Sunday, April 23, 2017

The ‘Gold’ Standard, Eytan Kobre, and Me

Eytan Kobre
No, I don’t have a split personality. Nonetheless one might be tempted to think that by reading this post after reading Rabbi Shalom Gold’s open letter last Thursday.

First let me say that I largely agree with Rabbi Gold’s critique of Eytan Kobre (and to a lesser extent Mishpacha Magazine). Rabbi Gold expressed unmitigated outrage at Eytan’s perspective on Israel. Quoting many passages from the Torah, Chazal, Rishonim and Achronim he set out to prove that Eytan’s dismissal of the importance of the land of Israel as defining of our national character (that only the Torah does) - was far from the truth. The fact is that the Torah is exactly that instrument that tells us of the importance of the land, thus making Eytan’s claim somewhat curious to say the least.

That said - I found Rabbi Gold’s attack to be quite the over-reaction - although I understand why. For example I do not think that Eytan’s words were a smorgasbord of nonsense, apostasy, or blasphemy. If you believe in the Torah, you believe that what it tells us is important. Eytan knows importance attached to Israel by the Torah. He was trying to express (rather badly in my view) the Charedi criticism of religious Zionism. Primarily its obsession with the land. That is not the sum and substance of the Torah. And yet if one pays any attention to the content of most religious Zionist rhetoric, it is about making Aliyah and little else.

The right sees that as only one of the 613 Mitzvos and not to be focused upon almost exclusively as do religious Zionists. More significantly the right also sees the State of Israel as the antithesis of the messianic redemption because of its secular founders who they view as anti religious.

Religious Zionists, on the other hand, see the creation of the State as the first flowering of the redemption.

Eytan’s anecdote about a Russian Jew’s desire to move to Israel and ultimately doing so - being the work of Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) was in extremely poor taste!

All of this explains why Rabbi Gold, a strong religious Zionist, was so upset. I don’t blame him at all.

I do not see the State of Israel the way either of them do. I do not believe it is the first flowering of our redemption, despite the occurrence of many miracles enabling the Jewish people to regain sovereignty over it for the first time in 2000 years. And even despite the return of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Temple mount! (Which also involved miracles.) There are just too many things countering that notion.

But I do value the creation of the state as one of the most important and positive developments of the 20th century. I look at all the achievements the state has accomplished with pride, whether it be in Torah study, agriculture, high tech, medicine, science, military prowess, and many other fields. I give credit to the Theodore Herzl and the secular Zionist founders for making it all happen. They were the instruments God chose to accomplish it.

Why He chose secular Jews over religious ones is a question only He can answer! But it is a fact that no one can deny. A fact that has benefited the Charedi world as much as anyone. The sheer numbers of people studying Torah L’shma (for its own sake) in the State of Israel is unprecedented! But as Rabbi Gold pointed out in very strong terms, Torah study is not what the land of Israel is about.

Yesterday I was told a story by someone that studied in Yeshivas Chaim Berlin. It demonstrates how Rav Yitzchok Hutner felt about it.

Right after Rav Aharon Lichtenstein made Aliyah (and before he became Rosh Yeshiva of Gush Etzion) he came back to the US and visited his Rebbe, Rav Hutner. Rav Hutner asked him how he liked Eretz Yisroel. Rav Lichtenstein proceeded to answer that it was wonderful… that there were so many Yeshivos and so many people learning Torah. 

Rav Hutner did not like that answer. He started rebuking at his prize student! He told him in so many words that Israel is not about Torah study. It’s about the land itself. To walk the streets of Israel and behold the land is a merit he now has that even Moshe Rabbenu didn’t - even though he yearned to do so. 

Sounds more like Rabbi Gold than Eytan.

And yet, I appreciate Eytan’s perspective as an Orthodox Jew living in America. Something we have in common. It was in response to an earlier column by Jonathan Rosenblum who noted that  America had changed since he lived here and had become far more polarized politically than Israel. 

I recall being amused by that comment considering that Israel is one of the most polarized places in the world. Is there any real doubt about extremes that exist in both the Charedi camp and religious Zionist camp in Israel? Their American counterparts are nowhere near as extreme. Here, most members of each are pretty moderate - despite having ideologies that are pretty divergent with respect to Israel (and other religious issues).

Eytan tells us that he doesn’t feel guilty about not making Aliyah – citing his Gedolim ‘who direct Jews to live wherever it’s best for them…’ As someone that lives in America, I can certainly appreciate that perspective. But at the same time I realize that as a Jew, living in Israel is an ideal I can’t fulfill. I have just grown too comfortable here. And would find making Aliyah a tremendous hardship for a variety of reasons that I will not get into here.

On a totally unrelated matter, I have to give credit to Eytan for his comments about the OU’s new President Rabbi Moshe Bane. Specifically the following: 
As a past national lay chairman of NCSY, he witnessed the “excitement, creativity and dynamic Torah-oriented programming” it invested in its outreach programs for Jewish teens, and expresses the belief that “if Judaism were as inspiring to us as it is to those NCSY students, we would find the time to focus on religious growth.”  
A few weeks ago, I noted Rabbi Henoch Plotnik’s column in Mishpacha where he made the following observation: 
Way too many of our young men and women have been forthcoming enough to admit that they are truly not “feeling it,” but simply “doing it.” 
Wouldn’t an NCSY type program for Charedi youth be a way to turn much of that apathy into ‘excitement and creativity’?  

Friday, April 21, 2017

When Violating Halacha is Required

The Kushners on Sukkos
First things first. Ivanka Trump is Jewish. There should be no question about her status as a Jew. She was converted by a rabbinic court which – if I understand correctly - had Rav Hershel Shachter’s imprimatur and has been officially accepted publicly by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. 

Some people have questioned whether her conversion was sincere since she has been seen and even photographed wearing clothing that would not be considered modest by any Orthodox Jewish standard. But even leaving aside issues of Halachic modesty and the various interpretations as to what is and isn’t considered modest clothing according to Halacha, there is the far more serious charge of violating Shabbos. Which she has been seen doing ever since her father, Donald Trump was elected President.

The Gemarah tells us that if someone goes through the procedure of conversion –  which at the moment of their conversion requires acceptance of all Mitzvos (even if they don't know what they all are),  immersion in a Kosher Mikva, and for a man a cricumcision - then even if  they immediately proceed to purposely violate Halacha, they are still considered to be a Jew albeit a ‘sinning Jew’. This is an undisputed Gemarah.

That said, 20th century Gadol (and to many the Posek Hador of his time), Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that in our (his) day when there are so many sham conversions with questionable religious courts and where sponsoring rabbis knew the convert would not be observant - converting only for purposes of marriage… then one can judge a person’s sincerity by how they behave Halachicly immediately after the conversion.

For example if a woman is converted before her marriage to a Jew and then she and he fiancé celebrate the conversion by going to McDonalds and eating cheeseburgers, there could be ‘no greater proof’ than that, says R’ Moshe, that the conversion was not sincere, a sham,  and therefore invalid. I never fully understood how R’ Moshe’s ruling squares with the above-mentioned Gemarah. But in Inavka’s case it doesn’t matter since the conversion was done by a trustworthy court; with a world class Posek in Rav Hershel Shachter participating.

So the question is not whether she is Jewish but whether she – or even her husband, Jared, is considered Orthodox. How can they be, one may ask? Now that they are so much in the public eye, they have both been observed and photographed violating Shabbos, the sine qua non of Orthodox Judaism.

Is it possible under any circumstance to consider them Orthodox? What about the Shabbos violations? Doesn’t that automatically disqualify them from being observant since in our day? 

The answer is not so simple. There are circumstances where violating Shabbos is not only permitted, but required. Famously one of those circumstances is Pikuach Nefesh – saving someone’s life. If Shabbos must be violated in order to do so, one MUST violate it. A less famous but equally legitimate form of dispensation for violating Shabbos is something called ‘Karuv L’Malchus’ – being ‘close to the king’. In such circumstance such closeness can strongly influence the kings decisions in matters that affect the Jewish people under his control. The Gemarah discusses such scenarios and history has had instances where this dispensation has been applied.

Ben Rothke has written a very thoughtful piece on this very subject on Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer’s blog YGB.  

I am certainly not an expert on the subject. In fact I know next to nothing about the parameters of such dispensations. The problem is that there are few if any people today that do, it seems. Nor has there been much (if any) responsa on the subject of who and what would qualify for it today.

It can certainly be argued that no one is closer to the American President (king) than Ivanka and Jared Kushner. If that law were applied to anyone - they would be the ones. They are not only ‘close’ to the ‘king’ - Ivanka is his daughter and Jared his son in law. According to many observers, they are the President’s closest advisers.

But is the President the same as a king? A king surely has more power than a President. How ‘close’ to power must one be? And how powerful must that ‘power’ be in order to get that dispensation? Halachic dispensation granted via being Karuv L’Malchus may not be applicable to a President since he cannot order executions of individuals the way a king can. 

On the other hand a President can surely affect the well being of the Jewish people to the point of Pikuach Nefesh. Does that fact meet the parameters required for the application of this dispensation? 

Those that defend the Kushners’ violation of Shabbos have claimed that they had rabbinic dispensation for it. To the best of my knowledge no Orthodox rabbi has come forward and acknowledged that it was he that gave them the dispensation. But if one rabbi did, how far did it go? And was it really in accordance with Halahca? 

For example the Kushners were seen riding in a car on Shabbos (Friday night) on the way to one of the inaugural balls.  Does that qualify for dispensation of Shabbos observance? It can  be argued that riding in  a car on Shabbos when a non Jew is driving is not technically a violation of Shabbos – if someone opens and closes the door for you. Which is almost certainly the case with Jared and Invanka.

But even if that were a technical violation in the circumstances of an inaugural ball, it could be argued that not attending would have adverse consequences on the influence they might have on the President which could affect his decisions on matters vital to the Jewish people.

As Ben points out, there is little or no precedent on how a Posek should rule in this instance.

I recommend reading Ben’s excellent review of those issues. I also recommend that Jared and Ivanka not be judged based on what many perceive are blatant violations of Halacha. Because they may actually not be in violation of it but rather in compliance of it based on their particular situation of being Karuv L’Malchus.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

An Open Letter to Eytan Kobre and Mishpacha Magazine

Guest Contribution by Rabbi Sholom Gold - Ish Yerushalayim

Tomatoes grown in Israel 
Rabbi Sholom Gold, a renowned Religious Zionist Rabbi who lives in Israel, has asked that I publish his rather strong response to Eytan Kobre. Eytan had written a column in Mispahcha Magazine (issue 653) about what he believed is the Torah Hashkafa about what is truly important about Israel – and what is not. Rabbi Gold's response is a bit longer than my usual posts but well worth reading. As always the views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my own. His words follow.

Re: Issue 653, 24 Adar 5777, pages 32-33 Kobre writes that: 
“Nothing other than our possession of the Torah plays any role in our national character, nothing whatsoever. Not a common land, language and culture.”
Eytan Kobre’s article is a smorgasbord of nonsense, apostasy, blasphemy and a rejection of the very essence of all of Torah. The tragedy is that he believes that he is expressing the true, authentic, genuine Torah hashkafa, certainly approved by “Gedolei Yisrael.” The greater catastrophe is that thousands of innocent Jews read it and blindly and naively accept it. The damage done to their souls and minds is enormous. 

Let’s take a closer look at what he writes and study four words: “not a common land.” A common land, he says, does not play a role in our national character. He must be talking about Eretz Yisrael. Does he mean that the only land in the world where all mitzvahs (613) apply; the only land in which it is a mitzvah to live (to the absolute exclusion of all others); the land about which Torah says “that the eyes of Hashem are on her from the beginning of the year to the end of the year? Does he mean the land to which Hashem commanded Avraham Avinu to journey and there make him blessed and a great nation, a source of blessing to all the nations of the world? 

Does Kobre mean the land that Moshe Rabbeinu prayed for permission to enter, the one that G-d swore to Avrohom, Yitzchak and Yaakov to give to their children, to which He promised to bring His people back at the end of their long exile? Is it not the land about which it says “there is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael”? Does Kobre really believe that “a common land” plays no role in our national character? 

When I was rabbi at the Young Israel of West Hempstead I had a neighbor on the block, a baal teshuva. We became good friends. A few years after moving to West Hempstead he told me that he was going on aliyah. He told me “Rabbi, I have been listening to the Torah reading every Shabbos for five years and the whole Torah is about Eretz Yisrael. I’m going.” 

The ability to read Torah and see the truth is something that Kobre has taught me cannot be taken for granted. My baal teshuva friend got it. Kobre just doesn’t get it. 

I find it very difficult to believe that Eytan has forgotten the hundreds of pesukim in Torah that are devoted to “the land.” Of the many I choose the pasuk that is often said in davening in Selichot and appears in the Parshat Hateshuva. 
Then Hashem, your G-d, will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you, and He will gather you in from all the peoples to which Hashem, your G-d has scattered you. 4If your dispersed will be at the end of heaven, from there Hashem, your G-d will gather you in and from there He will take you. 5Hashem your G-d will bring you to the Land that your forefathers possessed and you shall possess it; He will do good to you and make you more numerous than your forefathers. (Devarim 30:3–5 3)
I have asked many people to explain the three words “מאבתך והרבך והיטבך – He will do good to you and make you more numerous than your forefathers.” For some strange reason they couldn’t say anything that made sense. 

Historians estimate that the Jewish population of Eretz Yisrael during the Second Temple period peaked at 2,350,000. The rest of the Jewish people, numbering around 7,000,000 were in Bavel and Asia Minor. Modern Eretz Yisrael achieved that number 2,350,000 before the Six Day War and has been rising ever since. There are now 6,500,000 Jews here, kein yirbu. 

I am fond of quoting an article that appeared in the Jerusalem Post in 1990. The author predicted that by the end of the century a man, woman or child will step on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport and a dramatic milestone in Jewish history will have been reached. At that moment the Jewish community of Eretz Yisrael will become the largest Jewish community in the world. The last time Eretz Yisrael held that distinction was during the period of the First Beit Hamikdash!! I usually admit to my audience that I am not so brilliant that I remember an article from 1990 – it’s just that I wrote it. מאבתך והרבך והיטבך the three-word promise of Hashem has been fulfilled. 

How can Etyan say that the land does not impact on the character of the people when Rashi says on the pasuk in the second parshah of Shema “You should place these words of mine on your heart”? Even after you will go into exile be distinguished through the performance of commandments such as putting on tefillin, making mezuzot, so that they should not be new to you when you will return (Devarim 11:18). 

The Ramban (Vayikra 18:25) quotes the pasuk from Devarim and explains “that they should not be new to you when you return” and adds “because the essence of all mitzvot is for those who live in the land of Hashem, therefore the Sifrei says, “Yeshivas Eretz Yisrael shkula kchol hamitzvot – the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael is equal to all the mitzvot.” Study that Ramban well. 

I assume that by now it is unnecessary to quote all the pesukim in Tanach about kibbutz galiyot. 

Further Kobre writes “not ranking on some non-Jews’ list as the world’s eighth strongest power.” That too is as unimportant as “a common land” in Kobrespeak. 

Kobre doesn’t begin to understand the awesome religious meaning of that fact. That list of eight includes China, Japan and India. What Israel achieved in 69 years or less took them thousands of years. Germany and Russia needed about five hundred years, and America about a hundred and fifty. That’s not all. Israel is the smallest country of them all with the smallest population and has nowhere near the natural resources of the other seven. 

Furthermore Israel made it while being in a constant state of war, surrounded on all sides by sworn enemies. Jews had no military experience for 1900 years. According to Janes, Israel’s air force is the best in the world. I don’t have the words with which to describe the incredible nature of that accomplishment. 

A thinking Jew has to ask himself, “Well, how did it happen?” The answer is simple yet profound. For 69 years the Ribbono Shel Olom has been fulfilling his promise, a promise we say so many times. We sing it (I love Carlebach – I cry when I sing it) Hashem oz l’amo yitten. He is working 24/7 to make us a mighty nation. He has done it. He wants the world to see His people in His land as a strong, mighty and powerful nation. The past 69 years have been a constant, incessant, outpouring of Hashem’s strength to His people. The power of the Israeli army should be a religious inspiration to every Jew. A clear manifestation of His presence in our midst in Eretz Yisrael. 

Kobre doesn’t get it. I would have him write one thousand times, “Hashem oz l’amo yitten” until it begins to penetrate his neshama. 

I also object to his obvious snide remark about “a non-Jews’ list.” First, that’s Hashem’s whole purpose, that non-Jews should see us as strong people, which is a Torah value. (See the great Meshech Chochma in Parshat Chukas 21:2. It’s an eye opener.) 

Has Kobre forgotten the pesukim in Hallel: 
הללו את ה' כל גוים שבחוהו כל האמים כי גבר עלינו הסדו ואמת ה' לעולם הללו יה. 
Praise Hashem, all nations; praise Him, all the states. For His kindness has overwhelmed us, and the truth of Hashem is eternal. Halleluyah. 
Kobre becomes all good hearted when he writes, 
“Of course we should hope and pray that Israel’s economy thrives and feel great when it does – and then the Reason (get the capital “R”) for it, too.” 
Kobre reduces the thriving Eretz Yisrael to “parnassah for Jews.” He’s far off the mark. He has missed the magnificent and majestic prophetic process playing itself out in real life so carefully orchestrated by “the One who foretells the generations from the very beginning.” 

Two years ago I had written a response to an abusive letter to me by a recognized spokesman for the “religious” world. I had said in a shiur, “If you want to speak to the Ribbono Shel Olam go to the Kotel, but if you want to see Him, go to Shuk Machane Yehudah.” The following is from that letter which I had asked my son-in-law Yehuda Goldreich to put on the web. That day it was reported that three yeshiva students had been kidnapped. Immediately I contacted Yehudah and told him not to publish the letter because then was the time for unity and prayer not debate. Here it is now. 

* * * * * 
The Tomatoes 

Rabbi, you write: 
"It should likewise be pointed out Rabbi Gold's exaggerated words, upon being inspired by the abundance of produce found in the Machane Yehudah market: 'If this is golus then I can't begin to imagine what geulah is.' An abundance of fruits and vegetables is indeed a blessing; however, the final redemption will be exalted and spiritual, with material abundance being a mere by-product. Until then, it would be wise to seek and find Divinity in the world of Torah, whose growth and develop[ment] is infinitely more astounding than that of the tomatoes and cucumbers in the market." 
I must introduce my remarks with a thought, a story, and my deep feelings. 

The Thought – After the League of Nations in 1922 voted that Eretz Yisrael should be a homeland for the Jewish people, Reb Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk, The Ohr Sameach, wrote a letter encouraging Jews to participate in the building of Eretz Yisrael and that the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael is in full force. 

At the beginning of his letter he writes that in the desert Jews committed two sins, the sin of the egel (the golden calf) and the sin of the meraglim (the spies). The former was an assault on G-d Himself, the latter was a blow to Eretz Yisrael. On His own honor He was mochel but He was not forgiving for the disgracing of Eretz Yisrael, therefore He said that because of the sin of the meraglim the entire generation shall all die in the desert. 

Rabbi – you unjustly attacked me a number of times in your letter. I can handle that – but when you trivialized the tomatoes of Eretz Yisrael, you just went too far. For that sin I'm not mochel. 

I heard the following story in the 1950s. A chosid had come from Chutz L'Aretz to visit the Belzer Rebbeh and brought a tray of fruit. When he presented his gift to the Rebbeh he refused to touch them and said to the poor chosid – "Ask forgiveness from the fruit of Eretz Yisrael that you shamed." 

Rabbi – you have shamed me. I can be forgiving. You denigrated the tomatoes of Eretz Yisrael – for that I am not mochel. Since you refer to my agvaniyot as "material abundance" it is obvious that you don't have a clue to what the produce of Eretz Yisrael means. The Bach says that the Shechina, the Divine Presence, enters the Jew through the produce of Eretz Yisrael. They are the conduit to bring sanctity. That's "material"?? (See Tur, Orach Chaim, Siman 208). 

Rav Kook writes that "The produce of Eretz Yisrael brings 'internal sanctity.'" Be careful, he warns, of food from out of Eretz Yisrael. If one longs for Eretz Yisrael, then even his golus-produce gains in sanctity. "It is a mitzvah to taste with one's full mouth the delight and sweetness of the brilliant and fresh sanctity of (the fruit) of Eretz Yisrael. I could go on and on. The tomatoes are spirituality, ruchniyut, not gashmiyut. 

But there's much, much more. My tomato talks to me and tells me a tale of such drama and pathos. 

I'll tell you what my agvaniyah says to me. Rabbi Ploni, from here on I hand over the letter to my tomato. 

My tomato to Rabbi Ploni: 

"After the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdosh a message came from Heaven to all the flora and fauna of Eretz Yisrael to stop growing. The word went from cedar to hyssop, to vine, to olive, to flowers, to grain, to all plant life – The Ribbono Shel Olom has decreed that we stop growing until we receive new instructions. We were told that only when Klal Yisrael begins to return from golus will we come back to life. We were all very sad to see our people going off into exile – but we heeded the 'Dvar Hashem.' 

As He said in Bechukotai – 'And I will make the land desolate.' We were told not to respond to enemies of Israel who will enter the land, and we obeyed – Romans, Byzantines, Moslems, Crusaders, Tartars, Saracens, they all came and we did not respond to their attempts to bring us to life. We were told that we would be informed in good time before Klal Yisrael begins to return so that we could wake up from our long slumber. 

"Rabbi Ploni, don't you know the Gemorah in Sanhedrin 98?: 
ואמר רבי אבא - And R' Abba said אין לך קץ מגולה מזה -  There is no clearer indication of the "End" than this, שנאמר – as it is stated: ואתם הרי ישראל ענפכם תתנו ופריכם תשאו לעמי ישראל בי ...לבא קרבו – But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and bear your fruit for My people Israel, etc. [when they are about to come].
"Rashi comments that when Eretz Yisrael gives out its produce in abundance that is the greatest sign that 'the end – the keitz' is coming. "

Cecil Roth wrote that the years after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdosh there was severe drought in Eretz Yisrael – you know why? Because, in keeping with the Divine Order of the day we all began to go into hibernation. We didn't know that it would last for nineteen hundred years. We hoped that it would be for only a brief period of time. 

"During that long period there were moments at which we thought that the end of our sleep is coming. We thought that our children are coming home. In the twelfth century we heard reports that 'they are coming.' The rumor went underground from root to root, the cedar to the hyssop, the vine to the olive, the tomato to the cucumber – we heard that they are coming home. Then we learned to our utter dismay that 300 Baalei Tosafot from the Rhineland arrived but no more. 

"We had other false alarms. The Ramban in 1267, Rav Ovadiah miBartenura in 1492, Rabbi Yehuda Hachosid and his followers in 1700, the students of the Baal Shem Tov and the students of the Vilna Gaon, but we did not receive the message from Hashem. So we waited, we hoped, we prayed. Then, toward the end of the 19th century rumors began again beneath the surface of the earth. There was a report that after Mark Twain left Emek Yizrael that there were angels telling blades of grass: 'grow, grow.' We were skeptical at first. We didn't want to be disappointed. 

But the reports became increasingly urgent. Birds flying overhead, clouds cruising the skies said, 'They are coming.' You should have seen (but of course you couldn't) what was going on beneath the surface of Eretz Yisrael. We were all cautious but excited. More and more reports of sightings were coming in. 'They are coming – they are coming home' – and then the word came directly from Hashem:

                           אתם הרי ישראל ענפכם תתנוי ופריכם תשאו לעמי ישראל כי קרבו לבא 

'They are finally coming home! Grow! Respond to the work of their hands! Don't check their tzitzis, it makes no difference whether they are religious or not. Grow – they are My children and they are coming home. Grow even in Shemittah, if it's with the Heter Mechira. Grow, give out your fruits. Grow.' 

"You should have seen the joy and jubilation beneath the surface. You didn't know but we knew. You should have seen how they all started waking up from the 1,900-year slumber, stretching their roots, yawning, smiling. I had not seen such activity in millennia. We were told by the Ribbono Shel Olom that we are commanded to turn little, dry, arid, dusty, nearly dead Eretz Yisrael into a verdant, fruitful, agricultural world super power. And we did it with joy (Google: Israel Agriculture – Wikipedia – It will blow your mind away. Trust me, do it.) 

"I (remember, it's my tomato talking) don't understand how Jews don't realize that we are the bearers of a message that G-d wants all His children home (study that Gemorah in Sanhedrin again)." 

* * * * * 

Kobre has succeeded in trivializing all the manifestations of Hashem’s Presence in our midst. Strong healthy economy, abundance, military prowess – all mean nothing to him. And what is wrong about “hearts swelling with national pride, etc.”? There is a total absence of G-d from the modern miracle of Eretz Yisrael in Kobre’s thought. The awesome fulfillment of so many prophecies is lost to him. 

It has been my misfortune to have just read Kobre’s piece in issue 656, which reveals that he has no longing, yearning or desire to live in Eretz Yisrael. It all is the result of what he recently wrote, “then some people made a state.” Hashem’s greatest gift to a bleeding, battered, decimated people emerging from Auschwitz is reduced to “then some people made a state.” All the pieces of Kobre’s perverted hashkafa are falling into place. There is more. Many years ago I predicted that the incessant finding fault with “the medina” will eventually morph into a rejection of Eretz Yisrael itself. The sin of unbridled rejection of the state has its own built-in punishment. My prediction has proven to be prophetic. 

In issue 656 Kobre writes the worst piece I have ever read. I wonder whether I should rent my garments. 
There’s more than a kernel of truth in the story told of a Jew who, flush with spiritual inspiration, decided he’d had his fill of the tumas eretz ha’amim and would instead make the Holy Land his home. He quickly wound up his affairs, gathered his kin and set out on his journey, his Russian hometown now a mere memory. Entering Yerushalayim, his heart quickened as he made his way swiftly to the Kosel Hamaaravi, the focal point of every Jew’s prayers. 
But strangely, as he prayed passionately for the first time before the ancient stones, he sensed a presence beside him. He looked up and – lo and behold! – it was the yetzer hara, right next to him at this holiest of sites. Stunned, all he could mutter was, “B-b-but I thought I left you behind in Russia!” Came the swift reply, “Silly one – who do you think brought you here?” 
Kobre must ask his gedolim if there is a way to do teshuva for such absolutely despicable trash. 

I have a great deal more to write, about Kobre’s articles but this latest one has wiped me out. I am going to take a break and begin to cleanse and purify myself in preparation for Yom Haatzmaut and the 50th Yom Yerushalayim. 

G-d willing, bli neder, there will be a continuation. 

While reading and thinking about the Kobre papers I was haunted by a still small voice telling me that it rings familiar. Then one morning in the middle of davening it came to me like a flash – the meraglim. That’s exactly what they said, that if we have Torah who needs a land. 

In 1907 HaRav Avrohom Yitzchak HaCohen Kook wrote that what he called “meragliut” or in our idiom “meraglimhood” or “meraglimism” is alive and well. It sure is. Just read Mishpacha. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Why I Criticize

Illustration form Mishpacha Magazine
I sometimes wonder if my sense of right and wrong is guiding me properly. When I write a critical post about an Orthodox Jew that committed a crime, I often get challenged by some people that accuse me of violating the laws of Lashon Hara, gossiping about fellow Jews. Or worse spreading false rumors about them that have been unproven. And even if they are proven, the laws of Lashon Hara forbid me to spread that news to others.

The criticism I get varies from mild rebukes asking me if I have checked with Posksim - to calling me the vilest of names - condemning me to an eternity in Hell. Sometimes  get a private e-mail about it. And sometimes I will get a comment on my blog about it. The truly vile comments I tend to ignore. It is the thoughtful critics that I sometime wonder about. (I should add that the vast majority of feedback I get is very positive. But the few negative comments affect me more.)

The last edition of Mishpacha Magazine featured  an article by Eytan Kobre about a symposium the magazine held. Several Orthodox journalists and one Yeshiva leader expressed their views on how observant members of the media that care about these issues as a matter of Halacha - should properly deal with them. The responses assured me that I am on the right track.

The participants were Ner Israel President, Rabbi Sheftel Nueberger, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, Agudah spokesman and noted columnist Rabbi Avi Shafran, Mishpacha reporter Binyamin Rose, and community leader Marvin Schick.

Does an observant journalist have a different standard than a secular one?  Should they be holding Orthodox institutions accountable for their behavior? What news is fit to print – or not fit? How does such reporting impact observant Jewry?  Do general journalistic standards comport with Orthodox standards? These are the kind of questions asked of these 5 people.

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, Rabbi Neuberger’s approach was the most troubling for me. He said that an Orthodox journalist must be guided by the desire to always make Orthodoxy look good. And to try justify questionable behavior if there is a credible way to do so.

I will give Rabbi Neuberger the benefit of the doubt. I do not believe he meant that we must lie about an Orthodox Jew that was caught in criminal activity. By credible - he meant that if there is any way that can legitimately put a positive spin on it on a negative media report about an Orthodox Jew, we should do it. But only with the truth.  An example might be providing evidence that there was no crime at all – and the that media report was mistaken on the details, or incomplete. But even if that is what he meant, this approach comes dangerously close to whitewashing bad behavior. Especially if the media reports end up being the more credible version. The result of that kind of ‘positive spin’ just makes matters worse... making it seem like we are trying to excuse the behavior!

A far more reasonable approach was taken by Jeff Jacoby. He  made the point I often make here about accusations of Lashon Hara. That it is not only permitted but perhaps even required when an Orthodox Jew gets caught in a crime. This issue came up in a critical column he did about a convicted Orthodox Jewish lobbyist that was involved in a heavily covered scandal. He discussed the gravity of the Chulul Hashem that a Jew that was identified in the media as an Orthodox Jew. 

After that column was published, he caught flak in a letter from a fellow Orthodox Jew who was a friend of that lobbyist - berating him for speaking Lashon Hara about someone that had done many Mitzvos. His response was similar to my own when I am challenged that way. Publishing that criticism will help deter other Orthodox Jews from doing things like that. In other words, there is a Toeles – a legitimate purpose that overrides the Laws of Lashon Hara.

Rabbi Shafran made the point about staying above politics and trying to be objective about the political leaders in the country. Judaism is neither Democrat or Republican. One should therefore look at each individual act or policy by a politician and judge that, rather than who said it and which political party they are from. I fully agree with him there. That the Torah’s values should always be our guide in how we report things and that we should be honest about it - is something I agree with too. As he indicated every reporter is a human being and is informed by their own biases. It would be nice if they all admitted it instead of pretending to be objective.

Binyamin Rose basically just talked about how sources differ between the mainstream and the religious  media – making the claim that religious media sources tend to be more credible because the relationship that develops with an Orthodox source ends up being much closer than is the case with a mainstream media source. He also said that an Orthodox news publication does not practice ‘gotcha journalism the way the mainstream media does. Orthodox journalists are not motivated by catching someone in a lie, but rather in finding out the truth of a story.

It was Marvin Schick whose view most closely reflects mine. It was similar to Jeff Jacoby's view .There is no absolute Halachic or Hashkafic ban on publishing criticism of other Jews. Even Orthodox Jews. By name when appropriate. As long as it is done with a goal of prevention of future behavior of this kind. There is no hiding misdeeds anymore. Anyone can google a story and find out in an instant what an Orhtodox Jew is guilty of. Without offering pubic criticism it appears to green-light such behavior as long as it can be gotten away with.

What about Teshuva? If a miscreant truly regrets his behavior and turns his life around, that criticism will not be erased from the internet. It will remain there forever and hurt an individual whose Teshuva is sincere. But without criticism those that engage in criminal behavior will have think they have a green light to continue doing so. To put is the way Mr. Schick did: 
Scamsters and serial fraudsters depend on and are nurtured by an environment that mandates silence. 
I will add one more important reason for public criticism of Orthodox miscreants. By publicly condemning such behavior it counters the Chilul Hashem they make as an obviously Orthodox Jew. You are letting the public know (Jew and non Jew alike) - that kind of behavior is not OK. It is a violation of the Torah. These people may look religious. But they are criminals and do not represent the high ideals of the Torah.

This pretty much sums things up. I will admit that I sometimes err and when I do, I try to correct the error and apologize. But I hope that in the vast majority of critical posts, that they are justified.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Weaker Sex

Are women in the military a good idea?
I can already hear the loud sneers about the title of this post from the more militant feminists. But this fact should be obvious to any rational person. Men and women are different in not only biological ways but in psychological ways as well. Ways that should impact on egalitarian ideals. And yet those differences are treated as though they were nonexistent. I mention this in light of a recent Mishpacha oped by Jonathan Rosenblum (available at his website Jewish Media Resources) that makes eminent sense to me.

It is clearly politically incorrect to say that women are the weaker sex. But what about that? Is it so unreasonable to consider gender differences as a factor in certain jobs? This is not to say that there can’t be individual differences between women where in some cases they may be as good or even superior to men in tasks that are traditionally male. But is it wise to ignore gender altogether?

Let us take a look at Jonathan’s military example. In theory we might just set parameters of service and let both men and women apply.  It is almost certain that most women will not be able to complete those tasks that men – with their greater upper body strength – will be able to perform. Should we therefore open the gates to the few that can perform those tasks equally with men?

As mentioned - this sound good in theory. But experience has shown that this would not satisfy some feminists. That’s because it would still make the composition of the military lopsided in favor of men. Egalitarianism would demand that the tests be revised so that more women would pass. The claim being that the lower standards would not significantly reduce the effectiveness of the military.

The military will be forced to accede to that egalitarian political correctness. Referencing Stephanie Gutmann’s 2001 work on gender integration in the U.S. military, The Kinder, Gentler Military: Can America's Gender-Neutral Fighting Force Still Win Wars? – Jonathan makes the following observations: 
The average woman is five inches shorter, has half the upper body strength, and 37% less muscle mass than her male counterpart. The only way to integrate women into combat units is to dramatically lower standards and the intensity of training. Gutmann reports how "women were allowed to come into basic training at dramatically lower fitness levels and then to climb lower walls, throw [grenades] shorter distances, and carry lighter packs when they got there." "Teamwork" is stressed to cover for women who can't perform standard tasks; "ability groups" accommodate those who can't keep up the pace, and training "time-outs" provide for those who are overtired or overstressed. 
The differentials between men and women affect not only training standards, but have real world consequences on the battlefield. In the first Gulf War, men took over taking down tents and loading boxes because most women were incapable of the heavy-lifting required. Few women can carry a male colleague on their backs. Yet the ability to do so can be the difference between life and death for a wounded soldier. 
Is Egalitarianism worth the increased risk of harm under combat conditions that could very likely happen?

This doesn’t even take into consideration the religious and moral problem of young men and women working together in close proximity where the power of the sex drive will surely be a factor. Here are some sobering statistics to ponder - quoted in Wikipedia
A 2011 report found that women in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by fellow soldiers than they are to be killed in combat.[1] At least 25% of U.S. military women have been sexually assaulted, and up to 80% have been sexually harassed.[2] A 2012 Pentagon survey found that approximately 26,000 women and men were sexually assaulted. Of those, only 3,374 cases were reported.  
Feminists will cry that men will just have to learn to better control themselves. But that doesn’t always work as all too many women in the military have unfortunately found out. Sexual harassment is far more likely to happen in the military. With all the scandals (e.g. Tailhook, and more recently Marines United) coming out about this - that should not surprise anyone. Is it a mere coincidence that this is happening now that we have a more gender integrated military? How much intelligence does it take to realize that the command structure of the military leaves women vulnerable to the sexual advances of their superior officers?

Feminists will counter that women should not be denied opportunity because of this. And that with proper oversight and strong sanctions this problem will be eliminated. I have to question the wisdom of that claim.

There are other example of problems created by women serving equally with men in the military. Like this fact quoted by Jonathan: 
During the first Gulf War, for instance, 31% of the female sailors on two U.S. aircraft carriers had to be evacuated from ship because they were pregnant. 
Then there are the psychological differences between men and women. Gender based psychological differences clearly exist but it is politically incorrect to even mention them.  

As I’ve said many times. I consider myself a feminist in the original sense of the word. Equal pay for equal work. And equal respect between men and women. Men and women are both human beings and should treat each other with equal dignity. But modern day feminism has evolved into a complete negation of the any real differences between men and women. Biological differences are seen as irrelevant  and psychological differences as non existent. And that has a negative impact on us all.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Why Do They Keep Doing it?

Peleg's hated Charedi soldier
I don’t get it. I really don’t. The harassment of Charedi Jews continues. Harassment that is apparently sanctioned by Peleg, the Jerusalem faction of Charedi Jews led by Rav Shmuel Auerbach. Who is himself Charedi. It is Rav Auerbach’s ‘Jews’ that are doing the harassing. 

Peleg which essentially means divide or division (an apt name for a group if there ever was one) is the movement that has set itself up as the most zealous ‘keepers of the faith’. They are the guardians of the pure. Those that will not sit idly by when they see another Charedi Jew has ‘joined the enemy’. Which in this case is the Israeli army.

Their ire is not being raised by National Religious or even just plain religious Jews. It is being raised by people that are  Charedim that have crossed the line into the hated IDF. Which they see not as a defense force without which they would all be living in Palestine under Sharia law controlled by Hamas – but instead as a house of Shmad and a national brothel. 

So when one of their ‘own’ joins the enemy, they are treated worse than secular soldiers. Worse than national religious soldiers.  And even worse than Islamist terrorists! How dare they put on that uniform?! It doesn’t matter that they have joined new units specifically geared to Charedi needs. No… that’s just a ploy by the IDF to eventually assimilate them! And it must be fought tooth and nail.

That is at least what it seems like from the increasing numbers of attacks against Charedi soldiers that cross a Peleg’s path.

It happened again just a few days ago – on Chol HaMoed Pesach - in a public and well traveled area of Jerusalem.

Fortunately no one was hurt this time. But that does not excuse the harassment of this poor fellow who did nothing wrong at all other than looking like a Charedi while wearing an IDF uniform.

Unfortunately this is happening so frequently now that it is no longer news.  So why do I bring it up? Because it sticks in my craw that seemingly normal young Charedim that do not look extreme are acting like extremists. These young people are not the Charedim of Meah Shearim. They do not look to the Eida HaCharedis for hashkafic guidance. They look like they could be students of any mainstream Charedi Yeshiva. Like Mir or Chevron. 

How mainstream? If you look closely at the mob chasing down that Charedi soldier, (video below - more at YWN) you’ll notice many of them have smartphones and are trying to take videos while they chase down that poor soldier.

Their behavior is not all that different from the Meah Shearim extremist types that spit on reporters; throw rocks at passing cars screaming ‘Shabbos’; or yell ‘whore’ at little girls not dressed in accordance with their modesty standards. In other words they look mainstream but behave like extremists.

The fact is that most Charedi youth are not like this. Most of them actually register for the draft. And certainly do not harass a Charedi soldier. Most Roshei Yeshiva forbid their students from participating in these kinds of activities. Even the Satmar Rebbe of Kiryas Joel has in so many words condemned it. And if anyone is extreme, it is Satmar. They are as opposed to the army as Rav Auerbach is. More… even! But even so, Satmar’s leader still condemns this behavior.

Why do the Peleg youth continue do this, oblivious to any criticism? There is only one answer. Their leader encourages it. He must be swelling with pride every time he hears that his young people have harassed a Charedi soldier.

While I can’t say this for an absolute fact, there is no other explanation for the increased behavior by seemingly mainstream young Charedim. If Rav Auerbach hasn’t told them directly to attack Charedi soldiers, he has certainly inspired them to do it by his rhetoric. And done nothing to discourage further attacks like this.

What I don’t fully understand is how mainstream yeshiva students from normal Charedi backgrounds – some of whom carry smartphones - can end up like this. How can they fall so far from the mainstream values of the rest of the Yeshiva world? How can they diverge from the teachings of most mainstream Roshei Yeshiva? Why do they ignore the Chilul HaShem this makes? Why do they choose to listen to a radical like Rav Shmuel? Is it his last name? Well it shouldn’t be. Because no apple has fallen so far away from the tree as Rav Shmuel has from his father.

What is the draw of this man on so many young minds? Is there anyone that can explain it? Until we can answer that question the rational behavior by so large a swath of young Yeshiva students that used to be the norm - seems like a dream about a past that will never return. And I have no idea how to begin to understand it, let alone prevent it from ever happening again. 



Thursday, April 13, 2017

Another Odious Comparison

Religious Zionists worse than Hezbollah? (Jerusalem Post
Columnist Yossi Klein in his latest oped in Ha’aretz has called religious Zionists "more dangerous than Hezbollah, hit-and-run drivers or girls with scissors." 

I searched Ha’aretz’s website and could not find the article. Perhaps they pulled it, I don’t know. Maybe the near universal condemnation of that comparison caused them to re-think the wisdom of retaining it in their archives. 

It is not surprising that Ha’aretz, the 6th largest newspaper in Israel  hosted such an article. They are probably the most left wing publication in the state. That oped fit in well with their worldview. Which is basically the worldview of J-street. Which favors the Palestinian narrative that  blames Israel for the continued conflict between them and Palestinians.  Blaming religious Zionists for all the troubles in the world is a logical extension of that worldview.

So when Klein submitted that repugnant oped, they probably salivated at the prospect of publishing it.

Based on all of the reaction I’ve seen published in many of the other media outlets in Israel, I surmise that Klein must have based his contention on acts of violence perpetrated against Palestinians by the radical elements among them. Or the oft heard cry about ethnically cleansing Israel of its Palestinian residents. 

I have been one of the most vocal critics of that segment of religious Zionism. It is from religious Zionist ranks that murderers like Dr. Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir have arisen. It is also from their ranks that the so-called price taggers stem. These are the ones who worship Goldstein and Amir and advocate ethnic cleansing . 

But that is not the sum and substance of Mizrachi (…the more commonly used term for religious Zionists in America). The idea that all  religious Zionists are radical extremists that will stop at nothing to get their way is the same thing as saying all Jews are white collar criminals that will stop at nothing to enrich themselves.

Although I am not a religious Zionist, they are some of the most admirable people I know.  Especially those that grew up in the comforts of an American home in an American culture that offers them everything! 

Even though one can live very well in the modern state of Israel, it is undeniable that the affluence of America is there for everyone to achieve in far greater measure than it is in Israel.  Furthermore the cultures of the 2 countries are different. If one is raised in an American culture, it is a huge adjustment to move to a country whose culture is a mix of Middle Eastern and European culture. There is also the language barrier, dealing with additional Halachos that only apply in Israel, dealing with mandatory conscription into the army,  and getting used to a different kind of bureaucracy.  Not to mention leaving your family (parents, siblings) and friends behind and moving into a country where you may not know anyone. These are only a few of the differences.

I therefore have nothing but pure admiration for the religious Zionists that make Aliyah.  They are the kind if idealists the rest of us can only hope to be. I could not do what they do. I admit that I am too comfortable here. They have given up that comfort to live their ideals. In this case the ideal is the Mitzvah of living in the land of Israel.

It is from their ranks that the cream of the Israeli military is drawn. The Hesder program that combines military service with Torah study (a 6 year commitment if I understand correctly) is designed specifically for religious Zionists. These committed soldiers are among the most elite and dedicated soldiers in Israel – often volunteering for the most dangerous assignments in groups! That is perhaps one reason that religious Zionists are moving up the ranks of the officer corps to the point that some of the top military leaders are religious Zionists.

For Yossi Kein to label this particular group worse than Hezbollah is an insult in the extreme! Of course the extremists among them are dangerous. But let us be clear. They are extremists. Not core religious Zionists. Although there is a fairly large number that worships murderers like Baruch Goldstein, they are not the mainstream of religious Zionists.

They are of the Meir Kahane faction. He too was a religious Zionist but he eventually went off the rails and in my view is the source of most if not all the radicals among them. Most of the religious Zionists I know are all about living in Israel.

True, most of them believe in of settling all of the land. But not with violence nor even with breaking the law in most cases. They want to do it politically by voting for parties that sympathize with that ideal.

How blinded by bias must Klein be for taking this view. And how blinded by that same bias must Ha'aretz be for them to have published it. And sticking by it after near universal criticism even from the politcal left! If this doesn't tell you what Ha'aretz is all about, nothing does.

Update
In the original post, I made the error of mistaking Yossi Klein for Yossi Klein Halevi. They are not the same person. It was an honest mistake for which I offer Mr. Klein Halevi a sincere apology. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Chag Sameach

It’s Erev Pesach in Chicago. Needless to say It's been a busy week preparing for Yom Tov. I'm sure the same is true for most of us this time of year.

This evening I am hosting two of my daughters and their families for the first Seder. I'm looking forward to that.

I want to once again take this opportunity to wish all of my readers... and all of Klal Yisroel a joyous Pesach.

As in the past I am linking to a number of past Divrei Torah I’ve written. Enjoy.


Sunday, April 09, 2017

An Odious Comparison

Ayatollah Rouhollah  Khomeini - Israel's future does not look like this man
I literally do not know where to begin. But I do know how wrong Reza Aslan is. How misguided his fear is. And how misleading his article is.

Aslan hosts a series on CNN called ‘Believer with Reza Aslan’. Born in Iran before it became radicalized by religious fundamentalism  - he says he’s worried about the same thing happening in Israel.

Prior to 1979, Iran under the Shah was seen by then President Jimmy Carter as an "island of stability in one of the most troubled areas of the world." Much the same way Israel is seen today. Indeed Iran had all the fundamental trappings of a free and democratic society. And a majority population that liked it that way. 

But when the Shah’s iron-fisted control that treated dissidents harshly was challenged on humanitarian grounds by that same President, his grip on the country weakened and religious extremists overthrew that government in a coup that shook the world with reverberations are still being felt in major ways today.

They established a new regime that was led by an Ayatollah – who is radical Islamist  Supreme Leader. He restructured Iran into an Islamist theocracy. One that envisions an entire world eventually dominated by their religious legal system called Sharia law. Starting with the annihilation of Israel to be replaced by an Islamic regime! In furtherance of that goal Iran is now the biggest exporter of terrorism in the world. The citizens of Iran are now governed by strict Sharia law whether they like it or not. What was once a secular dictatorship under the Shah is now a dictatorship under an Ayatollah.

In my view, just about all the terrorism in the world perpetrated by Radical Islam starts with that coup in Iran back in the late 70s.

I don’t think anyone would dispute these basic facts of history. But the comparison to Charedim in Israel to the fundamentalists that took over Iran is an exaggeration in the extreme that has absolutely no merit.

I do understand his comparison. Some of the points made by Aslan I have made myself. For example the obsession with modesty extremist factions in the Charedi world that has caused so many of them to be violent towards people that violate their standards. Or the way they treat government authority figures or members of the military, especially if they are from their own ranks. There are far too many examples of that for me to mention.

The point is that I agree that these problems exist. At the same time some of the things he mentions as an example of fundamentalist takeover is better described as democracy at work. Like the right of religious Jews to protest the Women of the Wall… or to present legislation in the Knesset that will outlaw that type of behavior at the Kotel. Whether one is in favor of that or opposed to it, this cannot be seen as an instance of fundamentalist takeover of the government.

What happened in Iran in 1979 will in no way happen in Israel. There is no elderly ‘Supreme Leader’ inspiring a violent overthrow. There will be no violent coup led by Rav Steinman. Or the Belzer Rebbe. Or Rav Kanievsky. Or even Rav Shmuel Auerbach.

Now it’s true that most Orthodox Jews (who are a minority comprising about 13% of the country) would be happy to live in a country that abides by Jewish law. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. In a vacuum - Jews who live in accordance with Halacha would make that task much easier in a government that is run that way .

But Orthodox Jews do not live in a vacuum. The fact is that 87% of the country is not Orthodox. And no Orthodox Jew - not even Charedi ones- have ever promoted a coup to remove a sitting prime minister, abolish the democratic infrastructure and replace it with a Halachic form of government. 

What the Charedi parties do in that vein is to use the legal infrastructure available to them in Israel’s democracy to protect Halacha that was agreed upon between secular and religious leaders upon at the founding of the state – in what is commonly referred to as the status qou agreement.  And protect the Halachic identity of who is an isn’t a Jew as an existential matter.

Otherwise most Charedim just want to be left alone to do their thing. One can quibble about how much support that should be given. But in no way do their goals in this regard amount to anywhere near resembling a coup, violent or otherwise.  

Violence that has occurred to that end is the result of extremists that the mainstream does not support. It therefore does not foreshadow anything like what happened in Iran. Even though there are some similarities between extremists in Israel and the extremists that overthrew Iran in the70s, there is no comparison in the goals nor the lengths that will be used to achieve them even if those goals were the same.

Aslan ends with the following statement: 
And as someone who lost his own country to a small but powerful group of religious zealots, I genuinely worry about the future of Israel. 
I don’t see any danger of that. Not even remotely. What I do see is a not so well camouflaged attack against all the religious Jews of Israel – smearing them all as radical religious fundamentalists. Same as Iran.  That is a patently false scare tactic that - to me - is odious in the extreme. Nothing more and nothing less.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Mike Pence and Yichud

Vice President  Mike Pence and his wife  Karen
This may surprise many people that do not know me well but I am a big fan of the Hilchos Yichud. (Not that any Halacha needs me to be a fan.) Yichud is the prohibition against a man and a married women (or even 2 women) being secluded in the same room (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 22:5). While there are some exceptions to this Halacha (e.g. if the room is not locked and anyone can walk in at any time… or if it takes place in her home and her husband is in town and can walk in unannounced at any moment - then this there is no violation of this Halacha.)

I would extend this to any man and woman – married or not. Which is quite a reversal of the way I used to feel. I used to wonder what the big deal was. Why the need to be so strict? Meetings between 2 people happen all the time in the business world. Sometimes it is between a man and a married woman in the privacy of an office that is off limits to anyone but the 2 people meeting there. Are we to be suspicious of every such encounter?

The answer of course is no. Most of the time such meetings are exclusively about the business at hand. But ‘most of the time’ isn’t good enough. And business is not the only place where Yichud might take place. Unfortunetaly we now know of far too many instances where it was violated by supposedly religious people with devastating results.

There have been rabbis who counseled married women about personal issues with doors closed - that have ended up with those women accusing their rabbi them of hitting on them. Or worse.

Seminary heads that have taken sexual advantage of their female students; doctors that have taken advantage of female patients they were examining; dentists that have taken sexual advantage of female patients that were anesthetized.

And in one of more notorious cases of our time, a Chasidic ‘counselor’ had sexually abused a troubled young female client  for many years in the privacy of his office before getting caught. (He is now sitting in prison.)

There have been many other stories like that. Doctors, rabbis, seminary heads, spiritual gurus… if Hilchos Yichud would have been followed, none of this would have happened.  But Yichud was the furthest thing from their minds. By insisting that ‘privacy’ was supposedly for  the client’s benefit, the locked ‘door’ was instead ‘open’ for sex abuse. Their colleagues just looked the other way because - based on their reputations they believed them. Never suspecting abuse.

Not that I am accusing everyone that violates Hilchos Yichud to be doing it for nefarious purposes. Most times it doesn’t happen. But sometimes it does. Either in the form of abuse or with consent between the 2. Most of us have seen this movie. 2 attractive married  people (not to each other) are alone together discussing business suddenly there is an innocent touch. That leads to an embrace and then a kiss and… Art does imitate life! (…and vice versa).

What about self control? Shouldn’t that play a part? Of course it should. But why not do something that will help avoid the situation altogether? If you are in a position to be alone with a member of the opposite sex – as a student, a client, or a patient – make sure that someone else is in the room or in the room next to you and leave the door open a bit. And certainly NEVER lock the door. 

Why do I bring all this up now? Because of a wonderful story about our Vice President, Mike Pence. Now there is a man whose behavior in this regard we would do well to emulate. A few days ago, the Los Angeles Times quoted Washington Post reporter, Ashley Parker’s comments about him after her story about Mike Pence’s wife, Karen, was published: 
Ashley Parker, the reporter, noted that Vice President Mike Pence once had told The Hill, a political newspaper and website, that he never dines with women alone, nor does he attend functions without his wife if alcohol is being served. 
That comment generated a flood of responses. Many of them negative. Just to cite a couple of examples: 
Was this a sign of marital devotion and respect? Or a signal that the Pences don’t trust Mike Pence to be alone with a woman? Or perhaps don’t trust a woman to be alone with Mike Pence?
 “I believe this is gender discrimination,” said Kim Elsesser, 52, a UCLA lecturer on gender and psychology who founded a proprietary quantitative hedge fund at Morgan Stanley after graduating from Vassar and MIT. “If you don’t go out to dinner with a woman, it’s hard to have a woman be your campaign manager or your chief of staff or whoever you need to regularly meet with.” 
I hear the argument. But is there no other way for a member of one sex to serve a client of the opposite sex? Must there always be circumstances of seclusion?

True, dining with a married woman that is not your wife in a public place - is not seclusion. Yichud does not go that far. It is certainly permitted. I have personally been in that situation. But why must there be criticism of a man who is surely just trying to observe a higher standard of behavior in public? Does anyone really believe that Mike Pence is a misogynist? Or that he considers women to be second class citizens? He obviously loves his wife very much and wants to honor that relationship as much as he can. This is one way of doing that. And his wife surely respects him for that.

Is a pledge never to dine alone with another woman such a terrible sin? Has the egalitarian ideal gone so far off the rails that feminists are willing to tolerate opportunities to take sexual advantage of women as a legitimate price to pay in pursuit of that goal?

Of course they would respond by saying, ‘It’s the man’s responsibility to control himself’. I agree. But tell that to the victim who was taken advantage of in that situation. She might also say that the man that attacked her should have had self control. But how does that help her now? I have to wonder if any woman that was ever attacked by a man in the privacy of an office would not support a version of Hilchos Yichud. My guess is that all of them would, because they know that had the practice of Yichud been observed, they would never have been attacked.