Thursday, October 18, 2018

‘#MeToo’ is Not Enough

Aly Rasiman giving an impact statement at the Nassar trial
Famed Olympic gold medalist and #MeToo advocate, Aly Raisman, recently posed in the nude for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Ms. Raisman was one of hundreds of women molested by team doctor, Larry Nassar who was recently sentenced to life in prison. She explained that she did it to make the point that women do not need to be modest in order to deserve respect.

That may be true. Nonetheless it is sad that a highly accomplished and proudly Jewish woman does not recognize the importance of modesty in Judaism. In my view she has accomplished the opposite by contributing to a culture that so mightily objectifies women.

The  #MeToo movement has opened up our eyes to the vast amount of sexual misconduct, molestation, and abuse that is going on this country. Hundreds of women now have had the courage to come forward with their own stories of abuse ever since Harvey Weinstein’s exposure as a sexual predator. That is what generated #MeToo.  

Much of that sexual misconduct was by prominent and respected men in positions of power. In some cases long time icons of their profession or industry have been exposed as predators - same as Weinstein. I need not mention any names. Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention knows them. Their  downfall has been nothing short of breathtaking. None of this is new. I’ve said it all before.

First let me state the obvious. There is a difference between consensual sex and non consensual sex. The same act done in either context will correctly  be seen in radically opposite ways. The question is why do they do it? Why do so many successful and accomplished men do it? Are they all sexual predators by nature? Is there nothing that might contribute such behavior in our culture that might be changed in order to reduce the number of people that can’t control their impulses? …where self control is abandoned in order to get immediate sexual gratification? Do these men not respect women for who they are instead of what they look like? Why can’t they have the self control the rest of us do under such circumstances?

As I have said in the past, I think there is something we – as a society – can do. But in my view never will. More on that later.

Fortunately Judaism does have an answer to that. We do not live in a vacuum free of enticement. And although we should all be able to control our desires - even as we are constantly being bombarded with sexual images – it doesn’t always work. Those images are not lost on men in a position of power. Liberties might be taken that might not otherwise be if it wasn’t always there staring them in the face. Is it any wonder therefore that the entertainment industry seem to have the lion’s share of sexual predators?

This does obviously does not excuse their behavior. But it helps to explain it.

If that is the case (and I think it is) then we should as a society try to minimize those stimuli which would in my view reduce the amount of sexual misconduct that goes on. It may not eliminate it. But in my view it will surely help to reduce it. Which is exactly the opposite of what Ally Raisman did.

Halacha (Jewish law) recognizes this human condition and therefore legislates a standard pf modesty geared towards exactly that. Which brings me to a Tablet article by Rabbi Avi Shafran with whom I find myself once again in agreement. Here in part is what he says:
(O)ur supposedly enlightened, progressive, post-patriarchal society, with its proud claim to value and respect women…  we (now) know… is balderdash.  And the fault for that fact lies not only with perpetrators but with us all, men and women alike.
Do we really imagine that true respect for the integrity and honor of women can survive, let alone thrive, in a world where standard “entertainment” fare is saturated with the objectification (and all too often actual abuse) of that half of the population, where women’s skin is used to sell everything from cars and candy to beer and barbecue grills?  Where female performers–claiming “liberation” no less–feel compelled to appear on stage in costumes that once would have had them arrested if worn in public? Are the divas offering the public their talents or their bodies?
And we expect their male fans, home from the concerts or looking up from their screens, to respect women?  Are we serious?
As I have said in the past – and as Rabbi Shafran notes in his article - Judaism mandates a standard of modesty that better enables men to see women for who they are. Not what they are. Modest clothing and behavior as well as the laws of Yichud (avoiding seclusion between a man and a woman) is mandated by Halacha.  Men are supposed to avoid looking at images of immodesty dressed women.

I believe that Orthodox Jewish men who fail to observe these laws are probably the ones most likely to be involved in some form of sexual misconduct. I can think of at least three cases of Orthodox Jews (two of which were highly respected and internationally known rabbis) – where their positions of power, lack of self control, and not observing Yichud laws resulted in that.

The problem is that in western culture the spirit of permissiveness dominates our way of life. As such we ridicule modest clothing and behavior. The Vice President of the United States, a devout Christian, was laughed at when he said that he never goes to a restaurant with another woman unless his wife is present.  That attitude was underscored by Aly Raisman.

While I am glad to see that the #MeToo movement has had a positive impact, at the end of the day, I’m not sure things will change all that much as our culture continues to objectify women in so many ways.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Dangers of Media and Academic Bias

Scene from the Islamist bombing of the Boston Marathon in April of 2013
I recently watched a TV political drama whose writers clearly have a decidedly liberal/left political ideology. The plot involved the bombing of the White House by a Neo-Nazi group. 

Of course no one should deny that a Neo-Nazi group should be portrayed as evil. Neo-Nazism is among the most despicable ideologies imaginable. What is nonetheless troubling about this particular drama series is that it rarely portrays Islamist terrorism. The only time they even reference it is in the context of ‘mistaken identity’. Meaning an attack that might initially be assumed to be from an Islamist group only to be later discovered that is was from a right wing extremist group.  

Rarely do dramas like this portray any form of Islamist terror unless it is as a biased first reaction to terrorists unknown. Until proven that it wasn’t and discovered to be a right wing hate group.

The message dramas like this convey is that Islamist threats are not anywhere near those of right wing extremists.  They thereby minimize the very real threat of the Islamist terrorism that has been plaguing this country and the entire world.

Let me hasten to add that I firmly believe that most Muslim citizens of this country are indeed peace loving and even patriotic Americans that would not harm a fly. I agree that we should treat them with the same dignity and respect that we treat any other ethnicity. That is what I do. I live in a neighborhood that is filled with Muslim residents and we all get along just fine.

But at the same time we must recognize that not all Muslims are like that. There is not an insignificant number of extremist Muslims that have committed horrible acts of terror. Beginning with the events of 9/11 followed  by many others since. Far more people have died or have been seriously injured by them than those injured by right wing extremists since that fateful day in September of 2001. And yet dramas like this keep insisting that the far greater danger is from the extremist right.

I believe that the majority of dramatic representation of terrorism on TV and in film has this kind of bias and therefore influences public opinion in a way that endangers us all.

But the entertainment industry is not alone in such bias. Especially as it affects Israel and the Jewish people. When it comes to anti Israel bias there is no shortage of that in an even more influential arena: Academia. They may actually have a greater impact on society than the entertainment industry does because of the respect academia generates.

The latest of such negative influences has come in the form of a book by Jasbir Puar, a professor at Rutgers University. It was published by Duke University Press and entitled The Right to Maim. 

Mosaic Magazine excerpts a review of that book by Professor David Berger. Here in part is what he says: 
Israel has been accused of poisoning Palestinians [and] harvesting their organs; thousands of Jews are said to have refrained from coming to work at the World Trade Center on that fateful September 11, with Jews responsible in whole or in part for the attacks. . . . The historian Gavin Langmuir proposed a term to characterize the [medieval] blood libel, the host-desecration charge, and the well-poisoning accusation: these figments of the anti-Jewish imagination should, he said, be termed “chimerical anti-Semitism.” [Now] we encounter chimerical anti-Israelism... 
[Thus] Puar asserts that Israel’s policy of shooting dangerous demonstrators or attackers in a manner that avoids killing them should be seen as a strategy of maiming the Palestinian population in order to create a debilitated people more easily subject to exploitation. Written in the highly sophisticated language of theoretical discourse current in certain historical and social-scientific circles, [the accusation] has led a significant number of academics to shower the author with extravagant praise... 
It would be one thing if professor Puar was an outlier that was dismissed by her colleagues as unduly prejudiced and not to be relied upon. But as noted, the opposite is apparently true: 
The Right to Maim was not only published by a respected university press. It bears an effusive blurb from the prominent academic Judith Butler, and when a talk that Puar delivered at Vassar College on this theme was attacked in a Wall Street Journal article, nearly 1,000 academics ranging from distinguished professors like Rashid Khalidi of Columbia to graduate students—most of whom have no expertise in relevant fields—wrote a letter to the president of the university containing a similarly effusive declaration of the quality of her work and her standing as a scholar. 
I agree with Professor Berger. We cannot ignore a blood libel like this when it comes from a respected Academic that has received so much praise. It only adds fuel to the current atmosphere in certain academic circles which have become irrationally and on occasion virulently anti Israel. Where student protests have crossed over into blatant antisemitism and have sometimes turned violent. Ignoring it is not an option. Doing so is at our own peril.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Internet: From Rejection to an Embrace

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt of the CER (Arutz Sheva)
Back in May of 2012, there was an Asifa (gathering) organized by prominent rabbinic figures to deal with the rising problem of internet use. It was attended by 60,000 people according the the Times of Israel. The internet was painted as evil. So evil that whatever good there might be in it paled in comparison to the damage it causes.

Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman had addressed the assembled before introducing the late R’ Shmuel HaLevi Wosner, ZTL – a major Israeli Posek that spoke via satellite from his home in Bnei Brak. Rabbi Wachsman quoted a Rabbenu Yona which stated when a Gadol addresses the masses of Klal Yisroel and makes a declaration about public policy, those that do not listen to him lose their Olam Haba (their share in the world to come)! That quote prefaced Rav Wosner's ban on internet which followed.

That was later modified somewhat to allow for use in matters of Paranssa. But for the most part the attitude was that the internet was evil.There were threats made by Yeshiva heads at the time about those that violated the decree and allowed the internet into their homes. They would not allow their children into their schools. (That may in fact still be the case in some circles)

Fast forward to today. Does the fact that the vast majority of observant Jewry in of all of Orthodoxy use the internet for personal use mean that we have all lost our Olam Haba? 

The answer is of course we haven’t. In fact I would even say that internet use is up in most observant homes well beyond what it was at the time of that Asifa in 2012. Despite Rabbi Wahcsman’s warning.  Especially now that it can be easily and quickly accessed in the palm of our hands anywhere in the world. I don’t know if he ever publicly retracted his dire warning. But he should if he didn’t.

As well intended as that Asifa was - and as serious of a problem that the internet presents, it is not only a force for evil. It is also a force for good. As I said at the time - it is all about responsible use. When used responsibly it can be life saving. And in no way should it ever be banned, despite Rav Wosner’s decree.  

But that hasn’t stopped the naysayers form insisting that it would be best of it were not used at all. Which is why up until recently Agudath Israel of America did not have their own website*. Although they did have one they used unofficially. Unofficially - for purposes of deniability. And they used it profusely. They were then able to still deny it – thus underscoring their view that the evil outweighs the good while at he same time using it to their advantage.

It is difficult for me to understand the fine line they tried to draw. Let us contrast this with a relatively new development in Europe. From Arutz Sheva
 A group of leading, senior Rabbis, representing over 700 synagogue communities throughout Europe, have invested in technology to aid social progress, through the Conference of European  Rabbis’ Internet Prize.
The event, which is under the patronage of the Prime Minister of France, Mr Édouard Philippe and Mrs. Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, brings together talented and ambitious entrepreneurs together with Europe’s most senior Rabbis to encourage using the internet for social good. As many within society are focusing on the increased online abuse, CER are harnessing the positives as previous winners have impacted the worlds of education and healthcare. 
The Conference of European Rabbis (CER) is not a Conservative or Reform Group. They are probably the equivalent of Agudah, RCA, and the OU combined. If I understand correctly they represent all of Orthodoxy in Europe. They now embrace the internet. They understand what most of the rest of us have understood for many years now. That that the internet is a tool that when used wisely can be lifesaving. And that everyone should have it in their homes.

This demonstrates that even great rabbis can be wrong. The idea that Daas Torah is infallible is thereby refuted. Of course those loyal to that idea have always admitted fallibility, but in practice they will follow Daas Torah as though it were infallible. The argument being that the great rabbis of our day are the best representation of Daas Torah. Since they have no one better to listen to - they follow their decrees. 

I am not sure there has ever been an instance where Daas Torah (as they define it) was shown to be in error (unless it was somehow admitted by them - if it ever was). Well, this is one such instance. 

I believe the Agudah would did well to change their minds - thus tacitly admitting they were wrong about it too and now seem to be embracing it the way their European counterparts have. Better late than never.

I have modified the post from the original. I was not aware that Agudah had changed course on this issue. I was informed about it by an Agudah official. It is located here. I'm not sure when they had a change of heart. But I am glad to see that they have. And I apologize for my original assumption that things had not changed.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Evil in the Name of God

Aisha Mohammad Aravi, was killed near a West Bank checkpoint south of Sh'chem
I take second place to no one when it comes to understanding the hatred so many Palestinians have for the Jewish people. But I also fully understand where that hatred comes from. It is sourced in a generational Arab indoctrination of hatred by virtually all of their institutions – both religious and secular.

Muslim clerics and much of the Arab media constantly paint Jews in terms of evil conspirators out to take over the world. Pioneering Zionist Jews were seen as European colonizers who came to Palestine and usurped Arab land for that purpose. That was the case even before the State of Israel was founded.

When the UN partitioned Palestine and Israel declared Statehood it was immediately attacked by neighboring Arab nations determined to ‘drive the Jews into the sea’. That resulted in a war that created Arab refugees. These are the West Bank Palestinians of today - their children and grandchildren - who continue to suffer at the hands of Israeli security needs. Needs that can be directly attributed to past deadly Palestinian attacks against Israelis. Attacks fomented by Palestinian leadership. 

I also understand why so many Israelis have negative feelings against Palestinians. It is after all from their ranks that the vast majority of terrorist attacks have taken place. It’s hard to love people that want to kill you. It is pretty clear that many Palestinians do. Even those that are not directly involved in attacking Jews - tend to support those that are. 

It is also however true that many Palestinians do not hate us. And even among those that do and mistakenly blame Israel for problems created by their own leaders, most just want to be left alone, get on with their lives and live in peace. But they are unable to do so - forced to live in uncomfortable circumstances because of those security needs.

But even under these circumstances there is absolutely no excuse for what allegedly happened last week: From i24 News
A 47-year-old Palestinian woman was killed after Israeli settlers threw stones at her vehicle late Friday night near a checkpoint in the West Bank, local media reports. Aisha Mohammed Aravi, a mother of eight from the nearby village Biddya, was traveling with her husband south of Nablus when a group of settlers reportedly began to throw stones at the vehicle. 
If this story is true (and I have no reason to assume it isn’t) - what these settlers have done is abhorrent. In my view there is little difference between them and Palestinian terrorists that decide to kill Jews indiscriminately. It is only a matter of degree. Palestinians have a much greater terrorist record than these settlers. But it seems that these settlers are approaching it rapidly

People who throw rocks at an innocent passers-by with enough force to kill them are evil.  They have joined the ranks of West Bank settler, Baruch Goldstein, who who many years ago massacred a group of innocent Palestinians as they were praying at Ma’aras HaMachpela. 

They may think they are acting like Jews. They might think they are religious and may in fact be meticulously observant of many rituals. But they are murderers no less. And deserve to pay the same price any murderer in Israel must pay. 

The settler community that spawned these disgusting murderers needs to be dealt with once and for all. I want to be absolutely clear, here. I am not talking about Israelis that live in established towns on the West Bank like Efrat, Maale Adumim, Beitar, or Kiryat Sefer. The vast majority of these ‘settlers’ are law abiding citizens that are probably just as appalled by this event as I am - or as any decent human being would be.

I am talking about a strain of ‘trailer trash’ right wing settlers whose ‘vision’ is to rid all Arabs from the land by any means necessary including terrorism. They consider it all part of the ‘Mitzvah’ of settling the land of Israel. 

In that goal they set up trailers homes deep in the West Bank – many of them illegal - near existing Arab villages and declare themselves to be a new settlement.  They don’t care if their government considers them illegal. They believe they are answering to a higher authority by fulfilling the Torah’s mandate to settle the land. That it might cause the blood of innocent Jews (much less Arabs) is of little concern to them. 

They will simply claim that their incitement of Arab neighbors is not the cause of Jewish bloodshed. The Arabs hate us and want kill us anyway. They are not to blame - thus absolving themselves of any responsibility for the ensuing bloodshed they might precipitate – as they ‘fulfill the will of God’. 

These trailer park settlements ought to be dismantled immediately by the Israeli government post haste. Resisters should have the proverbial book thrown at them. 

They can cry all they want; recite all the psalms they want; passively resist all they want... all in the hope of generating public sympathy. Which I hope would not be given to them by anyone.

They also should be forbidden to resettle anywhere else n the West Bank under penalty of serious jail time.   

These communities do not bring honor to God. They bring shame upon the Jewish people. Especially since they generate actions that result in innocent blood being shed They may actually believe they are acting in the name of God. But they are no more acting in the name of God than are Palestinian terrorists that blow themselves up - killing innocent people while saying ‘God is Great!’ 

These people are evil. And Israel must do whatever it takes to stop them. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Refuting a Rebuttal

I’m always reluctant to discuss the intersection of science and Torah. It always brings out the atheists and doubters that have an unshakable faith in science. They trust ‘their eyes; more than their faith. I call them the ‘Flat Earthers’. When one looks out at the horizon – what one sees is a flat earth. How dare anyone insult their intelligence by saying that what they see with their own eyes is not the reality? The world is obviously flat. Just look and see. But as we all know, the world is without a doubt round. There is just too much scientific evidence of that.

What if the scientific evidence seems to contradict the Torah narrative of creation? The Torah says the universe was created in 6 days and is only about 6000 years old. But scientists now have produced overwhelming evidence that it is about 15 billion years old.  Should we continue to insist that the Torah must be taken literally despite the massive evidence that suggests it should be taken allegorically? To the rational mind that would be an extremely difficult path to follow. And yet the Torah does indicate that the universe is only 6000 years old. Must we deny all that evidence in favor of blind belief?

My answer to that is no. At least not automatically. What I have always tried to do is find ways to reconcile the Torah with the science – without abandoning the fundamentals of my faith.  

Fist let me state unequivocally that the bottom line is Emunah. But at the same time we cannot ignore the science when it becomes overwhelming despite what we have always believed to be the case. The world is not flat even though it contradicts what we see. Continuing to insist that it is flat – is laughable. 

There are  people on both sides of the ideological aisle that insist that their perspective trumps the other. Scientists that are not guided by faith will discard everything that contradicts science. Those that insist on the literal interpretation of entirety of the Torah narrative will  deny the science no matter how clearly the science is demonstrated as fact.

In my view there is always a way to reconcile both disciplines that allow our fundamentals to remain intact while accepting what are obvious scientific facts. 

There are however some things that are difficult to reconcile. My own approach to that is similar to what Rav Soloveitchik once said about it. Paraphrasing: Either we do not sufficiently understand the science; or we do not sufficiently understand the Torah. Or both.

Nonetheless the rational mind seeks answers. And to the extent that we can we try and find them. And often succeed.  Without abandoning the fundamental principles of our faith

It is with that in mind that I completely reject an article by Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic in the Jewish PressHe tried to rebut Rabbi Slifkin’s allegorical interpretation of the 6 days of creation that would indicate that universe is 15 billion years old. Which is what science tells us is the case.  He actually believes that it is heretical to believe that.

Now I have no problem with those who insist on believing that the universe is about 6000 years old. God can do anything. If God wanted to create the world 6000 years ago – to look 15 billion  years old, that is exactly what he did.  They are entitled to their beliefs. But they are not entitled to reject a more rational approach.

If we are to believe that the world was created 6000 years ago but intentionally made to look old - that would mean that God intended to fool us. Why would God create a universe 6000 years ago with massive evidence to show it is much older? That is ridiculous. And yet that is what Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic is trying to say. Here is a pertinent excerpt:  
The Torah is very clear in its description of creation: God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. That is why the week throughout history has consisted of seven days and why Shabbos is celebrated on the seventh day. Some people claim these seven days are seven time periods, but how exactly are these periods distinguishable? In what meaningful sense can billions of years be said to be “seven days”? 
Rabbi Lebovic then completely rejects the Rambam’s view that certain portions of the Torah are allegorical - relying on the Ramban’s rejection of the Rambam.

He is entitled to his views. But he is not entitled to dismiss the Rambam and imply that relying on him is Apikursus. Further implying that anyone who does is a heretic.

I am not going to go into details why I believe the universe is 15 billion years old. I have already done that in the past. Suffice it to say that the evidence is overwhelming. What I will however do is refer to what I consider a seminal lecture delivered by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan to a gathering of Orthodox Jewish scientists back in the 70s. In that lecture Rabbi Kaplan used sources in the Torah, Kabbalah, the Talmud, Rishonim, and Achronim to demonstrate that the universe is 15 billion years old. He even ridiculed those that believed it was only 6000 years old.

This does not mean that we can allegorize the Torah any time we believe it contradicts science. Ultimately Judaism is based on faith. Faith is about truth, not scientifically proven fact. If our faith were to be proven scientifically it would cease being faith. As believing Jews we find truth through our beliefs.

 What it does however mean that we should not dismiss science that seems to contradict the Torah. And certainly not dismiss Torah sources that corroborate science as Rabbi Lebovic tries to do.

Friday, October 12, 2018

When Humanitarian Values Conflict with Halacha

Image for illustration purposes only (Times of Israel)
It is really simple if you think about it Halachicly. And at the same time it is quite complex if you think about it sociologically in our day. How to deal with homosexuality and homosexuals is an issue that is difficult to address because it involves the intersection of clear Halacha with the proclivity of good and decent people to violate it. The very mental health of those people are at stake.

I have dealt with these issues many times. The subject has once again been raised in a debate between Hayim Leiter a progressive Orthodox rabbi and member of the liberal Orthodox group, Torat Chayim - and Avrohom Gordimer, a Centrist rabbi and executive member of the Centrist RCA .

First let me re-iterate my own approach which I believe to be the most humane and pragmatic approach to this situation that satisfies both Halacha and human dignity. It is not homosexuality that is a sin. Being attracted to a member of the same sex is not a sin. What is a sin is acting on it in a way that the Torah forbids – and considers a serious violation of God’s law.

As such the best approach is to treat homosexual individuals no differently than heterosexuals. In that vein, an individual’s sex life should be private. No one need talk about what they do in the privacy of their own home. Nor should anyone be suspected of sinful behavior, whether straight or gay. That it exists among both is a fact of life. But it is nobody’s business, unless one wishes to make a public issue of it. 

Gay activists do not subscribe to the idea of ‘What goes on in the bedroom – stays in the bedroom’.  They insist on societal approval of the very act that the bible considers sinful. When confronted with that fact they wave off the bible as a ancient relic written by ignorant men centuries ago.We are far more enlightened today than they were then and we should just discard those ancient values. Which they now consider immoral!  There is absolutely no moral issue at all with homosexual behavior between 2 consenting adults. And it should not concern any of us - who people love; or how they love them.

This is where I part company with gay activists. They want to completely equate sinful behavior in the bedroom with permitted behavior. In their view there is no difference. This is what they advocate. Some of them militantly. This is where much of the fight lies.

For an Orthodox rabbi who knows what the Torah’s prohibitions are, and yet wants to treat all people – gay or straight – with equal dignity, that becomes a problem.  This is where compassion and common sense come into play.

Acceptance of a gay individual into a religious community is a no brainier. Of course they should be accepted. What cannot be accepted is publicly celebrating a lifestyle that is conducive to serious Torah violation.  And in any case modesty should dictate that all matters pertaining to our sex lives should be kept private.

A gay couple that have been ‘married’ to each other is a horse of an entirely different color. Tht takes it out of the realm of privacy and places squarely in the public eye. It celebrates the fact that two people are gay and living together as a married couple. Which most often includes behaviors that are forbidden by the Torah.  When a rabbi publicly welcomes a gay couple on the same grounds as a straight couple he appears to be approving and even celebrating that.. Celebrating it is what Rabbi Hayim Leiter appears to be advocating.

Rabbi Leiter is a Mohel who has performed many circumcisions for children of gay couples. I have no problem with that at all and commend him for doing so. No child should ever be denied a Bris. It is a requirement of the Torah for a Jewish baby boy to be circumcised on the 8th day after his birth. It doesn’t matter who  his parents are or what they have done. They can both be serial killers. It wouldn’t matter. 

But to make a big celebration of it- noting the parents homosexual union and praising  their commitment to Torah after they have gone out of their way to flout it by getting ‘married’ is wrong. I’m sure Rabbi Leiter does not deny the Torah’s clear prohibitions. And yet by praising married gay couples as committed Jews it appears as though he is defying that very prohibition. 

There is even some talk about justifying a  homosexual lifestyle based on verses in the Torah. Which turns on its head any possible interpretation of those words that makes any sense.To put it the way Rabbi Gordimer does: 
To square the idea of openly conducting a lifestyle and structuring a home in a manner that the Torah condemns in quite harsh terms with the idea of “not forsaking anything” in the Torah is quite a stretch; I don’t think that the greatest of logicians could explain it. And how one can accept and laud the emendation of a sacred text so as to include that which Halacha considers to be a desecration is equally challenging to the mind. 
As if to emphasize the direction of the more progressive rabbis, one rabbi that insists on publicly welcoming gay couples into his Shul and wishing them Mazal Tov on their 'marriage' - said the following: about his decision to do so: 
I can’t wrap my head around a refusal to wish a mazal tov to a gay or lesbian couple following a same-sex commitment ceremony. 
This is not OK. I know that married gay couples would like to be seen in the same light as married straight couples. But they cannot be seen that way. Gay marriage is a public statement implying societal acceptance of something that is conducive to serious violations of the Torah. It is like saying that a someone whose lifestyle appears to include the desecration of Shabbos should be celebrated in the same way as someone whose lifestyle doesn’t. You cannot congratulate someone for living a lifestyle conducive to Shabbos desecration. That is in essence what progressive rabbis insist on doing.

I understand where these rabbis are coming from. They are compassionate human beings that want to do what they believe is the right thing by being fair to all people regardless of their sexual orientation. I actually agree with their motives. But I do not agree with their methods. Because in my view by celebrating a gay union they are by implication celebrating the transgression of sinful behavior. And thereby desecrating the very Torah they so fervently claim to be honoring.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

A Torah Dedication that was a Disgrace

Scenes from a Boro Park Hachnosas Sefer Torah (more available at YWN)
I have attended many Torah Scroll dedications (Hachnasas Sefer Torah) here in Chicago. Every single one of them were a Kiddush Hashem.

For those not familiar with the event, it involves the completion of the actual script in the Torah by a Sofer (scribe) – usually in the home of the individual who commissioned and purchased it. That is followed by a parade down a pre-determined route of about 2 or 3 blocks of residential streets until it reaches the Shul in which that Torah scroll will be housed.

The parade is a festive affair, usually accompanied by a band and a lot of dancing and singing down the street as the Torah is carried under a Chupah. At first by its owner and then transferred along the way to family members, rabbis, dignitaries, friends, and others until it reaches the Shul. 

There the dancing and singing continues for a while until the Torah is placed in the Aron Kodesh. The parade itself lasts about about a half hour or so and draws out even non Jewish neighbors from their homes that seem to enjoy watching the pageantry.

It would seem like this kind of event would produce nothing but a Kiddush HaShem.  How could a Torah dedication be anything else? Well it can be and it was just a few days ago. What should have been a Kiddush HaShem turned out to be a Chilul HaShem in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn. From YWN
Sources tell YWN that at around 6:00PM, hundreds of people began a procession accompanying a new Sefer Torah to the Dzebo Bais Hamedrash. There was apparently no permit issued for a street closure, and police responded due to massive traffic in the area…
(N)umerous NYPD vehicles responded to the vicinity of 16th Ave & 51st street and ordered the pedestrians onto the sidewalks in an attempt to open the street.
Several individuals intentionally ignored police, prompting officers to get out of their vehicles and physically move the protestors. At least person was arrested.
The NYPD called for a Level 1 Mobilization Response, prompting dozens of officers to respond.
It should be noted that there are no legitimate permits issued for Hachnosas Sifrei Torah. A phone call is made to the Community Board who coordinates it with Shomrim and informs the NYPD of the event. In this particular incident, the Community Board was never contacted, for unknown reasons.
A group of around 100 Bochrim staged a small protest outside the 66 Precinct on 16 Avenue, while community activists worked behind the scene to defuse the situation.
The (arrested) man was released at around 9:30 PM as the crowd cheered and sang as he exited the Precinct.
YWN ADDS: While the police response and actions can be called “police brutality” or “excessive force”, instead the angry group of pedestrians appallingly began chanting “Nazi” at the NYPD Officers – once again demonstrating that many members of the Jewish community haven’t a clue who the Nazis were. These people are simply trampling on the names of the 6 million Kedoshim HY”D. The people quick to use the word Nazi today, have obviously no clue – just as an example – what took place in just one day at Treblinka. 
I wish I could say that I am surprised by this mob reaction. But I would be lying if I did. I am not surprised at all.

First, let me make clear that I was not there. So I cannot say for certain that there wasn’t any police brutality or excessive force. But I tend to give the police – who were only doing their job – the benefit of the doubt. They probably did what they had to restore the streets of Boro Park to traffic.

But I do agree with YWN’s assessment of that Jewish community. They have no clue about what the Holocaust was all about. Which is a sad commentary considering that many of the residents of Boro Park are children or grandchildren of survivors.  

But I would go further. No one has a right to commandeer a public thoroughfare for their own purposes. Not even religious ones. Had they taken the time to contact police who have always worked closely with this community this would have never happened. Instead of fighting with the police and calling them Nazis – the police would have paved the way for them to have that parade. 

This is how it has always been done. At least in Chicago. The police have always been contacted and have responded by being a presence at these parades, blocking off streets and otherwise assuring the parade would run smoothly. I doubt that the NYPD is any different.

Instead we have yet another Chilul HaShem with ‘crazed’ participants looking like ignorant fools calling the police Nazis. All because they believed that their religious rights to march down a public thoroughfare trumped whatever got in their way. Including blocking unsuspecting drivers who with no warning at all were simply trying to get from point A to point B. 

The protesters and name callers may be fervently religious Jews with respect to ritual behavior. They may look and dress like the most religious Jews among us. But in my view there is little difference between their behavior on this day and that of any other unruly mob.

In essence their angry reactions to the police on this day shows what they really think about non Jews. Instead of realizing what the problem was and giving way to the police, they reacted with anger insisting on completing their trek regardless of who it inconvenienced. They have absolutely no respect for non Jews and could not care less about the inconvenience they caused. 

Sure - those that were part  of the mob might normally get along with non Jews on a day to day basis. They might even have friendly relations with them. But deep down they have no respect for them. That is the only conclusion one can reach based on their reactions that day. 

Which is why a minor Chasidic Rebbe in Brooklyn a few years ago could come out with a CD preaching to listeners that although we Jews must openly treat non Jews with respect, we must secretly HATE them. (I heard it with my own ears!) That is apparently the attitude many of them have deep down. An attitude that is obviously reinforced by the isolationist lives they live. Even if some of them are out in the world for business purposes dealing with customers, vendors, employees or bosses and get along quite nicely - this event shows what they really think. And for those that say that these people were the exception that proves the rule... I am increasingly beginning to doubt that. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Thank You, Ambassador Haley!

Haley and Netanyahu - No more strained relationship between the US and Israel
She will be a hard act to follow. US ambassador to the UN, Nikky Haley, has just announced that she will be stepping down from that position at the end of this year. To say that I was disappointed at that announcement would be a major understatement.  In my view she was one of the brightest stars (if not THE brightest) of the Trump administration. I don’t think that is arguable even if you are a virulent Trump hater. (Unless you are a supporter the Palestinian narrative. Then you are glad to see her go.)

What Haley has done for Israel is unprecedented. Although it is true that she was just implementing Trump’s foreign policy agenda, she did it with the enthusiasm of someone that completely agrees with it. Especially as it pertains to Israel.

She spoke the truth to the nations of the world that just love to bash the Jewish State. Haley stridently and correctly called out the hypocrisy of a UN whose anti Israel agenda superseded by far anything else going on in the world. And she backed it up by unprecedented action.

This is not to say that her predecessors were anti Israel. They were not. They defended Israel and vetoed all anti Israel resolutions made by the Security Council. Except for the one time they abstained – tainting that record. But beyond defending Israel verbally (except for that one time) the US did little that made any difference. Not so Haley.

In the wake of her announcement to resign, the Jerusalem Post published 5 things Haley did in support of Israel (with the obvious consent of her bosses at the State Department and of course their boss, the President) that should have been done years ago by previous administrations:

1. She slashed US funding to UNRWA, the UN’s relief agency that helps Palestinian refugees. This was done because of their massively over-inflated number of actual refugees.

2. She vetoed a UN Security Council resolution criticizing the US for moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And then went further when that resolution was taken to the UN General Assembly for a vote as a moral victory, Haley got 64 nations to not vote or vote against the resolution.

3. She took the US out of the UN Human Rights Council whose major focus was criticizing Israel while ignoring the fact that many of its own members (e.g. Iran, China, and Venezuela were some of the worst human rights violators in the world.

4. She successfully lobbied UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to pull the  notorious and patently false report labeling Israel an Apartheid State.

5. She publicly declared that the Kotel belongs to Israel – departing from the long standing US policy of not commenting about which side owns any part of Jerusalem.

I would add a 6th.  Haley made clear why the US withdrew from the terrible the nuclear deal with Iran by articulating its major flaws. Not the least of which were: its openly expressed and belligerent determination to annihilate the state of Israel: Its active development of a long range missile delivery system capable of carrying nuclear warheads; its role as one of the biggest state sponsors of terror in the world; and the ability to resume developing nuclear weapons with impunity after the deal expires .

These are just a few of the reasons that she will be missed. Even if the next UN ambassador will be just as supportive, I’m not sure he or she will be able to do it with with such confidence and style. Her words in support of Israel that clearly called out the world body’s bias against it will be sorely missed. She did not mince words about  ‘ the moral cesspool of a hypocritical United Nations that applauded human rights abusers and attacked democracies like Israel’.

These nations of the world may not like the US as much as they did under the last administration. But they have quickly learned to respect the current one a lot more. 

I have no clue who the President will pick to replace her. Some names have been floated. From what I can tell after a brief look at their records, all are big supporters of Israel. One name I heard mentioned this morning was Joe Lieberman. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful replacement? Whoever it is, they will have some very big shoes to fill. 

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

How are We Inspiring Our Youth?

In one of the many discussions I have had about going OTD (‘Off The Derech’ - dropping observance of Halacha) I recall the late Rabbi Dovid Landesman making an interesting observation along the lines of:  Are our children today ever really ‘On the Derech’?

What I think he might have meant is that Jewish education today does not spend any time inspiring our youth about Judaism. (But it is also true that schools are not the first line of defense in this regard. More about that later.) I believe this phenomenon is an across the board one – applying to just about every stream of Orthodoxy – from left to right. The areas of concentration are  mostly about the ‘what’ - not the ‘why’. The assumption being that children from observant homes (which is the majority population of day schools and Yeshiva high schools) were all raised to be observant. Children are ‘programmed’ to follow Halacha. They know no other way of life.

The focus in most schools is on studying the actual Halacha – learning how to do each on properly. Not on why we should be religious in the first place. The majority of the day in virtually all Orthodox schools is spent on Torah study and (in most cases) secular studies. Depending on what side of the Orthodox spectrum any given school is on - is to the extent of how much of its time is spent on one or the other.  In a right wing Yeshiva, the focus is on Torah study while in a left wing Yeshiva, the focus is on academics. However in either case, there is little time if any spent on the inspiring students to appreciate and value their religious heritage. 

That might help to explain why so many of our youth go OTD. It’s because they never were inspired by the religion in which they study so meticulously how to observe it. I think Rabbi Landesberg’s point was (if I recall correctly) is that without that kind of preparation it is understandable that they might become more inspired by other things. If one only goes through the motions of observance out of habit without any emotional attachment one can be more easily swayed by things that actually do grab them emotionally. Some of which might be Apikursus and anti Torah. Which is much more easily accessed today.

While there are many reasons why any individual might go OTD some of which I have discussed in the past, I do think Rabbi Landesman was right about this aspect of it. Although there are some notable exceptions, there is just not enough inspiration  transmitted to our young. Not in the home and not in school. 

The question is, what can we do about it? Is there something we can focus upon that will inspire our young to embrace it all? I think there is. It may sound like a cliché, but I believe that Shabbos is the one thing that we can inspire our children by to fully appreciate Judaism as a whole - if it is treated properly.

I think that helps explain why Shabbos observance is used as the barometer of observant Judaism. If one is Shomer Shabbos, one is considered observant. Even if there are some occasional lapses in other areas of Halacha.

Why is Shabbos considered the determining factor of observance? Rabbi Dr. Jay Goldsmith has penned an excellent article on the OU website that might provide the answer. It resonates with my own perception and experience of that day. 
While I admit that as a child, I found Shabbos to be restrictive and therefore off-putting, I have since come to appreciate the holiness of  that day and the tangible benefits that make it not only the holiest but  the most beautiful day of the week. 

The idea of shutting down the ‘mundane’ in favor of the holiness of Shabbos is something I look forward to all week. The following is a brief picture of my own experience. Although it is incomplete, I hope it helps illustrates my point.

Friday is the day I immediately begin to prepare for Shabbos in numerous concrete ways. Unlike the rest of the week every room in the house is brightly lit (except for the bedrooms). The dining room table (which is only used on Shabbos, Yom Tov, or special occasions) is set with fine linen and fine china. 

We sanctify the day over wine and begin a multi course meal. This is the only day of the week where we are completely unplugged. It is the only day that we have the luxury of spending quality time with our family. We have leisurely conversations without being interrupted by all the technology we have become accustomed to during the week (e.g smartphones, TV, and the internet). 

Going to Shul on Shabbos is an entirely different experience than it is during the week. It is far more relaxed. No one is in a hurry to get somewhere else (work - or what have you). Shabbos afternoons are spent reading or with Seforim that I never seem to find the time for during the week. The meals are far more elaborate. No one is in a hurry to leave. The days restrictions severely limit where - and how far - you can go.

The restrictions that used to be so off-putting to me as a child are the very thing that make this experience possible. When in the past I have described Shabbos to some of my non Jewish friends they were envious of me. I told then they could in theory pick a day to do the same thing. But they quickly responded that much as they loved the idea of what Shabbos - they did not want to give up the freedom to do whatever they wanted – whenever they wanted. And even if they could, it would likely be impossible to get other family members to do it.

It is therefore forced nature of the day that makes it what it is. Without that - it is nearly impossible to duplicate.

I am not saying that all of this is the reason that Shabbos was mandated for us by God.  What I am however saying is that the benefits I described are what makes Shabbos inspirational for me. If that can somehow be transmitted to young children – it will go a long way to making Judaism itself more inspiring for them. 

Is it the schools that should be doing this? Not as a first resort. The place these feelings need to originate is in the home. It is the parents that must transmit those feelings by actually feeling it themselves. You can't fake inspiration. Children will always pick up on their parents true feelings. If a parent does not truly appreciate Shabbos, that is what will be transmitted to children.

Schools can at best be a reinforcement to the inspiration I believe Rabbi Landesman said was missing in too many of our young today.  But it best begins in the home by parents role-modeling it. But it has to be real.  

Monday, October 08, 2018

Flipping Out? Or Becoming More Religious?

There is a fascinating article in Hamodia about the ‘Flipping out’ phenomenon entitled ‘Moving Right’. Hamodia sees this phenomenon in a positive light. Hence the use of their title instead of what it is commonly called. Hamodia sees a young person becoming Charedi as becoming more religious. Although it can - and often does mean that – it is not the sum and substance of it. More about that later.

 For those unfamiliar with it, the term ‘Flipping Out’ is used mostly by Modern Orthodox parents whose children come back from their post high school  year in Israel with a Charedi Hashkafa. The aptly named ‘Gap Year’ is supposed to be followed by going to college - preferably at a prestigious university. Many young people come back rejecting that ideal and preferring instead to continue their intensive Torah study. They have adopted the Hashkafa and many of the trappings of the Charedi world (such as trading in their  Kipa Seruga for a black hat) and are seen as flipping out.

There has been a vigorous defense of young people that do that – seeing it the way Hamodia does, as simply strengthening their religious values and observance. There is of course nothing wrong and everything right with that. But that is only part of what happens. The fact is that one does not need to become Charedi to become more committed to observance. It is the change in Hashkafa that bothers many parents. For them it usually is not a problem that a child comes back more committed. It is the baggage that bothers them.

Why does this happen? Why do so many children come back from their gap year Charedi instead of simply just becoming more committed and retaining the Hashkafa in which they were raised?

The quick answer is that many of  the Rebbeim (Torah teachers) they encounter in Israeli Yeshivos that cater to Modern Orthodox youth are Charedi. They see their mission as a form of Kiruv into Charedi Orthodxy and out of Modern Orthodoxy. Which they at best see as a tepid form of Judaism. They have an entire year to convince their young charges of their values. And they often succeed, unbeknownst to the parents until it is too late.

Not every Yeshiva that caters to Modern Orthodox high school graduates is like that. But enough of them are to make this phenomenon fairly common.

How parents react to this depends in large part on what kind of Modern Orthodoxy they follow. For purposes of this post I am leaving out Left Wing Modern Orthodoxy which probably requires a post of its own. 

I am limiting the discussion to 2 categories: Centrist and MO-Lite. The difference between them is huge. I would even go so far as to say that Centrists have more in common with Charedim (of the moderate persuasion) than they do with MO-lite.  In outward appearance Centrists may seem more like MO-Lite. (At least for men. Centrist women might look more like Charedi women.) But with respect to Halacha and tradition, there is little difference between the two. The differences are only Hashkafic.

MO-Lites are those that I have in the past described as basically observant of Shabbos and Kashrus. Their religious education was at best limited. They are otherwise socially observant meaning they tend to  follow the religious trends of their own communities. MO-Lites are often not concerned with Halachic details or Halachos they consider insignificant. 

There is sometimes confusion about what is Halacha and what is Minhag. I have more than once heard an MO-Lite individual defending their lifestyle choices (some of which border on Halachic violations if not outright violations) as a matter of picking and choosing what to observe and not to observe. They add that everyone does this including Charedim. 

What they do not realize is that some of their choices might actually violate Halacha. An MO-Lite might care more about maintaining a certain lifestyle than he will about Halacha. Which is why for example many married MO-Lite women do not cover their hair and dress fashionably at the expense of observing modesty laws.  Centrists don’t do that. Married Centrist women do for example cover their hair.

These distinct 2 categories of Modern Orthodox Jews will react in distinctly different ways to flipping out.

An MO-Lite parent might feel offended that their child has become so ‘religious’ to the point of departing totally from the way they were raised. A Centrist parent might be more accepting of it.

The Hamodia article interviewed several people that have experienced this phenomenon  and despite it’s obvious pro Charedi perspective it sheds some light on this phenomenon. It is surely worth reading in its entirety.

My advice would be to assure that the Yeshiva in Israel that you send you high school graduate to teaches your Hashkafos. Admittedly it is going to be hard to find a yeshiva with your exact Hashkafos. But it is worth doing due diligence to get it as close as possible. 

In the event that it happens anyway my best advice would be to accept them as they have returned. Certainly with respect to the trappings of being Charedi. As far as the Hashkafic changes are concerned, hopefully there can be some compromises worked out that will retain the closeness between parent and child that has always existed and yet allow for the family Hashkfos to be for the most part respected.

For example if a child comes back from his year in Israel wanting to learn full time in a Yeshiva, he might be able to compromise and settle for a Yeshiva like HTC, Ner Israel, or YU’s RIETS, where both intensive Torah study and college are taken seriously.

What about the black hat a child may come back with instead of the Kipa Seruga? My advice is don’t sweat the small stuff.  This way everyone will come out happy.