Sunday, December 10, 2023

Antisemitism - Right Versus Left

Former Penn President, Liz McGilll (PBS)
The mask is off. And it’s about time. The presidents of 3 top universities made clear that when it comes to their Jewish students calling for their genocide is dependent on context. 

Representative Elise Stefanik’s angry reaction to those comments exposed the leftwing rot that permeates academia at the highest  levels. Her anger was refreshing in contrast to the complacent academic response to genocide. 

Thankfully the near universal outrage expressed at those 3 presidents gives me confidence that at the core, Americans  will not countenance antisemitism. I say that knowing that there has been a massive increase in it. That indisputable fact hat makes what those 3 presidents all the more troubling. 

They explained that their responses were based on their schools’ guidelines that were just implementing the constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech. But as I have said in the past, they were really allowing dangerous hate speech under the guise of free speech. 

None of this is new. What is new is the following from the New York Times:

The president of the University of Pennsylvania, M. Elizabeth Magill, resigned on Saturday, four days after she appeared before Congress and appeared to evade the question of whether students who called for the genocide of Jews should be punished.

As Representative Stefanik tweeted

“One down. Two to go,” Stefanik said on X, formerly Twitter. “This is only the very beginning of addressing the pervasive rot of antisemitism that has destroyed the most ‘prestigious’ higher education institutions in America.”
The truth is that we should be thanking these 3 individuals for their responses. It explains a lot about why there has been such an increase in campus antisemitism. Academia is infested with a far left faculty that takes their young students whose mind are filled with mush and brainwashes them to see Israel as a colonialist power that has usurped the land of an indigenous people (Palestinians).  And uses their military might to subjugate and severely oppress them. Military might supplied by another colonialist power, the US.  

Most of those students never heard of Auschwitz and know next to nothing about the Holocaust. And even less about the real underlying cause of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Unlike the drivel they are fed by their far left professors Palestinian suffering in Gaza is the fault of their own leaders. Including the ‘more moderate’ PA. 

It’s about the need for Israel to protect their citizens from the kind of attacks by Hamas that happened last October.  Attacks that are sourced in the theological belief that Jews have no right to occupy Arab land.  A belief that includes doing whatever it takes to achieve that goal. No matter how heinous. Thus restoring the land to their ‘rightful’ owners.  They have promised to repeats as many times as necessary until Palestine is free form he river to the sea.

And yet. this is completely hidden from students who actually believe the drivel they are fed by the radical far left professors who are seen as paragons of virtue from which morality can be leaned. So that calling for genocide of people that are characterized as perpetrating genocide against Palestinians in Gaza seems like a just demand. 

This is the atmosphere in academia right now. It appears to be permeating every aspect of the lives of their students outside of the classroom. And in some cases in the classroom itself. 

The attitude expressed last week by those three university presidents (which has been going on for years with increasing ferocity) facilitates those angry student calls for the genocide of Jews.   

This time it is the conservatives in congress that are the most stridently fighting this sad phenomenon. Demanding that antisemitism be completely routed out from university campuses in the country. The liberal left, on the other hand,  is far more likely to defend hate speech under the rubric of the constitution. 

How ironic it is that the left has far more Jews in it than does conservative right. 

I think this can be explained by referring to the historical context of liberalism and the Jewish people. It was the liberal left that gave us all the rights and privileges' that we, the Jewish people, now experience. It was the left that demanded that the American creed of equality must  extend to the Jewish people. And all the barriers that were placed in our way should be removed. It took awhile, but that happened. If you were Jewish back then, being a liberal was a no brainer. In those days it was the blue blood conservatives that placed all those obstacles before us - that the liberals succeeded in taking down. 

But times have changed and the two political philosophies have evolved. Actually changing places with each other. Now it is the left that is far more likely to be antisemitic than the right.  That was reflected in the exchange  between the conservative Stefanik and the three liberal/left university president.

Old habits die hard. Jews whose parents were died in the wool liberals for good reason have raised their children with the same values. They have never given up their suspicions that the right was actually antisemitic at the core.

The tide of Jewish support has shifted from the left to the right. Orthodox Jews that in many cases are children of Holocaust survivors had no basis to be either liberal or conservative. By not having a legacy of liberalism inherited from their parents they were freed up to be more objective and have a more positive attitude about political conservatism.  

I think that any American Jew that takes the time to think about it, would realize that he liberal/left they once felt was their home has now become the home of radical antisemitism.  

Think about what just happened at that congressional hearing. If you care about our place as Jews in America it is more then worthwhile divorcing oneself from the left whose policies of old now reside with conservatives.

To be clear. The primary motives guiding us should be the values of the Torah. Our support ought to go to the candidate that most reflects  those values. Whether from the right or from the left. But in my view our values are increasingly more reflected by he right. I don’t think it’s even a contest.

Friday, December 08, 2023

Daas Torah and Elu V'Elu

A display of unity at the March for Israel (Forward)
“There’s a mistake as if Agudah, as if Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah, is” always of one mind, Lopiansky said. “There will always be disagreements, but the differences in opinion are legitimate.”

This revealing statement by Rabbi Aharon Lopiansky (quoted in the Forward) was the response to a question about his decision to attend the March for Israel last month. Despite a ban from attending it made by 5 members of the Agudah Moetzes. 

But his comment says a lot more than its surface meaning. It should be obvious to everyone that there are disagreements within the Agudah Moetzes. No where was that made clearer than it was only 5 of their members that came out with that ban. So opposed were they to attendance, that one of them labeled it ‘Chazer Treif’! His point being that one should stay away from it as they would  from eating pork! But as the Forward also notes, those 5 Moetzes members did not get the imprimatur of the Moetzes. They were actually in the minority in this regard. That’s because the the other 8 members did not sign on to that ban. Leaving their view rather ambiguous, but clearly not forbidding it.

I’ve already expressed my views about why I thought those 5 members were wrong. My point here is to demonstrate the obvious. Which is counter to notion of unanimity in all of their proclamations. 

My guess is that complete agreement on any controversial issue is rare. And this is one of my biggest problems with Moetzes proclamations. The claim that their proclamations are unequivocal Daas Torah on any given issue is not necessarily the case. Not if there is actual is dissent. Hiding dissent does not make it non existent. It's just that they have decided to not reveal it. Dissent is never made public. Even when there are clear differences of opinion among them. They believe that casting aside minority opinion and speaking with one voice is the only way they can speak with any degree of authority.

This is does a grave injustice to Emes, in my view. The public has the right to know if there is dissent so that they can decide for themselves  which view to follow. There is is nothing wrong with choosing to follow the minority view of the Moetzes. Even if you are Charedi. But there is something wrong with the Moetzes not revealing it when it exists.  

I understand the Charedi view that the Gedolim are in the best position to make Torah based deciesions. But when there is dissent amongst the Gedolim, the public has a right to know. That is what Elu V’elu, Divrei Elokim Chaim is all about. Chazal understood very clearly that the Torah’s ambiguity on various subjects is not always so easy to understand. Disagreements between Chazal is what the Gemarah is all about.  This does not mean we can pick and choose which of their opinions we like. That was already done by Halachists like the Rambam, the Tur, and later, the Shulchan Aruch. (More or less following a formula that is beyond the scope of this post.) t

But when new issues arise in our time (as they increasingly do in the rapidly advancing field of technology) and there are legitimate differnces of opinion, we should have the right to follow a dissenting opinion Which should be made available by the Motzes but isn’t. 

The  March for Israel was one such issue where dissent was actually revealed. Which is why it did not get the imprimatur of the Agudah Moetzes. That enabled Charedim who follow Daas Torah to choose to follow those who did not ban attendance at the March for Israel. In my eyes attending the March for Israel was  the right thing to do. As it was in the eyes of Rabbi Lopiansky and many other Charedi rabbis

I’m not sure why it happened this time. Maybe the dissent was too strong. I don’t know. But it did. And I was glad to see it. 

I don’t know what the Moetzes policy will be going forward. Will they reconsider their approach to speaking with one voice when there is dissent? I doubt it. But they should. And if they do, I think the Charedi public will benefit as will all of klal Yisroel. 

This has nothing to do with respecting Gedolim. They should be. There should never be any disparagement of them. What that change in policy would however mean is that that the concept of Elu V’Elu will be restored to its rightful place of Emes in Klal Yisroel.

But if as I suspect it is back to business as usual with respect to always speaking with one voice regardless of any internal dissent, than future proclamations should be taken with a huge grain of Kosher salt.

Thursday, December 07, 2023

The Unconscionable Evil of Neturei Kata

Neturei Karta at a pro Palestinian rally in October (Forward)
There is a ‘joke’ about how stridently my Rebbe’s uncle, R’ Velvel (also known as the Brisker Rav) was opposed to Zionism. During one of Neturei Karta’s  many protests, R’ Amram Blau, its founder laid himself down on the ground in front of an Israeli tank. R’ Velvel saw that and remarked to his freind R’ Blau, You are a bigger Zionist than I am. You seem to believe that they won’t run you over. 

What he was really saying is that Zionists are so evil they think nothing of killing a fellow Jew that disagrees with their secular ‘anti Torah’ philosophy. 

I mention this to show just how anti Zionist even the mainstream right was at Israel’s founding. Although at first some Charedi leaders  (among them Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach) were more inclined to support a Jewish state even though it is was being run by secular Jews - that changed quickly at the urging of the Chazon Ish.

So the idea that Netruei Karta has always been at odds with the rest of the Orthodox right is a myth. They were all pretty much on the same page back then – as Illustrated by that ‘joke’. What changed is that the right decided to work with the Zionist ‘devil’ so they could benefit the rising tide of their natural base - Charedim. 

That did not sit well with Satmar, who maintained their original opposition and rejected any collaboration with the Zionist state at all. They believe Jews are forbidden to restore sovereignty over the land of Israel until the advent of Moshiach. Satmar’s founder, R’ Yoel Teitelbaum, was so opposed to it, that he characterized Rav Avraham Yitzchok HaKohen Kook in the same terms as does the Book of Esther about Haman - the ‘Hitler’ his time. (Rav Kook is considered the spiritual guide of the Religious Zionism.)

It doesn’t take that much to go from seeing Rav Kook in those terms - to seeing the state of Israel in the same way Hamas and every other enemy of Israel does - that wants to commit genocide against us. It’s true that even the current Satmar Rebbe (at least one of them) has condemned Neturei Karta for siding with the enemy. But they have only themselves to blame for Neturei Karta’s attitude.  Whose members consider the Satamr Rebbe to be their spiritual guide

How bad is Neturei Karta? Read this

Neturei Karta has been taking part in pro-Palestinian rallies and marches for decades; they are a nearly guaranteed presence at any demonstrations against Israel, and regularly attend campus demonstrations and teach-ins against Israel. 

In recent weeks, the group has been regularly marching with pro-Palestinian activists, often making speeches at the events. While they occasionally reference Neturei Karta’s stance that Jews cannot return to the land of Israel until God decrees it, the bulk of their statements sound closer to those made by more visible, secular leftist Jewish groups such as IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace. 

Their statements at rallies since Oct. 7 have focused on the difference between Judaism and Zionism, and comparisons between the plight of Palestinians in Gaza and Jews during the Holocaust; they refer to Israel’s founding with the Arabic term “Nakba,” which means “catastrophe.” 

The violence endured by Palestinians, and the idea that Zionism is a corruption of true Judaism, have been Neturei Karta talking points for decades...

“The state of Israel, with its occupation, with its foot on the neck of the people of Palestine, you are building buckets and buckets of antisemitism, you are exacerbating antisemitism,” Weiss said at a gathering in Jersey City. “Step back and think what’s causing this antisemitism?” 

I realize just how strongly the rest of the Orthodox right has condemned them. But in my view that isn’t nearly enough. First they need to take some responsibility for Neturei Karta’s rantings since Charedi leaders and politicians in Israel  have themselves said some pretty nasty things about the Zionist state of Israel even in our day. Even as they have joined the government, They are opposed to Zionism too. It is only a matter of degree. (Albeit with a massively huge degree of difference.)

It is therefore the right’s responsibility to do more than to condemn them from time to time. Neturei Karta’s public embrace of our mortal enemies cannot go unpunished. No matter how tiny their numbers are, their very loud and public embrace of people that want to annihilate us does a lot of damage. It contributes to the kind of horrors that happened to us on October 7th.  

Neturei Karta therefore has blood on their hands. And they should be treated that way by every single Orthodox Jewish leader regardless of Hashkafa.  Including Satmar. That should start with an end to the constant Charedi vilification of the Jewish state. And then to completely reject any claim Neturei Karta makes that their view is the ‘Torah True’ view. It is not. It  is the view of the devil all dressed up in Chasidic garb.

It would be nice for example to see a full page ad in all the major newspapers jointly sponsored by Satmar, Chabad, Agudah, the OU, the RCA,  BMG and YU (How’s that for unity?!) rejecting the legitimacy of Neturei Karta as representative of anything remotely Jewish - regardless of  their religious appearance and adherence to ritual observances. And then place them in actual Cherem by a joint Beis Din comprised of as many and as varied Orthodox rabbinic leaders as they can find. Ostracizing them completely and forever from the rest of the Jewish people. 

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

The Moral Stupidity of 3 University Presidents

Presidents of MIT, Penn, and Harvard testifying in congress yesterday (NBC
Imagine what the response from an Ivy League university would be to a call for the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza. I don’t think it would take too much imagination to know what it would be.

Or, how about this. Imagine someone urging people to protest and fight like hell to overturn the 2020 election. And to say that he doesn't think the call to hang Vice-President Pence for refusing to do it - is such a bad idea .

This one we don’t have to imagine at all. The former President has been indicted for doing exactly that. Trump has been defending his comments as a matter of exercising his free speech rights.

And yet when it comes to calling for genocide of the Jewish people, the presidents of 3 major universities (Harvard, MIT and Penn) have been saying that such rhetoric comes under the constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech. And that protestors urging it will remain undisciplined by the university. This is how it went at a 5 hour Republican lead hearing in the House of Representatives. As reported by JTA:  

When New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik asked directly if “calling for the genocide of Jews” is against the universities’ respective codes of conduct, all three presidents said the answer depended on the context.“It is a context-dependent decision,” 

Penn President Liz Magill responded, leading Stefanik to reply, “Calling for the genocide of Jews is dependent on the context? That is not bullying or harassment? This is the easiest question to answer ‘yes,’ Ms. Magill.”

The presidents’ testimony came amid increased tensions on college campuses nationwide since Pro-Palestinian students or faculty — including at the three universities represented at the hearing — have made headlines for speech and actions on campus that a range of critics have called antisemitic or inappropriate

Context? Really? 

You could see their sense of moral superiority as they all framed the issue as a matter of free speech. It was written all over their smug faces. They think they are protecting free speech when in reality they are protecting the kind of hate speech that has contributed to antisemitic violence well beyond the halls of academia. Kind of like Trump’ s free speech contributed to the insurrection of January 6th.

Thank you, Congresswoman Stefanik for calling it out in the dramatic fashion you did, 

The massive increase in anti Israel protests taking place all over the US by the left provides clarity about the danger of extremist left wing antisemitism. In my view it presents a far greater danger to Jewish Americans than the extremist anisemitism of the right. Which until recently was considered the far more dangerous of the two. Rightfully so since antisemitic extremist right was far more likely to act in their antisemitism than the antisemitic extremist left. 

But no more. Ask any Jewish student on campuses like Harvard how safe they feel. And from whom they fear being endangered. Hint. It is not the White Supremacists. It is from the pro Palestinian left -  encouraged by the very attitude expressed by these 3 presidents. Who are allowing them to call for genocide of our people as a matter of free speech! Kind of like the free speech of former President Trump on January 6th

What this says about our intelligentsia is that they ain’t as smart as they think they are. And more importantly not as moral as they think! 

But despite the sad turn of events, there is some good news with respect to Israel and the Jewish people. The Biden administration is still giving its full throated support for Israel's mission to destroy Hamas. Government officials have been defending Israel against accusations that they are not protecting Palestinian civilians. Describing Israel urging Palestinians to evacuate areas that are about to attacked. And giving them enough time to leave. 

They are also quick to add that a lot of Palestinian casualties are the direct responsibility of Hamas who uses them as human shields. In other words these officials are in effect repeating Israel’s narrative of doing the best thy can to protect Palestinian civilians. Without any equivocation.  

For their part - the media has been more even handed than usual in reporting about the war. Although there are some exceptions, for the most part (at least in the electronic media) every report about the devastation in Gaza and the suffering of Palestinians (which is very real) has been accompanied by the suffering of Israelis from the events of October 7th.  Most recently describing the horrific use of sexual violence against their female captives. 

It is comforting to see the Biden administration continue its full throated support of Israel’s war on Hamas. And the even stronger support for Israel on the Republican side of the political aisle. If there is any disappointment to be had on that score it is with Democrats (and one Republican) as reported at CNN: 

The House passed a Republican-led resolution on Tuesday condemning antisemitism in the United States and globally.

A number of Democrats, however, expressed concern that the language of the GOP resolution is overly broad and would effectively define any criticism of the Israeli government or its policies as antisemitism. The vote was 311 to 14.

Ninety-two Democrats voted “present,” and 13 Democrats and one Republican voted against the resolution.

But still, it is upsetting that there are so many Americans that are indeed actual antisemites, that have been given ‘permission’ by the pro-Palestinian supporters  to come out of the woodwork and join them.

I hope that once the war is concluded and things get settled in Gaza, we can return to a time where we can once again read about Judaism being the most admired religion in America and other nice things said about us. But more importantly I hope that long before the conclusion of the war, the remaining hostages are freed and brought home soon to be reunited with their families.

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Disagreeing With the Gedolim

Rabbis Aharon Lopianski and Yosef Elefant (screenshot - Agudah convention)
As would be expected at an Agudah convention the subject of Daas Torah came up. (Big surprise!) 

Near the end of a question and answer session featuring two prominent Torah personalities, Rabbi Aharon Lopiansky and Rabbi Yosef Elefant - the controversial Kol Korei forbidding attendance at the March for Israel last month - came up indirectly. 

That Kol Korei was issued by 5 members of the Agudah Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. What Rabbi Elefant said, I think, was intended as a defense of those five members who he felt had been dishonored by the many laypeople who so stridently disagreed and belittled them because of it. He dismissed those laypeople as ignorant of the Torah knowledge necessary to make such decisions.  

Rabbi Elefant said  that one has to follow Daas Torah. But he also said that that one need not follow the Daas Torah of the Kol Korei. or even the entire Moetzes if they spoke in unison. If your Rav who is considered a Odom Gadol (something a it more than a pulpit rabbi) had a different view, he should be followed. If on the other hand (with respect to the Kol Korei for example) your Rav was one of the five signatories you had an obligation to follow him. 

His point was that one must follow someone’s Daas Torah. One should not have the arrogance to say that that decision made by these rabbis was made without their due diligence. Or that you have studied the issue in greater detail and therefore know better  - or at least enough to disagree with them. 

He made an analogy to Daas Torah often made at an event like this. No matter how knowledgeable one is about a serious a medical issue, having for example researched it in great detail online, one would hardly say they know more than the doctor they are seeing for it. His expertise is obviously far greater than that of a layman. No matter how much research he did.  The same thing is true, said Rabbi Elefant, in matters of Hashkafa expressed by the experts in Torah. 

This all makes sense. But there was something off about it. I’m not sure I can put my finger on it. But let me try.

First, I don’t think it is that simple. Yes, I’m sure these rabbis do their due diligence on every subject in which they express an opinion. And that their considerable knowledge of Torah is what guides their decisions. It is also true that armchair quarterbacks that think they know everything tend not to know all that much. They should not think their decisions are better than those of these rabbis. 

However, there is such a thing as getting a second opinion from another expert. Who may just have a better handle on the issue than does your own doctor or rabbi as the case may be. 

How does one know which opinion is the right one? Does being a long term patient of one doctor mean that his advice is the right advice? Or should they be able to decide which advice makes the most sense to them?  Not sure how Rabbi Elefant would answer those questions.

And what would Rabbi Elefant say about the rather strong language used by Rabbi Berel Wein upon hearing of the Moetzes Kol Korei? Some might even say he was disrespectful to them by saying they (those 5 Moetzes members) are fighting the battles of 60 years ago! I wonder how Rabbi Lopiansky's disagreement with that Kol Korei is viewed by Rabbi Elefant?

And then there is this. Although he said that it is imperative to have one - what if one does not have a rabbi who is an Odom Gadol and is looking for Torah guidance on a given subject? 

Rabbi Elefant implied that the Gedolim (members of the Agudah Moetzes) are by far are in the best position to issue Daas Torah on any matter. I have to wonder how he feels about rabbis whose Hashkafos are in diametric opposition to those Gedolim.  Would he still say that their views are of equal Daas Torah value? 

I somehow think that he would tells a student looking for Daas Torah to stay away from Rav Solovetchik, for example. This is what I think bothered me about what he said. Even though he never actually said it, it was strongly implied by the reverence he expressed for the Moetzes members. 

And another thing. If someone's Torah knowledge is based on he teachings of their Rebbe who is now deceased, he has the right to state his opinion in opposition to the Moetzes members. Rabbi Elefant seems to say that is not sufficient when it contradicts the stated view of the Gedolim who are still alive.  

I do not in any way feel bound by any pronouncements or any Kol Korei coming out of the Moetzes. Even when they are unanimous. And although I no longer have my Rebbe to rely upon, my Hashkafos are not the Hashkafos of the Moetzes. My Hashakfos are mostly based on the teachings of my primary Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik. But they are also based on the many other Rebebim that have influenced me along the way. I think that gives me the right to disagree. 

OK. Enough Ploidering for one day.

Monday, December 04, 2023

The Ephemeral Nature of Jewish Unity

Charedim volunteering at the IDF recruitment center (TOI)
One of the things I have celebrated during this time of crisis is the unity that – with some notable exceptions - seems to have permeated all segments of the Jewish people. This is especially true among Orthodox Jews.

To the uninitiated that might seem like a strange comment. After all aren’t all Orthodox Jews already united by the common denominator of observance? That’s what I once naively believed many moons ago. (Probably dating back to my early teenage years.) But the truth lies elsewhere. 

The internecine conflict between the many varied segments of Orthodoxy has destroyed any sense of unity that our common observance should give us. Shockingly, I think the gap between Dati (religious Zionist and Modern Orthodox ) Jews on the one hand – and Charedim on the other - is greatest in Israel of all places. Where observance is more likely based on religious ideology rather than on rote behavior. But  their differing religious ideologies is perhaps the primary reason for that divide. A divide that encompass service in the IDF. 

For Dati families service in the IDF is seen as a moral and religious obligation to defend the Jewish people. Even at risk of life and limb. Charedi families see IDF service as an obstacle to one’s spiritual health. They refuse to  be subjected to those spiritual dangers. The refusal to serve is non-negotiable - thereby avoiding mortal combat during war. 

That gives some peace of mind to the Charedi mother who never has to worry about an enemy bullet killing their son or daughter during one of Israel’s many wars. The Dati mother on the other hand does nothing but worry about her soldier son or daughter being hit by a bullet and being killed or maimed for life.

Those differences have generated some truly fierce animosity between the two communities. 

This has never sat well with me. It is unconscionable that there is a segment of religious Jewry that gets to avoid the dangers of combat while the other segments are required to be subjected to it.  Even though Charedim hold that the merit of Torah study is what really saves them, that does not give the Dati mother any real comfort – if her son or daughter was killed in combat.

I can’t imagine a greater reason for division than that. But the brutal Hamas attack against Israel on October 7th seemed to modify this social construct a bit. These days we don’t seem to hear so much Charedi accusations about the IDF being little more than a social engineering mechanism for disabusing Jews of their religious observances . 

That has been replaced by the realization that the army is more than just a Zionist social experiment. That it is instead the mechanism for protecting the entirety of the Jewish population in Israel. To that end many Roshei Yeshiva have required their students to do their part by studying and praying longer and harder as their contribution to the war effort. They know there are Jews  risking their lives in Gaza right now. That attitude did not seem to exist heretofore. 

Although we have a long way to go to get parity in terms of sacrifice, a change in attitude from despising the IDF to actually appreciating it is a huge step in the right direction. To that end there has not only been an increase in their Torah study and prayer, but as noted, there have been a significant increase Charedi enlistment in the IDF (Although a relatively small as a proportion of the whole). There has also been all kinds of Charedi Chesed projects directed at soldiers serving at this moment in time. That is a sea change in attitude. 

But I do not think we are entirely there yet. Unfortunately generational animosity that has existed and passed on for over 75 years is not wiped away so easily, This was made clear by Rabbi Natan Slifkin on Rationalist Judaism:

Last Shabbos, someone in my community told me that the war has strained her relationships with her neighbors… when she sees her neighbor’s sons coming home from yeshiva every Shabbos, while her own sons are in Gaza and she hasn’t even been able to hear from them, that it stirs up frustration and resentment.   

For me, that alone is enough to retain Dati resentment and anger. But there is more to the story. Rabbi Slifikn’s observant daughter serves in the IDF and had a conversation with a Charedi mother that really upset her. As it did me when I read it:

Last week an American-Israeli charedi group came to my daughter’s base, to provide a barbecue and entertainment… 

One of the women who arranged the barbecue struck up a conversation with my daughter, and asked her hat she does. My daughter explained that she is a mefakedet (commander) in charge of a group of beginner soldiers. The woman replied, “Oh, I’m also a mefakedet!” Confused, my daughter asked what she meant. The woman explained that she’s a mefakedet of her children.

My daughter wryly mentioned that it’s not exactly the same. But the woman wasn’t joking and didn’t back down. She said, “Which do you think is more difficult, carrying a gun all day or carrying a baby?”

At this point my daughter started to get upset. She pointed out that she also plans to spend many years carrying babies.

The woman responded that everyone has their role, and her own role is to do chessed for soldiers. My daughter pointed out that one can do both, and that her own family and community is involved extensively in chessed, be it packaging food for soldiers or helping with the farms in the South that need workers, and that this does not mean that you can’t also serve in the IDF. 

The discussion continued with a man from Ramat Beit Shemesh, who explained to my daughter that he doesn’t send his children to the IDF because it’s like walking at the edge of a cliff, in terms of the spiritual dangers. 

So there you have it. Even in the midst of doing a truly nice thing for members of the IDF that was once so vilified (and now appreciated) they cannot let go of their prejudices. And that is unfortunately indicative of what it will be like after the war. I am not so sure that we won’t return to the former state of animosity between the two sides since the two differing core ideologies still exist.

Some people like to think that what happened on October 7th and the ensuing war is a message from God about the unity He wants of His people. Which seems to only happen under conditions of existential crises.  That the Hamas attack and the war that followed was intended by God to bring us together. But if that's true, will God issue his wrath against our disunity again - if we revert back to the divisive days before the attack. I sure hope not. 

If this was God’s message then in my view the burden is on the Charedi community to permanently change their past paradigm of vilifying the IDF. Will they do it? 

Something to think about.

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Of Security Failures, Hostages, and Victory Over Hamas

Survivors describe Hamas Horrors (Jerusalem Post)
Anger. That is the best way I can describe my reaction to both Israel’s failure to anticipate the massacre; the abduction of Israelis by Hamas; and their failure to react quickly enough to those events. That was completely unexpected from a country whose record of defending it’s people was impeccable for decades, until that day.

One of Israel’s low level intelligence people who - along with her colleagues witnessed Hamas rehearsing that fateful attack for months - tried to warn their superiors about what they were witnessing - and their assessment of the danger. They responded by not taking them seriously. Believing that Hamas wasn’t capable of pulling it off. That intelligence report went no further up the intelligence command chain than those midlevel intelligence officers. 

As well, Israel’s military leaders failed by not having a military response team in place that could respond quickly to that event as it was happening. And we all know what that led to.

I don’t know what possessed those officials to be so complacent about Israel’s security at their border with Gaza.  I guess they all just believed  their own PR about their security measures and military might. And that no ragtag terrorist militia would dare challenge them. 

I don’t see how they can live with themselves realizing that it was their complacency and overconfidence that allowed October 7th to happen. 

The idea that this entire event could have been prevented makes me angry. As it should every Jew who thought that Israel had their security pretty well under control.

Alas, none of that matters now. At some point Israeli leaders will have to deal with all of this and heads will definitely roll. Which heads exactly - remains to be seen. But that there were failures that resulted in a terrorist attack of this magnitude must have serious consequences to those that are at fault.

But, that is all for later. Right now Israel faces two crises that are somewhat at cross purposes with each other. And frankly I am not quite sure there is a solution that can address both of them successfully.

There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that getting the hostages released should be Israel’s  highest priority. At the same time, Israel cannot afford to lose sight of its ultimate goal, the absolute annihilation of Hamas, a terrorist organization that vowed to have many more attacks like the one on October 7th – until Palestine is freed from Jewish occupation. To be replaced by the Islamic State of Palestine.

Arab media calls their 'civilian' Palestinian dead, martyrs (AL24)
Meanwhile Hamas has said that no more hostages will be released until the end of the war. To that end they broke the limited cease fire by firing rockets into Israel again. Israel responded by resuming its air attack. Which according to Hamas has resulted in 700 new ‘civilian’ causalities. (Palestinians call them martyrs. - How many are actually innocent civilians is anybody’s guess.)

Although the Biden administration understands what’s at stake and still backs Israel’s goal of annihilating Hamas, we are beginning to hear increasing calls for Israel to avoid civilian casualties. Including from some members of the Biden administration. Most recently from Vice President Kamela Harris. 

Does that mean that the Biden administration does not think Israel is doing enough? 

Not necessarily. This morning I heard White House security official, John Kirby, actually defend Israel on that score. He said that Israel is indeed doing what it can in this regard.  Unlike most combatants in a war, Israel is actually telegraphing exactly where they are going to attack. They have mapped it all out online and have dropped leaflets telling them about it among the civilians in those locations. Warning them to leave and giving them enough time to  evacuate. What other nation engaged in a war with a mortal enemy does that? By informing civilians what their targets will be, they are also informing Hamas. Giving them ample time to avoid being hit.

Why there are so many civilian casualties is well known by now. This is what Hamas wants. The more ‘civilian’ casualties there are, the more pressure there will be on Israel to stop the war. The idea of preventing casualties that Hamas purposely places in the line of fire is impossible. The only way Israel can do that is if they stop the war and give up their goal of destroying Hamas. Hamas will then live to see another day and continue their genocidal campaign against the Jewish people.  

Israel must continue to do what’s necessary to win the war - as they continue to try and minimize  civilian casualties..

But then - what will happen to the hostages if Israel  continues their campaign to obliterate Hamas?

That is indeed the conundrum for which I see  no good option. That being said let me suggest one possibility. While far from ideal I think it ought to be considered. Hamas has said that they will release all the hostages if Israel empties their prisons of the over 5000 Palestinian prisoners. Some of whom are Have murdered of maimed Jews. Or have attempted it. 

Thank God I am not in a position to make that kind of decision. But as bad as releasing terrorists might be, and the cost to our own casualties of war that might result, the lives of the hostages must come first. Unless someone - anyone - can figure out a better way to do that, I think this idea ought to be considered.

Once the exchange of hostages for prisoners is made. Israel can resume the war with the full might of its military until Hamas is eradicated. It might be harder to do if Hamas’s terrorist arm is reconstituted with all those released prisoners. But I think it can be done.

One might counter that killing an idea is impossible. Especially one sourced in a religious ideal.  

That is true. But one can destroy their ability to execute that religious ideal. That has been proven by the eradication of ISIS. Whose religious ideals were similar to Hamas and still exist. The US was able destroy their capability to carry it out. If can happen to ISIS, it can happen to Hamas.

 What about the certain criticism Israel will increasingly get from all corners of the globe by the enormous civilian causalities that will result ? I think Israel needs to ignore it and get the job done. All while continuing to insist that they are doing the best they can in that regard. After they succeed in destroying Hamas they will hopefully be able to rebuild those relationships. 

I don’t know if that is a viable solution to the task of both getting the hostages out and destroying Hamas. But if anyone has a better idea, I’d sure like to hear it..

Friday, December 01, 2023

The Different Evils of Complacency Versus Celebration

Eisenhower viewing charred bodies in a Nazi death camp (archive)
Evil triumphs when good men do nothing. Don’t know the actual source of that quote. But it was apparently not eighteenth-century Irish philosopher, Edmund Burke, to whom it is often attributed. 

Be that as it may, I believe in that sentiment. When horrendous acts of barbarism are committed by evil men, and no one does anything to stop them, the evil they do will succeed. This sentiment surely applies to the civilian population in Germany (and many other European countries) during the Holocaust. The German people knew their government was mistreating the Jewish people and knew it was wrong. But they just looked the other way and went on with their lives. .

It may be the case that they did not know the extent of their Nazi government's barbarism. But they surely knew that their Jewish citizens weren’t being treated to a luxury vacation. They knew about Kristallnacht. They knew about the virulent Jew hatred of their Fuerer and his cronies that were running their government. They knew that Jews were being rounded up all over Germany and placed – at first in squalid overcrowded ghettos and then to concentration camps. 

Even if they didn’t realize the extent of their government’s evil, they had to know it was evil. And yet they with went on with their lives as though nothing was happening. And 6 million Jews were killed.

After the US army liberated one of those death camps, General Dwight D. Eisenhower took a tour of that camp and was sickened. He was appalled that the civilians living near that camp must have known something was way off with smell of burning flesh they experienced every single day and the continuous smoke they saw coming out of Nazi crematories. Which they basically shrugged off. 

So indignant was Eisenhower that he forced the people of that town to march over to that death camp and declared, ‘Look at what your government did!’ He then forced them to personally bury all of the Jewish corpses that were lying and decaying  all over the camp. Because the ‘good people’ of that German town and the rest of the civilian German population let evil prevail.  

(Yes, there were many exceptions - righteous gentiles that refused to do nothing and let evil prevail. They - not only risked their own lives but even the lives of their families to save Jews. There were actually more righteous gentiles like that than was originally thought. Nonetheless, they were by far still in the minority.)

Palestinians in Ramallah cheer Hamas (TOI)
And yet, when comparing the civilian German population of then to the civilian Palestinian population of today, Germans were saints!  

Why do I say that?  Because they don't just do nothing while their government, Hamas, committed their atrocities against us. They celebrate it! They celebrate when one of their own children are killed inadvertently by Israel  - calling them martyrs! 

Now that Hamas broke the limited cease fire, Israel has resumed their air attack. This time in southern Gaza. As would be expected, the media is again focusing on Gaza Palestinian suffering. Palestinins are now reaping the 'rewards' of their government's atrocities against us. 

Please do not misunderstand. I do not believe innocent Palestinians civilians should be harmed even if they hate us. Israel should – and probably does take every precaution to avoid civilian casualties. That is the way a just and moral nation like Israel conducts wars. But forgive me if I don’t have the same sympathy for someone would celebrate my death at the hands of terrorist government as I would for the death of one of our own. 

My only regret is that there are some truly innocent Palestinians that do not want to see me dead. For them, I do have great sympathy for the suffering they go through. They do not deserve it. Unfortunately this is what happens in war. There are always innocent civilian casualties. This is especially true when their leaders make sure there are as many civilian martyrs as possible.

One more thing. Now that the war has resumed, it appears that the remaining hostages will  remain in captivity for the time being. If anyone deserves sympathy it is them. And their families! They are the ones that are truly innocent. None of them celebrate the death of any Palestinian. I suggest our focus first be on the suffering of the Jewish captives. That in my view is the far more righteous position to have than is the moral equivalency suggested by the media between Hamas atrocities and Israel's response to it. 

Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Unity of a People Alone

R' Alter at Gush Etzion (Photo by Yonatan Shai Freedman)

I have to disagree with Merriam-Webster's word of the year. It should not be ‘authentic. The word of the year should be ‘unprecedented’. There have been so many unprecedented things that happened this year that I’m sure it was used more than the word ‘authentic. And I am going to use it again. 

What is happening in the Jewish world today is unprecedented. I’m not talking about the brutal massacre, torture and kidnapping of Jews by Hamas un October 7th. Nor am I talking about Israel’s response to that in Gaza. Or the increase in antisemitism all over the world -  not seen since the Holocaust. Or the protest that took place in Washington a couple of weeks ago. Or the divisiveness between right and left; religious and secular, both here and in Israel. Or the massive number of indictments of the immediate past President of the United States.

The list goes on. All of which are unprecedented events. I’m sure I’ve already used that word in all of those contexts - and more. What I’m talking about is  the silver lining that this unprecedented tragedy has brought about.

In a world where divisiveness is increasingly the order of the day, I do not ever recall the kind of unity among the Jewish people that I am now witnessing. It is almost as though my dream about the unity of the Jewish people - which I have longed for as far back as I can remember -is unfolding right before my very eyes.

One of the most divisive issues separating the Jewish people is how the IDF viewed.  Both in Israel and here. The Charedi world has long eschewed army service for their young. Instead of seeing the IDF as the defense force it really is (which is now clearly being demonstrated) they have consistently characterized it as little more than a secular Zionist social engineering tool whereby Charedim would be integrated into Israeli society - and ultimately disabused of their religious moorings. 

They refused to say the prayer for the safety of its soldiers because by doing so, they would be giving tacit legitimization to the secular Zionist state they saw as virulently anti Torah.  So opposed are they that even after October 7th massacre, many Charedi rabbis did not allow that prayer to be recited in their Shuls. Instead - relying on general prayers (Tehillim) for the welfare of all the Jewish people.

It appears, however, that the majority of the Charedi world that had consistently opposed praising the IDF  has changed their tune. They now openly support the IDF. As noted in a JTA article- this attitude has spread beyond the borders of Israel. This is a description of what happened at an Agudah event in the US. 

When 3,000 Orthodox men packed into a New Jersey event hall late last month to mark a milestone in their 7 1/2-year cycle of Talmud study, they added an unusual component to the celebration.

In addition to sermons from prominent rabbis and collective prayer and study, the men watched videos showing uniformed Israel Defense Forces soldiers studying, singing and dancing with haredi Orthodox men and visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem. 

Charedim in Israel that had up until now studiously avoided military service volunteered to serve in the IDF to the tune of 3000. As noted in the Forward: 

Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, hundreds of Haredim have enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces, a phenomenon widely celebrated as a milestone in the integration of the community into Israeli society… 

In recent weeks some 360 Haredi men, of more than 3,000 applicants, have concluded two weeks of basic training and joined the IDF’s reserves. Israel mobilized about 360,000 reservists after Hamas killed more than 1,200 people in Israel last month, and kidnapped more than 330. 

Many Israelis have noted how Haredi rabbis have refrained from criticizing those who have signed up. The Haredim considered Torah study essential for young men, and Haredi leaders in the past have insisted upon the exemptions. 

This is truly an amazing turn of events. Recall that one of the main issues dividing Israel beofere October 7th was secular/Dati resentment at exemption from IDF of all able bodied Charedim. That no longer seems to be an issue: 

Israel’s opposition leader, Yair Lapid, suggested that these Haredi soldiers could build a foundation for a center-left government that includes Haredi parties.  

In yet another unprecedented event, Rav Shaul Alter, the leader of a a huge and growing ‘breakaway’ segment of the large Chasidus of Ger- delivered a Shiur in the Beis Medrash of Yeshiva Gush Etzion – the Hesder Yeshiva headed by the late Rav Aharon Lichtenstein. Where students alternate Torah study with military service. 

Never thought I’d see anything like that.

While there are certainly outlier Charedi rabbis that still do not value or appreciate the IDF, they seem to be in the minority and have been rebuked by Charedi leaders for expressing those views.  

It’s true that this is a grass roots effort inspired by the events of October 7th. And it may yet wane once the war ends. As was the case in an earlier tragedy. 

On that score - this is not the first time that the Charedi  world expressed a degree of unity with their ideological opponents in the religious world

Recall that the late Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv who was considered the Gadol Hador by the Charedi world joined the funeral procession of the 8 students murdered by Palestinian terrorists at Merkaz HaRav, the flagship Yeshiva of Religious Zionism. It took a tragedy then. And it took a tragedy now.

Rav Elyashiv’s gesture wore off after a while and the 2 sides went back to business as usual. Where neither side had anything to do with each other and rejected the legitimacy of the other.

But this time is different for several reasons. At least I hope it is. The tragedy of October 7th is exponentially greater than the one at Merkaz Harav.  It has also  opened up level of antisemitism not seen since the days of Nazi Germany. Jew hatred is directed at all Jews. Religious or not. Left wing or Right.

As Majority Leader, Chuck Schmuuer who although not observant reminded us yesterday in a speech delivered to the senate –We are an Am Levadod Yishkon. We are a people alone. 

We must all realize that we cannot rely on the good intentions of even the friendliest country to the Jewish people in the history of the world. A country I truly love. We must therefore be united in support of Israel at the most precarious time in its over76 year history. Encouraging its leaders not to be deterred from its mission regardless of the pushback by some of the political leaders in this nation its closest friend. To paraphrase the words of Hillel in Avos (1:14) If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us?! 

It is my sincere hope and prayer that all that old animosity between us will fade into oblivion. Never to raise its ugly head again! If there is anything good that can come out of this tragedy - it is that.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Does the Pope Have a Jewish Problem? Or a Liberal Problem?

Pope Francis and Conservative Rabbi Abraham Skorka (Angelus)
Does what the pope does matter to the Jewish people?  The answer is yes. It absolutely does. Not in any religious sense. That should be obvious since our belief systems are incompatible. But in the sense of his influence in the world. Which extends well beyond the Roman Catholic constituency he serves. With a popular pope like Francis, that influence in not insignificant.

He is widely admired for his warm embrace of all people. People of all faiths.  Sinners and saints alike. His liberal approach to Church doctrine has surprised many in the Church hierarchy. 

People with a resume like that tend to be seen as exemplars of high moral  character.  Their views on world events can heavily influence people that admire him outside of the church. He could in theory sway public opinion well beyond his natural constituency.

This is why Pope Francis’s close friendship with Conservative Rabbi Abraham Skorka in his home country of Argentina was a welcome sight for people like me. Historically popes have not been all that kind to the Jewish people. Pre Vatican II - centuries old old church doctrine held that we lost our claim to be God’s chosen people. We were therefore either condemned to hell for not recognizing their god - or targets for heavy handed conversions. Which is what the Crusades and the Inquisition were all about.  

Although that type of heavy handed treatment has waned over the years we were nevertheless seen in the same negative light .Whose special stature as the chosen people of God was lost and replaced by them.

It took a pope of tremendous courage who witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust to change all that. During the Holocaust, before he became Pope John XXXII,  Bishop Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli had saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish children from the hands of the Nazis. With no religious strings attached.  After he was chosen, Pope John mandated a  change in church doctrine that went from rejection of Judaism by God to acceptance of it as a brother religion to Christianity. His successor, Pope Paul, presided over Vatican II which followed his bidding.

Pope Francis took this new ‘brotherhood’ to a new level.  While still a bishop in Buenos Aires he became close to Rabbi Skorka. They ended up coauthoring a book together in a spirit unprecedented ecumenism. And they have remained friends ever since. It was in that spirit that Pope Francis traveled to Israel twice - one of which included a visit to the Kotel together with his old friend, Rabbi Skorka.

A recent article by John L. Allen Jr. in Angelus questioned how genuine Pope Francis’s affinity toward the Jewish people really is.  Asking whether he had a ‘Jewish problem’!

He based that question on what seemed to be a turn away from sympathy for the Jewish people in favor of sympathy for Palestinians. Allen gave several examples where his concern for Palestinians suffering exceeded his concern for Jewish suffering - on several notable occasions well before the the horrendous massacre of 1200 Jews and kidnapping 250 Jews by Hamas on October 7th.  As well as at least one time after. The latter of which was described this way: 

The fact that Francis delayed meeting a group of family members of Israeli hostages, an encounter originally requested in October but denied on the grounds that he was too busy with the Synod of Bishops, until he could also see on the same day a group of relatives of people from Gaza affected by the war, created the latest frisson in terms of his perceived pro-Palestinian tilt. 

There were also theological comments by Francis about Jewish inability to receive salvation through the Torah. That salvation could only be received through embracing their god.

Does that mean Pope Francis’s affinity for the Jewish people was fake? Was it some kind of publicity stunt to show how ecumenical the church has become? Was that what his friendship with Rabbi Skorka was all about? PR?

Not that the pope needs me to defend him. But I believe that nothing has changed. First that the pope believes salvation comes only through his church should not surprise anyone. More importantly, however, is the fact that Pope Francis entire worldview is that of the quintessential arch liberal. Who is open to all people. He  sees human suffering and responds to that. The liberal mindset does not look very hard at context. It sees suffering and insists it stop immediately and unconditionally. 

In the case of Palestinians, the liberal mindset sees devastation in Gaza, huge numbers killed, and millions more displaced; with little in the way of sustenance coming their way. All because of Israel’s defense initiative. 

So Francis the arch liberal turns his attention to Palestinians. The liberal sees Israel as the oppressive occupier and Palestinians as the oppressed occupied. people That injustice is what the arch liberal addresses. That is the one that gets their immediate attention. 

Not that he does not have sympathy for the hostages, or the  families that suffered lost loved ones on October 7th.  But that is all back burner stuff to an arch liberal like Francis. Israel’s assault is uppermost in his mind. As are the sheer numbers of Palestinians that have died or survived in a state of homelessness with nowhere to go. Their numbers by far outweigh the numbers of Jews suffering. So Francis’s sympathy lies there.

That not a single Palestinian in Gaza would have been harmed, had Hamas not done what it did; and that there would be far less civilian casualties had Hamas not imbedded themselves among sensitive civilian populations - such as schools and hospitals - matters to the liberal. In the moment all they see is human suffering on a major scale. So they get the lion's share of the pope’s sympathy.

This ‘Jewish problem’ is not the pope’s alone. It is a ‘Jewish problem for the liberal mind. Which is why liberal Democrats for example are more likely to have a knee jerk reaction to the violence and more inclined to ask for a cease-fire in Gaza - than are conservative Republicans who tend to see the bigger picture.

Liberal concern for the underdog comes from a good place. But it is a ‘good place’ without context. Which changes everything. 

The current pope is about as politically liberal as possible for the head a doctrinal religion like Catholicism. So it isn’t really a ‘Jewish problem. It is a ‘liberal problem’. 

Just my two cents.