Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Maryles Challenge

by Paul Shaviv

Images of  an incident taken from the YWN  website
I received the following submission from Paul Shaviv, one of the most respected names in Orthodox education. As he notes it was in response to a challenge I issued to a commenter on how to fix the problem raised in a post. My only quibble is the following rejection of part of my answer: 
Rabbis giving sermons is not the answer. 
First in my defense, that response was a quick off the cuff one made to someone in a lengthy thread on the subject. I did not mean it to be the sine qua non solution to the exclusion of any other. It was part of other suggestions I made. I also qualified that portion of my answer by saying that those sermons have to be forceful condemnations of racism in all its forms. And I meant it as a unified wide spread effort on the part of all rabbis in every Orthodox Shul. Which I believe actually conforms in part to what Paul advocates. Other than that, I believe it is a valuable contribution to the discussion which should be read by everyone. And once again, I am proud to host it here. His words follow. 

In the discussion about that ugly traffic-violation incident in Brooklyn, and what it shows about community values and behavior, “Commentator” asked “What is the answer?”

Harry replied “…better leadership, better education. Behavior like this needs very loud universal condemnation from all segments of Orthodoxy. Rabbis of all stripes need to have sermons forcefully condemning racism in all its forms.”   

Then he turns it around to the questioner and asks ‘What do you think is the answer?’  

Rabbis giving sermons is not the answer.

Here is a practical proposal:

We need an organized, active, campaigning movement across all streams of Orthodoxy dedicated to raising ‘menschlich’ ethical, civilized and honest standards in every area of individual, family and communal life.  The movement has to be direct; loud; unafraid and uncompromising.  It cannot concern itself with taking a stance on halachic arguments (eg women rabbis); but at the same time the foundations of its values would ensure that all points of view on that and (almost) any other subject would be received with civility and respect.   It could certainly exert moral pressure on the protaganists of such issues to keep their conduct civil and respectful.

This organization cannot be theologically partisan. It cannot be an EDAH, or a PORAT.  Its leadership has to come from EVERY stream.  Black hats and shtreimels have to sit happily (and I mean happily) with kippot srugot; and sheitels and tichels with women who are observant but do not cover their hair.  (And if your reaction is “Ah! But they aren’t observant if they don’t cover their hair!!!!” – then you won’t be joining any time soon.)

It has to be demonstrably and openly led by rabbis, laymen and women, who are prepared to stand up and be counted.  No more ‘Rabbi X agrees with me but is afraid to speak out’.   That approach is toxic to a civil society.  For it to work, the rabbinic leadership has to be eminent, and respected.

The members of the movement have to be activist – and pro-active.  It cannot be reactive-only. Members have to be prepared to stand up in their synagogues and organizations; to call in to radio shows; to write in Jewish (and non-Jewish) newspapers; to be active in social media; and to call for public accountability.

The movement will have a positive, purposeful PR / educational strategy, using whatever are deemed the most effective means.  It will indeed shed a spotlight on what is taught in schools and yeshivot/seminaries, what is preached from pulpits, what is published in print and in media.   

They (including the rabbis) will not be afraid.

Decisions, budgets and process will be transparent. They will champion the oppressed and the minorities within our community, in a responsible manner.  They will respect the views of others, and may agree to disagree.  They will include, not exclude, and try and make that the Jewish Orthodox norm.  They will stand up for honesty and integrity, fiscal responsibility and openness, and vigorously oppose dishonesty, corruption and ‘Chillul Hashem’.   The movement will promote standards of governance and best process. They will stand up for agunot and wives who are being disadvantaged in divorce proceedings; they will stand up for the victims of criminality, not the perpetrators. 

They will promote civic responsibility, respect for others, and civilized behavior.

And ten years’ later, the face of our community will be radically different – and better.

So – who is prepared to step forward? 

Are there a dozen leading rabbis prepared NOW to associate with this movement – without waiting to see ‘who else is there’?

Are there 1,000 lay persons willing to do the same? 

Should we put up a website and see the response?  Can we, by determination and energy, establish new public standards for Orthodoxy?  Can we create a moral force to be reckoned with?  
*Suggestion for a name:  ‘Arev’ – as in the beginning of shacharit – ‘Veha’arev na..’. “make the Torah sweet..” It also has echoes of ‘mutual responsibility.. guarantee…’ . 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Are Orthodox Jews Role Models for Honesty and Ethics?

Rabbi Marc Angel (Jewish Star)
Rabbi Marc Angel has it right. Although I have had my disagreements with him on certain issues, on this one he and I agree. I have said many of the same things myself. Only he makes his point far more eloquently and more broadly than I have.

In essence Rabbi Angel asks the following question: How is it possible that so many Orthodox Jews can be dishonest? If Orthodoxy means following Halacha, how can anyone steal anything from anybody? How can there be all manner of fraud, bribery, and corruption if Jews are supposed to be the paragons of virtue the Torah commands us to be? As Rabbi Angel notes the Torah tells us to… 
…do what is good and right in the eyes of God; maintain honest weights and balances in your businesses; keep far from falsehood. Crimes against “the other” sooner or later become public knowledge leading to shameful desecration of God’s name and the degradation of Torah. 
His answers are somewhat complex but right on the money. The fact that rituals are so scrupulously observed by the very same Jews that are caught with their hands in the cookie jar is attributable to several factors.

That said, Rabbi Angel believes as I do that most Orthodox Jews are scrupulously honest. But at the same time it does not surprise us when one of us gets caught doing something unscrupulous. As an example of this attitude he cites a sermon delivered by Lincoln Square Rabbi Shaul Robinson wherein he asked the following rhetorical questions: 
(W)ouldn’t it be wonderful if people could say that a business venture was absolutely proper because Orthodox Jews are running it? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the surest way to attest to the trustworthiness of a business was to say that it was operated by Orthodox Jews? 
The Shul broke out into spontaneous laughter.

How sad is that! How sad it was when the New York Times reported a while back about a wide-ranging federal corruption investigation – identifying 2 businessmen from Boro Park, (presumably Orthodox) involved in a bribery scandal –  alleging  they  ‘provided financial favors to people in power in order to advance their own business dealings’. Guilty of a crime or not - at best they were involved in shady behavior unbecoming of an Orthodox Jew. And how sad is the following: 
Recent news stories have reported on investigations of yeshivot that have manipulated millions of dollars of grants to teach general studies—but then do not teach these subjects as required. Other stories have surfaced of financial mismanagement by rabbis who have used their discretionary funds in improper or illegal ways. Yet other stories have reported on Orthodox Jews accused of bribery or bilking investors of their money. A current scandal involves Orthodox businessmen who "paid for access" to the Mayor of New York City. 
To what can this kind of behavior be attributed? Rabbi Angel suggests many of the things I have alluded to. As recently as yesterday. There is an unwritten sense of superiority over others among some of us that has somehow been absorbed from our surroundings. Not that it is explicitly taught. Although in some cases it might be. But the sense is that we religious Jews are an inherently superior people that entitles us to do things that might otherwise be seen as wrong. Being ethical depends who you are talking about. That attitude stems from the constant reinforcement by parents, teachers, rabbis, that ethical behavior is relative and need not be universally applied. What is important is ritual behavior. A religious Jew has always been defined as someone that observes Shabbos. If one will argue that ethics are in fact being taught as a universally applied good - it isn’t being absorbed.

The idea that we are innately superior to others devolves into dehumanizing other people. Which can manifest itself in various differing levels of degradation. While Rabbi Angel notes that dehumanization is not extreme in the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jewry, there is a fair amount of moderate forms of it.

There are some that use the following rationalization to justify their behavior: 
(T)he Holocaust proves that non-Jews hate us, so we don’t have to be nice or fair in dealings with non-Jews; stealing from non-Jews or non-Orthodox Jews puts more money in the hands of good (i.e. Orthodox) Jews, and less money in the hands of people who are not Torah-true; cheating the government for the sake of strengthening yeshivot or other Orthodox institutions serves to advance Torah, and advancing Torah is the ideal goal for us. 
There are 2 competing ideologies about the inherent nature of the Jew. One of which actually states that Jews are an innately superior people. Which is why God chose us as His people. That view is reflected in a book like Torat HaMelekh written by an extremist Religious Zionist rabbi in Israel. A book many people saw as racist! His supremacist views cast others in an inferior light.  It is not much of a leap to say they should be treated accordingly. That any money we steal will be put to far better use.

But then there is the view of the Rambam. Quoting Professor Menachem Kellner, Rabbi Angel says the following: 
Gam Hem Keruyim Adam: haNokhri beEinei haRambam (They too are called human: Maimonides’ views on non-Jews). He makes it amply clear that Maimonides rejected the notion that Jews are ontologically different from and superior to non-Jews. The Rambam maintains the classic Jewish teachings that stress the common humanity of all people. 
In our world today, I believe it is important to consider any superiority we may have as God’s chosen people to be based on our Torah observance. Our patriarchs earned from God that we - their offspring be His chosen people. We are thereby gifted as Jews to be born with a portion in the world to come for our souls. Which we can lose if we do not follow God’s Torah. But even though they are not the chosen of God, non Jews have a soul too. One that can earn a place in the world to come if they are righteous. We are all created in the image of God. And we should treat all of humanity as if we actually believed that.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Viral Chilul HaShem!

Images of  the incident taken from the YWN  website
This is what a lack of a secular education will do for you in a community that lives an isolated lifestyle. The incident shown in the video below (which originally appeared on YWN) has to be one of the most disgusting displays of behavior by supposedly religious Jews I have ever seen. It made my blood boil. I could not believe my eyes and ears.

Their behavior is indefensible. And yet I have little doubt that the culture in which they live their nearly isolated lives not only tolerates it, it actually generates it. They are indoctrinated to believe they are superior to - not only every non Jew, but even every other Jew not like themselves. That is something that is becoming increasingly obvious. I don’t think there can be any doubt about that. I have heard it too many times. 

I am increasingly coming to believe that behavior of the people in the video below is no longer the exception... and may in fact be becoming the rule in communities like Boro Park - if it isn’t already. There is little tolerance and love of their fellow human being created in the image of God. Especially when it comes to black people! 

I want to be perfectly clear. There is no Jewish Hashkafa that tolerates this kind of Chilul HaShem – or any of the kind of vile racist behavior that the ‘gentleman’ in the video displayed. But don’t tell them that.  They must believe that Judaism is in fact very racist. That human dignity is not a part of Judaism. That treating every human being as though they were created in the image of God – regardless of color - is some other religion’s tenet.

The only question that remains in my mind is exactly how much of a community like Boro Park (where this incident took place) thinks like that? I am beginning to think that most of them do. How else could something like this happen? 

Let me hasten to add that the Chasidim I know here in Chicago are nothing like that. I know quite a few and not a single one would ever do anything like that. They would probably be just as abhorred by it as I am. These Chasidim are mostly not originally from Chicago. They stem from a variety of different Chasidus including Satmar. And from a variety of neighborhoods in the greater New York area – including Boro Park, Monsey, Williamsburg, and elsewhere. I can tell you form personal experience that they are among the finest people I know. So why the difference?

I have to believe that is a combination of the kind of indoctrination they receive from their parents and educators about non Jews – combined with (and this is very important) living their lives in large but isolated communities. Those that have made their new homes in Chicago find themselves living in a relatively integrated society albeit heavily populated by Orthodox Jews. Of all stripes. There is far more contact with non Jews here. They see for themselves that the typical non Jew is just as human as they are. No matter what their race or religion.

Perhaps more importantly is the fact they are more integrated with Jews of other Hashkafos some of whom are fully integrated in the general culture. I believe that they come to see the world more the way we in Chicago do. It is also true that the children of these transplanted Chasidim are actually provided with a secular curriculum in the Chasidic day school here. Taught by teachers (many of whom are not Chasidic) that abhor the kind of behavior this video contains.

This is not the case in greater New York. There are far too many Yeshiva high schools and day schools that offer no secular subjects, and many isolated large communities where there is far less interaction with non Jews or even Orthodox Jews of different Hashkafos. They are indoctrinated to secretly hate non Jews who are inferior human beings with a not so subtle subtext that ‘Shvartzes’ (black people) are the most inferior race of all! The word ‘Shvartzes’ is in fact just be a translation of the word ‘blacks’. But more often than not it is used pejoratively.

What makes this ‘incident’even worse is that there was nothing ‘secret’ about the derision and ridicule that those Boro Park Jews displayed in this video.

Lest anyone ask how I know that these people had been poorly educated, one can hear quite clearly just how poor their English language skills are. No one that had the slightest bit of secular education – which would obviously include English – would sound like that!

This video shows just how racist people raised in large isolated communities with no secular education can become. There is no defense. There is no explaining it away. I would hope that Orthodox leadership of all stripes would have the same visceral reaction to this sight that I did. It should be publicly condemned by every rabbinic leader who ever made a public statement about anything! No excuses! No saying that it is so obviously wrong that the mere condemnation of it is wrong – making it seem like more than an extremely isolated case of some outlier Jews. 

I believe that it is a lot more common than that. My experience with people living in communities like Boro Park tells me otherwise. I have heard their racist comments all too often.  I wouldn’t be surprised that for every incident like this which was recorded, there are lot more that were not! 

These people have lost their dignity – their humanity! That they could taunt a black man for doing his job and continue ridiculing him as he rides off in his police vehicle is so upsetting… I am at a loss for words. It doesn’t matter that that police officer could have overlooked a minor parking infraction. I might even agree that he probably should have. But that is so beside the point!

I hope the rest of Orthodox Jewry would have the same visceral reaction to these people that I had. They may be Jewish but they are not religious no matter what they look like. Even though they probably pay more attention to the details of ritual than I do. Maybe.

Their form of Judaism is no more legitimate than Reform or Conservative Judaism. Judaism is not only about following the minutia of Halacha. It is about being a Mentch and presenting Judaism in the best possible light. These people did not do that. They failed miserably. And they probably don’t even realize it.  

What they did is a Chilul HaShem of major proportion. One that has gone viral! They may not realize it. But to paraphrase R’ Chaim Soloveichik, Nebech a Chilul HaShem is still a Chilul HaShem. Only this time it has spread far and wide.  And I am sickened by it.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Government Shutdown – Whose Fault is It, Anyway?

Venezuelan caravan from October of 2016  - They're coming to America (WSJ)
Although this subject is a bit off the beaten path of what this blog is all about, I thought I would express my thoughts about the border crisis and the current government shutdown.

One of the President’s signature issues, perhaps even the very first one he spoke about during the campaign was illegal immigration. The way he expressed that issue set the tone for his entire Presidency.

In what has to be at best an exaggeration if not a bold faced lie he took a serious problem and distorted it way out of proportion to its realities. Instead of recognizing the actual problem of immigrants seeking a better life by breaking the law and sneaking into this country via open southern borders, he labeled them all the worst kind of criminals.

It sounded almost racist. As if he was disparaging all Mexicans that way. Certainly the vast majority of them entering our country illegally. Although he vehemently denied it, it’s hard to give the President a pass on this because his rhetoric at the time sure sounded like it.

Be that as it may, illegal immigration is a problem. There are basically 2 reasons that immigrants want in. Either they are fleeing persecution – or they simply want a better life that working even menial jobs at minimal pay will give them.

Those fleeing persecution should be given asylum. If their claims are found to be legitimate there is no way that a humane country like America – the  Medina Shel Chesed - should send them back. That is the current policy. The devil – as always - is in the details. It takes time and personnel to vet all those claims. Not all those claiming persecution are telling the truth. Or if they are their claims of persecution do not all measure up to our definition of it.

There are those however that come here for economic reasons. That is a horse of another color. That said the jobs they take here seeking better lives for themselves are the ones that American workers choose to forego. It is hard to find Americans that will do the jobs that illegals are so eager to accept. (Which should tell you something about America’s greatness compared to the countries these immigrants come from. Even at those low wages they do much better here than they did back home. But I digress.) What this adds to the mix,  however, is that those illegals provide a needed benefit for employers that can’t fill those jobs any other way. It’s kind of a win/win in that sense. 

But there is a downside. Without going into too much detail when foreign immigrants are willing to work for near starvation wages and consider it a plus – it makes it unlikely that Americans would compete fort those jobs. Americans are used to a much higher standard of living. It would be impossible for them to live anything near a middle class lifestyle at those wages. Were they to be paid a higher wage for those jobs - more Americans might take them. But that has a downside too. It would raise the cost of the consumer goods that they produce. Most of which are agricultural and used by the vast majority of Americans. As it stands now, prices can be kept low because of illegal immigration.

Unless we are willing to lower the standard of living for the middle class, we cannot automatically accept all immigrants. That is why we can’t open the borders and let anyone that want to come in – come in. The days where the Statue of Lliberty’s declaration about that are long gone.

That may not be fair to those wishing to immigrate for economic reasons. But if we did that America would suffer. This does not mean we don’t let any immigrants come in for economic reasons. It just means that we need to regulate how many come in per year.

At the end of the day America’s policy would be asylum – yes. But people coming in for economic reasons would need to get in line. What about those jobs that Americans won’t take that illegals will? Perhaps foreign workers should be given work permits and pay taxes on their income. 

This is where the issue stand right now. For the above stated reasons, both Democrats and Republicans agree that there must be better border security. I don’t think either party denies that. The question is how to achieve it.

This question was not asked  yesterday. Nor even during the campaign. Immigration reform as been an issue for many years as more immigrants try to come in. But past attempts by congress at immigration reform has failed because the two sides cannot agree on a bill that would satisfy everyone. There has been a stalemate on the issue. And it was basically put on the back burner until Trump came along. Now it is the on front burner. Big time. That is causing major discomfort for a over 800,000 Federal employees that have either been furloughed or are working without pay. Which will soon have a ripple effect on the entire country if it hasn’t already.

The President and Republicans want a physical border wall – a barrier built along the southern border of the United States to keep illegals out. That plus increased technological surveillance, more security personnel, more agents processing the increased numbers, and better medical facilities with more personnel to deal with the health issues the illegals bring.

Democrats might agree with all of that - minus the wall. They refuse to build a wall under any circumstances – claiming that it is  waste of money and that modern technology can do the job better and cheaper. There are arguments supporting both sides. Democrats are fond of quoting statistics in their favor. Republicans keep showing actual border personnel who say that a wall will certainly help them. They therefore support the President.

The one thing you can say about President Trump - that was not the case with past Presidents is that he keeps his campaign promises whenever he can. No matter what it takes. And since this was his signature issue from the start, he is going to do everything in his power as President to keep his promise here too.

When an opportunity for leverage came along, he took it. The President refused to sign a bill passed by congress to extend funding for the government.That means that certain non vital government employees are not being paid since there is no money to pay them. Some have been furloughed. Others whose service is considered vital are currently working without pay. The President is holding them hostage to his campaign promise.

It would be easy to blame the President  entirely for using government employees as pawns to achieve his own ends.  But in fairness, the President and Republicans do not necessarily see it that way. They see a greater good being served here - using the only leverage they have. Nobody wants to put people out of work. But the immigration problem will never be solved if we just ‘kick the can down the road’. Besides - those working without pay now will get back pay when funding is restored. (Not sure if those that have been furloughed will.)

Even though the President precipitated the government shutdown, Democrats are not blameless here. They are just as stubborn as the President and Republicans. They could end the shutdown right now if they chose to - by simply agreeing to compromise on funding a wall. If they were to agree to that, the President would reopen the government immediately – as he said he would. He has offered to compromise. On that score, the Democrats are completely at fault. And deserve plenty of blame – right along with the President and Republicans.

What about the claim by Democrats that the wall is a waste of money and wouldn’t work anyway? …...that a wall is an outdated way of securing the border? In my view they are wrong about that. Border walls work. Ask Israel.

Sure – there are other ways to protect the border as claimed by Democrats. But nothing beats a physical barrier to prevent illegals from crossing. That should be recognized by everyone with an ounce of honesty about it.

In a budget expressed in the of trillions of dollars - 5.7 billion is a relatively small amount of money. Especially when you consider there are some billionaires worth over 100 billion dollars all by themselves! (Maybe we can get Jeff Bezos to pay for the wall with some of his 147 billion. He will sill be left with over 141 billion! That should be enough to take care of his needs.)

In my view the ball is in the Democrats court. They could end this right now by expressing a willingness to compromise. Just like the President has  That is if they really cared about those federal workers.

Apparently not. The very thing they accuse Trump of – they are just as guilty of. Blaming the President alone is a lie and they know it. Just because somebody else started the fire doesn’t mean you don’t put it out. By refusing to budge and continuing to blame the President they do a disservice to the country. I think the public should be aware of just what kind of people run it: A bunch of self centered amoral losers on both sides of the political aisle that care not a whit about the people they pretend to serve. All they seem to care about is showing who’s boss! Collateral damage be damned!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

She Was Used to It?!

Image of a Spirit Aircraft taken from YWN
To say I am outraged by this incident is an understatement.  If what happened on a Spirit Airlines flight happened the way YWN described it – it is an appalling incidence of antisemitism. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. The kind of antisemitism that I thought could never happen on a mainstream airline. Even if the people that did it were secretly antisemitic I would have thought it would never translate into as overt act like this. Here is what happened.

An Orthodox Jewish family from the Chasidic enclave of Boro Park consisting of a husband, wife, and  3 daughters (one of which was a 2 year old) were given permission at the gate to bring their stroller aboard their flight since it was designed to convert to an infant seat. Once on board they did exactly that. A flight attendant then approached them and told them that this type of item was not allowed on board and took it away from them – even though they explained that they had been given permission at the gate. The family acquiesced and there apparently was no conflict.

During the flight, the husband joined his wife and 3 daughters in the three seat section as his wife placed the 2 year old in her lap. A flight attendant approached them again and said it was against regulations to have 5 people sitting in 3 seats. The husband immediately returned to his seat. So far - so good. But what happened next inexcusable: 
At the flight’s end an announcement was made for all passengers to remain seated as two police officers and two managers from the airlines came on board to escort Chani, Yisroel and their three daughters off the plane as though they were criminals. They asked the police what crime had been committed and received no response other than from the airline manager who claimed they weren’t wearing seatbelts.
Adding insult to grievous injury, the family was informed by the airline’s managers that they are no longer welcome on any Spirit Airlines flights in the future and that their return flight would not be honored; ‘find another flight home’ they were told, leaving the parents stunned and the young girls crying inconsolably.
An eyewitness on the same flight was also shocked by the way this family was treated and came forward stating he overheard the steward who was involved in the confrontation complaining to the other stewardesses about “those retarded Jews.” 
I am shocked as well. This is not what I have been used to at all on any flight I have ever taken on any airline. (Although admittedly I have never flown Spirit.) On every single flight I have been on I have been treated no differently than any other passenger. Even though I was wearing my Kipa making it obvious that I was not only Jewish but Orthodox. 

There has been nothing but kindness towards me and my wife on the part of every flight attendant. Who were eager to accommodate our every request. Which we rarely made. It was almost as though they were more eager to accommodate us than we were to be accommodated. Every single encounter I have ever had with any member of a cabin crew has always been nothing but the most pleasant experience.

I can only surmise that the people that work as flight attendants tend to have very positive personalities and love working with people. I assume that airlines look for these characteristics when they hire people and train them to be even nicer than they naturally are.

Which makes this story even more shocking. Based on how this story was reported how could there have been that kind of reaction to these people? It is inconceivable to me that there could be that kind of antisemitism permeating any staff member or management. And yet the events as described are clearly antisemitic from flight attendant to management!

And even if there any such employee was privately antisemitic their training should surely prevent it showing its ugly face.  And yet it happened. And antisemitism was clearly at the bottom of this since this family was referred to as ‘those retarded Jews’!

I can’t explain it and condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

This incident reminded me of an incident I experienced. One I have mentioned in the past. Only in that case the fault was clearly on the part of the passengers. Long story short - a large and apparently wealthy Chasidic looking family boarded the flight after my wife and I had been seated. They immediately started making numerous requests (almost demands!) upon a busy  flight attendant while others were still boarding. She was treated like a personal servant and they acted like they owned the airplane! I was so embarrassed by that behavior that when she passed me by, I apologized for it. I wanted to make clear that this was not typical Jewish behavior.

She thanked me and said that no apology was necessary. She was used to it and knew that not all Jewish people behaved this way. I remember thinking what a Chilul HaShem these people were making. Which they were probably oblivious to. Not all flight attendants react the way the one on my story did. Thankfully this one did. Some react badly - and for those that might have an antisemitic background it might just raise its ugly head in them.  

Her words made me wonder just how many times this happens. The fact that she said she’s used to it made me think it happens a lot. And that may just be why that disgusting antisemitic canard came rolling of the lips of that flight attendant. If they have experienced the kind of behavior I saw on my flight  - they probably judged this young innocent family by what they experienced in others that looked like them. That does not make them any less antisemitic. But I think it does make for an important lesson for us.

Which is to never behave like that Chasidic family did. Because at the end of the day it is a Chilul  HasShem that will have repercussions for others. Or worse – validate the antisemitism in the minds of people that have that prejudice. We should be doing the opposite and making sure that that kind of vestigial antisemitism is eradicated  - by doing the opposite of what that Chasidic family did and making a Kidush HaShem wherever we can.

Another version of the YWN story can be read at the New York Post

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Political Stability? Or Political Chaos!

Some of the Charedi Kenesset members (TOI)
Republicans and Democrats. That is how our system of government has evolved. We are basically a 2 party system that more or less reflects the political makeup of this country. Republicans tend toward more conservative views and Democrats are more liberal. Although the definitions of each have changed considerably over the years 2 opposing sides remain. And they reflect the political divisions of the vast majority of Americans. This is not the case in Israel. More about that later.

It is interesting to note that issues that used to define Democrats are now mostly the ones that define Republicans. Both parties have moved to the left. Although there are individual exceptions - Republicans are generally more centrist and Democrats more leftist. That can be seen on how they viewed issues then compared to how they view issues now.

Back in the days of JFK almost 60 years ago, I was far more at home as a Democrat. I saw Republicans as upper class self centered snobs that were generally somewhat racist and antisemitic. 

Back then it was the Democrats that stood up for Israel. Republicans saw no value in that - seeing appeasing the Arab states as more important to US interests. 

Republicans tended to support the Sunday Blue Laws whereas Democrats opposed them. Republicans favored quotas for Jews in top universities... restrictions on where Jews could live... Which country club they could join... or which hotel they could stay at... Democrats opposed all quotas and restrictions.

Now it seems that things are just the opposite. Republicans are where Democrats used to be. 

Republicans are now far more supportive of Israel. Democrats are far more critical of Israel. 

Republicans tend to favor religious rights over civil rights. Democrats see civil rights overriding religious rights.

Democrats now support quotas in the form of affirmative action while Republicans oppose it. 

Democrats will find antisemitic hate speech from among their ranks in congress. To the best of my knowledge  Republicans do not have anyone like that in congress. 

Republicans tend to support anti BDS legislation while Democrats see that as a denial of free speech. 

Be that as it may, our two party system has worked out pretty well for us. Although there are occasional exceptions (...one might argue that we are in the midst of one of those now) our form of representative government with direct elections for President seems like the best combination of democracy and efficiency in governance. While it is not the best version of either. It is the best possible combination of those two.

Which brings me to Israel. They may be more democratic then than we are by virtue of the fact that there are so many diverse political parties. That allows voters to be more precise in choosing which party represents their political views.  But they are far less efficient.  

Here is how their system works in practice as I understand it.The political party that wins the majority of  seats in the Knesset chooses who will be Prime Minister. Which is the head of their party. The 120 seats in the Kenesset are filled by the proportional representation of its population. The more votes a party gets. The more seats it gets. When there are a lot of political parties that produces a state of near chaos in governance. 

There are currently so many that it is rare these days for any party to win a majority of the seats. What usually happens then is the party with the most votes will be asked by the titular head (i.e. the Israeli President) to put together a coalition of parties that will consists of the majority of seats and generally the largest party’s leader becomes Prime Minister. 

The problem is that coalition partners make strange bedfellows. So strange that coalitions often break up over the very thing that made them distinct parties in the first place. 

Very inefficient.

And if that weren’t bad enough the parties themselves often break up into splinter parties. Adding to the chaos. This is what is happening now in Israel. For example, the very successful right wing ‘Jewish Home’ party was founded on the ‘corpse’ of the Religious Zionist party by Naftali Bennett. But now Bennett has left his own party and taken his top ‘lieutenant’ with him to form a new party that will combine the right wing of the Religious Zionists that  formed his base with the right wing of secular Zionists. His hope is that he will get even bigger numbers that his old party. He might be right about that. 

There are other parties doing similar things. Not the least of which is the Charedi parties. Which to me is mind boggling

You would think that the religious parties have a lot more that unites them than what divides them. That a block of all the religious parties in Israel would be a force to reckon with – rivaling the largest parties in Israel. If Shas, Degel HaTorah, Agudat Israel, and a united religious Zionist party (consisting of the left and the right) would unite to become a single united entity dedicated the religious principles they all share, imagine what could be accomplished. 

But what is happening instead is they is more splintering off than ever. It is their differences they focus upon rather than the their similarities.  Those differences are so important to them that they are are often practically at war with each other.

So much for unity. And so much for efficient governance. Too many political parties equals chaos.

Israeli politicians are not unaware of the problem of too many parties. The Kenesset  has tried to do something about it by legislating a minimum threshold of winning at least 3.5 seats in the Kenesset in order be part of it. 

I don’t know what happens to the 3 or less seats that are won if that party cannot serve.. But I believe this law takes them in the right direction. Israel needs to do what major democracies of the west do and find a way to reduce the number of political parties to two. Countries like the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia (to mention the few that come to mind) have that kind of system and are far more efficient in their governance. 

A two party system will certainly add stability. It would eliminate the tactic of breaking up a ruling coalition by a small party leaving it. Because there would be no small party. Maybe Israel should consider raising the threshold from 3.5 seats to 10 or more seats.

The religious parties would obviously be opposed to something like that. It would probably eliminate them all for serving. Or maybe – just maybe – it would incentivize them to form one big religious party that would be able to achieve or surpass that threshold. And achieve a great deal more  for religious Jewry than they could have ever imagined.

Of course this will never happen. But it should.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Is Calling Someone a Reform Jew an Insult?

Adina Bar Shalom (Wikipedia)
One of my heroes (actually - heroines) is Adina Bar Shalom. She is my kind of feminist. She is also the daughter of perhaps the greatest Sepahrdi Chief Rabbi Israel ever had, Rav Ovadia Yosef ZTL – a true Gadol. I would venture to guess that the apple did not fall far form the tree. For those that do not recognize the name, Here is a brief bio from Wikipedia:
Adina Bar Shalom is an Israeli educator, columnist, and social activist. She is the founder of the first college for Haredi students in Jerusalem, and has spent years working to overcome gender discrimination in the Orthodox Jewish community. She was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement and special contribution to society in 2014. 
It should be obvious from the bio that Bar Shalom is a Gadol in her own right (Please don’t get gender sensitive here. I use the male term Gadol loosely - since the female term Gedolah does not have the same connotation. But I digress.)

A few weeks ago one of the things that make her a hero was challenged by Rabbi David Benizri, a prominent supporter of the Shas in one of the more disgusting attacks I have ever heard about someone that ought to be seen as a role model for all of us. From JTA: 
Naming the late Yosef, Benizri wrote in a letter to followers: “I pity his Reform daughter, the accursed wicked woman, who came here and spoke in the name of the Rabbinate and for the so-called Women’s Council of Beit Shemesh. Bitter will be her day of judgment, bitter will be her day of reproach.” 
He soon apologized realizing that he went too far claiming among other things that he was sleep deprived at the time. (Shades of  Rossane Barr!) His apology was not accepted. Bar Shalom said she is preparing a lawsuit to the tune of $80,000.  Rightfully so in my view. Apologies like his don’t really mean much. His true feelings were let out at a moment where his internal defenses were down. Thus allowing the truth to come out. That kind of libel deserves to be denounced and adjudicated where it hurts – right in Rabbi Benizri’s wallet!

The reason for Benizri’s outburst should be obvious. Bar Shalom promoted the idea that women have the right - if they so choose – to leave the confines of the kitchen and serve the public welfare. They not only have that right and ability to do that - same as men. Even an obligation to do it in cases where their credentials warrant it. What matters most is what they bring to the table. Not what sex they are. Bar Shalom was speaking on behalf of women’s rights during the campaign for mayor of Bet Shemesh. Of which a woman, Aliza Bloch, was running. (She eventually won as most people that follow Israeli politics already know.)

What appears to be Bar Shalom’s biggest problem is that she was called a Reform Jew. Which raises an interesting question. Should being called a Reform Jew be considered an insult? 

Well, that depends. If you are actually a Reform Jew it would simply be an identity. Or even a compliment. But to an Orthodox Jew it is an insult. This says nothing about the value of a Reform Jew or their actual status as a Jew. A human being born if a Jewish mother is every bit the same Jew as the greatest Gadol. No matter which denomination they identify as. As is every single convert that has undergone a Halachic conversion.

But for an Orthodox Jew to be called Reform is an insult of gigantic proportion. Not because  Reform Jews are inherently bad. But because of what Reform Judaism represents. The complete abandonment of Halachic observance required by the Torah. To an Orthodox Jew, Reform Judaism is the antithesis of a being a religious Jew. 

Reform Judaism was founded on the principle that all Torah requirements are not requirements at all. They were just the means given to a primitive people so they could lead ethical lives. Now – in our day – when we know what is and isn’t ethical behavior, we can discard all the Mizvos of the Torah as long as we know the ethics behind those Mitzvos. 

Although in the past they practically forbade all ritual, they now encourage it. But only as a means to enhance one’s identity as a Jew. Not as a requirement. The Ten Commandments have become the Ten Suggestions – as is all Halacha. 

So if you want to build a Sukkah on Sukkos for example, you are encouraged to do so. But if you don’t want to, that’s just fine too. According to Reform Judaism, God doesn’t really care if you eat in a Sukkah on Sukkos anyway. It’s a nice thing to do. But it is only a suggestion. Not a requirement.

Reform Judaism has been fought by Orthodoxy from its very beginnings. The founders are considered heretics… formerly religious and knowledgeable Jews whose primary goal was to destroy any vestige of Jewish practice - even as they believed they were saving Judaism by doing that. 

Early Reform leaders were not satisfied with just splitting off from Orthodoxy and doing their own thing. They tried mightily to tear down Orthodox practice as an unworthy ancient relic that would keep us forever in the ghetto. They colluded with Czarist Russia - getting them to force a secular curriculum upon Yeshivos as a means of eventually weaning them away from an observant lifestyle altogether. The great Yeshiva of Volozhin closed down before allowing them to do that.

It should be more than obvious then – why Bar Shalom, or any Jew would be insulted at being called a Reform Jew.

One may ask, what about Reform Jews? How will they take the idea that being labeled a Reform Jew in Israel is considered a libelous insult worth taking to court?

My guess is that they will not take kindly to it. To say the least. But as unfortunate as that is, Orthodox Jews cannot be swayed by what the leaders of a movement might take from a lawsuit that considers their denominational label an insult. 

Reform Judaism is what it is - a movement that still rejects the Torah’s requirement to fulfill its directives. And for any serious Orthodox Jew being called Reform is the same as being called irreligious. Which is big insult to an observant Jew.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Are Israeli and American Jews Headed for a Divorce?

Nobel Prize Winner & Orthodox Jew, Robert Auman.  Israel needs more like him
I am so... not surprised. I am not surprised that the liberal Jewish New York Times deputy Washington editor, Jonathan Weisman, warns of a major schism between American Jewry and Israeli Jewry. One that is so wide that it may be reaching the breaking point. And he cites several indicators of that. Among those he mentions is the fact that President Trump is beloved by Israeli Jews while being reviled by American Jews. Here is how he puts it:
American Jews, in contrast, see President Trump as their existential threat, a leader who they believe has stoked nationalist bigotry, stirred anti-Semitism and, time and time again, failed to renounce the violent hatred swirling around his political movement. 
And then there is this: 
To be sure, a vocal minority of Jews in Israel remain queasy about the American president, just as a vocal minority of Jews in the United States strongly support him. But more than 75 percent of American Jews voted for the Democrats in the midterm elections; 69 percent of Israelis have a positive view of the United States under Mr. Trump, up from 49 percent in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center. Israel is one of the few developed countries where opinion about the United States has improved since Mr. Trump took office. 
On the surface it might seem that Weisman is right. Indeed, I would have to agree that the  majority of American Jews and the majority of Israeli Jews view the realities in the Middle East in polar opposite ways. It is as if they are living in two different worlds. In fact I would remove the ‘as if’. 

The fact happens to be that Israelis not only see the political realities differently - they are actually religiously different. That applies even to non Orthodox Israelis.

What Weisman fails to recognize is that the vast majority of American Jews don’t really care about Israel that much - regardless of how they feel about the President or his policies. They don’t care about Israel because they don’t care much about their Judaism. (I wonder for example how many non Orthodox Jews in America are even aware that there is a controversy over control of the Kotel - or care about it if they somehow do know.)

Lest anyone doubt that American Jews do not care about their Judaism - the same Pew Research Center statistics upon which Weisman bases his analysis - provides us with another well known statistic: Among non Orthodox Jews in America - there is a 70% intermarriage rate! And it seems that a lot of non Orthodox parents don’t even care if their children marry someone of another faith. At least not the way they used to a few generations ago.

Which is why Reform rabbis now happily perform intermarriage ceremonies and Conservative rabbis are not that far off from doing so, too. (Some already are.)

If Jews don’t care about being Jewish, why would they care about a Jewish State? They might even see the very idea of a Jewish state as racist by definition!

Weisman quickly glosses over the fact that - as he notes - there is a vocal minority that supports the President and his policies. The very policies that disturb the Left. Nor does Weisman mention who that ‘vocal minority’ in America is. But it should be obvious to anyone paying attention that is the majority of American Orthodox Jewry.

For me this is not a simple matter. I am an Orthodox Jew who is appalled by the President's behavior despite the many things he has done which I do support. Hardly a day goes by where something he says or does doesn’t make me cringe. On the other hand one cannot ignore the things that make Israelis love him. Things that I support as well. Which as noted are the very things that the Left despises more than his bad character.

It is obvious where Weisman is coming from. He too is non Orthodox. Although he might be one of the minority of heterodox Jews in America that actually cares about his Judaism and the welfare of Israel, he understands that most Jews are increasingly disinterested in Israel (and in my view their Judaism as well). But not entirely for the reasons he states – although they do add to that disinterest.

In the short term Weisman is probably right to worry. The relationship is deteriorating.  Thankfully it is not broken yet. But if it continues in its current trajectory – it will be.

How does this impact Israel’s future? I can’t answer that. But Israel’s future should not be dependent  on American Jewish support anyway. At least not at the level it had in the not so distant past. Because if the current trend of Jews abandoning their Judaism continues - in a couple of generations, that majority will disappear. To be replaced by a fast growing new majority of American Jews that are Orthodox. That being the case they will be nevertheless be far fewer in number than today’s majority. Which means the financial help Israel receives from American Jews will probably be a lot less than it is now.

Israel needs to wean itself off of that kind of support it. It is going to be severely reduced if not disappear completely. This is the new reality. Orthodox Jews will not in the future be able to match the kind of donations Israel receives from today's Jewry.

The handwriting is on the wall. It has been for quite sometime. Only no one has noticed it until recently.

For its part Israel will become an increasingly observant community - as the birth rate among Orthodox Israelis is exponentially higher than it is among secular Israelis. And Charedi Jews have the highest birth rate of all. If Israel is going to survive without the current level of financial help it gets from the American Jewish establishment, Charedim in Israel will have to more quickly become integrated into all pats of Israeli society While a lot of Charedim are already doing that, we have a long way to go for there to be a proportional distribution of Charedim in all fields.

I have expressed many times what I believe the Charedi world needs to do to best accomplish that - which is beyond the scope of this post. Hopefully it will happen. Charedim need to participate fully in all sectors of Israeli life. They can ill afford to maintain the paradigm of encouraging all men to learn full time until they can't anymore. And only then seek a job.

Israeli productivity depends on more than about just getting a job. Israel's very survival will depend on the increasing percentage of Charedi Jews to do what the secular world (and some in the religious world) do now. To excel in all fields of human endeavor. From high tech; to medicine; to science; to economics; to ethics; to the arts... you name it. And achieve the kind of success in those fields they have achieved in Torah study. As important as Torah study is, it cannot be their sole focus anymore. That should be more obvious than ever now. In that way the world will increasingly see Israel as the light unto the nations its populace has the Godly mandate to be.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Orthodox Jewish Murderers

 Aisha Rabi - Palestinian victim of 'Jewish' terror
No matter how many times it happens, I am still shocked. (although less so with each occurrence). I’m shocked that religious Jews could kill innocent human beings believing they are religiously justified in doing so. I wouldn’t call the 5 teenagers arrested for murdering a Palestinians woman cold blooded killers. I’d call them hot blooded killers.

Now before anyone jumps all over me for assuming these 5 boys are guilty of causing the death of a Palestinian woman before it is proven in court - let me unequivocally state that they should be legally presumed to be innocent until that time. But I hasten to add that it is not all that unlikely that they are in fact guilty

Although I said I am shocked, unfortunately I am not as shocked as I otherwise might be. These young Jews have very likely been indoctrinated to see all Palestinians as terrorists unless proven otherwise. So that killing a Palestinian might be seen as not only a justifiable elimination of a potential terrorist, it is even worthy of celebration!  These young people are  seen as heroes who have saved many Jewish lives!

It should not be surprising that Rabbi Meir Kahane’s extremist grandson, Meir Ettinger, is in the mix here. He was part of a delegation that was Mechalel Shabbos by driving to the prison where these boys are being detained in order to advise them. (Which I am sure they will ‘justify’ with a Pikuach Nefesh exception – based on the tactics they believe are being used by the Shin Bet to extract a confession.)

I tend to strongly believe those teenage Yeshiva students are guilty of what hey have been arrested for. It is from their ranks that Dr. Baruch Goldstein emerged. For those who for some reason missed this story, Dr. Goldstein mass murdered a group of Arabs while they were in prayer at Ma’aras HaMachpela. However, instead of seeing him for the deranged mass murderer he was, they see him as a righteous martyr for the Jewish people who saved many Jews by killing people that were about to commit their own mass murder against the Jews in his community.

When mass murderers like Goldstein are explained away and thereby venerated as heroes - it is not much of a leap to see them defending these teens the same way.

Which is one reason why I am so opposed to settlements deep in the West Bank. Even if you buy into their motive that settling all of Eretz Yisroel is an imperative worth dying for  (which I do not!) - the reality is that there are too many of those settlers that think along the same lines as Baruch Goldstein and his defenders. Which is very likely how their so-called Yeshivos indoctrinate their young to think.

If not proven otherwise in individual cases, these young people are groomed to treat all Arabs living in the West Bank as legitimate targets of terror who all want to kill us. And will do so given the opportunity. 

My sincere hope is that if these boys are found guilty in a court, that they be given the maximum sentence allowed by Israeli law. Murderers do not deserve to free no matter how misguided they are due to indoctrination by their teachers (and most like their own parents as well).  

It is outrageous that there is anyone that could defend what they did. Especially when their defenders are religious Jews. In my view their entire existence is a Chilul HaShem – a terrible stain upon all those of us that consider ourselves religious Jews.

But the real culprits here is the ‘Hashkafa’ that has created this ‘monster’. And the people that indoctrinate their young to believe they are serving God by murdering Arabs under the assumption that they are guilty until proven innocent! In my view they deserve prison as much as youthful monsters they created. If not more so!

They are an embarrassment to God and country. And to anyone that calls themselves a religious Jew. 

Unfortunately their ugly ‘Hashkafos’ are not illegal. So not only will they not be jailed, they will not even be arrested. Thus allowing them to continue preaching their hateful Hashkafos to new generations of Jews who will pass it on to further generations!

This kind of  indoctrination is unacceptable. And yet I have no clue how to prevent it from spreading. But there are some things that could be done to help prevent this kind of thing from happening again.

First as noted, a conviction with a harsh sentence - might - help deter any such attempts in the future. (...and I emphasize - might. These people eat determination for breakfast.) 

What the government should do is destroy every such settlement deep into the West Bank.  Let them bulldoze them all down! The price of allowing them to continue is too steep. There is nothing gained by allowing them other than appeasing the settlers themselves. 

I know settling all of Eretz Yisroel is a Mitzvah. But it is overridden by Pikuach Nefesh. Loss of life takes precedence almost over every other Mitzvah in the Torah – the exceptions of which do not apply here. And their actions clearly contribute to the hatred Arabs have toward us. Which endangers every Israeli citizen.

As bad as a Palestinian terrorists might be, Jewish terrorists are even worse. Because that is not who we are. That they exist at all in any kind of organized way is a desecration of God’s name. Desecrating God’s name is considered so serious that we are supposed to give up our lives in order to prevent it. The least we should do in that goal is to give up those settlements.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Jewish Outreach Done Right

A still from 'Reflected Light' (Photo: Raaya Vardi Teboule - from Tablet)
I believe that Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and I share similar perspectives on Judaism. Although we do sometimes disagree, I find those disagreements to be rare. Two of his recent Cross Currents articles on the subject of Baalei Teshuva resonated with me. The first one, posted on December 2nd generated my own thoughts on the subject. And so too has the 2nd one. One with which I generally also agree.

The issue at hand is whether a Baal Teshuva needs to entirely reject his past in order to be fully committed to the religious life. Rabbi Adelrstein’s original answer was no. A religious Jew need not eschew everything that secular society has to offer. A Baal Teshuva need not reject his entire past. He may in fact retain much of his former life that does not conflict with Halacha – and perhaps more importantly can inform his own religious values so that he can actually improve his observance. 

Rabbi Adlerstein was later surprised by a comment made by an individual that rejected that notion. And he felt the need to respond in a separate post. Which he did.

Here in significant part is what that individual said:: 
99% of what a BT (or a curious, adolescent Beis Yaakov student) gains from or observes in the secular world is quite harmful for a Torah lifestyle. It’s true that a few hobbies, disciplines, or say, classical music appreciation have value and are sometimes things we lack, but think of what most people in the secular world are immersed in – movies, pro sports, rock music, video games, etc. (much much worse in the “etc.”). For the vast majority of people I really can’t see the transition from secular to BT as a modest refurb, but something much more resembling a major tearing down... the change has to be a drastic one of rejecting so much of what they valued and ran after in the past. 
Rabbi Adlerstein’s response in part read: 
The commenter is spot on regarding what we might call pop culture. That is probably what he meant. We must caution, however, that there are plenty in our community that make the mistake of applying his words to literally “99% of what a BT… gains from or observes in the secular world.” That is a horrible, horrible error. Regrettably, it is an occupational hazard of hanging out in parts of the charedi world that harbor an excess of bitul – of the need to tear down, undervalue, mock, and disparage everything outside their precincts.

I obviously agree with him. Although we might quibble about some parts of pop culture. I do not believe it is anywhere near 99%. But I do agree that much of it – perhaps even most of it is anathema to our values.

The question arises, Is this what people involved in Jewish outreach preach? … a complete disavowal of one’s past? As though everything in it at best has no value and at worst is extremely harmful to our spirituality?

I’m afraid the answer is yes. At least among that segment that operates out of the more extreme right wing - with the possible exception of Chabad. In far too many instances a Baal Teshuva is eventually convinced that his past was so mired in anti Torah values that it has to be purged. Old friends must be discarded. Irreligious parents should not be seen in any ways as role models. In some cases - which I believe are rare but do exist - Baalei Teshuva are told to reject their irreligious parents entirely for fear they will convince them to revert to his old life style. 

Indeed, I’m sorry to report that the highly regarded Posek, R’ Yitzchok Silberstein of Bnei Brak told a Baal Teshuva to not allow his children to visit their irreligious grandparents for precisely that reason. Fearing their negative influence.

According to this perspective, a Baal Teshuva must work very hard to rid himself of every last vestige of his past. I have no clue if the above-mentioned comment made to Rabbi Adlerstein was made by someone that is a Baal Teshuva himself. But clearly that is the message being constantly preached by the right. Including by those among them that do outreach.

Which is why Rabbi Adlerstein wrote his original article. It was based on a Tablet article discussing the problems faced by by Baalei Teshuva and their children later on in life. To just mention two quotes from the Tablet article: 
Baalei teshuvah have to hide parts of their soul from their children…If they don’t want their children to know what they did when they were secular, they have to hide not only their biography but also parts of their soul…
They say that it takes chozrim b’teshuvah around 15 years to start asking themselves, where did we come to? Why did we throw away our culture, philosophy, literature, music?… Many of them start a process of self examination… They start understanding that they will never be able to be Haredi and that their true identity is that of baalei teshuvah. 
I would not go so far as to say that outreach by the right wing is a complete failure. I think they are for the most part pretty successful. At the same time there is a lot of second guessing by Baalei Teshuva going on later in life. This doesn’t mean that they will revert to their past. I doubt that most of them do. Although I’m sure some have. But their children often begin to wonder about it without having made the spiritual journey their parents did. They might be in greater danger than their parents of rejecting it all.

The truth is that becoming religious from a past that was free of any such encumbrances is not an easy transition to make. There is a lot to learn. Feelings of inferiority about that abound. But one difficulty many Baalei Teshuva experience need not be as difficult as they are led to believe. They do not need to reject everything. They can still embrace much of their past lives as long as it does not conflict with Halacha.  They should even be informed that the secular world has much to offer a religious Jew. And much of that might even enhance their religious lives.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch certainly believed that. I am also reminded of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s comment about his appreciation of English Literature which he said made him better understand certain portions of Tanach. I am also reminded about the reaction by one Rosh HaYeshiva of the right that disparaged him for saying that. Which in microcosm is what this debate is all about.

One thing all religious Jews should be cognizant of is the famous Gemara that unequivocally states the following: If someone tells you there is wisdom among the nations, believe him! That seems to have been forgotten by far too many members of the right.

Thankfully not all Orthodox Jewish outreach operates on the basis that everything not Jewish is inherently evil. I believe that they are the ones that are the most successful in creating the kind of Baal Teshuva that successfully integrates the positive of his past with the religious requirements of his present. Which ultimately makes for a much healthier life experience for them and for their children.