Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Protesting Too Much

There was an awful article written by Rabbi Aryeh Z. Ginzberg in the 5 Towns Jewish Times. It was about Rabba Sara Hurwitz’s appearance a few weeks ago on a Shabbos as a scholar in residence in the Young Israel of Hewlett.

I have in the past written about my own views on female rabbis. I am opposed to the actual ordination of women for reasons I have stated in the past. I will not go into detail here - but briefly I am opposed to a woman functioning as a Shul rabbi because of possible Serarah issues. And because the primary function of a Shul is Teffila B'Tzibur - and the Tzibur in a Shul during Teffila is Halachicly off limits to a woman. She may not be counted for a Minyan and must be separated from the men by a Mechitza during Teffila.

I also want to reiterate my support for female participation in other areas where rabbis participate such as in teaching, pastoral counseling, the chaplaincy (e.g. hospitals; jails), or Yoatzot (Halachic advisors on women’s issues). I am also in favor of giving women the opportunity to learn Torah at any level they choose and to recognize their achievements in some official capacity.

But this post is not about that. It is about the unbelievably disgusting attitude expressed by Rabbi Aryeh Ginzberg in an article that referred to Sara Hurwitz’s scholar in residency as a Bizayon HaTorah - a denigration of Torah.

For the record, I don’t think it was a good idea because it only adds to the controversy and causes the kind of response by the right that Rabbi Ginzberg had. And that response was completely out of bounds.

What good does it do refer to this event as a Bizayon HaTorah? I’m sure that she did little more than address her audiences on Torah subjects – much like the other woman of whom Rabbi Ginzberg would approve had they done so.

And yet he says we should cry about this event on Tisha B’Av! Is there nothing worse going on in the Jewish world to cry about than a woman speaking in a Shul?

I am also once again disappointed that ‘one of the senior Gedolei HaDor’ - whom he chose not to identify – asked him to write this article. What kind of Gadlus does this show? What is gained besides promoting enmity and divisiveness? The Agudah Moeztes has already come out with a strident condemnation of female rabbis. How many different ways do they have to say it?

The stridency of his tirade is insulting to Sara Hurwith, to the rabbi of the Shul who invited her, and those who attended her Shiurim. It was unecessary as she clearly has not been accepted by any major Orthodox rabbinic body as a rabbi. Not the RCA and certainly not Agudah. She was allowed to keep her title but it is meaningless in terms of her acceptance into the rabbinate. Her ordination has been rejected.

Disagree if you like. But why insult and drive wedges between people? Perhaps the real Bizayon is Rabbi Ginzberg's article.

I agree with Rabbi Hershel Billet. Rabbi Ginzberg’s article is trash!

A Skeptic’s Story

Guest Post

An anonymous poster who identified himself as a long time lurker on the site wrote a comment introducing it with the following words: ‘This post really spoke to me’. I have decided to turn his comment into a guest post because of the heartfelt way he speaks about his own experience.

Here is a man who wrestles with his faith and has privately ‘dropped out’ and yet publicly has ‘stayed in’ appearing outwardly Frum. I believe that his experience is not as uncommon as one might think. I have heard this story in various different incarnations many times.

In my view one of the biggest theological dangers of our day is maintaining our religious beliefs in the modern world – a world where information about everything is available with lightening speed. That includes a tremendous number of skeptic websites and blogs.

I’m not sure I have any answers but it is worthwhile noting that even people with a normal non abusive or dysfunctional background can easily drop out. My only questions are how many more people are there like this and is there anything that can be done about it?

I present the following in its entirety. I have edited it for grammar, spelling, and somewhat for style but have otherwise left it intact.

I'm married for 15 years, my wife and I are, if one can't call us atheists then perhaps the term is, skeptics. No one knows apart from my wife and me.

For 5 years I didn’t step foot in a shul - while living in a frum community as a real part f it. That included Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Purim, Tisha Báv, all spent at home, away from the kids so they wouldn’t know. Yet my wife and I are struggling to pay enormous tuition for our kids.

Why? We don't know. Our therapist can't figure out - ascribing it to being children of holocaust survivors terrified of the repercussions on our relatives (though we both have family members who are no longer frum or have married out).

Only recently have I started going to shul again, just on the weekend, where recently, for the first time in years I put teffilin on, on a Sunday.

I am a fake, a phony. Yet I have kept kosher all my life. I even fasted yesterday (Shiva Asar B’Tamuz).

Once upon a time I "felt" God, or the idea of the celestial being, but now I just don't know. I can’t deny His existence but can do nothing at all to feel tuned in.

We rejected the charedi lifestyle a while back, opting for modern orthodoxy as we felt that we would hopefully find more of a "connect" there. We found a great community, amazing social life, great yeshivot for the kids, even a warm rabbi and rebetzin at shul. But I don’t know what Judaism means to me, at the moment it feels like a legacy to pass on to my kids.

At the Shabbat table recently the conversation evolved into what we all felt would be the most important thing we needed to ensure to provide for our kids futures. The dominant response was to keep kids on the derech, parents willing to spend anything and do anything to make that happen.

I didn’t respond out loud but I came to the conclusion that I want my kids to be happy. If that means my son telling me he doesn’t want to go to learn in Israel, that’s fine with me. If he says he's gay, or marrying his non Jewish girlfriend, I'm really OK with that. He's not at that stage yet but the way I feel now, I want the kids to be happy and I will shed no tear if any of the above come to pass.

As a commenter on the previous post succinctly pointed out "Why do they start believing"? Starting from my 8th day of life I was forced into something that I had no input into.

I have rambled so much, mainly because this has been very therapeutic for me.

I know that the chareidim will use me as a proof of the failures of modern orthodoxy but guys, I tried your life for many years first. And no, I wasn’t abused by my elementary school rebbe, or beaten. I just have never, in all my life, felt engaged.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Orthoprax Rabbi

My gut instinct tells me this is a hoax. It can't be true. The deception would be almost impossible to pull off. But what if it isn’t a hoax? What if it's true? The following is a bio from the blog of a modern Orthodox Rabbi:

I wanted to introduce myself, I am the rabbi of a modern orthodox synagogue. I have traditional semikha, spent time studying in Israel, have written articles for various Torah journals, I am married (to the Orthoprax Rebbetzin) and have five kids (the Orthoprax Rabbi’s Kids).

This is all pretty unremarkable. But, I figured I would let you all in on a little secret, while my congregants are all Orthodox, to varying degrees, I am not. I don’t believe in any of it. I am an atheist. I personally don’t keep much of any of Jewish law.

How then can I be an Orthodox Rabbi? Simple. A rabbi is a job like any other. No one asks the plumber if he believes in plumbing or the attorney if he truly believes in his client. Instead, everyone understands that many people go into different professions for many different reasons.

Sure, there are those plumbers who view it as their calling or the attorney who only takes clients he can believe in. Most of us, however, aren’t that lucky. Instead, we take jobs that we think we can be good at, make money, get power or a host of other reasons.

I took this job because I am a good speaker, personable and have a background in Jewish stuff. My congregants all like me – or at least it seems so, I just received a five-year contract extension and raise - so what’s wrong if I don’t believe.

My belief doesn’t (for the most part, and I hope to explore some areas where it does) affect my job performance. I answer “she’elot” and give heartfelt dershot, officiate at weddings and funerals, and, as I said, people are generally satisfied. So do my beliefs matter?

I hope to explore this question and generally discuss my role as the atheist or, as some nice people have come up with a category for what I am – orthoprax, I am the Orthoprax Rabbi.

There are no other entries on this blog and it is certianly reasonable to conclude that this is a hoax. But it is not out of the realm of possibility that this guy exists exactly as he describes. It is a very plausible description of someone who is a real rabbi of a real Shul. If it is true then those who Daven in a modern Orthodox Shul whose rabbi fits the above description may have an atheist as their spiritual leader - and not know it.

This could be your rabbi!

Of course closet atheists do not only come from modern Orthodox backgrounds. There are plenty of Charedi and Chasidic closet atheists too. And their numbers seem to be increasing. They do not believe in God and yet lead Frum lifestyles. The reason they do that is because they grew up Frum and are comfortable with that lifestyle. Their friends and family are Orthodox. Many are married and have children whose peer groups are all Orthodox. They even send their kids to religious day schools. Somewhere along the way for any number of reasons they stopped believing. But they remain ‘Frum’. They even have a label: Orthoprax.

In pursuit of trying to find out why so many Jews have gone this route I have read some of the atheist and skeptic blogs and have seen various reasons stated as to why and how they got that way. One thing that seems clear to me about them is that they are not evil people. They have just reacted differently to questions than those of us who have retained our beliefs. And they do not wish to change. They do not miss their former beliefs and feel liberated from them.

So why did they stop believing? There are probably as many reasons as there are skeptics and atheists and it’s usually more than one. One of the more common reasons given is the perceived contradictions between Torah and science and after searching - not finding satisfactory resolutions to those contradictions. Another common reason is the arguments of the bible critics who use literary analysis to dispute the Torah’s Divine origin. Others reasons include social and emotional problems that stem from various life circumstances.

Some I suppose simply want to be Porek Ol – they simply do not want to be burdened with Mitzvah observance. But they all end up in the same place – as non believers. I am not here to argue with them. I would just say that belief is based on more than just logical analyses. And I feel sorry for those who by nature of their atheism see no purpose or meaning to life.

But what about this Orthoprax rabbi (if he truly exists)? I can understand why he became an atheist. But how can he justify preaching belief when he is not a believer? Is that not the height of deception and dishonesty? Being a rabbi is more than about making speeches - even heartfelt ones. It’s more than just a job. It is based on the desire to serve God and one’s community. How does an atheist enhance their spirituality.

He is lying when he preaches. He is lying by projecting a false image about himself. He is supposed to be a role model for his congregants. How long can he keep up his facade? What happens when his Shul members discover that he is an atheist? How will this impact them? Doers he not have any integrity? Is he any better than the Monsey butcher who sold Treif meat for Kosher?

A fellow blogger sent this bio to me with the subject-line: Creepy! It sure is!

Monday, June 28, 2010

One More… on Emanuel

My Last Word on the Subject - (I Hope)

The issue has simmered down and both sides seem satisfied with the outcome. There is really no more to say and the truth is I’m overdosed on this already. So when this interview of R’ Yaakov Yosef - son of Rav Ovadia Yosef - was published yesterday at VIN, I decided to ignore it.

But I shouldn’t have. It is the truth and vindicates what I’ve been saying all along. Besides - the issue of ethnic prejudice against Sephardim in Charedi – and in particular Chasidic Israel has not gone away.

Please read the entire post at VIN. Here are some key excerpts:

Why did you need to do this?

“We may not keep silent. An evil was done here. They humiliated families, and innocent and kosher Jewish girls. They made them an object of derision. Terrible things. Some rabbonim, not just me, me and another 33 rabbis, took a position against this. We planned what to do and how to respond.

The Slonimer chassidim claim that there was no discrimination on the basis of ethnicity.

It’s not true. It’s a lie. It is ethnical. We are completely convinced. The people who live there told us the true story that all this happened on the basis of ethnicity.

So why don’t those people speak up?

“They are very humble people. They are indigent, but very modest and humble. They have no ties to the media, they sit and toil in Torah study. Avreichim with wonderful families. How can a person stand and shout to the opposite side of the fence, ‘There are mechalelei Shabbos here.’ Who gave people the right to come and speak derogatorily about the Jewish people? How can such a thing be?

How did they arrive at the decision to turn to the Supreme Court? Rav Yaakov Yosef says that for 3 years, he has tried to establish a national Beis Din that would navigate the affair quietly. Such a beis din would rule and be a supreme authority above the elementary and high school principals, but Chinuch Atzmai firmly opposed it.

Is it true that several Avos Beis Din permitted going to the court?

“That’s correct. But I’ll leave their names confidential so what happened to me won’t happen to them. There are Ashkenazic rabbis among them, who feel awful about the terrible situation.
“Unfortunately, we are being intimidated. … We are dealing with people who act as if they were from the underground world.

But why is there a gap between all gedolei yisroel who signed against, and you? And you insist you’re right.

“It’s a maaseh Satan. That’s the only way to explain it. Why didn’t all the great rabbis turn to us? Why didn’t they invite Yoav (Lalum – the attorney who filed suit) and speak with him?

“They do things, give their signatures, without hearing us. How can it be? Either the signatures are false and their secretaries forged them, or the yetzer hora himself was involved in it.

“All the time we offered compromises and this was even publicized in the media. Why didn’t the gedolim respond then? When they asked Rav Grossman last week, he tried to reach a compromise, and we were happy to accept it. He told us that he didn’t know there was a wall.

“We would be happy to accept any compromise whatsoever, but not a compromise that would come at the expense of the girls who had been maligned. It’s a crime. If we would have remained silent, the separation would have continued throughout the country. We did it to prevent that from happening.

What does the rav think about Judge Edmond Levy’s statement that “this verdict doesn’t need a rabbi’s confirmation”?

“I think he got carried away. The atmosphere in the court was angry and furious, and that’s why he said these words. This problem of discrimination is a form of mental illness. Since when do you send a mentally ill person to prison? Why send them to prison? We’re speaking about their rabbis too, who should have fulfilled what the Torah says, ‘make a hearing between your brothers.’

How did the rav respond to his father’s words on last week motzei Shabbos, that one may not go to courts?

“I felt very uncomfortable that Father (R' Ovadia Yosef) didn’t explain all. Many times, we give a permit to turn to the courts. Sixteen years ago, we had a case: the daughter of a deserving family registered for a school here. The principal, Neuman, didn’t want to accept her. “We tried everything, but weren’t successful. In the end we went, as a last resort, to Father. Father said, “Go to the Supreme Court.

People say that Rav Yaakov Yosef is truly a holy man but maybe Yoav Lalum is misleading him.

“I know Yoav Lalum for many years. He is a ben Torah, and a G-d-fearing person. This whole matter has only given him tribulations. He is today the most threatened person around. He is at the head of the police list of people who need protection. “Should I keep silent? Should I abandon my friend Yoav Lalum? You can’t maneuver me right or left. You won’t find my signature where it shouldn’t be.”

In your opinion, what does your father Rav Ovadya Yosef think about this affair?

“My father feels the pain of discrimination. He speaks generally against going to the Supreme Court, and so do we. But when there is no choice, of course Father thinks one should too.

How Chasidism Went Astray

OK – I never met him but he’s probably an Apikores. Let’s get that out of the way first. Rabbi Arthur Green was ordained by the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary and was once the dean of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Reconstructionists do not believe in God – at least not in the traditional sense. I don’t know what his personal beliefs are but it would seem to be ridiculous for someone to be the dean of a rabbinical school and not believe in its theology.

And yet after reading an op-ed he wrote on the state of Chasidus in the Forward one would never guess his background or religious orientation. One might even think he an Orthodox scholar on the subject. He is obviously very knowledgeable and loves Chasidus. He even spends time ‘poring over the works of the Kedushas Levi (R’ Levi Yitzchak Berditchever) and the Sefas Emes (The Gerrer Rebbe of a few generations ago)’.

I therefore do not believe him to be simply bashing Chasidus. I consider him to instead analyzing it from a perspective of love -showing how modern day Chasidim have strayed from many of Judaism’s core values. In my view he pretty much nails it. I have in fact articulated many of these things myself.

I have personally never been attracted to Chasidism for reasons I have discussed in the past. But I understand those who are attracted to it. They place a high value on it - as Rabbi Green does. Here are some of his observations.

To understand how Hasidism went astray, we need to know its history, including some flaws that were present from the outset.

The goal of the Baal Shem Tov’s followers was a Jewish life refocused on such essentials as the love of God, the joy of living out God’s commandments and the faith that divinity was to be found everywhere. The Jew’s task was to seek sparks of holiness throughout creation and to return them to their root, meanwhile celebrating the privilege of this life of holiness. Divinity was to be found in fields and forests, in the letters of the Torah, and in the Jewish heart.

Left out of the equation was the non-Jewish human community in whose midst the Hasidim lived. It is easy to say that Polish and Ukrainian Christianity, filled with anti-Semitic stereotypes, dehumanized the Jew, and we merely returned the favor.

But the history is more complex. The view that gentiles are less fully human than Jews, even said to be lacking the divine soul, had ancient roots in kabbalistic tradition. Sadly, that bit of racist Jewish folklore is alive among the Hasidim (and a few others!) even today.

Although it should have nothing to do with internal Jewish divisions, since the unity of Jews is also a cardinal principle, we know that the stain of racism is one that tends to spread.

Two other developments that led to the decline and even degeneration of Hasidism can be attributed to decisions made in the course of its history.

The first is dynastic leadership. The idea that a holy man’s charisma could be passed down to sons and grandsons — instead of the obvious, and more inherently Jewish, choice of master-to-disciple — began in a few key families of Hasidic lineage at the turn of the 19th century. The grandsons and great-grandsons of Hasidic tzaddikim quarreled with one another over loyalties, over doctrines, but especially over money.

As the numbers of dynastic claimants swelled, the movement came to be seen as characterized by pettiness and increasingly weak and uninspired leadership. While a few great latter-day figures proved exceptions, the rule was that the quality and originality of those at Hasidism’s helm was already in sharp decline over a hundred years ago.

The second development stems from the Hasidic movement’s response to modernity.

When the brash new Hasidic movement first appeared on the stage of history, the rabbinic leadership of Eastern Europe, famously including the Vilna Gaon, was outraged. For 30 years, beginning in 1772, these mitnagdim — Hasidism’s “opponents” — would excommunicate anyone who had anything to do with the Hasidim. But by 1810, the rabbinic leadership began to feel the pressure of a much more dangerous enemy, that of Haskalah, or Jewish enlightenment. The rabbinic leaders then made common cause with the Hasidim to fight modernity.

The Hasidim, anxious to please their one-time persecutors, enthusiastically led the charge. The Baal Shem Tov’s world-embracing legacy was turned into a weapon with which to bludgeon anyone who dared deviate, whether in religious practice, educational views or even in style of dress, from the norms of the 18th century.

This is the Hasidism that got carried forward into succeeding generations. As the struggle became fiercer, especially once it involved governmental pressures, Hasidic anti-modernism turned spiteful, justifying techniques of resistance that are no source of pride.

By the 20th century, the battle was mostly lost, and children of Hasidim by the drove were turning toward various secular Jewish movements, including Zionism. The surviving Hasidic movement then turned toward politics, creating the Agudat Yisrael movement and other bodies that sought to defend the ever-receding turf of Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox domination.

World War I, the terrible pogroms that followed it and Sovietization ravaged Hasidism in Eastern Europe. Hitler did the rest. By 1945 there seemed to be almost nothing left.

Then the most remarkable period of Hasidic history began to unfold. Out of the Holocaust’s ashes, the community began to rebuild itself.

The fiercely anti-Zionist Satmar rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum, re-created a large chunk of pre-war Hungary in Williamsburg and Jerusalem. The surviving Bobover scion, Solomon Halberstam, who had lost nearly all of his following, reached out to surviving Hasidim who had lost their own rebbes to re-build Galicia, first in Crown Heights, then in Boro Park.

The Lubavitchers had an active underground network that was keeping some sparks of Torah alive in the Soviet Union. The Lubavitchers — eventually followed by the Bratslavers — reached out, often with some success, to the children of modern Jews. The Gerer and Belzer rebbes, both rescued in the midst of the Holocaust, rebuilt their empires around grand fortresses in Jerusalem, then conquered ever-larger swaths of Israel.

All of this happened with the support of other Jews, very prominently including the government of Israel. We were all deeply moved and impressed by the faith-energy displayed by this old-new Jewish community, committed to reconstituting itself in new and uncomfortable surroundings. Impressive natural increase, in contrast to the rest of us remarkably infertile Jews, helped the postwar Hasidim regain significant numerical representation within world Jewry.

Israeli military draft exemption laws worked to create a huge society of largely idle Hasidic males, supposedly full-time Torah students, a phenomenon completely unlike anything in earlier Hasidic history.

With Hasidim accustomed to viewing all outsiders through the lens of Eastern European hostilities, the Hasidism that has emerged is a strange combination of inner-directed love and joy, an inheritance from the movement’s first period; uncompromising and often hysterical degrees of ultra-Orthodox extremism, combined with shrill denunciations of all other Jews, coming from the second era of Hasidic history; and disdain for the non-Jewish world, the legacy of persecutions old and new.

Postscript to a Tragic Event

There is an editorial in the Quad-City Times some of which expresses what is on the minds of many of us who both condemned Sholom Rubashkin’s crimes and decried his unjust and excessive sentence – a sentence devoid of any mercy!

To those of us who did not see Shalom Rubashkin as a Tzadik of unparalleled proportion (which is the way some of his supporters have painted him) – neither did we see him as a Rasha of unparalleled proportion.

He was convicted of a financial crime and Judge Linda Reade threw the book at him. He was sentenced to a 27 year prison term – a virtual life sentence based on a man’s average lifespan in our era. His legal team will vigorously appeal the prison sentence and it is my sincere wish that they can get it reduced to a more just and merciful sentence.

That said it should not be forgotten what Rubashkin’s company - Agriprocessors was like when it was raided. There were so many allegations of wrong doing it would probably fill a book. After his conviction for bank fraud the prosecution had dropped all of those charges in light of the expected heavy sentence he would receive. They felt it would more than cover convictions of those other offences. While it is true that in a recent trial he was not proven guilty of knowingly hiring underage illegal immigrants – that was just one of many charges he would have faced.

I don’t want to belabor all those charges. Suffice it to say that even if he were guilty of only some of them – it was a major Chilul HaShem. That has not gone away and should not be forgotten.

Unfortunately the anger expressed by his most ardent supporters has caused yet another Chilul HaShem. If one goes over to The Robing Room where Judge Linda Reade can be rated by the public one will be shocked at the commentary. Hate mail doesn’t begin to describe what’s going on over there. Here is just one example:

This Judge is an anti-semite of the highest order. She should never have been allowed to judge in this case, since she was the instigagor of the raid. She made mud out of an innocent man, and took away his livelihood and his life. G-D will pay her back. He has his ways.

I have no idea who these commenters are since they posted anonymously, but based on the anger expressed there - my very strong hunch is that many if not most of them are so-called Frum Jews – probably Lubavitcher Chasidim since Rubashkin is one of their own.

Aside from this increasing the Chilul HaShem - I’m pretty sure that website is monitored by government authorities and they do not take hate mail like this against sitting federal judges lightly.

But I digress. The point I wanted to make here was to contrast the current ownership to the previous ownership.

I have no idea who Hershey Friedman is. I don’t know if he is a Charedi… or a Chasid… or MO. I have no clue about his Hashkafos or background. What I do know is that he is making a Kiddush HaShem. The Chilul HaShem that emanated from Postville is being reversed. I will end with this excerpt from the article with which I fully concur:

The plant (Rubashkin) so inhumanely managed has been purchased and reopened by another Jewish kosher processor. Hershey Friedman, Agri Star chief executive officer, has initiated a $7.5 million upgrade and boosted Postville plant employment to 560. He’s complying with federal hiring laws, restoring relations with Iowa livestock producers and demonstrating that the Agriprocessors’ nightmare was the result of a felon’s greed and reckless choices.

Let Rubashkin and some of his Chabad kin cry about injustice. Let Friedman and his Agri Star successors show how an honest, compassionate and profitable kosher business can be run in Iowa.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The End of an International Nightmare

Ynet reports that a compromise seems to have been worked out in the matter of ethnic prejudice in the Israeli town of Emmanuel. Parents that had been jailed for failing to comply with a court order have been released. Apparently all sides agree and the agonizing international debate on this issue is over.

I can’t leave this without commenting on the Charedi response which in my view mistakenly mis-characterized this event as an attack against Torah rather than an attempt to eliminate prejudice.

A court decision that should have signaled an end to prejudice snowballed in to a frenzied attack against the Israeli government accusing them of interfering with Torah education. Mass rallies by hundreds of thousands of Charedi Jews followed suit. They protested what they were told was an attack against Torah. That battling ethnic prejudice was the court’s motive was not even a consideration.

The most insulting comment was made against Edmund Levi (pictured) - the religious judge on that court who responded to rabbinic criticism by saying something to the effect these rabbis had no sway on the court’s decisions.

The Charedi rabbis immediately interpreted that to mean that this judge believed that Torah law is superseded by secular law. Their reaction was swift and then they went on the attack. Surprisingly Sephardi Gadol Rav Yosef actually went so far as saying that the religious Sephardi lawyer who brought the lawsuit in the first place would lose his portion in Olam HaBa for this.

These rabbinic leaders saw only one thing. An attack against Torah. Ethnic prejudice was completely dismissed as the motive. Charedi protesters went to the streets to show their solidarity with Daas Torah on this issue - most of whom probably didn’t bother checking the facts for themselves. The Gedolei HaDor said ‘jump’, they saluted and said how high?

But this was never a religious issue. It was all about underlying ethnic prejudice:

From an article in the Jerusalem Post:

“Two-and-a-half years ago [Religious Services Minister] Yaakov Margi toured Emmanuel, and was shocked at what he saw in the school. Following that, we had an extensive meeting and decided to found a Sephardi school, so that those girls wouldn’t feel discriminated against, despite the deficits the school has, due to the small size of the public it serves.

Shocked at what he saw in the school! Need I say more?

I am very disappointed with the Charedi rabbinic establishment’s accusations against Judge Levi. I doubt that a Frum judge would believe in any way that secular law supersedes Halacha. He probably meant that this was a secular matter dealing with a social issue and that he had the backing of the state.

He believed that the rabbis interpretation of events was based on an error of judgment without them having all the facts of the case that were brought before the court. They made judgments without being there - basing them on testimony from one side. But there were no curriculum issues at all. Judge Levi and his colleagues reviewed the facts of the case and ruled there was ethnic prejudice involved. The Charedi rabbis were in error about this being anti religious. That explains his response.

This is a win for integration. According to the agreement the parents must finish off their school year in the original school they cannot start a separate school with no separation fence. This has the endorsement of Rav Yosef. Had these parents done this in the first place they wouldn't have been jailed:

"The spirit of Judge Edmond Levy's decision from Friday made us understand that the judges want the verdict to be followed to the full. It was then decided to reach an agreement. The honorable Rabbi Ovadia Yosef sees it as a solution to a social problem.

What the Slonimer Chasidim in Emmanuel do during the summer months to prevent anything like this from ever happening again remains to be seen. In my view the way to end it is with complete integration on every level up to and including intermarrying. Ashkenazi children have to be re-educated about Sephardim and pejoratives like 'Shechorim' or 'Frank' has to not only be eliminated but children severely reprimanded if they use those terms.

Many will continue to cite the presence of the 27% Sephardim in that school as proof that there was no prejudice. How can you have Sephardim in the school and accuse it of ethnic prejudice? But they ignore the prejudice that exited within the walls of the school between the students and the wall of separation that they had. And the ridiculous rules they had to follow – giving up an important part of their heritage – the Sephardi pronunciation of Hebrew prayer both in the school and in the home.

Why did those parents become in essence Slonimer Chasidim (albeit 2nd class ones)? That is beyond the scope of this post. But let me suggest one possibility. The desire for social acceptance for one’s children can be a powerful motivator.

I’m glad this international nightmare is over. I only hope this ends the prejudice as well.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Best Boy in Lakewood

Jonathan Rosenblum does it again. In a Cross Currents article he has spoken out against the disgusting practice in the Yeshiva world of ‘selling Bnei Torah’ to the fathers of potential brides. There is a dollar value these days on young men who want to continue learning Torah full time after marriage.

It is usually in the form of a monthly check from ones in-laws. Jonathan’s emphasis is on how some Shadchanim emphasize money as the first item on the list of qualities they seek in young women who want date Bnei Torah. But I would suggest that it is not entirely their fault. They are simply following a trend set up by the Yeshiva world itself.

As most people who read this blog regularly know by now, the practice of learning full time after marriage for as long as possible is an almost universally accepted norm in the Yeshiva world. Roshei Yeshiva indoctrinate their students toward that end. Most young women from these backgrounds are indoctrinated to seek these young men. They all want ‘the best Bachur in Lakewood’.

As a side point this helps to explain one of the most talked about problems in the world of Shiduchim in the Yeshiva world. The fact is that there are far more single young women then there are single young men. That’s because the only men these women want are the good boys who are budding Talmidei Chachamim. This makes it much harder for a woman to find a mate. It is a lot easier to want a Talmid Chacham than to be one.

As I said the best Bachur in Lakewood has a price tag. This is a price tag that most people cannot afford – especially if they have lots of daughters. Somehow the Yeshiva world has evolved into a mercenary one. These budding Talmidei Chacham are encouraged to seek rich fathers-in law so that they can continue their learning indefinitely.

The ideal of seeking to marry a Bas Talmid Chacham (the daughter of a Talmid Chacham) has become just about obsolete. It is now about the money. The ideal of sacrificing material comfort in order to learn Torah is no longer seriously valued. The thinking goes something like this: Why should the best Bachur in Lakewood suffer deprivation and hunger? Why can’t he live like his working peers? Does he not provide a spiritual benefit which is far superior to the material benefit with which he is rewarded? Besides hasn’t the idea of financially supporting those who learn been established as a value since almost biblical times by the Yissachar/ Zevulun relationship?

The problem with that of course is that mostly - only the rich Yeshivishe girls get the ‘best boys in Lakewood’. The rest get the second best – or worse. Who wants to settle for 2nd best?

This is the current state of Torah Judaism. What gets the most honor and attention in that world? Is it learning Torah? Doing Mitzvos? Midos? Chesed? Hasmadah? Sacrifice?

No - it is the good old fashioned American dollar. That is the most sought after commodity in the Yeshiva world today. Ask the best Bachur in Lakewood’s father in law. He’ll tell you. Those other values? Sure... they are extolled in theory. But in practice its all about the money. Just like it is in the secular world.

In the meantime what do the Klei Kodesh - those who stayed in learning or are in modest income Chinuch jobs do now? They have marriageable daughters. Where do they get the money for their ‘best boy?

Undaunted and remaining true believers - they do desperate things like sell their life insurance policies. Or they take out second mortgages on their homes. Or they work way past retirement until they drop! Or in some cases they come up with some really terrific illegal scams to amass the fortunes it takes to marry off the many daughters Yeshiva parents tend to have.

So next time you see a Jew with a beard and a black hat doing the perp walk you’ll know why he found the need to steal. We already know that he has rationalized away all the Issurim. Now it’s just a matter of succeeding without being caught.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Who is Joel Pollak... and Why Should I Care?

We have a unique opportunity in the the 9th congressional district of the State of Illinois. This heavily Jewish district which includes my own highly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of West Rogers Park in Chicago is represented in the United States House of Representatives by Janice D.(Jan) Schakowsky (pictured).

Ms. Schakowsky is known as perhaps the most liberal member of congress – rated consistently between 90 and 100 percent by liberal ratings groups. Her support for the current President was immediate endorsing him out of the box when he announced his candidacy. She is supportive of just about all of his programs.

She is Jewish by birth but has rejected one of the most fundamental tenets of Judaism by marrying out of the faith. Her husband Robert Craemer is not Jewish.

In light of recent news it should be pointed out that her husband was sentenced to 5 months in prison in 2005 for bank fraud. It is interesting to note the sentencing disparity between Robert Craemer and Shalom Rubashkin who was recently sentenced to 27 years for bank fraud. While it is true that Rubashkin’s $27 million fraud was on a much larger scale than Craemer’s $2.3 million fraud - the sentencing disparity is nevertheless still shocking. Rubashkin got over 60 times that sentence! A comparable sentence for Rubashkin would have been in the neighborhood of about 4 years. But I digress. Schakowsky is not her husband.

Schakowsky’s support for Israel runs along the lines of J-Street from whom she received and accepted an enthusiastic endorsement. She is what is known in Chicago as a lakefront liberal. (That is a wealthy section of Chicago that has a very large and politically liberal Jewish constituency. She is one of those Jews who defines her ‘Judaism’ in terms of liberal political beliefs. The most Jewish thing about her is her last name.

I have never supported this lakefront liberal. Not because I am such a staunch political conservative. I am not. Although I lean more to the right than the left on most issues I do not march in lock step to the politically conservative agenda.

We in the Chicago Orthodox Jewish community have a unique opportunity to throw this ‘rascal’ out of office. The country is in an anti incumbency mood. The approval rating for the current President is at an all time low primarily because of his mis-handling of the BP oil spill.

The military is unhappy with his administration as was evidenced by General Stanley McCristol who made the unbelievably stupid mistake of having his views about members of the current administration including the President published in a national magazine.

That means that for the first time since she was elected in a landslide victory taking of 75% the vote – Jan Schakowsky is vulnerable. I think we ought to take advantage of that.

She supports a President whose treatment of Israel and its leaders has been widely criticized by members from both political parties. Relations between the two countries are at an all time low. Her endorsement by J-Street should give us a clue about where she stands on Israel. The views of J-Street about Israel are typical of the left whose views woefully lack any historical perspective. Those views are mostly based on what I would call the ‘underdog’ philosophy.

This is a philosophy that looks at who the underdog in any conflict and automatically sides with them no matter what. All else is irrelevant to them. Right and wrong - good and evil are relative concepts. It’s all about who they see as the oppressed and the oppressor. There is never any historical context or any other rationale.

They are so consistent in these views that pre 67 Israel was seen as the underdog and the Arabs as oppressors. Once Israel was victorious in the 6 day war – it didn’t take long for them to take the side of the oppressed Arabs in Palestine. This is who liberal Democrat Jan Schakowsky and her J-Street friends are.

Which brings me to conservative Republican Joel Pollak (pictured above). He is the Republican nominee for this house seat. His Jewish credentials are so superior to Schakowsky’s that it’s like comparing someone with a PhD from Harvard (his alma mater) to a high school dropout . I never met him but the first time I saw him was in an interview on a local news program where he was interviewed by a couple of news anchors. It was about his candidacy against Schakowsky.

The first thing I noticed about him was how proud he was of his Judaism. I could tell this without him uttering a word about it. He proudly wore a Kipa during the interview. He was not shy about at all about that. The interviewers asked him all manner of questions about his political philosophy and did not even touch upon his obvious Orthodoxy until the very end of the interview when one of those news anchors asked him if he thought his Orthodox Judaism would be an impediment to being elected. He of course answered that he didn’t think it would.

He is supported not only by the mainstream Republican party (which doesn’t mean all that much in Chicago) but also by famed attorney, Alan Dershowitz for whom he worked as a researcher on many of his pro Israel speeches. Pollak’s values are definitely out of the Republican Conservative playbook. But he is arguably more pro-Israel than most of his coreligionists.

This is a no brainer for me. We have an opportunity to have a religious Jew represent us - whose core values are similar to ours. We would not just be trading in one Jew for another. We would be trading in an observant Jew for one who is Jewish only by accident of birth and whose support of Israel is on par with J-Street.

As a patriotic American Jew who lives and thrives in this great nation I want my representatives in congress to reflect my values. Israel and the Jewish people is the number one issue for me. Support for Israel is not only compatible with my patriotism but actually reflects the views of the vast majority of Americans whose support of Israel in a recent poll was at an all time high.

Mr. Pollak’s political values and Jewish values so closely resemble my own that it would be criminal for me not to make known my early support for and endorsement of his candidacy. He has a shot against a very popular politician because of the anti incumbency mood. Her popularity among Jews is unearned in my view since it reflects only her liberalism which is not always compatible with Jewish values. She ought not to be rewarded with yet another term in congress. Maybe - just maybe - we can finally get an American patriot to represent us who shares our values and in the process happens to be a proudly observant Jew.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Daas Torah and Emanuel

Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer is one of the bright lights in the Torah world. He brings to the table both brilliance and tremendous knowledge of Torah - as he does worldly knowledge. He is a true thinker, a supporter of Torah Im Derech Eretz, and - if I remember correctly - leans towards the Charedi view of Daas Torah.

Rabbi Dovid Landesman is one of my favorite Charedim. While I don’t always agree with him. I find myself agreeing far more often than not. He is unafraid to take controversial positions and indeed calls them like he sees them. He is a man of principle and I honor him.

These two protagonists have been debating the Emanuel controversy. In my view this debate raises a far more fundamental issue. How does one deal with an issue where the Daas Torah of one’s Gedolim is based on information that may contradict the ‘facts on the ground’?

Daas Torah is a term that is almost synonymous with Charedism. I think this concept as understood by Charedim is what separates it from Modern Orthodoxy. In the context of this essay I use the term Modern Orthodox to mean right wing modern Orthodoxy.

One might ask, ‘Don’t we all believe in Daas Torah? Daas Torah after all simply means the ‘wisdom of the Torah’.

The answer is yes, of course we do. But in the Charedi world Daas Torah has come mean the wisdom of the Charedi Gedolim. Charedim are always Mevatel their Daas to that of ‘Daas Torah’. They explain that their Gedolim have the most Torah knowledge and as such - when there is unanimity among them – one’s own views go out the window. No matter what! They do not see with their own limited Torah eyes what their Gedolim see through their superior Torah eyes. The decisions of the Gedolim must adhered to in every facet of life - public and private. So a unified appeal by them will never be challenged.

I see Daas Torah as a primary issue in the Emanuel controversy. Charedi Gedolim both in Israel and in America (as represented by the Agudah Moeztes) have declared it to be a fight for Torah education –specifically a fight against any secular intrusion into it.

To briefly and best of my ability - sum up what has happened to date, Slonimer Chasidim set up their own Beis Yaakov school in the largely Sephardic town of Emanuel. For reasons which are not entirely clear to me - and beyond the scope of this essay - some of the Sephardi parents wanted to send their daughters to the Slonimer Beis Yaakov. Slominer Chasidim set up guidelines for admission that included some of the most severe ‘religious’ restrictions one can imagine and based admission to the school entirely on that.

But those rules were draconian. And worse the students are required to pronounce their prayers in the Ashkenazi/Chasidic vernacular. Nonetheless some Sephardi parents agreed to this ‘blackmail’ and send their daughters there. I believe about 25% of the girls attending that Beis Yaakov are Sephardim – who daven like Chasidim. A concrete fence was however built between the two groups of girls – dividing the Ashkanezi girls from the Sephardi girls.

A Charedi Sephardi attorney who heads an anti discrimination group saw the school's policies as discriminatory and took the school to the Israel Supreme Court. He won the case and the school was ordered to fully integrate.

Parents in the school didn’t like that call and decided to create a ‘new’ school. They hired some of the teachers from the old Beis Yaakov to teach in it. The court saw right through this ploy as their way of circumventing the court order – threatening them with a jail sentence if they did not return their daughters to the original school. Those parents went to jail and all hell broke loose. Virtually all the Charedi Gedolim called for mass protest. They saw it a secular challenge to Torah by a secular anti religious government agency – the Supreme Court. In less than 24 hours – over 100,000 Charedim protested across Israel.

Even if one is Charedi and follows Daas Torah as expressed by their Gedolim - must one assume that they have all their facts correct? Is it a Chutzpah to suggest that they might not? These are fair questions and not a challenge to their status as purveyors of Daas Torah. Must their decisions never be contradicted or questioned? This seems to be the view of Rabbi Landesman.

Rabbi Bechoffer has brought to my attention an example of Ashkenazi prejudice that exists in Emanuel. It is the story of Racheli – a Sephardi teen in that school. It was told by her on a Charedi website in Hebrew. Although it was a difficult read for me as I am not that conversant with conversational Hebrew I believe my surmise is fairly accurate. She and her Sephardi peers were complelety segregated from the Chasidic girls. They were often taunted by them and were called pejorative names like ‘Shechorim’ (The Hebrew equivalent of ‘Shvartzes’). Racheli came home in tears and brought her parents to tears as well.

This is the kind of thing the courts were trying to rid the school of.

I have to ask, is this really a case of fighting government interference in Torah? Or is it a case of ridding discriminatory practices within the school?

It seems pretty clear to me. Prejudice exists in the school even though Sephardi parents attend. And yet if one believes in following Daas Torah how can one side with the secular Supreme Court on this issue?

In my view the answer is the following. It is a question of how to view any government interface with Torah education. The Charedi Gedolim see the slightest interface at all to be interference. They see any interface as a breach of their wall of separation from non Torah secular interference. They may concede the existence of prejudice. But they see it as secondary issue here and irrelevant to the greater good of keeping the secular ‘barbarians at the gate’.

Charedi Gedolim have been told by the Slonimer Rebbe and other Chasidim and Sephardim from Emanuel –that there is no discrimination proven by their daughters being enrolled in the Beis Yaakov. That is all they needed. They see this as a secular government trying to breach the wall of Torah.

I do not fault the Charedi Gedloim for acting on those beliefs. But I also believe that it is very possible that their picture is not fully supported by all the facts and tainted by one sided information.

What if they are missing pieces of the puzzle? What if there is no threat to Torah and this really does involve discrimination and prejudice? Is it then fair to say that an anti discrimination order by a court is really an anti Torah decision? Even when there is no educational policy involved? What if the Slonimer rules are only a disguised form of discrimination? Are the rules equally applied and enforced? Must we assume the Charedi Gedolim went to these investigative lengths?

Does this not at least raise a question about blindly listening to Gedolim – conceding to them an almost infallible status? Even when there is evidence that they might be mistaken?

Most Charedim would probably say that we must assume the Gedolim have done their utmost to determine the truth. That is defacto infallibility. But Rabbi Nosson Kaminetsky has testified that a man whom he considers to be the Gadol HaDor did not do his due diligence. By his own admission he relied on people that he trusted to make a Daas Torah decision. He erred. It is just as legitimate to say that the Charedi Gedolim erred here too.

What should we do now? How do we determine the truth of what is really going on there?

In my view the only solution to this is to appoint an independent ‘blue ribbon’ committee comprised of a wide variety of rabbinic figures that includes Charedim and Daatim from both Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities. Let them thoroughly examine the truth about prejudice there.

Let them interview Racheli and her Sephardi peers at the Slonimer Bais Yaakov. The one person that should not serve on that committee is the Slonimer Rebbe. No matter how Ehrlich he may be - he must be recused as partisan. Only then can we hope to determine the truth. That is a far better way of determining it than what has been the case until now.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Restrained Outrage

I’ve had 24 hours to digest yesterday’s announcement of Shalom Rubashkin’s harsh sentence. I still find it a merciless one that by just about all accounts shocked everyone. But it should not be lost on anyone that he was found guilty of an outrageous bank fraud. This was not a blood libel. It was a verdict of ‘guilty’ found by a jury of peers upon a guilty person.

The problem of course as everyone now seems to agree is not about whether he is guilty - but about the grossly out of proportion sentence he received for his crimes. Even some of Rubashkin’s biggest critics feel that way. The Chicago Tribune – certainly no partisan to Jewish causes - made note of this in its lead editorial this morning. Here is an excerpt:

Rubashkin was more culpable than his co-defendant Yomtov “Toby” Bensasson, but was Rubashkin eight times more culpable, as his sentence would suggest? And what about the year-and-a-day prison term imposed recently on a Missouri mortgage executive whose fraud cost his financial company roughly the same amount as bankers lost in the Rubashkin case?

Earlier this year, a West Coast federal appeals court affirmed a 25-year sentence for a $40 million fraud, while an East Coast defendant got five years in a $1 billion fraud.

Lawyers often speak of a “trial penalty,” and there’s no doubt Rubashkin paid a high price for testifying in his own defense. He must have known it was coming when prosecutors obtained a 163-count indictment against him: Clearly, the government was throwing the book at him.

I think the Tribune probably reflects the thinking of those six former Attorney Generals who said the prosecutors sentencing recommendations were out of line as well. The Trib’s primary point was that sentences meted out for white collar criminals show wide disparity among prosecutors and judges. And that is an inherent flaw in the justice system which they feel needs to be changed.

I believe they are absolutely correct. But this will not help Mr. Rubashkin. For his part he seemed to react calmly to the news. He said it’s all in God’s hands anyway.

The reaction by the religious Jewish community so far has been pretty strong in expressing outrage about this sentence. Last night there was a gathering in Brooklyn called by Agudah to talk about this new development. I don’t know what was said there but my hope is that it was calming rather than inciting.

It would be all too easy to become so enraged by rhetoric that it might lead to a Chilul HaShem. If one reads the reactions in some of the Charedi websites by some of the commenters one would think they are prepared to overthrow the government – violently - if need be. I’m sure no one would actually try and do anything like that. But some of the rhetoric expressed that kind of anger and resolve.

At this point I’m not sure that any kind of rally will be of any benefit to Rubashkin’s cause. It will certainly not affect today’s sentence about to be handed down by Judge Reade.

What I fear is that a rally where too much outrage is expressed may result in some overly zealous people doing some pretty desperate things – like sending Judge Reade death threats or harassing her in other ways. That would not only be wrong but a Chilul HaShem that out-weighs anything Mr. Rubashkin did.

My fears are not out of the blue. This is exactly the kind of thing that happened in the appeal to save Martin Grossman from being executed for the brutal murder of a young female park ranger in Florida. The victim’s mother was called a Nazi by an overzealous proponent of sparing Grossman’s life!

I would hate to see any of that repeated here. It would serve no positive purpose. Only a very negative one. I think it behooves Agudah, Chabad, the Young Israel, the OU, and every other major Orthodox organization to strongly caution their public to refrain from these kinds of activities. They have all expressed their outrage at the sentence – as I have. But they need to do what I am doing now. Preach restraint.

This does not mean we can’t have a mass demonstration to show our concerns and feeling about how unjust we feel the sentence was. We probably should. But it has to be done in ways that will draw respect and admiration rather than anger and anti-Semitism. Large numbers will have an impact. But angry rhetoric that can incite some of the people in the crowd toward a major Chilul HaShem will do the opposite and can lead to an even greater tragedy. God Forbid. I cannot emphasize enough the need for some calming rhetoric on the part of all those organizations right now.

I would personally like to see a mass rally at some point. But not of only religious Jews. I would prefer to see one that had many public figures like those Attorneys General speak and express their own outrage. If I were organizing a mass rally I would recruit as many non Jewish public figures as I could from as wide a political philosophy as I could. I would even ask Christian ministers and Catholic priests to speak. That would show that support for the view that this sentence was overly harsh and devoid of any mercy - is not ethnically motivated. If any outside influences can impact an appeals court to reduce the sentence - that would.

In the meantime my heart goes out to the Rubashkin family. If the sentence is not somehow ultimately reduced - they will suffer along with Shalom for the next 27 years.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Gross Miscarriage of Justice

I am shocked. There is no other word for it. According to a report in the WCF, Shalom Rubashkin is going to be sentenced to 27 years in a federal prison. There is no parole in the federal prison system.

Throw everything else out the door. This is an immoral sentence. At this point all other criticism of Rubashkin is irrelevant. Even the prosecutors whom many people said were over-zealous in their prosecution did not recommend such a stiff sentence. Six former attorneys general of the widest possible political orientation have said that this type of sentence is unjust.

I cannot fathom what is in the mind of the judge who will be sentencing him to what amounts to a life sentence for a crime where other have been given far lighter sentences.

Just last week someone who embezzled 26 million dollars from his company was sentenced to 9 years. 26 million is the same amount of money Rubashkin was convicted of borrowing fraudulently from a bank.

I am not accusing her of anti-Semitism. Just of not being human.There is little other explanation for it. I hope that this report is in error. That is the only other possible explanation. I am outraged – and speechless!

Emanuel - Ethnic Prejudice or Torah Chinuch?

The situation in Emanuel has blown up beyond all expectation. Witness the mass demonstrations and the virtual unanimity of the Charedi world in support of the Slonimer Chasidim. They were deemed by the Supreme Court of Israel to be in violation of the court ordered integration of their school.

To briefly sum up events – An anti discrimination lawsuit was filed with the Israeli courts by a religious Sephardi advocate for Sephardim against the Slonimer Beis Yaakov– a Chinuch Atzmai school in Emanuel that receives funding from the state. They were accused of ethnic bias in their admissions policy. The court agreed and ordered them to integrate.

So as not to be in violation of the court order - some of the parents did an ‘end run’ and started a new school using the same teachers from the Beis Yaakov. The court said that this was a naked attempt to circumvent the integration order and ordered those parents to send their daughters back to the Beis Ya’akov under penalty of jail if they don’t.

The Chasidim have always denied that they discriminated and point to Sephardi girls who were indeed accepted. The court didn’t buy that argument and said that unless they completely integrate they would be in violation of the court order. Parents continued to defy the court order and are now in jail – led by the Slonimer Rebbe. This brought an immediate response from the Charedi Rabbinic leadership with names like R’ Elyashiv and R’ Steinman rallying their consistencies to stage mass protests all over Israel.

Tens – perhaps hundreds – of thousands of Charedim showed up in solidarity with the Slonimer Chasidim. They were also joined in their cause by the undisputed leader of Sephardi Jewry, Rav Ovadia Yosef who sided with his Ashkenazi Charedi counter parts.

Yesterday, the Agudah Moetzes came out with their own very strongly worded proclamation of support for the Slonimer Chasidim and condemnation of the Israeli Supreme Court.

Even those like R’ Dovid Landesman - an occasional guest poster on this blog who formerly sided with the Supreme Court and knows about widespread prejudice in the Charedi Ashkenazi world against Sephardim - changed his position and now sides with the rest of the Charedi world in support of these Slonimer Chasidim.

The short version explaining all of the of the above is that the strong belief that what has happened here is not a case of discrimination at all. It is yet another case of secular interference in Torah education. This has indeed been the clarion call of all concerned. The idea that there was any prejudice against Sephardim in this particular case has been rejected. First of all because of Sephardim in the school who have willingly sided with the Slonimer Chasidim and have even joined them in jail. And secondly because Sephardi Gadol Rav Yosef has determined that this was not an issue of anti Sephardi prejudice but an anti Torah issue.

The bottom line is that there is now virtually no chance that the call for integration will succeed. And this is a sad commentary on Charedi society both here and in Israel. I can understand and even agree that there should be no government interference in the type of education Charedim want to give their children. Although I personally strongly feel that there should be a track that allows for Parnassa considerations, this is a separate issue. In theory people should have the right not to have any government interference in how they teach their kids. I therefore understand when Charedi leadership protests any government interference – no matter how slight.

But even though there are Sephardim in the school there is a historic precedent that shows that prejudice is part and parcel of the Ashkenazi mindest. I believe therefore that it is highly unlikely that there was no ethnic prejudice in the admissions policy of the Slonimer Beis Ya’akov.

This mentality needs to be wiped off the face of the earth. One Jew has no business being prejudiced against another. Schools that discriminate against Sephardim violate that principle - and the principle of V’Ahavta L’Reacha KaMocha.

What about those parents in the school that are Sephardim? How – one may ask – is it possible to accuse anyone of ethnic prejudice when there are members of that ethnicity in the school?
The answer I’m afraid is an old one.

It’s called stripping them if their ethnicity. Simply make rules that will make it difficult for Sephardim to follow – rules that included stripping them of their culture. In doing that they solve the problem. They have in essence killed two birds with one stone. You have your showcase Sephardim who have agreed to abide by the Chasidic rules and you have eliminated their culture in the process. Win/win. The courts saw through that as did the Sephardi lawyer who filed suit in the first place.

What about Rav Yosef? How can anyone accuse people of anti Sephardi prejudice when their Gadol HaDor says that they are not?

Again this answer is an old one as well. When it comes to Torah education and government interference at any level – all other concerns fall by the wayside. Rabbinic leaders unite.They see this as an attack the Torah by a secular court that has no business interfering in any way with a Torah school – not matter what the reason. I truly believe that this is what is happening here.

I also doubt that the rabbinic leaders themselves are in any way prejudiced. Indeed there is evidence to the contrary. I know for example that Rav Steinman is vehemently opposed to ethnic prejudice and in fact ordered a school principle in Ramat Bet Shemesh to accept a Sephardi student. And yet here he is 100% on the side of the Slonimer Chasidim. My sense of the matter is that had he personally been approached instead of the Supreme Court there might have been a different outcome. But the petition was filed in a secular court. It may as well have gone to the KKK.

If one looks at rhetoric by the Charedi establishment it is almost all couched in terms of this being a secular attack on Torah. I’m sure they believe that. In fact I am not questioning their motives. They actually believe that the Supreme Court has flaunted their superiority over Halacha and feel justified in their attitude that strong protest is warranted. But as in so many other instances like this I disagree with them.

They had the same sense of outrage when it was suggested by a government agency that a basic secular studies program be part of a high school curriculum in order to qualify for government funding. They had the same reaction to that. They saw it as interference by a secular body in Torah education - and promised to fight any attempt at doing that. Never mind that the American Charedi educational system offers such courses in their schools. It was still deemed anti Torah. The same thing is going on here. They see it as a Lo Plug! One must fight any attempt at all when it comes to government interference in the affairs of religious education – no matter what!

I continue to believe that there is ethnic prejudice in Emanuel. Based on both my own personal experience and those of others –including some Charedim – Ashkenazi prejudice against Sephardim is widespread – especially among Chasidim. There is no reason to believe that these Slonimer Chasidim are any different.

It now seems like all this activity has taken its toll on the complainant. The Charedi Sephardi attorney feels that Rav Yosef has abandoned him. Rav Yosef has indeed said that this attorney has lost his Olam Habah by taking this issue to the secular courts.

If this cause is abandoned this will not be a win for Torah. It will be a win for ethnic cleansing!

I would like to make note of the protests themselves. It seems that they were peaceful. Masses of Charedim demonstrated and to the best of my knowledge not a single incidence of violence was reported. It is my firm belief that in a democracy one should have the right to protest anything they see as an injustice.

This is what happened here and they did so in an admirable way. So even though I disagree with them – I applaud the manner in which they did it. This proves something I have said all along. The vast majority of Charedim are not represented by the violent thugs one sees on an almost daily basis in Meah Shearim. If only the Meah Shearim citizens would learn how to do that…

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Ethical Treatment of Animals

When I was a young Semicha student learning the laws of Kosher slaughter, my Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik took time out from his lecture to rail against what was at the time a very common practice in Kosher slaughterhouses. It is called shackling and hoisting.

This is a method whereby a steer that is about to be Shechted (ritually slaughtered) is shackled by its hind legs and hoisted so that it is suspended with the head down at the bottom so the Shochet can more easily Shecht. Rav Ahron believed that this was a cruel and unnecessary procedure that had been innovated in modern times. Rav Ahron was a very humane individual and Tzar Baalei Chaim – cruelty to animals bothered him tremendously.

Since that time back in the late sixties, shackling and hoisting has become illegal in this country, in Israel, and in the European Union. But there are some countries that still use this procedure. Almost all Kosher facilities in South America do. They provide 80% of Israel’s imported meat.

There have been various animal rights activists that have been urging Israel to stop using those imports. I have no use for many of these organizations – like PETA - as I find them to be beyond extreme. But in this case they are right. It was a video of this procedure taken by PETA (or some group like them) that moved the Ashkeanzi Chief rabbi of Israel to do something about it. From an article in Ha’artez:

According to Avi Blumenthal, assistant to Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, by 2011 the Chief Rabbinate will no longer certify meat from slaughterhouses that use shackle-and-hoist…

It should be noted that Reform and Conservative (Masorti) rabbis in Israel have been in the forefront of trying to ban meat slaughtered by this method. I must say that I’m disappointed that there seems to have been no Orthodox presence. Be that as it may I’m sure that my Rebbe would approve of Rabbi Metzger’s ban. This is indeed a step forward in the area of Kashrus around the world.

Why is this a step forward? Some countries have banned Shechita insisting that Kosher slaughter is inhumane. It’s hard to argue that Shechita is humane when the hoist and shackle method is used. Banning this procedure world-wide will help promote the argument that Shechita is indeed humane.

There are those that say that one should not refuse to certify meat that it is technically Kosher. After all what does cruelty to animals have to do with Kosher meat - They are two separate Halachos? As someone I know put it - no one will find a law in the Shuchan Aruch that invalidates hoisting and Shackling as a means to Shecht.

This is true. But a Kashrus organization – in this case the Israeli rabbinate - has the right to set its own rules for certification. Even though it may be technically permissible to eat the meat of an animal that was treated cruelly in life as long as the procedure was properly followed - that doesn’t make it right nor should it guarantee that a Kashrus agency will issue a certification.

There is such a thing as Naval BeReshus HaTorah. The Torah need not spell out every disgusting thing in existence in order to forbid it. It instead mandates the concept of Kedoshim Tehiyu. The Jewish people are mandated to behave in an ethical fashion. Withholding a Kashrus certificate from people who are cruel to animals falls well within those guidelines.

No one is saying that the meat isn't Kosher. All they are saying is they are not going to be certified. Frankly this is done all the time in Charedi enclaves like Bnei Brak with respect to fast food restaurants. If a pizza shop provides a setting to hang out (tables and chairs) - they will not receive certification from the Charedi certifications agencies there. It doesn't matter how kosher the food is.

By the same token if the Chief rabbinate feels that slaughtering methods are inhumane they have a right to withhold certification too. There should be no controversy about this. It should in fact be supported by all people who value the humane treatment of animals.

Obviously not all people have the same values. When there is a dispute about Kashrus rules it is usually the result of conflicting values. It all depends on whether one supports the ideas behind the restrictions. Those who do not value the reasons for the restrictions will always say things like 'What does this have to do with Kashrus?'

That said the rules do need to have some sort of ethical value and should not be based on the religious winds of the moment. In certain instances Hechshrim have become highly politicized and have as much to do with the perifferals as they do with the actual Kashrus or anything ethical. I refer to the dea of Chasdishe Shechita. Not only does this have nothing to do with Kashrus - it has nothing to do with ethics. It is a result of politics and the move to the right. If anything the insistence on only Chadishe Shechita is unethical!

There is also nothing in the Shulchan Aruch that mandates that only Chasidim may Shecht. Nor does it violate any ethic when a Shochet is not a Chasid. I good friend of mine who is a very religious and highly ethical Shochet in New York - but not a Chasid - lost his job and his career of many years as a Shochet because of this. He now does Hashgacha work.

What a messed up system of values! At least the Rabbi Metzger has his priorities in order! And I applaud him for his courage.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Uniqueness of the Individual

The following Dvar Torah on the Parsha was written by Rabbi Yosef Halevi Soloveichik.

פרשת חקת

Parshas Chukas describes the end of the forty year journey of Am Yisrael in the midbar. The people of the Dor Hamidbar had all died. The parsha opens with the laws of the parah adumah to teach how one purifies himself from tumas mes. And then the narration resumes. We are told of מיתת מרים, the great nurturer and neviah of Am Yisrael. We are told of Moshe and Aharon erring at מי מריבה , and Hashem informing them, לא תביאו את הקהל הזה אל הארץ אשר נתתי להם.

We are told of Am Yisrael's finally approaching the land of Edom, and Edom’s refusal to allow Am Yisrael to pass through. We are told of מיתת אהרן, the Kohain Gadol, so beloved to the whole nation, the ensuing war and victory over Amalek disguised as Kena'an. This is followed by a spiritual decline, as Am Yisrael cry, למה העליתנו ממצרים למות במדבר כי אין לחם ואין מים ונפשנו קצה בלחם הקלקל. After Am Yisrael was attacked by serpents, Moshe Rabbainu was instructed by Hashem to suspend a nachash on a banner.

A person who was bitten by a serpent would raise his eyes to Heaven and would be cured.

We are told how Am Yisrael passed between the land of Moav and the land of the Emori. Here, a miraculous salvation took place. The route that was to be taken passed between two mountains in close proximity to each other. One of the mountains, on the side of the Land of Emori, had jagged edges jutting out over the valley below. The other mountain, on the side of Moav, had caves on its side that overlooked the valley. The Emorites plotted that multitudes and multitudes of goyim would gather together and hide in the caves. When Am Yisrael would pass through the valley below, they would attack the Jews below by surprise with an onslaught of arrows and boulders..

HaShem had other plans.. HaShem had the Aron Habris, which represents the ,תורה travel before the nation, clearing and flattening the route. Hashem brought these two mountains together, like two puzzle pieces. The jagged edges on the side of one mountain fit perfectly into caves on the facing side of the other mountain. Am Yisrael were able to comfortably and safely journey over the top of the two now-joined mountains. And the enemy Emorites, hiding out in the caves below, were smashed..

How did we ever find out about this great נס??

על כן יאמר בספר מלחמות ה' את והב בסופה

The Gemara ברכות נ"ד relates how Am Yisrael was unaware of the great miracle. However, the באר, which faithfully followed Am Yisrael throughout their journeys, flowed through the valley below the two joined mountains. When the two mountains joined together, and the hiding Emorites were killed, their blood flowed into the waters below, as did their disjointed limbs.

The only ones that took notice of the telltale signs of the aborted attack were two מצורעים, two lepers, by the names of Es and Hav, who traveled בסוף, at the end of the camp of Am Yisrael. These two, את והב בסופה revealed this great miracle that had happened under the very feet of Am Yisrael, without anyone being aware of what was happening.

And then, in response, Am Yisrael sang Shirah, the שירת הבאר:

אז ישיר ישראל את השירה הזאת עלי באר ענו לה. באר חפרוה שרים כרוה נדיבי העם במחקק במשענתם וממדבר מתנה.
וממתנה נחליאל ומנחליאל במות. ומבמות הגיא אשר בשדה מואב ראש הפסגה ונשקפה על פני הישימן.

They sang Shirah about this extraordinary באר, dug up by Moshe and Aharon, and drawn out to each Shevet by its Nasi. The באר faithfully followed Am Yisrael and served them through all their years in the midbar until the demise of Moshe Rabbainu. It then entered into the Lake of Teveria (the Kinneret) and can be seen by a person looking down from the Yeshimon.

The medrash delves deeper into the words of the שירת הבאר, and explains the song as referring to the Torah. The Torah would eventually be disseminated and expounded to Am Yisrael through the three levels of Sanhedrin, which convened in the area of Har HaBayis and in the Bais Hamikdash:

וממתנה נחליאל, אלו סנהדרין, שבהר הבית. ומנחליאל במות, אלו סנהדרין, שבעזרה בצד המזבח. ומבמות הגיא אשר בשדה מואב, אלו סנהדרין, שבלשכת הגזית בתחום רות שבאה משדה מואב, נערה מואביה היא, השבה עם נעמי משדה מואב, ונשקפה על פני הישימון ששם תורה יצאה לכל בני ישראל

The three levels of Sanhedrin were represented by the three boxes that Betzalel formed for the Aron HaBris. It was this Aron HaBris that traveled before Am Yisrael, and killed off the Emoriim. The Sanhedrin that sat in the Bais HaMikdash was parallel to the Mikdash Above. The Torah emanates from the Mikdash Above, from the כסא הכבוד, to all of Klal Yisrael. For in the Heavenly Throne Above, are engraved the 600,000 souls of Am Yisrael. Each soul has a letter, and a unique part in the Torah. This is the secret of the ,באר that Moshe was instructed by Hashem to gather the nation and Hashem would give them water.

ומשם בארה, הוא הבאר אשר אמר ה' למשה אסף את העם ואתנה להם מים.

Parshas Chukas is the beginning of a new generation, the dor that must prepare for entering Eretz Yisrael. They must adjust to great changes. Miriam HaNeviah has passed away. Aharon, the beloved Kohain Gadol has passed away. Moshe Rabbainu, the Rebbe of Am Yisrael has been informed לא תביאו את הקהל הזה אל הארץ אשר נתתי להם.

The great miracle by Nachal Arnon was very different from the miracles at קריעת ים סוף. By Yam Suf, the miracles were revealed clearly to all as they occurred. Here, no one knew what was happening at the actual time of the miracle. It was only later, when the באר continued flowing with all the signs of the dead Emori’im, that Am Yisrael realized the great נס and salvation. And the only ones to report the miracle were the most isolated and ostracized individuals of the nation, two מצורעים who traveled בסוף המחנה.

Am Yisrael's response is to break out in song. And in their song allusion is made to the Sanhedrin, disseminating Torah to the entire community of Yisrael, empowered by the Torah in the Mikdash Above. משם יוצאת הוראה לכל ישראל. This Torah is comprised of the 600,000 souls of Am Yisrael, gathered together by Moshe Rabbainu..

The מגלה עמוקות explains חפרוה שרים as referring to the אבות. אברהם אבינו knew the entire Torah. Avraham knew the entire תורה שבכתב and the entire תורה שבעל פה. Even כל מה שעתיד תלמיד ותיק עתיד לחדש was already revealed to Avraham Aveinu. כרוה נדיבי עם refers to משה רבינו, that משה רבינו channeled the entire Torah and indelibly engraved the Torah upon the neshamos of Am Yisrael. The Ramban says that all of the כוחות הנפש of Am Yisrael were contained in Avraham Aveinu.

This is the meaning of וה' ברך את אברהם בכל. These כוחות הנפש were then channeled, divided and distributed via the shevatim amongst all the individual neshamos of Am Yisrael. Each individual has his own unique כוחות הנפש that are not to be found in any other individuals. There are not any doubles. And this is why every individual has his own unique חלק in the Torah.

And the uniqueness of the כוחות הנפש of every individual and the unique חלק that each individual has in the Torah is expressed by the medrash through the personality of רות הגיורתwho came almost completely alone from an alien place to Am Yisrael and had no roots in the land. תחום רות הבאה משדה מואב נערה המואביה השבה עם נעמי משדה מואב. This is what משה רבינו bequeathed to Am Yisrael as they were getting ready to enter Eretz Yisrael.

How is Am Yisrael to survive when the ג' רועים depart, when Moshe Rabbainu takes leave of them? The great revelations of the Dor HaMidbar are over, and there is a transition to a new era, a new generation, a new type of life.

We survive through the כוח of the Torah and especially, specifically and predominantly through the כוח of the תורה שבעל פה. And the totality and completeness of תורה שבעל פה resides in the totality of all the individual neshamos of Am Yisrael. Because all of the individual neshamos of Am Yisrael are engraved into the כסא הכבוד and the Torah emanates from the כסא הכבוד. And every individual neshama has its own unique חלק in the Torah because every individual neshama of Am Yisrael is engraved into the כסא הכבוד.

And the כוח of תורה שבעל פה is derived from the כסא הכבוד in which this totality and completeness of נשמות ישראל are engraved. And the כוחof the סנהדרין שבלשכת הגזית to teach the תורה שבעל פה to כל ישראל derives from the כסא הכבוד because all of the neshamos of Am Yisrael are engraved there in the Heavenly Throne above the מקום המקדש where the Sanhedrin convened. .ומשם יפוצו מעיינות התורה חוצה

וסנהדרין של לשכת הגזית עולם הבריאה שהיא סמוך למקדש העליון ומשם יוצאת תורה כי תורה מכסא הככוד קא אתיא לכל ישראל דייקא כי כשם שס' רבוא אותיות לתורה כך ס' רבוא נשמות לישראל לכל א' מישראל מחוקק במשענותם יש לו חק וגבול בתורה משם יפוצו מעיינות התורה חוצה. (מגלה עמוקות)

How does Am Yisrael continue to survive through out all the generations of galus and persecution? Through תורה שבעל פה. And every individual in Am Yisrael has his own unique חלק in the תורה שבעל פהwhich is not possessed by any other individual. And the כוח of תורה שבעל פה derives from the כסא הכבוד in which every individual neshama of Am Yisrael is engraved.

כסא כבוד מרום מראשון מקום מקדשנו מקוה ישראל ה' (ירמיהו פרק ט"ז)

And we, therefore, are pained and agonized by the continual endeavor of different people in the Torah community to establish Torah mosdos in an exclusive, elitist, racist and discriminatory setting. They proclaim that they are interested in advancing Torah. But the reality is that they are only interested in advancing their own arrogance and in promoting their own power. When we see politicians manipulating masses of people to cry out deceptively under a banner of Torah in favor of racism, discrimination, elitism and self-aggrandizement, we cry out to HaShem - הצילה נפשי משפת שקר מלשון רמיה.

The issue is not whether they are obligated to listen to the Bagatz or not!? The question has nothing to do with the Bagatz. The people that promote elitism, exclusiveness, racism and discrimination in the learning of Torah are not contending with the Bagatz. They are contending ר"ל with the נצחיות of Torah and the נצחיות of Am Yisrael. The יסוד that every individual Jew has his own unique חלק in the Torah is engraved in the כסא הכבוד. The concept of the inalienable right of each Jewish child and every single individual Jewish neshama to learn Torah in a non- discriminatory, non-racist and non-elitist environment devoid of condescension and arrogance is emboldenly engraved into the Heavenly Throne. ומשם יפוצו מעיינות התורה חוצה.

וממדבר מתנה- למה נתנה במדבר?
שאילו נתנה להם בארץ היה השבט שנתנה בתחומו מדיין ואומר, אני קודם בה!
לכך נתנה במדבר שיהו הכל שוין בה. (ילקוט שמעוני פרשת חוקת)

A gutten Erev Shabbos from Yeushalayim Ir HaKodesh

לעלוי נשמת הגאון הר"ר אהרן בן הר"ר משה הלוי סאלאווייציק זצ"ל