Sunday, October 25, 2020

Is Orthodoxy in Danger?

In the beginning - Torah & science seem to agree - the Big Bang is Creatio ex Nihilo
 A fascinating question was asked on a Facebook forum to which I belong. 

Prior to the Holocaust, many Jews had succumbed to the influences of the enlightenment. They became skeptics and stopped being observant. For purposes of his post - the why and the how of that time is irrelevant. 

Since the Holocaust there has been a massive resurgence of Orthodoxy. Again – the why and how is irrelevant. The facts are there for everyone to see and analyze. 

Recently there has been a rise in the number of people going OTD in all segments of Orthodoxy. Once again raising the possibility that what happened in pre-war Europe will happen here.  It is not a significant number yet. (Although even one Jew losing his faith is a terrible loss.) But that doesn’t mean it can’t one day in the not too distant future become an uncontrollable crisis. I dont think it will. More about that later. 

The reason this phenomenon is happening at all is because of the ease by which we can get information on any subject  these days. Those among us who are observant but have unanswered questions dealing with faith – such as contradictions seen between science and Torah or the arguments made by biblical scholarship – don’t have to go very far to find stratifying answers that they could not find in traditional sources. Sources that include parents, teachers and rabbis. 

(As an aside, I believe that the inability to answer these questions is a major flaw in how we educate our children. It is true that the literal explosion of Orthodoxy since the Holocaust  is due in large part to the creation of a  religious school system through at least high school. But what was missing in that education is the ability of parents, teachers, and rabbis to satisfactorily address the questions - answered better satisfaction by the ease of access to outside information.)

The question therefore becomes whether the answers these non traditional sources have to these questions will increasingly become more acceptable. Answers that tend to negate much of what our religious education had taught us. For example challenging some of the Torah narrative with scientific observations to the contrary. 

Will the increased access to these observations and logical conclusions offered that contradict the Torah’s validity eventually catch on with enough people to create a crisis of faith? Too great in number to ignore? That most of us were not properly prepared by our teachers to meet those challenges mean we are doomed? 

First, I believe that these challenges will not stop and that there will be more of us that will lose our faith. But I don’t believe that Orthodoxy is doomed. We are not all going to have some kind of epiphany and reject our beliefs. Even if those questions and challenges remain unanswered. 

That is because very nature of belief is not dependent on reason alone. Belief by definition is something that cannot be proven. If it could it would cease to be belief and become an observable scientific fact. Which is an impossibility when dealing with spiritual matters. And God is the ultimate Spiritual Being. 

This does not mean that all reason is to be rejected in favor of pure belief. Which Judaism refers to as Emunah Peshuta. Not ‘blind belief’ - a pejorative if I ever heard one. But pure belief. Pure belief is fine for some. But for me, belief is based on many factors. Many of which are rational but not all. Rationality cannot answer every question. That is when other factors come into play. Such as education, history, intuition and other intangibles. All of which add up to my being a believing Jew. 

Those of us who feel that explaining existence must be based on some sort of logical rational construct only, will be disappointed in any case. Logic itself can only go so far in explaining that. Ultimately it cannot really explain existence with complete certainty any more than pure belief can. 

Although a bit of an oversimplification, I believe this is how the subject should be approached from the very start of our educational lives. At least from that point when questions may first arise and discussion of them would be productive. If properly communicated, then when the almost inevitable contact with information challenging our beliefs, we will – as a people – be better prepared to find answers that will not disabuse us of our faith. 

Just my quick thoughts on the subject. 

Warning! This blog presumes belief in God and in His Torah. As always any attempt to debate these beliefs  is out of bounds and will be deleted when detected.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Selfish Deceptions

Photo for illustration purposes only (TOI)
I wish I could say that this kind of thing is an anomaly. I used to think so. But I see it again and again. It is not an anomaly at all. It is almost a way of life. Maybe not for all or even most. But for a heck of a lot of them.

The idea that a group of religious looking people will take matters into their own hands because they don’t like the rules they must live by, must be a religious doctrine for a lot of Chasidic people. It isn’t just Satmar. It isn’t just Belz. Or Vizhnitz, Or Skvere. Other Charedim have done it too. As have Religious Zionist Jews, secular Jews and non Jews. There are a lot of people that don’t like playing by the rules.

But it just seems that the lion’s share of violators are from large Chasidic groups like those I mentioned. It seems like almost every day a story like this from the Times of Israel pops up. I don't know for certain if they were Chasidim, But I would not be too surprised if they were: 

Police on Wednesday dispersed an ultra-Orthodox wedding held at an unexpected location — the Arab village of Kafr Qasim, east of Tel Aviv.

The reason for the choice in locale was because the bride and groom wanted to avoid detection while holding a wedding that violated coronavirus restrictions on mass gatherings

Under the partial lockdown in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, weddings, like other outdoor events, are capped at 20 people. 

An eyewitness… said the revelers played Arabic music over the loudspeaker in an effort to blend into the surroundings… 

The wedding was reportedly held at a venue owned by a Kfar Qasim resident and video of the event showed dozens of guests not wearing masks or practicing social distancing. 

If they can get away with having a wedding with 10,000 guests, they are going to do it. If they can get away with opening up schools secretly by using side doors, they are going to do it. If they are prevented from having a wedding in Bnei Brak, they will go to an Arab city and have it there. 

I have no issue with Israeli Arabs. I have an issue with the dishonesty and deceptive lengths supposedly religious Jews will go to get what they want. Which now appears doing something like this 

Even if they don’t believe what health experts are telling them and consider government implementation of restrictive measures unnecessary and unfair, they are breaking the law. Which they apparently also do not much care about. Nor do they believe they may be spreading the virus to the more vulnerable among them. What about those of us that do care and believe the experts? They don’t care about us either. At least not as much as they do about themselves. 

Why are they like this? Why is it so easy for them to lie and deceive when it suits their purposes? 

Thankfully they were caught: 

The police announced in a statement that they broke up the wedding and fined the owner of the venue NIS 5,000 ($1,480) after accidentally coming across the gathering while in the area on an unrelated operation. 

I just hope no one gets sick or dies because of what they did.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The 'Absolute Morality' of Liberal Orthodoxy

*The pretense is gone! Liberal Orthodoxy is now the Torah of the left. It is a doctrine that is constantly being heard on campuses all over the land. A philosophy reflected by the media with little to no opposition. Mainstream America is becoming more liberal with each passing day. How can it not be?! ...being bombarded with a constant barrage of liberal thinking they hear on the airwaves each day.

To the orthodox liberal, conservative values are so terrible that if they raise their ugly head, it becomes necessary to beat those values down. By any means necessary.  Even if it means undermining the foundational democratic structure upon which this country was built - the three separate but equal branches of government. 

Which are the Executive (President), Legislative (Congress) and Judicial (The Court). The idea being that each branch should be a check and balance on the other two. Power is therefore supposed to be equally divided among those branches.

As this pertains to the Supreme Court they have the ability to rule on the constitutionality of any laws the Legislative branch passes. This is truly a great system. It has worked pretty well over these past 200 years. 

Not that the Judicial branch is entirely apolitical.  Members of the Supreme Court are chosen by a sitting President and then vetted and approved by the Senate. A liberal President will choose liberal justices and a conservative president will choose conservative justices. The Senate has for the most part approved quailifed candidates of either political persuasion. Even as ideologues on either side of the political aisle have tried to subvert nominees that they didn’t like. As was the case with the conservative, Robert Bork - who was successfully boycotted. 

Most of the time, that ploy doesn’t work. So that an Antonin Scalia will be approved just as a Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be. What often happens is that a court will have a majority of one political philosophy or the other. Although sometimes a justice will surprise you and not be the reliable conservative or liberal they were thought to be. 

That is the way it works. And as indicated our system of government has been working pretty well.  

Be that as it may, occasionally circumstances will produce a court heavily weighted politically to one side. When that happens the court will make decisions that reflect that philosophy. 

How does that happen? When a justice that dies or retires needs to be replaced, choosing a nominee belongs to the sitting President. Approving him or her belongs to the Senate. The nominee is pretty much of the same political philosophy of the President. Who was elected by the people. His choice in theory represents the will of the people that elected him. That seems fair to me. Very democratic in fact. When Democrats are in power you will get the Ginsburgs. When Republicans are in power you will get the Scalias. 

That is the way it should work. Our system of government should reflect the will of the people. And if elections are about anything, they are about that. When there is a change of power from one party to to other, the Justices remain as do their political perspectives. Until a vacancy opens up. Then the sitting President of that time chooses - again reflecting the will of the people that elected him. And so it goes.

That is about to change. And that is where Liberal Orthodoxy comes in. Those who are Orthodox that way are so convinced of their moral and ethical rectitude that only a Liberal Supreme Court will do. A Conservative Court is a blasphemy! An unconscionable  aberration that will undermine morality and decency itself. Liberalism is their Halacha... their immutable god. 

Undermining all the progress that has been made over the past few decades must not be allowed. It can not be undone by those 'godless' conservatives. They must do what's necessary to change it back to the sanity and basic decency that Liberalism so obviously is. If the court has six conservatives and 3 liberals, (as it soon will) well all you have to do is add 4 more liberal justices. And the Supreme Court stays pure and pristine. As it was before.

To cite one example that Liberal Orthodoxy champions, it is the right of a woman to have an abortion if she so chooses. Or to put it the sanitized way they do - they campion a woman's  reproductive rights. Which sounds so much more civilized... so much more ethical. Who would deny anyone the basic right to choose when to have a child? Except that what they really mean is the right to kill the fetus of an unwanted pregnancy. A potential life - destroyed because it would disrupt her life. That is the moral and ethical position of Liberal Orthodoxy. That is what they want to protect. That is worth undermining the independence of the court. Turning it into a rubber stamp of their agenda.  

The current Democratic Presidential nominee has basically admitted to the media that he is considering doing exactly that! Explaining that he will not let all the progress that has been made be destroyed. 

What about about that half of the country that does not agree with Liberal Orthodoxy - those of us that have a different kind of Orthodoxy? What about those of us that believe in the sanctity of life and are not willing to support abortion on demand? 

They might answer the question with a question: What do bible thumping, gun toting ignoramuses know about ethics and morality anyway?! 

(For the record, I am actually in favor of keeping the procedure legal. For religious reasons. I do not want a Halachic decision requiring abortion to be against the law. But I am ethically opposed to the way Liberal Orthodoxy sees it.  Which is assuring the a right of a woman to kill her fetus on demand.) 

*Updated - to correct an error about abortion rights

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Acceptance of - or Changing One's Sexual Orientation

Rabbi Benny Lau (VIN)
Balance. That is one of the fundamental requirements of living in a world that is full of contradictions. I try to apply this concept in just about everything I do. No less on an issue like homosexuality. 

I have expressed my views on this subject many times. I will not go into detail here other than to say that I believe it is nearly impossible for someone who is attracted to members of the same sex (SSA) to change their sexual orientation.  Whether by nature or nurture trying to change that has proven to be a fool’s errand that could result in depression or suicide when unsuccessful. Which in the long term it almost always proves to be. 

That being the case, I have long ago advocated that people with SSA should be treated with dignity and should lovingly and warmly be accepted into our community - even if they end up committing the capital sin associated with homosexual behavior. 

Unless they publicly advocate such behavior and claim it to be normal, or pervert the Torah’s clear intent - claiming it to not be sinful at all – it is none of our business what goes on in the privacy of their own home. If a homosexual Jew wants to live an otherwise observant lifestyle he or she should be encouraged to do so regardless of who they are attracted to. And not be judged or summarily dismissed and rejected because of it. 

On the other hand if they treat their homosexuality as equal to heterosexuality and treat the sinful acts associated with it as completely normal and acceptable - that needs to be fully rejected. You cannot make something Kosher that is not Kosher. No matter how you feel about it. 

Which is one reason I am opposed to gay marriage.  Holy matrimony for a gay couple is an oxymoron. There is nothing holy about living together as husband and husband. Which is conducive to having a sinful sexual relationship. 

Balance. That is what I believe is the right approach here. Love the sinner. Hate the sin. You cannot love both. Nor should you hate both. 

Which brings me to Benny Lau, a prominent left wing modern Orthodox rabbi who recently made some controversial remarks on the subject. Here according to VIN is what he said: 

(P)eople with LGBTQ leanings should not be rejected by the orthodox world even if they choose to live with their spouse and do not try to change their sexual orientation. Lau claimed that if they are totally put off by normal marital status, they should not attempt to enter a regular marriage and added that he does not see a halachic issue in LGBTQ couples raising (children) together. 

I have been very critical of Rabbi Lau on other issues (such as the ordination of women). But I pretty much agree with him here. Except for the following. 

I have concerns about homosexual couples raising children. Since it would be practically impossible for a gay couple to transmit the idea that the sexual act most closely associated with gay men - is considered an abomination and a capital crime by the Torah. I would find it hypocritical to try and transmit that value to children (when they are old enough to understand it) - coming from parents that are likely engaging in that very behavior. 

Otherwise I have no problem with a gay couple raising a child. But the problem exists and I don’t know how a gay couple could possibly deal with it. Until that problem is solved, I would be against them raising children. 

I realize how painful it might be for a gay couple that wants to raise a child - to be denied that option. But sometimes life just isn’t fair. But it is not the end of the world. One can have a very productive and happy life even without children.  

That being said, I do have an issue with the anonymous writer in the VIN article. Here is what she opened with: 

“Today I thank G-d that I never met you, Rabbi Lau. You would definitely have told me that I can be orthodox and still flow with my feelings and leanings which “I was created with.” If I had taken your bad advice, all the wonderful things in my life would never have occurred. I read your letter with disgust and a feeling of frustration. 

First, it’s too bad that she feels so strongly about this that she was disgusted by Rabbi Lau. Which in my view indicates an unfair prejudice against a man whose only ‘crime’ here is a sympathetic view of gay people. But more importantly she expressed the idea that one’s sexual attractions can be changed. And she used herself as an example. 

I have to wonder, though, if she actually was gay. It appears that she only became ‘aware’ she was gay after a stint in the Israeli army. After slowly abandoning her religious Zionist upbringing she found herself sucked into the gay lifestyle. It was only then that she recognized her ‘true’ feelings. And apparently enjoyed being a part of that world. 

After awhile, at the urging of her parents she spoke to a Rebbetzin who eventually disabused her of her homosexual orientation. Fast forward today and she is happily married and lives with her husband, a Talmid Chacham, and her children. 

As indicated, I wonder if this young woman was ever really gay. Perhaps she was bisexual and was convinced by the arguments made by that Rebbetizin to focus only on the heterosexual side of her orientation. Or maybe she just tried out a  lifestyle that seemed to work for her at the time for a variety of reasons. Or maybe SSA for women is fundamentally different than it is for men. I honestly don’t know. 

In any case I highly doubt that this woman’s experience of being disabused from SSA would work for most gay people. On the contrary. Time and again conversion therapy has been proven to not be effective. In  has instead proven to be dangerous. I am very happy she found her true self. It’s just too bad that in the process someone like her that thought she was gay but was probably not - thinks she has proven that SSA can be changed. I don’t think she proved that at all.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

How Can Religious People Support the President?

Among friends (Jerusalem Post)
This morning on the CBS Morning News, a 94 year old Evangelical Christian woman in Ohio (a battleground state where there is currently a statistical tie between Trump and Biden) was asked who she voted for in 2016 and who she will be voting for in 2020. She answered that in 2016 she held her nose and voted for Trump, the lesser of two evils. But this year she indicated that she is enthusiastically voting for Trump. 

Her response was not all that surprising to me. It is no secret that the majority of Evangelical Christians supported Trump in the last election and are supporting him now. It is also no secret that Orthodox Jews are in the same category. An astonishing 80% of them. That support crosses all Hashkafic lines. Although Charedi support is the lion’s share of that 80%, a smaller majority of Modern Orthodox Jews support him too. I should also mention that the 20% that oppose him are very strong in that opposition and pretty vocal about it. 

The phenomenon of religious people choosing a candidate whose behavior and rhetoric is practically the antithesis of religious values is the conundrum of our day. 

Those that oppose Trump cannot understand how religious people can vote for such a person. But the fact is that they do. Despite the obvious deep theological differences between Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians they do share many of the same values. Values that are based on shared biblical values. 

The answer given by that 94 year old Evangelical Christian was that ‘God works in mysterious ways’. Not sure how that answered his question but then added that Mike Pence, Trump’s trusted vice president, is very religious, proudly so and that she hopes that will rub off on Trump.  (That is obviously did not happen yet and is not going to happen.) 

But the question remains. How can religious people support a man like that? I think the answer is quite obvious. It is not what the President says or how he acts that they look at. It is what he does that matters to them. It is the polices he has implemented (and those he has yet to implement) that  are important to them. Not the least of which is placing 3 conservative members on the Supreme Court - who will surely protect religious rights more than a liberal court would. Although I am personally opposed to government restriction of abortion rights, it is clear that religious people value the life of a fetus over a mother’s right to abort it at her own discretion. Overturning Roe v Wade is one of their great causes.  Which is a stated goal of the President.   

Interestingly Joe Biden is a religious Catholic. Catholics are more opposed to abortion than Orthodox Jews are. But he is clearly on the side of being pro choice – separating his own personal views from that of the law of the land – which he of course supports despite what are surely his personal religious feelings about it. 

Most voters might feel this way, too. But religious people tend not to separate church from state when deciding who to vote for. They will support the candidate that most closely reflects their religious values. 

There is also the matter of support for Israel. Israel is an important theological issue for both Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians. We believe that all of biblical Israel belongs in Jewish hands. Which of course includes the West Bank.  Giving up a single inch of biblical Israel is not an option to Evangelical Christians  and the more strident elements among religious Zionists.  

Even though many Orthodox Jews, myself included, agree in principle that we have a God given right to all of biblical Israel, I believe that compromise for the sake of saving Jewish life supersedes that right. But Evangelical Christians and the more right wing elements of religious Zionists are not willing to give up an inch of territory under any circumstances.  

So when the President moved the US embassy to Jerusalem and declared Jerusalem to be the eternal capital of Israel, Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians celebrated. 

And then there was the incomparable support of Israel by Nikky Haley - Trump’s ambassador to the UN. 

Add to that the US recognition of Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights, the abandonment of West Banks settlements as an issue, and getting two Arab nations to recognize Israel’s right to exist and getting them to establish diplomatic relations.. .well all of that is clearly a victory for those of us with biblical values who want to see Trump’s policies perpetuated. These policies fit very nicely into their  theological perspectives even though his character does not. 

And finally with respect specifically to Orthodox Jews, it doesn't hurt that so many of the people he has placed in important positions are themselves Orthodox Jews!

What about the President’s awful rhetoric and personal conduct ? Most religious Jews hate it. But see it as secondary to what is important to them – a policy that is generally far more favorable to our values. 

What about areas that are not necessarily tied religious values? And what about the relentless daily trashing he gets from the media? Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians are fully aware of it. But they do not see the President in the absolutely horrible terms in which the media consistently paints him. 

Just to mention one important non religious area. The media considers the President’s response to the pandemic a disaster - a total failure with no redeeming value. Almost as though he created the virus and could not care less how many people get infected or die. He is constantly portrayed at odds with his own COVID health team headed by the world class epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci. As though he does the exact opposite of their advice. Citing many examples of that.

That is a total falsehood. It is true that the President has been disagreeing with him a lot these days and even trashing him to some extent. But it is also true that at the very outset of the pandemic he has followed just about all of his COVID team’s recommendations.

When Dr. Fauci was asked if enough had been done with respect to the pandemic, he answered no. But then quickly added that his team had done everything they possible could. And that he didn't know what else they could have possibly done. Which of course the President had to sign off on and implement. 

It’s true that a Trump campaign ad misused that quote to imply that Dr. Fauci had approved of  everything the President has done. That too is false and he complained about it. The media doubles down on that and completely ignores the implication of Dr. Fauci’s comments that I just mentioned. 

They hang on Trump’s every negative word (and there are a lot of those) and report it without ever mentioning anything positive. 

This is how much of the religious world sees the media characterization of Trump. So they basically ignore it. As they do the President's rhetoric and personal conduct. Much of which has been pretty disgusting of late. They look only at the policies he’s implemented that reflect their religious values. And cheer. 

Orthodox Jews and Christians that oppose the President will argue that character matters much more than policy and that in any case Biden won’t be so bad. Or at least no worse than previous Presidents on both sides of the political aisle. Things were not so bad then and at least we had men of character leading the country.  

I’m not sure this fully explains why Evengelicals Christians and Orthodox Jews are so supportive of Trump. But the undeniable fact is - they do. 

One more thing. The way the media describes support for the candidates is that college educated voters tend to support Biden while voters without a college education support Trump. Which implies that Trump supporters are a bunch of ignorant fools while Biden supporters are well informed and intelligent. I think it would is a mistake to look at it that way. Unless you think 80% of Orthodox Jews are ignorant fools. Which is of course absurd. 

It is really a contest of values. As Evangelical Christian and Orthodox Jews see it - Biden’s character better reflects our values. But many of his polices do not. On the other hand Trump’s character does not reflect our values. It is the antithesis of those values. But many of his polices do. 

Which is more important? Depends who you ask.

None of this should be taken as support for President Trump. Whose re-election seems highly unlikely at this late date. It is meant only to explain the basis of the strong religious support for a man who is anything but!

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Man in the Mirror

New York State Assemblyman, Simcha Eichenstein (VIN)
My admittedly unsolicited advice to New York State Assemblyman, Simcha Eichenstein is to look in the mirror. He is but the latest prominent Orthodox Jew to hurl accusations of antisemitism against Governor Andrew Cuomo. To the best of my knwledge he is the first elected public official to do so. An official that is obviously Charedi. 

It is an accusation against a sitting governor who in the past has shown nothing but warmth to the very community from which assemblyman Eichenstein stems – and now represents. He implied that Governor Andrew Cuomo is an antisemite driven by hate. From VIN

Governor Cuomo has now used his national platform to spew his hate-driven messaging, going as far as to call Coronavirus an “orthodox jewish issue,” accusing the jewish community of not being willing to follow the rules, and entertaining anti-Semitic tropes such as calling the jewish community a “politically powerful community.” 

With such incendiary language, says Eichenstein, Cuomo is “shamelessly stoking the embers of anti-semitism.”

If anyone is stoking those embers, It is Eichenstein himself by imputing nefarious motives to Cuomo.  Although Cuomo could have been expressed it more delicately (if the language quoted by Eichenstein is accurate) Eichenstein surely knows those motives do not exist. Which means that Eichenstein is just another politician pandering to a constituency that actually believes they do exist. 

I generally have no quarrel with people that disagree with me. On the contrary, I like to hear opposing views on just about any subject. It tends to clarify and sharpen my own views. In some cases it actually inclines me to modify them. In rare cases it actually changes my views. 

But in this case, I find it hard to do that. Even though the issues that concern Eichenstein and his constituents are legitimate and deserve a fair hearing. It is hard because at the end of the day lives are at stake. 

This does not mean that those concerns should not be addressed. They absolutely should. Many of those concerns are important – even vital to their very real religious needs.  Needs that should not be summarily dismissed by government fiat. There is a delicate balance between health and education that needs to be addressed.

But the overriding concern should always be protecting the lives and health of the people he serves. When there is a conflict between health and - for example - religious education one must choose health. As vital as a religious education might be for a myriad of legitimate reasons, it is always secondary to protecting one's health. There should never be a compromise about that. Education can be delayed. Not protecting one's health is a dangerous proposition. From which - if postponed - one may not be able to fully recover if at all! 

To assume the governor and the health officials that guide his decisions do not understand the value of education is an assertion without an ounce of evidence. Nor is there evidence that even religious education is disregarded. That would imply a callousness that has never been shown by the governor or the people entrusted to protect our health. 

Being an educated professional does not automatically mean that one is a godless atheist. Even if that education is in the field of science or medicine. There are plenty of Orthodox Jewish scientists and plenty of Orthodox Jewish doctors. Most of them (at least those without a political agenda) tend to generally agree with the restrictions imposed on Orthodox communities in New York. They understand the science. They understand what is at stake. 

Now that the antisemitism card is being played - that may by itself spike an antisemitic backlash. It might be interpreted as a ploy by Orthodox Jews to get their way. Thereby endangering their neighbors with super-spreader events like the proposed (and now canceled) Satmar wedding of 10,000 invitees! Not an unreasonable fear. 

So as I said, if you want to know who is guilty of shamelessly stoking the embers of antisemitism, Simcha, you might want to look in the mirror.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Rechnitz, Tischler, Satmar, and Agudah

Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz (YWN)
It is a mistake to say that the heated debate over COVID-19 is between the Charedi world and everyone else. Although sometimes it seems that way.

The debate is just as strident among Charedi leaders as it among other communities. 

Which is why I am so alarmed by it. It isn’t a respectful disagreement. It is almost a war! It is about how each side sees the epidemiologists and the government officials they advise. Should we listen to their advice even though it has caused unbelievable hardships on our way of life? Or are they closet antisemites whose covert  antisentism has now come out of the closet in the form of using a manageable virus to force undue hardships on us! Thus justifying protests and some really disgusting rhetoric among some of us.

This in part is what Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz- a man with impeccable Charedi credentials - recently said about it: 

It is irrelevant that President Trump moved the American embassy to Jerusalem and helped Jews in other ways, we Yidden are putting ourselves in a bigger Makom Sakana every day. I doubt that there is even one Goy who saw or read about our current vile behavior and did not instantly forge an innate hatred for the Jews. They’re not evil, it’s called natural. Just remind yourself about some of your inner thoughts while watching the fatalities during the BLM “peaceful protests”.

The Goyim don’t necessarily have to care how many Jewish mortalities there will be in a specific shul, they are rightfully viewing this as a case where the Jews are being selfish, uncaring and above the law, which is causing an uptick in cases which will ultimately reach their own neighborhoods. “The Jews simply don’t care that we’re being killed”.

 This is and will remain direct causation of unadulterated anti-Semitism. To stir up anti-Semitism takes a lot less than this. We’re breaking records now. This behavior has never occurred by Jews in America.  

Wow! That is quite a comment coming from a Charedi Jew where many in that community are on the opposite side of this issue. A side that - through Agudah - sued the New York governor (unsuccessfully) for singling out Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods for increased restrictions. Claiming that those restrictions were unfair considering the actual data - among other reasons. 

And in a display of defiance there is the following from the Jerusalem Post

An estimated 10,000 people are expected to attend the wedding of the grandchild of the Satmar Rebbe in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn on Monday, CBS-affiliate WBCS reported Saturday. 

The wedding of the grandchild of Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitlebaum likely will have guests from Williamsburg and Rockland County, raising fears that coronavirus could spread in the area, the report said…

The New York City Sheriff’s Department has ordered the wedding be canceled or postponed if it is not limited to 50 people, WCBS reported. 

Heshey Tischler (NY Daily News)
Making matters worse is a fellow by the name of Heshy Tischler - a dangerous Buffon who is on the side of chaos and violence. And quite  clearly the catalyst for Charedi  journalist Jacob Kornbluh being attacked by the crowd he incited in an earlier Chasidic protest. He may believe he is on the right side of the issue and right to protest government restrictions. But that does not really matter. His recent behavior is so bad  Rechnitz called him an animal and Rodef. He also said the following about him:   

Unfortunately, Ltza’arenu harav, we have living amongst us a Behaima she’anenu tehora who is creating anarchy and chaos, which is being streamlined by the national media outlets. It shows indisputable proof that this self appointed, power hungry, inciter and demagogue Heshy Tischler who falsely claims that he represents us, is organizing demonstrations where we are to scream personal obscenities at the governmental authorities. “Dirty animals, Nazi’s, and Kapo’s” are just a few examples of this clowns overall limited vernacular.

If this seems like I’m taking this personally, it’s because I am. He’s putting my family and your families at risk, and he knows it. But that’s not reason enough for him to surrender his candidacy in a race where his support won’t even hit double digits. What changed our mindset so suddenly? How did we collectively all forget that we’re being closely watched? Who is prepared to give a Din V’cheshbon on this colossal CHILLUL HASHEM?  

This is not who we are. This is the antithesis of who we are!

I fully agree with his conclusion. Although I disagree with some of the things Rechnitz said in his YWN article I fully agree with his assessment of the Chill HaShem this type of behavior is causing: 

It isn’t just Tischler. It is those of us that are on the side of an issue that encourages the Heshy Tischlers of the world.  And by ‘encourage’ – I mean things like suing the New York governor as Agudah tried to do. 

Although Agudah executive vice president, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel was quoted in the New York Times calling Tischler an idiot and embarrassment, Agudah’s attempt to sue the governor implied that the protest was justified. And that is when the Heshy Tischlers of the world show up and take advantage of it. Now I am sure they will deny this with every fiber of their existence. But actions (the lawsuit) speak louder than words. Instead of suing - Agudah should have supported precautions the government urged upon their community.

I’m glad to see Tischler being called out by a highly respected Charedi activist who has a lot of influence in his community. And has been very generous in his support of it.  

Whatever valid considerations there might be to relax restrictions - they need to be put aside as the current level of COVID has spiked all over the world despite the best efforts of much of that world to prevent it. And virtually all epidemiological experts believe that this is only the beginning as the weather gets colder and we spend more time indoors. 

We ought not forget how many of us have already died because of COVID, some of whom were prominent Orthodox leaders and activists. Most of them would still be alive if not for that. How many more people need to die before ALL OF US take this pandemic more seriously?!

Friday, October 16, 2020

And the Chilul HaShem Keeps on Coming...

Satmar leader, Reb Meyer Rispler Z”L (YWN)
The ‘Who are you to tell us what to do?!’ crowd is once again causing a Chilul HaShem. At this point I have stopped worrying about the health hazard that this particular Chilul HaShem is surely causing. Not because I don’t care about the health and safety of my fellow Jews no matter how much I disagree with them. I do care. Very much! It’s just that it’s a ‘Bracha L’Vatalah’ - a wasted blessing. From JTA

A photo circulated on WhatsApp Tuesday showing a sign posted to the front of a business in Borough Park. “We are closed!” the sign said, listing a phone number for appointments and pickup. But in Yiddish, the sign gave another message: Enter through the side door.

Although the JTA is article was mostly about schools in certain neighborhoods defying New York State’s lockdown order because of a spike on COVID there, I wanted to focus on the attitude that is responsible for it. Which includes what that business did.

I wish I could say that this clear deception was a rare exception. But I have seen it too many times to believe that. Not that it is the rule either. But it is a lot more common than one might think. I recall one sign in the window clothing store in Williamsburg a few years ago that said Closed’ in English and ‘Open’ in Yiddish. At the time it made me laugh. But unfortunately it isn’t funny. Deception is a serious violation of Halacha. It is called ‘Geneivas  Daas’ which is considered stealing - forbidden by Halacha regardless of whether the victim is Jewish or not.

The fact is that some schools in certain mostly Chasidic neighborhoods are defying that order and keeping them open -  while pretending they are shut. Just like they did back when the pandemic first began.  

They think it’s worth the risk? Or perhaps they simply don't believe there is one. Making it sadly ironic because of what has been reported at YWN: 

The Satmar community was in mourning on Friday, when word spread of the Petira of their beloved Rosh Hakuhal in Williamsburg.

Reb Meyer Rispler Z”L (70), served as the Rosh Hakuhal (President) of the Satmar Kehillah in Williamsburg (Chassidim of Rav Aharon Teitelbaum Shlita). He contracted COVID-19 in late September, and was hospitalized. He was then placed on a ventilator, and R”L never recovered.

Needless to say - in my view they are seriously mistaken about the dangers of COVID (or more correctly their view of the lack of danger). But even if they were right about COVID, the idea of deceiving the government seems to be way too common. The mentality seems to be the following. If you can get away with it - go for it! Legal/Shmeegal. Who cares?! What’s more important - Feeding my family and paying the rent or giving it to a wasteful government? Why should I give up my hard earned cash to a system that spends it on people that have the values of an alleycat?!  

Lest anyone think I am making up this narrative. I am not. I have heard it all too often. 

Fortunately most Orthodox Jews do not feel this way. They feel the same way I do about it and condemn this attitude and the behavior it generates. But the only time the people that have this attitude regret it is when they get caught. I have no clue what the percentage of people like this is in those communities. But even if only one person does. It’s still causes a Chilul HaShem and is condemnable. And I can assure everyone that it is more than one person. Which the New York State Correctional Facility at Otisville will testify too. 

Just to be absolutely clear. This kind of thinking is not limited to Chasidim. It crosses all Hashkafic lines. As it does all of humanity. There have always been people that believe that if you can get away with something that is illegal but benefits you, why not? And then do so without any moral compunction. But I find the larger share of people like that live in Chasidic areas like Boro Park. As was the abovementioned case.

Unfortunately I don’t think anyone in the world of Orthodoxy will do about anything about it. Not even sure they can. Decades of indoctrination about how evil all gentile governments are is a hard thing to dissuade true believers of. Which leaves it up to the authorities And they will mete out justice as they see fit. 

If we don’t have the moral courage to  combat the potential Chilul HaShem that these archaic attitudes generate - with every thing we have, the entire Orthodox Jewish community will suffer. This kind of behavior has to stop. Or it will destroy us all.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

So Much for Europe's Superior COVID Response

A Covid-19 rapid test facility at Fiumicino Airport in Rome  (CNN)
Well… the inevitable has happened. The vaunted protective measures against COVID infections in European countries that everyone was so convinced was superior to ours has not prevented a second wave there. Some of those countries are reporting even higher positivity rates than we are. 

So much for comparing what the Trump administration has done to Europe.

It turns out that at the end of the day, the entire world is in the same ‘infectious boat’. I have been maintaining all along that the President is getting a bum rap about his response to COVID. Not that it has been all that great. It hasn’t. But I firmly believe that it wouldn’t have mattered that much who was President. The results would be the same. 

But that hasn’t stopped the Presidents political opponents – not the least of which is the media from saying exactly that! It is the President! That is who is at fault for where we are with respect to the pandemic. 

I realize of course that all the Trump haters are apoplectic just about now - filled with incredulity. How can I not see what is so plainly obvious to them?! But their prejudice is getting in the way of their objectivity. It wouldn’t have mattered that much even had Trump done exactly what France or the UK did. They are in the midst of a huge spike in COVID positivity. Possibly even greater than ours! 

As noted that doesn’t mean that Trump’s policies were that great. But other than hearing how inept the Trump administration has been - I have yet to hear what exactly they would have done differently. The one thing that all heath experts agree on is that wearing masks is currently the best known method of protection. And that if everyone would wear them, the positivity rate would be significantly reduced. So the President is blamed for not making that the required national policy - instead of only saying the people SHOUD wear them. The problem is that the President does not have to power to enforce such a rule. As Biden himself admitted when asked if he would do it when he becomes President. 

It is also clearly not correct to say that Trump did little to nothing. When America’s top epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci was asked to agree to that comment by an obviously biased reporter - he retorted that as a member of the President's COVID task force - that was absolutely false. 

There was a lot done and he listed much of what that was. He agreed that it wasn’t enough. But added that it was not the administrations fault. Saying as well that there is just so much that can be humanly done in a short amount of time. He also praised the unprecedented speed with which the federal government is going to make vaccines available to the public – although admitting that only a few million doses will be available by the end of the year, not the over 300 million that are needed. That, he said, will likely be available by April – assuming the expected results of the 5 large  phase 3 clinical trials currently taking place. 

Just to be clear. This has nothing to do with how I feel about the President. He has been the worst possible role model for this pandemic I could ever imagine a leader to be. But that doesn’t matter since the people spreading the disease right now probably could not care less about what the President says or does. They pay little attention to him. That is certainly true of  young people that mostly responsible. They tend to be liberal and hate Trump. And surely the Europeans spreading the disease are not his fans either. 

I am just about trying to keep it real. Despite the incredulity it is surely breeding among those to my political left who can’t stand the man. (Can’t wait to hear - or more correctly – read all the pushback  about why all this isn’t so.)    

What is also spiking is COVID hospitalizations and death. And so is pandemic fatigue which is one of the reasons why COVID is spiking. 

One of the things that is truly inexplicable to me is how so many of the supposedly bright people among us are saying that they are ignoring the precautions advised by health experts because those experts ultimately don’t know what there are talking about – citing the constant changes in what they tell us to do. The favored example of which if their original claim that masks don’t help - but are now saying masks are the best method of protection. 

Instead of erring on the side of caution and doing even more than they suggest, their answer is to do less! If that isn’t the stupidest rationalization for ignoring the best available information about how to protect oneself, I don’t know what is. If you thinK health professionals don’t know enough, you protect yourself more. Not less! Certainly suing the governor for requiring observance of those measures is the wrong thing to do. But that is exactly what is happening. From Homodia

Three shuls in Rockland County have filed a lawsuit against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions on houses of worship due to a COVID-19 uptick, alleging an unconstitutional violation of religious and other liberties. 

The suit was filed Wednesday evening by attorneys Ronald Coleman and Harmeet Dhillon, on behalf of Cong. Yeshuas Yaakov and Rabbi Moshe Rosner of Monsey; Cong. Oholei Shem D’Nitra and Rabbi Samuel Teitelbaum of Spring Valley; and Cong. Netzach Yisroel and Rabbi Chaim Leibish Rottenberg of Monsey. 

Religious liberty? Sure. But as Rabbi Gil Student noted in commenting on this article on his website:

This is important but even more important is stopping the big weddings, shul kiddushes, mask-optional shuls, etc.

What these foolish Shuls are really doing is suing for their right to get sick and die. I cannot imagine anything much more stupid than fighting measures designed to protect their health - and their very lives in some cases. 

Nor do I understand the selfishness of taking a chance on exposure under assumption that he vast majority of those that do get infected - recover with little to no negative after-effects and in a great many cases, no symptoms at all! They are oblivious to the reality of inadvertent transmission to others more vulnerable where the dangers of serious illness or death is far greater. That is the pattern taking place all over the country where gatherings are taking place.

I guess that the the best way to recognize these realities is if you have suffered through them yourself. Which explains the following from the Jerusalem Post:

In a sharp and unequivocal rebuke to large sectors of the ultra-Orthodox community, the Grand Rabbi of the Karlin-Stolin Hassidic community in Givat Ze’ev, Rabbi Baruch Meir Yaakov Shochet, has lambasted the failure to comply with health regulations for the COVID-19 [https://www.jpost.com/coronavirus] pandemic.The rabbi, who has been one of the only hassidic grand rabbis to instruct his community to strictly observe coronavirus health instructions since the beginning of the crisis, said that parts of the ultra-Orthodox community were ignoring the “simple” and “foundational” Jewish principle of saving lives, and said he was astonished at such “contempt” for the lives of others.

Other than what seems to be the rare exception of a survivor of COVID like the Grand Rabbi of the Karlin-Stolin - this is pure denial. Which may come at a very high cost. One they may regret having had to pay.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Do We Live up to our Billing as a Wise People?

New Rules in New Square (Dusizneis)
One thing none of us should ever do is laugh at the customs of others. And yet I find it almost too difficult to hold back if the new Takanos (rules) of New Square listed in the pictured poster are legitimate and not someone’s idea of a joke. 

I say ‘almost’ because the consequences of these rules are not funny. They are requirements of a Shaliach Tzibur (an individual leading a prayer service). Required even for those Halachicly required to lead - if they are capable of it – on the yearly anniversary of the death of a parent (Yahrzeit).  Here are those rules in translation  from Dusizneis

1. …you (may not) trim your beard.

2. You must dunk into the mikva that very day.

3. You must wear a "gartel' (special belt) but it cannot be from the same material of the clothes that you wear

4. You (may not) have any smartphone, computer, tablet that doesn't have a filter

5. …you (may not) use social media, such as whatsapp (without a filter), twitter, instagram etc 

I understand that each religious community is entitled to their own customs. We should respect that. But to deny permission to lead the service to someone required to do so - because (for example) he trims his beard or wears the wrong kind of Gartel seems to not just be absurd, but seems to contradict Halacha.

I have been very critical of this particular Chasidus before. For far more important reasons than this. So it does not surprise me that much. But it does add to my belief about how far removed  they are from normative Judaism. And because of how isolated they are from the rest of the world, I’m sure most of them don’t even realize it. Or don’t care. Or both.   

Rav Avrohom Pinter (Yahoo News)
New Square Chasidus is one type of Charedim. There other types of Charedim. Like Rav Avrohom Pinter of Stamford Hill - the Charedi section of London. Not that he didn’t have critics in his own community for some of the things he did in the past. But there is no doubt about his Charedi credentials. Nor any question in my mind about the heroics that took his life. From YahooNews: 

When the British government ordered a lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus, Pinter went door-to-door in northeast London to deliver the public health warning to the ultra-Orthodox Jews in his community. Within days, the 71-year-old rabbi had caught COVID-19 and died. 

I will not second guess his decision to do something he must have known was dangerous to his health. But I have nothing but admiration for his motives and determination to spare his community from this highly contagious; very deadly disease. I’m sure there are many things we disagreed upon. But when it comes to doing things for his community, I can’t hold a candle to him. 

Dayan R' Asher Weiss (Wikipedia)
There is yet another hero in the Charedi world that has the courage to tell it like it is. As I have mentioned in the past, Rav Asher Zelig Weiss is one of the most widely respected Poskim in Orthodoxy. Both the Charedi world and Modern Orhtodox world (Centrists)  have relied on his Halachic expertise. From the Jewish Press here (in translation) is part of a recently published  statement: 

“Shame covers our faces as there isn’t a day whose curse isn’t worse than the day before, and every single day the victims of this disease depart, including Rebbes, Roshei Yeshivas, great teachers of Torah, and rank and file Jews, and thousands are groaning in pain and suffering. And we cannot claim, ‘Our hands didn’t spill this blood.’ 

This is the right attitude. We must look inward and not blame everyone else for our troubles. It is apparently pretty clear to Rav Weiss (and to me) that there were people that died needlessly because too many of us were not as careful as we should have been.

Not that I should need to repeat myself so many times. But I have no choice because the laxity on the part of so many of us - regardless of Hashkafa - keeps increasing! The virus is still here. People are still getting sick and dying. We need to keep up and perhaps even increase our resolve to stay as safe as we possibly can under the circumstances we are given.

To keep hearing the denial about how serious this plague still is makes me wonder just how wise a nation the Jewish people really are!