind of Israel I seek, however. Which is the kind of Israel God intended piece of real estate to be. The kind that hosts a people that adheres to the Laws of God via His Torah. They seek a Jewish state based on secular humanism that has nothing to do with Judaism. The kind that most of Israel’s founders envisioned. 

What they reject is the very thing that defines us as a Jewish people. The more they see of that in Israel, the less they want to have anything to do with it. This is what they are abandoning. They only embrace what was depicted in the play: A totally secularized Jewish sate with humanistic values and little connection to the Judaism of our ancsetors. An Israel without Judaism. 

But there can be no Israel without Judaism and no Judaism without the Torah. It’s as simple as that.

That doesn’t mean we can’t find common ground with Palestinians. Islam has much in common with Judaism. But as long as Islamic Fundamentalists rule the day in that region, all we can do is hope it will someday change. Until then Israel can do nothing more than be vigilant in thwarting their continued attempts to destroy the Jewish state by any and all means.  At this point in time messages like the one in The Band’s Visit are just fairly tales.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Look at the Insular Chasidic World

Chasidic community advocate, Issac Abraham (screenshot)
Naftuli Moster is a Moser. He is an ‘up to no good’ expatriate Chasid that is no longer religious who has a vendetta against his former community. One that has motivated him to destroy it by cleverly disguising his motive as trying to help them.

This is pretty much the narrative of defenders of education provided to children of Satmar, Skvere and like minded Chasidic enclaves.  Even by those outside of those enclaves. They might agree that these communities need to upgrade their educational system. But they still accuse Moster of nefarious motives. Moster’s claim that he is only trying to help is disputed as a tactic used to ultimately destroy them entirely. Why else, they say, did he go to the secular authorities and ‘snitch’ on them?! They say his rejection of his Chasidic heritage and abandonment of Mitzvah observance (which he is accused of by people who say they know him) proves his nefarious intent. 

I do not buy any of that. I don’t know Moster personally. But every comment I have ever heard him make about this subject has had only one focus: trying to get his former community to offer a secular curriculum along with their religious curriculum. Much the same way most mainstream yeshivas do. 

He has explicitly stated that he does not want to see the religious curriculum eliminated.  He said this recently in the first installment (video below) of a 3 part series by Fox News about the Chasidic world. Those who might accuse him of lying have yet to show any proof of that. 

Why did he go to the authorities? Why didn’t he work internally instead? The answer should be obvious even to the casual observer. After 70 or so years of their existence, they have done nothing to change their paradigm. They instead keep doubling down on it.

That being the case, there is hardly a chance that things would be fixed internally because of anything internal Moster could have done. Realistically the only option left for him is to insist that the State’s educational  requirements are enforced instead of ignored. 

Chasidic leaders have been fighting him mightily - finding a sympathetic State legislator in Simcha Feldman to help them out. Which  he did. He so watered down educational requirements that they are practically irrelevant. By allowing their schools to say they incorporate secular studies into their religious curriculum - they avoid any realistic assessment what of what is and isn’t taught that way. The state therefore has no choice but to trust Satmar officials that say they are keeping their word.

Which is why I have no issues with what Naftuli Moster is doing.  I have not seen a shred of evidence that his real goal is to destroy Satmar or Skvere type Chasidus. Based on everything I have seen or heard about him I truly believe that all he wants to do is provide children from his former community the education he missed out on when he was there. Which had put him and almost every other Satmar Chasid educated that way at a great disadvantage.

Why do others who see that pressing need still accuse Moster of a nefarious motive? I think they just buy into the narrative of his former community about his motives and lack of religiosity – since they ‘know’ him and  the rest of us don’t. But as noted none of that has been proven. I think they just take their word for it.

Which brings me to the aforementioned Fox News report.  Needless to say, it did not make Satmar type enclaves look good. On the other hand there was also a lot of misinformation and half truths which need to be publicly challenged.

Whar Moster said is true. Until 9th grade there is only basic arithmetic and English. (I’m not sure how well the latter is taught since most Satmar Chasidim sound like they were born in Poland and immigrated recently.)  But no one disputes that there is no secular education at all past 8th grade, despite a very long school day –six days a week. The amount of time spent in a Satmar type school easily dwarfs the amount of time spent by students in any public school.

It is therefore true – as Fox News asserts - that their lack of a proper English speaking ability and few marketable skills - they are forced as married adults with typically large families to rely on public assistance: 
Indeed, the U.S. town with the highest rate of people on food stamps is the all-Hasidic New York village of New Square, north of New York City, where 77 percent of residents rely on the program to eat, according to a new report.  
That there are a so many Chasidm that end up with great wealth is the exception that proves the rule. How they do that while the vast majority of others do not is beyond the scope of this post.

What is not true is the way Fox News phrased it. Implying that all Yeshiva students end up this way. They kept talking about ‘Yeshivos’ as though all of them are guilty of this. That is clearly not the case with the vast majority of mainstream Yeshivos, including Charedi ones. They also flashed a images of a Beis Yaakov school while discussing the problem. The Beis Yaakov system is not part of Satmar. It is the mainstream educational system for most Charedi girls. They offer a full secular studies curriculum.

However Satmar has its own girls education system which DOES include a secular studies curriculum. Which – if it were offered to boys, would solve the problem. Moster would have no need to urge state educational authorities to enforce their rules.

Most telling is the way Chasidic community advocate, Isaac Abraham, defended their education. His almost racist implication about interaction with Hispanic students speaks volumes about the innate prejudices extant there. And his sweeping condemnation of all secular education being responsible for the Harvey Weinsteins of the world - whereas the Chasidic education never even uttering the word sex on anything remotely connected to it – is ‘proof’ to him that a secular curriculum produces evil people whole the Chasidic educational system does not.

He is either lying or completely ignorant about the Nechemya Webermans of the world. Or the Avreimal Modnrowitzes. Or the numerous other religiously educated Jews – many of them in leadership positions that makes Harvey Weinstein look tame by comparison.

He then talks about the percentage of criminals that come out of the public school system. But forgets to mention that there are enough religious Jews in prison to fill a large Yeshiva - if not more!

I do however grant (obviously) that the Torah values taught in Yeshivas promote a much higher standard of ethics and morality. And that as a whole the observant Jewish community does by and large live by a different and higher moral code than much of general society. But that has absolutely nothing to do with teaching a child how to function in the 21st century as a productive adult who can support his family without resorting to public assistance.

They simply do not do that. They in fact do the opposite by pursing a strategy of insularity from the outside world which their educational system facilitates. They urge their adherents to have nothing to do with the outside world except when it comes to being fed by it.

There are some outside that Moster – or anyone else trying to get the government to interfere in how a school educates its children violates the free exercise clause of the First amendment. I part company with them on this because it is absolutely not the case that insisting on a basic secular curriculum is in any way violates those rights. The state not only has the right, but the obligation to see that its citizens are not deprived of the tools to needed to support themselves via a standard secular education. They have every right - and even a duty to try and eliminate or reduce the taxpayer burden of funding able bodied citizens that - given the tools would aid them in supporting themselves. Using government financial assistance as a standard part of a community’s income is not what the welfare system is about.

So even though I have reservation in how Fox News reported this segment on Chasidim, its overall message is true. Naftuli Moster is right in trying to change things there. It’s just too bad that the politics of clout probably won’t allow him to succeed.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Best Hashkafa

YU Mashpia R' Moshe Weinberger - proponent of Neo-Chasidus (Jewish Action)
I must admit that I don’t really know much about Neo- Chasidus. Although it has recently become a public topic of discussion and controversy, I haven't really paid that much attention to it. But an article about it by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer in the Times of Israel got me to thinking about Hashkafos in general. What indeed is the best path for the Jewish people to live their lives in the way God intends us to?

My understanding about Neo-Chasidus is embodied in the title of an article about it in a past issue Jewish Action:  Rekindling the Flame: Neo-Chassidus Brings the Inner Light of Torah to Modern Orthodoxy.

If I understand it correctly it is - in short - a phenomenon that embraces much of the Hashkafic teachings of Chasidus without any of the overt Chasidic trappings. Neo-Chasidus does not for example include the typical look or mode of Chasidic dress. No Kapote. No Shtreimal. No long Peyos. No long beards. One can dress and look modern and while embracing their more uplifting method of relating to God. 

This includes the inspirational messages taught by Chasidic Rebbes; participating in more joyous modalities such singing and dancing; or enjoying a Tisch. A Tisch is defined as Chasidim sitting at a large table (on Shabbos)  filled with food. They sing Zemiros (Shabbos oriented tunes) and participate with their Chasidic Rebbe sitting at the head. He hands out Shirayim (portions of food he began eating) to the assembled and then tells inspirational stories to them.

Neo-Chasidus seems to have caught on with some of the Modern Orthodox younger element. Especially it seems with some of those that have been educated in Yeshiva University (YU) type schools. YU is based on the Lithuanian (Litvak) Yeshiva model, which focuses on Torah study as the prime area of concentration. Mitzvah observance (and sometimes Mussar - Jewish ethics) is taught matter of factly and dryly.

The charge against this method by adherents of Chasidus is that it is sterile and uninspiring. Students have difficulty relating to their faith that way. In fact one of my closest friends is a hardcore Litvak who has led him to jokingly remark in a self deprecating way that it is against their Hashkafos to ever smile or laugh. They are supposed to be serious, dour, and depressed.

That is clearly not the way most Litvaks live. But with the exception of family Simchas - that is apparently how many see themselves. There is no joy in Mudville. 

Modern Orthodox Jews do not live that way either. There is plenty of ‘joy’ in their lives. However with the same exceptions of family Simchas - it is often outside the context of Judaism. Which leaves a vacuum of sorts in their spirituality that might need rekindling. I suppose that this works for some people. But what works for some, may not work for others. 

So which Hashkafa is the best fit for all - or even most of us? Those who thought I was going to say my own Centrist Hashkafa may be surprised to see that this is not my answer. Although I do believe it represents the best way of doing God’s will, it is clearly not the way most observant Jews feel - as evidenced by the vast number of disparate groups within Orthodoxy. 

What I would like to see is the elimination of these groups. No more labels. Just one Judaism where belief in God and following His word is all that matters. How we each approach that should be left up to one’s own background, teachings, intelligence,  and life experiences. There ought not be Chasidim or Litvaks, Centrists and Charedim. No Left. No Right. No Religious Zionists. No Satmar. Just a Jewish people dedicated to serving God in the best way we can each understand His will.

If someone likes to sing and dance as a way of being inspired, that’s great. If someone is inspired by full time deep Torah study, that is just as great. If someone is inspired by uplifting others, that’s great too. If one believes that studying Mada is a value, that should not disqualify him to those that believe it isn’t. 

We can each seek different ways of finding meaning in our observance without resorting to partisanship of any kind. That doesn't mean we can’t believe in our own personal way of doing things. But it does mean accepting how others do it too, without making any judgments about which way is better. What works for me doesn’t have to work for you. And vice versa.

The bottom line is that we judge each other’s approach to observance favorably. The important thing is to believe in God and His Torah; follow His word as directed by it - and interpreted by the sages and the great rabbis of each generation throughout history; and to not depart from long held tradition without the wisdom of those rabbis. As long as your Hashkafa does not impede the Hashkafa of a neighbor in any way, or cause a Chilul HaShem then we should embrace our individual diversity without the need to divide ourselves into groups. 

We are after all each individuals with our own strengths and capabilities - but at the same time one people – chosen by God to do His will. And as long as these parameters are met we can unite as a people. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all see each other that way – and do away with factionalism?

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Flawed Charedi Perspective about the 'Other'

Street scene in Bnei Brak
‘Nebech, You have to understand. This fellow has 13 children to support!’  

One may recall this comment made by a Chasidic Rebbe in Bnei Brak about one of his Chasidim. I mentioned it recently in a related post. That Chasid was caught selling drugs. His Chasidic Rebbe made this comment over a quarter of a century ago. He could have easily made it today. That attitude does not seem to have changed

I bring it up now in light of an amazing article by Shlomi Gil in Mishpacha Magazine (only partially available online without a subscription). Had it been written by me, I would clearly have been accused of Charedi bashing. I don’t think anyone can accuse Mishpacha of that.

Mishapcha deserves a lot of credit for directing its readers attention to a problem plaguing their world. At least as it exists in Israel - in places like Bnei Brak. Bnei Brak is probably the epicenter of mainstream Charedi Judaism in Israel – albeit its most right wing expression.

The problem they deal with is the thinking among their people that resorting to certain type of criminal activity as a means of support is not such a big deal. While I’m sure the vast majority of Charedim in Bnei Brak are honest God fearing Jews that would not steal a penny from anyone - a not insignificant number of them would do so under circumstances outside of their community. Their high level of religiosity does not carry over to the outside world. 

This allows for the above-mentioned attitude.  One that is exacerbated by their level of need. Their relatively low incomes and large families creates a situation that most others don’t have. Which entices them towards breaking these kinds of laws - as long as it doesn't affect their own community.

This begs an obvious question. Why doesn’t their more religious outlook; their more religious way of life give them better numbers? Why do the stats about this kind of criminal activity pretty much mimic those of the rest of the world? Shouldn’t their religious teachings reduce their numbers?

There is clearly a great emphasis on ritual behavior. I doubt that there is an observant community anywhere in the world more meticulous than they are. It is obvious in everything they do and in the lifestyle they lead. 

And yet when it comes to breaking the law outside of those rituals and outside of their community, there is an attitude of tolerance and permissiveness that  causes some of them to try and get away with it when they think they can. I believe that’s the reason that the above-mentioned Chasidic Rebbe made that comment about his drug dealing Chasid - instead of condemning it with every fiber in his body. To him, it may have been wrong, but not the biggest deal in the world. Besides, one must be Dan L’Kaf Zechus judging favorably their fellow Jew - having sympathy for someone who was only trying to support his large family.

The Mishpacha article strongly implies that Charedim have little if any guilt about smuggling contraband purchased overseas into Israel. Gad Serusi, a customs official was interviewed for the story. Speaking of cigarettes as a smuggled item, he said that they are common items smuggled into Israel by Charedim from overseas. There they are sold for a quarter of what they are in Israel. They are smuggled in in Tefilin bags, Tails bags and Shtreimel boxes. 

Serusi also said that there is a stigma that Charedim smuggle more than others, but he said in truth they are no better or worse than any other sector of the population. He added that there is however a trend for young Charedi men to bring large amounts of cigarettes from abroad – some of them even showing off what they have smuggled in. 

While smuggling cigarettes is not the same as smuggling in several Kilos of narcotics, it is not that much of a leap from smuggling cigarettes to smuggling cocaine. Once you’re smuggling, why not do it for maximum dollars which drug dealers (some of whom are embedded in the Charedi world) are willing to pay their drug ‘mules’?! Some Charedim are enticed by the quick and easy money - thinking they will never get caught. With nary a thought about the terrible consequences to society they contribute to, or what might happen to them if they get caught!

The idea that it is illegal doesn’t seem to matter. That it is unethical doesn’t even to occur to them.

Gil interviewed one such individual identified only by his fist name - David: 
I met David, who was released from one of Europe’s largest prisons three years ago and has managed to put his life into some semblance of order since then, through a mutual friend last week. Our meeting came on the heels of a spate of arrests that have hit the Israeli news recently regarding young people from chareidi families being used by sophisticated handlers to smuggle drugs and other contraband through airport customs. While the most high-profile of these was the grandson of a frum MK, several others have come forward and described their own harrowing experiences — naive or foolish as these would-be couriers may have been. 
A ‘spate of arrests’. Who would have even suspected the use of such a term about Charedi smugglers. 

I see this primarily as a failure of Charedi Chiunch. The emphasis on ritual behavior seems to be at the expense of ethical behavior. Either that, or they believe that smuggling contraband past customs officials is not unethical.

I have to believe it is the former. The ethics are there. But they are not being sufficiently emphasized. In the very same issue of Mishpacha there are several stories about Charedim whose ethical and moral behavior the rest of us can only marvel at. This excerpt from Jonathan Rosenblum’s column is one such story. Which is the antithesis of the malaise otherwise plaguing the Charedi world: 
Rav Mendel Kaplan once stopped his car and offered a ride to a large, non-Jewish woman whom he saw struggling against the elements on a snowy and windy winter day in Chicago. When she came out of the diner to which he’d brought her, Reb Mendel was waiting for her to take her home.
If this was the way all of us would behave, articles lamenting a spate of arrests mentioned in Mishpacha would not be possible. The question is, why don’t we see the behavior of these special individuals and try to emulate them? Why do some of us not even come close? Why are the most religious Jews among us no better than the rest of the world when it comes to this kind of crime?

It is high time for Charedi Mechanchim to adjust what they emphasize. And to stop the vilification of all those outside of their world. And instead to instill into their students the values of a R’ Mendel Kaplan before they even begin to open a Gemarah.