Friday, June 29, 2007

Skokie - Parts Three and Four

The Attempt to Restore Rav Aharon as Rosh HaYeshiva

After the failure to retain the services of Rav Hershel Shachter, Rabbi Well formed a committee of which I was asked to be a member. Its purpose was to study and evaluate the needs of the Yeshiva and to recommend where improvements might be made. Rabbi Moshe Possick, Director of School Supervision at Torah U’Mesorah was also invited by Rabbi Well to come to the Yeshiva and do his own evaluation. We came up with a number of what we believed were vital recommendations for Skokie to succeed as a Yeshiva. One of the things we all felt was imperative was to hire a Rosh HaYeshiva who had full autonomy with no veto power from the board of directors or any school official, including the president.

This was a radical departure from the past. The constitution of the Yeshiva gives the president, an employee of the board, full power. The last time this was tried was when Rav Aharon was hired. And that resulted in one of the most painful periods in the Yeshiva’s history. Some of the board members on the board at that time were also on the board then. Their memories were still very fresh and very painful. But the newly constructed board of now mostly Orthodox members voted in favor of it. So a search committee was formed and the search began. A short time after this decision was made, I met with Rabbi Don Well in his office and asked him if I could approach Rav Aharon to become the Rosh HaYeshiva again. Surprisingly, he agreed.

One of the saddest days in my life was when Rav Aharon left the Yeshiva. I have never really quite gotten over it to this day. It had always been my wish… my hope… my dream... that somehow the Yeshiva and Rav Aharon would reconcile. I had duel loyalties during those years. The Frum community in Chicago was divided. Most people who were even remotely aware of what was going on took sides, strongly supporting one and blaming the other. The opposition was often vehement. And amongst partisans, strong language was used by one side against the other. This added to my sense of loss.

But I never saw either side as evil. Passions spilled over. Careers were at stake. To Rav Aharon’s antagonists, Mizrachi’s name had been tarnished in a town where it was the dominant movement. And the Yeshiva was split in two. To Rav Aharon’s supporters, the Yeshiva , Mizrachi and their supporters had besmirched a righteous Gadol. People were upset and angry!

Nowhere was this better illustrated than the last day Rav Ahron spent in the Yeshiva. He was already terminated. The official last day of the school year had passed. But Rav Aharon still had one more shiur to give and came the next day to give it. He found the doors to the Beis Hamedrash shackled. He gave shiur on the front lawn. Someone had called the press. They sent a potographer. And the next day on the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times, a photo of Rav Aharon giving Shiur on the Yeshiva Beis HaMedrash front lawn appeared with a very unflttering caption about the Yeshiva locking the rabbi out.

Most people were angry about this turn of events. But I was just plain sad. I had always sided with Rav Aharon, but I understood the opposition. Many of them were good people, that I admire and respect to this day. I believed them to be wrong, but I could not attribute nefarious motives to them.

With all this in my mind I nevertheless finally saw an opportunity to fulfill my dream of getting Rav Aharon back.

I called and made an appointment to meet with Rav Aharon. We met for a period of over three hours one evening to discuss ways, in which this could be achieved, to the satisfaction of all sides.

This had been tried before by others, including HTC president emeritus Rabbi Oscar Fasman, all to no avail. But there was a new climate in the Yeshiva then with a new mandate by a new board. I thought the timing was right. What an impact that would have made in the Torah world!

I was able to get Rav Aharon to agree to come back but with conditions that seemed insurmountable. I nevertheless reported back to Rabbi Well. He was pleased with the results and asked that I discuss this initiative privately with key members of the board and explore the possibilities of making it happen.

It ended as it began. As expected, the obstacles were too great to overcome. My dream would never happen.


The New Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Shlomo Morgenstern

The board desperately sought a Rosh HaYeshiva. It was imperative that nothing go wrong this time. The new Rosh HaYeshiva would be permanent. He could not be fired as that would mean the end of the Yeshiva. The Yeshiva could ill afford to do anything like that again.

Rabbi Well’s efforts to rebuild the Yeshiva had included plans to infuse a Kol Torah into the Beis Hamedrash. Hiring full time Avreichim seemed the quickest way to do that. One of the first things he did was to convince the board to underwrite the expenses of a full time Kollel.

As a Mizrachi oriented Yeshiva he felt it important there be an Israeli presence in the school. He thus killed two birds with one stone: He would have a serious Kol Torah emanate from the Bies HaMedrash and it would be with a decidedly Israeli overtone. So, an entire Kollel was imported from Israel to Skokie, including its Rosh Kollel, Rav Shlomo Morgenstern. Few of the Kollel members understood English including the Rosh Kollel. But at least there was a Torah presence and serious learning now emanating from the Skokie Beis Hamedrash. The original plan was that it be here for a few years until the Beis HaMedrash became established

At about the time I had attempted to get Rav Aharon back as the Rosh HaYeshiva, the end of the Kollel’s tenure had arrived. The time had come for the Kollel and Rav Morgenstern to return to Israel. But as successful as the Kollel was at instilling its own voice in the Beis HaMedrash, there was no real additional growth.

The immediate prospects staring the by now mostly Frum board members in the face was that there would be no Rosh HaYeshiva, no Kollel, and no learning beyond high school. That would have been a major blow to the Yeshiva. The board then decided to offer the Rosh Kollel, Rav Shlomo Morgenstern the position of Rosh HaYeshiva.

He consulted with his Posek, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and then accepted. He negotiated a no cut contract that gave him full power. In return he understood that HTC was basically a religious Zionist type school that supported college and he promised not change its character, though he was not a religious Zionist himself.

Rav Morgenstern’s new powers directly contradicted the constitutional powers given to the president. Friction developed. Rav Morgnestern and the board were on one side and Rabbi Well on the other. After many years of loyal and successful service to the Yeshiva, Rabbi Don Well was let go.

It is ironic that Rabbi Well’s own successes ended up being the cause of his own demise. It was Rabbi Well who guided and implemented all the policies and changes that caused him to be terminated from his position as president.

In an effort to circumvent the constitutional powers given to the president of the school, the board of directors decided to leave that position vacant. A new position was created called chancellor. The chancellor would be the chief executive officer under the direct authority of the Rosh HaYeshiva. Then acting president, Rabbi Dr. Jerold Isenberg was offered this position, one he has retained and executed magnificently ever since.

Rav Morgenstern took the Yeshiva to new heights. During his tenure, and through the untiring efforts of Rabbi Isenberg, the Yeshiva’s liberal arts college became fully accredited. Rav Morgenstern was also successful in giving the Yeshiva a respectable reputation even in the right wing Yeshiva world. Considering its history that was no easy feat.

The stigma of it being a Yeshiva that produces Traditional rabbis was now gone . The Yeshiva was now sitting pretty. Its high school was filled to capacity for many years. They had even developed an excellent screening process to avoid enrolling problem students. It was called Yeshivat HaKayitz.

Yeshivat HaKayitz is a very successful summer camp program which consists of a half day learning program and half day activity. It was geared for seventh and eighth graders. Parents from all the day schools, right to left wanted to send their sons to this camp. The school thereby had an opportunity to observe many of the potential applicants first hand. And since they always had many more applications for admission to the school than they had room for, they had the luxury of being very selective.

And through heavy recruitment drives, the Yeshiva was now begining to attract some students to its Beis Hamedrash program. And its Kollel was home grown with the best and brightest of its Beis Hamedrash students staying on after marriage. The Yeshiva was now riding high as one of the most successful Yeshiva high schools in the country.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Skokie - Part Two

The Yeshiva’s Decline and Recovery

Dr. Simon G. Kramer, presidient of HTC, was a very dear and long time friend of the Soloveichik family. He was beloved by both Rav Aharon and the board. As such he became a buffer between them. Life at the Yeshiva went on. Despite the differences the Yeshiva grew tremendously in those days.

But Dr. Kramer died suddenly. The board wanted a new president as soon as possible to replace their beloved president. The search began.

Rav Aharon’s contract stipulated that he would have complete authority over any matter having to do with the Yeshiva, from hiring a president to firing a janitor. Every candidate put forward by the board was a rabbi at a Traditional Shul. Rav Aharon vetoed all of them. No president could be found and there was now no buffer between the board and Rav Aharon. The enmity grew, with the Traditional rabbis on the board in the forefront of the opposition to him.

Eventually even some of Rav Aharon’s own faculty turned against him for reasons other than those of the board. Among them were some who were hand chosen by him for their positions.

Dr. Eliezer Berkovits was a faculty member and chairman of the philosophy department. He was there during, before, after Rav Aharon’s tenure. He had initially supported Rav Aharon, but had quickly become very opposed to him because of his opposition to the Traditional Movement. Dr. Berkovits agreed with Rav Regensburg and saw the opposition as an example of the rigidity of modern day Gedolim of his time for whom he had little respect. The Shul requirement of a Mechitza is a Halacha which is not addressed in the Shulchan Aruch.

In an interesting side note Dr. Berkovits never attended a non Mechitza Shul. He was one of the pioneering members of Skokie’s Orthodox Jewish community which is located many miles from the Yeshiva. When he moved to Skokie, there was no Mechitza Minyan. He founded the first Mechitza Minyan in the basement of Skokie Valley Traditional Synagogue, a Traditional Shul. That Minyan eventually became Or Torah, the largest Orthodox Shul in Skokie.

The final blow to Rav Aharon’s tenure occurred when the Mizrachi building located in a dying Jewish neighborhood was sold to a fringe group of Buddhist missionaries. Some of the Mizrachi leaders involved in that sale were also on the HTC board. Rav Aharon vehemently fought that sale. He lost. About a year later his contract expired and it was not renewed. Rabbi Joseph B Soloveichik, and Rav Moshe Feinstein became involved and both Paskin’d that the board could not Halachicly do this. Rav Aharon had a Chazaka, which is in effect a kind of Halachic tenure. The board didn’t see it that way.

Rav Aharon then opened his own Yeshiva. Half the student body and part of the faculty of HTC went with him to the newly established Yeshivas Brisk. They were immediately successful. Many of the more moderate Orthodox elements in Chicago who were opposed to the Traditional Movement and its influence in HTC and upset at what happened to Rav Aharon sent their sons to Brisk. Brisk was quite successful from the very start and continued that way for a period of time.

HTC on the other hand, was now able to hire the Traditional rabbi who Rav Aharon had rejected and who had always been their first choice: Loop Synagogue Rabbi Irving Rosenbaum. He was a very knowledgeable and popular Rabbi who had long before taken a non Mechitza Shul on the advice of his Rebbe, Rav Regensburg.

HTC was not successful. They floundered. Over the years they hired a series of very prominent Roshei Yeshiva, including Rav Moshe Herschler of Yerushalyim and Rav Yechezkel Lichtman, a huge Talmid Chacham and an early Talmid of Rav Aharon Kotler. But by the early eighties the Yeshiva had by and large been unable to get students to attend. It had become an almost exclusive school for the children of refugees from Ayatollah Khomeini’s new Islamic Republic of Iran. They were all Sephardim.

The Yeshiva was at a point where they were seriously looking for a Chacham instead of a Rosh HaYeshiva. This was further compounded by the opening of a new Chafetz Chaim Yeshiva in nearby Milwaukee, The Wisconsin Institute of Torah Study, W.I.T.S. They had almost instant success. They are currently one of the most successful of Chafetz Chaim Branch Yeshivos.

Members of the HTC board were troubled by this turn of events. HTC was not a Sephardi Yeshiva. It was an Ashkenazi one. These board members were Ashkenazim, their children were Ashkenazim. The Chicago Jewish community was almost exclusively Ashkenazim. They had every right to expect that most parents would send their children to their school. But no one did. Parents were sending their children anywhere but Skokie.

The Orthodox members of the board were given the go-ahead to try and resurrect the Yeshiva to its former glory. Rabbi Rosenbaum was let go after his contract expired. He went on to found Davka Corportion, the Jewish software company.

Rabbi Don Well was hired as the new president with a mandate to fix the school. And this he did magnificently. He hired excellent faculty members. Many of the rebbeim that he hired in the mid eighties are still there today and are as popular as ever. They started recruiting students from the Chicago Jewish community and across the nation and were successful. They had turned the tide. People once again started sending their children. The Yeshiva was on its way.

In the meantime a fire broke out Yeshivas Brisk. Their building was destroyed. That forced them into a make shift building on the periphery of the Jewish neighborhoods in Chicago. It was not designed well for a school. Shortly after that Rav Aharon had a debilitating stroke that left him paralyzed on one side of his body. Competition from a very successful Telshe Yeshiva, and a very successful W.I.T.S. along with the fact that HTC was now hugely improved caused Brisk to start losing potential students. Brisk never recovered from that point and eventually closed a few years ago as a Yeshiva, although it still remains open as a Beis Hamedrash and Shul.

Back to HTC. My son was by then in the Yeshiva’s high school. I was invited to serve on the board. Rabbi Well had made a concerted and successful effort to pack the board with as many Orthodox members as he could. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. But it wasn't all smooth sailing.

The year before I became a board member, in an effort to further improve and to better compete with W.I.T.S. Rabbi Well had hired a brilliant young Talmid Chacham, Rav Dovid Castle, as the new Rosh HaYeshiva. That turned into a fiasco quickly. Rav Castle had managed in very short order to alienate many parents and board members. He was fired before his first year was up. So, HTC once again had no Rosh HaYeshiva. And its good reputation so painstakingly restored by Rabbi Well and his new faculty, was once again hurt.

Many of the new board members, myself included had heard of Rav Hershel Shachter of Yeshiva University. And we had our sights on him. He was invited to HTC for a scholar in residence weekend. I was the chairman of the Melave Malka. It was a most successful weekend. The Sunday morning after, members of the board met with Rav Shacther at the home of one of the board members and we cornered him.

We basically got on our hands and knees and begged him to become our new Rosh HaYeshiva. He listened politely and kept quiet. He must have been dumbfounded, I’m sure he didn’t expect anything like that to happen. In any case he refused, saying that he was quite happy with his position as a Rosh Kollel in Yeshiva University. The fact was that he had many students in YU. Although the Yeshiva high school was enjoying successful growth, the Beis HaMedrash was practically non existent then. That’s why we wanted him. We thought he would draw students. And he certainly would have.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Skokie

Part One – My Student Years

There is a piece of Chicago Jewish history which I would like to tell. I’ve been thinking about telling this story for quite some time and now I think the timing might be just about right. It is a rather lengthy story with many parts so I have decided to post it as a series over the next few days. It is in fact a story of what was, what is, what could have been, and what could yet still be. Parts of this story have been included in other essays I have written but never in the current context or in sequence. Everything I write is from my own perspective as I experienced it or saw it happen. Hopefully it will enlighten. I’m sure there will be those who disagree with my perceptions and memories having seen or having rememebered things differently. But this is my story and I’m sticking to it… (unless I’m corrected).

The Hebrew Theological College, HTC, was founded over 85 years ago. It is better known to many people as ‘Skokie’ after the suburban village where it is currently located since1960. Amongst students it is simply… the Yeshiva.

HTC had always had a mixed reputation going back to its very beginning. There always seemed to have been controversy surrounding it. My earliest memory of the Yeshiva was through its rabbinic placement program. Our Shul in Toledo always hired a Rabbi from the Yeshiva for the high holidays. The young rabbis I met there in my childhood so impressed me, that they became my role models. To this day, one of them Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Goodman whom I met before I was 13 years old is my role model for what a Jew is supposed to be and how a Jew is supposed to act.

My next encounter with the Yeshiva was via a disparagement. It was denigrated by a Beis Hamedrash Bachur in Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland, when I was a student there. I had confided that I was going to transfer to Skokie for my junior year in high school. He told me, “better to go to public school” “At least you won’t be misled about Torah there”. Besides that, Skokie advocated co-ed camps like Moshava.

When I arrived as a student in the fall of 1962, they had just extricated themselves from a threatened or actual Cherem for setting up a women’s college, The Rose Cohen College for Women. The building was built. It was on the edges of the Skokie Yeshiva campus about a city block or two away from the Yeshiva dormitory across an empty field. That building currently houses the Modern Orthodox day school, Hillel Torah.

The rabbinic leadership in Chicago was not too keen on that idea. I’ve heard all kinds of rumors about what happened there including one which supposedly has it that the 3rd floor of the Yeshiva was going to be the women’s dorm. I doubt that was the case but I have never been able to verify this rumor one way or the other. This is but one example among many over the years which had kept the Yeshiva steeped in controversy.

When I arrived it was a relatively benign period, until Rav Chaim Zimmerman was fired about a year later. He was a Gaon of world renown and gave the highest Shiur in the yeshiva. But he was not the Rosh HaYeshiva. There was none. Rav Chaim was but a bit eccentric and could sometimes be found giving Shiurim at midnight. He was clean shaven, wore sports jackets and slacks and drove around in a Cadillac convertible. As would be expected of someone so brilliant and colorful he had a very loyal following of students. When the Yeshiva fired him, it was immediately ‘put in Cherem’ by various Gedloim… until the matter was resolved to Rav Zimmerman’s satisfaction.

About a year or so after that, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik, affectionately know by all as Rav Aharon, was hired as the Rosh HaYeshiva. His tenure there lasted from 1966 to 1973. When he was let go, after a bitter dispute between Rav Aharon and the board of directors, the Yeshiva was once again in trouble and ‘put in Cherem’. But in the end that too was finally resolved to Rabbi Soloveichik’s satisfaction. But that event left a bitter taste in the mouths of both sides.

Nevertheless the yeshiva’s board of directors had finally gotten what it wanted. A free hand to do what it desired without interference.

There were many issues that separated the board from Rav Aharon. Among the biggest was the issue of hiring a president of the school after the death of its president, Dr. Simon G. Kramer. He was hired a few short years before to replace the retiring Rabbi Oscar Z. Fasman. Dr. Kramer was the one who convinced a reluctant Rav Aharon to become the Rosh HaYeshiva at HTC. Rav Aharon opposed virtually every candidate the board put before him. Rav Aharon tried to recruit rabbis from Mechitza Shuls but they declined.

It was a stormy relationship from the start. Before he accepted the position as Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Aharon asked Shailos about whether he should take the job. Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky urged him to to take it. He felt that the new Traditional movement grabbing hold in Chicago was a real threat to Orthodoxy.

Traditional Judaism was different from the Conservative Movement in that it had the endorsement of a big Talmid Chacham,Rav Chaim Dovid Regensberg who was a respected Rebbe in the Yeshiva. He felt that the Shuls that wanted to remove their Mechitzos were in danger of becoming Conservative Shuls which were much worse since they were heretical in nature. Better these Shuls should remain Orthodox and be run by Orthodox Rabbis who would do the best they could to keep the members Orthodox in every other way. Additionally they would be able to influence their members to send their children to Jewish day schools and high schools. And indeed they did succeed to some degree at doing that. In the meantime they were mandated to try and install Mechitzos. But that rarely happened.

So was created this sort of quasi-Orthodox movement called ‘The Traditional Movement’. No Mechitzos, and using microphones that were left on before Shabbos. Nevertheless, all Traditional rabbis were members in good satnding of the Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC) and some were members of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA).

The rest of Orthodox Rabbinic leadership worldwide forbade taking Shuls like this, including Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Rav Aharon’s brother. Rav Yaakov saw an opportunity to fight this Movement from the front lines. Rav Aharon took the job and immediately instituted a poilicy whereby rabbis ordained by him were essentially forbidden to take Shuls without Mechitzos.

This caused an immediate rift between Skokie’s board members and Rav Aharon. Most of the board members of that time were either lay leaders of their respective Traditional Shuls or their rabbis. They did not take too keenly to this new edict. Those rabbis were offended that they were now looked at as outside the pale by the Rosh HaYeshiva of their alma mater, when their own respected and beloved Rav Regensberg had permitted and encouraged them in their endeavor.

The war between Rabbi Solveichik and the board had begun.

Updated: 6/28/07 8:26 AM CDT

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Saving Our Children from… Wal-Mart

Traffic. If that’s the real problem then no community would ever consider building the kind of supersized structure that Wal-Mart proposes to build in Monsey. We’d all still be shopping in mom/pop operations and overpaying for the goods they provide. This seems obvious to me.

Progress in one area sometimes entails compromise in another. And as always all the pros and cons always have to be evaluated. And traffic is indeed a big concern, not just for religious Jews but for everyone. But is traffic really one of the main concerns? I tend to doubt it. True, it is not a great plus to have to worry about traffic patterns in an already congested traffic area, especially in communities where there are a lot of children. But these things can be worked out in ways that will provide the least disruption and reasonable safety. So what’s really behind the mass protest by the religious Jews of Monsey planned against Wal-Mart? I think it is pretty much entirely religious in nature.

Monsey, New York as most religious people know is an enclave of mostly religious Jews. It began as a suburban refuge for mostly wealthy Chasidim who wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of living in the concretized environments typical of their neighborhoods in Brooklyn. They saw an open and wooded environment that was sparsely populated and started moving there in droves. In very short order Monsey became a community of Chasidim.

They had the best of both worlds. An idyllic suburban community of mostly large luxurious homes on huge tracts of land while at the same time living an almost cloistered existence... free from the influences of the city streets and semi-pornographic billboard ads. Their children were now completely sheltered and breathing clean country air.

Over time other religious neighborhoods developed including non Chasidic Yeshiva neighborhoods and modern Orthodox ones. The attraction for them was pretty much the same but for the Modern Orthodox the cloistered lifestyle was not what they were interested in.

Wal-Mart is now proposing the building of a huge ‘supercenter’ on Route 59 which if I understand correctly is the main highway leading into Monsey. Indeed this would seem to have the potential to dramatically alter the landscape there.

But as the New York Times reports the problem seems to be primarily one of a religious nature. Those who are behind the protest say they do not want the influences that go along with a facility like this in their ‘backyard’. As one member of the community put it:

“The reason a lot of us came to live in Monsey is because we wanted to raise our families in a safe place, away from the influences of the outside world…”

And for a community like this, it is a real concern. But Wal-Mart to its credit has made a concerted effort to be sensitive to the needs of the community there. For example, popular magazines that sometimes feature scantily clad female celebrities will be covered up. From the article:

“Philip H. Serghini, a public affairs manager for Wal-Mart, has visited the community of 28,000, most of them Hasidic Jews, at least six times since October. He has met in private with about two dozen rabbis to explain the company’s proposal…” and “…he had asked the rabbis to prepare a list of concerns, which he has yet to receive, in an effort to “comport to the local mores.” Wal-Mart is also considering creating a way for rabbis to provide feedback to the store on a regular basis, he said.”

Personally I have never been a fan of Wal-Mart type stores. I never shop there. And I appreciate the concerns often cited about the environmental impact of such a facility. I also understand but do not agree with organized labor’s objections to Wal-Mart. (Those objections are usually against the sincere wishes of the very constituency they claim to represent, the workforce. The jobs they provide are quickly snapped up. There are always far more applicants than available jobs when these stores are built.) And stores of this type do tend to increase traffic congestion, and probably will in this already congested area. These are all legitimate things to consider.

I also understand the religious concerns of the Chasidic residents. They are legitimate too. But those concerns are problematic for two reasons. It is only one segment of the community that objects to it and Wal-Mart seems to want to accommodate their concerns.

But that doesn’t seem to be enough. The fear is that despite Wal-mart’s best efforts, the culture that these residents want to be sheltered from will seep through.

So a huge protest is being organized. And of course that is their civil right. But what of the rights of those who do not see Wal-mart in that way? Why should the silent majority of non Jews, or secular and Modern Orthodox Jews be denied the opportunity to conveniently shop in a store like that? True, Monsey is 90% Orthodox. But they are not the only suburb that will be served. What about the non-Jewish neighbors in some of the surrounding suburbs? When looked at this way, Monsey’s residents become a minority. And the majority will now have to suffer at their hands.

This is a city in United States of America, not a city like Bnei Brak in Israel. While it is very nice to be able to live in a community that is 90% Frum in the US, the Orthodox Jewish citizens must be sensitive to the needs and desires of their neighbors. They cannot insist that their influence extend beyond their own immediate area because of a desire to shelter their children form a culture on which the majority of Americans see nothing wrong.

If they succeed in thwarting Wal-Mart’s plans, that will be precisely what they will be doing. It will be a tyranny of the minority imposed on the majority. Now the truth is I don’t really know people from the surrounding suburbs want Wal-Mart there either. And if nobody really wants it, “if they build it… they won’t come” …to turn a popular phrase. I’m sure that Wal-Mart knows this. They would not be so foolish to build a store that nobody will want to shop at.

There is also this. The fact is that these communities tend to over shelter children anyway. As a result their children are ill prepared to face the real world when they are suddenly exposed to it. And they will be exposed to it… a lot sooner than any parent would like to believe. Instead of over sheltering their children as if the world outside of Monsey didn’t exist it, would it not be wiser to better prepare them for the time that they will encounter it by themselves... be it age 11 or 17? At some point all that sheltering will be gone. They will encounter the culture, be it on a billboard or stolen moments on an internet website.

I’m not saying that allowing a child to go into a Wal-Mart is the best way to prepare a child for the outside world. But since Wal-Mart is willing to work with the community on this issue, I could think of a lot worse ways of first encountering it.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Tainted Money

There is an interesting urban legend that has been around for probably well over a decade. It involves Barbra Streisand and the BeisYaakov school she attended as a child. Supposedly this mega-star having just married a non Jewish actor by the name of James Brolin, had decided to donate one million dollars to her alma mater Beis Yaakov, no strings attached. She only asked that the school be re-named after her father, a Frum Jew all of his life. The school refused the money because they did not what to be associated with an individual who so recently, so flagrantly, and so publicly violated Torah law by marrying a non Jew.

On the surface it sounds like a wonderful story. The message was one of Kiddush HaShem. To take money from such a public figure would indeed send the wrong message they felt.

Would that this were always the case. As can plainly be seen it is not. In fact I think it is never the case. Not even close. The clearest example of this is that virtually every Orthodox religious institution takes money from their local Jewish federation. And in every single case, those federations are run by people who not only violate Torah but support heretical movements. In fact they identify themselves as pluralistic, extending validity to all branches of Judaism.

In Chicago if not every other city, every organization must identify that they are a beneficiary of the Jewish federation. In some cases the federations support organizations that are anathematic to Torah. And amongst the Reform and Conservative rabbis they include and honor are those who actually try and justify behavior forbidden by the Torah as permissible by re-interpreting clear passages forbidding it under penalty of death. Yet, I don’t believe there is even a single institution that does not accept there rather substantial donations, certainly not in Chicago.

And it isn’t just the federations that they accept money from. It is from all manner of wealthy Orthodox Jews, some of them having been imprisoned for white collar crimes… or worse. In some cases they are even honorees at public banquets where they are praised as though they were saints.

And while were at it, there is the little matter of Charedi religious institutions accepting funds from the Israeli government. Not only do they accept money, they virtually extort it from them. Yes, there are those who refuse like Brisk and Satmar, but they are the exception and to their credit they are true to these ideals. But the vast majority of Charedi Yeshivos and other religious institutions are thrilled to get the money from the same people whose Ministry of Tourism is trying to turn Jerusalem into whore house for gays and straights. And all these Yeshivos are not only supported in their efforts by the rabbinic leadership they encourage it. They seek it. For the religious parties in Israel, mandate number one is getting money for their religious institutions. The directive from the rabbinic leadership is to get as much money as they can in exchange for their votes on political issues important to the governing party.

Leaving aside my views about the negative outcome by the continual funding a system that is in desperate need of repair, I can’t really blame the Charedi leadership for taking these funds. Their motives are pure. They understand that the needs of their community are great. And they are doing what ever they can to alleviate their plight. They understand that taking this so called ‘tainted money’ pales in comparison to leaving members of their community in even greater poverty than they are now.

Large families need to be fed. Working fathers hardly exist and working mothers are limited in how much money they can earn by the types of jobs permitted to them by Charedi religious standards. And they are further limited by the lack of proper training which is now forbidden to them. All that of course trumps the taint. The Kiddush HaShem of providing for the needs of the community trumps what ever perception one might have of ‘collaborating with the enemy’.

And that brings us back to this country where donations by questionable sources are so readily accepted. One can not always afford to be so ‘pure and holy’. Not at the expense of hard working parents who are ‘taxed’ beyond their means just so they can send their children to a religious school. I know of no religious leader of any Hashkafa in this country that has told a religious institution to refuse a donation from a man whose reputation in business is less than perfect. And Fedration dollars? Of course that is accepted. If the religious institutions don’t take that money, it will just go to waste. Or worse… it will go to support heretical Jewish movements or projects that are anathematic to Torah.

Besides the Jewish Federations mean well… at least in Chicago. The leaders are all Tinokos SheNishbu, Jews whose Jewish education is meager at best thorough no fault of their own. But they understand the importance of Jewish education and have increased their donations significantly to all educational institutions across the board. And Chicago’s Orthodox Jewish community truly appreciates what they do for it. We are on the best of terms with them, friendly as could be. In fact there are Orthodox Jews and even Orthodox rabbis serving on their board. They supported gay pride day and gave money to their cause?! It doesn’t matter. We cannot survive without their money.

We here in Chicago take their generous contributions willingly and extend a warm hand in friendship and thanks. And that is as it should be. I only wish the same were true in Israel. It would be nice to see the same type of co-operation and thanks to the government by Charedim there for all the benefits bestowed upon them. But that is a different subject.

This brings me back to Barbra Streisand. If the story is true and the million dollars was rejected, it was on the backs of the parents who pay tuition there. Instead of taking the money which could have helped alleviate the financial plight of almost every parent there, they decided… no! They are going to make a Kiddush HaShem insteads. They are not going to take money from so tainted a source.

In my view, they were wrong. That money probably went instead to another cause which most religious Jews would never support. Was the Kiddush HaShem of not taking the money worth the cost? Would it have been a Chilul HaShem if they had? …any more than honoring a white color criminal at a banquet for a lot less than a million dollars? I don’t think so.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pikuach Nefesh Versus Chilul HaShem

What if a Jew is dying and needs an organ transplant? This is the only thing that can save him. But the source is a questionable one. Perfectly healthy prisoners in a foreign country who are not guilty of any capital crimes are killed, their organs harvested and then sold on the world black market. Can a Jew buy such an organ if it is the only way to save his life? One might think the answer to this question is of course. Pikuach Nefesh trumps everything. But that is not so. It is a Chilul HaShem for Jews to exploit the moral corruption of such a regime.

How can this be? We are talking about Pikuach Nefesh. And the victims are non-Jews? And it is probably after the fact? A life is at stake? No matter. It is Assur.

And lest anyone say, “There goes the liberal Centrist rabbi again, with his political correctness deciding matters of life and death!” …Sorry. It isn’t only me. I have on my side a respected Posek on this issue, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. He says it's Assur too.

Chilul HaShem is that serious. It trumps Pikuach Nefesh. I think some of the zealots who are so quick to jump on the protest bandwagons when Chilul HaShem is such a clear outcome ought to think twice about the results of their actions.

And this is exactly why Chilul HaShem trumps protesting a parade of homosexuals in Jerusalem. Though they trumpet their pride in behavior which the Torah calls Toevah, and for which the Torah mandates capital punishment if the proper Halachic parameters of jurisprudence are fulfilled, the Chilul HaShem that could result from such a protest makes it forbidden to do so.

Updated: 6/24/07 12:50 PM CDT

Friday, June 22, 2007

Funding Ignorance and Perpetuating Poverty

Not that this is news, but it is sad to be reminded of it again. And what brings is all home to me is that it is being done in collaboration with the anti religious state. You know which state I mean: The state of Israel. And why is this so? Politics. That’s right it’s the ‘votes for dollars’ parties better known as the religious parties. Their political clout is now so strong that they have managed to proudly shoot themselves in the foot with the help of the Education Ministry.

I can hear it now. “There he goes again bashing the Charedim. Or bashing the Gedolim. No, I’m not doing that. I am simply pointing out what I strongly believe is folly on their part. They are entitled to their views. They can disagree. And their Torah knowledge is great. But it is incumbent upon them to justify to Klal Yisroel why they have taken such a hardcore position on this issue. Not that they must halachicly, but that they should morally.

Morally in the sense that the current decision creates such a major impediment and causes hardship to the physical well being of the very people they care about most. It perpetuates and increases poverty. It causes ever greater dependence on government funding from people they call evil. And on charities whose recipients needs increase exponentially with time. And it causes those charities to use questionable fund raising techniques like preying on the misfortunes of other religious Jews so as to increase their donations.

It is an outrage to me that women have now become almost the sole breadwinners of Charedi homes in Israel. Even though they seem to do this willingly, it seems to be so patently unfair. Women are not only expected to bring home the bacon, they are expected to raise the children with no less commitment than if the were full time mothers. And take care of the home to boot.

Of course the Charedi leadership is just as outraged by this and has decided to come out with a Takana, a religious edict that women not be allowed to educate themselves beyond what they consider the bare minimum. No bacehlor’s degrees of any kind, Certainly not secular ones but even religious ones.

But the new twist is that it has full government support. As I indicated this is an old story. The reasons given by Charedi rabbinic leaders in Israel for this policy, if I recall correctly is that it takes away too much time from the home and family. That’s nice.

Well, what about the job? Doesn’t that take away too much time form the home and family, too? I guess not. After all somebody’s got to work. It can’t be the full time Avreich. So, it’s got to be the wives and mothers. Makes sense!

Makes sense if you live in a world that’s gone topsy turvy, that is. But, I can accept the reality of that situation. This is how Charedim have been indoctrinated. These are their Hashkafos. Charedi women do it willingly and lovingly. They sacrifice and their families sacrifice so that their husband’s can learn. Fine.

But all is not so well in Torahville. Many of these women had decided to try and improve their lot by getting continuing education. In that way, they could qualify for greater incomes, not to mention gain greater knowledge. And it’s not like they were taking that much time away from parenting. They were already doing that at their jobs. In some cases I suppose it meant taking even more time away in the evenings two or three times a week. But only for an additional year or two when school and only when school was in session. This way they would be better able to compete in the job market.

But the Charedi rabbinic leadership was going to have none of that. To the consternation of the very people who so revere them, they have forbidden women to better themselves that way. Charedi families must continue to subsist on the lower ages that an advanced education would likely give them. And many Charedi women have been very upset by being forbidden to do what was until now completely permissible. “How” they ask, “can we continue to support our families on these lower incomes?”

But all is not so dreary. In the field of education where many of these women are employed, the evil Israeli government via the Education Ministry has come to the rescue. Even though their rules require more education for a higher pay scale, they have exempted Charedi women who teach in the Charedi school systems from the educational requirement. They will now receive the same wages as those of their secular counterparts who are required to have the more education.

How much better I feel. Those evil secular Zionists are not only leveling the playing field, they are favoring the Charedim.

This is so great! We get to keep our women ignorant and get paid for it. At least for those who teach. Our men get to learn Torah morning noon and night unfettered and free of worry. And our women? Barefoot pregnant and in the kitchen where they belong. And taking care of all the children without help. Except when they are at work of course. Thank you Medinat Yisroel. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Siyum for Reuven


Last evening, I had the privilege of attending a Siuym on Shas Mishnayos by a young man upon the occasion of his Bar Mitzva. His name is Akiva Brand. What was unique about this particular event was that all the learning was dedicated to the Zechus, to the benefit of my grandson, Reuven Ben Tova Chaya. For those who may not yet be aware, Reuven is my 4 year old grandson and was diagnosed with stage four of a rare bone cancer known as Ewing’s Sarcoma . Reuven is on the right side of this photo taken with his older brother Elisha (on the left) and his cousin Shimon the day before the tumor was discovered.

As explained by his father, David, when they found out about Reuven, they immediately decided to dedicate all their learning to Reuven’s recovery. What is amazing about this Siyum is that is coincides to the day with Reuven completion of his chemotherapy treatment. At the moment of this posting at approximately 12:30 PM CDT Reuven’s treatment ends. And to date, no there has been no visible cancer detected in any of the tests they have run since the tumor was excised several months ago in a rare and complex surgery.

As I have said in the past and as was amply pointed out last night by both David and myself, things do not happen by accident in a world run by God. There has to be significance to the fact that a Siyum upon the completion of the full corpus of Mishnaic law happened at the same time as the “Siyum” …the completion of Reuven’s chemotherapy treatment.

Divine providence was certainly evident in the success of Reuven’s treatment so far. As reported here earlier, the reduction of the size of the tumor (before it was removed) by the chemotherapy treatment was significantly greater than was expected. And the surgery that saved his arm from amputation was a complete success. He has almost total function in his arm where the removed cancerous bone was replaced by a bone from his leg. And that leg has now readjusted to where he is now walking, running, and jumping. And as I said he appears to be cancer free.

As I also stated this was a stage four cancer. The original prognosis was not that great. It has now improved. But unfortunately tumors have been known to recur in cases like this. The doctors made sure that the family realizes this. As hopeful as we are, we know that the danger has not completely passed.

What happens now is that for the next six months, Reuven will be on medication that will boost his immune system which the chemotherapy has weakened. In a month or so he will be given a complete evaluation. A full battery of tests will follow, including numerous bone scans and an MRI. The hope and prayer is that he will continue be free of any cancer just as he is now. After that he will be tested every three months or so.

The good news is that if he stays cancer free for two years his chances of survival go way up and he will be considered almost completely cured. We are told that 90% of all relapses happen during the first two years. And after five years they consider it completely cured. So it is going to be a pretty tense time for us for the next few years. But just as we have been blessed with God’s good graces until now we are hopeful that we will continue to receive His blessing. Until then we continue to pray for Reuven's complete recovery.

I am extremely grateful to the Brands and to all those who have been praying for Reuven’s welfare, and to those who have been involved on Reuven’s behalf in various Mitzvah projects… be it in learning Torah or in doing Chesed. The response from Jews and even non-Jews all over the world has been both heartwarming and overwhelming. And those prayers have certainly found their targets in the ‘heart’ of God and have benefited my grandson and our entire family. May God, the true Healer of all illness, grant all the sick of Israel a complete and speedy recovery.

Tourism in the Holy Land

Well, I guess Israel is just one big brothel now. At least that's how it seems to be selling itself these days. The message is: Come to Israel and no matter what your sexual preferences are, we’ve got something for you. The two tourism ad campaigns that I’ve seen… one a few weeks ago and one in yesterday’s Jerusalem Post… have been promoting Israel in exactly that way.

I frankly don’t understand it. I realize of course that Israel’s tourism bureau is governed by secular Jews. And their job is to promote tourism which is one of their most important parts of their economy. Indeed tourist dollars should not be treated lightly. The economy needs all the money it can get and the income Israel receives from tourists are a big part of that.

But even if one is a secular Jew, one should understand that the very concept of Israel is entwined with its holiness and that is how most of the world sees it. Israel is the land of the bible… a land holy to all three major monotheistic faiths. That it is a creation of God’s is clearly demonstrated in the Bible. A Bible which secular Israelis study in the secular school system. They may not be religious but they do know what Israel is supposed to be all about. And it isn’t pornography.

The secular Jew knows that this is the land of the bible that flows with milk and honey. This is the land where the prophets lived. These government bureaucrats walk the very same land that Jewish kings and prophets walked. This is the land of King David, and King Solomon. This is the land that houses God’s presence in the Holy Temple. The remains of which can be seen to this day. Jews from all over the world come to pour out their hearts to God in prayer. For thousands of years... and today! It is where God chose to abide. In short it is a biblical land, not a brothel.

The Israeli government knows this very well. It is not a secret to them. As I indicated, they study Tanach. Regardless of their level of observance, they know what Israel is supposed to be and how it should be presented. And they in fact do present it biblically in so many ways. The biblical zoo in Jerusalem is but one example of that. The tourism symbol itself is taken right from the Bible in Parashas Shelach. It is incongruous and outrageous for them to say we are the land of the bible and then have a pornographic tourism campaign!

And lest anyone think that all secular Jews are all immoral and couldn’t care less about maintaining the biblical image of Israel, it’s not true. It isn’t only religious Jews that get upset about something like this. Here is what a prominent secular Labor party official had to say about it:

Labor MK and former New York consul-general Colette Avital quickly…denounc(ed) the campaign as "pornographic" and (told) Yediot Aharonot, " Israel's image has been tainted by sex scandals involving high-ranking officials as it is. I wonder if the best way to encourage tourism is by advertising sex."

She’s so very right. And I’m sure she is not alone. You would think her point would be obvious to these bureaucrats. But apparently it’s not. They don’t seem to care how people see Israel as long as they can make a buck out of it. I suppose some of it has to do with the sincere desire to make as much money as they can for the economy. Sex after all does sell! And it also has to do with the European mindset that so dominates the secular culture in Israel. Pornography in Europe, I’m told is a very common fact of life. Public broadcasts on European TV feature nudity quite freely. And no one there seems bat an eye.

I’m also told that there are topless beaches in Eilat. I guess that’s par for the course for this particular mindset. But I have to wonder if the common secular Jew in Israel feels the same way. I’m also told that most Israelis, though not fully observant nevertheless do believe in God and do observe many of the traditions of Judaism. And they appreciate the sexual mores that the Torah teaches us. I can’t believe that the vast majority of Israeli citizens approves of anything like this. And these government bureaucrats know it. They just don’t care.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Edah HaCharedis: Wrong Side of the Issue?

There is a Ramban on last week’s Parsha, (Korach - 16:4), that speaks about Aaron’s silent reaction to Korach’s challenge of Moshe’s leadership. He states that Aaron did not protest one word during the entire event. He instead just allowed Korach to continue in his self aggrandizement. Aaron held his peace and deferred to Moshe.

Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch in his Sefer on Chumash uses this Ramban as a metaphor to show that there are times to protest and times not to. Protest is not always the answer. Protest for its own sake can and will often be counter-productive.

Rabbi Sternbuch is one of the leaders of the Edah HaCharedis. They have called for massive protests against the scheduled homosexual parade in Jerusalem that will ‘shake the foundations’ of Jerusalem. In light of his interpretation of the Ramban, I think it is a bit incongruous of him to be supportive of that. Of course one could answer that even if there is a right and wrong time to protest… this is the right time. But is it? Obviously, as stated here before, the Gerrer Rebbe doesn’t think so.

But now it seems the Sefardi leadership, and rabbinic leaders in the world of Yeshivos don’t think so either. I guess they must have read my blog on this issue.

The reasons given are a bit different than mine. The claim is that they do not want to expose their students to this lifestyle at all and massively protesting it would surely do so. But I wonder if that is the sole reason? It isn’t as if a Yeshiva student doesn’t know that such behavior exists. It is after all mentioned in the Torah. And one would have to be blind, deaf , deaf and dumb not to know what is going on in the world. Yeshivos have in fact had incidences of homosexual behavior taking place amongst its students right on their premises. And what about homosexual abuse stories that keep popping up in Yeshivos like Torah Temimah?

I can’t help but believe that there are other compelling reasons along the lines I have stated: That massive protests will be counter productive and could lead to violence. Innocent people could get hurt. Over-zealous protesters may commit violent crimes in the name of Kavod Shem Shamyim, in the name of God, and thereby creating an even bigger Chilul HaShem than the one they are protesting! On top of that they would be taking away valuable time from Torah learning.

Whatever the reasons are, I salute and support this decision to avoid the protests by these rabbinic leaders… and wonder where Rabbi Sternbuch is?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tznius... Yes, Chumros... No

Rabbi Gil Student has a post today about Tznius that asks a very important question:

“I've always wondered what in the world these women are thinking when they buy their clothes. Presumably they look into a mirror. Do they have even the slightest doubt that it is unacceptable to dress like that?”

By “like that” he obviously means dressing in a provocative manner.

I’ve addressed the issue of Tznius in women’s clothing in the past. It was in the context of a formal ban in Charedi society that I felt was excessive, ineffective, and even harmful. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think there should be standards.

As Torah Jews we are indeed obligated to be modest in our manner of dress. For women this means not dressing in a sexually provocative manner. But how does one dress in a manner that is neither provocative on the one hand and yet not dowdy and unattractive on the other? What is the happy medium? Before one can answer this question, one must understand some basic human psychology.

There is a major difference between how men and women see each other sexually. Chazal recognized this very basic fact about the human condition as a basic biological fact. A Man will look at a woman and see something entirely different than will another woman looking at her. Men are aroused by what they see. They might have Hirhurim. (Hirhurim is the Hebrew word for thoughts. It is often used as shorthand for Hihurim Assurim, forbidden… or more accurately lustful thoughts in men.)

The reaction is completely physical. Women generally do not operate that way. Their sexuality is far more subltle and abstract. It is not as sight oriented. And this innate difference affects their perception of themselves.

Of course this does not mean that a woman who dresses provocatively won’t realize that she is doing so. But that is more a function of the culture than it is her innate psyche. Women understand how men react because they learn it experientially. They see it played out in the culture. And while many women understand it intellectually, it does not always translate well into action. That’s because they are not exactly sure how it works for lack of personally experiencing how a man’s sexuality works.

What happens in some cases therefore is that a woman will not realize that her manner of dress is all that provocative, especially if she is basically dresses modestly by secular standards. So how attractively may a woman dress before she starts to cause Hirhurim?

An objective answer is almost impossible to find. A lot depends on the culture and could be anywhere from walking around topless in some of the more primitive cultures to the requirement to wear a Burkha in some of the more rigid Islamist cultures. For Jews it is Torah law as expounded by the sages that guides us. Those laws are fairly well spelled out in Halacha and are desined for the most part to prevent lustful thoughts in men.

But there is a problem in execution of Halachic guidelines. Many Jewish women, even amognst the most religious, violate at least the spirit of the law if not the letter by the manner in which they dress. I believe that is in part due to in part to ignorance truly understanding male sexuality. Many of these women will look at the secular culture and by comparison they are indeed dressed very Tznius. And they are right, comparatively speaking.

It is quite true that the Tznius standards of non Jewish religious people in western civilization is very different and far more lax than they are for religious Jews. And in fact for many religious non Jews their manner of dress is modest and non arousing to their men. How can that be?

Well, it’s what they’ve become used to. Provocative clothing in the end is very relative to the culture. As I said, what is not provocative in one society may be extremely provocative in another. A Muslim may have lustful thoughts at the mere thought of seeing the face of a woman. And a man whose primitive culture has women going around topless is not provoked at all by what he encounters everyday in public. In western society the culture is very lax, to say the least.

There is another problem, to which Rabbi Student alludes. That of a woman trying to be attractive to her husband while remaining loyal to the standards of Tznius. And this is one of the truly big problems of our day.

One must also ask why a woman wants to dress a certain way. Is it because she wants to get attention for herself? Is it to get envious stares from other women? Is it to subconsciously flirt with other men? And what about husbands? They sometimes want their wives to dress attractively so as to show them off. No man wants to be seen as married to an unattractive woman.

This is further compounded by the often typical environment in workplace. Men will see women all day long in all manner of immodest dress. That is quite the norm and acceptable in modern society. Are they to be bombarded all day with in many cases very attractive women in the work place only to come home to a dowdy wife who must keep her hair covered, and wear loose fitting, unattractive clothing? This atmosphere ahs been shown to cause significant Sholom Bayis issues in some families.

One solution is seen offered is that wives should dress up for their husbands at home in private. This way a husband can look forward to their own wives without being distracted in the workplace by other women. But that is very unrealistic.

First of all the children are always there. It’s not a good idea for a woman to look provocative for her husband when her children are around. Second of all looking attractive takes a lot of time and effort. To expect married women to take the time and effort to do this at the end of a hard day with the children is not being realistic in the extreme. I doubt very much that any woman ever does this, let alone on a regular basis.

Yet, it has been postulated that many divorces have occurred because of scenarios like this. Men are around beautiful women in the workplace all day long. How does a wife compete with that?

We have two competing issues here: The requirement for Tznius and the requirement of Sholom Bayis.

To be sure men have to play their part and resist temptations in the workplace. And most religious men do. And there are also those who easily succumb to temptation no matter how many precautions one takes. But I believe there is a vast grey area that can cause great difficulties in a marriage when the circumstances are such as these arise.

There has to be a better way to implement standards of Tznius in the Torah world. A happy medium. Women should be allowed to look like women and dress fashionably without being provocative. And that means that for most people in our culture we cannot be overly Machmir on Tznius standards.

Tznius… Yes. Chumros… No.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Legacy of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

I was a bit taken aback by an article in the Jewish Press this weekend. Not by the actual substance of it, but by the focus.

This article in question was written by Rabbi Sholom B. Kalmanson, a Chabad spokesman from Cincinnati. His concern is that Chabad is not being given enough credit for founding Kiruv, religious outreach in America.

Let me amongst the first to re-assure him that Lubavitch was certainly in on the early goings of Kiruv. Were they the absolute first? Does that really matter? They are certainly the most successful in terms of sheer numbers of Baalei Teshuva. I doubt that any other group can claim anywhere near their number of successes. Of course there will always be some who claim this or that organization came first. And they take umbrage that Chabad makes the claim that it was first. But why is this of any concern to anyone, Lubavitch or otherwise?

That Lubavitch makes this an issue on this the eve of the 13th Yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe shows just how clueless they seem to be about the real problems that affect them. Their problem is an existential one. The fact is that the Messianism which is so pervasive in Chabad threatens to destroy the entire movement. The “Who came first” issue truly pales in comparison to that.

When Chabad has a group of Messainists going around to bars, offering drinks to patrons with the goal of promoting the idea that the Messiah, in the person of the Rebbe is risen and will return in a second coming, I should think that "who was first" should remain somewhere near the province of the famous Abbot and Costello comedy routine in in terms of the relative importance to the movement.

Though this "bar hopping" group claims hundreds of Chabad Rabbis support them, Chabad Rabbi Menachem Brod, a leader and spokesman for Agudat Zeirei Chabad, their youth organization in Israel, has disowned the initiative. He and other officials say that such activity is inappropriate.

This kind of rejection has always been the problem ever since the Rebbe died. Even the most strident Lubavitch anti Messianists never deny the claims of the Messianists, only the methods. Their opposition is always very fierce and condemning. But they never include disavowals. Here is the way Rabbi Brod put it:

"the campaign was giving Chabad a bad name. "

"Not a single Chabad rabbi has stood up to take responsibility for the campaign," said Brod."

"Whoever is behind it has no right to use Chabad's name"

"Asked if he believed that Schneersohn was the Messiah, Brod answered, "We hope that when the Messiah comes the rebbe will come also."

"But was Schneersohn the Messiah? "Some things are better off being handled by God."

No denials. Only a song and dance.

And this kind of response is typical of their denials. I have yet to see even one Chabad official say anything like the following: "The Rebbe is NOT the Messiah." Just the way any other Orthodox leader would say it about a revered Gadol of theirs who passed away.

So when Chabad officials say that the majority of mainstream are anti Messianist, I do not believe them. Not because they are lying to us, but because they are lying to themselves. They actually think that by purging the movement of the overt believers that they will then be able to maintain their beliefs privately. And no one will be the wiser. But their responses to date should not fool anyone. As can be plainly discerned from the quotes I mentioned.

Besides, as I’ve pointed out before, the Messianists seem to be winning… at least on the public relations front, but probably numerically too. They are the ones who garner the most publicity. And they are the ones who spend huge amounts of money promoting their Messianism in ads and in public events.

If the anti Messianists want all of Orthodoxy to respect their movement, They have to do two things. They have to come out with an unequivocal statement that the Rebbe is not Moshiach. Period. No qualifications. No ifs and or buts. No “well in theory it’s possible”. And they need to get serious about rejecting all the Messianists, they have to dissociate themselves completely from them and from their ideas of the Rebbe’s Messiahship. They cannot tolerate them any longer as just being a fringe group with good intentions gone wrong.

I know it’s hard. Most of the Messianists are good people. They are amongst the most dedicated and fervent Jews Lubavitch has. Sincere as cold be. They are the ones most likely to do the kinds of difficult projects that Chabad has become known for over the decades, like setting up a Chabad House in the middle of nowhere, just so they can do outreach. It’s hard to part with such otherwise valuable assets. They are Dan L’Kaf Zechus…the Messianists are judged favorably.

But they have to do this if they want to have the kind of respectability they deserve. And they do deserve it. They have contributed so much to the Jewish people. But without dissociating themselves completely from Messianism they will continue to get events like this bar hopping initiative. And all that great Kiruv becomes tainted.

So... were they the first to do Kiruv? Who cares?!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Bigger Bang for the Buck

What is going on with the funding of the Charedi school system in Israel? Is there an actual high school in Israel that has a basic secular core curriculum That seems to go against the very essence of what they have been preaching: that at best they are a waste of time and at worst anathematic to Torah. But here is what I just read:

"Due to the political clout of two ultra-Orthodox Knesset factions - Shas and Agudat Israel, however, their ultra-Orthodox school networks (Maayan Hachinuch Hatorani and the Independent Education Center), which agreed to teach the full core curriculum, receive the samebudgets as state schools."

"Thus equal budgeting was made contingent on equal curriculum content at the schools. The problem is, however, that the budgeting was provided but the core curriculum is apparently not being taught."

I was not aware that they had any schools like this. But what is more troubling is, that if they do they seem to be a sham. The curriculum is not being taught. If this is the case it is very loathsome to me. For a school to receive money from the government based on a promise to fulfill a condition which they do not fulfill is nothing short of Geneva. The problems I have with Israeli Charedi school system never included suspicions that they set up a school system with a sham secular curriculum in order get government funding. There must be more to the story.

Be that as it may I have a problem generally with the government funding of the Charedi schools. They are currently equally funded with the secular and Daati Leumi (Religious Zionist) schools.

The funding is the result of political compromise. Charedi votes on issues important to the political party in power are traded in exchange for the funding of Charedi institutions. I understand the world of politics. And on the surface I have no real problem with a political compromise that gives one the most favorable result one can get for their constituents. But as a concerned Jew who is interested in the welfare of all of Klal Yisroel, I am very troubled by the results of funding a system that produces so little in the way of economic benefit for its constituents.

What troubles me even more is the rhetoric I often hear from the Charedi political leadership when it doesn’t get the funding it thinks it deserves. They claim that they are being treated like second class citizens because they are refused equal funding.

They blame it on the anti Torah attitudes of the secular government. But this is disingenuous. They are now crying ‘wolf’ far too often. Their complaints are no longer legitimate. The Israeli government may be secular but it is not really anti-Torah anymore, at least when it comes to funding Charedi education. If it was truly anti Torah the religious Zionist schools wouldn't be getting any money either.

The problem that the secular governemt has with the Charedi schools is that that do not teach a basic core curriculum for secular studies in high school. We are not talking about teaching heresy, mind you. We are talking fundamentals of eduation: Courses like English, math, science and history. These courses do not exist at any level at all in the Charedi high school system.

I understand why Charedi leaders take umbrage at not getting equal funding for their schools. They feel that their schools should be given at least the same level of respect that the secular schools do. After all they are teaching Torah. They are teaching Judiasm. They are in fact the true purveyors of Judaism in a state that insists on maintaining its Jewish character. And they feel they are doing so in its most pure and pristine form... unfettered by any distractions. All Judiasm.. all the time! And their communities sacrifice materially in maintaining the high religious standards they learn in those schools.

Indeed their constituents are generally amongst the most ethical, kind and caring of all the Jewish people. And they are the ones having the most children and thereby contributing to the desired Jewish demographic. And, finally it is their belief that they are the ones holding up the world with their Torah learning. What better contributions to society can there be?

But, while much of this is basically true, as has been pointed out here so often they do their constituents a great disservice in not giving them a decent secular education so that can better compete in the job market when the time comes. That has produced the largest single poverty class in Israel (next to the Arabs). Charedim therefore place a greater strain on the economy because of their use of the welfare system.

The obvious answer to this problem is for Charedi leadership to re-adjust their thinking about how to educate the Charedi masses. They need to return to an era when learning fulltime was reserved for the elite in society, those who have the potential to become the Yechidei Segula… Gedolim.

I have suggested many times, the need to restructure the system to include secular studies to go along with religious studies. Certainly during the high school years. After that they can continue to learn full time for two or three years and at some point combine their Torah study with post high school secular study, whether it be college, trade, or professional school, so that when they are done with learning full time they can get decent jobs. They can in the meantime get married and have families. When the secular studies are completed they can continue learning in a Kollel if they wish but should not be there more than two or three of years. Of course the truly best and brightest who are so motivated should continue learning full time in their quest for greatness in Torah.

The Charedi leadrship not only doesn’t do that, they condemn and boycott any high school that offers any secular studies at all... and they disparage any post high school student for even considering studying for a career part time.

What does government funding have to do with this? The Israeli government has essentially tried to set up as a condition for funding that it implement at least a minimal secular curriculum in their high schools. It never in any way mandated study which would be deemed Assur. Their entire purpose is to have minimum standards which will help produce the most productive kind of citizen. As I indicated this is an Idea I’ve long advocated. And this why I am so troubled when Charedi leadership react so strongly against implementing such standards and cry foul in the process.

I know the song and dance: "We can’t have anti Torah people telling us what to teach!" Well, that was fine in Volozhin when the Czar had an ulterior motive and was helped along by influential Reform Jews who had the same agenda. They were indeed insidious. The plan was to at first introduce innocuous studies. And then to slowly wean Jews away from Torah and Mitzvos, and eventually assimilating and integrating them into secular society.

That may have been the goal of the early pioneers of Zionism too. But that is far from the case anymore today. Such claims are no longer legitimate… especially since the Israeli government has been funding Religious Zionist schools since day one. Whatever one says about those schools, no one ever accused them of teaching material that is anti Torah.

Minimum Standards. That is not only not too much to ask, it is an important change that Charedi leaders themselves should be implementing. The government wants to see a bigger bang for their buck and I don’t blame them one bit! Right now the bang is a negative one on the economy, and on the welfare of their own community.

If anyone ever hears a Charedi political leader complaining about inequality in funding between secular schools and Charedi schools and blame it on the anti Torah agenda of the secular Zionist government, they ought to think about it and not automatically condemn the government. They ought to instead consider the consequences of those demands and that they actually help perpetuate Charedi poverty. When I hear such complaints now, they fall on deaf ears.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Torah True Jews

My good friend Rabbi Shael Siegel has written an excellent essay on the subject of Torah True Judaism. While I do not agree with it in its entirety, I do agree that the term Torah True Judaism is elitistist and exclusionary.

I’ve always had a problem with that term. This term is the one often used by ultra-Orthodox Jews in describing themselves. And its frame of reference is almost always used in a Mussar context. It is a Hashkafic statement. They use it to communicate something special about themselves, that makes them separate and apart form the rest of Orthodox Jewry. Separatism requires a uniformity of difference so as to be able to distinguish themselves both visually and behaviorally from the rest of Klal Yisroel.

Being a Torah Jew just doesn’t seem to be enough, I guess. One has to have that extra word ‘true’ attached to it. It is as if to say the only Torah way is our Torah way. Only that is Torah true. But that is very strange indeed for a movement that claims it is pure Torah… and objects to all the “ands” in other Hashkafos: Torah and Mada, Torah and Derech Eretz, Torah and Chasidus. The fact is they now have a type of “and” too. One must now add the word true in order to be identified as a legitimate adherent of the Torah. But is the Torah any truer by adding that word? Is being a Torah Jew less Jewish than a Torah ‘true’ Jew?

The fact is that the term “Torah true” has no has any internal meaning. Saying Torah true adds nothing to Torah. Torah is by definition truth itself. So what is the point? Why identify by that term? What does it really mean?

I think the answer is clear. Its meaning is nothing more than a code word for a specific Hashkafa, one that makes the adherents of their very specific Hashkafa distinct from other Torah Jews. By calling oneself Torah true, one immediately identifies themselves as a member of their elite group… which is to them truer to Torah than anyone or anything else.

And with insularity as one of its primary features, it extricates them from the rest of the Torah world. It is as if they are telling us: Only our ways are the true Torah ways and every other observant Hashkafa is not quite as true as ours. Other Orthodox Hashkafos are “Krum” …not straight… but follow a somewhat deviant path to one degree or another. As Shael puts it: there is no Elu VElu… No Shivim Panim.

Being Torah true has an attitude that goes along with it. It is “The my way or the highway” attitude: “If you are not a member of our group… you may be a fine Jew… but you are not Torah true, and ‘Nisht Fun Unzera’ …not one of us! And we therefore separate ourselves from you so as to keep our ways pristine and pure. You… the rest of observant Jewry… mix your Judaism with ideas foreign to Torah.”

It galls me when I think about it. By this definition, I, who am observant of the Mitzvos of the Torah… am not a Torah true Jew. Nor is anyone on the RCA or in Yeshiva University. Or anyone who does not completely tow the ultra-Orthodox party line.

That’s too bad, really. Because cutting oneself off so completely from the rest of the Orthodox Jewry, let alone non-Orthodox Jewry is anathematic to Torah itself. By Torah mandate every Jew is responsible for the spiritual welfare of every other. And the insularity that is a virtual trademark of ultra-Orthodoxy makes this almost impossible to accomplish to any segment of Jewry other than their own.

Another important mandate of Torah Judaism they miss out on is that of being a light unto the nations. If they are so insulated from the rest of the world, how much of a light can they be? Shielding themselves from the outside world also shields their light from shining out. They will of course deny that. They will say that their pure and pristine ways will be noted somehow by the world at large and that will enlighten the world. But they are mistaken. Insularity is a two way street. By insulating themselves from the rest of the world they their light has a hard time shining through.

But that said I would not go so far as my friend Shael does. He wants to define Torah Judaism as an attitude. But that is an inaccurate definition of Torah Judaism in my view. Living according to some of the ideals in the Torah does not make a non-observant Jew a Torah Jew any more than it does when a Christian lives by those ideals. The Torah is not only about the ethical values of the Torah. To call oneself a Torah Jew one must do more than adhere to some of the values espoused by the Torah. One must not only pay attention to the Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chavero... man and his fellow man. One must pay just as much attention to the Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Makom, those ritual laws designed specifically to serve God.

Reform Jews focus is on the ethics of Judaism, that is, those laws pertaining to ethical human interaction. But they leave as optional those laws pertaining to direct service to God. They therefore are not committed to observing all the Mitzvos of the Torah. Halacha, which is the expression of Torah observance… the ‘how to’ …is not binding according to the tenets of Reform Judaism.

And even though Conservative Jews have always claimed to follow Halacha, that… is no longer so clear. There are theologians amongst them who now dispute that. And certainly Reconstructionists whose views about God are heretical cannot be considered Torah Jews. It is not as my friend Shael says, about how serious one is about Torah. One must also be serious about following all of its commandments.

Just to be clear, I do not God forbid write any Jews out of Judaism. Every Jewish soul is just as authentic as mine or even as the biggest Gadol. No matter how much or how little of the Torah he or she observes. But to call them Torah Jews would not be a correct description of their status. In my view, for that, one has to be committed to full observance.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Administrative Note

I’m sorry to report that a commenter from England formally using the name ‘The Beatles’ is trying to destroy my blog. He is spewing his venom using the names of various commenters including mine. I ask that he be ignored. His writing style is very distinct, and not to difficult to discern. Please ignore those comments. This fellow is a Rasha Gamur trying pass himself off as righteous Jew. I will continue to delete his comments as I see them. He has also been using a shotgun approach by commenting on all recent posts, victimizing all the commenters whose names he’s stolen. I will continue to delete his comments as I see them.

There is no Teshuva for someone who does not even realize he is sinning. That is the case with him. By trying to disrupt this blog he is stifling legitimate discussions on important issues and denigrating innocent Jews in the process. But he doesn’t care. Likethose in Neturei Karta who hugged and kissed Iran’s Ahmadinejad, he thinks he is doing it all L’Shem Shamyim. I truly feel sorry for his wife and children, and I apologize for the inconvenience.

If anyone in England knows this fellow, please prevail upon him to stop. He is unwanted here and does much harm to his cause by being a Shakran who is now guilty of Geneivas Daas too. And by besmirching God fearing Jews he is not only not helping his cause it is an Aveira Bein Adam L’Chaveiro that he will very likely be impossible to do Teshuva for. Any Jew that he is responsible for chasing away from Torah observance will be on his head. And he will never even know who they are so he cannot even ask them for Mechila. I hope he comes to his senses soon, tires of spewing his venom here, and tries to do something positive with his life.

A Moment of Truth

Thanks to Steve Brizel for pointing out this very informative article to me and providing a link .

Rabbi Nosson Scherman was recently interviewed by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, an instructor at both Isaac Breuer College and Yeshiva University who also currently serves on the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America.

This article, more so than the interview in the Jewish Press, gives us insight into the mindset of one of the most influential men in the Torah world. To better understand what kind of influences are being brought to bear upon much of the Orthodox reading public by his mega successful publishing house, Mesorah Publications, I think it is vital to know what and how he thinks.

There are things upon which we both agree and disagree. But our observations are not that divergent. What stands out for me is the following.

He seems to agree with my position that the right wing… or Charedi…educational system as it currently stands is somewhat counter-productive. Learning full time for life he says is an excellent idea for some and not for others. For them he even calls it a horrible idea.

Yet when asked about the possibility of changing the paradigm from one of exclusively promoting full time learning for everyone instead of making it one of several possible tracks, which is my own remedy in part of the problem… his response sounds almost apologetic.

He in fact agrees with Rabbi Goldin that there should be other options available in the world of Charedi education. And that that those who are not cut out for learning full time for life end up feeling like failures. He even admits that every yeshiva recognizes that problem. So why not give those options? The Roshei Yeshiva are afraid of a brain drain. The fear that the best and brightest will opt for those other options.

How sad it is that this mentality prevails in our time. This generation which is one of the weakest in Torah Gadlus, nevertheless has the largest in number of people learning full time in Jewish history. Doesn’t that tell the rabbinic leaders that instead of contributing to a solution toward greatness in Torah, it is instead, contributing to the problem?

I wonder if Rabbi Scherman privately feels the same way.

The Lieberman Option

Islam is wining. That’s pretty much the long and the short of it. The Milchemes Mitzvah which they call Jihad is taking control of the Islamic word. They are getting new converts every day. And Islamism is what’s fueling the conflict in Lebanon. And Gaza. And Iraq. And it is clearly what’s driving Iran. And most importantly it is the primary reason for the hatred of Israel… and Jews… and Christians. We in the west have yet to feel the full consequences of the Jihad, although we had a taste of it on 9/11/01.

Why do I say Islam winning?... Let me count the ways.

Islamist Hezbollah, a surrogate of Iran, controls Lebanon.

The battle between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza is clearly being won by the Islamist Hamas…first by the ballot and now by the bullet. Hamas leaders and members are true and uncompromising believers in the tenet of world domination by Islam by any means necessary.

Iraq, while a mostly civil war type conflict can really be seen as more of a conflict between the more secular and the more religious Islamist. And the Islamists are winning there, because they have no fear. Dying for the cause is a prized achievement.

And the grand-daddy of them all is Iran. Thanks in large part to the grossly incompetent former President Jimmy Carter 27 years ago, Islamist adherents of Ayatollah Khomeini took over what used to be a very pro-western secular country. And it has remained in power raising an entire generation of Islamic fundamentalists. How sad it is when I recall how pro west it was prior to the Islamic revolution. It even had ambassadorial exchanges with Israel.

Iran is the real enemy here. They are the ones driving this entire conflict. They are the inspiration and the enablers of most of the terrorism taking place against the west. They invented the modern day Jihadist fighter…fighters that include car bombers and suicide bombers. They encourage it. They preach it as a virtue. They fund it. They train people in how to do it effectively. And now of course they are on the precipice of becoming a nuclear power.

Last Sunday, I watched an interview of Senator Joseph Lieberman. For the first time I finally heard a respected politician talk about a solution I’ve been advocating for a long time: Military action against Iran.

I’m not sure how the US would go about it. I am sure about the opposition to it by most of the rest of the world and even the US congress. But I am equally sure he is right about where the problem truly lies and he is at least beginning to address the real problem.

The real problem is Islam itself.

No matter how many so called peaceful Islamic types say that it Islam is a religion of peace… and that it is the fanatics who misinterpret and misrepresent Islam… and that it is they who are causing all the problems… and that they are but a small minority… it doesn’t matter. They can scream it all they want. The only Islam that matters is the one that is winning the Jihad.

So how do we win this war? Well first we have to understand that this is not a war against terrorism. Terror is just a tactic, not an enemy. The enemy is an idea: Islam.

How do you defeat an idea? This is one area that our political leaders have not faced realistically. They think that if we can establish a democratic bulwark in Iraq, everything will just fall into place. Iraq will become a shining example in the region of how wonderfully a democracy can work.

But that kind of thinking is why Iraq is in the mess that it’s in. You cannot win a war against an idea by killing, capturing, or even torturing a few of its adherents. You have to win a war of ideas by destroying the idea itself …which is truly impossible if you think about it.

So, what can we do if an idea cannot be destroyed? Well you don’t destroy it entirely. But depending on the idea, it can be dimished to the point where winning a war based on it becomes impossible. This is what happened in World War II. Nazi Germany was based on an idea too. It was the racist philosophy of Nazism. Their racial ideas were not entirely destroyed, but once they realized through the overwhelming force of the allied response that their ideas were not going to prevail in the battlefield, they surrendered. And Germany has now become an ally.

But that only works with rational people who value their own lives. Religious fervor adds a dimension that is virtually impossible to fight. The religious fanatic that is the Jihadist doesn’t care if he is losing, or that he will die. Death is a prize when warring for God. Innocent Islamic victims in a Jihad go straight to heaven. Innocent non-Islamic victims go straight to hell.

So how do we fight that? Well it helps if at least those fighting the war understand the enemy and their goals. And that is one reason the war in Iraq will never be won by conventional military means. The US army is the mightiest in the world by far, yet it has been impotent so far.

So long as the Islamist fighters have one man standing they will fight on and continually recruit more. And unless we are willing to commit genocide, a conventional war cannot destroy them. It is a logistical impossibility since they are invisible. We don’t know how many fanatic fighters there are or where they are, or even who they are. They hide in plain sight.

We do, however, know who the clerics are. We know who, what, and where they are. The only way we are going to win the war with Isalm is if we treat this entire word-wide conflict as a holy war. And the new generals in this war are the Islamist clerics. It has to be seen that way. World leaders, starting with the US have to stop tip-toeing around the political correctness of calling Islamist terrorists an aberration of Islam. They aren’t. They are an integral part of the belief system. Islamists are a faction that focuses on that element of Islam. They are almost Messianist in their approach. They view themselves as all powerful because they fear no one and nothing, least of all their own deaths.

So, Senator Lieberman’s suggestion is a good start. Iran, the spiritual guiding light for Islamism needs to be a prime focus. Iraq is at best a surrogate war. We are about four years late in looking at this war as a holy war, a Meilchemes Mitzvah, a Jihad. But late… does not mean too late.

It’s time for the world to buckle down and take care of business. A new strategy has to be developed to fight Islam… not terror. Once we do that, we will be on our way toward victory.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Daas Torah and Common Sense

How important is it to listen to the words of our Gedloim? This has been an issue here for a long time. I’ve discussed Daas Torah before. But I want to make note of a of the fact that when it comes to considering the views of those who are looked at as representing Daas Torah …The wisdom of the Torah… there is a very important principle which should not be over-looked: Common sense.

This week’s Parsha of Korach seems to argue the opposite. Korach claimed that common sense tells us a Halacha about Tzitizis. And he tried to appeal to the masses based on his common sense of this Halacha. His approach was indeed logical. But it was wrong. Halacha is not always contingent on common sense. Sometimes the opposite is true. Common sense tells you one thing and Halacha tells you the opposite.

But does this mean we may never apply common sense when trying to determine Halacha? Of course it doesn’t. Often it is exactly the right formula to determine Halacha.

So when we hear a Psak Halacha that does not make sense to us, we have an obligation to ask questions about it. We do not just assume that our individual brains are too feeble to understand the Halacha and thereby just follow it blindly. This of course doesn’t mean we automatically violate it either. But it does mean that we should not automatically believe in nonsense.

And that is something to think about whenever we hear pronouncements in the name of Gedolim that perplex us. We have an obligation to learn everything we can about it and make sure that it isn’t a misrepresentation or an exaggeration of what the Halacha really is. Too often, people take such pronouncements out of context... or a Psak can be issued on incomplete information, or may apply only in a specific situation. No one should fear knowledge. That is what learning is all about.

And no one makes this point better than does Rav Hershel Shachter.

Hat’s Off to the Chazon Ish

Do those who support the protest rally called for by Rabbi Tuvia Weiss, head of the Edah HaCharedis, believe that this would be approved by the Chazon Ish, if he were alive today?

“THE CHAZON ISH was, in fact, uncompromising with respect to anything touching upon Torah values. Yet the extremism or kana’us that he exemplified bears little resemblance to what often passes for kana’us in our world today, and provides no support for our self-styled zealots.”

In fact the Edah HaCharedis could use a lesson in Kannaus here. Because their attitude is more along the lines of the Jews from before Mattan Torah. Apparently what the Chazon Ish meant by this phrase is that their zeal was not shaped by the ways of the Torah.

Of course I am not saying that the Edah views are not shaped by the Torah. Of course they are. But are they being Roeh Es HaNolad... Do they not see the potential folly? Advocating a rally of this magnitude and saying it will shake the foundations could easily deteriorate into violence and cause danger to life, limb, and property. And this will surely have an opposite effect of that which is intended.

No doubt, if the Chazon Ish were alive today, he would oppose it. And it makes me wonder about the view of the Chazan Ish’s Talmidim, his spiritual heirs of today who live and learn in Bnei Brak. Do they support the call by the Edah for a massive protest? Is the rest of the Yeshivishe Torah world in synch with this? Ponevezh? Mir? Brisk?

We know that Gererr Chasidim aren’t. But I doubt that one can divide the camps along Chasidic/ Misnagdic lines. One thing seems certain. Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum, who is one of the most erudite and accomplished spokesman for Agudah, and runs Agudah’s “Am Echad” program, doesn’t seem to think the Chazan Ish would support it either. He has not come out specifically with a condemnation of the Edah’s approach. But he surely implies it. My proverbial hat is off to him for his timely article.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Violence L’Shma: Is It Worth the Price?

Curses. I’m not a big fan of cursing people as a means of dealing with evil. I don’t remember seeing that option laid out for me in the Torah as a remedy against public homosexual behavior. Nor do I think it is in the Gemara or Halacha. Be that as it may, this is in part the remedy offered by the Edah HaCharedis in Israel to fight off the Gay Pride parade. “Damn the Gays!”

OK. If that’s how they want to handle it, it’s their business. I do not agree with this method at all, but it’s none of my business who curses who. I’m in fact pretty sure that the Edah has been cursed over its existence by more than one individual, some of them pretty Frum, I’ll bet. Curses do not disrupt the peace.

The problem is that they do not want to stop there. They are now calling for violence.

Let’s peek at the future a bit by looking at the past. What was accomplished last time there was a protest like this? Jerusalem was trashed. Some innocent people were hurt and many more were inconvenienced. And the city looked like it had been vandalized by the worst of type gang members. Dumpsters overturned, trash burning in the streets. A beautiful city was ransacked. The result… the parade was moved from the streets of Jerusalem to a Jerusalem stadium. What a victory! The evil homosexuals were defeated. Never to be seen again. Until now, less than a year later. So, where’s the victory?

I guess the Edah feels if at first you don’t succeed try, try again. Only this time try harder. How much harder…? Are we going to see another knife wielding crazy person like the one we saw at a prior protest? …who will be inspired by the angry call of Edah head Rabbi Tuvia Weiss trying to stab a few homosexuals? Wouldn’t surprise me at all. The call to violence by Rabbi Weiss did not have any tempering words. It was instead a call to increase the violence to in his words: “shake the foundations”.

By now most people know my views about homosexuality. They are to be treated like human beings. V’Ahavta L’Re’echa Kamocha is not contingent on the level of Torah observance of one’s fellow Jew. If one has forbidden urges, one is not to be shunned because of it. And if one does act on them, he should be rebuked and dissuaded from repeating their transgressions … not just a homosexual or a heterosexual act but any Halachic violations.

The advocacy position of the parade organizers is what I am opposed to. No one should be advocating lifestyles that the Torah forbids. But succumbing to forbidden urges is part of the human condition and human frailty. Violators who succumb to a forbidden Taavah should be looked at sympathetically. It is the willful violators who proclaim it as a legitimate lifestyle that I oppose. And that is why I oppose the parade. And perhaps even more so, I oppose these kinds of parades because they are often a disgusting display of aberrant behavior by half dressed individuals, who think nothing displays of their private body parts in public.

Doing so in the holy city of Jerusalem makes the outrage all the greater. And in fact I don’t even blame the reaction the Edah has to this parade. The parade is an outrage! It is not about the dignity that so many Homosexuals crave and don’t get in our society. If it were just about that, I’m not sure the Edah would be so upset. Although they would be legitimately opposed, they would not be threatening to shake the foundations of Jerusalem.

But they are not justified, in my view at all to call for violent protest. Their protests which they view as a Kiddsuh HaShem have the potential to make an even greater Chilul HaShem instead. And there is the additional real possibility of innocent people getting hurt… as happened last time when the protest called for were not as severe. The more violent the protest, the more the media will get involved and broadcast to the world… NOT that the ultra Orthodox are protecting the sanctity of Jerusalem, but that they are a bunch of intolerant, primitive violent Jews no better than Hamas terrorists. It isn’t true of course, but that is how they will be portrayed. Ahhh… but will say that at least they are on record as opposing homosexuality. (As if no one realizes this yet!)

This is not a call for a peaceful protest. This is a clarion call for violent resistance. And to make maters worse, they consider the police the enemy here too.

Can any police officer be blamed for considering the Edah protesters the enemy after being put in the same basket as the gay paraders and cursed right along with them?

Last time something like this happened is 1968 in Chicago. The police were called pigs by the anti-Vietnam war protesters. The police reacted violently.

Cursing the police in Jerusalem is the moral equivalent of calling them pigs. I’d better not hear anything about police brutality after this is all over. You reap what you sow.