Friday, May 24, 2019

Denial is Our Enemy

Amudim founder and CEO, Rabbi Zvi Gluck
They have been hurt. By members of our own community. Unfortunately sex abuse is as prevalent in Orthodox Jewish circles as it is anywhere else. I wish I could say that a religious Jew would never do that kind of thing. …that someone raised in a religious home, attended a religious school, has a loving family and lives a religious lifestyle is incapable of this kind of behavior.

But the fact is that such people do exist. And they are a danger to our community. And by ‘our’ I mean ever possible Orthodox Hashkafa one can imagine, from the most right wing Charedi to the mos let wing modern Orthodox Jew. There have unfortunately been far too many people like that who have been guilty of sex abuse. Shockingly so in some cases as they were sometimes considered pillars of their religious community with long time good reputations.

By now none of this should be new. We have evolved somewhat from a state of denial to one where we admit it can and even does happen. The problem is in actually believing it when it is someone we know. It’s easy to ‘say’ that such people can be guilty of it. But when the accused is actually someone we know, we tend to be in a state of disbelief. How could this man who is such an integral part of our community; someone who has been a part of it for perhaps decades; someone whose reputation has been impeccable up to this point… How can this fellow be guilty of what some teenager accused him of?

Denials of this sort are built into our DNA. Including the DNA of our rabbinic leaders. No matter how Ehrlich; no matter how honest; no matter how kind and giving that rabbinic leader is..., the tendency to not believe anything evil about a person they have known for decades to be everything his public images says he is… is going to taint his ability to evaluate any charge brought against him.

Which is why when sexual abuse happens it must be reported to people that are not part of that community. People that are experts with nothing to gain by covering it up. People that will be impartial and evaluate the accusations to see if they are credible without any preconceived ideas about the accused. Without knowing his reputation. 

Only an impartial and objective individual with expertise in these matters should be trusted. They know how to be discrete. They know how to investigate without necessarily ruining someone’s reputation until they can ascertain the facts. Or at least enough credible evidence to arrest and bring him to trial.

One of the most powerful videos I have ever seen which in this case is directed at the Orthodox Jewish community was just released by Amudim. It needs to be watched, not only by the entire Orthodox Jewish public, but by its rabbinic leaders. It clearly demonstrates the state of denial many of our leaders tend to be in when confronted with accusations of abuse against one of the pillars of their community. 

This video should disabuse them of that prejudice. And it should also make them realize just how powerful their state of denial can be – when accusations are against someone they know well and have respected for many years.

They need to admit their own bias and redirect the accusers to authorities that are impartial and equipped to accurately evaluate those accusations.

This has nothing to do with how Ehrlich these leaders are. In fact it is the very trait of Chesed that most of them have that may lead them astray. They tend to care about the repercussion to the accused and to his family. Accusations like this can ruin the accused’s life for good. As well as ruin the lives of his family.  But  that compassion is misdirected. They are right to worry about the possibility of false accusations. But that unfairly biases how they view the accusers. They need to acknowledge that and recuse themselves from anything to do with the accused and the accusers.

I have to once again express my admiration for Amudim founder and CEO, Rabbi Zvi Gluck. He has helped many Orthodox Jews that have bee abused. He has also managed to be a catalyst for change in attitudes about sexual abuse among us. He works within the system thereby making an impact he would otherwise never have been able to do as an outsider. This is quite an accomplishment!

If I had once criticism of survivor advocates. It is their tendency to find fault even in positive developments like this video. This has happened here in a Facebook post. I understand their reluctance to trust organizations working within the system. Many survivors have been hurt as much by the way the system has reacted to them as they have by the abuse itself. 

So when something is produced by the religious community, it almost always comes with some criticism.

It’s not that I blame them. They have lost confidence in Orthodoxy because of the above mentioned history. But they are wrong. Instead of finding fault with this powerful video they should be doing what I am – making it available to every Orthodox Jew in the world. Including (and perhaps especially) the Orthodox leadership. 

I believe that this video will help nudge Orthodox leaders towards realizing their own bias and edge them a bit more towards recusing themselves from making any decisions on the matter. And to hopefully refer all accusations to the authorities. I don’t know if this will push them over that line. But I also know that victims advocates that constantly criticize even positive developments (which they admit this is) will have the opposite effect.


Thursday, May 23, 2019

Measles, Chasidim, and Antisemtism

(Daily Voice)
Measles is no joke. Neither is antisemitism. Unfortunately these two terrible things have collided over the last few months. The question is whether there really is antisemitism behind the fear of measles?  I don’t think that question can be answered with any degree of clarity.

It all started with ‘Patient Zero’. An individual from a foreign country that was infected with the Measles virus but was unaware of it - traveled to a community heavily populated with religious Jews, mostly Chasidim. Measles is very contagious. The virus can remain in the air and on surfaces  for up to 2 hours – long after the infected individual has left. Patient Zero attended a wedding where hundreds of people were present. He mingled freely with them all, including dancing in a cramped space with many other attendees. A massive outbreak has followed.

So many people in these communities have been affected that places like Williamsburg, New Square, and Boro Park are considered the epicenter of the disease.

Why are these communities so vulnerable? Some of the blame goes to antivaxxers. Although the percentage of antivaxxers in those communities is relatively the same as it is in other communities – the fact is that more people living in those communities have been infected than in any other community. 

There is a nationwide measles epidemic in 23 states! If the percentage  of antivaxers is approximately the same in all areas of the country, why is the lion’s share of measles happening in the Chasidic areas of New York?

Obviously the antivaxxers are in part responsible for that. Just as they are in other states where Chasidim are not a factor. If enough people refuse to vaccinate their children  there will be an increase in measles by people who did not vaccinate. The highly contagious nature of the disease combined with the long incubation period before symptoms appear, and the fact that the virus stays airborne for up to 2 hours is a prescription for a fast and wide spread of the disease. 

There are also people that cannot be vaccinated for legitimate reasons (e.g allergies to the vaccine or babies to young to vaccinate, cancer patients on chemo whose immune systems are compromised...). They are the most vulnerable. Among them are those where the danger is so great that serious and permanent health issues can develop. Even death!

So why are these mostly Chasidic areas of New York so much more vulnerable than people in other states?

I believe it the population density of those areas. When combined with antivaxxers we should not be surprised at these results.  I think that is what happened – and is still happening. I’m surprised there aren't even more people infected with the measles. Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, a Bris, a Vort, synagogue attendance (especially on Shabbos), shopping in crowded supermarkets any day of the week, but especially close to Shabbos... all add up to a lot of exposure. A lot more people will get the disease and then pass it on to others geometrically.

At this point, I’m not even sure that getting 100% vaccination compliance would help that much. There are just too many people in those areas that have the disease right now, Many of whom don’t even realize it yet!, 

What to do about this is beyond my pay grade.  But one thing is certain, anyone healthy enough to be vaccinated that is not allergic to the vaccine, must get vaccinated. Unfortunately that is not going to happen. The antivaxxers do not want to be confused with the facts. They have made up their minds. Vaccines are worse than measles. End of conversation. 

Meanwhile New York health officials have come up with a few ways to help reduce the spread of measles by requiring unvaccinated children to stay home – forbidding them entry into a school building! Those doing so are subject to  stiff fine. Some schools that have violated this rule have been shut down. Other than that... what to do about it is  anybody’s guess!

Which brings me to the antisemitism side of this issue. There are a lot of people that see reports  about the epicenter of measles being in these communities and believe that religious Jews - especially Chasidim - don’t vaccinate their children. And they are therefore responsible for the spread of the disease. The truth is that they do vaccinate their children (except for the small number of antivaxxers). On the other hand the disease is spreading beyond the borders of those communities.

I’m having a hard time seeing antisemitism behind the fear of contracting measles from a community so heavily infected by the disease. I don’t really blame anyone from boycotting those areas – or establishments frequented by those residents. 

The problem is in generalizing. Just because those communities of Chasidim are highly infected – does not mean Chasidim in other areas are infected. And yet it is sill understandable how a mistake like that can be made. I personally don’t see the fear of contracting measles from people that look like they come from a neighborhood heavily infected with measles as antisemitism. It is a fear of measles that they are against. Not the Chasidim themselves or their religious values.

This fear has caused many people to boycott all  establishments that are frequented by Chasidim from those communities. Frankly, I wouldn’t set foot into a supermarket in Williamsburg or Boro Park right now if you paid me! Am I antisemitic?

On the other hand it might be antisemitic to see every single Chasidic Jew as a likely carrier of the disease, no matter what part of the country they are in. If Chasidic Jews in Chicago are boycotted  for that reason ii that antisemitic? It might be because of the mistaken notion that Chasidim do not – as a religious principle – vaccinate. Is that kind of generalization antisemitic? Not sure.

That said there probably is some degree of antisemitism involved. Prejudice against difference is a fact of life. Chasidim look different. And that kind of prejudice is wrong and antisemitic. How much of this can be attributed to legitimate fear or antisemitism is a question, I’m not sure anyone can answer. The following video will shed some additional light on this issue.


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"There Has to be Something!"

Don McGhan (New York  Magazine)
I don’t get it. I really don’t. I can’t understand why it is that - after 2 years of a deep probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller saying in an over 400 page report he found nothing indictable about the President - why is it that Democrats can’t just leave it at that? Why must they recall witnesses that spent many hours testifying before the special counsel to re-testify before them? Do they think Special Counsel Robert Mueller over which so many of them fawned throughout his 2 year long investigation with unlimited resources is suddenly inept or dishonest? Even after so much praise and credibility they gave him in both of those things?

And why is it only Democrats that are so consumed with this? Why aren’t Republicans demanding the same things?

I think the answer is obvious. Same answer as before. They were all in a state of complete disbelief when their predictions about what the Mueller probe would find never materialized. How could that be?! The evidence they already knew about was surely enough damning enough to prove Trump guilty of indictable crimes. After 2 years and hundreds of hours of testimony - how could Mueller come to the conclusion that there wasn’t enough? 

They are not going to let a little thing like disappointment with the results of Mueller Probe stop them. They want Trump out. And by golly they are going to find a way to do it – no matter what they have to do to make that happen. 

They will recall every witness and cross examine them six ways from Sunday until they find something to pin on the president. They will subpoena anyone with any connection to Trump to find dirt on him. They will subpoena his tax returns many years before his election to see if they can find any wrong doing there. There has to be something they can find somewhere with a guy like this.

What gets me is the righteous indignation expressed by these political phonies. They constantly claim that it’s all about their congressional oversight duty. That is how they have expressed their umbrage about the refusal of witnesses like Presidential Counsel Don McGhan  to honor their subpoenas. How dare he refuse a subpeona that congress has every right to issue. McGhan and other Trump advisers have spent many hours testifying to the Special Counsel. Trump has had enough. How can anyone blame him from not allowing what amounts to  a political witch hunt after a 2 year thorough investigation where he allowed all those same witnesses to testify to their hear'ts content. Which they did. 

And now Democrats want to do it again?!

If I ever had any doubts about true motives of politicians being anything but partisan, this has eliminated them. I have no respect for Democrats now. Just as I had no respect for Republicans when they did it to Bill Clinton. 

This is nothing more than about finding a way to get rid of a man whose conservative political policies are anathema to them. The Supreme Court having changed the from the liberal course it has been on for decades to one that is conservative is the prime example of what sticks in their craw. For example - they see abortion on demand as the inherent right of every woman to do what they want with their own bodies. What they don’t see is that there is another life involved. The new Court is poised to change all that. (Not that I am in favor of it. I am actually opposed to reversing Roe V. Wade for reasons beyond the cope of this post. But so too - am I opposed to the idea of abortion on demand for no reason other than a woman’s right to do so. The hell with the fetus.)

Make no mistake about it. Democrats are using Trump’s overtly despicable character as a springboard for eventual impeachment – their righteous indignation is a facade disguised as doing their due diligence in congressional oversight.

The sad part for me is that everyone doesn’t see it that way. Including the mainstream media that presents the Democratic point of view with more validity than the Republican point of view – all while trying to sound objective. 

With the country split pretty much along liberal-conservative lines, it should be no surprise that the Democratic way of seeing things is the majority view of the country. The way the media presents these issues surely influences many people.

For me the partisan nature of all this is so obvious that I cannot (as I said) understand why everyone else doesn’t see it the way I do. 

But they don’t. Liberals will surely side with Democrats and conservatives will side with Republicans. And they will each use their political talking points to make their case. Just as was the case with Clinton 20 years ago.  Only today  the partisanship is worse than ever. And nothing is getting done. Thank you Nadler and Schiff!

Wouldn’t it be nice if it were the issues congress was focusing upon instead of trying to get the goods on the President? I think it would.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Tolerance - Not Normalization

Lori Lightfoot being sworn in - as wife and daughter look on (The Gazette)
I never thought I would ever hear which day of Sefiras HaOmer it was during an inauguration ceremony of a Chicago mayor. But that is exactly what I heard yesterday at the inauguration ceremony of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

I have no clue about the religious status of Rabbi Capers J. Funnye. I don’t even know if - as a convert – whether he is technically Jewish by Orthodox standards or not - let alone a rabbi.

But yesterday he sounded more Orthodox than many Orthodox rabbis I have heard on similar occasions. He was one of many clerics invited to offer a prayer at the ceremony yesterday. He spoke about the current religious season of the Jewish people. (The vast majority of whom do not have a clue about.) Heavily sprinkled with Hebrew he spoke about Pesach, Sefira, Matan  Torah,  Moshe and Aharon – and concluded with the Bracha for Mayor Lightfoot that the descendants of Aaron were given for purposes of blessing the Jewish people. (Which many of us use to bless our children every Shabbos.)

I was quite amazed by that. But that is not really the subject I wanted to talk about today. Just wanted to mention it because I thought it was pretty cool.

For those that don’t know, Lori Lightfoot is the first black openly gay woman to be the mayor of Chicago. To the best of my knowledge she if the first person of that description to be mayor of any major US city.

I voted for her. Of the two people running, she was the obvious better choice for me. I was not alone. She was elected by landslide. All 50 wards in Chicago voted for her. Including the heavily Orthodox 50th  Ward where Debra Silverstein - an Orthodox Jewish woman serves as alderman.

Why I voted for her is not the issue. The issue is how normalized leading a gay lifestyle has become. Mayor Lightfoot’s wife and Chicago’s new first lady, Amy Eshleman, is a white (and I believe Jewish) woman. They have a beautiful adopted daughter and what seems to be a happy and loving family relationship. There was hardly any commentary about it by the news people I heard reporting that event - other than mentioning it in passing and saying just how wonderful it is that living a gay lifestyle in Chicago has become so normal and accepted.

It’s hard not to see Lightfoot that way. But the fact is that living a gay lifestyle is still considered seriously sinful behavior by all three major faiths. The Torah considers Mishkav Zechor (the common mode of sexual intercourse between 2 males) to be a capital offense. (Although female homosexuality is a lesser sin and certainly not a capital offense, it is still considered sinful. The point is that society makes no moral distinction between male and female homosexuality. In both cases it has been completely normalized.)

This is the same Torah that Christians follow. Even their ‘new testament’ forbids it. Homosexuals are even executed in some Muslim countries.

(As an aside – even though Jewish Law considers it a capital offense - it was extremely difficult to convict anyone of it back in the day when we had the power to do so. There are so many requirements for a court to convict and execute someone that it was rarely ever done. Today it would be impossible to do so. There is no way we can execute anyone today. But that does not mitigate the severity of the sin.)  

And yet despite the religious tenets of all three faiths it has become normal in the western world today. It is as though the American people has decided to excise those verses from the bible because we now have our own new moral sensibilities. God’s laws are the ones now deemed immoral!

This is not God forbid to say that we ought to persecute gay people. On the contrary. We need to give them the respect due to all human beings created in the image of God. We need to realize that same sex attraction exists. And that it is rare if not impossible for a person’s sexual nature to change.  And even for those that act upon it, we are in no position to judge – or even know exactly what goes on in their bedroom. As I have said countless times, we are not God’s accountants. Sins that are done in private are between the sinner and God. And should be left to God. 

But that does not mean normalizing it. And by virtue of the fact that gay people can now get legally married, that is exactly what western civilization has done.

I believe that abandoning biblical values and substituting our own subjective ones can hurt the human race. Once human reason replaces God’s laws evil can easily prevail. There are all kinds of thought systems that make perfect sense from the perspective of rational thought and yet can easily descend to pure evil.

For example the idea that one race is superior to another can easily be rationalized. That was what Nazism was all about. Depending on what measures one uses, one can easily say that a particular race is superior. And that inferior races are so problematic that they need to be eradicated in order to secure a better future for the superior race. Once that race is eliminated, the world will be far better off. It might even be considered immoral to allow the inferior race to diminish the welfare of the superior race. Germany was nothing if not a more civilized and advanced society than the rest of Europe. That is what happens when you allow human reason to prevail over God’s laws. Germany chose genocide as the best means to achieve a positive outcome for its ‘superior’ people!

I am not saying that normalizing a gay lifestyle will end up with genocide. All I am saying is that we ought to not always allow our own rational thoughts about right and wrong to prevail. Especially when it contradicts God’s laws.

Bottom line - there is a difference between tolerance and understanding on the one hand – and normalization and glorification on the other. In my view the former is right and the latter is wrong. (Which is why I am against gay marriage.)

There are unfortunately a lot God’s laws that have been abandoned in our world today. Immorality is not only tolerated, it is glorified by Hollywood. We have gone from a society of monogamous relationships where sex between a man and a woman was reserved for marriage - to a society where a man and a woman will not marry each other until they find out if they are sexually compatible. The thinking now is: ‘How can you marry someone unless you know that?’

That is what is we have descended to as a nation.

Normalizing the gay lifestyle is a another step down that road. And that – among other things - is what yesterday’s inauguration said to me.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Jews, America and Poland

Polish Prime Minister,Mateusz Jakub Morawiecki (Jerusalem Post)
There was some antisemitic vandalism in Chicago over the weekend.  There was an attempted arson at Anshe Sholom, a synagogue in the Lakeview neigborhood. There was also vandalism outside a Shul in my own Rogers Park neighborhood. Those incidents are being investigated by the police and the FBI. No one was hurt and the damage was minimal.

One might say that this is further evidence that antisemitism is alive and well in this country. Unfortunately that is true. What is equally true is that all it takes is one. One antisemite can do a lot of damage. As we know all to well from the events in Poway, California a few weeks ago and the events in Pittsburgh before that. In each of those cases one individual was responsible for death, destruction and pain. The measure of a nation’s antisemitism is not in what a few hateful individuals do. It is in how its society reacts to it. Which in the case of America could not be a better reflection of what his nation is all about: One nation, under God, with Liberty and justice for all.

And yet I cannot get over how many people use these events and others like it to ‘prove’ just how antisemitic America is. It is almost as though there is a siege mentality among far to many of us that sees events like this as a harbinger of yet another Holocaust, God forbid. How many times have I heard a Jewish public figure say it’s 1939 all over again?!

Well, it isn’t. Yes, antisemitic acts have increased. But not antisemitism. What has happened is that the few antisemites that do exist in this country have been emboldened to act. Why that is the case is a serious question that needs to be addressed. One might blame presidential rhetoric for that. Which may or not be a factor. But this is not really the subject I want to discuss.

I want to reiterate my complete confidence in the American people. The vast majority of whom are not only NOT antisemitic, but Philosemitic. American Jews that believe we are hated by our fellow non Jewish citizens need to be disabused of that notion.

Not long ago, I had a conversation with some close friends where I made these points. They all immediately jumped all over me asking how I could say that! Wasn’t it obvious to me how antisemitic this country was by the increased number of antisemitic incidents?  A short whole later one of those friends told a story of how his car got stuck in the mud late at night a few days before and he couldn’t pull it out. Moments later someone saw what was happening pulled up and jumped out of his car to help. He managed to somehow get that car out of the mud. My friend was wearing a Kipa. The ‘good Samaritan’  was not Jewish. He saw a fellow human being in trouble and instinctively helped him out. That is the real America, I noted. Not the antisemitic one he imagined it to be. 

I bring all of this up in contrast to the inherent antisemitism that has always defined Europe. Especially Poland even in our own day. What makes Polish antisemitism even more insidious is their denial of it. Which is kind of like Louis Farrakhan denying it. Actions speak louder than words. Especially when it comes from public officials high up on the totem pole of public service.

There are at least 3 incidents that sadly reflect that reality. One happened a while back when Poland made it illegal to call Auschwitz a polish death camp. (That law has since been rescinded).  Another incident happened during a political debate. From VIN
Former Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Anna Fotyga was presenting her party’s views when a man approached her from behind and placed a Jewish skullcap above her head as she was speaking, Amichai Stein from KAN reported.
Fotyga is a member of the current ruling Law and Justice Party [PiS].
“They [PiS] bow down to Jews,” the man reportedly said. “They will sell this country for money.” 
 
The 3rd incident is perhaps the most antisemitic of all. Poland’s Prime Minister has made one of the most outrageous nonsensical comments I can imagine. From the Jerusalem Post
Poland refuses to provide restitution for Jewish property taken during World War II when the country was under Nazi control, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said over the weekend, explaining that such a move was akin to making Hitler victorious. 
I suppose he thinks that since it was Hitler who confiscated property from the Jewish people, the Poles that moved into those homes are not culpable and therefore have a right to keep them. How dare the original Jewish owners claim any rights to that property?!

Really? They think it’s OK for their people to steal Jewish property because someone else stole it first?  The  original owners are not entitled to be compensated? Just because they were not thrown out by the current occupants… who benefited at the hands of their Nazi occupiers over 70 years ago?

Lest anyone think it is only Polish public officials that are antisemitic, that is far from the case. My father, a Holocaust survivor, used to tell me that Poland was far more antisemitic than Germany. He lived there and ought to know. That was true even after the Holocaust. Here is what happened to him.

After our people were liberated, many of them tried to reclaim their homes. But they were rebuffed by the polish squatters that moved in to them. My own parents tried to re-establish their lives in Poland then, only to have numerous pogroms hurled at them by local residents. They apparently could not care less about the atrocities their fellow Jewish citizens suffered. They still hated Jews and wanted them to know it. That’s when my parents decided to immigrate to this great country.

That is what Polish antisemitism looked like then and what it looks now. Not much has changed. I could not be more grateful to God for guiding my parents in making their decision to live here in America… and leaving that cesspool known as Poland far behind as a distant painful memory.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Litzman Must Go!

Deputy Heath Minister Yaakov Litzman at a recent press conference (TOI)
“Any appeal I receive from a person asking for help, I don’t ask, are they a sex offender or not a sex offender,”

“Every request I receive, regardless of who it is, I take care of it.”

This comment was made by Yaakov Tessler, a former aide to Deputy Health Minister, Yaakov Litzman. I’m sure he was simply restating his former boss’s position.

I used to have a soft spot for Litzman. By most accounts he has been a very effective health minister. His polices have benefited all Israelis, secular and religious. He commanded the respect of all Israelis for his service and was so effective at his job that for a while he became Health Minister (dropping ‘Deputy’ from his title). That made him one of the most powerful politicians in Israel.

That was quite an accomplishment for a Charedi politician. First because to the best of my knowledge no Charedi politician has ever been a member of the Israeli cabinet.  And 2nd because this was an exception made by Charedi leaders in their Hashkafic policy of never serving in a cabinet position .

He has since resigned and returned to his deputy position in protest over Israel’s draft laws. But for all practical purposes he is the Health Minister since there is no one carrying that title. He is the man at the top.

Unfortunately recent actions by Litzman have made me lose that soft spot. Because he apparently has his own soft spot for convicted pedophile rapists and perhaps even convicted murderers – at least if they are Charedi. The Times of Israel reports the following: 
Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman allegedly helped at least 10 serious sex offenders obtain improved conditions, including home visits and other benefits, by pressuring state psychiatrists and prisons service officials, according to a report Tuesday. 
This follows the revelation a few moths ago that Litzman interceded on behalf of Malka Leifer, a former religious girls high school principal in Australia. Facing 74 counts of sexually abusing  her students Liefer fled to Israel. All attempts at extradition have thus far been thwarted. Litzman who has interceded on her behalf has been accused of trying to get state psychiatrists to falsify their evaluations of Leifer’s mental state by saying that she was mentally unfit for trial and therefore not to be extradited.

Litzman denies all these reports calling them ‘lies and slander’. But that belies his own admission of trying to help any citizen that appeals to his office for help. Trying to get state psychiatrists to lie about their psychiatric evaluation of an accused pedophile goes just a ‘wee bit’ beyond helping Israeli citizens.

Litzman apparently feels that rapists and murderers deserve compassion too if they are Charedi. What about compassion for the victims and their families? Does he not understand that being kind to the cruel ends up being cruel to the kind? How does he think the victims and their families feel about what he is doing? Where is his compassion for them?

How can someone who defines himself as being Chareid L’Dvar HaShem (fearing the word of God) not follow the example of God Himself who is a Rachum V’Chanun? We are a people who have compassion in our blood dating back to the patriarchs? What Litzman is doing is the opposite of that disguised as compassion. His compassion if for the tormentors. Not for the tormented who need and deserve his compassion. How can it be that someone like that misses the mark by so much?

I don’t really know the answer to that. But Litzman is a Gerrer Chasid. It is unfortunately a characteristic of Ger Chasidus that protects their own no matter how vile one of ‘their own’ might be.

This has nothing to do with anti Chasidic bias. It has to do with demonstrable fact as the following example will illustrate.

Avreimel Mondrowitz is a Gerrer Chasid and a notorious pedophile. Here is what he did to earn that reputation.

Mondrowitz advertised in the Jewish Press posing as a psychologist (which was a lie – he never attended college,  never received any training, and created false degrees from prestigious universities that he hung on his wall). The ad read something like ‘Psychology Al Pi Halahca’. 

Religious parents would send him children in need of therapy. He groomed  countless numbers of them into becoming his rape victims - many of them via Mishkav Zechor! His sex abuse was so prolific that over the years his victims included Jews and non Jews alike. Until he was caught.  

He fled to Israel and has been living a full life  free to go where he pleases and do what he pleases with whomever he pleases. The US tried to extradite him and has failed every time they tried.  Ger pulled out all the stops to prevent that and succeeded

There is little doubt about Mondrowitz’s guilt.  At the time many survivors of his abuse came forward -  all describing the same pattern of grooming and abuse. I can’t explain Ger’s actions other than to say they thought he was innocent - despite all the evidence to the contrary. Evidence so strong that even some prominent Charedi leaders believed it. One of whom publicly called Mondrowitz a monster!

I guess that Litzman’s actions in this regard is consistent with Ger’s general attitude of presuming all Frum accused sex criminals to be innocent regardless of the evidence.

In my view, Litzman has lost the right to his office and should resign. He may have been a good public servant in that role in the past. But he lost that distinction. He should be trying to heal the souls of survivors, not trying to help the abusers that made them survivors. He should no more be the Deputy Minister of Health than Avreimal Mondrowitz should.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Wisdom of Women

By Shoshanna Jaskoll

I am once again pleased to host the words of Shoshanna Jaskoll. Although we have some differences of opinion on certain issues, we tend to agree on most issues affecting the world of Orthodox Jewry. We have both for example protested the disappearance of women from the public square that is  increasingly reflected in Charedi publications. 

Chochmat Nashim was founded to counteract that troubling trend as well as dealing with other issues affecting Orthodox women in particular and Orthodoxy in general. It is an organization that I wholeheartedly support. Shoshanna is a co-founder. Her words follow. 

“The recent phenomenon of removing women’s images from the public sphere is damaging to women and the entire community. When women are not seen, their voices are not heard and their needs not met.”

I am a cofounder of Chochmat Nashim, together with Anne Gordon and Rachel Stomel, and we are working to advocate for community involvement, rich religious discourse, and policy-making that is just, all to make a healthier Jewish world.

Towards this vision of improving the Orthodox world, Chochmat Nashim advocates for women to be seen and heard, within the normative bounds of halacha.

The “erasing women” that has taken place in so many Orthodox publications began in the Hasidic world, and is becoming ever more normative for those who are committed to halacha, and Chochmat Nashim understands the practice to be a dangerous trend.

Inasmuch as there’s a logic to hiding women’s bodies from view when the secular world displays too much, the notion that women who are modestly dressed should not be seen at all fundamentally objectifies and sexualizes women far beyond the halachic pale. Moreover, when frum women and girls are removed from the visible sphere, the community suffers, not only because of the impact on Jewish females, but also because of the distancing of men and boys from the humanity, nay, the tzelem Elokim, that is in them.

When the community at large does not see women as equal participants in society (regardless of whether the roles they play are identical to those of men), society misses out on women’s strengths, talents, and voices; men and boys are at risk of not relating well to the women and girls in their lives; and the needs of women are often shunted aside, whether in the realm of education, policy-making, or health.

One dramatic example of the detriment that hypermodesty and hiding of women can yield with regard to women’s health: in the most sheltered elements of the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel, those women who contract breast cancer -- at a lower rate than that of the general population, as it happens -- are more likely to die from it.

Beyond the fact that women do not necessarily focus on their own health, and so on, the taboo of mentioning women’s body parts means that certain segments of the Haredi world do not advocate for the regular screening that allows for early detection, and life-saving treatment.

One researcher told Chochmat Nashim that the higher mortality may be at as high a rate as 50%. It is shocking to the point of almost not being believable -- so many ultra-Orthodox women DO get screened at the recommended intervals. Yet over the years of campaigning (in partnership with an Israeli Haredi organization, Ubezchutan) for the more sheltered women, Chochmat Nashim has fielded hundreds of questions from women -- and men -- asking what it’s all about, and what women should do. By giving voice to this need for this community, Chochmat Nashim highlights the effect -- in this case, life-saving -- that women’s participation can have.

Further examples of Chochmat Nashim’s advocacy include: promotion of the halachic prenuptial and postnuptial agreements (together with the organizations that sponsor each version), for the sake of preventing halachic agunot (really, mesarvei get -- victims of get-refusal, when a Jewish divorce is not issued); promotion of women’s voice in Torah, including the weekly parsha post by select women scholars and teachers of Torah, under the auspices of Chochmat Nashim-OLP (Orthodox Leadership Project) joint parsha initiative, hosted on The Blogs of The Times of Israel; The Chochmat Nashim Podcast, wherein Chochmat Nashim, and the occasional guest, offers discussion on topics of contemporary interest, adding our women’s voices to the discussion at large; social gatherings that render tangible the healthier Orthodoxy we envision, bringing the community together for shiurim, public education, and advocacy; and more.

Chochmat Nashim can achieve even more success by working together with communities in Israel and across the world, for these issues pertain to every Jew everywhere. Education is the key to the future. Unless we change the views of those who erase and hypersexualize women, what future is there for our daughters and granddaughters? Unless we can convince engaged couples to sign a prenup, how will we protect the future so no other women will be kept in chains? Unless we call on communities to heal their ills, who will protect our children?

UJA Federation of New York has dedicated $150,000 to advance one major “idea” to connect New Yorkers to Israel. Chochmat Nashim has already worked with the Orthodox Leadership Project (OLP), based out of New York, on several projects in the past (including the parsha initiative described above), so it was a logical next step to partner with OLP to bring together halachic, communal, and social leaders, men and women in a conference for the Orthodox public (from all over) to sit and consider and confront these issues together, for the sake of a better global Orthodox Jewish community.

You don’t need to be a New Yorker or an Israeli to vote! Please cast your vote for "Orthodoxy Includes Women" (we didn’t chose the name) -- together, we can make this conference happen and get the ball rolling for some real improvement in our beloved society. (The deadline for voting is Sunday night, May 19th – HM)

Thank you.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

An Existential Threat

The Charedi classroom (Times of Israel)
Dan Ben-David is a professor of Economics at Tel Aviv University and founder and president of the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research. I have no idea about his politics or how observant he is. I therefore cannot say with any degree of certainty whether there is any anti Charedi bias in his research. That being said his views have a ring of objective truth to them regardless of how ones feels about the Charedi world in Israel. More about that later.

As noted recently, one of my primary concerns is the welfare of the Charedi world in Israel. But that should not be the only concern.

First the good news. There is little doubt in my mind that with respect to their spiritual welfare they are currently thriving. The amount of people studying Torah is unprecedented. I think it is safe to say that there are more people dong that now than at any other time in history. The overall quality of Torah study may not measure up to the past (which is the nature of mass study). But there is no question about the quantity. And in certain individual instances the quality is pretty high too.

The problem is their deteriorating economic situation which in my  view can be attributed to a policy that rejects any kind of preparation in their schools for the future. Charedi students are not taught any secular studies beyond 8th grade.  Nor are any of the students given enough time to do so on their own – even if they wanted to. Their day in Torah study goes on all day and into the night.In some cases it continues into he wee hours of the morning.  And even if they were given the time, most students wouldn’t be interested in those studies anyway since they are treated by their teachers as a waste of time better spent on Torah study.

This is all old news which I have lamented many times – as recently as this week. But what I have not addressed is how this policy will affect the future of Israel itself. That is where Professor Ben-David comes in who was interviewed in the Times of Israel Ben-David considers the rapid growth of the Charedi world combined with their educational paradigm to be  the biggest single threat to Israel’s future… of far greater concern than what usually ends up being seen that way. Here are some pertinent excerpts: 
Israel will not remain viable if it does not vastly improve the quality of education it is giving its children.
“When we look at the future of Israel, half the children today are getting a third-world education. Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] children, who do not learn core subjects like math, science, reading and English, belong to the fastest-growing parts of the population,” he said. “This is unsustainable.”
“…(F)undamentally whether we continue to exist as a country or not depends on our ability to sustain a first-world economy, because otherwise we won’t be able to defend ourselves in the most violent neighborhood on the planet.”
Within two generations, Ben-David explained in a policy brief released this month entitled “Two Wars and Demography: A Long Run View of Israel’s Recent Elections,” nearly half the country’s children will be ultra-Orthodox.
Ben-David cites research showing that children who do not study core subjects in childhood, as most Haredi children do not, are very unlikely to go into professions such as medicine, architecture or engineering, which are essential to a modern economy.
Nor is the situation of Israel’s non-Haredi children significantly better. Israel’s schools are among the worst in the developed world, data show. Achievements in core curriculum subjects such as mathematics, science and reading place Israel in the 24th place out of 25 developed countries, and that is not even counting the Haredim, who do not take international tests...
“The reason we’re able to shoot down missiles today is the fact that we have some people who are extremely educated. They live here. They want to live here.”
But that could change: At some point the burdens of living here could outweigh people’s sentimental attachment to this place. For some, this is already occurring. In 2017, Ben-David pointed out, for every four and a half Israelis with academic degrees who left the country, only one person with an equivalent education returned.
Labor productivity in Israel is among the lowest in the developed world, Ben-David added, and the top 20 percent of income earners pay 92 percent of income tax — a figure that makes Israel an outlier in the OECD. Israel urgently needs to improve services like education, health care and transportation to keep those educated and productive workers from ultimately leaving the country. 
I don’t know how anyone can counter these facts and Ben-David’s analysis. How on earth will Israel survive if 50% of the country will see Torah study as the only thing worth studying? That Charedim can catch up via a variety of programs designed to enable them to get better jobs and become decent wage earners does not mean that they will be able to provide the necessary services that are vital to a modern economy. Where will the doctors come from? The architects? The engineers?  

One might suggest that there will still be enough non Charedim in the other 50% to provide them. But as Ben-David suggests -  the truly bright and highly educated increasingly see a future where they carry the brunt of the economic and defense burden. Which will make (and in some cases already has made) them seek greener pastures in other lands. 

The pioneers of old that built up the country are gone. They were willing to sacrifice a lot for their country, but that it seems is no longer the case.  Todays Israeli will not stick around. Meanwhile Charedi educational priorities will prevent them from picking up the slack. I don’t see how a country like this can survive if these trends continue.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Abortions Should Be Safe, Legal, and Rare

Image from Breakpoint
Now that Alabama has passed legislation outlawing abortions in all circumstances except to save the life of the mother, I thought it would be prudent to revisit the issue and restate my pro choice position.

This might seem counter intuitive to my usually conservative approach to things. But as I often say, I lean conservative on most things. Which means on some things I am decidedly liberal. This is one of them.

This might also seem to contradict my religious views. After all, abortions are not permitted by Halacha either. Although not considered a capital crime – it is still a serious violation of Halacha to kill an unborn child. How then can I be in favor of keeping it legal?  Orthodox organizations like Agudah have always been on the ‘pro-life’ anti abortion side of things. How can I – as a conscientious observant Jew side with a view that allows abortions on demand for anyone who desires one regardless of their reason?

That assumption is a mistake. Just as I believe the pro-life position of Agudah is a mistake. While we are both on the side of Halacha I believe the more Halachicly valid approach is to keep abortion legal.  

How could that be? Let me explain.  Abortions are a medical procedure that should be open to whoever needs them.  The decision to have one should not be left in the hands of those whose values differ from ours.

There are a variety of situations where Halacha permits an abortion. 

The reason we ‘kill’ the fetus when it endangers the mother’s life is because it is considered a Rodef – someone that pursues killing you. If one sees one Jew about to murder another Jew, we are commanded to kill the murderer before they act – and save the life of his ‘about to be’ victim.  The fetus is in essence a pursuer in the process of trying to murder its mother. ‘Killing it’ via an abortion is tantamount to a justifiable homicide. Alabama’s new anti abortion law seems to agree with that.

Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, ZTL (Wikipedia)
But there are other instances where abortion may be permitted even if the mother’s life is not in danger depending - for instance - on what stage of pregnancy she is in. One recognized world class Posek, Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, ZTL – (the Tztiz Eliezer) famously permits aborting a Tay-Sachs baby (even in the later stages of pregnancy - if I recall correctly) once the fetus is discovered to have that gene.

The point being that the Halachos regarding abortions are complex and subject to interpretations by legitimate recognized Poskim.

Roe V. Wade is the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that said any legislation restricting abortions is unconstitutional. That makes it available to us when we need it. Can anyone imagine what would happen if it were overturned making abortion illegal in this country?!

That is precisely the issue at hand. I heard one Alabama state legislator say that this law was worded in a way that would challenge Roe V Wade. The hope is that the newly conservative Supreme Court would overturn it!  That might have the chilling effect of returning the US to a time when abortions were done illegally – often under unsafe conditions!

It would be a nightmare for someone that needed one based on Halacha but was denied because it did not meet some arbitrary legal standard set by the government. It is a far wiser position in my view to keep it legal and allow people to make their own decisions on such matters. Which for Orthodox Jews would mean to let Halacha decide it..

This of course does not mean we should as a matter of principle say that it is morally justifiable to be in favor of abortion on demand – even if it is just as a means of birth control. We should speak out strongly against such abortions as immoral. But as a legal matter, it is more important to have this medical procedure available to us without any government interference.

If that is the Halachacly prudent approach, why are religious organizations like Agudah in the pro- life column? (And they are not the only ones.)

I asked that question to an official of Agudah a while back and he told me that in theory I was right.  But Agudah felt that being pro choice sends the wrong message. Which is that Agudah supports abortion on demand for anyone for any reason. They do not. Agudah felt that in most cases abortion would be against Halacha anyway. If Roe V Wade is overturned and more states outlaw it - the few times it was needed, a woman could go out of the state and have it performed where it is legal. 

I assume that Agudah supports Alabama since the vast majority of Halachicly permitted abortions are done to save the life of the mother. Which is the way Alabama’s law is written. But I disagree. As noted saving the life of the mother is not the only circumstance where abortions are permitted. If it were made illegal it would be a nightmare for women who needed it and had to travel to ‘who knows where’ and have ‘who knows who’ doing it. Rather than her own trusted OB-Gyn.

This is why one will find me always in the pro-choice column. Not because I believe in abortions on demand per se. But because I believe that all medical procedures should be permitted and available to us without any problems. Decisions about when - and when not - to have an abortion should be left fully in our own hands.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A House of Cards

Image for illustration purposes only (Rationalist Judaism)
Unfortunately I am not surprised. Although I am still saddened by a situation Rabbi Natan Slifkin is calling ‘downright terrifying’!

It involves one of the things I lament frequently here: The lack of any secular education at all post high school in the Charedi world in Israel. As Rabbi Slifkin notes: 
There are two types of such institutions. One is the mosdot petur - the charedi elementary schools which receive barely any secular education. The number of children in these institutions has now risen to 90,000. The other are the yeshivot ketanot - the yeshivot for boys in grades 9 to 12 who received a basic secular education in elementary school, but who receive no further high school secular education whatsoever. The number of boys in these institutions has nearly doubled over the last decade, to 37,000. 
It is no secret that the Charedi world is one of the poorest communities in Israel. Many families subsist on bare-bone budgets supplemented by government subsidies, charities, and free loan societies. Carrying a huge debt load via maxing out credit cards is not uncommon. Just putting food on the table is a struggle in many Charedi households in Israel. What often happens is one free loan society is paid back with a loan from another free loan society - in a sort of rolling debt kind of way.

This is not to say that there aren’t a lot of Charedi families that live relatively middle class but modest lifestyles. It is true for example that many work at jobs - that when combined with the income produced by a working wife - enables them to live that way. Some have gotten a post Kollel education at one of the increasing numbers of training centers designed to enable Charedim to get better paying jobs. There are also those that have somehow become successful in various other ways. Or that rely on support from their relatively wealthy families abroad. Then there are also those government subsidies. But there are also a lot that can’t even put food on the table - let alone live a modest middle class lifestyle - without outside help of some kind.  

I have maintained for the longest time that the paradigm insisted upon by the Charedi leadership in Israel - combined with the typically large family - is mostly responsible for this. Their insistence on the primacy of Torah study is so strong, that all other studies must be abandoned in favor of it. I believe that their refusal to offer a curriculum that would help prepare them for the future is mainly what puts them in this situation. 

What about the programs designed to help Charedim get better jobs post Kollel?  Doesn’t that solve the problem? If enough of these programs become available, won’t the net result be the same as if they had a decent secular studies curriculum in high school? Why does it matter when they get that education… as long as they get it eventually? In theory I suppose it shouldn’t matter. It should put Charedim on equal footing with those who have had decent high school education.

The problem is that it doesn’t. Most Charedim either don’t or can’t take advantage of it. As Rabbi Slifkin notes: 
According to the Times of Israel, the state comptroller's office released a truly alarming report. Despite over half a billion shekels being invested in last eight years in special academic programs for charedim, these programs have been a disaster. Only 22% of charedim in these courses are men - and an astonishing 76% of men drop out! 
This is a startling statistic, even for a skeptic like me. It reinforces my resolve to keep pushing for the type of education that was the paradigm of just about every Yeshiva high school in America – including the vast majority of Charedi Yeshiva high schools. (I say ‘was’ because it’s beginning to happen here too. Once Chasidim established their own schools they offered only religious studies. And it seems like an increasing number of Lithuanian type Yeshivos are beginning to do the same. That is a tragedy in its own right but beyond the scope of this post.)

American Yeshiva high schools divide the day into 2 parts. Mornings are devoted to Limudei Kodesh (religious studies – mostly Gemarah). Afternoons are devoted to secular studies program. While their might be different emphases among schools of differing Hashkafos, that is the basic model. And for the most part it worked pretty well here. The fact is that Orthodox Jews in America are able to pursue careers through a higher education if they so desire. I know plenty of American Charedi professionals that do quite well in a variety of fields.

But when secular studies are treated as a waste of time at best and avoided in Charedi high schools, what are the chances that those attending them will eventually catch up? The answer is now before us. The chances are slim if the above statistics are anywhere near accurate.

I realize that I am probably ‘spitting in the wind’. No Charedi leader will ever change the paradigm let alone listen to someone like me. (…which they obviously don’t. They don’t even know I exist!) But that doesn’t mean I can’t talk about it til I’m blue in the face.  

There are those that say it is none of my business and that the Chaaredi world has a right to live the way they choose - and learn what they please. Who am I to tell them what to do?! I am not even Charedi and have zero standing in that world. And even if I did, who am I compared to the Charedi leadership that insists on that paradigm. Bottom line -  they might say - is that I should just mind my own business. 

I don’t see it that way. It IS my business! Kol Yisroel Arevim Zeh BaZeh. Jewish law requires us to be responsible for each other. Both spiritually and materially.  Our sages tell us - Ein Kemach - Ein Torah! Without material welfare, one’s spiritual welfare can and too often does suffer. How many times have I heard about Charedim that went OTD precisely because they could not stand the poverty under which they were raised - and associated it with their parents’ religious observance!

I have been told many times to just leave them alone by people on both sides of the Hashkafic aisle. By the right – that I should focus instead on my own community’s problems. And by the Left to just ignore them and let them stew I their own juices.

I can’t do that. How can I ignore a problem that I am convinced will surely be helped if only the paradigm would change to the American style program described above?

It is now more apparent than ever that something needs to change.  This community is growing at an exponential rate. Free loan societies will not be able to keep pace. Government subsidies will likely decrease per capita as the community grows – even if the amount of money they distribute remains the same. Meanwhile the economic base that supports that largess through their taxes is shrinking as the Charedi world and its proportional poverty expands. That means more takers and less givers. That is not a formula for success. It is a formula for disaster if things don’t change.  The only question is when that disaster will happen.