Friday, February 16, 2018

Common Sense

Mass murderer, Nikolas Cruz and his stash of guns 
‘Guns don’t kill people. People do.’ ‘If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.’ ‘Every Jew a 22.’ The logic behind the first of these two popular phrases is inescapable.  The second one rings true as well. The 3rd one (coined by Rabbi Meir Kahane) makes sense too in light of the persecution Jews have faced at the hands of fellow citizens throughout history. The argument is that if Jews would have been armed during the Holocaust, they could have better protected themselves and saved many lives. But I dispute that argument in this country. More about that later.

When I am in Israel, I can hear that argument. Military personnel that are so pervasive in Israel obviously carry weapons. As do the police.  But it is not only them. I am amazed at the number of civilians that carry unconcealed weapons. As I am surprised at the type of people carrying them – religious Jews.  While it is mostly Religious Zionists or Dati Leumi Jews that carry guns, it is not exclusively them.  

I suppose that in Israel, Rabbi Kahane’s argument might make sense. There are threats lurking behind every corner. Terrorists abound. I admit to feeling a sense of comfort and security in Israel when I see a religious Jew carrying a gun. (Although sometimes I wonder how many of these gun toters  have actually been trained in firearms use and safety. Or how some of them might freeze during an actual event requiring a quick response. Or worse killing an innocent bystander by mistake out of sheer nervousness. But still…)

What about America? Should I feel that way here? No. First some background.

The reason I bring all of this up now should be obvious to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to the news. On Wednesday at about 2:00 PM Eastern time, 19 year old Nikolas Cruz walked into the South Florida school he once attended armed with a legally purchased semi-automatic AR 15 assault rifle and proceeded to slaughter students and teachers totaling 17 people. With many more being injured. He was apprehended and caught. He is now in custody – charged with 17 counts of premeditated homicide and related charges.

Observing the reaction of victim’s families actually brought me to tears! Just as it did last time something like this happened.

It seems as though mass shootings in schools are beginning to happen on a regular basis. Innocent children are indiscriminately shot by people with mental issues. People like Nikolas Cruz can easily obtain weapons and with ease - cut people down in the prime of their lives in a matter of seconds.

It is my considered opinion that this kind of thing can be curbed if not eliminated by common sense gun legislation. While such laws are on the books, there are too many loopholes. For example I recently became aware of guns being sold on line that are missing a working part and cannot be fired without it. They can be purchased by anyone of any age. They contain no serial number or any identifying mark. The missing part can also be purchased on line along with instructions on how to put them together to create the perfect untraceable weapon. All legal.

Automatic (rapid-fire) military type assault rifles are illegal. But they may be sold legally if the automatic feature is disabled. Which can be easily restored or modified after purchase.

There are other laws designed to prevent  gun sales to criminals and the mentally disabled. But these laws have giant loopholes, too.

All the loopholes need to be closed! There needs to be much stronger gun legislation in this country. The less guns there are, the less people will be killed. Study after study has shown this. And yet this simple truth is ignored by gun enthusiasts and by the politicians in office that support them. Politicians that cater to the gun lobby – led by the NRA (National Rifle Association) one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. 

The NRA is led by Wayne LaPierre, a man I consider to be a Rasha! …and indirectly responsible for what happened Wednesday. As well as all the previous mass murders of this type in this country. I’m sure we will be hearing from him shortly (if he hasn’t already commented) touting the second amendment to the constitution. Which states: 
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. 
The purpose of this amendment is to assure the existence of a well regulated militia. The US has that in spades. Soldiers need to be fully armed. Do we really need private citizens that have no intention of being part of the military to be armed? But I am not here to argue for repeal.  I am arguing for controlling access.

What about arguments like ‘Guns don’t kill people.’ People do.’ True there has to be a person pulling the trigger for the gun to kill. But without a gun, it would be much harder to kill anyone. Guns make it infinitely easier to do that. The more loopholes we have, the more people that will be killed. Had Cruz come into those classrooms with a hunting knife, I seriously doubt that 17 people would have been killed.

It is also true that if guns were outlawed, law-abiding citizens would not have any. But criminals would easily find ways to have them. Which is why I am not supportive of outlawing guns completely. But I am in favor of outlawing assault rifles like the AR 14. There is NOTHING in the second amendment to prevent such a law. The right to bear arms will still be in place.

Forbidding semi automatic assault weapons (which as noted - can easily be converted to automatic mode) will also reduce the carnage. What possible protective value is there in an assault weapon, anyway? The purpose of these weapons are to kill as many people as quickly as possible – a useful tactic in battle. But private ownership is insane. It can only appeal to gun enthusiasts. What kind of obsession is that, anyway?! It is the gun enthusiast that converts them back to automatic mode.

Then there is the mental health issue. It appears that the motive in many of these mass shootings by a young person is  in reaction to being constantly bullied by fellow students.  Their built up rage makes road rage look like child’s play. There needs to be a concerted effort by schools to end this phenomenon. I know it’s hard to detect since much of it takes place on hand held social media. But that does not free anyone involved from tackling this problem. It ought to be a priority.

Administrators, principals, teachers, advisors… and just about anyone involved with schools needs to brainstorm and figure out ways to eliminate this scourge from our schools. But it starts with better parenting. Parents need to be in control of what their children do on social media.

It is also imperative to create legislation that would prevent people with any kind of mental health issue (like Cruz) from the ability to purchase any kind of gun.  There should be no possible way to buy a gun under any circumstances without a thorough background check. Both with respect to criminal records and to any kind of mental health issue. It would also be wise to outlaw online purchases of guns as well. Even those that are missing parts so that cannot be fired!

It ought to be much harder to buy a gun than it is now. If this latest tragedy doesn’t teach us this, nothing will. Unfortunately I believe this to already be the case. Mass shootings like this that have happened in the past – have resulted in nothing.

Nothing will change by what I write here today, unfortunately. I doubt that any politicians read my posts. And even if they did, it probably wouldn’t sway them. But the truth needs to be told.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Why America is Not Poland (or Even England)

Republican Candidate for Congress and American Nazi, Arthur Jones (CNN)
There been a bit of an uproar here in Illinois and in some Jewish and other publications about Arthur Jones. He is running as the unopposed Republican candidate for Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District. What is unusual about this fellow is that he is an avowed Neo-Nazi and white supremacist. Jones is seeking the seat in the House of Representatives currently held by Democrat Dan Lipinski who is seeking reelection.

Although this south side and suburban Chicago district was known to be more conservative than the rest of Chicago, it has nevertheless held true to the Chicago tradition of a near non existent Republican party. 

Democrats are assured of winning any election in Chicago. The real elections take place in the Democratic primary. Once nominated, the general election is only a formality. In my own congressional district Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky is running unopposed.

I assume that is the case in just about every area in Chicago and nearby suburbs, including the 3rd district. (In fact in the last Presidential primary, Bernie Sanders won that district by 8 points!) What happened is that Jones took advantage of that fact - and with no Republican taking the trouble place themselves on the Ballot, Jones took the initiative to get the 800 signatures required to do that. By the time anyone realized what happened, it was too late for any Republican to oppose him on the ballot - or even as a write-in candidate.

There is no question that Jones will lose the election. He will be trounced - even if he wasn’t a Nazi. The fact that he is allowed to run is one of the great freedoms of America. No matter how disgusting an individual’s personal views are – they have the freedom to espouse them and even run for public office. It is also the greatness of America that he will be so wildly rejected by voters (other than his fringe base).

If one wants to know how the Republican Party has reacted to Jones, all you have to do is read an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune. It was written in the form of an open letter to Jones by Richard Porter, the national committeeman for Illinois to the Republican National Committee. Here in part is what he said: 
Given that you're not actually a Republican, I should tell you something that you won't like about me or others in the Republican Party. You should know:
I love Jews. I am not saying “I have friends who are Jews,” I am saying I love Jews.
I love the stories of the Old Testament, the trials and tribulations, and the miracles and the disasters, that befall this family that grew into a tribe and then into a people — a people who have thrived despite thousands of years of persecution that culminated in the Holocaust.
Arthur, denying the cruel reality of the Holocaust is unforgivable.
I love Israel too. Indeed, I am a proud Christian member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and we lobby for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.
I love what Jews have done for this country. I marvel at art created by Jews, I help Jews build amazing companies, and I read brilliant legal analyses by Jews.
I love my Jewish law partners — such amazing people. Brilliant, hard-working and decent. We give to each other's charities — they are so generous, I find it hard to keep up.
I love to attend bar and bat mitzvahs. Seeing 12- and 13-year-olds get up and chant beautifully in Hebrew and then discuss their Torah selection so maturely, I always find myself asking: “Why don't we ask more of kids where I worship?”
Actually, you should know that the Republican Party is filled with Jews who are passionate advocates of liberty and smaller government.
Gosh (and I say that because the God of the Jews commands me not to take the Lord's name in vain), you could say the Republican Party is the party for Jews and those who love Jews and Israel. 
He then goes on to ask Jones to voluntarily leave the Republican party and basically run as the long time member of his other political party - the American Nazi Party. 

It is Porter that represent the real America. It should also be evident that the Republican Party is increasingly becoming the party of the Jews – as Porter indicates.  The tables have been turned. Jews were always more comfortable among the more liberal Democrats. Blue blood Republicans were rightfully considered to be guilty of at least soft antisemitism. This is no longer the case. Republicans seem to have purged any and all antisemitism from their midst - as indicated by Porter. 

And while Democrats are not antisemeitic either, their support for Israel is becoming increasingly tepid while Republican support seems to be increasing. One will find a lot more criticism of Israel among liberal Democrats -  as opposed to conservative Republicans. Most of whom unabashedly express views like Porter’s. Or express enthusiastic support for Israel like UN Ambassador Nikki Haley... or just about any notable Republican one would care to mention.

Contrast that with what is going on in Poland. Instead of admitting their clear history of persecution against their Jewish citizens, and apologizing, they have opted instead to erase it from the collective memory of the world. They have outlawed any reference to a Nazi Death camp being Polish - subject to a fine and even possible jail time! 

As noted here recently, it is technically true that the death camps were built and operated by Germans. But this new law is deceptive. It ignores the fact that so many Poles were willing accomplices! And although the Poles were victims of Nazi Germany too, it makes them seem like they were never the rabid antisemites they actually were. Long before the Nazi Party ever existed! And you will never see the kind of genuine love expressed by Porter for the Jewish people by any government official there. Probably not even in England either!

There is also the rabid anti Israel views of activists in Jeremy Corbyn’s liberal Labour Party, England’s major opposition party. Activists that Corbyn refuses to deal with. You will never see such views expressed by our liberals, the Democrats. Contrary to Corbyn, Charles Schumer, the Democratic Senate Minority leader is a very strong supporter of Israel and a proud Jewish American. (He actually bucked his own party’s Orthodoxy and voted against the nuclear deal with Iran!)

Which is why I continue to believe that Esav Sonei L’Yaakov clearly still applies to Europe (especially Poland)  – even after the Holocaust. And why it does not apply to America - the greatest democracy the world has ever known.  A country where Jews are not only NOT hated, but are appreciated and loved.  God Bless the United States of America!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Win? Or a Defeat?

Is this a real diamond ring?
Rabbi Ysoscher Katz has made the kind of unequivocal statement one would – and should - expect from anyone that calls themselves an Orthodox Rabbi. His statement is precisely the same argument used by those of us that oppose innovations he supports (like the ordination of women). From the Times of Israel, it reads in pertinent part as follows:
Halakha was never destined to be optimally inclusive or perfectly egalitarian. There was always going to remain a whiff of discrimination (descriptively speaking) which is innate to the system and could never be eliminated. Coupling halakha with modernity was never meant to be the perfect elixir, completely eradicating the existential pain of the modern-and-observant Jew. That is impossible. It can only minimize that pain. 
I welcome the clarity of this statement - even while the lines drawn by virtually all mainstream Orthodox Jewish institutions in the world are drawn differently than his lines. This is an important statement because it clearly delineates that societal values never trump the Torah. There are lines that cannot be crossed no matter how unjust they may feel to modern sensibilities.

His point in making this statement was that all the possible accommodations to modernity made by Progressive Orthodoxy (formerly known as Open Orthodoxy)… have already been made. We cannot go further. There is much to be done elsewhere, he says, and we ought to be getting on with that. The battles are over. Their progressive agenda has taken hold. The war has been won. Female rabbis are a reality (albeit one that has to be nourished, he says). Case closed.

I hope he’s right about the battles and war being over. But I think he is mistaken about winning the war.

As noted here many times, there has been no acceptance of female rabbis by any mainstream Orthodox institution anywhere in the world. Not a single Posek of stature has endorsed it. Member synagogues of the OU may not hire a female rabbi. Doing so would void membership in the OU. Negotiations with member synagogues that currently have female rabbis are taking place. But if their status quo in that regard remains they will surely be expelled. To paraphrase Mark Twain, news of their survival is greatly exaggerated! At least as any kind of Orthodox Judaism.

And yet Rabbi Katz calls it a reality – albeit a reluctant one. The issue has been conquered. Progressive Orthodoxy can afford to retreat. 

I heartily endorse them doing that. Not because they have won. But because they have lost even if they don’t realize it yet.  Retreating is the right thing to do. Because if they insist on maintaining this new innovation they will eventually write themselves out of Orthodoxy. Not because I say so. But because Orthodoxy itself does, by dint of rejecting what they have done.

Rabbi Katz might counter this and say that what he means is that the genie is out of the bottle. Women are being ordained and serving their synagogues as rabbis. No one is going to change that. It will only increase. 

It is true that women are being ordained. It is also true that some women are already serving as rabbis. (Whether that increases remains to be seen.) What is also true, however, is that it is not accepted as a legitimate form of Orthodoxy by any Orthodox institution. Synagogues doing so will not be considered Orthodox. This is not called winning. It’s called wishful thinking.

One may ask, who gets to define Orthodoxy? Why shouldn’t Progressive Orthodoxy have the same right to be called that as does the right wing or Centrist Orthodoxy?  

True, they can call themselves anything they want. A person has the right to call Cubic Zirconia a diamond if he wants to. But that will not make it a diamond no matter how much he says it is. Even though it closely resembles a diamond. Only those with expertise in the precious gem industry have that right. They are the most educated in the matter and therefore have the most expertise. They are the only ones that can decide what is and isn’t a real diamond.

So too with Orthodoxy. When it comes to the definition - it remains in the hands of the people that know Torah the best - the mainstream Poskim of our day. When there is universal agreement among them about a parameter being crossed - it is crossed.

This is the case with female rabbis. Those who accept or endorse it might call themselves Orthodox. But they are no more Orthodox than a Cubic Zirconia is a diamond.

There are those who will say, ‘So What?’ ‘Who cares what they are called?’ ‘If they think they’re right, who is anyone to tell them to stop?’ ‘Let them do what they believe in - and see what happens!’

This is true. But it was also true for a movement founded over 100 years ago that also wanted to be considered Orthodox. They too considered themselves to be a Halachic movement. Today, there is not a single Orthodox Rabbi - including Rabbi Katz - that would make such a claim. Conservative Judaism is not - and never really was Orthodox.

If Progressive Orthodoxy goes that route, I fear it will have a similar outcome.  I do not believe that Progressive Orthodoxy wants to do that. Which is why they continue to use the word ‘Orthodox’ in any label they choose for themselves. Whether the prefix is ‘Open’, ‘Liberal’, or ‘Progressive’.

Perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part. But I hope that when Progressive Orthodox leaders see the actual truth rather than what they think it is – they will realize that they have not won the war but have have lost it! And finally abandon this position as a well intended mistake – difficult though that may be.  A mistake that at the end of the day, cannot fully satisfy the egalitarian agenda in any case - just as Rabbi Katz has clearly stated. And then they can turn their attention to what he says they should be doing next. Something all of Orthodoxy should  be doing as well:  ‘reorient its energies towards creating a religiously vibrant home front.’ 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

For The Sake of Our Children...

An Israeli Ikea bruchure features no pictures of women. (Sputnik)
I have a lot of respect for Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll. She is a real Mentch! When I suddenly lost my brother a couple of years ago while visiting my children in Ramat Bet Shemesh, she came to be Menachem Avel me – paying me a condolence call during my Shiva period. Even though she barely knew me.

Shoshanna is an individual that cares about her family, her country and her fellow man… and fellow woman.

She is in fact a 21st century feminist. Which is where I often part company with her - even though I too consider myself a feminist albeit in its original incarnation. Which for me meant treating both men and women with the same level of dignity and respect due to all human beings - having been created in the image of God.  And to promote equal opportunities (and equal pay for equal work) for both men and women in all areas except in our roles as Jews based on the Torah (as interpreted  by our sages and rabbinic leaders throughout every generation).

That difference has gotten me into trouble with Shoshana in the past.  Which actually made me feel terrible. The last thing I would ever want to do is disrespect someone of the courage to stand up for what she believes – even at those times when I disagree with her. I tried to apologize to her but mostly stood my ground since I believed in the essence of what I said. Not sure she accepted it.

Our differences are certainly sharp on certain issues. But there are a lot of areas where we actually agree. One of those is in the area of the decreasing instances of women’s pictures being published.

As I have always said, the narrow slices of Orthodox Jewry on the extreme right have the right to lead their lives according to their own values. If they as a community feel that publishing any picture of a woman violates their particular standards of modesty, they certainly should have that unfettered right among themselves.

But most of even the Charedi world does not have this standard. I keep using this example – but it is a good one. The Agudah website published pictures of women giving lectures at their recent convention in New York. Their Rabbinic board (Moetzes) consists of many of whose rabbis are considered by Charedim to be  Gedolei HaDor – the rabbinic giants of our generation.

But as is increasingly becoming the case that practice has taken hold in a variety of other venues that heretofore never had such restrictions. 

On an Israeli program called Orly and Guy, (video below with English subtitles) Shoshanna does a masterful job explaining why the phenomenon of erasing women from the public square is so detrimental to the fabric of our lives as Jews. On that same program Rabbi Dov Halbertal defended the practice – saying that it is done to avoid men becoming sexually aroused. Extending this idea to pictures of modestly dressed women is absurd in the extreme.

We are not talking about Playboy centerfolds. We are talking about women dressed according to the strict letter of the law. And we certainly are not talking about a Holocaust era picture. Rabbi Halbertal's attitude was that it doesn’t make any difference.  A picture of a woman in any circumstance can sexually arouse a man. I have to wonder how anyone can take that claim seriously. Besides, isn’t such an attitude the very definition of objectifying women – thinking of them only in terms of being a sex object used to satisfy prurient interests?

Mishpacha said that their rabbis came out with an edict 70 years ago forbidding it for reasons of modesty.That was made clear by them in response to the massive criticism they received for publishing a pixilated face of a woman in a Holocaust era picture. They apologized for that particular instance -but stood by the edict they received 70 years ago.  (Which contradicts Rabbi Halbertal’s assertion that context doesn’t matter.)

(Incidentally, in her inaugural Mishpacha article Alexa Fleksher,  did not have her picture published either. All the male columnists did. I found that both odd and a glaring omission. Perhaps – in fairness they should not publish the pictures of their male columnists either – just to keep things uniform and fair. But I digress.)

Mishpacha and similar publications are not the only people erasing women from their pages. As noted by Shoshana during an appearance on an Israeli news program. Even secular establishments feature ads that do not have any women in them.  Several examples of that were shown on that program.

To depict a world without women is an outrage that has negative ramifications for all Orthodoxy. The real world cannot exist without women. To depict it that way is to perpetuate a lie. That they say it doesn’t but instead honors women by recognizing the high level of modesty - might work as an explanation for them. But it is clearly an insult to many others. Including me.  What do young girls learn about their self image when they are treated like sex objects no matter how modestly they are dressed.

The same question can be asked about young boys! The idea that women are sex objects is reinforced and this is what they grow up thinking. Which is a very unhealthy way of looking at a woman. Not to mention the fact that in my view it fuels incidences of sexual misconduct. If you see someone as an object rather than seeing them as a fellow human being, It should not be so surprising that they are used that way.

I therefore agree with Shoshanna completely here. And support her crusade to end this distortion of what the Torah considers immodest.

Obviously a picture of an immodestly dressed woman does appear to men as a sex object. Playboy exploits women that way. But a eliminating, distorting, or pixilating the picture of a modestly dressed woman with the excuse that any picture does that teaches young people to look at women as sex objects all the time. And that is just wrong!

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Sad Odyssey of a Righteous Convert

Ariella Barker (Kol HaBirah)

This is a tough one. A heartbreaking one. One that defies the norms of society and tugs at the heart. It is terribly sad. And terribly unjust.

Ariella Barker is a Giyores, a righteous convert to Judaism. She is a highly-educated attorney, writer, and activist, who describes herself as worldly, witty and whimsical. She also has a disability. Ariella  does not say what her disability is. But based on her picture, it seems that she is wheel chair bound. Reading her story in Kol HaBirah simultaneously broke my heart and made me angry. And yet I’m not even sure where to direct my anger.

When Ariella converted - the conversion court of the RCA challenged her. Why did she want to convert since as a single women desiring to get married, the marriage pool would be dramatically reduced to less than 2% of the population? Her answer was the right one. She could only see herself married to a Jew.

Now 11 years later she is still single. Ordinarily this would be a sad but not so uncommon experience even for people with no disabilities. There are a variety of reasons that people don’t get married. Often the blame lies in the individual (for a variety of reasons that are beyond the scope of this post).

But this was not the case with Ariella. It was not for a lack of trying. It was for a lack of any dates! The the vetting process of Orthodox Shidduch and dating sites always ask if there is any disability. By disclosing that she was disabled, it effectively cut her off from any recommendations. She did not get a single recommendation from any of those websites! No one was willing to date her because she was disabled!

There was however attempts by friends and even strangers to set her up with a disabled man. Which amounted to 95% of her dates. As if that was the only quality that mattered. There was no attempt at seeing compatibility or whether there were other issues like moral character.  The other 5% were: 
...blind dates were with actual untouchables: married men, grandfathers 40 years my senior, the perpetually unemployed, and, once, a convicted pedophile. 
She no longer accepts blind dates and has sworn of internet dating. But that too has ended up badly thus far: 
I decided to only date men I knew personally. But these relationships often led to heartbreak. Boyfriends ended the relationship for a variety of reasons: Their rabbis advised them to. Their parents insisted that marrying me would ruin their lives due the burden of caring for me. They were overwhelmed by the difficulties of sharing a life with someone who endlessly faced inaccessibility. They were afraid one day they would resent me for my disability. They were afraid we’d have children with my disability. And some simply couldn’t handle the tzaddik (righteous person) status many placed on them for having the chesed (kindness) enough to love me. 
The saddest part of this story is that the frustration and heartbreak Ariella has experienced has led her to be content to remain single… and if the right man comes along, that it would be God’s will.  The joy of marriage and family is eluding her as she watches her friends get married – one by one - and have those families.

What an indictment against the Jewish men who turned her down for any of those reasons. Even worse is the fact that their rabbis advised them not to marry her! Especially in light of the fact that before she converted she said she rarely struggled to find a partner. She now wonders whether - had she not made the decision to covert – would she have been married by now.

I do not think anyone with a sense of humanity and compassion would not empathize with her sitation. And at the same time give her credit for her ability to adjust and remain ‘content’ as a single woman for the rest of her life.

But in my view it is tragic that she has found so much difficulty finding a religious Jew that can overlook her disability. What kind of priority is that? Shouldn’t a disability like Ariella’s be less important than her midos? Her character? Her personality? Her achievements? Her potential? Her commitment to Judaism - despite the difficulties it as brought her as a disabled person? A woman that is in every other way healthy and can live a full life and happy life as a wife and mother, and contributor to her community?

Ariella is a great person – with a great future.  And yet, it’s hard to blame anyone for having reservations about dating a disabled person. I don’t think that people that have reservations about that are evil. It is a natural concern for most people. But at the same time, it should not be a deal breaker. One should not automatically rule out someone with a disability which does not affect their health in any other way. 

Yes, it is legitimate to give some weight to the fact that the person you are considering spending the rast of your life with is disabled. But that is only one factor among many more important ones. 

What single people should look at the most is the character of the people they date;what kind of contributions can they make to a family; and the kind of  future you can build together... I believe that if one looks those issues first, than a disability like Ariella’s will end up being an insignificant detail that will ultimately be irrelevant to a happy future.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Learning from Heterodox Jews

Postmodernist, Jacques Derrida

My friend David is one of the humblest, kindest most ethical people I know. He is also very liberal politically. Mention the name Trump and he goes near ballistic. I can understand his attitude. I had pretty much the same attitude about him because of his behavior. Which was unbecoming of a Presidential candidate, let alone the sitting President of the United States. 

But David is also upset by Trump’s politics. Which have mostly resulted in politically conservative policies. As someone that leans toward the political right, I obviously do not agree with my friend David.

My friend Barry is also one of the humblest, kindest, and most ethical people I know. He is very conservative and an early enthusiastic supporter of Trump. And since Trump has been in office he has sing his praises constantly. Mention any criticism of Trump and he will almost take it personally. He will respond that Trump’s behavior isn’t important. What counts is his policies. And in every instance Trump can do no wrong. Whether it is Israel, the economy, or immigration reform.

I’m pretty lucky. I am actually good friends with both Barry and David even though I disagree with both of them politically in many ways.

But I wonder if these two good friends of mine (who don’t know each other) could ever be friends? . The answer seems to increasingly be no. Where once upon a time people with polar opposite political views could still be friends on a human level, it seems that a hard core conservative and a hard core liberal  can only be bitter enemies now, each thinking that the other’s views are so destructive that they couldn’t possibly be friends.

How have we gotten to this point?

Jonathan Rosenblum does a good job explaining that in Mishpacha Magazine (available on line here) a couple of weeks ago.  An article where he extols the virtues of heterodoxy.

Heterodoxy is a word that has been used a lot in the current lexicon among Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis. With respect to Judaism - Heterodoxy refers movements that are at variance with the strict doctrines of Orthodoxy. Does Jonathan now support these Heterodox movements? Hardly. But he does believe that even these movements may have something to teach us. And that we can learn form them just as they can learn from us. More about that later.

Heterodoxy need not only refer to religious doctrines. There are many political and other ideologies that have rigid doctrines (Orthodoxy) Those that vary from that rigidity are heterodox ideologies.

In supporting heterodoxy he is merely saying that in all cases, we can learn from each other, no matter how rigid or fluid our beliefs are. He made note of the fact that friendships between opposing political ideologies used to be quite common. But today they are so rare, that when they happen, it makes news.  He pointed to a eulogy of a Tea Party activist in Mother Jones, a decidedly liberal magazine 

Jonathan sees the postmodernism of  French intellectual Jacques Derrida as the source of the current lack of collegiality or friendship between people from different camps. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as a philosophy based on ‘broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power.’

The original postmodernists were all Marxist. But as Jonathan notes, by the 70s postmodernists had to acknowledge that all Marxist regimes were all ‘evil empires’.  So they have redivided humanity. Instead identifying them by class, humanity is now divided into identity groups: 
Based on the assumption that all social phenomenon are "constructed" to gain power, there is no point in engaging in dialogue. Once human beings are reduced to "identities," the possibility of discovering a common humanity is denied, since all relationships across "identity" lines involve some inequality of power. To even engage in dialogue with the "oppressors" is to validate their power and privilege. 
Postmodernism  has taken over campuses all over academia. (It is why there is so much Israel bashing there.)

Whereas once there could be discussion about the value of diverse ideologies, that is no longer the case. Ideologies are used only  in pursuit of power say postmodernists. That makes it impossible to see another point of view – since that is only their excuse for seeking and achieving the power to subjugate others. Says Jonathan: 
The perennials of Western philosophy — What is the good life? How should one live it? — are no longer topics of discussion. 
Too many of today’s radical university professors speak in terms of suspicion between groups. Instead of teaching students to find common ground between diverse groups - they speak of warfare. They speak of an America dominated by white males as an agent of oppression against the underclass that should be fought. Dialogue? Of what value is that to a postmodernist?

These attitudes have taken hold beyond the ‘hallowed halls’ of academia. Seeing the humanity in those with whom we disagree - has all but disappeared in today’s polarized world.

This applies not only to politics but religion as well. Heterodoxy is so rejected by Orthodoxy that it is nearly impossible in most cases to see value in any part of it. That, says Jonathan is a mistake. Heterodox Jews may have something to teach Orthodox Jews too. Say’s Jonathan: 
I have witnessed personally how much more powerful meetings with nonobservant Jews are when we start with the assumption that they too possess something about them from which we can learn. 
This of coursed does not mean we have to recognize non Orthodox movements as legitimate. As a religious principle it would be impossible for Orthodoxy to do that. But it does mean that there are things we can learn from them… or even from non Jews. It would be a far better world if we all understood that. 

I have some great friendships with people who disagree with me politically, ideologically, and even religiously. And not surprisingly there have great friendships between some Gedolim of the past and non Orthodox ideologues.They were smart enough to know ‘MiKol Melamdei Hischalti’ - seeking wisdom from all. 

Friday, February 09, 2018

The Street Gangs of Jerusalem

Toldos Aharon Rebbe addressing  the audience at a Siyum in 2016 (Hamodia)
I didn’t think I was ever going to talk about these reprobates again. I truly believed that I had made my point about their lack of human decency and civility (to say the least). But every time I see something like this (see video below) I just want to scream out loud.

Their derisive shouting and screaming did not even sound human. Some of it did not even sound human. And as if that weren’t enough, there’s more. From YWN
At some point, young men from the protest began shouting “Shiksa” and “Get out of here you are impure” at the girls. When one of the girls pushed a protester who was accosting her, the situation escalated and the girls were chased down the street. 
What was that protest all about? More from YWN
(A) fringe group of Chareidim … were protesting the alleged enlistment of a Baalas Tshuvah into the IDF. 
I don’t even know where to begin. To say that this kind of behavior is pure evil for the sake of evil is an understatement. To say that they think they are being Mekadesh Shem Shmayim (sanctifying the Name of Heaven) while involved in a Kiddush HaShem is also an understatement.

To say that this behavior is that of a fringe group of Charedim that most residents Meah Shearim do not approve of, is probably also true. Each of these statements have been said by me and by others many times before – whenever one of these protests fire up.

What is also very true in my view is that despite the disapproval of their peers and leaders, there is not a scintilla of doubt in my mind that this fringe group has been inspired by the rhetoric of their leaders who oppose the government, its army, its soldiers and specifically any Charedi that dares to join the army – even if it is one of the Charedi units!

That is what one constantly hears from these quarters. The haranguing is constant. So too is their view of modesty. Now they do have a right to their own standards of modesty. But to call two religious girls Shiksas (a derogatory name for a non Jewish female) even though they're clearly dressed modestly by most Orthodox standards – just not by theirs – is also a function of their education.

They are taught as very young children what modesty means by their standards. They are not told that other legitimate Poskim might disagree with them. They are simply told that if a female is dressed in anything other than their standard, they are in violation. So these religious girls did not fit their bill. Obviously. And these thugs are not going to let them get away with it. Especially while they are involved in the 'holy task' of berating a Baalas Teshuva for joining the army!

I don’t know what can be done about these people, They are constantly making a Chilul HaShem. And no one in their community seems to care enough to stop them.

One might say that these people are thugs and won’t listen to anyone.  They may be thugs. But if their leaders really cared enough, I am 100% convinced that could stop them. These communities are very tight knit and their leaders are venerated as living saints. The closest thing to God on the face of the earth. I believe they could do something about it.

It is because this kind of thing keeps happening that I believe they don’t really want to do anything about it. Maybe they believe that this behavior keeps up the pressure on the rest of the Chaeredi world many of whom do not think much of the government or army either. In the hopes that they will do more to oppose them. I don't know. (On that score - it would help if their leaders were not treated with such deference by other more mainstream Charedi leaders - as was the case at a Siyum a couple of years ago.)

What about the rest of the world – those that are not Charedi or even observant? I don’t think they care about anyone else. They think their ways are the ultimate in service to God and nothing else matters! Chasing away potential Baalei Teshuva must be completely meaningless to them. Because I can almost guarantee that anyone who sees this video, which is typical of the kind of thing that goes on in the world of Meah Shearim - will run as far away from Judaism as humanly possible. I know I sure would!

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Nonsense and Common Sense

Rabbi Yosef Kelner

I have seen my share of nonsense in this venue. 

Most of those commenting on my posts are intelligent, rational people. I agree with some, disagree with others, and am neutral with still others. But there are some who defy this description. It’s not they they are stupid. Or even irrational. But some of their views are so retrograde; so off the wall, that I was originally tempted to delete them. 

However, I ultimately made the decision to allow them to keep commenting.  They represent a view of reality and Judaism that actually exists in the world of Orthodox Judaism. More than we would like to admit. As such I allow them to comment in order to demonstrate this lamentable fact. It helps that they are usually rebutted quite forcefully by others that comment here.

But I never thought would see such views expressed by a rabbi that teaches at a pre-military religious academy in Israel. His views are so ridiculous that I am beginning to suspect that he is one of the more frequent commentators here – commenting under an assumed name. Their views (in this case about women) seem almost identical! From a Times of Israel article: 
In footage broadcast by Hadashot news on Tuesday, Rabbi Yosef Kelner was seen disparaging women with careers as “gorillas” to yeshiva students at the West Bank settlement of Eli…
 “Women have a limited capacity for spirituality. They can reach a medium level of spirituality,” Kelner said in a class on marriage and family that was filmed last summer.
“There’s no such thing as spiritual women. It’s just not true,” he said. “It’s not a failure on women’s part, it’s just that nobody is expecting them to reach certain heights spiritually.”
 “They are weak-minded. They just babble, that’s it. Women’s babble,” Kelner told students.
Women, he said, were naturally intuitive, but modern culture had “turned them into nothing.
“They are destroying women until there won’t be any women left. They are all so confused.”
He went on to assert that women were less intelligent than men, and pointed to the fact that there were more male Nobel laureates than female ones.
“Just because they send them en masse to universities they’re suddenly all great geniuses? No!”
He added: “Yes, there are some CEOs here and there, ‘girlillas.'” 
Girlillas! Very funny! The only ‘gorilla’ here is Rabbi Kelner. At least in terms of his views about women. It is one thing to be opposed to women in the military. It is another to characterize any human being the way he did – even towards a justifiable albeit controversial end. There is not a doubt in my mind that this rabbi should be terminated from his job. In no way should that kind of nonsensical dribble be allowed to be taught in any society. Let alone in the military.

That said, I am still of the firm opinion that women should not serve in certain segments of the military. Like combat units or in any circumstances where men and women will of necessity be secluded together in closed quarters for any period of time. (I have recently explained why I feel that way and will not do so again here.)

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot
However, in addition to modesty issues there are simply some positions in the military that are not fit for women because of their natural physical limitations.  As noted in the past these differences are real. There ought not to be exceptions made for the few women that might be able to pass the rigors required of soldiers in combat. 

Today’s feminists are attempting  to change that. I am happy to see that there are still some clear thinkers in the army that oppose it. Fortunately one of those that feels that way is  IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot. From the Jerusalem Post
"There is integration (of women), but it needs to be to a certain extent," Eisenkot stated during a security briefing to government ministers, stressing that at the moment he doesn’t see the integration of women into infantry brigades such as Golani, Givati, Paratroopers or Nahal.
"People tried to accuse me of feminism, but I'm not a chauvinist or a feminist,” he stated, adding that the comments made by some on co-ed service come from “ignorance and agendas promoted by interest groups."
Eisenkot stated that the IDF has only one agenda and that is to be strong and victorious in times of war. As such, he stated, the IDF will continue to offer combat positions to women. 
He is 100% right. It is becoming increasingly obvious that those agitating for complete equality in the military care more about that than they do about being ‘strong and victorious in times of war’! Of course they will deny that. But I think it should be obvious to anyone with an unbiased brain that the an egalitarian agenda is far more important to them than what the IDF is supposed to be about.

I still disagree with Eisenkot about allowing women into some combat situations for reasons of modesty and to avoid Michshol - temptation - as stated above. But it’s still nice to know that when it comes to the reality of physical differences between men and women, that common sense still prevails where it counts.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Some Who Go Do Return

Ner Israel Beis Hamedrash

A few years ago Shulem Deen - a former Skverer Chasid that went OTD - wrote a memoir about his experience doing that. It was entitled. ThoseWho Go Do Not Return. The reason for that title is because of his own experiences there. One who goes OTD in that type of community is completely rejected by them. But there is another way.

If you want to know how to deal with a fellow Jew that was once observant and no longer is, there is an article by one such individual in the Forward. Eli Reiter once attended a well known Yeshiva. Although he did not identify it by name, based on clues within the article I believe it was probably Ner Israel in Baltimore. They deserve credit which is why I am trying to identify them.

He showed up there one day after having left some time ago. The students and faculty treated him with the respect that any human being should get, despite the fact that he was once observant and part of them but is now no longer observant… and may not even be a believer anymore.

They did not judge him. They did not look at the way he was dressed, which was not in consonance with the way students there dressed. Which is the ‘uniform’ of the Yeshiva world: Black pants and white shirt. He wore a pair of blue jeans and a shirt with ‘Christmas colors’ as he described it. He felt odd doing it. But did it anyway and did not get quite the negative reception he might have expected. They treated him with warmth and kindness and did not mention a word about his religious status. They only wanted to know how he was doing.

Their warm acceptance and non judgmental approach surprised him. That’s because the truth is that in some communities when a child goes OTD (Off The Derech)  it has often been accompanied  by being practically disowned by the family. (Although that is changing). The closer knit the community is, the more likely it is that that will happen. Not only will the family disown you, the entire community will disown you. As was the case with Shulem Deen. He was so ostracized that after awhile he has lost any relationship he had with his children. Who must have been taught that they should stay away from their father since he would be a bad influence on him.  

But not this school. Not the students and not the teachers. Which made Eli nostalgic for what he once had. Even though he railed against it when he was a student there. It didn’t matter. He came back for a visit in his current incarnation and instead of rejecting him or ignoring him, they fully embraced him without a trace of rejection.

I was told by someone involved involved in Jewish outreach that it is almost impossible to bring back someone that was once there and left. Which seems logical. It is lot easier to reach out to those that have never experienced observant Judaism and teach them the beauty of an observant lifestyle. But for those that have rejected it, they cannot be convinced about such beauty because in their mind they have already experienced it and saw it in a negative way. Hard to tell them something they already ‘know’ about  is something they think it is not.

That approach is what leads some people to believe that it is a waste of time reaching out to them.

But that is not the case.   There are a ‘million’ reasons why someone would go OTD. I am not going to list any of them – it is beyond the scope of this post. It is surely worth establishing a bond with them and treating them with respect. Judging them by their character and not by the fact that they once were observant but now reject it - a Shana U’Pireish.

More often that not people leave because of the way they were treated, whether it was at home or in the school. By their teachers or their peers. Or worse - because they were abused in some way (by a teacher, a parent, or some relative). They never had a chance to fully experience the positive side of being observant.

The fact that Eli had some warm memories and had an unexpected  positive experience means that at the very least he won’t think ill of those who are observant. And he may even see value in returning to some form of observance. Even if it is only for psychological reasons and not ideological ones. Mitoch SheLo L’shma – Bah L’Shma. Eventually they will do it for the right reasons. But whether an individual that left will return or not it behooves us all to treat all those who leave with warmth and acceptance. So that those that go can return if they so choose. Comfortably.

Update: I have been informed that Eli Reiter is still observant.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Sometimes Less is More

An empty street - Shabbos scene in Jerusalem (JTA)
A short while ago, the Knesset passed a law that keeps supermarket business closed on Shabbos. Some have protested this as yet another example of the stranglehold Charedim have on Israeli society.

I have always had the view that one cannot shove religion down anyone’s throat. You can’t force people to be religious. Trying to do that doesn’t work and only makes people angry. Which is why any time I read a story about new legislation designed to increase observance at the expense of extant secular freedoms in Israel- it upsets me. It is counter productive.

Does that mean that Israel should become a secular state whose creed is religious tolerance? Much the same as the United States is? In theory, I suppose that would be a good idea. After all it works great here. Orthodox Jewry benefits greatly from that. There has never been a time in history where the Jewish people had so much freedom to practice their religion as they wish. If it works so well here, why not do the same thing in Israel?

There is one major difference between the US and Israel that stops Israel from doing that. It is the reason for Israel’s very existence. Israel is a country that by definition is supposed to be religious. It was created by God for exactly for purposes of serving Him. The modern state of Israel should reflect that. abandoning Halacha completely would eliminate Israel from being a Jewish state. It would undermine the very rationale for Jews living there. Sans its definition as a Jewish State Jews need not live there. They can live anywhere and be free to practice their religion freely. What about survivors pof rhe Holocaust? They could have gone to Ugnada. Why Israel?

One may answer Jews have a historical right to live there? But why should ancient history have any relation to our world today? A lot has happened since the 2000 years we lived there as a soveriegn nation. Why bother living in a place so hostile to Jews?

David Ben Gurion - a Jew that who was not observant  - realized this. That is why explained our rights to the land being based on the Torah when he declared Israel’s independence as a Jewish State to the world. Those other reasons pale in comparison to the religious one.  Which is one reason he agreed to maintain something called the status quo agreement: Keeping the religious status of the country as it was when it was founded.

None of this is new. It has been discussed here many times. Which brings me back to my original question. Why not change Israel from a Jewish State to a secular one? The only real way to keep it Jewish is the same way the Jewish people have survived throughout centuries of persecution: Following the Torah through Halacha. And yet that has to be reconciled with my belief that one cannot shove religion (Halacha) down the throats of people that don’t want it. Aren’t these differences irreconcilable?

Well, yes and no, This is what compromise is all about. And I think this is what most Israelis want too. They don’t want to be forced to observe Halacha. But at the same time many of them do observe some of it by way of various traditions. Such as the fact that most Israeli Jews fast on Yom Kippur. And most observe Pesach. And Sukkos.  I believe that most Israelis observe some form of Kashrus too.

What this means to me is that what was agreed upon early in modern Israel’s history seems to work. It keeps the country identifiably Jewish and gives secular Jews the right to be almost as secular as they want.

The key word there is ‘almost’. Therein lies the problem and the controversy. How far can the Charedi world go in insisting that the state follow Halacha before it goes too far? I beleive that was settled by the status quo agreement. It was agreed upon that whatever level of observance that existed during the creation of the state be maintained. And that there should be no push by the state toward more observance or less.

We end up having is a state where Shabbos and Kashrus is observed by all state run institutions – supervised by an official rabbinate. And all matters religious must be in their control.

While there may have been some abuses by the rabbinate, that – in theory is what the status quo agreement was supposed to accomplish. So that a city where Shabbos was observed would retain that status while a city where Shabbos was not observed would stay that way. Jerusalem and Haifa are examples of both.  Buses run in Haifa on Shabbos but not in Jerusalem.

Occasionally the  left tires to push their agenda... and the right theirs. But the best way to proceed is that both sides honor the status quo agreement.

Unfortunately there is is a lot of grey in that agreement – leaving it to interpretation. Given that, how should the religious world proceed? The answer is compromise.

In my view if there is an area of contention there should  give and take - ad not a winner take all appraoch. As a Orthodox Jew I would love noting better than to see a state governed by Halacha. This would not produce a Taliban type government as some fear. It would just produce an environment where there would for example be no Chilul Shabbos. The  public atmosphere would be one of observance.

No one would be forced in our day to keep Shabbos or Kashrus. That is not only unrealistic, it is counterproductive. Which is why the religious parties should stop pushing the religious envelope more than the status quo allows them to and even concede to the secular in some cases. But so too should the secular side back off trying to secularize the Jewish state to the point where Shabbos would be completely ignored in the public sphere. 

Those of us that want to convince our secular brethren about the value of following Halacha, must try and do so with love. Not force. As I have said many times You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Trying to infuse more Kedusha into the land by shoving religion down everybody’s throat may in the end up reducing it.

Just my two cents. Again.