Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Sexual Abuse in the Religious World

Convicted rapist Weberman and his wife (NYP)
Allegations of sexual abuse continues in what seems like a never ending parade of predators and cover-ups.  As the following report notes: 

Not only was nothing done to stop these predators from continuing their hellish crimes, staff members were reportedly told not to even engage those asking about how to stop their child from being sexually violated… Rather than a database to protect sexual abuse victims, the report reveals that these leaders had a database to protect themselves… 

...they wanted to conserve the old time religion. What they wanted was to conquer their enemies… no matter who was hurt along the way. 

This might sound familiar to those of us that have watched how our religious leaders have in the past reacted to reports of sexual abuse and how they treated victims who - hoping for some justice -   confided in them .

Only in this case it isn’t rabbis or Yeshivos we are talking about. It is one of the largest Christian denominations in the world, the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention). 

Ordinarily, I would not be concerned about what goes on in the non Jewish world since it does not affect us. But I mention it because of the similarity of their approach to ours.

While it is true that things have gotten a lot better in many instances, there are still pockets of denial in some cases. I believe, for example, that the Chasidic community to which convicted rapist, Nechemya Weberman belongs - still protests his innocence and considers his accuser to be a lair with a vendetta to destroy Yiddishkeit.

This is yet another area where I have to ask, Why? What is it about clergy that makes so many of them sexual predators? And why are religious leaders so eager to deny it - and instead vilify the victim?

One would think that a religious cleric who believes in Divine justice would be the last person to sexually violate another human being. And one might also think that seeking true justice would mean religious leaders taking any and all accusations seriously – and not automatically assuming the victim is a liar.

I think the answer to the first question is opportunity. Given their stature as trusted servants of God, it is a lot easier for them to groom victims who are members of their Church, Shul or religious school... and with whom they are in constant contact. Perhaps they are even drawn into that profession because of that. They believe with a certain degree of confidence that accusations of abuse will never be believed about a man of God. Which is why the Catholic Church and the SBC has had so many instances of it and gotten away with it for so long.

What about the cover ups? The one thing all religious leaders have in common is the preservation of the very institutions which they lead. And assuring their perpetuation. They seem to feel that sacrificing one victim to save an institution they believe is vital to their very existence is worth the price.

I will never forget the reaction one prominent rabbinic leader who many years ago was asked about reporting a case of abuse to the police. He said they had to cover it up. Because if they didn’t it had the potential to ‘kill’ Jewish education and destroy the future of Judaism. 

This is not unlike the reaction to sexual abuse by the SBC or the Catholic church. In all of these cases, the reputation of the ‘Church’ was more important that any justice the victim might get if it got publicized. 

Thankfully – even though there are still pockets of resistance - we have come a long way since then. We are far away from this approach, in the vast majority of Orthodox Jewish communities. As a recent letter signed by over 200 Orthodox leaders from all over the country suggested. A letter stating unequivocally that all cases of sexual abuse must be reported directly to the police.

What is however disappointing about that letter is who did NOT sign it. There are a lot of very prominent religious leaders who apparently still feel that rabbis must first be consulted before the police are contacted - so that they can decide whether or not to do so.

I guess they feel somewhat like the SBC does. That the institution is more important than the victim. All while explaining that false accusations can cause irreparable harm to innocent people. And their families. What about the damage to the victim and their families? They apparently believe in their own ability to determine whether accusations are true. I don't know why they think they can get at the truth better than the professionals that have been trained and whose job it is to do that.  But they do. apparently. Despite the obvious bias that must exist if the accused is known to the rabbis evaluating the veracity of the accusation.  But I doubt if bias can ever fully be eliminated when judging people with good reputations that they know. No matter how much they try.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Religious Violence

R' Shaul Alter's followers (Ynet)
Man’s inhumanity to Man. I mention this famous quote (often associated with the Holocaust) in light of what is going on in Ger right now:

A Violent Schism Just Exploded in Israel's Most Powerful Hasidic Sect

Rival factions of the Ger Hasidic sect fought running battles in three Israeli cities over the weekend. This is why the fur is flying

 Clashes between rival factions of the Ger Hasidic sect spread across the country over the weekend, exposing a growing and increasingly violent rift in Israel’s largest and most powerful ultra-Orthodox dynasty.

Street fighting erupted Friday in three separate places – the southern city of Ashdod, the predominantly Haredi city of Bnei Brak and Jerusalem. Tensions spiked after followers of Rabbi Shaul Alter – the former dean of the movement’s flagship yeshiva in Jerusalem – reportedly hurled insults at Grand Rebbe... 

In reading reports about this violence, I was reminded of the charge often hurled at religion. Namely that religion is responsible for just about all the atrocities and injustices in the world. Actually I think there is a lot of truth to that. Surely what is happening in Ger is a result of religious fervor. As is the violence that occurred in Ponevezh a few years ago over who should head that Yeshiva. Both sides claiming moral (religious) superiority over the other side. 

Religious fervor also explains much of the violence against Israel by Musilm fanatics. Of which Iran is the prime example. Suicide bombings are clearly religious in nature. The racist violence of White Supremacists is another example of that. Often couched in the language of religion - saying that a white Christian America is the will of God and they are simply acting upon that will.

Lest anyone think religious Jews are exempt from that kind of violence, sadly this is not the case. There have been more than a few acts of extreme violence in the name of God by people such as Yigal Amir who assassinated Itzhak Rain - and mass murderer Baruch Goldstein. Both of whom were fervent Religious Zionists.  And they are not the only religious Jews to have committed such heinous atrocities.

Just to be clear if it isn’t already obvious, I am  not saying all violence is equal. That would be a ridiculous claim. What I am however saying is that religious fervor is what often motivates it. The difference being only in degree.

Religious violence is not just a 21st century phenomenon. Unfortunately it has been the case for centuries. Case in point - the Spanish  inquisition. As were the crusades. Both in the name of religion.

 And although to a much lesser extent there was violence in the 19th century in Volozhin - the premier Yeshiva of its day.  It was over a dispute between students of the Netziv and the Beis Halevi over who should be the Rosh HaYeshiva.

The question is why? Why is religion the cause of so much violence? I think the answer is self evident. If one believes strongly that they are doing the will of God, what greater motivation can there be? If one thinks this is what God wants, a truly devout individual may very well give up his life for it. Death is no obstacle since that will bring about the ultimate heavenly reward for that sacrifice. 

One might conclude that in making these observations it would make an atheist out of anyone. Now I am not an atheist. But I can understand why one might reach that conclusion based on all the above. The fact, however, is that the greatest atrocity against humanity in all of history – the Holocaust - was not sourced in religion at all.

Six million Jews were killed. Not to mention all the horrors survivors went through – which probably includes many millions more. All for racial - not religious reasons. And this doesn’t even speak to the millions of others killed or tortured by the German government of that time – and their collaborators all over Europe. Although it could be argued that many of Hitler’s willing executioners of Jews all across Europe did so because of the centuries long blame the Christian Church had placed upon us for killing their god - and we were then finally getting our just deserts.. 

The point is however that religious fervor had nothing to do with the Germany’s motives. That was pure and simple racism – taken to its most violent and extreme conclusion.

I have been thinking about the relationship between religion and violence a lot lately and have tried to explain why that is the case. But the truth is that religion is not really about violence - even though there has been so much of it in its name.  Religion is about truth. For a Jew it is a belief that there is a God who created the universe with a mission for mankind – and for the Jewish people in particular.

Religion is intended to generate good in the world. Not evil. Religious fervor  is responsible for some of the greatest charity work of our time. Christian missionaries all over the world feed starving third world children, often  risking life and limb; and disease to do that in service to God’s will as they understand it.

The Jewish people are no slouches in that department. Chesed is one of the most prominent characteristics of our people. There are Chesed organizations galore in Jewish neighborhoods all over the world that are legendary. From soup kitchens to visiting the sick. From rescue operations to protecting the vulnerable and elderly. 

How many times has Israel sent their elite rescuers to disaster scenes all over the world? How many times have we heard about Israeli hospitals treating enemy combatants injured and captured during a battle? Secular Jews have that trait imbedded into their DNA as well. DNA that in my view  can be traced back to the religious fervor of their observant ancestors throughout history. Jewish philanthropy is legendary as well. 

Religious fervor is about doing good in the world. Violence in its name is misguided. 

In my view and in our day, violence should never be used other than in self defense.  We are a nation whose ways are pleasant. Not violent.  

Unfortunately it seems to be observed more in the breach these days. Difference of opinion about what God wants seem to bring out the worst in us. But it shouldn’t . Differences should never come to blows – or worse. But that is the nature of misapplied religious fervor. Ger is just the latest example of that. 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Tolerance and Moderation is Key to the Charedi Future

Tolerance? Or an 'either/or'? (Mishpacha)
I was a bit taken aback by Gedalia Guttentag’s article in Mishpacha Magazine last week. Using the same data I used recently to make a similar point about the wave of the future (where in a few short years one of every 4 Jews in the world will be Charedi) he took the occasion to signal a sort of triumphalist attitude.

Not that I disagree with that prediction. I do. I have been predicting this phenomenon for a long time. The difference between his take and mine is that I see the future Charedi world mellowing – meaning that the majority of that world will consist of people like Guttentag himself  - a moderate Charedi.  I have no idea what kind of education Guttentag had. But I would be willing to bet that he had a decent secular education to go along with his religious education. That enables him to construct a well written column in Mishpacha on a regular basis. Nonetheless he took the occasion to not only predict the demise of heterodox movements – which I too have predicted - but added the following:

It’s an astonishing turnaround — one that  (Agudah founder) Rav Yaakov Rosenheim could scarcely have imagined — and it means that once again leadership at a national level is heading our way. In the near future, the Torah world will be a major part of the national conversation about Klal Yisrael — this time from a position of strength.

Although he did not say it in so many words, it seems to me that this is an invitation to establish a far more right wing way of life than a moderate Charedi would be comfortable with. To cite one very important aspect of that - it is how the current leadership sees Limudei Chol (secular studies). Meaning that beyond 8th grade it is wholly unnecessary. Or worse an impediment to our spirituality. 

Leaving out those Chasidic schools that have had a no Limudei Chol policy from their inception - more than a few Charedi high schools have now adopted that paradigm too. It is my understanding that those high schools are considered among the more elite and more sought after by Charedi parents.

I do not see that paradigm to be the wave of the future. But not for a lack of the Charedi leadership  trying to make it so. The days of Telshe Rosh HaYeshiva, R’ Avorhom Chaim Levine, ZTL, who valued Limudei Chol seems to be increasingly becoming a thing of the past. 

The moderate Charedi world I am predicting is not one that will be bereft of any Limudei Chol. The vast majority of that world as it exists now is one that had those benefits. A future Charedi world will require it in order to thrive, in my view. The vast majority of Charedim today are of this moderate variety.  Which I believe typically follows the following model: 

After learning in a Kollel for few years an Avreich will go on to a successful career in business, the professions, or even in academia. That would hardly be the case without having received a decent secular education in high school. The world that I predict will consist mostly of moderate Charedim whose lifestyles will hardly be any different than those of Centrists like myself.

But Guttentag, it seems,  makes no such prediction. He ignores the sociological aspect and seems to focus more on the spiritual aspect – ignoring the practical ramifications of a world without Limudei Chol if the current trajectory away from it persists. 

Asking the Charedi leadership  to step up to the plate seems to suggest that their current anti Limudei Chol direction become the standard that all Jews should live by as the only authentic one. As if to say that Centrism will barely be tolerated (if at all) as a proper way to see Judaism. Seeing the Centrist  Hashkafa at best as Krum (a crooked rather than the straight and more correct Charedi Hashkafa). And that those of us that have this crooked Hashkfa should be disabused of it.

If that is what he was implying, I could not disagree more. My future is one that sees similar lifestyles where Hashkafic differences will not matter – rarely if ever discussed. Not a future that is monolithically pursuing the most right wing track. Because that is a prescription for disaster. 

I do agree with the following, however: 

And that requires a major shift in thinking, in terms of achrayus (responsibility) for the Jewish People as a whole — a sense that what happens outside our ghetto gates matters.

Blue-sky thinking of this kind already exists in the kiruv world. But that conversation about the Jewish future needs to go mainstream. It’s no longer good enough to bemoan the “Holocaust of intermarriage” — we have to tackle it at a national level...

Phoenix-like, the Torah world has risen from the ashes, as these new numbers show. The aberration of the last two centuries when secularism took the reins is over, and the chareidi world needs to step up to the plate. 

I agree in theory that we need to deal with the current majority of Jews that are leaving Judaism in droves. My only quibble is that I don’t see any real success along those lines. Not that we shouldn’t try. But the task is too big. The barn door has been open too long and the horses have gone too far afield to get them back. It is a sad commentary on how Jews have fared in this wonderful country where we can live as free as we want without any repercussions. But it is that very freedom that has done most of us in. 

Those of us that were not raised in observant families that included a religious education to match are the ones leaving in droves. I am therefore not optimistic – to say the least. But as noted, that does not free us from trying. 

A lot of time has been wasted focusing only inwardly over the decades while all this was happening. If there is anything the Charedi leadership can do now to deal with that more effectively, I am all for it. Better late than never. 

That being said, I am nevertheless disappointed at Guttentag’s apparent lack of accepting an Elu V’Elu approach to the future. Instead seeming to double down on a future where only a more right wing Charedi Hashkafa will matter. 

Not that I think that the Charedi world should accept a Centrist Hashkafa for themselves. Not at all. I actually believe in Elu V’Elu. Only that they respect it as a legitimate form of Judaism even though it is not their own.  And that no one be judged by their Hashkafa. Only their level of observance matters. And even that should not be judged. That is God’s department. 

I believe that an Elu V’Elu tolerance is required in order to assure a healthy survival of Orthodoxy. That will allow us to thrive and  eventually become the new Jewish majority. A majority that will truly represent what the Torah is all about.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Catastrophe Day

Illinois representative and Nakba supporter, Marie Newman
Catastrophe Day. Has kind of a somber and tragic ring to it. The idea is to solemnly commemorate a tragedy that befell an innocent people. Holocaust Remembrance Day is one such day. It is one day a year established in Israel to memorialize the 6 million Jews that were slaughtered at the hand of the Nazis (and their willing collaborators all over Europe). It also recognizers the pain suffered by survivors at the loss of their loved ones and the pain and suffering they personally endured during that period in history

If you are a Palestinian or one of their devout sympathizers, you might see the establishment of Israel that way too. That is in fact the way many Palestinians celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israel’s independence day. They see it as their own Holocaust claiming that their ancestors - the indigenous Arabs of 1948 Palestine were chased out of their homes or massacred by a  marauding Jewish militia who wished to cleanse their new state of Arabs.  The Arabic word for catastrophe is Nakba. That is what they call Yom Ha’atzmaut. It is a day of mourning for them. 

I understand how they feel – as I noted recently.  From their perspective – I get it.  The problem with their perspective is their ignorance of the full truth of that time. A 'truth' skewed by virtue of decades of indoctrination by their elders and teachers. An indoctrination based on half truths and outright lies – presented as gospel!

It is quite clear that Palestinians were not expelled from Israel upon its founding.  It's true that a lot of them ran out as a result of fear mongering by Arab leaders who urged them to run for their lives. Those poor Arabs were convinced that they would be massacred by violent Jewish militias if they stayed. 

There may have been some isolated cases where Jewish brigades did in fact do some harm along those lines (depends whose version of history one believes). But at most they were rogue operations. Not the policy of the Israel's pioneering leaders who urged the indigenous Arab population to stay and live free in the new nations state of Israel. Unfortunately many listened instead to the fear mongers. Bolstered by rumors of atrocities - they ran. Eventually becoming what we now call Palestinian refugees living on the West Bank and in Gaza .

But there were sizable number of Arabs that did not run. They stayed. The promise that they would live free and prosper has been fulfilled. They are called Israeli Arabs. Although they too consider themselves to be Palestinian, a recent survey showed that the vast majority of them would not move into a Palestinian state should one ever be declared. They would stay put.

It is also a fact that Israeli Arabs have a sizable representation in Israel’s legislative body – the Kenesset. And they are currently in the governing coalition. I think Israeli Arabs would be hard pressed to seriously call Israel’s Independence Day a tragedy. I think any objective fair minded person anywhere in the world would agree.

Unfortunately there are some people in congress  that are willfully ignorant of these facts. They insist that Israel is an oppressive occupier that still wants Israel - including the all of  West Bank - to be free of Arabs. 

There is a new resolution being presented in the House of Representatives to establish Nakba day – a national day of mourning the establishment of Israel. From JNS

The resolution’s supporters were the normal cadre of Israel-haters and anti-Semites—Reps. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Marie Newman (D-Ill.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.). Most, if not all, of these co-sponsors have consistently sided against Israel, endorsed the BDS movement, labeled Israel an apartheid state and worked to dissolve the strong alliance between Israel and the United States. 

How can anyone with the slightest bit of knowledge of the truth say that the establishment of Israel is a tragedy? Quite the opposite is true. In spite of the very real dangers they face every day they have contributed so much to the world in a variety of fields. From medicine, to science, to technology - to just name some of those fields.  

The fact that so many Israeli  Arabs have prospered in Israel gives lie to the canard that Israel's Independence Day is a tragedy for Palestinians. Had they stayed, they would have prospered too. How can these members of congress not recognize that reality? And at least look at some of other -  perhaps more significant reasons for the sorry state of Palestinian refugees? Not the least of which are their corrupt leaders. How can they ignore so many attacks by Palestinian terrorists that killed so many innocent Jews in Israel? How can they not recognize that Israel has no alternative in how they protect their citizens? 

Apparently their liberal bias is so strong that they are blinded to it all. Focusing only on the suffering of their downtrodden  – placing all the blame on Israel 

That resolution will be voted down by the vast majority of congress - including Democrats. I just hope the Democratic leadership responds to that resolution with the contempt it so richly deserves. Will Speaker Pelosi and Majority leader Schumer rise to the occasion? We shall see. 

On the flip side  - way over and across the pond, I am glad to see such strong support of the Jewish state by conservatives in the UK. Like what was uttered by British Home Secretary, Priti Patel:

Priti Patel has declared her “unflinching and unequivocal” support for Israel, describing her relationship to the country as “deeply personal” to her.

Speaking at a Conservative Friends of Israel reception on Monday, the Home Secretary also said that she is “quite unapologetic” about the proscription of the Hamas terror group last year, saying that it was “not just the right thing to do, [it was] a moral imperative”.

Patel praised the Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, also in attendance, thanking her for “who you are and what you do” and for the “wider support” that Israel gives to the UK.

Speaking to an audience of 140 CFI supporters, including 50 parliamentarians, Patel spoke of the “shared values” between the UK and Israel, adding that “everything we have seen around the BDS movement is racist”.

She said that the UK and Israel have an “unwavering belief in freedom, democracy and security”, saying that they are “united in speaking out and standing up against racism and antisemitism”. 

What a difference! It gladdens my heart when I see words like this. She knows the truth and will not allow herself to be convinced by the lies of people like former UK liberal leader, Jeremy Corbin who makes Tlaib and Omar look like  heroes of the down trodden. 

It’s too bad that leftist bias has blinded some of our own representatives to the truth. And it’s too bad that the media pays so much attention to them – usually in positive ways, Because that will surely get them re-elected.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

There is a Difference

A violent COVID  protest in Chasidic Boro Park in 2020 (Gothamist)

“Hasidim routinely register their homes as places of worship to avoid property taxes, making other local residents pay for police and fire services as well as the maintenance of infrastructure…

 Jewish women… “routinely (file) as single mothers to get childcare subsidy checks,” while Jewish men allegedly (refuse) to work “so they can study the Talmud so they are able to engage in wholesale welfare fraud, claiming poverty, to get food stamps, social security and other money services.”

 …the “aim” of these growing Jewish communities was to “create enclaves that are hostile to outsiders.”

 ...those communities (are) “high fertility replacers”

If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, it should. These comments are similar to some of the oft heard accusations made by observers of some bad people in certain Chasidic communities. While these comments are a gross exaggeration of the truth and certainly not a universal truth about every single individual in those communities, there is a ring of truth to them. And although I did not make these comments, I have made similar observations. 

The problem in this case is who DID make them. It was part of the 180-page manifesto posted by 18-year-old Payton Gendron who massacred 10 innocent black people in Buffalo last Shabbos.

Much of the Jewish media has used this to show the level of hate Gendron had for the Jewish people. I don’t think there can be any doubt about that hatred. It is an integral part of Replacement Theory - that Jews conspire to replace the majority white Americans with a majority black Americans –  in a plot to weaken the white race. 

Believing that Jews had to be destroyed first before they could ‘destroy us’  Gendon planned to act on this belief and massacre as many Jews as he could after doing so to black people in their neighborhood. Thank God he was arrested before he had the chance. 

The question arises, whether those of us that have made similar comments are guilty of the same antisemtism Gendon is. My own criticism of some of the people in those communities  is not all that different than Gendon’s criticism.. 

Another question is whether the criticism I made along these lines fueled Gendon’s Jew hatred. One could easily surmise that Gendon ‘s views were generated at least in part by reading some of my own words. 

Let me first state the obvious. I am a Jew. An Orthodox Jew. And clearly not an antisemite. My goal in making these criticisms is twofold. One of which was to hopefully influence an end to this kind of behavior. Behavior that is not only a Chilul HaShem, but adds fuel to the fire of Jew hatred among the antisemitees of the world. 

Even though it is highly unlikely that those to whom my rebuke is directed will ever see my words, I believe it is at least possible that some would see my rebuke, change their personal behavior, and perhaps influence some others to change it as well.

The second goal was to inform the world who reads stories about the most religious looking Jews in the world misbehaving to one degree or another - that this is not the Jewish way and is worthy of condemnation. Which as an Orthodox rabbi, I do. In other words, I try to turn a Chilul HaShem into a Kiddush HaShem

When, however, thoughts like these are expressed by an antisemite, his intent is entirely different. His goal is to raise hatred among the masses by showing the world how disgusting Jews are. So disgusting that they are even worthy of extermination. 

So, yes. It is possible for two people to say the same thing where one is a hate monger and the other is someone that cares deeply for the people he says those things about.

Which is why I get so upset when I am told by - perhaps some well meaning Orthodox Jews, that I am guilty of Lashon Hara (evil speech) and should shut-up about those among us who do bad things. And not display our dirty laundry to the world. Adding that by taking about it publicly I am giving the antisemites of the world more excuses to hate us.

There would be some truth to that if I were the only source of that news. Then I might be guilty of all that. But in every case, my criticism is based on public exposure of those deeds by the media. Sometimes in the secular Jewish media and sometimes also in a secular medium with the reach of the New York Times. 

Once that news is out, it has to be publicly protested and condemned. Silence is acquiescence - and not an option. That is one of the golden rules of the Talmud. We cannot stay silent and say nothing in the hope that stories like this will go unnoticed. They are noticed.  Big time!

What about the accusation that I am spreading Lashon Hara to people that might not have seen that story? That is quite possible. But there is a method to ‘my madness’. When there is a Toeles - a legitimate purpose to giving more exposure to news like that, it is not only permitted, it is mandatory. To call out and condemn bad behavior in public and declare that this is not Judaism surely qualifies.

I therefore do not regret any of my public condemnations of bad behavior at all.  Even if someone like Gendron might have picked it up and used it against us.  Remaining silent in the face of a Chilul HaShem is to be complicit in it. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Great Replacement Conspiracy Theory

I found it a little odd that the President so forcefully rejected the ‘Great Replacement Theory’ - adding that White Supremacy is a poison! ...and has no place in America. Not that I don’t agree with him. I do. But in saying so he is suggesting that this kind of racist thinking has filtered into the American mainstream.

I completely reject that notion. Is there any sane American that believes in White Supremacy? Or that black people are inferior human beings? 

Sure. There are racists in America. Racism has existed in the world since the beginning of time. But mainstream America has long ago rejected the idea that non whites are inferior human beings. Those that believe that are generally on the fringes of society. 

What is true, however, is that these fringe extremists have felt empowered in recent years and are therefore more aggressive in spreading their racist ideology. With the help of the internet this has led to some horrific attacks against minorities by some of them. As was the case last weekend in Buffalo and a couple of years ago in Pittsburgh (among many other horrific events like that!). I nevertheless continue to believe that the vast majority of Americans are not in any way racist. 

And yet by his comments, the President suggested that many mainstream Americans are. Which brings me to an interesting piece of news I heard this morning. The media reported a story about an AP-NORC survey that revealed one out of every 3 Americans believes in the ‘Great Replacement Theory’. 

This is a theory that posits there is a conspiracy by the left (i.e. Jews) to replace the white Christian majority in America with Black people or other minorities. One may recall the march in Charlottesville a few years ago where a group of neo-Nazis and White Supremacists marched through that town carrying torches and shouting ‘Jews will not replace us!’ 

Was President Biden right after all?

I don’t think so. I reject the idea that one out of every 3 Americans believe in the Replacement theory and are therefore racist.  

The aforementioned survey has redefined Replacement Theory to include those who believe Democrats advocate liberal immigration policies in order to pad their voter base.  

I believe that it probably would. And there is nothing racist about that.

Please understand, I am not opposed to immigrants. We are a nation of immigrants. My parents were immigrants. As were the ancestors of the vast majority of Americans. Very few Americans had ancestors that came here on the Mayflower. Which in any case were immigrants themselves. 

I do not believe that increasing their voter base is necessarily the only objective of the Democrats as some of right wing media personalities and even a few prominent Republican politicians have suggested. I believe most Democrats are sincere about opening up our borders to the promise of America. And provide opportunities to ‘the wretched refuse of our teeming shores’.  

Most of these immigrants believe in the American dream. They want to improve their lives. Not take over the world.

Furthermore there is nothing inherently wrong with trying to increase your voter base legally. But the facts are what they are. A liberal immigration policy will surely do that. Believing that to be the case is not a racist conspiracy theory.

And yet this is exactly how media is portraying this. People that have these concerns – most of whom are conservative Republicans are painted as conspiracy theorists. 

Why am I not surprised?!

Republican voters fear that their conservative views will increasingly be marginalized by a more liberal electorate.  That is not an unreasonable concern.  The media ought to stop characterizing conservative Americans as racists and conspiracy theorists.

What this is really about is the culture war between the conservative right and the liberal left.  And although I do not fully agree - I don’t think former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is that far off. Here is what he said recently: 

The White Nationalist Replacement Theory - this is nuts. But there is a legitimate cultural – not racial - fight to be had about the degree to which the left seeks to erode American culture and the historic model of assimilation by allowing our legal immigration system to be totally overwhelmed.

Where I disagree is that I believe there is room for cultural diversity in this country. That is not what concerns me. What does however concern me about the culture war is  what our values ought to be; how will they be determined; and who will determine them. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Who Killed Shireen Abu Akleh?

Al Jazeera reporter, Shireen Abu Akleh (CNN)
The news about the death of an Al Jazeera reporter has fallen off the media radar. Her body was still warm when that news was replaced by the news about the horrific massacre of 10 black people in Buffalo last weekend. But not before the media had a chance to vilify Israel  - presenting the story as a female Palestinian reporter being shot by Israelis while they were invading the Palestinian town of Jenin. 

The not so subtle message is the following: ‘There they go again!’ The big  bad Israeli occupiers of the West Bank just committed another atrocity - assassinating a reporter whose coverage of the ‘conflict’ was unfavorable to them. Then the media ‘left the building’ for Buffalo.

That Palestinians take advantage of situations like this should not be surprising. They will twist a story like this to their own advantage every time it happens. Lying or distorting the facts as needed to fit their agenda.

One would expect better from legitimate journalists. One would expect that all the relevant facts be determined before placing blame on any one side. But there is hardly ever an attempt at objectivity anymore. The self righteous left of which the media is a part, already knows who’s guilty and who’s innocent in any conflict. The underdog is always innocent.  Israel is always the aggressor.

There was no thought that the victim, Shireen Abu Akleh, might have been killed by gunfire from the Palestinian side. They just assumed her death to be at the hands of the Israeli soldiers. As though she was targeted by them for execution. They didn’t say so outright. But the manner in which they reported the incident sure made it look as though it was Israel that shot the fatal bullet for nefarious purposes. 

That Israel was in Jenin responding to the numerous murders of innocent Israelis by terrorists from there was barely mentioned. As kind of an afterthought - as though that didn’t matter. 

But even if it was an Israeli bullet that shot her, it was surely an accident. Israel has no interest in killing reporters. Even if they are Palestinians whose perspective on Israel is negative. There are just too many of them for that to make any difference anyway. 

Besides, Israel is well known to have a high degree of ethics when in battle even with their mortal enemies. No country goes more out of their way to spare enemy civilian lives during battle than Israel does. But the media hardly ever mentions it. 

What kind of country would assassinate a reporter that behaves with such care for the lives of people that hate them? 

None of that prevents the media from imputing blame to Israel. Which adds to the canard that Israel is an Apartheid state guilty of persecuting the indigenous Palestinian population without much provocation.  Implying that the killing of a Palestinian reporter was no accident but instead the planned execution of a constant critic of Israel. All part of Israel’s Apartheid agenda. 

I am so sick of media bias. Especially when it comes it Israel. They should have reported that it is yet to be determined where the shot that killed her came from. Which a PA forensic scientist confirmed after his own preliminary examination:

a Palestinian forensic scientist who examined Abu Akleh’s body also said that more analysis was needed before a determination could be made about the gunshot’s origins.

The media also ignored the fact that the PA rejected Israel’s request to do a joint inquiry to determine the facts. Facts be damned! All that matters is vilifying Israel as an Apartheid state. That has been the PA’s overt - and the media’s subtle narrative. 

The media is therefore complicit in the lie. Who actually shot Abu Akleh will makes no difference. Not to the PA and not to the media. The Palestinians want to assure that Israel be blamed no matter what. And they are not going to allow the truth to come out by allowing Israel to be there and see for themselves. The media just goes along with that without comment.

Where was all the righteous media indignation when Israelis were recently killed by Palestinian terrorists from Jenin?  And shouldn’t Israel have the right to respond to that by seeking and finding other terrorists like that in Jenin where Abu Akleh was killed covering that story? Should Israel just have shrugged and overlooked those murders?! 

There is a double standard in the media. No doubt about it. The underdog is always right. They are always the aggrieved party. Israel is always guilty as the oppressive occupier.  

This explains why the media blamed Israel for disrupting Abu Aklehs funeral. As though they showed up there for that purpose. Isn’t it possible that they were provoked by extremists at the funeral? 

Possible?! I believe it was likely! Unbelievable.

Israel was their for security purposes. They were attacked with stones hurled at them by the mob carrying the casket. Israel responded. Not as the media implied - that they were there to disrupt the funeral. 

It also appears as though the funeral itself might have been hijacked by Muslim extremists as suggested by Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll in a tweet:

Basically, Muslim extremists took the coffin against the wishes of the family & church, turned Shireen into a prop & paraded her around Jerusalem. They highjacked her funeral, using her again in the conflict.

When will the media finally report Israel fairly? Never, I guess.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Hatred and the Social Network

The Massacre in Buffalo (NY Post)
Hate. If I had to choose one word that describes our word today, it would be hate. Not that hate is always bad. The bible is filled with things and people we are supposed to hate. Things which the Torah tells you are evil are to be hated. 

But what is happening in so many cases in our world today is motivated by an unprecedented degree of hatred of people and things unrelated to what the bible requires.  An irrational hatred that is now expressed in a variety of ways. Racism and anitsemitism is perhaps the most commonly expressed form of hatred. This has always been the case.  At least in my lifetime. But the degree to which that hatred is now expressed has risen to a level not seen since the days of the Holocaust for Jews and slavery for blacks.

The ultimate expression of such hatred once again reared its ugly head last weekend where a lone gunman – a teenager no less – shot dead 10 innocent black people in a Buffalo, New York  supermarket for no other reason than his hated of black people. Which – along with antisemitism - is the hallmark of white supremacists. These people have been around a long time. But in recent years they have come out with a vengeance against innocent Black and Jewish people who wish to do nothing more than live in peace with their neighbors.

With respect to the Jewish people – we get it from all sides. The white supremacists of the extreme right and the BDS supporters of extreme left hate us with similar venom. As does a variety of black antisemitic groups such as Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam and black liberationists. As do the radicalized Muslims of the world – the most prominent of which is Iran and their surrogates in Gaza and Lebanon. And their sympathizers. Which was recently highlighted in the Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper. 

As I indicated, this hatred has always existed. But it is now more easily expressed in the most deadly of terms. 

Hate is not really what this country is all about. It is about tolerance. It is about equal rights for all. And the protection of those rights. 

While this is true, the current climate of hatred speaks louder than the American credo of tolerance. The question is why is there this unprecedented uptick in hate based violence in America?  And what can be done about it?

A lot of people think gun control is the answer. I wish it were. 

I do believe that if guns were not so easily available it would reduce incidents like the one in Buffalo. But it would not eliminate them. I hate to quote the NRA – but one of their slogans is true. If guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns. Criminals and racist extremists and the mentally deranged  will find ways to get their guns illegally. This is not to say that I don’t think there should be gun control. There absolutely should be.  A reduction in violence is still a reduction – even if it doesn’t completely eliminate it. 

The idea of ridding hate based ideologies such as those of white supremacist or the Nation of Islam is a pipe dream. You can’t just rip out hatred from the heart of a hater. Re-education might work in individual cases. But I don’t see it working large scale.

Better protection by law enforcement would help. The police should be fully supported and allowed to do their jobs. But there too, it is relatively easy for a lone gunman to slip through the cracks and do a lot of damage in a few minutes before they are subdued.

One of the sources of mass shooting is bullying. Many of the younger mass murderers were victims of bullying. To such an extent that they did not want to go on living and in a misguided sense of revenge and rage – would take out as many souls as they could before shooting themselves.

What is it that has changed in our day that has so seriously exacerbates the hatred? A lot of people blame the former President. I think there is a lot of validity to that. 

What Trump succeeded in doing is to make hate mainstream. Many people with differing political ideologies have always seen their ideological opponents in extremely negative terms. I can’t tell you how many times – long before Trump - I have heard friends of mine on both sides of the political aisle express sheer contempt for the other side. Until Trump (whose bombastic rhetorical style is probably modeled on Rush Limbaugh) those feelings were expressed mostly in private. Trump made it completely acceptable to express that hatred in public. 

That was followed by a right wing media that did – and continues to do the same. Which in turn was parroted by their viewers and listeners. Many of the  people who continue to support Trump are the ones that scream their hatred the loudest. Not to be outdone, the left has returned their hatred in kind – vilifying every Trump voter as an extremist .

There is not a doubt in my mind that the former President has some culpability here. But he is not the cause. He is only the accelerant. The hatred was always there only to be released when the former President normalized it 

The real culprit in my view  is the social network. 

There is not a doubt in my mind that social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tik-Tok and a whole host of other website like them have brought out the worst in us.  People that would otherwise never say a bad word about anyone else in public have been freed up by anonymity on those platforms to speak their minds and vehemently attack their opponents with impunity. That brings out responses in kind. It is almost as if it were a challenge to outdo each other with bigger insults than was hurled at them.

If there was one thing I could point to that is the most damaging thing about the internet, it would be the social network. It exacerbates the hatred that exists in a lot of people.

I have no idea how to fix this problem. Clearly there is also a lot of good that happens on these platforms, too. Lives have been saved. Whether the incidents of good outweighs the bad or vice versa is not a question I can answer. But a lot of people have died because of what goes on there. And I doubt we have seen the last of it. As was made clear by yet another mass shooting in California the next day. 

I see a lot of hatred expressed right here by some who comment on this blog. Hatred of the other. Hatred of those whose political ideologies are seen as evil by the other side. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have had to censor some of the more egregious attacks by one commentator against another. By people on both sides of the political aisle as well and both sides of the religious aisle. 

I can’t stop people from holding dear their long held beliefs – whether I agree with them or not. But for God’s sake stop hating people you disagree with. That never ends well.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Fighting for Our Children

Yeshiva in Williamsburg (Forward)
One of the most troubling aspects of the controversy regarding ‘public school equivalency’ requirements proposed by NYSED (New York State Education Department) is the confusing nature of its opponents.

The truth is that they have a point. It seems that their biggest problem is that the government should not have any say at all in how and what they teach their children. They consider it an intrusion into their religious rights guaranteed by the constitution.. 

I suppose that insisting that any secular subject be taught at all - that would replace a religious subject might qualify as such intrusion.  There are those among us that believe we have the right teach our children in any manner we wish. Even if that means not teaching any Limudei Chol (secular subjects) at all. Forcing them to do so is seen as an infringement of that right.

The irony of maintaining this view is that the majority of Orthodox schools, including most Charedi schools actually do teach those subjects. And among those, many require their students to take the New York State’s Regents exam. Which exempts them from any government scrutiny.   

As it should. On average Yeshiva High Schools students typically do much better on those exams than do public high school students.

And yet it appears that all of those schools have argued in favor of allowing the few schools that don’t to continue doing so.

I find that to be somewhat hypocritical. But I suppose they would counter and say that despite the fact that they actually do place value on those subject and teach them in a manner that is substantially equivalent to public schools (as the Regent’s exam proves) they nevertheless belive that schools should have the tight to refuse to teach any of those subjects.

They might also argue that the only reason they teach secular subjects is to comply with state law. And that if it were not the law they wouldn’t teach them either. But I find that hard to believe. Historically many of their students have gone on to have successful careers made possible only by the core subjects they took in high school that enabled them to further their education. 

Are they really saying that if they had the choice they would have preferred those students not to have had the opportunity to have careers that not only help them support their own families but enable them to contribute and help maintain institutions vital to that community? Including advocacy groups like the Agudah? Would Agudah have preferred that someone like their executive vice president, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel not have an education that makes the effective and erudite leader he is? I somehow doubt that.

Another issue that those schools are troubled by is that NYSED does not grant any value to the analytical skills learned in the Limudei Kodesh curriculum. 

I agree that here is tremendous value in learning those skills. I believe that those skills aid in the study of some of those secular subjects. But they are not a substitute for them. To ask NYSED to evaluate skills that are developed during the daily study of Gemarah is a task that is practically impossible for a state official - unless they have studied Gemarah themselves. Instead of trying to assign value to it as part of a secular curriculum they should instead see that as an advantage over public schools.

What about the fact that it is becoming increasingly the case that a college education is not necessary for financial success? This is true. But it is also true that a college degree is still required for most decent jobs as way of screening the people that apply for jobs. Seeing success in college as a way of predicting success in their jobs. 

Yes, there are a lot of wealthy Jews that became wealthy despite their lack of a secular education. Some of those successful people can be pretty illiterate. But I find hard to accept that this is the majority. My guess is that the opposite is the case. There are a lot more poor people living off of charity because of a lack of an education  than there are successful businessmen.

I think the schools that offer a secular studies curriculum actually value it. I will never forget the indignant response at a Torah U’Mesorah convention that Telzer Rosh HaYeshiva, R’ Avrohom Chaim Levine, ZTL, had to a suggestion made by Rabbi Aharon Feldman.  He suggested that there be a track in Yeshiva high schools that would exempt the motivated  brighter students from the Limudei Chol curriculum. 

Rabbi Levine got up and said that he would match the Torah knowledge of any of his students that have been educated in Limudei Chol - which Telshe offers B’Shitta - against those who have been exempted form it.

And yet those schools that have a similar approach to Limudei Chol all advocate for the right to deny their students such an education. Not a single word about the value of a secular curriculum is ever uttered:

Agudath Israel of America, which represents Haredi Orthodox Jews, is urging its members to make their opposition to the proposed oversight known to state officials. “We cannot allow the government to come in and unreasonably control how and what we should be teaching our children,” Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudah’s executive vice president, said in a statement. 

It is only a relatively small number of schools that do not offer any Limudei Chol curriculum. Advocating on behalf of those schools does a disservice to the students of those schools.

What about PEARLS? 

One might argue that they are actually working to implement a secular studies curriculum in those schools. Perhaps. But I have to ask whether they have had any success in getting the few hard core anti secular studies schools to change their attitude. I tend to doubt it. Clearly the primary focus of PEARLS is fighting NYSED on constitutional grounds and getting the public to help advocate for that:

Another group opposed to the guidelines, Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools — or PEARLS — has launched its own campaign, asking parents and yeshiva graduates to write to state education officials. According to its website, it has directed more than 64,000 comments to the education department.

I understand what PEARLS is doing and why they are doing it.  But at the same time they ought to be insisting that all religious schools offer what the vast majority of religious schools offer. Who are they really benefitting by not insisting on that? Clearly not the students. 

To perpetuate a faulty system as a matter of religious freedom is criminal in my view.

Like I said, as a general principle the government should stay out of our schools. But at the same time we should assure that all of our schools teach the necessary skills to function in our world today. If for no other reason to reduce the number of people subsisting on government welfare and charity. And if we can’t do it ourselves, maybe the government should. 

My only quibble is that I do not believe that a parent should go to jail for sending their children to a non compliant school. 

If as PEARLS suggests there ought to be a massive campaign to write  state education officials objecting to the new guidelines, there ought to be a simultaneous campaign that parents insist that their children get the education they need to best survive in the 21st century. 

Friday, May 13, 2022

Israel Though Palestinian Eyes

BDS founder, Omar Barghouti (Wikipedia)
There has been a lot of justifiable pushback against the Crimson - Harvard’s student newspaper for an editorial endorsing BDS (Boycott Sanction and Divest). They have taken the side of Israel’s harshest critics. 

BDS has one purpose. It is to destroy Israel. That should be obvious by what BDS demands. Which might sound fair on paper until one realizes that honoring those requests would in fact mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state and essentially turn it into a Palestinian state. 

The newspaper’s editors have bought the argument made by the left that Israel is guilty of Apartheid. And bought into Amnesty International’s charge that Israel is guilty of war crimes against Palestinian people.  

The naiveté of those editors cannot be overstated. This was made clear by over 100 Harvard faculty and alumni – including Alan Derhsowitz and former Secretary of the Treasury (under Clinton) and former president of Harvard, Larry Summers. They denounced that endorsement

That being said I thought it might be instructive to see this issue through Palestinian eyes. What you are about to read is what I believe is in the hearts of most Palestinians. What follows is how they or their supporters might present their case:

Israel is an illegitimate country. It has no right to exist. And no right to change the original name of the country from Palestine, to Israel.  The current state of Israel was created by a group of European colonialists calling themselves Zionists for the purpose of exploiting its indigenous Arab population. Exploiting them as cheap labor to build their illegal entity. 

Who gave the UN the right to give it away? It doesn’t matter that the Zionist entity became a haven for refugees of the Holocaust. The Holocaust is not the fault of the Palestinian people, the rightful heirs to that land. Why should they allow Zionists whose racist ideology moved them to colonize a land and rule over the indigenous Palestinian people? They were there long before those Zionist Jews from Europe marched into their land and took over. Who gave them that right? What if those early Zionists had chosen to occupy Paris or London and declare that their new Jewish state? Would the world have been OK with that?! 

What about the Zionist claim of their historical rights to the land? What does ancient Jewish history to do with today’s reality? 

What about their claim of biblical rights to the land? Well the Koran rejects that claim and believes that it was their ancestor, Ishmael,  to whom God’s covenant with Abraham was passed. Not Isaac. Why should the Jewish bible have more validity than the Koran? 

No sir.  And what have the Zionist done with their occupation? They have forced Palestinians into refugee camps and treated them like inferior human beings. That is a tragedy of major proportion. – and a travesty! Palestinians are forced by the Zionist occupiers into inferior living conditions on the West Bank of the Jordan River. And treated with same cruelty with which blacks were treated under the  policies of Apartheid that was once the South African government. 

For some reason much of the civilized world nevertheless believes that Israel has a right to exist and rule the land. And has given them the financial and military  means to assure that it stays that way. Making it hard for Palestinians to resist the occupation.

The injustices are real.  So resist they must with whatever means they have left. Since Israel’s military might is so powerful, that leaves only terrorism. And a call to the world to honor BDS. 

What about all the contributions Israel has made to the world in its 75 year existence? Who is to say that Palestinians wouldn’t have done the same or more, had they the freedom and means to do so? Once Palestinians get their land back, they will prove it. 

What about the support of so many US politicians and other prominent good and decent people around the world? They are misguided - blinded by the rhetoric of pro Israel propagandists like AIPAC. They do not see the injustice of it all. 

Palestine – all of it - belongs to Palestinian people. Once the Zionists are defeated and Palestine is back in their hands it will restore the dignity they have been denied for decades which they so richly deserve. 

May it be the will of Allah that this happens soon and in our day.