Monday, January 21, 2019

Trump, Democrats, and Media Bias

Trump supporters seem to taunt a Native American Viet Nam War veteran (BBC)
I am no Trump supporter. But I do try and be objective about the news surrounding him. Which is a lot more than I can say about the media. Not that I necessarily blame them. They have been attacked so much by the President, it would take superhuman objectivity to not spin every story negatively.

Now it is true that a lot of those stories are objectively negative. Can’t fault them for reporting them that way. But not all of them. The media is so wrapped up in vilifying the President that they can’t seem to distinguish between good and bad; fact and fiction. Whenever there is a doubt – they go negative. Never giving the President the benefit of the doubt. Guilty until proven innocent. 

That liberal Democrats do that should not surprise anyone. They have a political agenda to fill. And there has never been an obstacle as great as the President in their way. But the Democratic leadership skilled in the practice of ‘spin’ knows how to obfuscate their real agenda by blaming the President and his men for everything that is wrong in the world.

The media is supposed to rise above all that. But they don’t. It is almost as though they were the PR machine for the liberal Democratic spin… sometimes even leading the charge.  And in the process painting Trump’s base as either low IQ morons with no education… fundamentalists Christians with primitive and racist religious view, or Orthodox Jews with similar religious views.

There are two recent events that demonstrate this bias. One was a report that former Trump personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, told Mueller’s committee investigating the President that the President told him to lie to congress. That juicy bit of news was ‘scooped’ by the less than reliable news source, BuzzFeed. They didn’t question it. They went with it as though it was gospel. Lying to congress is an illegal and possibly impeachable offense. Telling someone to lie is the same thing as lying themselves.

Camera hound and powerful House Democrat Adam Schiff was already hinting at a possible impeachment. You could almost see him salivating at the prospect.

Trump denied it to the guffaws of just about everyone. Everyone that is except Mueller himself - who took the extraordinary step of publicly denying it. It is now evident that Michael Cohen said no such thing. That the media took a BuzzFeed report as gospel that tells you just how biased they are. It taints just about all their coverage of this investigation.

That said, no one knows what the final outcome of that investigation will be. Trump may be guilty as sin. Or as pure as the driven snow. The only thing we can be sure of is that we don’t really know anything.

Another event that shows  media bias is how they reported a viral video of a group of high school students seeming to mock a Native American who is Viet Nam War era veteran while he was chanting a prayer. These students from an all boys Catholic school were wearing Trump’s signature MAGA (Make America Great Again) hats. The implications were obvious. Trump supporters tend to be heartless bigots that are not beneath mocking someone that looked homeless. The video spoke for itself. 

Except that it didn’t. A longer version of that video showed a far more complex situation. Those students were in Washington supporting a pro life agenda. They had been taunted by a group of Black Hebrews (…no connection to Judaism and even antisemitic!) in Washington for their own purposes. The situation escalated and that veteran decided to enter the fray and see if he could somehow calm things down. He walked up to one of those students while chanting. That student had no idea how to respond other than just remaining silent while his classmates were chanting their own religious slogans right along with the veteran chanting his prayer. 

These are two examples of media bias that should be duly noted by the public. And that should make us all skeptical about media objectivity. It doesn’t exist despite their claims to the contrary.

That said, I will give them  credit for a bit more balanced coverage about the government shutdown. While the President did shut it down - they media does not blame him solely for not reopening it. They have shown the Democratic leadership to be just as guilty of that.

Especially now that the President has offered a compromise solution. One that would give the President what he wants – $5.7 billion a barrier along a specific segment of the southern border between the us and Mexico. A wall that just about every border patrol agent interviewed by the media said was an absolute must! And a compromise that includes a humanitarian gesture allowing Dreamers to remain here, obtain work permits, and obtain full government benefits. He even spoke of a possible amnesty for them sometime down the road.

The Democratic response was to reject it immediately. No counter offer. Nothing. They will allow the government to remain closed and continue to blame the President for it.That is more important than opening it up.  The sad part is that they don’t even have to accept that offer. Let the come up with a counter offer. No dice. 

A ploy to further focus blame on the President was initiated by Speaker Pelosi who uninvited the President to give the State of the Union Speech in the House on the scheduled date. She falsely claimed that security would be compromised because of the shut down. That was immediately shot down by Homeland Security. Her response? Let him (Trump) reopen the government! How transparent her real motives are. That Trump responded with his own pettiness does not make her any less of a child - drunk on her new found power!

The Democratic leadership is just as guilty as the President is here – if not more so at this point. Consider this: Many Democrats have voted for a wall like the one Trump is proposing in the past (pre Trump). Consider also the fact that the cost of the government shutdown has already exceeded the $5.7 billion Trump has asked for. The Democratic leadership doesn’t care. As long as they can focus blame on the President they feel absolved of any responsibility to open it. Even though they could do it in a minute!  

The media has not said so outright. But their reporting of it seems to be placing at least some of the blame on Democrats too. 

(On a side note, the media is overplaying the financial hardships caused by government employees working without pay. The truth is that they are not working without pay. They will be paid all they are due in the form of back pay when the government re-opens. The hardships are only for those employees not having saved any of their income for a rainy day. Those who have done  so will not lose a single day's wage. Any money taken out from their savings can be put right back into their savings.)

I think it is an outrage that all this is going on. Trump may have initiated it. But the ball is in the Democrats court as far as I am concerned. Instead of an outright rejection of the President’s compromise, let them rethink their position and make a counter offer. That would re-open the government. But that would take courage. Something the Democratic leadership seems to be lacking.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Truth About Aliyah – Immigrating to Israel

I’ve got to give Mishpacha Magazine editor, Rabbi Moshe Grylak credit for his brutal honesty. Instead of giving the more or less standard denial about the harsh realities of making Aliyah (immigrating to Israel), he actually conceded to them. Specifically in terms of Charedim.

His editorial last week was in response to an American Charedi individual who wrote a letter responding to a previous editorial by Rabbi Grylak. Wherein he urged European Jews to make Aliyah. The letter writer, an Americn living n Passaic, said that he refuses to make Aliyah because of differences between Israeli Charedim and American Charedim. Differences so stark that it makes it almost impossible for an American Charedi to adjust. Here is an excerpt of Rabbi Grylak’s response: 
The main substance of your complaint seems to be that the chareidi community in Eretz Yisrael is not interested in absorbing olim from Western countries, does not look tolerantly upon the more open chinuch system of America, on studying for college degrees, and on joining the workforce; it values nothing but full-time Torah learning. What American Jews consider completely frum is considered foreign and tainted by chareidi society in Eretz Yisrael. Why should American Jews come to Eretz Yisrael if they are only going to be rejected and marginalized? 
While Rabbi Grylak agreed with this analysis, he offered that there are pockets of Israeli society where acceptance of  American Olim (immigrants) is quite common. American Charedim can feel comfortable in their own skin in places like the Har Nof neighborhood in Jerusalem and Ramat Bet Shemesh (Aleph). Where for example English is what Rabbi Grylak calls the ‘official language’. And then he adds that it can’t be as bad as this American says because if it were, how could there be so many transplanted American Olim living there successfully ?

And then in a somewhat strange refutation of one of his complaints Rabbi Grylak says the following: 
No one here is rejected by society because he took a job. Those who take a job and as a result begin to reflect secular influences and stray from chareidi values may be rejected. 
Although he personally believes this attitude on the part of Israeli Chardim is wrong, the fact is - it exists. Which kind of undermines his argument that having a job is accepted

That said, he agrees that these problems do exist. And they do discourage American Charedim from making Aliyah. His solution is for more Americans to make Aliyah and help change things. 

Easier said than done. The very real and significant differences between American Charedim and Israeli Charedim are not going to change no matter how many American Charedim make Aliyah. What ends up happening is that those American Charedim that do make Aliyah bite the bullet and try to adjust to the Israeli standards. 

There is no ‘influencing’ Israeli Charedim. Those that try to do their own ‘American’ thing by sending their children to a school like Ma'arava’ - which offers a decent secular studies curriculum - are seen as second class citizens and not Charedi at all. Additionally, those children are considered at a disadvantage when they enter the major Charedi Yeshivos. Their level of proficiency in Limudei Kodesh is far below those who have attended high schools that did not ‘waste’ part of every day on secular studies.

My personal observation is that most American Charedim try to fit into the Israeli model. Even in American oriented enclaves. It is in the education of their children where this is most evident. They end up foregoing a secular studies education for their sons. And rationalize that in the case of every secular subject it is not all that important to life anyway. And that their children will do just fine in the Israeli system. (Not that this really helps their image as second class citizens to Israeli Charedim.)

So no… I don’t blame American Charedim one bit for not making Aliyah. The sacrifice is too great. It is also no secret that those American Charedim that make Aliyah with children old enough to have acculturated to the American way of life have a much higher probability of going OTD. This phenomenon is so prevalent that R’ Elyashiv, ZTL advised parents with children over 9 years of age – not to make Aliyah.

For those that have and made successful transitions even with older children - that’s great. Kol HaKavod! But I would not put my own child at risk that way. (I should add that I do not believe that buying into the Israeli Charedi way of life is optimal in any case. Even for Israelis. What would be optimal in my view is the reverse: Israeli Charedim  adopting the American Charedi way of life. The reasons for which are many - but are beyond the scope of this post. Unfortunately that is about as likely as my setting foot on the moon.)

Making Aliyah has many challenges even for modern Orthodox Jews. While it is true that they can more easily find communities that share their values, there are still a major cultural differences that makes adjusting difficult, not the least of which is the language barrier. 

Which makes my admiration for anyone that makes aliyah successfully very great. 

Most Orthodox Jews  make Aliyah for idealistic reasons. Whether they are religious Zionists weaned on the ideology that making Mitzvah of making Aliyah is almost what Judaism is all about… or just wanting to live one’s life among one’s own people in their own country… or just wanting to be a part of building up that country. They are all willing to make sacrifices in exchange for a noble goal. My hat is off to them, regardless of their Hashkafa. These are our idealists and should be honored for it by all the rest of us that have not made Aliyah. Unfortunately I find that doing so is rare between people with differing Hashkafos. Sad.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Religious Values, Secular Values, and Karen Pence

2nd Lady, Karen Pence
Appalling! That is the best word I could think of about the mainstream media reaction to 2nd Lady, Karen Pence’s decision to start teaching again. And yet appalling though it is, it is not surprising.

Their negative reaction is based on  the current liberal zeitgeist that labels any adherence to a biblical directive that is not in consonance with that zeitgeist at best unenlightened - and at worst, downright evil.

Karen Pence will be teaching at a school that actually values and honors biblical teachings.Values that in today’s politically correct anti religious climate are no longer seen acceptable.

What is it that  is so terrible in the eyes of the Left? It the biblical prohibition against homosexual practices the bible considers sinful. The religious school she will be teaching at bans students and parents that do that.

This says nothing about tolerance of people with same sex attractions. Human dignity must always be respected regardless of one’s sexual nature. The school’s rules speak only about religiously forbidden practices. As it does with other acts considered sinful by religious people. Like premarital sex, polygamy, sexual harassment, sex abuse, and other examples of moral misconduct. All forbidden by the school.That a private religious school forbids behavior that is unacceptable to their religion should surprise no one. And should not be criticized.

But that doesn’t seem to matter to the benighted Left. Their definition of immorality includes only acts which are not consensual. If two adults agree, it is by ‘definition’ moral. And we ought to celebrate it! That certain behavior is abhorrent to religious people doesn't even occur to them. To the extent that it does they think it ought to be condemned.

If one is not religious and doesn't place much value in the bible, I get it. If  religion doesn’t mean much to you, then why should you care what goes on in the privacy of anyone’s own home? In fact, believing that any consensual behavior is moral means that the ancient teachings of the bible are immoral!

I understand why they feel that way. They want to assure that LGBT people are treated fairly – equal to heterosexual people. A noble and even righteous goal. But then they go further and say that a lifestyle that generally includes biblically forbidden practices is just as moral as heterosexuals that do not generally violate practices forbidden by the bible. Anything else is considered discrimination. Furthermore expressions of anti gay behavior in any context - even a religious one - is hurtful to the LGBT community.

That may very well be true. But it is also true that if the bible says it is immoral, that is just as much true to a religious person. 

This anti religious mindset has become overwhelmingly the case in our day. Religion is seen as going the way of the dodo bird. Although it’s taking America a lot longer to realize that than it does Europe.The Left loves pointing to Europeans are more enlightened than us about sex. They consider Americans that believe in the biblical values as retrograde fundamentalists. Fools that refuse to recognize just how immoral an ancient bible really is. A bible they believe was written by people at a time when its tenets were thought to be universally moral ones - but are not moral today.

It’s ironic that Europeans are seen as more progressive and more enlightened considering the spate of antisemitic laws plaguing so many European countries. On the other hand they probably don’t see those laws as antisemitic at all.  Jonathan Tobin has an excellent take on this. One that I pretty much agree with. Here are is an excerpt: 
On New Year’s Day, a law banning Jewish religious slaughter went into effect in the Flanders region of Belgium. But as far as the legislators who passed the legislation and the voters who support them, this abridgement of the religious freedom of the Jews of Antwerp is a small price to pay in exchange for a measure that they think is kinder to animals.
Like efforts to make it harder for Jews to observe their religious traditions elsewhere in Europe—a list that includes not only attacks on kashrut, but also efforts to ban circumcision—there’s little doubt that anti-Semitism can be blamed for the enthusiasm for such initiatives.
But the response from supporters of laws that take aim at kosher slaughter or other practices that fashionable European opinion deems beyond the pale is that unenlightened behavior doesn’t deserve protection. Flemish legislators take the position that if Jews want to practice their religion they can do so, but only in such a manner that doesn’t impinge on the majority’s ideas about how to behave. 
Tobin makes the case that this attitude is just around the corner for us here in the US. And that it is the liberal Jewish establishment leading the charge. That doesn’t surprise me in the least ever since I heard a Reform Rabbi here in Chicago calling circumcision an ancient  barbaric custom that ought to be banned in the United States.

How times have changed. Circumcision used to be the one thing every denomination agreed upon. Which is why Bnai Brith - a Reform oriented Jewish organization aiming for universal membership -  incorporated it into their name.

Is it any wonder that Karen Pence is now being criticized for taking a job in a school that actually values biblical teachings over the teachings of the politically correct Left! And that liberal Jewish groups are in the forefront of fighting against those values?

And they want Orthodxy to see them as a legitimate stream of Judaism?! Both here and in Israel?! I hate to say it, but a non Jew like Karen Pence’s values are far more Jewish than those liberal Jewish movements! How sad it is that there are so many Jews like that now. Instead of criticizing Karen Pence we ought to be praising her for the courage to reject the political correctness of our day and instead unabashedly embracing biblical values. I sure do.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Start - But Far from Enough!

NYPD tow trucks on 16th Ave. and 56th Street in Boro Park (Hamodia)
I was happy to see the strong admonition issued by some of Boro Park’s leaders about what far too many of their residents are guilty of. A statement generated by an event I dealt with last Sunday. From Hamodia, here is the key sentence from that statement:
These practices of bending or breaking the law to suit our own purposes create an enormous chilul Hashem and they need to stop immediately.
A welcome but long overdue statement. I am glad that community leaders are taking this as a serious Chilul HaShem that has to be eradicated. And using forceful language to make their point.

What is interesting to note is that racism is not the only problem. Apparently a significant number of Boro Park residents consider cheating the government to be a positive act if it suits their purposes. A number large enough to call for a crackdown by the police.

I am sorry to say that I am not surprised by either the racism or the fraud. I have come to almost expect it from people that believe they are better and smarter than everyone else. I’ve have heard racist comments far too many times. Although not usually in public.

The racism on display in Boro Park a few days ago reminded me of 2 incidents I experienced. In one case a fellow I know explained how easy it would be to defraud the government because of the ‘stupid Shvartzes’ that work for them. He subsequently went about trying to prove that by defrauding the social security system out of millions of dollars. He is now sitting in prison.

In another case, I clearly recall a prominent Rosh Yeshiva warning Orthodox Jewish voters during a public lecture on Shabbos just prior to the 2008 Presidential election - not to vote for ‘that Shvartze’! (his words). Yes, he used that term in the pejorative way it sounds. I heard it with my own ears! Needless to say, I was shocked!

Why does such racism exist? I believe that the idea that we Jews are an inherently superior people is a constant theme of Jewish education in some segments of Orthodoxy. So instead of ‘White Supremacy’ we get ‘Jewish Supremacy’. Only in this case it isn’t a bunch of fringe Jews that feel that way. It is a bunch of Jews that are among the most religious looking among us - living in mainstream Jewish neighborhoods like Boro Park!

What about that? Are we superior human beings? The truth is that what makes anyone a superior human being is acting in Godly ways. For a Jew, that means following the Torah. All of it. Not just the ritual parts. To the extent that we do is to the extent that we are holier than those that do not act in Godly ways. It is the Torah that makes us a holy people. We - the Jewish people - were chosen by God to be His people as a gift promised to our ancestors, the Patriarchs. Not - in my view - because of any intrinsic holiness. It is observing the Mitzvos in the Torah that makes us holy.

We are not an inherently righteous people. We are not born that way. We have to act righteously in order to earn being called righteous. Furthermore non Jews can be righteous too. Being righteous is not the exclusive province of the Jewish people. As evidenced by the righteous gentiles of the Holocaust. And there are Jews that have been plenty unrighteous – as we know all too well.

The constant hammering by certain educators in certain communities into the brains of their students about how great we are and how evil ‘they’ are - can and apparently does in far too many instances lead to the kind of behavior that generated the admonition in that statement. If someone believes that he is a ‘superior’ human being - racism then becomes a natural inclination. And some of us feel no compunction expressing that to ‘inferior’ human beings.

And it isn’t only racism that is justified. As Hamodia statement bears out, so too is defrauding the government. Justified by the sense of superior human beings they have been indoctrinated to believe they are. They will say that any ill gotten gains will surely be put to better use by ‘superior’ human beings than it would be by ‘inferior’ human beings.

Fraud of that type might even be seen as a Mitzvah. Much the same way a Chasidic Rebbe must have seen it until he got caught and convicted in a massive money laundering and tax fraud scheme a few years ago. Which he must have justified since he used it for the ‘better purpose’ of supporting his Mosdos – the religious institutions he created and supported.

So as happy as I am about this statement, it is far from enough. Its signatories are 3 community service organizations: CB12, Miskaskim, and Shomrim… and one a rabbi who I assume is associated with these groups. I have been told that these organizations are the primary representatives of the Boro Park community. But where are the rest of the rabbis?

Where is Agudah whose rank and file consists of many Boro Park residents? I know that they do not condone fraud or racism. So why the silence? What are they waiting for?

A couple of days ago here, a noted educator came up with the idea of a movement to help solve these kinds of problems.  It would consist of a significant number of  lay and rabbinic leaders from all stripes of Orthodoxy. A force for good that would tackle the all the many fronts that contribute to these problems. A movement that would ignore Hashkafic differences between themselves and focus on the common good of eradicating racism in all its forms from our collective midst. A movement whose leadership would be unafraid of repercussions to their stature when speaking the truth.

This is the kind of Achdus - unity - I have been dreaming about for as long as I can remember. And what better place to start than right here with this issue. If this would happen – things might actually change.

But alas, I have little confidence that it ever will. Agudah has for example refused to ever invite one of the biggest Talmidei Chachamim and Poskim in America to sit on their main dais at something as universal as a Daf Yomi Siyum Hashas. A Siyum they claimed was meant to be inclusive. They refused  because of his association with Yeshivas Rabbenu Yitzchok Elchanan. Is there any hope that they would join together with individuals like this on a far more important mission that would involve more than just giving them the respect they deserve? I doubt it.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Agudah will invite such people to sit on the main dais at the next Daf Yomi Siyum - coming up in 2020. Which would be a harbinger for better things yet to come. But I am not going to hold my breath.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Are Europeans Really Antisemitic?

UK Prime Minister, Theresa May and Labour Party head, Jeremy Corbyn (BBC)
My theory may well be about to be tested. I have maintained for some time now that most Europeans are at the core antisemitic. It is in their DNA. Not that they are Nazis. Nor would they necessarily act on their antisemitism in ways that would be overtly harmful to their fellow Jewish citizens. At least not intentionally. I think most would even vehemently deny they are in any way antisemitic. Especially in countries like the UK - our closest European ally and trading partner. Whose culture is much the same as it is here in the US - sharing a common language – perhaps the most culturally significant thing we Americans share with them.

Yesterday, the British parliament handed Prime Minister Theresa May a stunning and humiliating defeat. Her Brexit plan which would take the UK out of the European Union was firmly and loudly rejected: 202 for - 432 against.  It is being reported as the biggest defeat for a sitting Prime Minister in modern British history!

I don’t think it is too early to say that Prime Minister May’s days are numbered. There will almost certainly be a no confidence vote. If she loses that vote (which at this point seems likely – but you never know) new elections will be called.  Which makes it a distinct possibility (if not likelihood) that the UK’s new prime minister would be the current leftist leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.

I don’t think there can be any doubt about his antisemitism. Despite his protestations to the contrary. That is plain to see if one judges by his past. So plain to see that former UK Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks unequivocally condemned him as such. Hard to give Corbyn the benefit of the doubt after that.

Lest anyone say that his election would say nothing about British antisemitism, I beg to differ. The claim that UK citizens will really only be voting for him based on his populist liberal positions might be true.  But the fact that they will ignore his overt antisemitic behavior (often disguised as anti Zionism as cover) tends to show just how little they care about it. And that is precisely the very thing that makes British voters antisemitic . Even though they might not realize it. You don’t vote for a bigot because you otherwise like his policies.

Imagine for example if Louis Farrakhan were to run for President in the US. If one ignores his antisemitism, he espouses many of the same values we do. They are the classic family values all Americans live by. Values like education, working hard, supporting your family, and living a highly moral lifestyle. Some of which are missing in some of our current political leaders. If not for his virulent antisemitism, I might actually support him. But his antisemitism cannot be ignored. His hateful rhetoric against Jews and Judaism makes it plain to see just how much of an antisemite he is. Despite his protestations to the contrary.

Is there even a snowball’s chance that Farrakhan or anyone like him could be elected President by the American electorate? I don’t think I even have to answer that.

Anyone that might try and explain such a rejection away as an inherent racism on the part of the American people has already been disproved by the election of Barack Obama. Twice. 

Contrast that with the following. 18 years ago when Democrat Al Gore chose as his running-mate, Joseph Lieberman, an observant Jew who would have been a heartbeat away from the Presidency  American voters actually increased their support for Gore. After being 10 points behind George Bush in the polls he pulled even. And actually won the popular vote! God bless the American people!

Americans will not elect an outright bigot into office no matter how good his polices might otherwise be. (And no, Trump is not a bigot!) Will the British? I hope I am proven wrong but I think they just might.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Maryles Challenge

by Paul Shaviv

Images of  an incident taken from the YWN  website
I received the following submission from Paul Shaviv, one of the most respected names in Orthodox education. As he notes it was in response to a challenge I issued to a commenter on how to fix the problem raised in a post. My only quibble is the following rejection of part of my answer: 
Rabbis giving sermons is not the answer. 
First in my defense, that response was a quick off the cuff one made to someone in a lengthy thread on the subject. I did not mean it to be the sine qua non solution to the exclusion of any other. It was part of other suggestions I made. I also qualified that portion of my answer by saying that those sermons have to be forceful condemnations of racism in all its forms. And I meant it as a unified wide spread effort on the part of all rabbis in every Orthodox Shul. Which I believe actually conforms in part to what Paul advocates. Other than that, I believe it is a valuable contribution to the discussion which should be read by everyone. And once again, I am proud to host it here. His words follow. 

In the discussion about that ugly traffic-violation incident in Brooklyn, and what it shows about community values and behavior, “Commentator” asked “What is the answer?”

Harry replied “…better leadership, better education. Behavior like this needs very loud universal condemnation from all segments of Orthodoxy. Rabbis of all stripes need to have sermons forcefully condemning racism in all its forms.”   

Then he turns it around to the questioner and asks ‘What do you think is the answer?’  

Rabbis giving sermons is not the answer.

Here is a practical proposal:

We need an organized, active, campaigning movement across all streams of Orthodoxy dedicated to raising ‘menschlich’ ethical, civilized and honest standards in every area of individual, family and communal life.  The movement has to be direct; loud; unafraid and uncompromising.  It cannot concern itself with taking a stance on halachic arguments (eg women rabbis); but at the same time the foundations of its values would ensure that all points of view on that and (almost) any other subject would be received with civility and respect.   It could certainly exert moral pressure on the protaganists of such issues to keep their conduct civil and respectful.

This organization cannot be theologically partisan. It cannot be an EDAH, or a PORAT.  Its leadership has to come from EVERY stream.  Black hats and shtreimels have to sit happily (and I mean happily) with kippot srugot; and sheitels and tichels with women who are observant but do not cover their hair.  (And if your reaction is “Ah! But they aren’t observant if they don’t cover their hair!!!!” – then you won’t be joining any time soon.)

It has to be demonstrably and openly led by rabbis, laymen and women, who are prepared to stand up and be counted.  No more ‘Rabbi X agrees with me but is afraid to speak out’.   That approach is toxic to a civil society.  For it to work, the rabbinic leadership has to be eminent, and respected.

The members of the movement have to be activist – and pro-active.  It cannot be reactive-only. Members have to be prepared to stand up in their synagogues and organizations; to call in to radio shows; to write in Jewish (and non-Jewish) newspapers; to be active in social media; and to call for public accountability.

The movement will have a positive, purposeful PR / educational strategy, using whatever are deemed the most effective means.  It will indeed shed a spotlight on what is taught in schools and yeshivot/seminaries, what is preached from pulpits, what is published in print and in media.   

They (including the rabbis) will not be afraid.

Decisions, budgets and process will be transparent. They will champion the oppressed and the minorities within our community, in a responsible manner.  They will respect the views of others, and may agree to disagree.  They will include, not exclude, and try and make that the Jewish Orthodox norm.  They will stand up for honesty and integrity, fiscal responsibility and openness, and vigorously oppose dishonesty, corruption and ‘Chillul Hashem’.   The movement will promote standards of governance and best process. They will stand up for agunot and wives who are being disadvantaged in divorce proceedings; they will stand up for the victims of criminality, not the perpetrators. 

They will promote civic responsibility, respect for others, and civilized behavior.

And ten years’ later, the face of our community will be radically different – and better.

So – who is prepared to step forward? 

Are there a dozen leading rabbis prepared NOW to associate with this movement – without waiting to see ‘who else is there’?

Are there 1,000 lay persons willing to do the same? 

Should we put up a website and see the response?  Can we, by determination and energy, establish new public standards for Orthodoxy?  Can we create a moral force to be reckoned with?  
*Suggestion for a name:  ‘Arev’ – as in the beginning of shacharit – ‘Veha’arev na..’. “make the Torah sweet..” It also has echoes of ‘mutual responsibility.. guarantee…’ . 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Are Orthodox Jews Role Models for Honesty and Ethics?

Rabbi Marc Angel (Jewish Star)
Rabbi Marc Angel has it right. Although I have had my disagreements with him on certain issues, on this one he and I agree. I have said many of the same things myself. Only he makes his point far more eloquently and more broadly than I have.

In essence Rabbi Angel asks the following question: How is it possible that so many Orthodox Jews can be dishonest? If Orthodoxy means following Halacha, how can anyone steal anything from anybody? How can there be all manner of fraud, bribery, and corruption if Jews are supposed to be the paragons of virtue the Torah commands us to be? As Rabbi Angel notes the Torah tells us to… 
…do what is good and right in the eyes of God; maintain honest weights and balances in your businesses; keep far from falsehood. Crimes against “the other” sooner or later become public knowledge leading to shameful desecration of God’s name and the degradation of Torah. 
His answers are somewhat complex but right on the money. The fact that rituals are so scrupulously observed by the very same Jews that are caught with their hands in the cookie jar is attributable to several factors.

That said, Rabbi Angel believes as I do that most Orthodox Jews are scrupulously honest. But at the same time it does not surprise us when one of us gets caught doing something unscrupulous. As an example of this attitude he cites a sermon delivered by Lincoln Square Rabbi Shaul Robinson wherein he asked the following rhetorical questions: 
(W)ouldn’t it be wonderful if people could say that a business venture was absolutely proper because Orthodox Jews are running it? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the surest way to attest to the trustworthiness of a business was to say that it was operated by Orthodox Jews? 
The Shul broke out into spontaneous laughter.

How sad is that! How sad it was when the New York Times reported a while back about a wide-ranging federal corruption investigation – identifying 2 businessmen from Boro Park, (presumably Orthodox) involved in a bribery scandal –  alleging  they  ‘provided financial favors to people in power in order to advance their own business dealings’. Guilty of a crime or not - at best they were involved in shady behavior unbecoming of an Orthodox Jew. And how sad is the following: 
Recent news stories have reported on investigations of yeshivot that have manipulated millions of dollars of grants to teach general studies—but then do not teach these subjects as required. Other stories have surfaced of financial mismanagement by rabbis who have used their discretionary funds in improper or illegal ways. Yet other stories have reported on Orthodox Jews accused of bribery or bilking investors of their money. A current scandal involves Orthodox businessmen who "paid for access" to the Mayor of New York City. 
To what can this kind of behavior be attributed? Rabbi Angel suggests many of the things I have alluded to. As recently as yesterday. There is an unwritten sense of superiority over others among some of us that has somehow been absorbed from our surroundings. Not that it is explicitly taught. Although in some cases it might be. But the sense is that we religious Jews are an inherently superior people that entitles us to do things that might otherwise be seen as wrong. Being ethical depends who you are talking about. That attitude stems from the constant reinforcement by parents, teachers, rabbis, that ethical behavior is relative and need not be universally applied. What is important is ritual behavior. A religious Jew has always been defined as someone that observes Shabbos. If one will argue that ethics are in fact being taught as a universally applied good - it isn’t being absorbed.

The idea that we are innately superior to others devolves into dehumanizing other people. Which can manifest itself in various differing levels of degradation. While Rabbi Angel notes that dehumanization is not extreme in the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jewry, there is a fair amount of moderate forms of it.

There are some that use the following rationalization to justify their behavior: 
(T)he Holocaust proves that non-Jews hate us, so we don’t have to be nice or fair in dealings with non-Jews; stealing from non-Jews or non-Orthodox Jews puts more money in the hands of good (i.e. Orthodox) Jews, and less money in the hands of people who are not Torah-true; cheating the government for the sake of strengthening yeshivot or other Orthodox institutions serves to advance Torah, and advancing Torah is the ideal goal for us. 
There are 2 competing ideologies about the inherent nature of the Jew. One of which actually states that Jews are an innately superior people. Which is why God chose us as His people. That view is reflected in a book like Torat HaMelekh written by an extremist Religious Zionist rabbi in Israel. A book many people saw as racist! His supremacist views cast others in an inferior light.  It is not much of a leap to say they should be treated accordingly. That any money we steal will be put to far better use.

But then there is the view of the Rambam. Quoting Professor Menachem Kellner, Rabbi Angel says the following: 
Gam Hem Keruyim Adam: haNokhri beEinei haRambam (They too are called human: Maimonides’ views on non-Jews). He makes it amply clear that Maimonides rejected the notion that Jews are ontologically different from and superior to non-Jews. The Rambam maintains the classic Jewish teachings that stress the common humanity of all people. 
In our world today, I believe it is important to consider any superiority we may have as God’s chosen people to be based on our Torah observance. Our patriarchs earned from God that we - their offspring be His chosen people. We are thereby gifted as Jews to be born with a portion in the world to come for our souls. Which we can lose if we do not follow God’s Torah. But even though they are not the chosen of God, non Jews have a soul too. One that can earn a place in the world to come if they are righteous. We are all created in the image of God. And we should treat all of humanity as if we actually believed that.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Viral Chilul HaShem!

Images of  the incident taken from the YWN  website
This is what a lack of a secular education will do for you in a community that lives an isolated lifestyle. The incident shown in the video below (which originally appeared on YWN) has to be one of the most disgusting displays of behavior by supposedly religious Jews I have ever seen. It made my blood boil. I could not believe my eyes and ears.

Their behavior is indefensible. And yet I have little doubt that the culture in which they live their nearly isolated lives not only tolerates it, it actually generates it. They are indoctrinated to believe they are superior to - not only every non Jew, but even every other Jew not like themselves. That is something that is becoming increasingly obvious. I don’t think there can be any doubt about that. I have heard it too many times. 

I am increasingly coming to believe that behavior of the people in the video below is no longer the exception... and may in fact be becoming the rule in communities like Boro Park - if it isn’t already. There is little tolerance and love of their fellow human being created in the image of God. Especially when it comes to black people! 

I want to be perfectly clear. There is no Jewish Hashkafa that tolerates this kind of Chilul HaShem – or any of the kind of vile racist behavior that the ‘gentleman’ in the video displayed. But don’t tell them that.  They must believe that Judaism is in fact very racist. That human dignity is not a part of Judaism. That treating every human being as though they were created in the image of God – regardless of color - is some other religion’s tenet.

The only question that remains in my mind is exactly how much of a community like Boro Park (where this incident took place) thinks like that? I am beginning to think that most of them do. How else could something like this happen? 

Let me hasten to add that the Chasidim I know here in Chicago are nothing like that. I know quite a few and not a single one would ever do anything like that. They would probably be just as abhorred by it as I am. These Chasidim are mostly not originally from Chicago. They stem from a variety of different Chasidus including Satmar. And from a variety of neighborhoods in the greater New York area – including Boro Park, Monsey, Williamsburg, and elsewhere. I can tell you form personal experience that they are among the finest people I know. So why the difference?

I have to believe that is a combination of the kind of indoctrination they receive from their parents and educators about non Jews – combined with (and this is very important) living their lives in large but isolated communities. Those that have made their new homes in Chicago find themselves living in a relatively integrated society albeit heavily populated by Orthodox Jews. Of all stripes. There is far more contact with non Jews here. They see for themselves that the typical non Jew is just as human as they are. No matter what their race or religion.

Perhaps more importantly is the fact they are more integrated with Jews of other Hashkafos some of whom are fully integrated in the general culture. I believe that they come to see the world more the way we in Chicago do. It is also true that the children of these transplanted Chasidim are actually provided with a secular curriculum in the Chasidic day school here. Taught by teachers (many of whom are not Chasidic) that abhor the kind of behavior this video contains.

This is not the case in greater New York. There are far too many Yeshiva high schools and day schools that offer no secular subjects, and many isolated large communities where there is far less interaction with non Jews or even Orthodox Jews of different Hashkafos. They are indoctrinated to secretly hate non Jews who are inferior human beings with a not so subtle subtext that ‘Shvartzes’ (black people) are the most inferior race of all! The word ‘Shvartzes’ is in fact just be a translation of the word ‘blacks’. But more often than not it is used pejoratively.

What makes this ‘incident’even worse is that there was nothing ‘secret’ about the derision and ridicule that those Boro Park Jews displayed in this video.

Lest anyone ask how I know that these people had been poorly educated, one can hear quite clearly just how poor their English language skills are. No one that had the slightest bit of secular education – which would obviously include English – would sound like that!

This video shows just how racist people raised in large isolated communities with no secular education can become. There is no defense. There is no explaining it away. I would hope that Orthodox leadership of all stripes would have the same visceral reaction to this sight that I did. It should be publicly condemned by every rabbinic leader who ever made a public statement about anything! No excuses! No saying that it is so obviously wrong that the mere condemnation of it is wrong – making it seem like more than an extremely isolated case of some outlier Jews. 

I believe that it is a lot more common than that. My experience with people living in communities like Boro Park tells me otherwise. I have heard their racist comments all too often.  I wouldn’t be surprised that for every incident like this which was recorded, there are lot more that were not! 

These people have lost their dignity – their humanity! That they could taunt a black man for doing his job and continue ridiculing him as he rides off in his police vehicle is so upsetting… I am at a loss for words. It doesn’t matter that that police officer could have overlooked a minor parking infraction. I might even agree that he probably should have. But that is so beside the point!

I hope the rest of Orthodox Jewry would have the same visceral reaction to these people that I had. They may be Jewish but they are not religious no matter what they look like. Even though they probably pay more attention to the details of ritual than I do. Maybe.

Their form of Judaism is no more legitimate than Reform or Conservative Judaism. Judaism is not only about following the minutia of Halacha. It is about being a Mentch and presenting Judaism in the best possible light. These people did not do that. They failed miserably. And they probably don’t even realize it.  

What they did is a Chilul HaShem of major proportion. One that has gone viral! They may not realize it. But to paraphrase R’ Chaim Soloveichik, Nebech a Chilul HaShem is still a Chilul HaShem. Only this time it has spread far and wide.  And I am sickened by it.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Government Shutdown – Whose Fault is It, Anyway?

Venezuelan caravan from October of 2016  - They're coming to America (WSJ)
Although this subject is a bit off the beaten path of what this blog is all about, I thought I would express my thoughts about the border crisis and the current government shutdown.

One of the President’s signature issues, perhaps even the very first one he spoke about during the campaign was illegal immigration. The way he expressed that issue set the tone for his entire Presidency.

In what has to be at best an exaggeration if not a bold faced lie he took a serious problem and distorted it way out of proportion to its realities. Instead of recognizing the actual problem of immigrants seeking a better life by breaking the law and sneaking into this country via open southern borders, he labeled them all the worst kind of criminals.

It sounded almost racist. As if he was disparaging all Mexicans that way. Certainly the vast majority of them entering our country illegally. Although he vehemently denied it, it’s hard to give the President a pass on this because his rhetoric at the time sure sounded like it.

Be that as it may, illegal immigration is a problem. There are basically 2 reasons that immigrants want in. Either they are fleeing persecution – or they simply want a better life that working even menial jobs at minimal pay will give them.

Those fleeing persecution should be given asylum. If their claims are found to be legitimate there is no way that a humane country like America – the  Medina Shel Chesed - should send them back. That is the current policy. The devil – as always - is in the details. It takes time and personnel to vet all those claims. Not all those claiming persecution are telling the truth. Or if they are their claims of persecution do not all measure up to our definition of it.

There are those however that come here for economic reasons. That is a horse of another color. That said the jobs they take here seeking better lives for themselves are the ones that American workers choose to forego. It is hard to find Americans that will do the jobs that illegals are so eager to accept. (Which should tell you something about America’s greatness compared to the countries these immigrants come from. Even at those low wages they do much better here than they did back home. But I digress.) What this adds to the mix,  however, is that those illegals provide a needed benefit for employers that can’t fill those jobs any other way. It’s kind of a win/win in that sense. 

But there is a downside. Without going into too much detail when foreign immigrants are willing to work for near starvation wages and consider it a plus – it makes it unlikely that Americans would compete fort those jobs. Americans are used to a much higher standard of living. It would be impossible for them to live anything near a middle class lifestyle at those wages. Were they to be paid a higher wage for those jobs - more Americans might take them. But that has a downside too. It would raise the cost of the consumer goods that they produce. Most of which are agricultural and used by the vast majority of Americans. As it stands now, prices can be kept low because of illegal immigration.

Unless we are willing to lower the standard of living for the middle class, we cannot automatically accept all immigrants. That is why we can’t open the borders and let anyone that want to come in – come in. The days where the Statue of Lliberty’s declaration about that are long gone.

That may not be fair to those wishing to immigrate for economic reasons. But if we did that America would suffer. This does not mean we don’t let any immigrants come in for economic reasons. It just means that we need to regulate how many come in per year.

At the end of the day America’s policy would be asylum – yes. But people coming in for economic reasons would need to get in line. What about those jobs that Americans won’t take that illegals will? Perhaps foreign workers should be given work permits and pay taxes on their income. 

This is where the issue stand right now. For the above stated reasons, both Democrats and Republicans agree that there must be better border security. I don’t think either party denies that. The question is how to achieve it.

This question was not asked  yesterday. Nor even during the campaign. Immigration reform as been an issue for many years as more immigrants try to come in. But past attempts by congress at immigration reform has failed because the two sides cannot agree on a bill that would satisfy everyone. There has been a stalemate on the issue. And it was basically put on the back burner until Trump came along. Now it is the on front burner. Big time. That is causing major discomfort for a over 800,000 Federal employees that have either been furloughed or are working without pay. Which will soon have a ripple effect on the entire country if it hasn’t already.

The President and Republicans want a physical border wall – a barrier built along the southern border of the United States to keep illegals out. That plus increased technological surveillance, more security personnel, more agents processing the increased numbers, and better medical facilities with more personnel to deal with the health issues the illegals bring.

Democrats might agree with all of that - minus the wall. They refuse to build a wall under any circumstances – claiming that it is  waste of money and that modern technology can do the job better and cheaper. There are arguments supporting both sides. Democrats are fond of quoting statistics in their favor. Republicans keep showing actual border personnel who say that a wall will certainly help them. They therefore support the President.

The one thing you can say about President Trump - that was not the case with past Presidents is that he keeps his campaign promises whenever he can. No matter what it takes. And since this was his signature issue from the start, he is going to do everything in his power as President to keep his promise here too.

When an opportunity for leverage came along, he took it. The President refused to sign a bill passed by congress to extend funding for the government.That means that certain non vital government employees are not being paid since there is no money to pay them. Some have been furloughed. Others whose service is considered vital are currently working without pay. The President is holding them hostage to his campaign promise.

It would be easy to blame the President  entirely for using government employees as pawns to achieve his own ends.  But in fairness, the President and Republicans do not necessarily see it that way. They see a greater good being served here - using the only leverage they have. Nobody wants to put people out of work. But the immigration problem will never be solved if we just ‘kick the can down the road’. Besides - those working without pay now will get back pay when funding is restored. (Not sure if those that have been furloughed will.)

Even though the President precipitated the government shutdown, Democrats are not blameless here. They are just as stubborn as the President and Republicans. They could end the shutdown right now if they chose to - by simply agreeing to compromise on funding a wall. If they were to agree to that, the President would reopen the government immediately – as he said he would. He has offered to compromise. On that score, the Democrats are completely at fault. And deserve plenty of blame – right along with the President and Republicans.

What about the claim by Democrats that the wall is a waste of money and wouldn’t work anyway? …...that a wall is an outdated way of securing the border? In my view they are wrong about that. Border walls work. Ask Israel.

Sure – there are other ways to protect the border as claimed by Democrats. But nothing beats a physical barrier to prevent illegals from crossing. That should be recognized by everyone with an ounce of honesty about it.

In a budget expressed in the of trillions of dollars - 5.7 billion is a relatively small amount of money. Especially when you consider there are some billionaires worth over 100 billion dollars all by themselves! (Maybe we can get Jeff Bezos to pay for the wall with some of his 147 billion. He will sill be left with over 141 billion! That should be enough to take care of his needs.)

In my view the ball is in the Democrats court. They could end this right now by expressing a willingness to compromise. Just like the President has  That is if they really cared about those federal workers.

Apparently not. The very thing they accuse Trump of – they are just as guilty of. Blaming the President alone is a lie and they know it. Just because somebody else started the fire doesn’t mean you don’t put it out. By refusing to budge and continuing to blame the President they do a disservice to the country. I think the public should be aware of just what kind of people run it: A bunch of self centered amoral losers on both sides of the political aisle that care not a whit about the people they pretend to serve. All they seem to care about is showing who’s boss! Collateral damage be damned!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

She Was Used to It?!

Image of a Spirit Aircraft taken from YWN
To say I am outraged by this incident is an understatement.  If what happened on a Spirit Airlines flight happened the way YWN described it – it is an appalling incidence of antisemitism. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. The kind of antisemitism that I thought could never happen on a mainstream airline. Even if the people that did it were secretly antisemitic I would have thought it would never translate into as overt act like this. Here is what happened.

An Orthodox Jewish family from the Chasidic enclave of Boro Park consisting of a husband, wife, and  3 daughters (one of which was a 2 year old) were given permission at the gate to bring their stroller aboard their flight since it was designed to convert to an infant seat. Once on board they did exactly that. A flight attendant then approached them and told them that this type of item was not allowed on board and took it away from them – even though they explained that they had been given permission at the gate. The family acquiesced and there apparently was no conflict.

During the flight, the husband joined his wife and 3 daughters in the three seat section as his wife placed the 2 year old in her lap. A flight attendant approached them again and said it was against regulations to have 5 people sitting in 3 seats. The husband immediately returned to his seat. So far - so good. But what happened next inexcusable: 
At the flight’s end an announcement was made for all passengers to remain seated as two police officers and two managers from the airlines came on board to escort Chani, Yisroel and their three daughters off the plane as though they were criminals. They asked the police what crime had been committed and received no response other than from the airline manager who claimed they weren’t wearing seatbelts.
Adding insult to grievous injury, the family was informed by the airline’s managers that they are no longer welcome on any Spirit Airlines flights in the future and that their return flight would not be honored; ‘find another flight home’ they were told, leaving the parents stunned and the young girls crying inconsolably.
An eyewitness on the same flight was also shocked by the way this family was treated and came forward stating he overheard the steward who was involved in the confrontation complaining to the other stewardesses about “those retarded Jews.” 
I am shocked as well. This is not what I have been used to at all on any flight I have ever taken on any airline. (Although admittedly I have never flown Spirit.) On every single flight I have been on I have been treated no differently than any other passenger. Even though I was wearing my Kipa making it obvious that I was not only Jewish but Orthodox. 

There has been nothing but kindness towards me and my wife on the part of every flight attendant. Who were eager to accommodate our every request. Which we rarely made. It was almost as though they were more eager to accommodate us than we were to be accommodated. Every single encounter I have ever had with any member of a cabin crew has always been nothing but the most pleasant experience.

I can only surmise that the people that work as flight attendants tend to have very positive personalities and love working with people. I assume that airlines look for these characteristics when they hire people and train them to be even nicer than they naturally are.

Which makes this story even more shocking. Based on how this story was reported how could there have been that kind of reaction to these people? It is inconceivable to me that there could be that kind of antisemitism permeating any staff member or management. And yet the events as described are clearly antisemitic from flight attendant to management!

And even if there any such employee was privately antisemitic their training should surely prevent it showing its ugly face.  And yet it happened. And antisemitism was clearly at the bottom of this since this family was referred to as ‘those retarded Jews’!

I can’t explain it and condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

This incident reminded me of an incident I experienced. One I have mentioned in the past. Only in that case the fault was clearly on the part of the passengers. Long story short - a large and apparently wealthy Chasidic looking family boarded the flight after my wife and I had been seated. They immediately started making numerous requests (almost demands!) upon a busy  flight attendant while others were still boarding. She was treated like a personal servant and they acted like they owned the airplane! I was so embarrassed by that behavior that when she passed me by, I apologized for it. I wanted to make clear that this was not typical Jewish behavior.

She thanked me and said that no apology was necessary. She was used to it and knew that not all Jewish people behaved this way. I remember thinking what a Chilul HaShem these people were making. Which they were probably oblivious to. Not all flight attendants react the way the one on my story did. Thankfully this one did. Some react badly - and for those that might have an antisemitic background it might just raise its ugly head in them.  

Her words made me wonder just how many times this happens. The fact that she said she’s used to it made me think it happens a lot. And that may just be why that disgusting antisemitic canard came rolling of the lips of that flight attendant. If they have experienced the kind of behavior I saw on my flight  - they probably judged this young innocent family by what they experienced in others that looked like them. That does not make them any less antisemitic. But I think it does make for an important lesson for us.

Which is to never behave like that Chasidic family did. Because at the end of the day it is a Chilul  HasShem that will have repercussions for others. Or worse – validate the antisemitism in the minds of people that have that prejudice. We should be doing the opposite and making sure that that kind of vestigial antisemitism is eradicated  - by doing the opposite of what that Chasidic family did and making a Kidush HaShem wherever we can.

Another version of the YWN story can be read at the New York Post