Friday, July 20, 2018

The Right Goal -The Wrong Method

Conservative Rabbi Dov Haiyun (Times of Israel)
It did seem a bit like Gestapo tactics. The arrest of Conservative Rabbi Dov Haiyun at 5 O’clock in the morning was clearly not necessary. The optics alone made made the Chief Rabbinate look like the Gestapo. And made the police look like his SS henchmen. Not to mention the fact that this was overkill in the extreme, despite the law that generated it. Rabbi Haiyun should not have been put through this humiliating experience. It has exacerbated the anger – and even hatred of the Rabbinate as well as current Israeli leadership.

Israel is not a theocracy. Its laws are not for the most part governed by Torah law. It is a Jewish Democracy that allows non observant Jews to stay non observant with impunity. 

That’s how the original status quo agreement at the founding of the State was structured. The Chazon Ish agreed to the religious conditions that existed at the time. Which – as I understand it - basically protected Yeshiva students from the draft and allowed the state to cater to both the religious and non religious communities. Laws relating to that which were in place at the time would remain so. 

One of the things agreed upon in this vein was that all religious matters would be in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate. No exception. 

That worked pretty well until a few years ago. After the FSU desolved and Jews were allowed to immigrate to Israel - tons of them did. But many of those were not Halachcly Jewish. (Even though they considered themselves such and were well integrated into the culture). That created a demographic time bomb for the Jewish state. The solution by Religious Zionist rabbis was to convert them  as quickly and expediently as possible –  using long ago abandoned lenient Halachic opinions that allowed them to remain unobservant. The right wing protested saying those conversions were illegitimate and creating a genealogical nightmare. They managed to get some of their own people involved in the Rabbinate who then sided with them.

Fast forward to today. The esteem of rabbinate has deteriorated rapidly since that time. In most cases undeservedly so. Although some of the criticism may have been deserved a lot of it was political. At least from an Orthodox perspective. If the rabbinate was given control over all matters religious they have a right to implement that mandate in any way they choose. No matter who objects or why. The Rabbinate is Orthodox. Always was from day one. There was never any question about that.

It is their assertion of that very Orthodoxy that is causing so much angst - and even anger among Heterodoxy. Which is what is going on with planned extension of the egalitarian portion of the Kotel.

Heterodox rabbis will have none of this. They see themselves as equals to Orthodoxy.  Which is anathema to Orthodoxy and therefore to the Rabbinate.

Which brings me back to Rabbi Haiyun.  The State of Israel has – in the spirit of the status quo agreement – passed a law that any marriage ceremony not done under the auspices of the Chief  Rabbinate is not only illegitimate and not recognized... it is illegal and punishable by a 2 year jail sentence. 

I happen to disagree with this law. It will only make martyrs of heterodox rabbis that violate and it will create a massive backlash. Not only by heterodox rabbis but by the entire world that will say that Israel is turning into another Iran.

But as I said, although I disagree with the law I agree with its intent. Which is to eliminate illegitimate weddings from Klal Yisroel. Rabbis like Rabbi Hiyun generally do the kind of weddings that the rabbinate will not do for Halachic reasons. They will for example marry a divorcee to a Kohen, which is forbidden by Halacha. Why should the Rabbinate allow that to happen if they can prevent it?! Although in some cases Chief Rabbinate has used their authority in questionable ways, I believe that in most instances they were acting on behalf of Halacha.

The arrest of Rabbi Haiyun has generated a huge outcry by Heterodox rabbis and secular Jewish organizations that support them.  They are fuming over this! From an article in the the Times of Israel here are some of the reactions : 
“Today’s actions against Rabbi Haiyun marks a new and dangerous step in the ongoing attack on religious freedom and civil liberties in Israel,” read a statement from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism released late Thursday, expressing “outrage” over the move.
USCJ head Rabbi Steven Wernick sent a sharp letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to protest the detention, Haaretz reported.
“Bet you didn’t know that performing a non Orthodox wedding in Israel is punishable by 2 years in prison? And now with new nation law, why wouldn’t we be worried about Israel’s direction as a democratic State? This is OUR @RabbiAssembly colleague,” Wernick wrote on Twitter.
“We are deeply concerned by the disturbing reports” of Haiyun’s detention, said a statement from US Jewry’s umbrella group, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
The United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York also said it was “disturbed” by the incident.
“Today’s action is dramatically inconsistent with Israel’s promise as the home of the entire Jewish people, and its commitment to equality and respect for all its citizens,” said Eric S. Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation of New York.
In a separate statement, the Jewish Federations of North America said it was “deeply disturbed” by the detention.
“We have high expectations and hopes for Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. It is meant to be a home for all Jews and a reflection of Jewish values,” the statement read.
The US-based Rabbinical Assembly, which represents Conservative rabbis worlwide, also said it was “outraged” by the detention of Haiyun, a former president of RA-Israel, describing the incident as “shocking.”
“Today’s detention of a respected former President of the Israel RA gravely undermines the integrity of government institutions and is contrary to the values of Israel and the Jewish people,” said RA CEO Rabbi Julie Schonfeld…
I’m not surprised by any of this. And I do believe it could have been avoided. But what is missing from all these reactions is any comment at all anyone or group representing Orthodoxy. For obvious reasons, in my view. Although they too might object to the heavy handedness of this - and the terrible optics, I’m sure they agree with their objectives. There is no possible way any Orthodox rabbi worthy of the title would consider violations of Halacha an acceptable practice in Israel – no matter what the intentions of the violators would be. 

What about the loss of Diaspora support this might generate? There could be substantial financial consequences if that support is lost. The vast majority of Jews in the Diaspora are in fact not Orthodox. That is an indisputable fact.

It is true that this event will not help matters. But it is really only a matter of time before any of this matters anyway. As is rather well known by now, intermarriage among non Orthodox Jews in the Diaspora is at a 70% right now. I do not see that percentage going down. If anything it will increase. In fact some very prominent Jews actually advocate intermarriage preferring it over in-marriage – seeing that as racist. And creating a ghetto of 2!

There is little if anything that can be done about this trend. Which has been accelerated by a Heterodoxy that either ignored it or accepted it. As did Reform who considers the non Jewish partner in such a marriage if they live their lives Jewishly (whatever that may mean to them). And a Conservative movement that already has some of of their rabbis performing intermarriages.

Sadly, it’s only a matter of time before the great tragedy of losing millions of Jews will happen.  I don’t see any way out of this – even as Orthodox outreach intensifies and has become more successful than ever. It is still a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of Jews that will intermarry out of Judaism.

Back to the issue at hand. True, all the screaming and anger could have been avoided. But the handwriting is on the wall. There is no way that Israel should in any way legitimize heterodoxy, because that will not only NOT help our continuity as a people - it will hinder it by creating the same conditions in Israel that exist in America.  That should never be allowed to happen. 

I know this is an unpopular view among many of my Orthodox  friends to my religious left. But that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

When Elu V'Eu Does Not Apply

Mob scene in Bet Shemesh (JTA)
People accuse me all the time of rejecting anyone to the religious right or left of me.  They think I believe that my own Centrist Hashkafa is the only acceptable one - and that everything else is not. Those to my religious right or left are wrong. If they are not exactly like me, they are rejected.

That is so far from the truth that I am hard pressed to even address it. That others see me as intolerant is disappointing to say the least. I can’t even count the number of times I have gone out of my way to use the phrase Elu V’Elu - Divrei Elokim Chaim. These and those – the words of the living God.

Which basically means that when there is disagreement between sincere and knowledgeable Jews about what God wants from us,  both views are considered valid. Even when those views are incompatible.  

This is why I have no real issue with the Hashkafos of Chasidim, Charedim, Religious Zionists or the left wing of Modern Orthodoxy. I believe that their views are all L’Shem Shomyim – for the sake of Heaven. My issues are only with extremism with any of those camps. When I complain about it, I get attacked as seeing only my own point of view to be legitimate.

By coincidence two polar opposite groups of Jews whose Hashkafos are legitimate have been in the news lately. In ways that I reject as an illegitimate expression of their valid Hashkafos: The Chasidic extremists of Bet Shemesh (Ramat Bet Shemesh B) ...and the Religious Zionist extremists of the settler movement. I can’t think of too many groups within Judaism that are more divided on Hashkafic issues that these two groups are.

Not every Chasid feels this way -but a huge number of Chasidim view the Satmar Rebbe as the ultimate authority on anything Jewish - and certainly see his views on the State of Israel that way. He saw the existence of State a violation of God’s will. Those who follow his views believe Israel should be dismantled (at least in theory) and that Palestinians (or any other non Jews) should take over. Any attempt to retain any land is sinful. And any supposed miracle that happened in taking back our land in the past is seen as the work of the devil. (Sitra Achara). Even getting the Kotel back is seen that way.

Seeing Israel as illegitimate has spurred on some of the more radical elements among them (such as Neturei Karta) towards violent activity, caring nothing about legal niceties. If they don’t like something, they attack it, sometimes causing physical harm to innocent people. Which They could care less about since they do not see them as innocent. This happened again in Bet Shemesh. From JTA
A haredi Orthodox mob chased a teenage girl down a main thoroughfare in the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Shemesh due to her “immodest” attire…
In a video of Monday’s incident, the girl can be seen running down Nahar Hayarden Street, chased by what appears to be dozens of screaming men in haredi Orthodox garb. 
Yes, this was disgusting behavior. Very un-Jewish. This is not about rejecting their Hashkafos. It is about extremist reactions to something they don’t like. True, the girl they chased down was not dressed modestly by religious standards. I even understand why residents in a neighborhood like that would object to that. They do not want their children to be exposed to women who dress immodesty. I get it. I have no problem with their feeling like that. 

My problem is in how they reacted. Sure - it was just a few that reacted this way. And perhaps most of them wouldn’t. But it is the mentality of the whole that generates the behavior of the few. I’m sure that most residents of Bet Shemesh did not approve of what happened. But they surely had the same degree of anger about it. They surely have been taught how terrible immodest dress like this is. That some will react with violence should not surprise anyone.

This is what I reject. Not the Hashkafa that sees people dressed that way as immodest. I have no problem with how ‘Frum’ anyone is. Only when their Frumkeit results in this kind of behavior.

Stone throwing settler arrested (Ynet)
And then there are the Religious Zionists. They not only believe we have a biblical right to rule the land of Israel, we have an obligation to do so. And that giving any of Israel’s land to the Arabs is a violation of God’s will.  They also believe that returning to our land after 2000 years of exile is the beginning of our redemption that will usher in messianic times. 

I am not a religious Zionist. I do not believe that this is the first flowering of our final redemption. But I otherwise do lean in their direction. And I certainly believe in their right to believe as they do. My only real objection is their settlement activity deep into the West Bank. I believe it is both counterproductive and dangerous. Which can lead to serious problems when taken to an extreme. Such as sparking terrorist activity that hurts innocent people. From Ynet
A group of settlers attacked a force made up of Border Police and Civil Administration personnel near the settlement of Yitzhar in the West Bank on Wednesday, lightly wounding two of the force.
Several masked teens began throwing stones at the force, which was conducting a routine patrol.
A Border Policeman was hit in the head and a Civil Administration member was hit in the back with stones. 
Unfortunately there are Religious Zionists that don’t care about the safety of others. They will cause harm to anyone they see getting in their way. True, most settlers are not like that. They want to live in peace with their neighbors – even as they settle parts of Israel deep into the West Bank. They do try and get along. I understand the Hashkafa even as I disagree with their doing it.

But when innocent people get hurt by the extremists among them, my support ends. I reject the  extremists. They exhibit an extremism based on their desire to settle the land. This is their Frumkiet. And it has caused them to react violently to anyone that opposes it – including their own government.

I see no real difference the extremes of these two groups. Their behavior is an illegitimate expression of  a Hashkafa taken to an extreme. There is no ‘Elu V’Elu. There is only shame and disgust. Shame because of how they make religious Jews look – and disgust at the harm they do to innocent Jews they don’t like or get in their way.

I am happy to see that the Religious Zionist settlers suspected of throwing stones and injuring people have been arrested. I don’t know if the Charedi extremists in RBS B were arrested – but they should be. And if in both cases they are convicted, they should be put together in a cell and have them fight it out. If they want to harm people in their cause, this would be a good way to do it. Let them harm each other! It will be a win/win for everybody!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Right Education for My Child

Is the Charedi school in Israel the new model for American schools? (Reuters)
What kind of Jewish education do you want for your children?  This is a question every parent should ask him or herself before their oldest child is old enough to be enrolled in a school. Even before pre-nursery.

While this should be obvious to most of us, I am convinced that a lot of parents don’t even think about it. Even among those that do, they might seek an opinion from a rabbi whose Hashkafos do not necessarily match their own. This happens a lot in mainstream Orthodoxy. If you are a member of a Shul whose rabbi is a beloved charismatic figure, he might be asked by a member with young children where he thought you should send your child. 

If he is Charedi (which is becoming more prevalent in Orthodox Shuls) his answer will be sincere but might not have anything to do with your Hashkafos or what kind of Jewish education you believe is best for your child. He could easily just tell you send to a School where his own Charedi Hashkafos are taught. Not that he is doing anything wrong, underhanded, or nefarious. It is just that he really believes his values to be the truest to the Torah.

It has been my experience that this choice whether made without too much thought or based on advice from a beloved rabbi has led to a lot of children not following in the footsteps of their parents. No matter what kind of values they want to instill in their children, the majority of their day will be spent in a school whose values are not the same as their parents.  

In cases where the Rebbeim (Torah teachers) are all Charedi and teaching children year after year in elementary school - that is almost a guarantee that it will be their values that will eventually be adopted by a child. Not because they are old enough to make those decisions. But because the schools they attend beyond elementary school will have the same Hashkafos and will continue until they are old enough to make those decisions. That is clearly the most likely outcome.

Most parents will accept those results even though they may not fully agree with them. The trend in Orthodoxy is in that direction anyway. And a lot of the parents in those schools (most of them - probably) actually have those Hashkafos in the first place. For those that don’t, they just learn to live with it. They still love their children very much. I believe there re a lot of parents like that. Parents that would have been happier to see their children have a Jewish education more in line with their Hashkafos and the values based on them.

But they chose a school by believing that it is better to send them to a school that is to their right than too their left,or because of the influence of their rabbi - despite his having values different than their own.

What are these Charedi values? In short they are based on something called Daas Torah. Which literally means the wisdom of the Torah. The fact is that the wisdom of the Torah is what we all must follow. The question is how we determine what that really is. In our day that term has been co-opted by the Charedi world and interpreted as following a group of rabbinic leaders they call the Gedolim. Rabbis universally recognized as highly knowledgeable in Torah. 

The problem with that is that not all rabbinic leaders agree on what Daas Torah really is. Especially when it comes to educating our young. What exactly does that  mean in our day? It does not  matter to the Charedi world what anyone but what their own Gedolim say it means. Making matters worse there is a phenomenon we all all familiar with called ‘moving to the right’. This phenomenon is most prevalent in the Charedi world. 

If a school is oriented that way, and they see others schools adopting certain values, they will often adopt them too. Not  necessarily because there is any intrinsic Torah values in them. But because other schools to their right have adopted them. Values that on the surface make sense to their Hashkafos. Like spending more of their day - and of their year - studying Torah. So if a school wants to maintain their credentials as Charedi, they will follow suit and do what other schools have done.

What about their parent body? Does their opinion matter? Not really. Why? I have heard this dismissive common response made many times rabbinic and lay leaders of such schools: ‘What does a parent know about Daas Torah?!’ ‘It doesn’t really matter what they think.’ ‘All that matters is Daas Torah.’ Which they see as the ultimate will of God.  If a parent doesn’t agree they can send their kids to one of the other non Charedi schools (which they look down upon as inferior or Krum - meaning that they have a warped Hashkafa).

The problem with that ‘option’ is that it is totally unrealistic. You can’t pull out a child from a school where all of their friends are; a school they are familiar with in all its facets... and send them to a place they won’t recognize; whose curriculum and environment that is entirely different than what they are used to,and whose students and teachers are unfamiliar to them. That can severely traumatize a child, hinder his progress, and even cause him to go OTD. Besides, why would they want to send their child to a school they have been indoctrinated to believe that their Hashkafos are Krum?

For those parents that are Charedi and believe in the concept of Charedi DaasTorah... they might just object to some of the particulars added to those schools for very good reasons. They would never, however, consider a non Charedi school. They are basically told to love it or leave it. But they will neither love it nor leave it.

What a wide disparity between the Hashkafos of the home and of the school can easily produce is an increase in the possibility of child going OTD.  When new and difficult rules are implemented over the already difficult old ones - it is not stretch to believe this can be a result.

The school day for boys is very long and very intense. The trend is towards increasing both - not only the expansion of the school day – but of the school year too. The current thinking in the Charedi world is that Torah study should be maximized as much as humanly possible. Free time or vacations should be minimized since it is otherwise considered Bitul Torah (a waste of Torah study time). 

The belief is that the boys can handle it – just like so many other boys in schools like that where these new conditions have already implemented. They look not only to their right. They look Eastward as well. Seeing the Israeli Charedi model as the ideal. This means the ultimate abandonment of Limudei Chol (secular studies) - seen as a form of Bitul Torah. This is the direction the Charedi world is going. And Charedi Israel is their model. I am not talking about Chasidic schools. I am talking about many mainstream Charedi schools of the Lithuanian variety.

Is this what parents looking into a school for their child want? Even if they are Charedi? I suppose that some do, But I’ll bet that a lot of them don’t and still prefer what was once considered the norm for a Yeshiva education – even a Charedi one.

My guess is that a lot of parents don’t even realize this trend is happening. But they should.

I believe that Charedi parents ought to start thinking for themselves and look to other schools with a more traditional approach to a religious education. This does not mean going to the left or sending a child to a coed school – even if it is Orthodox. But that is not the only other choice. 

There are schools that actually have the values that many parents in those schools have and yet still send their children to a school to their religious right.  They may eventually be happy with their choice. But not because their children have adopted their values. But because those children are loved and still love their family. Those values have not changed. They are good people that have become well adjusted to their life choices.

Meanwhile there are children that simply cannot hack it in those schools.  Because the very trend towards excellence in Torah studies is the same trend that a lot of young students are not capable of handling. They are the ones that fall though the cracks. And this new trend will surely increase that. 

Parents need to consider all of that and not just look to their right…or rely on rabbis whose views mirror those of the right wing schools.

What about a parent that want their children to be Charedi - but would also like them to have a decent secular education and a more ore less normal school day and school year? And do not believe in the long extended hours spent daily in the classroom or the extend school year? 

I believe they too can be happy in a school that caters to both the right and the left. A school whose philosophy is “Chanoch L’Naar Al Pi Darko’ educate the child according to his personal ability.

A child can go to a school like that and remain influenced primarily by their parents’ values. The school will not contradict them.  If they want their children to be Charedi – they probably will be. Such schools have Charedi role models as well as non Charedi ones.The values they learn in the home plus those they learn in school will help them make moire informed choices in life. Sometimes those choices will be to the right of a parent and sometimes to the left. But they informed choices.

I therefore urge parents not to follow the crowd and instead to choose a school wisely based mostly on how your values will be treated by the school. Will they be ignored or will they be considered? That is the question that should be uppermost in the mind of a parent before deciding which school to send a child to. Because once the decision is made. It might be too difficult to change upon the experiencing disappointing results

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Trump Derangement Syndrome.

US Senator from Kentucky, Republican Rand Paul (VIN
‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks’.   This famous line from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ occurred to me yesterday after a barrage of criticism against President Trump’s comments during a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was almost ‘knee jerk’ on both sides of the political aisle. Although the Democratic criticism was much harsher than the Republican criticism, he was not spared it even by members of his own party. I don’t recall this level of criticism against Trump on any other matter.

You would think that the President had initialed World War III just by the sheer volume of his critics. Let alone the degree of their criticism.

What  was all that criticism about? Is it legitimate? And why are Democrats more critical? Another phrase comes to mind. ‘V’nahafechu’. This is a phrase commonalty associated with Purim. It refers to the idea that we are supposed to become so intoxicated that we end up confusing the hero, Mordechai, with the evil Haman. It has traditionally been Republicans that saw Russia as the ‘Evil Empire’. But now the Democrats are tripping all over each other to see who can condemn the ‘Evil Empire’ more. What ever happened to the ‘Reset Button’?

It was Democrat Hillary Clinton Clinton who coined that phrase trying to reset the US relationship with Russia by making it more positive. I guess the ‘Evil Empire’ has returned because of who the President is.

The issue all the criticism is based on is Russian tampering with our democracy via a cyber attack undermining the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. It has been determined by the intelligence community that not only have they done that, it was at the behest of Putin himself. Putin has vehemently denied this. What has outraged so many of Trump’s critics is that the President seems to believe Putin over his own intelligence establishment. Even in the face of the recent indictments of 12 Russian nationals for their sustained effort at hacking Democratic Party e-mails and computer networks.

This criticism comes shortly after the President’s  attack against our NATO allies (Canada, the UK, France and Germany, among others). The President wanted these countries to pay their fair share of the NATO budget - which they have never done. The US has carried the lion’s share of that. Trump’s critics were heard saying things like, ‘Is this how we treat our friends?’ ‘It is unheard of!’ ‘The US benefits greatly by NATO’. ‘Any threat to dissolve NATO would be a blow to world peace’. ‘How dare he threaten to leave it over money?’

And then there are the trade wars with friend and foe alike. The President’s greatest achievement is a vastly improved US economy with the lowest unemployment numbers in decades. That is being undermined by tariffs on imported goods that has not only raised consumer prices on many goods, it has caused some companies to establish branches in those countries to avoid the tariffs on material used by them imported from those countries. That has also impacted negatively on jobs in the US. Free trade is the cornerstone of a free market economy. Tariffs stifle that.

Is all this criticism fair? I think it is. But I also think it is overblown because of who the President is. It is no secret that he is one of the most hated Presidents in American history. Mostly by the liberal side of the political spectrum. He has a  90% approval rating among Republican voters. But the current criticism is from both sides of the political aisle. While it is legitimate, I believe the intensity of that criticism is more about his character and personality then it is about his policies.

The President is not one to mince words. To say he is not a politician is an understatement. As it is an understatement to say that he is politically incorrect.  It is also no secret that he thinks a lot of himself. So why is he doing and saying those things? And why the harsh reactions even from members pf his own party?

Let us examine some possibilities.

Why did he so strongly criticize our allies while fawning over perhaps our greatest adversary? I think its because he knew that we can be frank with our friends and tell them if we think they  are taking advantage of us. His point being that just because you are a friend doesn’t mean you take advantage of us. The president pointed this out in 2 ways. 

One is in the unfair trade practices that have been completely ignored by past administrations. American made products are taxed in foreign countries to discourage their citizens from buying them. So that they will instead buy products manufactured in their own country. The US hadn’t done that to them. This benefited consumers enabling theme to buy foreign products a lot cheaper than comparable American made products. Products made more cheaply in foreign countries because of much lower labor costs. 

That hurt American companies.  The President wanted simply to equalize the playing field by doing to them what they have been doing to us all along.  

While I believe that doing this was counterproductive since it would ultimately hurt the consumer and thereby the economy, I don’t think the President was all that wrong. I believe that he should have ‘left well enough alone’. But that would not make it right. The President proposed that all countries drop all taxes on American exports and the US would drop tariffs on theirs. So far - no takers. They have been completely deaf to that proposal and instead continue their trade war with the US. How this ends up – no one knows. I oppose the tariffs. But I get Trump’s logic here.

What about his complaints about NATO? Did his rhetoric endanger the most successful military alliance since World War II?  I doubt it, although I’m sure that is what he wanted our NATO allies to believe. What the President really wanted was for them to pay their fair share. He has mostly gotten them to do that by instilling that fear into their hearts. NATO protects them as much - or more - than it does us. They are after all in closer proximity to potential adversaries than we are. If anything they should be paying more, not less than us.  

The strategy there worked. We are in no more danger of alienating out allies than we were before. Only now they are no longer taking advantage of us. 

What about all the fawning praise of Putin?  Shouldn’t the President be treating our adversaries with at least the same contempt he seems to have had for our allies? Is he not doing the opposite?

The answer is yes, he is. But as he said, having a good relationship with an adversary is far better than having a bad one. That is why he is bending over backwards to show Putin that we are his friend, not his enemy. Trump simply wants to push his own restart button on US/Russia relations. That reduces the possibility of conflict with a the world second biggest superpower that has nuclear weapons on par with the US. And it increases economic cooperation that will better serve both countries.

Does that mean that he should fawn all over Putin as though he was some kind of superstar? No. I agree that the President has been duped by Putin. The smirk on Putin’s face during the joint press conference spoke louder than any words. 

But antagonizing Putin was not the right response either. We know what he did. We have indicted Russian nationals. Calling Putin a liar to his face serves no one. Increasing sanctions might better convince them to stop than calling him a liar to his face.

In my view Trump should have trusted his intelligence community and not fawned all over Putin. But Trump’s outsize ego got the better of him. As it always does. He truly believes that he can size up an individual  better than any intelligence report can. He met with Putin for 2 hours and believes that Putin was telling the truth when he vehemently denied any Russian involvement with our political system. Trump may be a good judge of character. But he is way out of his league when it comes to sizing up practiced liars like Putin.

It should also be noted that most of the Russian people support Putin by a very wide margin over those that don’t. Antagonizing him would not put the US in good stead with the Russian people. They love Putin there. They support his takeover of Crimea. Even though it violated international law and was condemned by the entire world. 

Putin, his nation, and the vast majority people living in Crimea see things differently. That Trump did not complain to Putin about this - does not mean Putin will start attacking other countries. I doubt very strongly that he will. He knows how we and the rest of the world feel about what he did. He also knows that Trump is an unpredictable President who might start world war III if he felt like it. 

One final thought. I am sure that I will be attacked for defending the President when virtually everyone else has strongly criticized him.  But I am not really defending him as much as I am trying to understand where he is coming from. His goals are not all that unreasonable. And perhaps some of his methods aren’t all that unreasonable either. This view was articulated more or less by another critic frequent critic of Trump, Senator Rand Paul. I think he got it right when he said the following about Trump’s meeting with Putin:
(I)t’s important for the U.S. to keep an open dialogue with its adversaries, especially if it hopes to motivate them to change their behavior.
Paul tells The Associated Press, “We should look for ways to make the dialogue better.”
He says lawmakers and former intelligence officials criticizing Trump include those from both parties who are opposed to his presidency. He calls it “Trump derangement syndrome.”
Paul says, “I think these people are mistaken.”

Monday, July 16, 2018

Can Israel be a Jewish State and a Democracy?

Is recognition of Reform Judaism in Israel's future? (Arutz Sheva)
Israel is a Jewish State. Israel is a democracy. Are these two statements contradictory?  I don’t think there can be any real question about that. You cannot be an exclusively Jewish state if you are a democracy. Because the very definition of a democracy means that you cannot limit the rights of an indigenous people. A Jewish state by definition does that. Because it mandates that no matter how the majority of the population chooses to be recognized, it won’t matter. The primary consideration of a Jewish state is  to keep it Jewish.

Which begs the obvious question. How can Israel and her friends constantly refer to itself as ‘the only true democracy in the Middle East?’ I guess one can say that Israel is not a democracy in the purest sense. But that it is a democracy within its definition as a Jewish state. Which means that the populace can vote and choose between a variety of political parties that span the political spectrum -left to right.  The only proviso is that the State remains Jewish. 

This of course means leaving out the possibility that Israel can ever become a Muslim state - even if a majority votes for Muslim party rule. I do not believe there is a single party in Israel sans that Arab parties that would ever let that happen.

That being said, Arab citizens of Israel have the right to vote. Which is why Israel has vibrant Arab political parties whose elected representatives serve in the Keneset. But this is also why Israel rightly worries about a possible single state solution if the West Bank were annexed – giving the Palestinians living there voting rights. 

Current demographic trends favor an ultimate Arab majority in the not too distant future which could vote Israel out of existence. That is why Ariel Sharon - a hard line hawk who was considered the father of the settlement movement - came to realize that we do indeed need a 2 state solution. That, he believed, would be the only way to keep the state both Jewish and a democracy. And it is why he gave Palestinians the Gaza Strip.

There are those who believe that we should annex the West bank giving Palestinians full civil rights but not voting rights. But that would  in my view be a denial of one of the most fundamental rights guaranteed by a democracy. Palestinians would never accept a denial of that right in a one state solution.

We are at an impasse now. There is no possible way to create a 2 state solution under current conditions. If Gaza is the model for what happens when you give land to Palestinians, then the last few weeks of terror from Gaza shows what a 2 state solution would look like. It would mean national suicide. And a bloody one at that! 

This pretty much sums up the conundrum facing Israel right now. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Which for me means that Israel must retain the status quo until such time it can be determined with a relative degree of certainty that a peace treaty would be honored.
In pursuit of cementing its identity as a Jewish state, Israel is proposing the Nationality Law. From ArutzSheva: 
The bill enshrines the status of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in its homeland as a unique right for the Jewish people, the symbols of the state, Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the Hebrew language as the official language.
In addition, the proposal anchors Israel's connection with Diaspora Jewry and the right to preserve a heritage for all residents of Israel, regardless of religion or nationality. The bill establishes the Hebrew calendar as the state's official calendar and the commemoration of Israel's Independence Day, the Jewish holidays, and the days of remembrance in the Basic Law. 
For me this is a no brainer. If we are going to be a Jewish State, we need to define what that means. But to the Reform Movement this is an outrage. They are oppose it.  Why? Here is what they say: 
According to a document seen by Hadashot, the movement plans on fighting the legislation in a multi-stage battle. The first stage will be opposing the bill itself under the contention that "the Nationality Law is an improper and distorted law that undermines the democratic character of the state and the status of non-Jewish citizens of Israel."
As part of its effort to torpedo the bill, the movement says it will rally diaspora Jewry to oppose the law by claiming that the legislation is discriminatory towards Israel's non-Jewish citizens. The Union for Reform Judaism has already put out a statement blasting the bill as "a grave threat to Israeli democracy". 
They have a point. But as noted this was true before this bill was even considered. Formalizing it hardly makes that much of a difference. Which is why some of Israel’s left wing opposes the bill. Why antagonize Diaspora Jews with an unnecessary bill that will change nothing?  

And since Israel is not fully a democracy anyway - and can’t be while remaining a Jewish State, why complain now? Reform leaders have basically conceded that this bill will probably pass and have made plans to challenge it after the fact: 
(They plan) on utilizing a clause allowing all Jews to immigrate to Israel as a legal argument against any future decision refusing to recognize Reform conversions.
(They have) lobbied the Israeli government for decades for official recognition and state funding – a move which would violate Israel’s decades-old status quo on religion and state.
(They have) pushed for use of state mikveh’s – ritual baths needed in conversion ceremonies – funding for Reform community rabbis, and autonomy at the Western Wall. 
That last item was a ploy for official state recognition. That became clear during the negotiation for expansion of the area by the Kotel already provided for them.  A clause in the plan would have required Orthodox coordination with the Reform Movement. Which Orthodox rabbinic leaders saw as tantamount to recognizing their legitimacy. Something Orthodox leaders would never do. It would also have also been a violation of the status quo agreement.

Not only has the Reform Movement NOT denied this, That has clearly been their goal all along: 
Union for Reform Judaism President Rick Jacobs (said they have)  been explicit in its pursuit of that goal for years. 
Considering that this movement has so few adherents in Israel, I find changing the definition of Judaism to include how Reform defines it - to be a huge Chutzpah.

If Israel is going to be a Jewish State, it has to be defined in ways that are acceptable to all. Clearly the majority of religious Jews in Israel are Orthodox. They would NEVER accept a non Orthodox definition of a Jewish state. Furthermore there was agreement at the very founding of Israel (in something called the status quo) that Orthodoxy will define all matters religious.

Even though the majority of Jews in Israel are secular, they are not Reform or Conservative. They may not be fully observant by Orthodox standards, but many are traditional and do not see heterodoxy defining their Judaism for them. 

Israelis may not like what the rabbinate (which is Orthodox) is doing in many areas. But they do not look elsewhere for religious guidance. Reform rabbis want to change all that. They want to shoehorn themselves in so that they can do to Judaism in Israel what they have done to it in America believing they have a natural constituency in the secular population. 

That cannot be allowed to happen. Reform Judaism is about as Jewish as Humanism is… having more in common with that than they do with traditional Judaism.  Which is why they should never be given any form of legitimacy in a Jewish state. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Best/Worst Technological Advance of Our Time

An increasingly ubiquitous sight 
A few years ago at the height of the anti internet campaign by the right, I asked a young Charedi Avreich why he didn’t have the internet in his home. I knew this fellow quite well since he grew up in my community. He was not one to parrot the harangue against it by so many of his Rabbinic  leaders. He was someone who actually thought for himself and knew the benefits of the internet quite well. He understood what he was missing. Which is why I asked him that question in the first place.

His answer made a lot more sense to me than the reasons constantly given by Charedi rabbinic leaders. They kept pointing to porn addiction as the primary reason for forbidding it. His reason had nothing to do with porn addiction. He said he knew himself and if he had it, he would become addicted to it. Even if it was all in a good way - it would take time away from his learning and other responsibilities. He did not believe that porn addiction was the main culprit (although he agreed that it was a problem for some). He understood then what we all know now. It is the addiction that is the real enemy. An addiction that has now found its home mostly on smartphones and texting. (I use the word addiction loosely.)

Studies show that smartphone addiction may very well be the most serious issue of our time outpacing any other issue in terms of the overall harm it is doing to the human race. And now that smartphones litteraly place the entire world in the palm of your hand, the problems is exacerbated exponentially.

Pew Research made the following observation:
The vast majority of Americans – 95% – now own a cellphone of some kind. The share of Americans that own smartphones is now 77%, up from just 35% in Pew Research Center’s first survey of smartphone ownership conducted in 2011.
When it comes to teenagers the numbers are even scarier:
(S)martphone ownership has become a nearly ubiquitous element of teen life: 95% of teens now report they have a smartphone or access to one. These mobile connections are in turn fueling more-persistent online activities: 45% of teens now say they are online on a near-constant basis.
There seems to be agreement among mental health professionals about the harm this causes even to physical health.

Off the top of my head - included among the more serious problems generated by this phenomenon are: spending enormous amounts of time taking away from ones responsibilities to work and family; disrupting the education of young people; decreased attention spans; reductions person interpersonal social skills, increased numbers of people suffering from clinical depression; increased bullying; increased numbers of suicides…   

Porn addiction is way down the list of negative consequences. Although it is definitely an extremely serious issue for those that access it which can destroy marriages and families, my guess is that the majority of people that avail themselves of internet technology do not access porn. At least not on purpose.

I’m sure that all this just scratches the surface of the problems this phenomenon has generated. The real problem  is the addiction itself.  If we are to be honest, my guess is that we all know people that are addicted at one level or another. Some of whom might be us! 

So what’s the solution to this problem? Do we throw out the technology as some rabbinic leaders on the right insist we do? Even though we may not agree on the reasons to do so, clearly the seriousness of the issue is not in dispute.

My answer is an unequivocal no. The technology is way to valuable to  throw out. Furthermore, it would be futile to even attempt it. Although some people will follow their leaders directive - forbidding it is a sure fire way to get more people to use it. ‘Mayim Genuvim Yimatku’ say Chazal – stolen waters are sweet.  

It is rather well known that the Chasidic community whose rabbis are among the fiercest in their opposition to smartphone use nevertheless finds a significant minority of Chasidim (if not the majority) owning or using them.

I need not go into the benefits of a smartphone. Suffice it to say that the benefits are huge. There is nothing going to stop that.

What about the obvious downside that this post has clearly acknowledged? Indeed! …perhaps the downside is worth abandoning the technology after all - no matter what the consequences!

The solution is not that clear cut. Use of a smartphone is wide that it will someday no doubt become the primary means of communication for everyone - if we are not already there.

Nevertheless, I think key to beating this scourge is something we all already know. It is something we should all strive to achieve: Self control. 

It is imperative to learn how to limit its use. Some of us can do it easily. I for one do not spend a lot of time on my smart phone. I do not need to text all of my thoughts to a friend or group of friends. I do not feel the need to immediately respond to every text I get. I rarely initiate conversations via text.  

I would, however, never go back to a time where I did not have the world in my hands. When I want to get information on any subject, I get it instantly in most cases. And if I wish to convey a message to someone without having an extended conversation I can do it with just a few words. All of which saves a lot of valuable  time I might otherwise spend trying to do it the old fashioned way.

When used in this way, it is used the way it was intended to be used, It is when it becomes your whole life that it becomes a serious problem.

The problem is in getting everyone to use it that way, instead of being attached – even enslaved to it 24/7.

Once you get into a habit, it is hard to change. This is the problem lies in my view. If you can’t do it on your own, then therapy might be necessary. Because the alternative of continued addiction can ruin your life.

Updated: 7/15/18 at 3:00 PM 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Liberals, Conservatives, and Orthodox Judaism

Democratic Party nominee for Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Axios)
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to be both a political liberal and an Orthodox Jew these days. Not because of the ideal itself. There is much to admire about a liberal political philosophy. I am in fact liberal on some issues myself although I tend to lean towards a more conservative approach on most issues.

My political views are completely informed by my religious views. Which are based on  the Torah. The Torah is neither liberal or conservative. But on most issues the Torah is better served by a conservative approach. Which is why Evangelicals tend to be politically conservative. They too see the values of the Torah (what they call the old testament) better served that way.

I’m sure that my liberal friends will challenge me on this with an analysis of their own. And that’s fine. But I stand by my view. Being a liberal does not in and of itself make one anti religion or anti Torah. Clearly there are some very religious Jews – even some Charedim that describe themselves as liberal or hard core Democrats. The party of their choice in the 2 party system of American politics.

But liberal political parties are being taken over of late by a form  antisemitism disguised as legitimate criticism of Israel. For liberal Jews - that comes in the form of bashing its current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. While some of their grievances with him might be legitimate, liberal criticism does not stop with Netanyahu. The more liberal one is the less likely they will be to support Israel regardless of who the Prime Minister is. They will more likely support the critics of Israel. And although this is not an absolute - the reality is that as far as liberalism goes - the less religious one is (whether Jewish or not)  the more likely they will be anti Zionist. (Unless they are of the Satmar mentality who are anti Israel for reasons beyond the scope of this post).

This is what came to mind as I saw a protest of President Trump during his visit to England on this morning’s newscast. As the cameras were focusing on the protesters carrying anti Trump placards I saw at least one that was anti Israel - Pro Palestine. It seems as though those signs were as welcome there as any of the others.

Unfortunately that didn’t surprise me. Since England’s 2 party system  has its own version of Democrats called The Labour Party. Whose leader, Jeremy Corbyn has been called an antisemite by Jonathan Arkush, the outgoing leader of the Jewish Board of Deputies in England. And for good reason!  Of course he vehemently denies it. But ‘denial’ in his case is nothing more than a river in Egypt.

This is reflected by the fact that there is a internal dispute among Labour Party members to get Corbyn to more fully reject all forms of antisemitism which has has thus far resisted.
Furthermore…  as the New York Times recently noted: 
In Britain, the once center-left Labour Party has become so infused with anti-Zionist sentiment that Jews recently took to the streets of London to protest a drift in the party toward anti-Semitism.  
I think this clearly indicates where liberal-left thinking and the political parties identifying with them lies.You will not see anything remotely close to that among conservative parties.

One might counter by saying that this is England… and the Unites States is different. Because here there has always been 2 party support for Israel.Democrat and Republican alike. That was true. Until it wasn’t. Which is not that long ago.

Liberal Jews - even very religious ones might take umbrage at this. Claiming that the 2 party support has been weakened by the Prime Minister of Israel who has cast his lot with Republicans thus alienating Democrats that otherwise support Israel. I don’t think Netanyahu can be blamed for this. Although he may have contributed to it.

It is true that the Democratic leadership still strongly supports Israel. Both the Senate and House minority leaders (Chuck Shummer and Nancy Pelosi) are ardent supporters.

But the same cannot be said for some of the other party leaders like the Deputy Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Keith Ellison - a onetime supporter of Louis Farrakahn. And it is certainly not true for 28 year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who challenged the Democratic Party’s establishment and won  by a huge margin  -  ending the 20 year career of her opponent, Congressman Joseph Crowley - who was seen as a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi.

Is Ocasio-Cortez an antisemite? I doubt it since she supported a Jew (Bernie Sanders) for President. But she is clearly anti Israel whose narrative is right out of the BDS playbook.  Hard to be pro Israel and pro BDS at the same time.

It seems pretty clear where the young liberal-left blood of the Democratic Party is going. And it isn’t Israel. Nor is it going in any kind of a religious direction. It is going the way of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  And I don’t think the old Democratic guard can stop it. 

Blaming Netnayahu for all this is a bit naïve. Since much of  criticism of Israel by the liberal-left is for things Neatnyahu did that were supported by the political opponents to his left. Such as Ocasio-Cortez calling Israel’s defensive measure at the recent border clash with Gaza terrorists posing as protesters - a massacre. It wasn’t a massacre . Israel’s defensive measures at the Gaza border were supported by Israel’s main opposition parties.

The lament by some of my liberal friends about losing 2 party support for Israel is something I sympathize with. I’d love to still see that. And as noted think it’s  technically still there. But the handwriting is on the wall. I don’t see it lasting in light of what I believe is a reasonable analysis of the increasing move to the left by mainstream liberal parties. Who see humanism as the highest ideal of all, trumping religion considering it to be an ancient and archaic value system countering the higher values of humanism. And in the process seeing a conservative Orthodox friendly Israel the same way. They otherwise see Israel only as a Nazi-like occupier of an indigenous people.

This is why I am glad that at least the political conservative parties (Republicans in the US and the Conservative Party in the UK) are in power now.

As a religious Jew it is also quite gratifying to see that conservative justices will now become the majority on the Supreme Court. Thus stopping the swing away from religious freedom. And if Republicans can retain the executive branch for the full 2 terms - possibly adding more conservative Justices to the Supreme Court as the current aging liberal ones retire - that’s even better. God bless America.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Never Happened! (Or Did It?)

OK. I’ll talk about it. Not because I think it what happened a couple of days ago makes much of a difference. But because so many people think it does. 

There was a story widely reported in the media a couple of weeks ago about flight delay on El Al because of 2 Charedim that refused to be seated in their assigned seats. They were displeased with the seat they got because each of those seats were next to a woman.

They asked to be switched. Nothing wrong with that. It is when they insist on it and disrupt the flight until they get their way that it becomes a problem and in my view a huge Chilul HaShem!

In this case the incident was reported inaccurately. The initial report was that the flight was delayed over an hour to the great discomfort of all the passengers. But a Charedi passenger by the name of Katriel Shem-Tov who witnessed the whole thing informed a reporter for the Times ofIsrael that it never happened. The insistence to have their seats changed by those 2 Charedi passengers was accommodated in less than 5 minutes. The rest of that hour delay was for reasons unrelated to those 2 Charedim.  The delay was already posted in the terminal before any of the  passengers even boarded.

Everyone is jumping all over media reports and resultant outrage over this event believing those 2 Charedi passengers were responsible for over an hour delay which we now know is untrue.

But the fact is it did happen. It just didn’t take as long as was originally reported. There was therefore no unreasonable delay because of it. Which means that it would have never been reported let alone so widely condemned.

The fallout of the original report gave way to a lot of anger on both sides. El Al said it would in the future remove any passengers that refused to sit in their assigned seats. A Charedi MK threatened a Charedi  boycott of all EL AL flights because of this. I added my own two cents as well. All because of a false account of it by the media.

Some people have asked me to retract what I originally wrote about this or at least correct it in a new post. I suppose that is a reasonable request. Which I am doing here.  But my criticism is still valid. Even though in this particular case it did not lead to a Chilul HaShem it easily could have. Because it has happened before.

I have seen this kind of behavior first hand. There is a sense of entitlement that certain Chasidic passengers seem to have that ends up being a Chilul HaShem. I witnessed it personally on a flight to Israel when a large Chasidic family boarded the plane and started ordering the flight attendants around as though they were their personal servants! I’m not so sure the 2 Chasidim in this case wouldn’t have prolonged the flight had they not gotten their way.

It is not the time it takes to find passengers that are willing to exchange seats that is the problem. It is the insistence on it that is.

It’s one thing to have a religious issue with sitting next to a woman on a flight. Whether anyone agrees with it or not, people have the right to their own standards.  Even if they are extreme. Provided they do not inconvenience others by insisting on them. They can ask politely if it is possible to switch seats. If they are told no, that should be the end of it. 

The fact that in this case it didn’t take that long to accommodate them might have solved the problem here. But who knows whether that will be the case the next time someone insists on changing their seats for that reason.  Here is what Mr. Shem-Tov, the Charedi passenger  that witnessed the whole thing said: 
My guess is that the whole business with the Haredim didn’t take more than five minutes. Of course, I am not justifying their behavior and one should not cause a delay of even one minute…  I certainly do not intend this post to defend those two passengers
That is exactly right. The outrage expressed at this particular incident may have been misplaced. But as the Charedi passenger indicated, it is not really defensible no matter how much time was spent on it.

Even though when a bad act happens in a short amount of time (and does not exacerbate the situation) that does not turn it into a good – or even a justifiable act. As I told one individual who pointed out this media error to me (perhaps hoping that I would retract) - if a mass murder is reported to have taken an hour and it is later corrected by a witness saying that it didn’t take an hour at all - but less than 5 minutes… would that make any difference? The crime was still committed.

What does all this say about accuracy in the media? I think its says something we all already know. Sometimes they get it wrong. Which can have unfair negative repercussions and consequences that end up being unjust. Perhaps this happens more times than we realize. Does that me we just discard the free press as unreliable? Hardly. Most of the time they do get it right. It is a free press that protects us all. Knowledge is power.  What we don’t know CAN hurt us.

The lesson here is that the media should be a lot more careful about accuracy in the reporting. It may not end these kinds of errors. Reporters and editors are only human. And can make mistakes no matter how careful they are. But hopefully it will reduce these kinds of errors in the future.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Good, Bad, and Grey of Feminism

Typical 70s ad for Virginia Slims
We’ve come a long way, baby! That was the slogan created by the tobacco industry’s product for women, Virginia Slims cigarettes. It was the acknowledgement that women have finally arrived - empowered by what was then known as the Women’s Liberation Movement – now better known as feminism. And they had their own brand of cigarettes to prove it!

Living in the 21st century has its challenges. The issue of our time is indeed feminism. I don’t think there is a single issue that takes up more of the public discourse than does this subject. This is a subject I have dealt with many times in a variety of ways.  But I don’t even think I’ve scratched the surface of its impact on society at large, and Orthodoxy in particular. It is a huge subject with many facets and opinions. It is a subject that has very positive and very negative aspects - depending on one’s perspective.

I recall hearing back in the 70s that Ner Israel’s Rosh HaYeshiva, R’ Yaakov Weinberg predicted that feminism will become the most difficult challenge to Orthodoxy for years to come. Bigger than any other challenge. How prescient he was!

Feminism has for the most part been vilified by the right wing of Orthodoxy as anathema to Torah values. But I have to disagree with them. Because as I said, there are some very positive things that feminism has done that benefit that very community. I would even say that without the advances spurred by feminism much of the Kollel lifestyle would not exist.

It was feminism that enabled Kollel wives to support their husbands in Kollel. The job market has expanded for women as has their financial compensation. Although there is a long way to go before there is parity, there is not a doubt in my mind that without the struggle for equality between the sexes there would be few if any opportunities for women to make enough money to support their husbands in Kollel. Which would mean that a lot of men in Kollel now would be working instead of their wives.

It would be nice if the right wing would acknowledge that and express some gratitude to the movement for that.

It is also true that feminism has equalized societal attitudes about sexes. Both sexes are to be treated with equal dignity and respect. One sex is not superior to the other.  Although that goal has yet to be fully realized even in the general culture.

Those are the positives of feminism that are fully compatible with Orthodox Judaism. And why I considered myself a feminist for supporting those goals. By today’s standards, I am no longer considered as such - it seems.

That’s because of the more controversial side of feminism as it exists today. It goes far beyond equal pay for equal work and being treated with equal dignity. Feminism on this level wants to eliminate all differences between men and women except for the obvious biological differences. This has become an almost inviolable ‘religious’ tenet for them. Any other differences are seen as cultural and subject to bias. And therefore ought to be discredited and discarded.

I do not agree with that assessment. I believe that there are legitimate studies that show that there are differences between the sexes that go beyond the obvious physical ones. I also do not necessarily believe that all cultural differences are automatically bad and should be discarded.  They should not be discarded just because society created them.

More importantly however is how religious values are to be seen in light of this new feminism. Should they always be discarded when they conflict with feminist values? And who makes those determinations? I believe these questions sum up the current struggle between feminism and religion – particularly as it impacts Judaism.

As an Orthodox Jew, the answer is relatively easy (although there are some grey areas). If one believes in God and that His will for the Jewish people is expressed in the Torah as interpreted by the sages and rabbinic authorities throughout Jewish history… then it cannot be trumped by anything. No matter how noble a cause might seem. When the 2 value systems conflict, God’s will must prevail.  When they do not conflict then the feminist value of equality can be considered.

Who are the religious authorities that make determinations like this? This is where it gets tricky. As an Orthodox Jew I look at the above mentioned Torah and tradition as interpreted by rabbinic authorities throughout Jewish history.

So an article in JTA that extols the advances feminism has made in the Conservative movement is completely meaningless to me.  Apparently the Conservative movement considers equality of the sexes in all areas as the ultimate ideal that cannot in any way possibly contradict the will of God.  Centuries of tradition is discredited as having been influenced by the  misogynist culture of the past. We now know better and can see what happened. It was a misogynist culture that drove those rabbis decisions.

Our more educated and informed modern sensibilities have taught is that ‘truth’. And now we can ‘right the ship’ of Torah to conform to God’s true ideal: feminism.  Orthodox rabbis they say are living in the past and ignorant of that ‘truth’. How could they not be ignorant cloistered up in the ivory towers of their Yeshivos!

Equality of the sexes is what God really wants in all spheres of Jewish life.including all religious spheres. As though God Himself is the ultimate feminist and never having intended the separate but equal roles that men and women traditionally had.  It is only the rabbis of the past that were negatively influenced by the misogynist culture of the time that made it so. (As if Conservative rabbis are not culturally influenced today!)

Unfortunately a lot of that kind of thinking has filtered into the left wing of Orthodoxy where some its rabbis think that about all the mainstream Poskim. They have decided that feminist values are so just that they can effect drastic change to centuries old  tradition and discard it.

What about those gray areas, mentioned above? Is it possible that there actually are misogynistic motives in some segments of Orthodoxy? Are women discriminated against that way there?  If one views the trailer for an upcoming episode of PBS’s POV series entitled 93 Queen, (trailer below) one will see the great Ruchei Freier decrying that very misogyny.

The Chasidic community tried to ban her all female EMT group. A group founded ironically for women whose extreme sense of modesty makes them uncomfortable around men  even when there is a medical necessity. Which sometimes requires uncovering parts of the female body that are otherwise covered for modesty reasons. While most Chasidc women know that Halacha requires it when there is a medical necessity,  many might still feel uncomfortable when men do it. They will certainly feel more comfortable when women do it. Which is why Ruchie Freier rose to the occasion and founded her all female  EMT group.  For which she still gets opposition.

Hoe ironic that the extreme obsession with modesty that is so typical of the Chasidic community is exactly what created  the need Ruchie Freier has filed with her all female ambulance corps. And yet it  is being fought for exactly those reasons. It is considered immodest in the Chasidic world for a woman to be an EMT.

Is it really modesty that drives them? Or is it a form of misogyny? Or is it that anything that has the remotest  connection to feminism is automatically seen as evil no matter what the benefits  - even if they can be lifesaving in some cases.

It that is the case, it’s unfortunate that the extremes that 21st century feminism have created this mindset. And a shame that in general, the good things about feminism have been set aside because of it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The 'Frumkeit Train"

Men in front; women in back - bus ride between Wlliamsburg and Boro Park
Like it or not, the ‘Frumkeit Train’ has left the station.

I have long lamented the fact that Orthodox Judaism has moved – and continues to move - to the right. I know I am not alone on this. Nor is it all bad.  As a Centrist, I am glad to see those to my left move towards the center. Nor does it bother me that those to my right are moving even further to my right. The problem I have is  the pressure that this has on the mainstream to move to the right too. And some of the collateral damage that has resulted. And some of that pretty extreme.

Let me be clear. Every Jew has the right to be as religious as they choose – and adopt any stringency they choose. But the phenomenon of the mainstream moving to the right is not necessarily a good thing. The best example of this is the disappearance of mixed seating at banquets and weddings. 

I have written about this before. Without getting into too much detail my opposition to this is based on the fact that there is nothing Halachicly wrong with men and women sitting together in public at a dinner table. The society in which we live today considers this normal. Although this was at one time considered immodest behavior, that has long ago ceased to be the case.  

I am not going to go into the Halachic sources for this. I will however say that it is easily demonstrated by the fact that the non Chasidic Gedolei HaDor in America of the 20th century were not only happy to sit together with their wives at mixed tables in public – including wedding banquets – they were happy to introduce their wives to passersby they knew.

In the Chasidic world however - separation of the sexes is far more extensive and common. In some cases extreme (compared to the mainstream even by  today’s standards). Separate seating has always been the case. 

What changed? I believe that some mainstream rabbinic leaders (starting in about the mid 1960s) saw Chasidim who had arrived in great numbers after the Holocaust doing it and decided they would not allow themselves to be ‘outfrummed’ by them . So they started doing it too.  The mainstream laity soon followed suit.  It is now rare to find a mainstream wedding that has mixed seating. Except for modern Orthodox Jews and a few of us die-hards in the Center that still insist on it when we can.

The Frumkeit chase didn’t end there. It seems that the mainstream keeps looking to their right and finding other things to emulate. Such as the new phenomenon of not publishing pictures of women. Except for Lubavitch - the Chasidic world has never published pictures of women considering it immodest. This was not true in the rest of the mainstream Charedi world. That is evidenced by the two largest mainstream Charedi publishers, ArtScroll and Feldheim, publish pictures of women. And by the fact that the Gedolei HaDor that were on Agudah Moetzes clearly approved of that - which was evidenced by Agudah’s now defunct Magazine, the Jewish Observer which occasionally had women featured on their cover.

But then came the Charedi magazines. They decided to follow the Chasidic standard. No pictures of women.

Meanwhile certain communities have taken modesty to such extremes that they are causing a Chilul HaShem. As was the case recently on an El Al flight when Chasdim refused to be seated in their assigned seats because they would be sitting next to women. This and other such instances (of even worse behavior such as using physical force to remove women from the front section of a bus where men are seated) have become far more common.

It therefore seems to me that the move to the right is common in the area of modesty between the sexes. Of course not all instances of modesty considerations are the same. But the motives are the same: the exaltation of modesty well beyond Halacha as a means toward ‘Frumkeit’.

About 20 years ago Chasidic friend of mine asked me why one of my children’s weddings had mixed seating. I told him I saw nothing wrong with and that most of the people I knew - including those that were Charedi preferred sitting together with their wives. I also pointed out that many Gedolei HaDor of the past sat with their wives. His response was telling. He said that was then. Now our modesty standards have improved and sitting mixed is considered immodest. Adding that no Gadol today would sit mixed.

I had to admit that this was  true. But I also thought how sad it was that we have gone backwards in time to a practice that had no longer had any Halachic significance – only because of the ongoing Frumkeit chase.

What, one may ask, is wrong with returning to a ‘higher standard of modesty’? Nothing except that it isn’t really a higher standard anymore. Most people prefer siting with their wives. and the custom of the society in which we now does not consider mixed seating the slightest bit immoral. Mixed seating is the norm. It’s only because the Frumkeit chase makes it seem less that moral.  And that begets the slippery slope into extremism - beginning with not publishing pictures of women. 

It doesn’t help matters when the concept of modesty has become over-emphasized in girls high schools and seminaries. I believe that modesty issues are the primary focus in these schools. Is it any wonder that modesty is what the Frumkeit chase is all about?

True, here has been some push-back. And there has been some positive results of that. In fact I noticed Mishpacha Magazine had a cartoon on the inside back cover featuring caricatures of women. But that is not anywhere near enough.  I am afraid there is little we can do about it. The train has left the station. Frumkeit is here to stay. I do not expect any significant change in the mainstream any time soon.