Monday, August 19, 2019

Joint Programs - Not a Good Idea

One of the founders of Reform Judaism in America, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise
A few weeks ago, I posted my complete agreement with Rabbi Muskat with respect to his views about Charedim, Modern Orthodoxy (Centrism) and Open Orthodoxy. I believe we are kindred spirits about this.

But in his latest Times of Israel article Rabbi Muskat suggests doing something I cannot agree with. Which is that we seek to create joint programs with heterodox movements with a goal that would actualize what he calls Ahavat Chinam - the unconditional love of  fellow non Orthodox Jews.

It’s probably true that a lot of heterodox Jews think that Orthodox Jews hate them. That is false but somewhat understandable.  It is based on an assortment of issues where we find ourselves at odds with each other. Such as our opposition to heterodoxy’s attempt to gain recognition in Israel. Most of Orthodox rabbinic leadership is opposed to that – as am I for reasons that will become obvious later in the post.

But that does not mean I have any animus towards heterodox Jews or even non denominational Jews. I love every single Jew regardless of which denomination they belong to. What I don’t love is their denominations. Which I believe are based on false notions about Judaism. I can’t love something I believe is false.

What Rabbi Muskat suggests is doing away with the decades old prohibition of interacting with heterodox rabbis. He believes that past fears about legitimizing them are no longer realistic. And that it is far more important to - instead of just paying lip service to it -.do something concrete to show that not only don't we hate fellow Jews - but to show much we love them! 

I actually agree with his goal. Just not his method. Even though the dangers of recognition are no longer significant, that does not mean we can do things that make it appear as though we legitimize false views and practices. By creating a joint program, we give the false impression that all streams of Judaism are legitimate. So that if Jew does not want to be observant,  then joining the Reform Movement is a perfectly fine expression of their Judaism. That it’s just a different way of doing God’s will. Which is completely false. We believe that serving God  means doing what he told us to do in the Torah– as interpreted by the greatest rabbis of each generation since Moshe. 

The question then becomes, if I believe in Rabbi Muskat’s goal but not his methods, how do  we get his message of Ahavas Chinam across to our non observant brethren? How do we put our money where our collective mouths are?

There are a variety of acceptable ways to do that. For example there is the case of Rabbi Yosef Reinman, a Rav from Lakewood. A few years ago he befriended a Reform Rabbi and ended up writing a book together for purposes of showing that we can be friends and respect each other across denominational lines even when there are profound differences between us. 

They began a promotional book tour where Rabbi Reinman met many Jews he would otherwise never would have and made a positive impression upon them. By making it clear that there was no endorsement of Reform Judaism there was no way to say he was legitimizing it. But the ‘Daas Torah’ of the Charedi world told him to stop because just by being on the same stage with them - it implied legitimization. 

I disagreed with them then and still do. But Rabbi Reinman was not about to disobey his ‘Daas Torah’ and acceded to their wishes. He stopped participating in that book tour. However, upon doing so he commented that his only regret was no longer being able to meet with them and having the above-mentioned positive impact. 

For me there is a difference between joining them with a clear message that you don’t agree with them – and what Rabbi Muskat wants to do. Which is ti simply join with them in some sort of collaborative venture that would not indicate any disagreement. 

True, as he says the theological divide is so great today that there would be no way to mistake one denomination for the other. But that does not preclude individual Jews participating in those programs from seeing it as some sort of legitimization. There is no way that we can be seen as legitimizing things we believe to be false.

By saying all this, I realize that to those on my left will  it will reinforce their perception of me as a closet Charedi. Just as some of my other posts make me seem by those on my right as clearly left wing Modern Orthodox. (e.g. yesterday’s post on the sad state of secular education in the more right wing Yeshivos).

But I am neither of those. I am a Centrist. Which is not some sort of mathematical midpoint between the right and left. Although some of my views are shared by the left and some by the right, they are all based on the thoughtful consideration of the values I received from a variety of role models I have been involved with along the path of life thus far. (…and I’m still learning). People that include my parents, my Rebbeim, my wife, my peers, my friends, and even my children. As well as other significant individuals - either in person or through their writings. 

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

YAFFED is Not the Issue

Eytan Kobre (Mishpacha)
I guess that ‘kill the messenger’ is still part of their strategy. As it pertains to the world of Orthodox Jewry,  there is currently a fight to defend religious rights. That includes the right to deny a decent secular education to students that are part of the more extreme right wing of it. Which are mostly (but not exclusively) certain Chasidic sects (e.g. Satmar). The fight has included numerous attempts to discredit YAFFED, an organization formed by expatriate members of said sects. They are the people that dared to challenge a system that tolerated promoting ignorance among their flock.

In the latest incarnation of this tactic, Eytan Kobre has attacked them (again). As though by doing that their message is discredited. 

YAFFED asked NYSED (the New York State Education Department) to investigate 39 schools that were ignoring the educational requirement to provide their students with a secular education equivalent to that required by the public schools. They were not providing any (or hardly any) secular studies curriculum at all.

Fast forward to today. There has been an unprecedented upheaval in religious education as a result of that. The short version of which is that NYSED came out with guidelines that were completely unacceptable to religious schools (including non Jewish ones like the Catholic Church). Those new regulations were struck down by the courts. NYSED has now adjusted them to comply with the court’s directives. As I understand it they have not been implemented yet. They are currently up for community wide review and input. 

‘Oh what tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive.’ 

It seems fairly obvious (at least to me) that those 39 schools deceived NYSED. Or at least if NYSED knew - they didn't care and looked the other way. Had these schools done what the vast majority of Orthodox schools did and offer a program that consisted of religious studies in the morning and a secular studies in the afternoon, none of this would have happened. But this is not how their defenders characterize it. They don’t blame the schools. They blame YAFFED, the messenger who brought all this up and thereby ‘rocked the boat’.

Although those fighting NYSED have framed this as a religious rights issues, they have not spared heaping scorn on YAFFED as though they were the whole problem. They have used every opportunity to discredit them – as though that would solve the problem. In my view they have only succeeded blaming and discrediting them with their own choir: those that seem to care more about the right of these schools to keep their students ignorant then about their welfare. 

Their arguments about how these people do quite well as adults even without a decent secular education is laughable. While it is true that a lot of them do quite well – and in some cases have even become multi millionaires in business - that does not describe their majority. Many (if not most) of whom rely on government handouts. To which they are legally entitled in part because of that very lack of a decent education that would enable them to get better paying jobs. While that would not completely eliminate the need for government aid, it would surely reduce it. 

The fact is that getting a decent education for a community that has been denied it - is what this is really all about.

But that did not stop Eytan Kobre from attacking YAFFED  in his weekly column. Since the messenger has not yet been killed, he did his level best to try again.

Here’s the thing. Even though I agree with most of the points he made, that does not change my view in the slightest about what is needed. 

The trouble religious educators are having now with NYSED is not YAFFED’s fault. It is the fault of the more extreme segments of Orthodoxy that were successful in ignoring the educational requirements of NYSED.  Which I’m pretty sure was an open secret.  NYSED was probably happy to allow this community to live in blissful ignorance.  Why should they care what a community does educationally as long as they are law abiding citizens - many of whose members are successful despite their lack of a secular education?

The bottom line for me is that I could not care less how evil the messenger is painted. True or not, they are not the real issue. The issue is what their stated goal is. Which is getting those schools to implement a decent secular curriculum.. That they might have an ulterior motive of destroying Yeshivos (which they are constantly being accused of) is irrelevant to that goal.

True, now because YAFFED made an issue of it, we have additional problems. But the fault really lies with those schools. They are the ones to blame. Not YAFFED.

If Eitan Kobre were to be honest he would acknowledge that. He would also have to admit that had he attended a school like that, it is unlikely that he would have attended law school and gotten a law degree, and even more unlikely that he would be anywhere near literate enough to be employed as weekly columnist and write the very column whereby in attacking YAFFED, he defends the religious right to be ignorant. 

While that may be their right, I don't think it is ‘right’ to defend perpetuating ignorance among some of the largest and fastest growing segments in all of Orthodoxy.

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Fallout of Banning Tlaib and Omar

US Congressional delegation visiting Israel (PBS screenshot)
I was a bit premature yesterday. About 2 seconds after I said that Israel was considering reversing their decision to allow Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar - two anti Israel Democratic House members who support BDS - they were barred from entering the country.

I discussed both sides of the issue yesterday – the pros and the cons - of letting them in and I leaned towards letting them in as the perfect example of Israel’s commitment to free speech even if it was against their own country. 

The backlash from Democrats was not what I expected it to be. Although Israel was criticized for reversing their decision, most of the criticism was reserved for the President who was blamed for this reversal. He had earlier made a comment that Israel was making a mistake by letting in these two anti Israel/anti Jewish congress woman and that they would show weakness if they did. It was only after the President ‘tweeted’ - that Israel reversed course. While criticizing Israel for doing that, Democrats believed that Israel’s Prime Minister was ‘forced’ to do that because the leader of the free world and Israel’s closest (if not only) ally is America. Not to mention Israel's domestic political situation in light of its upcoming election.

(It should be noted that as a humanitarian gesture Israel will allow Rashida Tlaib to visit her 90 year old grandmother who lives on the West Bank. She at first accepted but then changed her mind with an explanation that is typical of her biased anti Israel stance. I guess she hates Israel more than she loves her grandmother!)

Now that this is a fait accompli, it is worth examining the why and the what of it. Was it really because of the President? Or were their other legitimate reasons? I think there were. (And certainly Israel’s ‘official’ reasons did not mention the president at all.

The obvious reasons were that Israel has a right to differentiate between legitimate criticism and actions whose purpose is to weaken the country – if not outright destroy it. BDS is of the latter variety. Which is why Israel passed a law that bans BDS supporters. (From which Tlaib and Omar were originally made exceptions because they were US government officials.)

There was also the fact that they billed their trip as a visit to Palestine - NOT Israel - to see for themselves the ‘horrid’ conditions under which Palestinians live. Without the slightest attempt to see Israel’s point of view on this. They had no intention to meet with any Israeli officials.

But here is the ‘kicker’. While all this is going on, the US was in the middle of hosting a Congressional delegation that included the House leaders of both parties. Tlaib and Omar wanted no part of that. Had they come with that delegation along with their many other House colleagues (from both sides of the aisle) they would have been welcomed. They would have even been allowed to go to the West Bank if they chose – just as other American officials have in the past. But they only wanted to go to ‘Palestine’ and promote BDS. Thus hurting Israel in tangible ways.

For me, that puts a slightly different complexion on this. Instead of this being a genuine fact finding tour, this was a clear attempt to hurt Israel by two powerful congress women. Powerful by virtue of the worldwide media attention and sympathy they get.

I’m still not entirely convinced that Israel should have banned them. I’m not sure how much actual damage they would have done. And it might have enhanced Israel’s commitment to free speech. But it is certainly a lot more understandable now. And it didn’t hurt that the leader of the free world suggested it.

What remains to be seen is whether this decision will harm Israel in the long run. I don’t think so. Especially now that I see that the criticism is mostly directed at the President. Even the media has been a bit more honest about that.

This doesn’t mean that Israel has gotten away Scott free. Their decision was criticized on both sides of the political aisle. Including one of Israel’s biggest Republican supporters, Marco Rubio. But I do not see this as hurting Israel in the long term. Even among Democrats.  

There has been a lot of hand-wringing by liberals that support Israel – fearing that Israel’s current embrace of the Republican right wing ‘agenda’ for the Middle East  that includes things that Democrats have opposed (like settlement activity and the rejection of the Nuclear deal with Iran) – will significantly weaken American support for Israel in the long run. But as I said, I really don’t think it will.

I realize of course that America is far more important to Israel than Israel is to America. But I would not discount the value to America of Israel, the Middle East’s only legitimate democracy. To just cite one example of that, Israel’s intelligence services have provided and will continue provide information that is no doubt invaluable to American security and perhaps even to world peace. If and when Democrats get control of the White House (which is entirely possible a little over a year from now) they would be foolish to try and hurt Israel in any significant way.  I think they almost all know that. Which is one reason the House voted overwhelmingly to reject BDS. (With the obvious exception of Tlaib and Omar and 15 others. Among them Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.)

I believe the last night’s PBS interview of Israel’s former Ambassador to the US, Danny Ayalon and Democratic Congressman Brad  Sherman is illustrative of my views.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Should Israel Let them In?

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar (Forward)
I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about it. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar – 2 of Israel’s harshest critics are (I believe) the only members of congress to support BDS – a movement that urges the boycott, divestment, and sanctioning of Israel. The Israeli government has stated it will allow those two congresswomen to enter Israel despite its controversial (but in my view justifiable) law of not permitting BDS supporters into the country. As Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer explained in a Times of Israel article:
“Out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel” 
But that was before the President expressed disappointment about Israel’s decision to let them in. Apparently Israel is reconsidering it.

I personally don’t think is it unreasonable to bar entry to people whose goal it is to destroy the country. Despite protestations to the contrary that is really what BDS is all about. Although I’m sure that a lot of people ‘buy’ their argument that this is all about ‘illegal  settlements’; or  mistreating Palestinians; or starving Gazans; or shooting innocent Palestinian protesters... most of congress realizes the truth which is why the House voted 398 to 17  to condemn the movement!

What about free speech which is one of Israel’s tenets? As is the case in the US, free speech does not entail yelling ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater (when there is no fire). Fomenting rebellion by supporting BDS in a country under siege for the entirety of its over 70 years of existence might qualify as that. So I am not all that uncomfortable with Israel disallowing people who will do that. Can anyone imagine the NAACP allowing David Duke entry into their camp?

On the other hand consider the following. These two members of congress have received worldwide attention far beyond their actual importance as legislators or that of any freshman congressman. Much of it sympathetic because of the President’s perceived racist comments about them.  Israel therefore has an opportunity to show the world just how democratic it really is by allowing Tlaib and Omar in - and allowing them to spew their hatred of Israel to their heart’s content as a demonstration of its democratic principles.

The more I think about it, the less of a downside I see. What can they possibly say that will make Palestinian leaders and their sympathizers worldwide hate Israel any more than they already do? I would be willing to bet that whatever they will say has already been said in spades by countless numbers of Israel bashers - both recently and over the years. What can they say that will make members of the UN think that Israel is anymore of an ‘Apartheid State’ than they already declare it to be?

Imagine the sight of these two congresswomen being given the ‘royal’ treatment and welcomed as US members of congress from a country that has supported Israel since its very beginnings. And never more than it does now.

Israel will have many assorted opportunities to show these two women what Israel is really all about. And that calling them Apartheid State is the furthest thing from the truth. They can speak to Israeli Arabs legislators and to private Arab Israeli citizens that are prospering there. They might even find a few Palestinians that might admit privately that things are not as bad for them as the world media portrays it to be. (If they have the courage to defy the false Palestinian narrative that things actually are that bad or worse.)

That said, I am not getting my hopes up that any of this will change the minds of Tlaib and Omar. Once they are done with Israel’s positive PR tour and on the West Bank or in Gaza, I’m sure their hateful narrative will rival that of the Palestinian leadership and even Hamas in its anti Israel venom. But that will not erase the media coverage of Israel’s good side – even by a media biased against it. Or not - if they choose to ignore it and broadcast only the negative side. On the other hand there are some parts of the media that are not as biased and might actually broadcast the positive side, too.          

That is why I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, the positive scenario I painted might happen. On the other hand it may be the worst bashing Israel has ever had by American officials that will be covered worldwide by a media unsympathetic to Israel while ignoring anything positive.

Now that Israel has basically gotten scolded by the President for allowing these two antisemites into their country, Israel is having second thoughts. (It is almost as though the President is more pro Israel than Israel’s own leadership.)

Israel now has ‘cover’ to enforce its anti BDS laws. There will be no diplomatic repercussions to rejecting them. Only negative media repercussions. On the other hand this might be a great PR opportunity. Or Israel’s worst nightmare. 

Who knows? (Not me.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Justice or Vengeance?

NY Governor Cuomo meets with survivors and advocates back in January (NYP)
The State of New York just passed a law removing the statute of limitations on how long a survivor of sexual abuse can sue his abuser and the institutions that protected them. It is called the Child Victims Act and will enable survivors who were denied justice in the past to seek it now. Survivors up to age 55 will have a one year window to file suit.

I supported this legislation and welcome it - even though there was a lot of opposition to it from some sectors of the Orthodox Jewish establishment. The most prominent among them being Agudath Israel. (They have responded to the passage of the Child Victims Act here.)

The fear was that a lot of well established Yeshivos and day schools where abuse took place even decades ago and whose administration; faculty;  parent and student body have long ago been totally replaced. And might not even have any knowledge at all about what happened back then and certainly no blame. Good schools that are doing their jobs and even have programs in place to prevent sexual abuse and properly deal with it if it happens could easily be destroyed by a massive judgment against them for a survivor of abuse that happened decades ago.

I believe that is a reasonable fear. But I still supported the legislation based on the observation made by Rabbi Yosef Blau a few years ago when the legislation was first proposed (and later defeated). He said that similar legislation that had existed in other locations did not significantly harm those institutions while at the same time giving survivors a measure of justice. I believe the same thing will happen here. Those institutions that deserve to continue educating our children will survive.

But as I said, Agudah and other organizations in opposition to this legislation do have a principled opposition and legitimate fears. There is no guarantee that any school that is sued will survive a multi million dollar judgment against them. I don’t see how anyone cannot understand such fears. If enough schools are successfully sued that way, it could lead to a lot of children being left out in the cold - with no ability to get a formal religious education.

That is not a desirable outcome no matter whose side you are on. While I am on the side of the victim that does not mean I don’t share Agudah’s concerns. I do. I just believe that justice will somehow prevail for both sides. Survivors will get their due. And most schools will survive. At the end of the one year window, I believe there will be little if any permanent damage to New York’s Orthodox Jewish educational system.

What get’s me upset, however, is the venom some survivor advocates have against anyone whose views are not in lockstep with them. They have a ‘no prisoners’ mentality about this. ‘If you’re not with us 100% - you’re against us’. ‘You are a terrible person that cares only about money while not caring about justice for survivors at all!’

I’m sorry but that just rubs me the wrong way. Is there room for nuance? Is there no room for principled disagreement? How can they smear the name of one of the most effective fighters for survivor justice in the Orthodox world today, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz just because he disagreed with them on one issue! Rabbi Horowitz is a hero! …a  man that is involved in a legal battle in Israel – spending much time and money defending himself in a ‘defamation’ lawsuit brought by a sexual predator. All because he tried to warn people there about him. 

And even before that he has worked tirelessly on a variety of ways to teach the entire Orthodox Jewish community (from left to right) how to prevent sexual abuse in any and all situations - and what to do if it God forbid happens. A book on that subject he collaborated on has been translated into Hebrew (and I believe Yiddish as well) and has been widely distributed both here and in Israel! This is someone to criticize and smear because of a principled opinion that is not in lockstep with survivor advocates?!

Then there is Amudim founder and director, Rabbi Zvi Gluck- yet another hero that has dedicated his life to helping survivors.  He even welcomed this legislation back in January when it was still pending. And yet he too was smeared by the same survivor advocate. Instead of praising Rabbi Gluck for all he’s done and continues to do, he vilified him for an error he made back then: 
Perhaps the most deceptive position on the issue came from Rabbi Zvi Gluck who celebrated the extension of the criminal statute of limitations  but wrote  “The Child Victims Act will, unfortunately, not apply to those victims who were abused prior to the new law going into effect.”  This is outright false. The lookback window allows survivors of child abuse to sue (but not press criminal charges) regardless of how long ago it happened. I can only imagine he was using his cred for his work helping survivors of abuse with therapy to ward off threats to the institutions whose backing he needs including the Agudah’s Moetzet. His halachic advisor is Rabbi Elya Brudny, a member of the Moetzet 
I’m sorry but this kind of intolerance is just plain wrong and in and of itself deceptive since he failed to mention that this error was made back in January. Not now in August when the  Child Victims Act was finally passed.

Based on these kinds of reactions, I fully expect to be vilified too just for defending two people that were  in my view wrongly attacked!

This kind of intolerance smacks of vengeance not only against abusers and their protector/enablers but against Orthodoxy itself. It is almost as though the hope is the entire Yeshiva system collapses and Orthodox Judaism right along with it! 

I understand why a sincere survivor advocate might feel that way. But that does not make it any more rational or moral. And perhaps even worse - it undercuts their credibility in my view. Something survivors do not need.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Inappropriate Behavior - When Does it Begin?

Opera star, Placido Domingo denies all the allegations (CNN)
I am not shocked by the accusations made against opera star, Placido Domingo. Not because I knew anything special about him. But because he was in a position of power in an industry known for sexual promiscuity. Not that everyone in it is sexually promiscuous. But it doesn’t take much imagination to know what goes on in that world. The ‘casting couch’ is a long time feature of show business. The very word ‘show’ should tell you how that this world is about exhibitionism. The kind several prominent figures have been accused of – ruining their careers.

Domingo’s  behavior as described in an AP article is pretty disgusting. But it is not that atypical of powerful people (with little if any conscience) in show business whose sexual appetites never seem to be satiated. 78 year old Placido Domingo is apparently one such individual. 

But by ‘Show Biz’ standards, his behavior might almost be the norm. There have been so many people in that industry ‘caught with their pants down’ that it surprises even people like me that realize the low the moral standards of that industry.

Now before anyone accuse me of confusing consensual sex with sexual harassment or absue. I know the difference. But in the world of the ‘casting couch’ sexual advances of any kind seem to be the norm.

A lot of formerly respected heavyweights in Show Biz have been exposed as sexual predators. Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Les Moonves, and Louis CK, …are just a few names that come immediately to mind. They knew that they would get away with it because that's just the way things are done in that world. It was practically expected by show biz aspirants. In the past they just put up with it as a price that simply had to be paid.

But… no more. Not after #MeToo. And the ‘Hit’s just keep on coming’. As Placido Domingo - the latest entertainer to be exposed - demonstrates.

This is not to say that same thing doesn’t happen in other industries with people that are not in show business. That was demonstrated by the late Jeffery Epstein, one of the more egregious sex offenders to ever appear on the scene. And let’s not forget about Presidents Kennedy, Clinton, and Trump who – to one degree or another - have had similar accusations made about them. But I don’t think it arguable that Show Biz is where  most of is at. 

That #MeToo movement  has forced all this change is a good thing. Women who in the past just kept quiet about it for fear of ruining their careers are now talking.

As I said not long ago, this will not stop it entirely. But It will hopefully curtail its occurrence and put people on notice that if they try anything they will not get away with it. And likely suffer the same consequences others have.

What I fear happening though is a backlash of sorts where innocent gestures towards women will be interpreted as predatory. Such as was the case with Joe Biden recently. He had to put up with what seemed like endless criticism of how his ‘overly friendly’ tactile approach to the opposite sex made them uncomfortable. He kept insisting  it was all innocent. Finally he now seems to have overcome it, and has moved on unscathed. 

But when women say that they have been sexually harassed by unwanted attention, have we gone too far? Unwanted attention can be perceived as harassment. But is (for example) asking a female colleague for a date more than once or twice after having been refused as many times - harassment? I am beginning to wonder. Because to me, that is not harassment. It is persistence in the hope that she will give you a chance at some point. On the other hand there does come a point where it turns into harassment. The question then becomes, how many times does a man need to be rejected before a repeated attempt to go out with a woman becomes harassment? 

I mention this in light of how one of Domingo’s accusers described part of her harassment by him: 
(She) said he repeatedly asked her out on dates after hiring her to sing a series of concerts with him in the 1990s. 
Of course she went on to accuse him of much worse. But including that as part of her harassment is what made me ask that question. The way things are going now, it seems as though asking more than once might be considered harassment! If asking woman out on dates is now considered sexual harassment, then #MeToo has gone too far.

One more thing.  Now that sexual harassment is finally getting its proper due, it doesn’t change the culture of sexual promiscuity that generates lust in so many people. True, it is the obligation of every individual to resist acting on lustful thoughts. But it does’t help matters that we live in a culture that practically celebrates it. Of which ‘Show Biz’ is the epicenter.

Which is why the Orthodox Jewish (or any religious) approach to modesty is a far better way to live. As long as it isn’t extreme. Because that may end up with behavior which is just as bad.

Just a few thoughts off the top of my head based on this latest piece of news

Monday, August 12, 2019

Ideological Extremism

An Israeli soldier scuffles with Palestinian protester (TOI)
What’s the difference between Meah Shearim extremists and Religious Zionist extremists? Not much. One might think that the differences are enormous. Their ideologies could not be further apart. That is true. But I don’t see much difference between them in what is perhaps the most important sense: extremist actions that defy common sense and cause harm. Sometimes physical harm to participants and bystanders. And harm to our image as a wise, moral, and ethical people from whom the world can learn. Instead of being a light unto the nations, we are seen as a mob that will get what we want no matter who or what gets in our way.

The protests in Meah Shearim against drafting Yeshiva students goes on with regularity. Protests that often include setting dumpsters on fire in their own neighborhoods where many infants and elderly Jews are forced to inhale toxic fumes from those smoking dumpsters. Not to mention the disruption of major intersections in Jerusalem forcing drivers to a standstill for hours while those protesters taunt the police trying to control the mob.

Religious Zionist (RZ) extremists are not much better. The most recent disturbing event happened yesterday. There was a disruption on Har HaByais (the Temple mount) on a day where we should have all been in sad reflection - mourning the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash once located there.

Just like the Meah Shearim extremists who believe that protesting the draft is a Mitzvah, so too do the RZ extremists believe they are performing a Mitzvah by going up to a place where the vast majority of Poskim say it is forbidden to go. 

They claim that all they are doing is establishing Jewish sovereignty over the Temple mount. And what better place to lament the loss of the Beis HaMikdash on Tisha B’Av than the place it once stood. How righteous they must feel. Just like the Meah Shearim protesters – believing they are serving God better than anyone else by doing what they do.

RZ extremists will say that they are far from extreme in doing this despite the fact that it is forbidden for a Jew to set foot up there. The reason for that is that we are all in a state of Tumah (spiritual impurity) requiring purification in ways that are currently impossible. 

The prohibition is so severe, that it is an Issur Kares (a type of heavenly death promised by God for transgressing certain prohibitions). That is why the vast majority of Orthodox Poskim do not permit it in our day. As recently as last week that prohibition was reiterated by two of Israel’s most senior rabbis: Rabbi Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg and Rabbi Asher Weiss. As noted in the Jerusalem Post
Goldberg wrote at the beginning of his letter: "It is known and clear to all that according to Jewish law, Jews are forbidden to enter any part of the Temple Mount. Rabbis of previous generations also held this position and there is no need to have to strengthen the rulings of previous generations – it is a grave transgression not to accept their rulings."
Goldberg continued in his letter to deny rumors that he has indeed permitted going up to the mount.  Weiss stated that, "regarding ascension to the Temple Mount, I do not understand what there is to discuss." Like Goldberg he said that, "We must follow the ruling of part generations who totally forbade going up to the Temple Mount." He concluded, saying that: "It will be forbidden to go up until the coming of the Messiah."
Goldberg added that when one ascends the Temple Mount, it's difficult to know exactly where to stand – and those who watch someone go up may not fully understand the laws in all their details, which may cause them to transgress these severe laws. 
RZ extremists do not want to hear that. They will tout their own Poskim that say it is permitted to go up there in certain areas – known to not be in question. One can quibble with that. But one cannot quibble with centuries of Psak that forbade it anyway.

Did the Poskim of the past not know what modern day RZ Poskim do today about those permitted areas? Are the RZ Poskin not aware of their Psak? Why break it now? What is gained? How is God better served by this?

Even if it might technically be OK in certain parts of Har HaBayis, why take the chance that one might cross a line by going too close to it? If they were near a railroad crossing with red lights flashing - warning that a train is about to cross - would they go up to the closest point to the tracks where the train will cross?

But let us even say that they are right. What about the incitement of the Muslims on the Temple mount that are in defacto control of things up there? What about the violence that almost always ensues? Especially in this case knowing (as they must have) that Muslims had their own special holy day on Tisha B’Av?

Here is is what ended up happening:
According to police, Muslim worshipers began rioting and making “nationalistic calls” on the Temple Mount on Sunday morning. 
In response, police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and other less-lethal riot control weapons at the protesters...
Police use tear gas, riot control weapons on flashpoint holy site after worshipers make ‘nationalistic calls’ and riot; 4 cops, 61 protesters injured...
I think I might know the answer they would give to the above questions: ‘What better day to show who’s boss than on a day where the Temple mount is significant to both religions?’

What about the incitement against us that causes? Which not only generates violence but increases their hatred of us? What about the negative image it projects about religious Jews? What about the fact that most Poskim forbid going up there? Apparently they don’t care about all that. Just like the Meah Shearim extremists they believe they are being MeKadesh Shem Shomayim - sanctifying God’s name. But in my view all they are really doing in both cases is causing harm to themselves and to our people. 

I do not absolve the Israeli government either in all this. In my view they ought to pass a law that would forever block Jews from going up there. At least until Messianic times. Those that violate that law should be put in jail. Right along with their extremist brethren from Meah Shearim. After all, they have a lot in common.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

A Holocaust Story and a Question


My brother Noach was 2 years old. It was then when he was taken to a hospital. He wasn’t sick. But he was noisy especially when he cried. Noach, his three brothers, Yehuda, Koppel (Jack) and Berish (Barry) and my father (Shimon) were together with about 80  Jews hiding in an underground bunker in the middle of Nazi occupied Drohobycz (in what was then Poland). It was the 1st of three bunkers built by my uncle Aron.

(Aron was a genius. He managed to build a bunker for 80 people that had running water, heat, showers, and bathrooms connected to the sewer system where they would also get air and would be able to use to use as a means to escape should they be discovered.)

Needless to say, the people hiding in that bunker believed that Noach's cries would end up giving them away and get them all killed. So they begged my father to do something about it. A decision was made to place Noach in a hospital where he would surely be safe. He wasn’t safe. He was murdered shortly after he was admitted.  

Not long after, that bunker was discovered and those hiding scrambled to escape through the sewers.  My father his 2 brothers (Aron and Joseph) and the 3 remaining sons escaped to the forest where Aron managed to dig a makeshift bunker underground. That bunker was discovered too. More about that later.

There was a 3rd bunker built before this makeshift bunker while Aron was still in the 1st bunker. Another group of Jews had asked Aron to help build a smaller version of the one he was in and he agreed. It was built underneath the basement of a righteous gentile by the name of Ivan Burr who supplied them with food. Here is the rest of the story (somewhat paraphrased and abridged) from Entombed, a book written by Bernard Mayer, one of the survivors in that bunker: 
The doorbell rang and Ivan answered it. 5 people were there claiming to be Aron’s family. They knew about the bunker and asked to be let in. My father, two of his sons, Jack and Barry, his brother Joseph and a young man by the name of Elie were standing there all smelling of excrement. They were let in and given pails of water to bathe in and given clean underwear. My father then sat on the bed sobbing and told them his harrowing story:
We had a difficult time in the forest. Getting food was a problem. ‘Eventually Mrs. Zuk, the forest ranger’s wife took pity on us. “It was an awkward situation. Her husband had no interest in helping us But she had a good heart. We paid her and she agreed to supply us with corn, barley, bread, and potatoes. Her husband didn’t want to get involved with us and even scolded her for getting us food. We would go into the house when he wasn’t around and pick up the food she had prepared for us.
We cooked at night and slept during the day. During the day, no one would venture outside. It was always dark in the bunker although during the day, some light seeped in through the twigs covering the bunker. Many of us developed diarrhea and used a big hole dug inside the bunker for a toilet. There was of course no privacy.
By the end of November the first snow fell and we had to be careful not to go outside and create footsteps in the snow. One of the people in that bunker had developed a severe case of diarrhea and was embarrassed to use that toilet so often. So he kept going outside even though Aron had tried to stop him. No one could hold him back.
Some farmers noticed the footprints. 3 days ago early in the morning Ukrainian and German police surrounded out bunker. They were shooting all over. And then it stopped. Nobody moved. One fellow stuck his head out from among the twigs and was shot in the head.
Aron realized that we were all doomed and said we should all jump into the toilet filled with excrement and hide there until the police left. Problem was that there was not enough room for all of us. Yehudah and a few others were left out and captured while these 5 people laid in that hole on top of each other. Aron had already decided to stay out and cover that hole with twigs and then make a run for it. He was shot on the spot.
We stayed in that hole for 2 days until we were sure the police left. They had stayed on to retrieve items left behind in the bunker while marveling its the construction and showing it to the townspeople . And then we made our way to this bunker. 
They were eventually liberated by the Russians. This is how my father and my two surviving brothers  survived the war.

Which leads me to Tisha B’Av and Kina number 7. In a somewhat shocking manner, God is challenged and asked, ‘How could you?’ How could you do this to your people?! Rav Soloveitchick explains that Halacha does not permit impertinence towards God. 

We have no right to ask God these kinds of questions, says the Rav. We are supposed to have unquestioning acceptance of his will. Whether for good or for bad. When tragedy strikes, we say ‘Blessed is the true Judge’. Yet here this very question is asked on Tisha B’Av. 

Rav Soloveitchick explains that God gave us permission to ask this on Tisha B’Av. We are following the precedent of Jeremiah. God in fact told Jeremiah to write Eicha. The reason for this is because it is an expression of mourning for the loss of the Batei Mikdash.

When reading this earlier today I could not help thinking that these horror stories that took place during the destruction of the Batei Mikdash were strikingly similar to stories that took place during the Holocaust.  Rav Soloveitchik even tells us of a friend whose wife suffered an almost identical fate during the Holocaust described in one of the Kinos that happened during the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.

How can I not ask this question when these same horrors were repeated 2000 years later? Especially knowing what happened to my own family! 

I realize of course that the Holocaust did not involve the loss of the Beis Hamikdash. But what about all the great centers of Torah study that were destroyed? And what about the unfathomable number Jews that were systematically killed in gas chambers and then cremated? How can I not ask why God allowed six million of His people to perish, including great Torah leaders of that generation? And allowed countless others to live through that torture and survive - but scarred for life?

I have no answers. No one does. And I will remain forever with that question.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Changing the Rabbinic Mindset about Suspected Abusers

Deputy Health Minister, Ya'akov Litzman and fellow Charedi politicians (TOI)
Can sexual abuse ever be eradicated? I doubt it. Sociopaths have always existed and will continue to exist. People with psychological aberrations like that don’t care about anyone but themselves. Other human beings are seen as objects to use and discard at will. Sexually or otherwise. With little or no guilt.

No matter what we legislate I do not believe we will ever get to a point where it will never happen again. Sociopaths seeking sexual gratification by abusing others will somehow find a way do it.

That is the unfortunate reality. The best we can hope for is to protect ourselves the best we can. We must be fully vigilant in educating ourselves and our children in preventative measures. And to not hesitate to report credible suspicions of abuse to the police immediately.When an abuser is caught, we must make sure he gets the punishment he or she deserves: Prison time for as long possible where he can no longer do any damage. The punishment must be severe if it is going to have any deterrent effect. It will not eliminate it completely. But hopefully it will reduce it significantly 

Perhaps the one thing that might have the most positive impact is for the rabbinic establishment to stop seeing the victimizer as the victim. And thereby further victimizing the real victim of abuse.

Although that has begun to change a bit, we are far from a rabbinic approach to sex abuse that would be a fully just one. Yeshivas Rabbenu Yitzchok Elchanan Mashgaich, Rabbi Yosef Blau makes this point in a Times of Israel article: 
A few days ago, the Israeli police recommended that Deputy (in name only) Health Minister Yaakov Litzman be indicted for, among other offenses, using his position to tamper with witnesses in order to help Malka Leifer, an accused sex abuser, avoid extradition to Australia. This is fundamentally different from ordinary corruption that arises from greed. The leading figure in a Haredi party was (allegedly) protecting an accused abuser from his community, openly showing contempt to victims. If television reports have credibility, this was part of a pattern of behavior to gain special treatment for Orthodox sexual offenders.
This  bizarre concern for abusers over victims is unfortunately common in certain religious circles, particularly when the victims are now non-observant. Opposition to Orthodox Jews being judged by secular courts is seen as a religious value, though clearly there are no religious courts that can adequately punish the guilty.
Supporters of Leifer do not deny that she has done what she is accused of. They claim that they only want her to go to an Israeli prison. Note that if their strategy of claiming that she is mentally unfit to attend hearings had been successful, Leifer would have avoided time in prison altogether. 
Rabbi Blau makes a point of saying that by being silent, the religious world in Israel (including its rabbis) is tacitly endorsing what Rabbi Litzman has done. One Religious Zionist cabinet member actually admitted not being familiar with the charges but said that he knows Rabbi Litzman to be a decent man! For him, that apparently ends the conversation.

That right there is the problem. When someone is perceived as a decent man, then what he does – even if it might be technically illegal – must be the decent thing to do. But Rabbi Litzman’s decency was directed towards the accused and ignored her victims. And the rabbinic establishment in Israel seems to be OK with that.

Rabbi Blau notes that survivors are devastated by such reactions. Is it any wonder that so many of them go OTD? …or worse suffer lifelong depression with a high rate of suicide attempts?

Every Jewish life is precious. Period. It doesn’t matter whether they are observant or not. But even if it would be true (which it isn’t) that an observant life is more precious and worth saving than a non observant one - do they not realize the reason so many survivors go OTD  is not so much because of the abuse itself but the skeptical way their accusations are treated by the rabbinic establishment? And because of the contempt it might have towards an accuser for even suggesting that the accused did something as heinous as that?

Is there any wonder that when rabbis protect people accused of abuse while their victims are treated as liars - that they will reject what those rabbis have been preaching and what they stand for ...seeing them instead as bunch of hypocrites shilling for an unjust God?

This is the one area that could use a huge improvement if we are ever to make substantial progress. If we want to prevent a survivor from going OTD or worse, the rabbinic habit of protecting the abuser must change. 

The idea that ‘he (or she) COULDN’T HAVE’ has to be completely dismissed from their thinking, hard as that might be to accomplish. If they cannot be objective about it, they must step aside and let those who can be in charge and let the decide who is the real victim. And then follow all of their recommendations.

Until that happens, the Litzmans of the world and their rabbinic enablers will just keep on helping victimzers escape justice. And by doing that they will have a hand in destroying the mental health and spiritual well-being of fellow Jews who through no fault of their own are now survivors who - because of the way they have been treated by the rabbinic establishment - feel that they have been abandoned by Judaism.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Cultural vs Religious Values - and Do they Hate Us or Love Us?

Long time editor of Tradition Magazine, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman (Mishpacha)
I often talk about the high assimilation rate in America as the cause for the demise of heterodoxy. An assimilation rate that now pretty much accepts intermarriage as a reality. Not only that it exists but that intermarried couples are now fully welcomed into heterodox synagogues.

How far we have come from the time an intermarriage was considered something to mourn - to sit Shiva on. Just a few decades ago even a non observant parent would agonize over child that chose to marry a non Jewish spouse.  Parents would go to the ends of the earth to prevent it - or at least get the non Jewish fiance to convert. 

This is not to say that we should still be sitting Shiva when a child marries out. There are perhaps better ways to deal with this situation now-a-days. I merely want to note how drastically far secular Jewry has come since the days of intolerance for intermarriage. We are at a point where most Jewish parents don’t even care anymore whether a child marries out. Which is one reason why heterodoxy is so willing to embrace an intermarried couple

The reason things have changed is the broad acceptance the Jewish people now have in America. Assimilating out of a Judaism devoid of identifiable Jewish content is a natural consequence of that acceptance. If not to the parents, then to the children. The pursuit of American values and culture is easily understood under these conditions. Even if one is entirely altruistic, the ideals of our day such as dealing with climate change or fighting racism, important though they are - have no specific Jewish content at all to hang one’s hat on. Why bother even identifying as a Jew?

I have always viewed Israel differently. Secular Israelis still have a clear sense of Judaism that is part of the Israeli culture.   Even though the vast majority are not observant (at least by Orthodox standards) they all know about Shabbos and Yom Tov, Most probably buy kosher food. Most even fast on Yom Kippur.  I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of American Jews do not. And probably don’t even know which day of the year Yom Kippur falls. (Yes, I know a lot of non Orthodox  Jews do fast on Yom Kippur. But I would still put my money on the fact that most in America don’t while most in Israel do.)

Which brings me to a Mishpacha article by someone I have always admired, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman. Therein he kind of shatters my view about Israelis being different than America:
(T)ens of thousands of Israelis, especially young people, have no idea of what it means to be a Jew, and no awareness of the sanctity of the Land. Deliberately denuded of any religious consciousness, their major hope for Eretz Yisrael is that it should become like America, k’chol hagoyim. Just as individual Jews around the world yearn to assimilate among the goyim, so do many young secular Israelis — never exposed to genuine Jewishness — long for the day when the Jewish state will assimilate among the Nations and become just another country on the Mediterranean — like Greece, like Italy, like Spain…
If the early secular Zionists wanted a state to mimic every other state, if they wanted to cast off the constraints of Shabbos and Yom Tov and sanctity — like the goyim — the hundreds of young people cavorting on the beaches on Rosh Hashanah, marking New Year’s Day like the goyim, confirm that these goals have materialized. 
If that is the trend, then Israel is not that far behind America. Add to this (as does Rabbi Feldman) the fact that there is a huge population of Russian immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish at all; have no interest studying the Torah or any religious texts; nor any interest in following Halacha (which is problematic for conversion purposes – a subject beyond the scope of this post)... and the problem increases exponentially Their non Jewish children are becoming fully integrated into Israeli society, will surely identify as Israelis, and will be indistinguishable from secular Jewish Israelis. It will be impossible to know who is and isn’t actually Jewish!

If Rabbi Feldman is right, then aside from mourning the loss of the 2 Batei Mikdash and other terrible tragedies in Jewish history (such as the Holocaust) on Tisha B’Av - this is something additional to truly be lamented on that day.

If there is one quibble I have with Rabbi Feldman it is his blanket statement that Esav still hates Yaa’kov. Which he bases on the rise in antisemitism all over the world. Nothing has changed he says. The world still hates us.

I would argue that at least in America, the opposite is the case. Which is why assimilation is so high. Several polls by respected research organizations like Pew keep saying that Jews are the most admired people in this country. And that Judaism is the most admired religion. That hardly sounds like Esav still hates Ya’akov. 

As noted in the past, the rise in antisemitism in America is only with respect to a tiny minority (compared to the entire population) of racist antisemitic fringe groups who are now willing to put their beliefs into deadly action. That is why it is on the rise. But the true feelings the vast majority of Americans have about us is illustrated not by the antisemitic attacks against us, but by the way Americans across the entire political spectrum reacted to them. As was evident after the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue. 

I would even go so far as to say were it not for such acceptance... if Esav in America hated us as much as Rabbi Feldman indicates, assimilation would not be as great. Persecution tends to keep Jews from assimilation.

That said, I agree that the rise in antisemitic acts is a real concern as are the assimilation problems that he describes both in America and in Israel. These are all huge problems that I have no clue how to solve. And definitely something to think about on Tisha B'Av.