Thursday, July 18, 2019

Technology is not the Problem

Guard Your Tongue author, Rabbi Y. M. Kagan
There is an interesting story about a young Avreich studying in Israel during the 1950s. He was newly married and wanted to have a phone installed in his apartment. Getting a phone installed in those days was not an easy task. It often took, weeks, or months to get one installed back then. He apparently had a way to do it that would have cost him the kind of money he could not easily afford. So he went to Rav Velvel Soloveitchik and asked him what to do.

Rav Velvel asked him rhetorically why he needed a phone. And then told him that it wasn’t worth it. That he could live without a phone. So he did. Remember that this was the fifties. Phones were by then no longer a luxury in the civilized world despite the difficulty in Israel of getting one installed in your home back then.

I mention this story in light of a continuing problem that phones present even in our day where everyone has one. The problem of Lashon Hara.

We all know the advantages of a phone. But must we bring it into our homes? If there is a singular item that is most responsible for Lashon Hara (evil speech; gossip) the telephone is it. If the Chofetz Chaim (R’ Yisroel Meir Kagan) taught us anything, it is just how evil and destructive Lashon Hara is. And yet so many of us don’t even give the telephone a second thought. The truth is that even today a meticulously observant Jew can live without a phone. If we need one in an emergency, we can go to a neighbor since – as I said, everyone has one.

It therefore surprises me that the Agudah hasn’t assured phones in order to protect us from the Michsol (trap) of Lashon Hara. Imagine how many lives would be improved if we didn’t spend time gossiping on phones. Do we really need to bring such an item into our homes?

If all of this sounds ridiculous, it is meant to be. But this is almost precisely the attitude of the Agudah with respect to smartphones.

The Agudah was actually on a path to change its attitude about smartphines – realizing that much good can be achieved by apps designed for observant Jews. They had created an app for Torah study called the Siyum App. But in an announcement by Agudah Executive Vice President, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel, they have withdrawn it. 

The Agudah Moetzes that had initially approved it has been duly chastened by ‘a number of respected Roshei Yeshiva, Mechanchim and Rabbanim’  to cease and desist from approving that app. They said that it undermined the Torah values that they and Agudah have been promoting since the advent of this technology. 

And that even though they understood that there is a need by some for that technology for Parnassa (livelihood) purposes, Agudah’s new app was tantamount to a change in attitude whereby they now approved of that technology for everyone. They do not see the value of this technology overriding its downside. They see it only as a B’Dieved - necessary evil for those that absolutely must have it. So as noted, the Agudah Moetzes has withdrawn the app.

Are they wrong about the downside? No. They are right about it. Smartphones have done a lot of damage – not only to the observant world, but the entire world. It started with computers and the internet. Smartphones have taken this malaise to a new level. I doubt there is a single person that isn’t aware of the problems associated with this technology. 

We all suffer from it. It would probably take a book to list all of the problems created by this device. But to just pick one of the most talked about, we need only read a recent article by Efrat Malachi  in Jew in the City  about sex addiction.It is both shocking and yet at the same time, not all that surprising. And that barely scratches the surface of the myriad of societal problems this devise is a medium for.

So why am I so bothered by the approach of Agudah to this technology? Are they not right to discourage people from using it? 

I don’t think so. Because like anything else of value in this world, the problems that exist about it are really about us. Not in the item itself. Anything can be misused. Even the words of Torah can be misused in the wrong hands. Does that mean we have to avoid it? Is there any sane person that would refuse to have a telephone in their home because of the serious nature of its Lashon Hara Michshol?

I would be willing to bet that every single one of the above mentioned respected Roshei Yeshiva, Mechanchim and Rabbanim has a telephone in their homes despite the obvious problem of it being an object that increases Lashon Hara in the world. Like the rest of us, they would consider this concern – legitimate though it is – to be a ridiculous reason not to have a phone in their homes.

They will also argue that a phone is nowhere near the Michshol a smartphone is. But since when does the advantage an item gives us mean anything in the face of a Michshol that could be avoided without it?

This is an education problem... a self control problem. Not a technology problem. We are our own worst enemies when we can’t control our impulses; or what we see; or under what conditions we use it (as in texting while driving);  or how much time we waste on it.

The fact that these devices can so easily be misused does not mean that they can’t be of tremendous value – and even enhance our lives not only materially but spiritually as well.  The advantages of these devices are as exponential in number as are the disadvantages.

I’m sure Agudah’s Siyum app would have enhanced the spirituality of all those that used it. We are now a lot poorer off for its removal. Instead of fixing the problem they have made it worse by removing a positive app.

That said, there are still a ton of Torah apps available for download. Almost every non Chasidic Orthodox organization has one. Many of them are right wing such as Shas Illuminated

It’s just sad that the Agudah Moetzes has listened to voices that still feel the need to blame technology for our own failings and removed one small app that would have been a step in rectifying the problem – small though it may have been. A small step in the right direction is still a step in the right direction. And now its gone.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A Word to My Readers

When there is bias, the truth is hard to find
It is so predicable. I can almost predict verbatim how both the right and the left will respond to my political posts. They are all turning into caricatures of themselves without the slightest bit of thought and nuance about the political issues I discuss. The latest of which is a recent post on Trump’s ‘racist’ comment about the ‘Squad’ - a group of 4 women that share a hard left political philosophy.

In one of his many Tweets, Trump told them all to ‘Go back where they came from’. That has been deemed is a racist statement because the ‘Squad’ consists of 4 ‘women of color’.  Ordinarily I would agree. But Trump’s intent should be clear if one reads his entire ‘tweet’. 

His criticism was clearly not about what color they are. It was about the kind of politics they have. That is so obvious. And yet it is completely ignored by the media, by Democrats, and by all who have their political agenda. They have all been ignoring the intent of that tweet. Which was to condemn their politics. Not their color.

That distinction is lost on the ‘lefties’ that comment here. They continue to focus on the fact that the tweet was racist because the women of the ‘squad’ happen to be women of color. 

I do not absolve the President for saying it. In fact I think he is his own worst enemy by saying things like this about his political adversaries. He is making martyrs out of the very people whose views he wants to discredit. And has given them a bigger platform to influence the public to buy into their socialist agenda. These four freshmen congresswomen have been granted far more attention, influence, and power than any other first term congressmen in US history!

The media can’t get enough of them. They are having a field day with this issue as they keep insisting that this proves the President is racist. All it really proves is that he is an embarrassment whose vocabulary consists of about 70 words and who doesn't even understand why his comment is considered racist - insisting that he doesn't have a racist bone in his body.

(And that’s another thing. Racism used to mean hatred of another race and acting upon it in harmful ways. Now it means saying anything that might be perceived as hurtful to another race. Kind of like what political correctness means. But I digress. )

Democrats must know in their hearts that the President's tweet was meant about the politics of those four woman. But that did not stop them from getting the Democratic majority of the House (along with 4 Republicans) to pass a partisan resolution condemning him. (I guess that makes most of the House republicans racists too!)

Nor did it stop the media from making heroes of a group of women - at least half of which are Israel haters that consider the democratically elected leaders of Israel to be no better than Nazis... preferring Israel not exist  and and instead replaced with the State of Palestine. Media personalities cannot heap enough praise at them!

And then there is the right. Trump can do no wrong in their eyes. He is the greatest President since sliced cheese. They completely ignore the fact that he is a narcissistic womanizer who cheated on his wife (more then once); lies all the time; denigrates American heroes like John McCain; says things that are easily misconstrued as hateful to minorities often seeming to justify bigotry, bashes our allies, praises our adversaries, and constantly embarrasses this country in a myriad of inarticulate of ways. None of that matters as they continue to see him as their hero while bashing all of his critics. ( For the most part, I Like most of his polices too. But you cannot ignore the negative - even when you like the positive.)

These are the facts. I realize of course that they will fall on deaf ears as both the left and the right will continue to cling to their dearly held biases without seeing any nuances thus blinding them to the truth. The left will still see him as the near reincarnation of Hitler while the right will see him as the American Messiah. And once again I can predict almost exactly what the responses to this post will be and who will say them.

I will nevertheless stick to the truth even though the hard core ideologues of the right and left continue to ignore it. Because the truth is what this blog is all about.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Why Modern Orthodoxy is Dying

Illustration from Lehrhuas
What’s that you say? Modern Orthodoxy is Dying?  How can you say that about a segment of Orthodoxy to which you belong and whose values you espouse?

That might be the question put to me if I were the one saying it. Well, I didn’t say that exactly. But I have said something quite similar. I mention this because of an article by David Stein in Lehrhuas. He charges that the Modern Orthodox community is not teaching its ideology. To put it the way Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm did (whom he quoted): 

“The great problem of modern American Orthodoxy- is that it has failed to interpret itself to itself.” Rabbi Lamm’s critique of the young movement was scathing – he pointed to “a remarkable intellectual timidity” as the root cause of its struggle to find its ideological voice.  

I believe that as a result of this a cultural phenomenon is taking place, Modern Orthodoxy will eventually disappear as it splits into 2 distinct categories. If the current trend continues, the left will eventually find itself outside the orbit of Orthodoxy and the right (Centrists) will increasingly merge with moderate Charedim as they both adopt many of each others modalities. 

Since our lifestyles will be almost identical and our Hashkafic differences will eventually disappear -  we will  end up with what I have called a cultural centrism based on lifestyle rather than an ideology. I continue to believe that this is the future of Judaism, much as I lament the disappearance of Hashkafos that I truly believe to be Emes – the Truth of the Torah.

How can it be that the truth will disappear? I can’t really answer that. And I hope I am wrong. But if the current trajectory continues, that is the likely outcome. Unless ideological Centrists do something about it. Which may be impossible in our day because of the lack of interest by most people in the ideology behind their lifestyles. Unfortunately, most people these days behave in certain ways without thinking about it too much because that is the culture in which they were raised.

The question remains however. What can be done about maintaining and perhaps even advancing  the core values of a Centrist Hashkafa - so that it could grow rather than decline?

Part of the problem with doing that is the strength of the Charedi world – bolstered by its current numbers that far exceed modern Orthodox Jews and by the its ongoing exponential growth - far outpacing Modern Orthodox growth (even if there is any growth which is debatable - see the article). 

The simple truth is that the Charedi world cares even less about ideology than the Modern Orthodox world. I believe that most Charedim are about the ‘what’. Not the ‘why’. They do not question. They just do. Na’aseh V’Nishma. They leave deep philosophic thought to others that care about it. Since they mostly don’t.

That this approach has worked very well for them is beyond obvious. And it is increasingly becoming the approach of ideological Centrists as well - as they focus less on their own Hashkafos.

That is the challenge for those of us that care. Motivating people to think about why they do the things they do. Not just to do them without thinking.

There was a time when people cared about these things. That is why  R’ Shamshon Raphael Hirsch felt the need to explain the ‘why’ through what he believed to be the Emes of the Torah – Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE). That was a model for many in his time that lived a lifestyle that engaged with the modern world and modern thinkers. R’ Hirsch explained the ‘why’ and taught which elements of the modern thinking to accept and which to reject. For R’ Hirsch, it was all about using those elements of modern thought that enhanced our beliefs. The rest he believed was of no value at all.

In the 1980s Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm developed what he called Torah U'Mada (TuM). He understood that to be Emes. It was a different approach than R’ Hirsch’s TIDE. If I understand correctly Dr. Lamm based his views somewhat on those of Rav Solovietchik’s seminal work, Halakhic Man which dealt with the world of cognitive man versus homo religiousus.  

Rav Solovietchik  believed that cognitive man and homo religiousus were two independent and conflicting forces within man that were ultimately irreconcilable. Emes, he said, was achievable only through the dialectic tension between the two. 

Rav Soloveitchik lauded the fact that Yeshiva University separated the Yeshiva and the university into two entities - leaving them both intact since it would have been impossible to reconcile all of western thought with our belief system. Combining the two in some sort of artificial synthesis would have not done justice to either.

If either of these two approaches (TIDE or TuM) would be part and parcel of the overarching educational paradigm, of modern Orthodoxy, the Hashkafa might have a chance to survive. 

What is happening instead is that most modern Orthodox children on the left are being sent to schools that empathize secular academics using religious their studies as a means of teaching them how to navigate that world as religious Jews. 

Ideological Centrists end up sending their children to moderate Charedi schools that focus on religious studies but tend to take secular studies a lot more seriously -  knowing that their students will need it to better their lives through careers mostly available to those with a higher education.

Is there any school that emphasizes either a TIDE Hashkafa or TuM Hashkafa? I am beginning to believe that Hashkafa has basically ‘left the building’.

Why this is the case is beyond the scope of this post. Although I think it might have something to do with how we have all been raised at home. If our parents don’t focus on Hashkafa, why should the school?

The lack of any emphasis on Hashkafa in our schools (and in our homes) is why I believe Modern Orthodoxy (at least the Centrist version of it) is dying. There are just too few of us that care about it.

Why do I care? It is unconscionable for me to believe that Judaism cannot be explained in an intelligent fashion in the real world  where Torah and Mada both exist. That we are asked to ignore modern challenges and simply believe (i.e.  Emunah P’Shuta). 

That may work for a lot of people. In fact it is considered to be a higher form of belief than belief through reason. But for the rational mind which thinks about such things, Emunah P’Shuta alone doesn’t work. We seek answers to our questions and resolutions to conflicts between the two worlds. TIDE or TuM may might not have all the answers. But they sure do provide a lot of them.  It is so sad for those of us that think about such things that they are increasingly being ignored. We do so at our own peril. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Squad

The ‘Squad’ L-R: Omar, Pressley, Tlaib and Cortez (The Hill)
There has been a lot of justifiable criticism of President Trump’s recent tweet about the ‘Squad’. The  Squad is the name of a group of four progressive young women of color newly elected to congress: Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC),

The President tweeted a taunt commonly used by racists against people they hate…. telling them to go back where they came from.

Whether that makes Trump a racist or not is a legitimate question. But what he said surely sounded racist. And that makes that tweet very unfortunate. I wish he wouldn’t have said that. Just like I wish the President wouldn’t say a lot of the things he says. 

The accusations about Trump being a racist based on this comment is akin to the accusations that he is an antisemite based on his comments about the violence laden clash between neo-Nazis and those who protested them in Charlotteville a while back. At the time Trump said there are good people on both sides. 

If the President was not such an obvious Judeophile whose support of Israel is unparalleled, and didn’t have a Jewish daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren, I too would be hard pressed to to see him as anything but an antisemite based on that statement. 

So why does the President use such language? I believe that he is unable to express what he is actually thinking - in part because of his limited vocabulary and his penchant to speak (or tweet)  before he thinks. To say that he President is inarticulate would be a gross understatement. And as I have said many times, the man has diarrhea of the brain.

That is one of the reasons I could not support his candidacy for President and why I was shocked and dismayed when he was elected. I basically thought I was looking at the end of the world as we know it. And not in any kind of positive sense.

I was  wrong. I have come to better understand this man and do not see him as evil. Or even a racist really. Just a tragic caricature of a human being whose behavior and rhetoric is often embarrassing to this country. But his politics as implemented by his policies are a refreshing surprise for someone like me that leans politically conservative.

Be that as it may, this tweet is just the latest in a series of tweets that distracts people from the larger point that tweet was probably meant to convey. Which is that these four women are not only bad for the country, they are bad for the Democratic party, and bad for Israel.

With respect to that last point, I have no issue with those that criticize Israel. There is room for legitimate disagreement about Israeli policies without giving up support for the Jewish state. Just like one can disagree with certain policies of their own country and still be a patriot. 

But in this case 2 (or possibly 3) of these woman are at least as antisemitic as as the President is racist.  

This does not excuse what the President said. But by virtue of all the criticism he is receiving, the women of the‘Squad’ are seen as victims of racism instead of seeing at least 2 of them as antisemitic. 

I have no doubt about that. Ilhan Omar’s supports BDS … a movement almost universally seen as anti Israel. Her antisemitic tweets against Israel and American Jews that support it are well documented. The fact that she apologized or recanted does not take away from the antisemitism that generated those tweets in the first place. 

Omar’s antisemitism is tame compared to Rashida Tlaib.  She too is a supporter of BDS. She believes in a one-state solution and granting the right of return to the descendants of all Palestinians displaced during Israel’s war of independence. That would in short order effectively end Israel as a Jewish state - turning it into the Islamic State of Palestine. She is so anti Israel that even J-Street withdrew their support for her during the election.

And as recently as yesterday, the Jerusalem Post quoted her saying the following: 
 “there is continued dehumanization and racist policies by the State of Israel that violate international human rights, but also violate my core values of who I am as an American.”  
Cortez is not as blatantly anti Israel. But calling  Israel’s clashes with protesters in Gaza, a massacre certainly raises the question - since it completely ignores the Israeli side of the issue.

As for Pressley, she is not in that category at all. Her positions on Israel seem to be in concert with mainstream Democrats. I believe she also has a good relationship with the Jewish constituents in her congressional district.

But when 3 quarters of a group calling itself the Squad are antisemitic to one degree or another that is something to take note of and be concerned about. Especially when they are young, and attractive to the youth vote in this country. Whose knowledge about Israel is extremely limited - if they even care.

The young are generally more inclined to be politically progressive since they see progressives giving them almost everything they want for free. Who wouldn’t want free stuff?

(Well, I got news for them. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Someone is going to pay for their free stuff. Including them one way or another even though they don’t realize it yet. But that is off point.)

Which is why Trump’s tweet was so wrong. It makes the ‘Squad’ victims and generates sympathy for people whose views about Israel and the Jewish people should be abhorrent to all decent Americans.

It is so sad for me when it is someone like Trump who implements so many of the policies – both foreign and domestic- that I so fully support. Trump is one of the most polarizing figures in America’s political history. And such an easy target for his political enemies. A target not limited only to himself personally but to his policies. 

On the other hand, I dread to think what America will look like if one of his Democratic opponents are elected in 2020. Opponents that seem to be tripping all over each other trying to show just how progressive they are - given the influence of progressives like the ‘Squad’.

What a mess.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Jew Versus Jew

Education Minister Rafi :Peretz (TOI)
It almost seems like a war. Not between Jews and antisemites. But between Jews adhering  to the tenets Orthodoxy and Jews belonging to the more liberal streams. The rhetoric is often angry – one side using holocaust imagery to make their point. The other using terrible invective in response.

I think we might just about be there. We may not be at war. But one would have a hard time believing that the very people that were persecuted over the centuries because they were Jews -culminating in the Holocaust - are now seeing each other almost in the spirit of those that oppressed us.

The latest incarnation of this is a comment made by new Israeli Education Minister Rafi Peretz. Which according to the times of Israel indicated that The rate of intermarriage among US Jews is “like a second Holocaust,”

Rabbi Daniel Landes was fit to be tied after hearing this and wrote a counter to it that saying things like the following: 
(Peretz) reveals his odious Kahanist identity. For Peretz and his ilk, Iran, Israel’s neighbors, the Palestinians, ‘leftists and assimilationists’, are all harbingers of the Holocaust, and now he adds the Jewish people of the Diaspora to that list…
(Peretz) is not sitting atop just any ministry. As one who should be seen as the Educator-in-Chief of the State of Israel, he should be sent packing before he causes further damage – we cannot survive his statements and potential mischief until September 17th elections. 
The invective doesn’t stop there. Rabbi Landes continues along those line throughout his article.

I get why Peretz said that. But using Holocaust imagery with respect to anything other than the Holocaust itself is always bad idea. Once you do that, you undermine the very point you are trying to make. That is what brings about reactions like those of Rabbi Landes.

But what Peretz tried to say (rather badly) is that the number of Jews that are being lost to Judaism in this country is of about the same magnitude as that those that were killed in the Holocaust. He is absolutely right about that. It is something I have noted myself many times. At a 70% intermarriage rate – all you have to do, is the math. 

Added to this tragedy (and yes - tragedy is the only way to see intermarriage if you are a believing Jew) is the fact that even among those that do not intermarry, there are a huge number of Jews that could not care less about their own Judaism - seeing themselves as secular humanists.

It is with this in mind that I find an comments by ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt against Peretz to be incompatible with the perpetuation of our existence as Jews. If one cares about is about the persecution of the Jewish people, then perforce one should care about Jewish continuity. Because if you ignore that, you  eventually won’t need an ADL because their won’t be a Jewish people. Here is what he said: 
It’s inconceivable to use the term ‘Holocaust’ to describe Jews choosing to marry non-Jews. It trivializes the Shoah,” Greenblatt tweeted. “It alienates so many members of our community. This kind of baseless comparison does little other than inflame and offend.” 
Well, yes. As I said use of Holocaust imagery in other contexts is a bad idea. Greenblatt is right to criticize him for the use of that word. But without adding that this is a problem of great magnitude he implies that it isn’t really such a problem. That the bigger problem is that Peretz used a ‘hot-button’ word that he shouldn’t have.

How can Greenblatt ignore the message itself? It does not seem to concern him. Does he not care that so many Jews are leaving Judaism?. As long as you don’t refer to it as a Holocaust -  all is OK?

So there you have it.  Liberal Jews sees the losses of Jews to Judaism as not such a big deal. Orthodox Jews see it as a major tragedy about which something needs to be done.

I have no clue how to change the current phenomenon of the vast majority of Jews assimilating out of Judaism. I believe it is it is happening because of the unprecedented acceptance of Jews in this country at this point in time – combined with over a century of heterodox movements that tolerated or even encouraged it is why this is happening at an accelerated rate.

This is what the focus should be on. Not on the poor choice of terms to describe it.

What can be done? There are many good organization that do a great job at outreach. But their successes are a drop in the bucket compared to those they are unable to reach.

We all have to do our part. And the best way to do that is by living in ways that will be see as a Kiddush HaShem. We must live ethical and moral lives and never skirt the system for financial advantage. We must behave with kindness towards our fellow man. We must behave in ways that will garner respect and admiration. And reject behavior that will be seen as a Chilul HaShem – EVEN IF – that behavior might be technically within the letter of the law.

We should never bow to the temptation to say ‘everybody else is doing it, why shouldn’t we?’ We must hold ourselves to a higher standard. If enough of us do that, we might have a significant impact on those of us that have heretofore seen us only in what they consider archaic ritualistic terms that are meaningless to them.

If  each one of us that is serious about our Judaism and are exemplars of and ethics and morality, secular Jews will begin to see us in a different light.  And perhaps be motivated to look into their heritage a bit more.  You never know, that may have the biggest impact of all.

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Truth About Trump and Illegal Aliens

Illegal immigrants being housed in cages (screenshot -PBS)
I am so tired of the extreme media bias. And yes. It is extreme. Never before has it come into such stark focus as it has under the Trump administration. There is hardly any mention of the name Trump without either an overt or disguised negative comment. It almost doesn’t matter who is reporting it. The attitude is the same. Anything the President says or does is bad. No matter what it is. Even his accomplishments are  spun into the negative.

One of the most irritating examples of this is the illegal immigrant situation. In a rare moment of honest reporting, PBS’s Judy Woodruff interviewed former DHS (Department of Homeland Security) Secretary (under Obama) Jeh Johnson.  Surprisingly he did not paint it as all Trump’s fault. In some ways he actually corroborated a lot of what the current President has been saying about it.

It is obvious that the conditions in which illegal immigrants are forced to live are deplorable. There is no dispute about that.  Report after report and interview after interview of people involved with these migrants and whose bias against the President is palpable - keep talking about how terrible things are. People are locked up in cages - virtual concentration camps. These poor immigrant families including many small children are living in filth with little food and practically no medical care.

The implication in using the term ‘concentration camp’ is that what Trump is doing is no better than what Nazi Germany did to the Jews. 

But unlike the mainstream media and Democrats Johnson did not blame everything on the President. 

The picture above features one of those cages. But that picture was taken under the Obama administration. It was of then DHS secretary Johnson touring that facility. So much for Trump creating these cages.  They have been there at least since the Obama administration.

What about all those scoffing at Trump’s claim that the conditions are better at those facilities there now than they are where these migrants came from? Johnson corroborates that too. It is exactly what Johnson said.  

This is not to say he wasn’t critical of the President. He was. But his criticism was fair and unbiased. He said the real problem is the unprecedented and overwhelming numbers of people trying to get in, not enough space to hold them all, and a staff not sufficiently large enough to handle it.

Despite the best efforts of Trump haters to repeatedly cast Trump as a racist, anti immigrant antisemite interested only in a ‘white’ America - he is none of those things. He married an immigrant (twice) and has Jewish grandchildren. His Vice President just addressed a group of newly naturalized citizens trumpeting that accomplishment, warmly welcoming them, and noting that they all came here legally. This is what America is all about. It happens everyday in America. But it has been all but ignored by the media in their quest to cast the President as anti immigrant.

If one is to be truly honest and face the truth of their bias, they would see what is really happening. We are currently experiencing an unprecedented wave of illegal immigration that is overwhelming detention facilities and the immigration officials manning the border.  Added to this is that unlike the past where illegals would come individually, they are now coming as families. There just aren’t enough people or places to keep them. Which results in the kind of deplorable overcrowded cages we see day after day in the mainstream media. Along with the not so subtle implication that it is all Trump’s fault.

The truth is that congress is unwilling or unable to provide the finances to add more personnel so that these illegals can be treated more humanely. And I agree with Johnson about the need to do something about the even more about the deplorable conditions in their countries of origin impelling them to seek the far better but still deplorable conditions they are in now.

That said, I do not agree with everything the President is doing in this regard. I do not for example believe that separating children from their parents was the right thing to do. It was both inhumane and immoral. I also don’t like the idea of not fast tracking legal immigration of parents or grandparents of legal immigrants already living here - same as spouses and children. I also think that the so-called ‘dreamers’ should be legalized and fast tracked to citizenship (if they so choose). And I also believe that the President and congress should try and do something to alleviate conditions in the countries these illegals are fleeing from.

But at the same time I agree with the President that we need to better secure our borders which congress and the President (neither of which has the world compromise in their vocabulary) are not acting upon. We need a major overhaul of our immigration laws.

In the meantime congress should immediately apportion the funds to meet the current challenges at the border. And to stop using the current conditions as a weapon with which to bash the President. Because that is really all it is. The deplorable conditions are as much the fault of congress as they are the fault of the President. But as Johnson indicated - the fault lies mainly upon the oppressive countries causing those overwhelming numbers to flee. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Kiddush HaShem in the Catskills as a Prototype

click to enlarge
Let me add my own accolades to a group of young Orthodox Jewish campers in the Catskills. Matzav published a Facebook post by Ann-Marie Barton that clearly indicates these campers have made a major Kiddush HaShem by their behavior. That Kiddush HaShem has been enhanced in a follow-up video by Ann-Marie.

Ann-Marie is a non Jewish bus driver who was very impressed by these young students. They behaved the way all Bnei Torah should behave and deserve to be recognized for that. I can’t say this for a certainty, but based on the demographics in the Catskills this time of year, I think it is safe to say that these boys were all Charedi. This is one of those instances about which I can say I am proud to be an observant Jew.

How nice it is to report good news for a change. But that is exactly the problem, isn’t it? Why must this be a ‘man bites dog’ story? Why is it news that young people behaved the way they were supposed to? Why is this story not a ‘dog bites man’ story – something that is so ordinary that it isn’t worth reporting?

I think we all know the answer to that. It is because of the negative attitude expressed about the ‘outside world’ that is so common in communities like this. An attitude picked up by children who then end up treating those outsiders with contempt! (Parents are after all their natural role models.)

I am reminded of a Rav who is an old friend of mine and was a general studies principal of a Charedi Yeshiva high school. He told me many years ago about what can only be considered the opposite of a Kiddush HaShem.

While the students in that Yeshiva had great reverence for their Roshei Yeshiva and Rebbeim, they had no respect at all for their secular studies teachers. Often mocking them to their faces. When he confronted these students about their terrible Chilul HaShem - one of them gave a response that was shocking. It went something like this. ‘M’stam They were Oiver on at least one of the Sheva Mitzvos Bnei Noach and are M’chuyiv Misah anyway. No?’

With that comment he and his friends made themselves judge, jury, and executioner… giving them ‘license’ to behave like pigs. Lest anyone think that was an anomaly, I have seen this kind of attitude expressed many times about ‘Goyim’. ‘Esav Sonei L’Yaakov’ they will say. They hate us anyway, so why bother being nice?!

Not to mention the fact that a while back I actually heard a recording by some minor Chasidic Rebbe telling listeners that although we have to be nice to Goyim because we need to get along in society, we must HATE them in our hearts. (He emphasized the word hate.)

Is it any wonder then that this Kiddush HaShem is newsworthy? If the message about the non Jewish world is so negative, what should we expect from our own children? 

To be fair this event was also reported to contrast it with the antisemitism that has reared its ugly head in some New York and New Jersey locations. Locations where there are lots of Charedi residents.

One can quibble about what the cause of that antisemitism is, but it is pretty clear that it exists – albeit somewhat thinly disguised. This event was an effort to broadcast to the world an image that is the opposite of the negative stereotype often erroneously projected about Orthodox Jews.

But at the same time it cannot be denied that far too many of us harbor our own bigotry towards ‘the Goyim’. A lot of it being generationally transmitted via parents and ancestors that lived in societies that were truly antisemitic. Where pogroms were common. And where we were so severely restricted to location and jobs that many of our ancestors has to have an underground ‘black market’ economy just to survive.

That attitude has survived to this day among many of us despite the fact that the vast majority of non Jews do not harbor any hate or resentment toward us. Most non Jews in America are more like Ann-Marie. Not like the antisemites who want to keep Charedim out of their neighborhoods. (It should also be noted that some of those ‘antisemites’ might even be Jews. Anti religious secular ones that are embarrassed by those ‘old fashioned funny looking Jews’.)

I hate to ‘spoil the party’ by bringing all of this up instead of just letting a Kiddush HaShem be a Kiddush HaShem. I am happy to see that there are some parents that are doing something to change how the rest of the world sees us. But is this the new norm? Or is it an anomaly?

If we are ever going to make this kind Kiddush HaShem the norm instead of the exception that makes it newsworthy, we are going to have to change our attitude completely and realize that it is not ‘the Goyim’ that is the enemy. It is us. We are our own worst enemy if we continue to preach hatred of the outside world in a country that has been nothing but good to us.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Holocaust, Its Deniers, and Judaism

General Eisenhower touring a just liberated camp
I personally find it almost more laughable than offensive (although it certainly is offensive) when a supposedly educated individual in any way denies the Holocaust. The evidence of the Holocaust is so overwhelming that to question it even slightly means that the questioner is either brain dead, stupid, or an antisemite. And yet it has happened again in Boca Raton, Florida of all places. Boca has a large concentration of Jews. Many of them may be Holocaust survivors, their children, or other relatives.

William Latson is one of those deniers. Latson was the principal of a high school with a population of about 2500 students. When discussing the Holocaust with a parent in an email exchange here is what he said: 
 “Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.” In a follow-up email exchange, he responded that “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in the position to do so as a school district employee.”
How someone like that was put in charge of the impressionable minds of young people is mind boggling.

Has he not seen the videos of the Einsatzgruppen - Nazi death squads that forced Jews to  remove all their clothing, lined them up at the edge of mass graves and shot them all down – into it?

Has he not seen the images of naked human Jewish corpses piled up in archival footage taken by Nazi filmmakers documenting everything Nazi Germany ever did? 

Has he never been to a Holocaust Museum and seen all the massive evidence including films and photos of death camps and crematoria? Has he not seen the documented evidence of the ‘Final Solution’ undertaken at the Wannsee Conference. 

Has he not seen photographs of the piles of gold teeth extracted from Jews after they were executed? Or the piles of children’s shoes removed by the victims just before they were gassed to death? Does he not believe the non Jewish Polish underground fighter, Jan Karski’s testimony about the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the German extermination camps on polish soil?

Did the landmark award winning 6 hour documentary ‘Shoah’ by Claude Lanzmann escape his attention? A documentary where Lanzmann interviews victims, perpetrators, and observers that stood by and watched it all happen?

Has he not seen the footage of concentration and extermination camp liberations where Jewish inmates looked literally like skeletons? 

Does he not know about the well documented medical experiments conducted on Jewish prisoners by Josef Mengele? Has he never heard of Anne Frank? Does he not know about the Nuremberg trials where Nazi leaders were convicted of crimes against humanity and hung for them?

Does he not know about the Spielberg Foundation Shoah project where survivors tell of their horrific experiences? 

Has he never heard of Elie Weisel?

Has he never seen a Jew with numbers tattooed on his forearm?

Does he not know about the reaction of Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower after he toured a subcamp of Buchenwald that had just been liberated? Here is what Eisenhower communicated to General George C. Marshal, then head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
The things I saw beggar description. … The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick ... . I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to “propaganda.”
I could go on. There is so much more evidence that it is beyond ridiculous to say the Holocaust might not have happened. Only a pure fool or Holocaust denier would say anything like that.

To suggest that Latson thought that he was just being objective about history is too ridiculous to consider seriously. I don’t see how anyone with the slightest bit of intelligence could make such a claim with all that evidence staring them in the face.

The truth is that despite his later apology William Latson is just another Holocaust denier. There is no benefit of the doubt to be given here. The cat is out of the bag. He might as well be David Duke. This fellow ought to be barred from ever having any position of responsibility in any school system anywhere in the world. And be scorned by audiences everywhere if he tries to make his case publicly.

I wonder though how many more people there are like him? People that might occupy prestigious positions in colleges and universities? That is why it is so important to call this fellow out. Loudly and clearly.

I say all of this despite my belief that we ought not make the Holocaust the focal point of Judaism. As I have said many times, in all too many cases a religion has been made out of the Holocaust. It has replaced what Judaism is all about. 

Unfortunately the experiences of survivors has  caused a lot of them to question their faith and abandon observance. I do not blame them one bit – even though I believe they are wrong. But for the grace of God… how many of us would stay righteous having experienced those horrors?

Survivors are in a category all their own. They must never be questioned. God forbid any of us ever be tested that way. Those who did manage to retain their belief are in a place few of us can ever hope to achieve. Theirs is the definition of Emunah.

We must never allow the world to forget what happened and never allow Holocaust deniers to ever get away with challenging those hard and clear facts. No matter who they are or what their station. The facts are indisputable - much of it documented by the Nazis themselves who were nothing if not organized and meticulous about recording everything they ever did. But we must never allow the Holocaust to define us.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Frum Drug Addicts

Image for illustrative purposes (Matzav)
Drug addicts. They are the scum of the earth. Only a culture that glorifies hedonistic behavior can fall prey to this malady.

Thankfully this is not happening among our own.. We are of a different culture. A different breed. A different mindset. Our highs are not artificial. We do not need drugs to make us feel high. We are high on God. We are high on the Torah.  A Frum (observant Jewish) lifestyle makes it highly unlikely that anyone among us will seek the artificial high that illicit drugs  provide. 

Orthodox Jews shun drugs! Those among us that do resort to drugs are not really Frum anyway. Even if they pretend to be. Those that do are no better than those in the general public that do and are probably OTD!

If only all of that were true. If only it was true that religious Jews are spared this malady because of the values we live. But the plain fact is that as much as we would like or expect it to be the case - it isn’t. It is a myth. It is one thing to have values that rejects rebellious behavior. But the problem is not always about rebellion.

The truth is that the observant Jewish community is much like the rest of society with respect to a wide variety of problems. Whether it is in the area of sex crimes, financial crimes, or drug use. There is a Yiddish expression that describes this phenomenon: Azoi Vie es Christeilts Zich – Yiddelts Zich. Which basically means that Jews (even religious ones) will pick up much of the culture in which they live. 

And yet there are those among us are not only in a state of denial, theyconsider it a Chilul HaShem to even talk about it. They believe that talking about it impugns the entire religious community. And by implication it impugns the Torah values we are taught to live by. So they reject it outright as impossible. But they are wrong.

The Orthodox Jewish community has a drug problem. We obviously do not have the same numbers as the rest of the country. Orthodox Jews are an almost infinitesimal percentage of the US population. Nor do we have the same percentages. But Orthodox Jews across the entire religious spectrum are overdosing in significant numbers. Denying the problem will not make it go away. Thank God there are people that recognize this and trying to do something about it. Rabbi Tzvi Gluck is one of the Charedi heroes that is trying to do something about it. He is determined to set the record straight. From Matzav: 
For those of you who have been spared the pain that has devastated klal yisroel since mid-June, let me fill you in on what has been taking place in Jewish communities all over the United States. Over a three week period, drug overdoses killed nine of our own, with six more remaining in comas as I write these words. Another 17 overdoses had more positive outcomes, baruch Hashem, with Narcan successfully reviving those victims, but without proper treatment I can’t honestly tell you that any of those individuals are really out of the woods…
I’m willing to bet that you’d be surprised if you knew who the people who came to us were. For the most part, people assume that those who are struggling with drug addictions are the kind of individuals that make you want to cross the street when you see them coming down the block, or angry teenagers with chips on their shoulders, but that is far from true.
I can’t even begin to count how many clients have come to us, hooked on painkillers that were legally prescribed to them after a medical procedure, or students who abused their prescription ADHD meds to get through a grueling finals schedule. Others are individuals who experienced some kind of trauma who are just looking to numb the pain so that they can get through life; I promise you the list goes on and on.
The fact remains that addiction is a disease, one that doesn’t discriminate between men and women, kids or grown ups, marrieds or singles and the nine people we just lost ranged in age from 16 to 64 – they were mothers and fathers, singles brimming with potential and yes, even grandparents. We need to face the reality that drug addiction is a far reaching plague. 
Need I say more? This is yet another issue that seems to be ignored. I wonder just how many cases have been swept under the rug for fear it would make the observant Jewish community look bad. I wonder as well how many needless deaths could have been prevented because of that.

Unlike some of the other problems in the observant community that some of us are in denial about, this one is a mostly medical problem. The stigma of the old stereotypical drug addict needs to be abandoned. What is needed instead is a compassionate approach to those suffering from these addiction problems. One that will  guide them into getting the right kind of treatment. 

We need to look at the drug problem in an entirely new way and de-stigmatize it so that families with these problems will not be embarrassed to come forward  and seek help. This will not eliminate the other problems. And it may not entirely eliminate the drug problem. But it will surely reduce the number of deaths caused by ignoring it.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Time for Europe to Abandon Appeasement

Israeli cabinet meeting (Jerusalem Online)
It seems Iran has decided to renew its determination to build a nuclear weapon. They have announced that they have surpassed the threshold of uranium enrichment allowed by that ill considered nuclear deal. They are now back on track towards becoming a nuclear power.

I’m sure that the pressure caused by the US abandoning that deal and reinstating the sanctions now crippling their economy is responsible for that.

One might say that it is therefore incumbent upon the US to beg its way back into the deal. We must plead with them to stop. Whatever it takes! The thought of a Iran becoming a nuclear power is too terrible to contemplate. We have no choice. Maybe they will listen to our pleas. And back off. Their exportation of terror is a small price to pay. We should understand that Iran needs to restore its economy. We need to let them do it. That will surely bring us peace in our time.

One might say that. But seriously, does anyone really believe that this makes any sense? That the solution to the crisis is to let Iran continue to develop ballistic missile technology and export terror? Is that the only way to get them to stop building ‘the bomb’? Not in my world. And yet if you listen to the Democratic candidates you might think it is.

Now it’s true that I do not hear any of them saying we must beg and plead our way back into the deal. But they might as well be saying that. Because by blaming their own country on Iran’s renewed drive toward building ‘the bomb’ - the implication is that we should reconsider going back into it. Even if it means giving up more than we did the first time. That is a small price to pay for ‘peace in our time’. Anything is better than allowing Iran to develop the bomb.

How short sighted that is. That deal only delayed their development of ‘the bomb’. It did not eliminate it. What it did also did is restore their economy while allowing them to further develop their ballistic missile system - that would enable them to attack the US mainland at such time in the future when a nuclear Iran would become a reality. Not to mention the fact that their improved economy made possible by removing the sanctions, enabled them to better finance terror all over the world.

The United States would not have any of that. The leader of the free world promised he would break the deal if he was elected. He was elected. He kept that promise. 

That upset all of those that supported that terrible deal. Meaning most Democrats, but more importantly our European allies that signed onto that deal. For their part Europe decided to keep honoring their part of the deal. The hope was that if only one country (the US) pulls out and reinstates the sanctions, Iran would not be hurt enough to back out of its part of the deal.

That didn’t last too long. Iran has now broken it.

Apparently the Washington Post doesn’t see it as a big deal. From Jerusalem Online
This type of enrichment is only for one thing – nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said. Netanyahu made direct reference to an article published in the Washington Post that said that the Iranian measures of enrichment of uranium “is not terrible because they are a small step”. Netanyahu compared this thinking to World War II, where the world remained silent before the first attacks of the Nazis because ”they were only small things”.
”How World War II began in Europe. It began when Nazi Germany took one small step, reentering the Rhineland. It was a small step, no one said anything and no one did anything. The next step was the Anschluss, and the step after that was the entry into Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. The rest is known,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu gave a direct message to the leaders of France, Germany and the United Kingdom to fulfill the commitments established in the nuclear agreement, “You signed this deal, and you said the moment this step would be taken, there would be harsh sanctions. Where are you? 
I could not agree more. My hope is that the spirit of Neville Chamberlain is dead and buried. Europe must abandon the philosophy of capitulating to a dictatorship so that we can have ‘peace in our time’. It didn’t work then. And it won’t work now. If anything Iran is worse than Germany in one sense. Their leaders have a religious fervor motivating them that Nazi Germany did not.

It is time to break the back of those fundamentalist dictators. Let them keep enriching uranium - while their people are starving. A situation that will get exponentially worse if Europe snaps back its sanctions as they promised they would.

There are those who believe that Iran will not give in even under those conditions. That it will only make things worse. I believe they are wrong. The fact is they have already shown that they are willing to deal when their backs are against the wall. That is what brought them to the table in the first place. They were pretty bad off then and decided to negotiate their way out of it. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. 

The right move then was not to capitulate to a bad deal but to increase the sanctions - eventually forcing them to make a better one. Not like the terrible deal they got. Which only delayed but did not eliminate the very thing the entire free world fears.

If Europe reinstates all of its sanctions - or even better increases them, Iran may be the ones begging and pleading. Not us. They currently believe that their belligerent fire and brimstone threats about going to war with them will make us blink first. But we shouldn’t. Their people are starving now. Things will only get worse. What are they going to feed their people? Enriched uranium? Does anyone believe that they will declare war on the United States if the sanctions aren’t removed - once they realize that the US will use all of its might against them if they attack us in any way?

They will be annihilated and they know it. Threatening war is nothing more than a scare tactic. They think the US does not have the stomach for war. But they are they ones that will blink once they realize that we are not afraid of their empty threats. If they choose war, they choose annihilation and they know it.

While there are no guarantees, now is the time to act. If we can get Europe to respond the way they are supposed to, this is will be the opportunity for a deal with the kind of teeth in it  that will force them to behave… and rid them forever of even the thought of a becoming a nuclear power. And then maybe, just maybe we will have peace in our time.