Friday, August 01, 2014

Enough! The Gaza Experiment is Over

Israeli tanks about to enter Gaza on July 18. They need to finish the job. 
Apparently an IDF officer was kidnapped by Hamas. It was executed via use of one of its tunnels into Israel.

Most readers here know my view about ‘paying the price’ to get hostages out of captivity of any sort. When it comes to radical Islam, the urgency of getting a captive back increases exponentially. It isn’t only about their lives being in constant danger. It is about the possible torture they might endure prior to being killed. And the brutal way in which they will be killed. Think Daniel Pearl.

So when it came to trading terrorists for Gilad Shalit, I was in favor of it. And thankfully so was the Israeli government. Almost 3 years ago, Gilad Shalit came back unharmed. 

It was a difficult decision. The arguments made against it were legitimate. The fear was that the released terrorist would increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks that would result in the death of far more people than one soldier. But as I said, thank God that has not happened.

What about the officer that is in the hands of Hamas now? If reports are true and that soldier is in captivity, should we capitulate to Hamas demands to get him back? As difficult as it is for me to say this, the answer is no. This does not mean that we shouldn’t try to get him back unharmed. Israel needs to do what it can. But in no way should it affect their current mission to destroy those secret tunnels in Gaza and demilitarize it. There is no better demonstration of the need to stick to that goal than the kidnapping this morning of that soldier.

The war is resulting in a lot of human carnage and misery, mostly by Palestinians in Gaza. But there are also Jewish families suffering the loss of their sons, husbands, and fathers killed in war. In fact all of Klal Yisroel suffers from that.

Much of the civilized world looks at that carnage and blames Israel for it. It is after all Israeli tanks, guns, planes and missiles doing the damage. The world cannot seem to look past the here and now. All they see is Israel killing innocent civilians. They refuse to acknowledge the obvious. That Hamas is entirely responsible for every single Palestinian death caused by this war.

The more Palestinians that are killed by Israeli fire, the better Hamas likes it. Especially if the majority of deaths are innocent woman and children. Television images abound showing Palestinians bleeding, crying, and otherwise suffering on camera. That begets for them a tremendous degree of sympathy. Just yesterday I saw a UN official in Gaza break down and cry while reporting about the carnage he witnessed in a UN mission filled with Palestinians seeking refuge there - hit by Israeli mortar fire. 

That Israel was returning gunfire coming from Hamas in that area is completely ignored.  As if Israel was targeting them on purpose. What kind of monster would make such a ludicrous accusation (even by implication)? Aside from that fact that targeting civilians (the way Hamas does) is completely immoral and something Israel would never do, there is absolutely no military or political benefit to it.  I have no respect for that UN official at all. He is an Anti-Semite (albeit a crying one).

The truth of the matter is that very few Arab nations respect Hamas. There has not been  too much criticism from them, if any. I would not be surprised if they are secretly are rooting for Israel. It would be to everyone’s advantage to ‘take Hamas out!’ Even with all those innocent Palestinians in Gaza being killed in the process.

As for the President’s reaction to all this, don’t be fooled by his criticism of Israel’s killing of innocent civilians. The only thing I hear from the administration is that they are ‘very concerned’ about civilian casualties… and have asked Israel to try and be more careful in how they respond. 

But that is not the same as saying they ought to stop. The US has to express concern for innocent victims of war. Who doesn’t express concern for such carnage?!  Even though they must privately realize that Israel is doing its best not to harm civilians.

When Hamas ‘paints targets’ on themselves by telling civilians to stay put even when Israel warns them to get out of the way… what is Israel supposed to do about that?  I think the President realizes that. His criticism is a response to the visual images of the carnage in the streets of Gaza. Expressing concern for civilian casualties is quite legitimate… even if Hamas is clearly at fault for that. As I have recently said, my only quibble with the President is that he is not making that last point clear.

But what is important here is that he has not asked Israel to stop… and supports their goal of destroying the tunnels and pacifying Gaza permanently. This has been stated by every spokesman of the Obama administration thus far.

Back to the kidnapped IDF officer. In light of all this, I would at this point encourage Israel to give Hamas an ultimatum. If they do not return their captive unharmed to Israel in short order (e.g. 24 hours) Israel will have no choice but to re-occupy Gaza in its entirety, no matter what it takes. If they think Palestinians in Gaza are suffering now, that will look like a walk in the park compared to what Gaza will look like if Israel pulls out all the stops.

Hamas can only lose here. If they do not release the captured IDF officer, their existence as rulers of Gaza will end. Any Hamas member remaining in Gaza after Israel reoccupies it will be arrested and tried for war crimes. Israel should make the same exception for Hamas war criminals they did for Nazi war criminals and allow the death penalty to be incurred.  

If that IDF officer is not returned unharmed, Israel should resolve to reoccupy Gaza – no matter what it takes. That the rest of the world may squawk about it should be of no concern to Israel. Israel has had enough. The Gaza experiment is over. The captured Israel officer is the proverbial ‘straw that has broken the camel’s back’.

By re-occupying Gaza and thereby destroying Hamas, Israel will be doing the entire free world a huge favor I think they know that.. Because if God forbid Hamas has it way, the entire world is at risk. Radical Islamist fervor is already sweeping the Middle East, parts of Asia, Africa, and even parts Europe. Their ultimate mission is world rule via Sharia law. If Israel fails, Europe could be next… and then it could be us.

For those who think the US is safe from such matters, remember 9/11. If that doesn’t show you their iron determination, nothing will.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Standing by Their Convictions

Bnei Brak Beis Din Head, R' Menachem Shafran
A lot has happened since I last wrote about Elimelech Meisels and his 4 seminaries.

By now most people know that Meisels had physical contact with some his students that was of an ‘unwanted sexual nature’.  This was determined by the Special Beis Din in Chicago created for this purpose. After months of due diligence examining the facts, interviewing victims, and interviewing  the accused (who made a partial admission to the accusations) they sent out a letter warning parents not to send their daughters to any of Meisel’s schools.  The sexual acts were serious.  The Special Beis Din determined that not only was Meisels guilty of doing them, his teaching staff failed in their responsibilities to their students.

This Beis Din is not a shoot from the hip type Beis Din. They are very careful not to make accusations that could hurt a person for life until they are certain of the facts. So when they published their warning to parents, we can be sure that their conclusions are justified.

They then called upon a prestigious Beis Din in Bnei Brak to handle the situation form there. Rabbi Aharon Feldman, Rosh HaYeshiva of Ner Israel was tasked with bringing this matter to their attention. They sat for 8 hours listening to testimony from everyone involved, came to their conclusion, and issued a document in Hebrew stating them. The following is Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn’s translation of that document: 
1) There is absolutely no danger to students to be educated in these four seminaries.
2) The staffs of these schools are incredible and they have done their work with mesiras nefesh, faithfully and with yeras shamayim. They have succeeded in producing a large number of students over the years who have produced distinguished frum homes that are faithful to G-d and His Torah and they are capable of producing more.
3) We request that Touro certify these seminaries for past credits
4) It is prohibited for any other school (either preexisting or newly established) to attempt to recruit students - either directly or indirectly - who have been accepted in these seminaries for the coming year. This is prohibited by a number of halachos and we are sure no one will try to do such a sin.
5) It is prohibited to defame or slander these seminaries in any manner
6) There are those who have intervened without authority who haven't heard all the facts and should be ignored. 
As indicated Touro – had  severed their relationship with them and no longer gave college credits for their courses. HTC did the same.

The Special Beis Din has not accepted the recommendations of the Bnei Brak Beis Din. They continue to insist that parents not send their daughters there.

It is rare for a Beis Din in America to reject the psak of a respected Beis Din in Beni Brak. But that is exactly what they have done. Remember that the Special Beis Din consisted of some of the most respected Rabbonim/Dayanim in all of Chicago. Their Hashkafos run from Centrist to Charedi. An Agudah Dayan, the Av Beis Din of the RCA, and the Rosh Kolllel of the Choshen Mishpat Kollel here in Chicago were the 3 Dayanim on this case. And they all rejected the conclusions of the Bnei Brak Beis Din in a published letter. From Yerachmiel Lopin’s blog, here is what they said: 
We stand by our July 10 statement that we do not recommend prospective students attend these seminaries, and also note, based on evidence including testimony by victims and staff and admissions by Elimelech Meisels, our conclusion that certain senior staff members failed in their responsibilities toward students. 
This statement was not written by some hot-headed blogger with an anti Charedi agenda. It was written by some of the most respected Rabbonim in America.

The Bnei Brak Beis Din has said not to listen to the ‘naysayers’ since they do not know all of the facts. The problem is that the Chicago ‘naysayers’ not only know the facts, but spent an enormously greater amount of time studying them. I think we must all conclude that the Bnei Brak Beis Din has grievously erred here. Here is a point by point refutation of their ‘Psak’:

1) It is unclear as to whether these seminaries are safe even now after Meisels has sold them to one of his friends.

2) The staff may be incredible but despite their many legitimate successes with vast numbers of students, they nonetheless failed some of them miserably. They can no longer be trusted with the safety of their students.

3) Touro (and HTC) should not restore their relationship with these seminaries.

4) Since these schools are no longer recommended, other schools have a right, and perhaps a responsibility to recruit students from those schools. The claim by the Bnei Brak Beis Din that it is forbidden by Halacha to do so is based on their erroneous conclusions.

5) Slander and defamation is normally prohibited, unless there is a Toeles… a purpose that will protect people from harm. In the case of these seminaries, it is fair to say that the teachers who allowed this kind of thing to go on by looking the other way even though they suspected something are not the kind of teachers you want teaching your daughters anything!

6) Those that have intervened – specifically the Special Beis Din - should most definitely NOT be ignored. They not only have the facts, but they know them better than the Bnei Brak Beis Din does.

I realize that the Bnei Brak Beis Din wants to protect the livelihoods and reputations of those teachers. I’m sure those teachers are all fine people who otherwise deserve the accolades they have gotten in the past from students, parents, and now the Bnei Brak Beis Din. But the judgment of these teachers on this issue was at best foolish and at worst self centered.

By saying that these teachers failed in their responsibilities to their students - the Special Beis Din determined that these teachers did not do or say anything about their suspicions. Why? Who knows... but it is not a stretch to believe that they were quiet because they did not want to rock any boats.  Whistle blowers tend to get fired very quickly. Losing their jobs by reporting suspicions about their boss was certainly something to worry about. So they ignored the suspicious scenarios they saw.  Ignoring suspected sexual abuse because of the fear of losing one’s job does not deserve to be rewarded.

This is a very significant development. The 3 Chicago Rabbonim have decided to speak truth to power. They have stood on principle and sided against the conventional wisdom of sympathy for the institution and protecting the reputations of their staff.  Yes those teachers will be hurt. Sadly so will their families who are innocent of any wrong doing. But they will all survive. These 3 Rabbonim have instead sided with justice for the victims and the protection of our daughters. God bless them. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Is This the End of Baseless Hatred?

File photo of Beltz Hassidim in Jerusalem, Israel (VIN)
There are lots of good things happening for the Jewish people now. One may find that a bit difficult to accept in light of all the rocket attacks, tunnel attacks, and soldiers killed or wounded in Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza. But it is nevertheless true.

This is of course not to say that we are all in a state of euphoria about those good things. We aren’t nor should we be. We are now suffering greatly at the loss of life and continued danger to the soldiers… and the continued fear by the people of Israel living under constant rocket attack. If I were in Israel right now, I would be wondering if the next rocket to be fired in my direction will be the one not be intercepted by Iron Dome.

Nonetheless, there is something very significant to celebrate despite out troubles. It is an unprecedented Achdus the likes of which has never been seen.

First of all just about every Jew supports what Israel is doing now.  Even J-Street. While there will always be the ‘useful idiot’ Jew who demonstrates against Israel along with our enemies - by the widest of margins the support for Israel is at its greatest level since the 6 day war, in my humble opinion. 

As for international support, things have changed for the better there too. Egypt considers Hamas a terrorist organization. Christian Arabs in Haifa have rallied in support of Israeli.

Saudi Arabia blames Hamas for the current situation… as does PA President Mahmud Abbas. Atypically the UN has actually condemned Hamas too. And as of yet (to the best of my knowledge) there has been no move by the UN to condemn Israel.

That means that this is Israel’s best opportunity to date to ‘finish the job’ of defanging Hamas.

But even this fact is not the one to celebrate the most. It is the incredible Achdus shown by all of Orthodox Jewry. Gone are the shrill voices of condemnation of Israeli leaders. No one is Amalek anymore. The army is no longer called a cesspool of assimilation or a social engineering experiment. I have not heard one Dati Jew or even secular Jew calling Charedim parasites… or any other disparaging names.  No one is calling for the destruction of the evil government. It’s all about supporting the soldiers in unison. And about helping them wherever they can – both with prayers and actions.

Some of the most implacable Charedi opponents of the State who in the not so distant past were heard to curse the State, it’s leaders, and its institutions (including the IDF) are out in droves doing whatever they can to help.

This morning I read of many Chasidic Rebbes (Belz,Ger,and Vizhnitz among others) canceling summer vacations and programs for their students… asking them to stay in the Yeshiva and to continue studying and praying for the soldiers.

Mishpacha Magazine (Hebrew Edition) featured  tributes bios of the fallen soldiers.

The Bostoner Rebbe of Har Nof visited soldiers near the Gaza border to give them encouragement and Brachos.

The Satmar Rebe of Kiryas Joel has mandated 5 chapters of Tehillim be said daily after Shacharis during  the war.

Even Shas spiritual head R’ Shalom Cohen traveled to the grave site of his spiritual mentor and predecessor, R' Ovadia Yosef, to pray for the safety of our soldiers..

There are so many stories of people doing things to help – and uniting in common cause, that it makes one believe that Achdus may actually possible in my lifetime. Even the hotbed of Charedi-Dati acrimony, Ramat Bet Shemseh has come together recently in prayer.

Perhaps this time, we will not return to the acrimonious days of the past. Perhaps now we can all work together towards a common goal of friendship and brotherhood. Perhaps we can all learn how to compromise without selling out our values… and learn to respect our differences. Maybe the troubles we now face will  turn into a major teaching moment for ourselves and for our children. 

We know that the Bayis Sheni (Second Temple) was destroyed because of Sinas Chinam - baseless hatred. We are in the middle of commemorating that sad event which will culminate in a few days with the Fast of Tisha B’Av. May it be God’s will that we learn our lesson well and that next year Tisha B’Av will be transformed into the great and joyous holiday the Talmud promises us in messianic times.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Am Yisroel Chai

National Security Adviser, Susan Rice seen here with PM Benjamin Netanyahu
Today is the first day of Av, the month when Jews commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples. It’s a reminder that the Jewish people have endured much worse than rockets and survived much stronger enemies than Hamas. You have been tested by tragedy and time, by history and hatred. But each time, am yisrael chai: the people of Israel live.
As if on cue to my critical comments yesterday about Europe - come similar comments by President Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice. The above words were among the opening remarks made yesterday in her address to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. If anyone has the slightest doubt about America’s commitment to Israel, they should read her remarks in their entirely. They are available at Cross Currents.

This is one reason (of many) that makes the United States different than all other countries - past and present. The term Esav Sonei L’Yaakov does not apply to vast majority of Americans and certainly not to the Obama administration.

This is why I think Jews all over the world should consider making either Israel or the US their home. Israel for obvious reasons. But if one is unable to make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel) for any reason, there is no better place in the world for the Jewish people than the USA. What Ms. Rice revealed about current US attitude towards Israel and the Jewish people was more than encouraging. 

The contrast between America and Europe should not go unnoticed. With all the lip service about Europe no longer being hostile to the Jews and even welcoming to us, their true intentions can be seen in places like the UN. The US recognizes this and stands up for Israel every time the rest of the world dumps on her.  Here is how Ms. Rice put it: 
I saw this firsthand during my years at the United Nations, where America always has Israel’s back when its basic right of self-defense is challenged. Believe me, I remember all too well the fight against the deeply flawed Goldstone Report. So, last week, when the United Nations Human Rights Council again passed a one-sided resolution calling for a commission of inquiry that will have no positive impact and should never have been created– the United States stood with Israel and said “no.” We were the lone vote in the Human Rights Council. Even our closest friends on the Council abstained. It was 29-1. But the “1”, as usual, was America… 
We take that stand on principle. It’s important not just for Israel, but for the credibility of the United Nations itself…  So when countries single out Israel for unfair treatment at the UN, it isn’t just a problem for Israel. It’s a problem for all of us. 
Here is what she said about the increase of Antisemitism in the world: 
(T)oday, we also see anti-Semitism flaring up around the world, including in Europe. The pretext is the passions coming out of the current conflict, but we all know it has its roots in something ancient and ugly—and we should not shy away from calling it by its name. 
It’s one thing to use the right of free expression to criticize particular policies of a particular government. No nation is immune from criticism, fair and otherwise, including our own—take it from me as a former UN ambassador. But an anti-Jewish riot is not a policy critique. It’s not free expression when a protest turns into a mob that attacks a synagogue and a kosher grocery store. It’s one thing when the message is “end the fighting,” but when the message is “Death to the Jews,” it’s an outrage. 
And it’s dangerous when the mayor of a major city takes to Twitter to invoke Hitler and incite hostility against the Israeli Embassy, which he called “the despicable murderers’ consulate.” That’s just hate, and it’s got to stop. As the late Tom Lantos used to say, “the veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians, and we can never rest.” 
These words come from an administration that some perceive to be less supportive of the Jewish state than previous administrations.  This criticism is in my view grossly unfair and even false. While there may have been some policy differences between the US and Israel, those disagreements were in my view not intended to harm Israel, but to help her. So even when we disagree, let us not ascribe nefarious motives where they do not belong.

The President’s strong commitment to Israel is why he has supported Iron Dome… and continues to support it. More from Ms. Rice: 
As we pursue diplomacy, we are grateful that the amazing Iron Dome anti-rocket system – researched and funded jointly by Israel and America – stands watch over Israel’s cities
During my most recent visit to Israel in May, I saw first-hand the technology at Palmachim Air Force Base. I met the young Israelis who operate the system—dedicated men and women now working around the clock. In recent weeks, on average, over 100 rockets a day have been fired at Israel. Iron Dome has literally meant the difference between life and death. And I’m deeply proud that President Obama helped make it possible. And, I’m proud that – with his enthusiastic support—the United States will more than double our investment in Iron Dome. 
The President also instructed the Secretary of Defense to inform Congress last week that we support an additional $225 million to accelerate the production of Iron Dome components in Israel this year and maintain Israel’s stockpile of interceptor missiles. Now, Congress has a critical opportunity this week to fund the President’s supplemental request, so that Israel can remain secure.
Iron Dome makes it clear yet again: America has Israel’s back. We have always had a truly special relationship—ever since President Truman made America the first nation in the world to recognize the State of Israel in May 1948, just 11 minutes after David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence. The seeds of friendship planted that day have grown into a mighty oak– strong, sturdy, and enduring. 
Our governments have never been in closer touch, including through the delegation of senior officials from the Departments of State, Treasury, and Defense, and the CIA that I led to Israel, on behalf of the President, in May. We are in constant contact, constant consultation, constant cooperation. And by the way, that’s why I was late getting here—I was on the phone in the basement with my Israeli counterpart. So it is constant, it is daily and it is highly constructive. 
Our commitment to protect Israel’s qualitative military edge remains absolute. Just ask Israel’s generals. Our security assistance to Israel is at a record high. 
This is an amazing speech and should quiet down the criticism (often virulent) of President Obama. As Ms. Rice said, no country (or individual) is immune to criticism, including the President. But anyone who says that the President is an Anti-Semite… or anti Israel… or committed enough...simply doesn’t care - is a complete fool. I have never been so proud to be an American. God Bless the United States of America.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The New Anti-Semites in the Old Anti-Semitic World

Protest in France on July 13 of this year (VIN)
Having just perused various articles pertaining to the situation in Israel, I noticed that there is little I can comment upon where I haven’t already done so. There is one area however that I haven’t touched upon. The apparent increase in Antisemitism expressed in protests against Israel around the world because of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

The Antisemitism seems to be greatest in France. From an article in JTA
(An) Arab mob of 200 men who had gathered nearby with sticks and stones, setting garbage cans aflame and chanting “Slaughter the Jews.”
Unable to reach the Grand Synagogues of Sarcelles, some of the rioters smashed shop windows in this poor suburb where tens of thousands of Jews live amid many Muslims. They torched two cars and threw a firebomb at a nearby, smaller synagogue, which was only lightly damaged.
It was the ninth synagogue attack in France since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in Gaza two weeks ago.  
To their credit the French government has been battling these people. However - feeling that they do not have enough protection, the French  version of Meir Kahane’s Jewish Defense League (LJD) has taken matters into their own hands.  And the Jewish people of France seem to be supporting them.

Although I am generally unsympathetic to Jewish vigilante groups, I am not here to judge them. I am not there and can’t possibly know whether what they are doing is justifiable or not.  (Although nine Shuls being attacked makes me lean in the direction that in their case their actions are justifiable.) But this post isn’t about that. The question for me is whether the Antisemitism going on in France is real.

Are the French people Anti-Semitic? If so, are they representative on most Europeans in that regard? I don’t think the answer is all that simple. Let us examine the facts.

First of all France is part of the old world. One where Antisemitsim thrived in pre Holocaust times. The modern State of Israel actually owes its existence to that. If not for the fact that French Army Captain Alfred Dreyfus an innocent Jew accused of treason was nonetheless convicted on flimsy evidence to the cheers of his non Jewish fellow countryman is what gave Theodor Herzl his epiphany about the need to have a Jewish State. He saw that no matter how integrated we were, we would never be fully accepted as equal citizens. That was the birth of modern day Zionism – both religious and secular.

I do not think European Antisemitism is arguable. The history of European behavior toward the Jewish people is a long one that is filled with one tragedy after another - pogrom after pogrom culminating in the Holocaust.  While there has been a great deal of soul searching post Holocaust on the part of most of Europe, for the most part it is still there – even if it is currently in a benign subliminal state.  You cannot get rid of centuries of Jew hatred in one moment of time even after the Holocaust.

But the fact is that the Holocaust did change the behavior if not the underlying hatred. Germany is Israel’s biggest patron. And they currently grant incentives for Jews to immigrate to Germany in an attempt to rebuild the once strong Jewish presence there. France too values its Jewish citizens. And they have tried to quell the anti-Semitic violence currently going on there.

The truth of the matter is that Antisemitism is no longer policy. No government in Europe has any laws that discriminate against the Jewish people. So what gives with all these violent Anti-Semitic protests around the world? They are for the most part not Europeans. They are Muslims who have immigrated into these countries. Especially France where they are becoming an increasingly greater presence there. They are the ones causing these problems. When there is an anti Israel protest anywhere, you will find Muslims and their sympathizers. Sadly some of those sympathizers may even be Jewish.

This is not to say that all Muslims are anti-Semites. Of course they aren’t. But the ones protesting certainly are. To say they have a legitimate perspective on this and are simply expressing an opposing view is the height of absurdity. They see their coreligionists being slaughtered and automatically blame Israel! Anyone with eyes in his head and half a brain can easily see and understand that the fault for all those Palestinians deaths in Gaza is only one entity: Hamas.

But  their prejudice blinds them to the truth.  They see only the ‘gun’.  They should know who is pulling the trigger. It is Hamas and only Hamas. They want to destroy Israel. That is the purpose of the current enterprise. All of their stated grievances would be solved in a moment if they just changed that one goal.

Those protesting have the same goals as Hamas. And they capitalize on the human tragedy by blaming the gun rather than the one pulling the trigger.

I’m glad to see that the French government isn’t buying it. But that doesn’t seem to help the situation as these protest increase in their intensity.

I have no love lost on any European nation. Even if they are sincere in their goals of stopping the violence perpetrated against their Jewish citizens. I don’t know why any Jew would want to live in Europe. Not with its history of atrocities against the Jewish people. I don’t care how good things are there now.  My advice to my Jewish coreligionists in Europe: Get out! You will be much happier in Israel or the US. Let Europe sink into the ground for all I care. They don’t really want us anyway.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Let us Not Lose This Moment

From the Facebook page of Gal Gadot
There are many people who comment on my blog that add tremendous value to it. Their comments are thoughtful and very often enlightening. One of those whose comments reflect that is a woman who calls herself kweansmom.  In a recent comment she pointed out something that many of us have overlooked.  

I have commented about the Achdus among differing factions of Orthodoxy that often are at each other’s throats.  Whenever we are in times of trouble, we unite. There is no more Charedim versus Modern Orthodox or Religious Zionist. I haven’t heard a word lately about the army being a social engineering experiment. Instead there is universal prayer for the welfare of the Israeli people who face an existential threat by an enemy that has sworn to wipe Israel off the map. And has embarked on a terror campaign of daily nonstop indiscriminate rocket fire in an attempt to do so.

But one thing that has not been focused upon so much is how the secular public in Israel is reacting. The answer to that question is illustrated by the photo of Gal Gadot, an Israeli model and actress, lighting Shabbos candles. It was posted by kweansmom in one of her comments. She added the following: 
At the Shabbat table today, our neighbor commented on the achdus brought about by the operation, and that for a change, many haredim are openly grateful to the IDF. I commented that the unity works both ways, as many traditional but not necessarily Orthodox Israelis are expressing more openly religious feelings as well. 
Just like it is sad that only tragedy brings Orthodox factions together, it is sad that it takes the same tragedy to get secular people to become observant of Halacha.

It isn’t only Gal Gadot who has increased their religious observance, there is the story of an entire battalion of secular soldiers who have taken upon themselves the Mitzvah of wearing Tefllin daily. There is the story of a Israel commanding officer talking to his troops about to enter Gaza about saying a prayer before embarking on that mission. One may recall the entire Kenesset saying Tehilim for the missing (at the time) 3 teens before they were discovered murdered. 

Even MK Yair Lapid who proudly identifies as a secular Jew has taken upon himself to always be Dan L’Kaf Zechus for a fellow Jew  is a Torah based concept. While he may not be taking on any Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Makom, his  pledge to observe a  Bein Adam L’Chavero Halacha was probably motivated in the desire to seek God’s grace for His people.

We ought to look very hard and carefully at what is going on here. The people of Israel are a religious people. Even secular Jews who are not observant believe in God and that God has an active presence in this world. I think this has been shown to be the case in many polls taken on the subject. It is now more evident than ever that secular Israelis can be reached.

Once this conflict ends and we go back to a normal existence, we ought not to forget images like the one of Gal Gadot… or any of the other images I mentioned. What has to stop is business as usual. There ought to be some serious reflection on how we religious Jews interact with each other and how we interact with the secular public. We ought to take a lesson from Yair Lapid and learn to be Dan L’Kaf Zechus to all of our brethren – religious or secular - instead of thinking the worst of them. Let us look at the positive in each individual regardless of his Hashkafos or how religious he is.

If we really want to influence our religious opponents, we ought to take the concept of brotherhood seriously and respect them even when we are in strong disagreement.  There ought to be no more use of words like parasites and Amalek. There ought to be no more talk about the nefarious motives of the other… or calling people like Yair Lapid a Rasha. He is not a Rasha.

There ought to be interaction on all issues of the day with willingness to compromise for the benefit of the greater whole. There ought to be no assumptions of nefarious motives by one side about the other. If that happens we can hopefully achieve some permanent Achdus instead of the temporary kind generated by troubled times.

The same can be said about our interaction with secular Jews. There ought to be a lot more of it. This is where Chabad has got it right and from whom we should take note. Their religious convictions are so strong that they do not fear their observance being tainted by interacting with secular Jews. That is unfortunately not the case for most of the rest of observant Jewry. They fear being negatively influenced by people whose values are not Torah based. Especially where their children are concerned. While this is a legitimate fear, it need not be the determining one. 

Today’s secular Jews are not Yesterday’s secular Jews.  A few of generations ago many Jews that were raised in religious homes became disillusioned with religion and left religious observance in droves to find other movements that  spoke to them. Communism, Zionism, Secularism, , Reform, Conservative and even atheism had more appeal to them than the values of their parents. Why this happened is beyond the scope of this post. This phenomenon has produced today a generation of Jews that are ignorant of their faith. Many of them that are naturally spiritual people looking for meaning in their lives

We need to recognize that and reach out like never before. This war should be a wake-up call. We should not allow our resolve to be better and to influence others in positive ways - wane after the War. There ought to be Achdus not only with observant Jews. We should seek Achdus with all Jews. That should be our goal, and we need to follow up. The old paradigm of religious self interests ought to be discarded once and for all.

Let us hope that we never hear words of enmity ever again from one segment of Jewry (or from any of their leaders) against another. Instead let us integrate in the fullest sense of the word.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Israel's Moral Imperative

The war continues. Our people in Israel are under constant attack by Hamas firing rockets at them continuously. Non stop.

IDF soldiers are on the front trying to destroy Hamas’s ability to strike us.  From the air, missiles are targeting buildings known to harbor Hamas terrorists and armaments. From the ground soldiers are targeting the hundreds of tunnels used by Hamas to sneak into Israel and harm its people. That has cost us over 30 lives.

This has resulted in well over 700 hundred Palestinian casualties. None so horrific as the 16 that were killed yesterday at a UN school that was used by them as a safe house. In the end - it wasn’t safe. More about that later.

Here is the problem. Hamas’s tactic of assuring mass casualties of civilians is working. Every day on the nightly news we see reporters telling us in somber tones about Israel’s attacks in Gaza while images of dying or severely injured children are displayed on screen being carried or in hospital beds.

There are bloodied bodies all over the place, some dead; some alive.  Overcrowded hospitals are overflowing with injured and traumatized Palestinian civilians. Mostly children. The anger being expressed by Palestinians is palpable. Questions are constantly heard from angry Palestinians in Gaza about why a certain target was hit when there were no terrorists or armaments anywhere near them. UN officials are calling such events war crimes.

These images have an impact. Even if you are Jewish and a strong supporter of Israel and what they are doing, you would have to be less than human not to recognize the sheer human suffering one sees every single night on the news. Every additional Palestinian death; every additional Palestinian injury generates increased sympathy from the media.

I think this situation calls for some clarity. It is imperative to know and hold firm the knowledge about who is; and who isn’t to blame for all this. It is not Israel. Not a single civilian casualty can be blamed on Israel. It is clearly Hamas.

Let us not forget how this carnage began. Hamas started firing hundreds of rockets into Israel without warning after Israel started rounding up Hamas terrorists in an attempt to find the murderers of 3 Israeli teens. Israel did not fire a single bullet into Gaza up to that point. It had no interest in stirring things up. But how much can a country take before it responds? And respond it did. The ‘Iron Dome’ missile defense system has protected them form the massive casualties that surely would have occurred with out it.  Israel cannot rely on Iron Dome alone. It isn’t foolproof. They had to respond by attacking the rockets, rocket launchers and people who operate them.

Hamas is not stupid. They knew that Israel would respond. Although they probably miscalculated the amount of damage their upgraded rockets would do, they knew Israel had an exponentially greater military then they did. They were counting on Israel to respond.

This is why they place their rocket launchers near schools and hospitals. It is a tactic to maximize their own civilian damage when Israel targets them. They have been telling their people to stay where they are and resist Israel with their bare chests. (I heard a Hamas official say that on camera early in the war.)

When Palestinians gets in the way of a missile, they are called martyrs. Palestinians civilians see an Israeli missile and blame only Israel on their dead and wounded. And their hatred of the Jewish people increases. If they would think for a minute they would realize that the death and destruction is the fault of Hamas, the very people they elected to run Gaza. 

If Hamas would simply stop firing rockets into Israel, all the carnage would stop instantly. But the hatred of the Jewish people is so embedded into the psyche of the Palestinian people that Israel is going to blamed no matter how much logic dictates against that.

The anger is as strong as I’ve ever seen it. Anger that was generated by yesterday’s attack of that UN school Palestinians were using as safe houses. It is however unclear who is actually responsible for that. Israel is investigating. It could very well be that Hamas itself is responsible. Maybe by accident. Maybe on purpose-  in order to create more carnage and generate more anger. It would not be the first time one of their bullets killed one of their own children and they blamed it on Israel.

But even if Israel did hit them, they were no doubt hit in error trying to pinpoint their rocket launchers nearby.

None of this truth helps Israel’s image though. The world sees Palestinians being killed in mass numbers by Israeli planes and soldiers. It’s hard to blame anyone else when one sees that.

Is Hamas winning the PR war with this tactic? I think they may have won over some converts to their cause with it. But I’m glad to see a recent survey of Americans the majority of whom support Israel entirely on the matter.

Thankfully the United States is still saying that Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket attack and that it has a right to destroy those tunnels. While it is also true that you keep hearing various administration officials telling Israel to be careful about hitting civilians, they must too realize that the massive number of civilian casualties is the fault of Hamas’s tactic for purposes of garnering world sympathy. At least so far.

There are some who are listening to the Hamas claim that they are being strangled by the blockade of their ports by Israel. And that they will stop firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel’s civilian population centers once Israel lifts the blockade and allows good to flow through.

No one should believe for a moment that this is what this war is all about for them. Not that the blockade doesn’t hurt them. I’m sure it does. But Israel is not the only one blockading them.  Egypt (which considers Hamas to be terrorists too) has blocked their entry points too.

 Israel is not trying to starve anyone to death. They allows food and vital supplies (like medications) to flow freely into Gaza. The entire concern is that these entry points have been used to smuggle in weapons with which  to attack Israel. Had they not been doing that… and simply wanted to live in peace with Israel and prosper, there would be no blockade at all. By anyone.

Make no mistake about what is going on here. This is about a group of people whose goal is to wipe Israel of the map and clean out the Jewish people from ‘their’ land… the land of Palestine. Until that happens they will never be satisfied. They will continue to work towards that goal in the belief that eventually God will side with them and they will achieve their aims.

Opening up those entry points would negate all of the progress Israel has made to degrade their ability to attack us. Weapons would flow freely into Gaza and they would restock their weapons in far greater number than they had before. And likely with better more sophisticated weaponry. Giving in to this demand would be suicidal.

Hamas has to be destroyed - or at least made impotent. Israel therefore has no choice but to stay the course until they get the job done – no matter what the PR costs are.  It is a moral imperative.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Another Round of Achdus - for Now.

Nahal Brigade soldiers carry Sgt. Eitan Barak, 20, to his resting place (JP)
Once again we are displaying an incredible degree of Achdus. Every time we are in pain or are our mortal existence is threatened, we stand together as one people. It is increasingly obvious that the only way we do not figuratively slit each other’s throats is when we are attacked as Jews.

YWN reports that R’ Chaim Kanievsky has called upon his community to pray for the soldiers of the IDF, acknowledging the miracles we now witness. Even the Satmar Rebbe of Kiryas Joel, R’ Aharon Teitelbaum (no Zionist he) has directed his Chasidim to say 5 Perakim of Tehillim after each morning’s prayer service for the purpose of supplicating God to protect the people of Israel at this time.

Nowhere is this Achdus better described than in a letter from a soldier on the border with Gaza.  It is available on The Muqata Facebook page – translated from the original Hebrew. Here is an excerpt. 
What's happening here in the staging area [area where soldiers prepare to enter Gaza] is beyond comprehension, not rationally, not emotionally and beggars the imagination.
Almost every hour a car shows up overflowing with food, snacks, cold drinks, socks, underwear, undershirts, hygiene supplies, wipes, cigarettes, backgammon and more. They're coming from the North and the Center, from manufacturers, from companies and private businesses, from prisons, Chareidim and Settlers, from Tel Aviv and even Saviyon.
Every intersection on they way down here we get stopped, not by the police, but be residents giving out food. What is amazing is that the entire situation wasn't organized and everyone is coming on their own without coordination between the folks coming.
They're writing letters and blessings, how they're thinking of us all the time. There are those who spent hours making sandwiches, so they're as perfect and comforting as possible.
Of course representatives of Chabad are here to help soldiers put on Tefillin and distributing Cha'Ta'Ts (Chumash, Tehillim, Tanya) for every troop transport and Breslov are showing up to the border and dancing with the soldiers with great joy.
The Chareidim are coming from their yeshivot to ask the names of the soldiers with their mothers' names so that the whole yeshiva can pray for them. It should be mentioned that all of this is done under the threat of the terrorist tunnels and rockets in the area. 
This is the way it should be. It shouldn’t take rocket fire from Hamas to get us to do that. I think everyone appreciates what these brave young men are doing for the people of Israel.  After 32 funerals of soldiers killed in action it should be obvious to everyone no matter what their Hashkafa, that a soldier in Israel puts his life on the line for our people.

The question is, will it last? Or will we once again start hearing about the army being nothing but a social engineering experiment? Will there be a resumption of verbal and in some cases physical attacks  by extremists against Charedim who have joined the army? I hope not. But experience has taught me that once the dangers have passed, it will be business as usual.

There is one individual that seems to be signaling very plainly that this will be the case. It is none other than the spiritual head of the Sephardi Shas party, Rabbi Shalom Cohen. He makes the Satmar Rebbe look like a Zionist.  From the Jerusalem Post - here is what he said at a prayer service at the Kotel: 
“Israel doesn’t need an army.” “Do you think that the people of Israel need an army?” “It is God almighty who fights for Israel.”
When stunned worshipers asked the rabbi to offer a blessing for IDF troops, he replied, “Do you think you are fighting? I am fighting for you. We screamed out to God: ‘Save us without inflicting anymore sorrow on the people of Israel’.” 
Where does he think he would be without IDF - the instrument by which God protects the Jewish people? Why does this man get any respect at all from anyone?! He is a walking embarrassment and his statements sicken me!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Two Israel Haters

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay
I laughed so hard - I almost choked on my doughnut this morning when I read this little news item on VIN
Israel may have committed war crimes by killing civilians and shelling houses and hospitals during its two-week-old offensive in the Gaza Strip, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Wednesday. 
I could not contain myself. Thank goodness my wife knows the Heimlich Maneuver… you never know.

Is there anyone in the world who takes this woman seriously? She is either a shill for Hamas or one of the stupidest people on the face of the earth.

Of course accusing Israel of war crimes is no laughing matter. But to not mention at all the war crimes committed daily by Hamas - sending deadly rockets indiscriminately at Israel into civilian populations is  mind-blowingly prejudiced. As is not mentioning the fact that Israel has agreed to a cease fire and actually stopped its offensive, while Hamas kept firing rockets into Israel. There are so many violations by Hamas, it would take pages upon pages to list them. 

Nor does she take into account the fact that Hamas actually wants its people to be killed by Israelis so that people like her can be convinced that Israel is committing war crimes. When a mother from Gaza cries over her dead family, Hamas privately cheers while publicly ‘showing’ the poor innocent lives that have been lost; the severely injured lying hospital beds talking about their losing wives, parents and children, the new homeless  whose homes were blown up by Israeli missiles… This works very well for them. The more damage they have, the more they like it. Israel has no chance of not killing civilians no matter how much they try to avoid it.

And they try mightily. Not only that -  Israel has set up field hospitals near the Gaza border for Palestinians that have been injured. How many Jews can be found in any Hamas controlled hospital? (Hint: Zero). The only thing you can find in a hospital in Gaza (besides the obvious) is rockets ready for use against Israeli civilian populations.

And she chooses to criticize Israel implying a threat to try its leaders for war crimes?! If there is anyone to blame for the innocent civilian casualties in Gaza it is clearly Hamas. They are the war criminals. Period. End of discussion.

While Ms. Pillay may not be the brightest bulb in the room, Neturei Karta (NK) cannot be accused of being stupid. They are simply brainwashed in the extreme to the point of being evil. How else can anyone explain the picture in Al Jazeera of a young Chasidic looking man holding a Palestinian flag at a rally protesting Israel’s attack on Gaza on July 11th?

The entire Jewish population of Israel is in mortal danger and this rather well groomed fellow joins with Palestinian protesters and their sympathizers, carries a Palestinian flag, wears a button that says ‘Free Palestine’ and an ID badge saying ‘Jew - not a Zionist’. All while Israel is being bombarded daily with hundreds of rockets. All while Jewish soldiers are risking their lives in Gaza trying to put an end to it. The funerals for the soldiers are heart rendering! ...and this guy stands with their murderers!

Of course the constant refrain I hear from the right is that no mainstream Jewish organization takes NK seriously. Not even the most right wing ones. Even Satmar rejects them. Typically you will hear comments from the right like, ‘There are very few of them - probably numbering less than a total of a hundred or so worldwide and everyone condemns what they do’.

Dayan Aharon Dovid Dunner of London

Well, I’m not so sure that that they have no support at all from the right. Unfortunately there is a very prominent Charedi Dayan in England by the name of Aharon Dovid Dunner that has absolutely no problem speaking at one of their protests. I have come across a video from a while back of Neturei Karta in England protesting the disruption of graves at a construction site in Ramat Bet Shemesh. Dayan Dunner had no problem at all speaking at their rally. This does not look to me like a rejection of Neturei Karta. This looks more like tacit approval of the group, despite their disgusting behavior.

I cannot accept any kind of explanation that says he rejects them but only uses their platform to state his views - which happens to agree with them in that instance. That would be like joining with Hamas in support of Tznius in women’s clothing. By standing with them, you imply their legitimacy no less than standing with the Conservative or Reform movement implies legitimizing them.

Dayan Dunner is a respected figure in the mainstream Torah world. He actually spoke in Monsey’s Ohr Somayach, a mainstream Yeshiva for Baalei Teshuva. (Photos of the event are available here). 

I call upon the Jewish world to reject not only Neturie Karta, but to reject Dayan Dunner who by his mere presence on the same stage with them tacitly approves of them.  I would also ask that Ohr Somayach of Monsey express regret in inviting him to address their members.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Message to Elimelech Miesels: Time to Come Clean

Meisels (top left) pictured in a flyer together with R' Matisyhau Salomon
The rockets are still flying from Gaza into Israel.  And our brave soldiers have entered Gaza risking their lives for our people. May God protect them. As of right now 28 Israeli soldiers have been killed by Hamas. May God Avenge their blood. The situation is very serious. I pray that it ends soon and that Hamas is either destroyed or made impotent. 

As we await a positive outcome to this situation there is another horror story coming out of Israel. One that I wrote about last week. This too has destroyed some lives. Until yesterday, I did not know just how sick the sexual encounters Elimelech Meisels had with his victims were.

To briefly review - Meisels who was for many years the head of four seminaries was judged to be a danger to the young women that attend them. The Special Chicago Beis Din created to deal with these matters made that determination in a published letter. That Beis Din consisted of three of the most prominent Rabbonim - all Poskim and Dayanim - in the city.

As I said, I did not until yesterday know the nature of his illicit sexual encounters. Grounds for removing him from any association with those seminaries can range anywhere from simply putting his arm around a girl in need of emotional support which is highly inappropriate but perhaps understandable  - to activities that are far more serious. Based on the wording of the original letter calling it ‘unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature’ I strongly suspected it was the latter.

Yerachmiel Lopin posted about the matter immediately and was inundated with comments. I weighed in shortly after my own verification about the validity of the Chicago Beis Din’s proclamation. The accolades about Meisels poured in. Comments ranged from denial and disbelief  - calling the Beis Din letter a forgery to saying his accusers were unstable girls  that lied because of some sort of personal vendetta. Others said it was impossible to believe since the behavior they always saw in him was inspiring and beyond exemplary.

Then there are all those who say that a man is innocent until proven guilty. We should give this wonderful man with so many accomplishments under his belt – the benefit of the doubt. We must be Dan L’Kaf Zechus.

After doing a little bit of research on the nature of his acts, I have found out exactly what he did. To call it unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature is an understatement. I am not at liberty to say what it was. But suffice it to say it was disgusting by any standard - even if he were not done by a respected seminary head.

The problem now is the following. Elimelech Meisels has not come forward publicly to admit he sexually abused some of his students. And that increases the Chilul HaShem immensely. The fact is that he not only violated the victims he had sexual contact with. He violated the entire rest of his student body who still believe in him and defend him.  By not admitting what he did publicly, the myth of his righteousness will continue to be perpetuated. They will continue living in denial and disbelief.  That the man who so strongly inspired them is an innocent man having been falsely accused by some very convincing liars claiming to be victims.

Elimelech Meisels must come clean and tell the truth. He must completely sever his relationship in every way to those seminaries, and not simply  just stop teaching there. He should then seek professional help.  

I strongly disagree with the Israeli Beis din that restored the reputation of these seminaries by simply removing him from the premises. It appears I am not the only one. My Alma Mater, HTC is severing their relationship with them too as is Torah Umesorah.

The fact is that a public admission of guilt is part of the Teshuva process. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz has written two wonderful posts (here and here) on the subject that should be read by all.

As a footnote, I would add that the Gemarah’s principle of Ayn Apitopus L’Aryaos (there is no guardian for sex) is as applicable today as it ever was. And it applies to everyone, no matter what his station; no matter how respected; no matter how popular.

There have been many great people including great rabbinic figures, popular Kiruv rabbis, Poskim,  and Roshei Yeshiva that have fallen into this trap. They have allowed themselves to be put into situations that led to behavior they never thought themselves capable of.

I have never been more supportive of the Hilchos Yichud than I am now.  Any seminary head or individual that secludes themeslves with a woman for whatever reason puts himlsef at risk. Male psychotherapists, psychiatrists, rabbis, and counselors of any kind should never lock any doors when treating a woman. There should always be an open door with another person close by and the ability to enter the room at will.

I don’t know whether Meisels was a sexual predator whose ulterior motive was to set up seminaries for purposes of finding vulnerable females to satisfy his aberrant sexual needs… or if he was L’Shma from the beginning and just fell into a trap while seriously trying to help a troubled girl one on one late into the night. It really doesn’t matter to the victim. It should have never happened. If there are troubled young women that need counseling, he should have sent them to professionals.

In almost every case the perpetrator was  charismatic individual. The behavior of a charismatic leader is well described by Yerachmiel Lopin about Meisels in response to comments made in a recent Facebook post
Amazing", "friendly, "always available," and "fun" came up over and over in comments from many of the Meisels students. It is also clear that he was in the seminary at all hours and took girls out for "drives" or "coffee" in the early a.m. hours. Unfortunately, so many of them were besotted by him to the point that they would not let themselves admit the pattern or recognize how far along they were in themselves being potentially seducible. 
My advice to parents contemplating a seminary experience in Israel for their daughters is to stay away from charismatic seminary heads. Young women are too easily drawn to them which can lead to an intimacy from which they will never recover.