Friday, December 13, 2019

What Corbyn's Defeat Means for the UK, America, and the Jewish People

UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn  
Like a lamb to the slaughter. That is what Jeremy Corbyn looked like this morning as he announced that he will be resigning as leader of the Labour Party in the UK. And a slaughter it was. A man whose name closely resembles the Hebrew word for sacrificial offering has been handed a resounding defeat in Yesterday’s election. The winner, Conservative Party (Tory) leader Boris Johnson. He was handed a mandate. His party won a majority of seats in the British Parliament. That should fast track the UK’s exit from the European Union. (More popularly known as Brexit.)

Whether that’s a good idea or not is up for debate. But it seems that this is what the vast majority of British voters wanted. Because that is what the election was all about.

That is not, however, why I am celebrating Johnson’s victory. Although I lean politically conservative and would in any case have been happy about a victory for conservatives, I am ecstatic about – not only Corbyn’s defeat but at his own ‘Brexit’ as the leader of one of the two major political parties in the UK. 

Which means that there is no longer any danger of an Israel hating antisemite becoming the leader of his country. His influence will no longer be anywhere near what it was as Labour Party Leader. Instead England will now continue to have a leader that supports the Jewish State while Labour has a lot of soul searching to do. That is something to celebrate! British Jews can now breathe a sigh of relief. And Israel can too.

I don’t know if all the publicity about Corbyn’s antisemitism had any impact on non Jewish voters. Or whether the unprecedented warning to British voters about it by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis (as well as former Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks) - did. But it doesn’t really matter. He lost big time. And I could not be happier about that.

Now that the Tories have won by such a big margin, what does this say about the kind of liberalism Corbyn was selling? Corbyn is an unapologetic socialist who campaigned on turning the UK into a socialist country. Promising to nationalize energy companies and other large corporations. All for the sake of redistributing the wealth so that the poor can share equally with the rich by making the rich poorer and the poor richer.  He promised British voters free ‘everything’ as well as having another referendum of Brexit in the hope that British voters would change their mind. He could not have been more wrong. It appears British voters want out now more than they did the last time they voted.

Which brings me to the 2020 election for President. One lesson to be learned here by what happened there, it is that thinking people realize that there is no such thing as free lunch. You have to pay for it somehow.

It seems that lesson has already begun to take hold  here. Democrats on the Left that have been promising the moon to voters have lost ground in the polls. Those that have expressed the ‘no free lunch’ idea have gained considerable traction. 

Which is why Pete Buttigieg is now leading all of his Democratic rivals in Iowa and New Hampshire. He has the momentum now. I have to admit that whenever I hear him talk about the issues, he makes the most sense – compared to all the rest of the top tier Democratic candidates.

This does not mean I support him. His views on Israel are problematic for me. He has said he would be willing to put pressure on Israel to implement his version of a peace deal with Palestinians A version based on the failed policies of the past. Buttigieg would withhold financial aid if they didn’t do his bidding in that regard. Nor am I all that happy with his more liberal social policies even if they aren’t as leftist as his rivals.

Which brings me back to the British landslide for conservatives. If there is a lesson to be learned from that victory it is the following. If Democrats want to win the election their leftward swing will not only not help them - it will very likely hurt them. 

All the Democrats have promised to mess with the economy to one extent or another. Claiming that it is all for the noblest of social purposes. It now seems that promising any of that at the expense of a thriving economy will hurt them big time. If the economy keeps going the way it has been under Trump… and American voters are any where near as concerned about what’s in their wallets as the British are (and  I think they are) I don’t see how Trump can lose.

Adding to that is the following. Even if House Democrats are trying to impeach the President for the most patriotic of reasons I think they are going to have a hard time selling that to the American people about the man most credited (even by many Democrats begrudgingly) for the current state of the economy. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the Democrats in the House that represent swing districts vote not to impeach.

So, like it or not, it looks like four more years of one of the most ego-maniacal and embarrassing Presidents in American history.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Antisemitism Does Not Define America

The 4 victims of a brutal antisemitic attack (Daily Mail)
I am once again filled with sadness and pain. There has once again been another brutal antisemitic attack. This time in Jersey City.  2 days ago on December 10th 4 innocent people were brutally butchered by two violent antisemites, David Anderson and Francine Graham.  Who were themselves killed by police in a lengthy gunfight that looked like s scene in a movie.  According to onlookers it turned an otherwise peaceful neighborhood into what looked like a war zone.

As in the past, I cannot begin to imagine the pain of the families that suddenly lost loved ones. Especially in this way.

The first one murdered was Jersey City police officer Detective Joseph Seals, a 39 year old married father of five. Shortly thereafter Anderson and Graham made their way to their intended target – a Kosher store in Jersey City. That’s when the rest of their killing spree accelerated – ending with the following victims:

Douglas Miguel Rodriguez Barzola, who left behind a wife and an 11 year old daughter; Leah Minda Ferencz, 33 year old mother who owned the store with her husband; and 24 year old Moshe Deutsch. He had just Davened Mincha in the Shul next door and was on his way into the store when his life suddenly ended!

There are no words. People in the prime of their life with everything to live for being gunned down for no reason except that two rabid antisemites were looking to kill Jews! Hard to contemplate.

There are some who  might be tempted to say that the increasing number of violent antisemitic events give lie to the fact that America is different. There are those that might say that this proves that the famous words of Rashi in this week’s Parsha of Vayishlach that declares: Esav Sonei L’Ya’akov. Words that have been famously interpreted to mean that Jews will always be hated by non Jews. Words most recently cited by Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman in his weekly distributed The Short Vort. It was cited in reaction to this event as an explanation for the inexplicable. 

I am a huge fan of Rabbi Eisenman. But I must object to such characterizations about the American people. I still firmly believe that the vast majority of Americans reject antisemitism in all of its manifestations. They are as abhorred by what happened here as any one of us is. How can I say this after such a horrible event? Which has followed other relatively recent horrible events like it?

I say it for the same reasons I have always been saying it. That antisemitic attacks have increased does not mean more Americans have become antisemitic. I think the opposite is true. If anything I believe the sympathy the vast majority of Americans have for us has actually increased. I believe that most Americans are more outraged by these acts than ever before.

As I have said many times, there is so much evidence against the notion that Esav Sonei L’Ya’akov describes Americans – that it would take volumes to cite all the examples of it. But let me cite the obvious example of Jersey City itself. Whose mayor, Steven Fulop is the son of Holocaust survivors. And yet they voted for a Jewish man to serve as the head of city government. To the best of my knowledge, Jersey City is not known for its Jewish residents.

If that isn’t enough, let us examine the neighborhood itself.  There were no Jews to speak of in that neighborhood (Greenville) before the approximately 100 Satmar families relocated there from their old more crowed and more expensive neighborhood of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. From JTA
The grocery store is on Martin Luther King Drive, one of the neighborhood’s central thoroughfares. Down the street is a Pentecostal church, a mosque and a string of businesses. The surrounding blocks are full of row houses in a rainbow of colors along with some empty lots. Broken bottles and litter line the streets.
Jersey City residents say the area has been gentrifying, with a boom in new construction in the past few years. Douglas Harmon, 43, a lifetime Greenville resident and local building contractor, said most of the new arrivals are Jewish families.
Harmon said that he and other locals have had a good relationship with their new neighbors, though gentrification has increased tensions in the area.
In a video circulated Wednesday in Hasidic group text messages, Harmon offered to help clean out the store for free and offered his best wishes to the Jewish community
“The people walking past every day, they don’t have any problem [with the Jewish community],” Harmon told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “As long as you’re a good person, good people are respected wherever they go.” 
Doesn't that say it all?  If this isn’t an example of the Amercian way, I don’t know what is. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Is Not Publishing Pictures of Women is a Good Thing?

Guest Contribution by Rabbi Leibel Marx*

What's wrong with this picture? (Amazon)
Earlier this month I discussed an issue that is very troubling to me. Which is the recent trend by the right to no longer feature pictures of women in their publications. From the very beginning I have strenuously objected to this practice for a variety of reasons. Which I am not going to repeat here. Suffice it to say that most mainstream Charedi publications used to regularly feature pictures of women as long as they were dressed modestly.  Sadly, the trend is now clearly away from that.

I received an email from a community Rav whose Hashkafa seems to be that of a moderate Charedi. He disagreed with my views and explained why he believes that eliminating pictures of women in publications is a positive development. While I absolutely disagree with him, I thought that in the interests of fairness and balance it would be useful to present an opposing view and an explanation of it. I invited him to submit a post and he accepted. 

He asked to be remain anonymous and use the pseudonym he suggested as his a by-line. Although I rarely agree to publish anything written anonymously - I agreed in this case for the sake of the above-mentioned balance that I try achieve here. His unedited words follow :

I’d like to share my thoughts regarding the topic you recently discussed – the chareidy community omitting photos of women in magazines/newspapers.

I studied for many years in an American chareidy Yeshiva [which is not as right as Lakewood nor as left as YU] where I eventually received Semicha. I still consider myself a talmid of my yeshiva.

I am happy that the magazines and newspapers I purchase do not have photos of women in them. Let me explain.

I can appreciate the following position: omitting tzniyusdige photos of women in magazines is not normal. It’s as if to say that Jewish women do not exist. Even the Aguda’s Jewish Observer had photos of women.

However, the attack from the MO is on [what I think is] an incorrect understanding of why chareidim omit photos of women.

Chareidim do not omit photos of women because “there are some men who so sexually deviant that they might be sexually aroused by viewing a sexually benign image (which is defined as a fetish in the world of psychology)” Or as I’ve heard people say, “The chareidim are afraid that if some of them see a photo of a woman they’ll do G-d knows what!”

I think the reason is because it is simply prohibited to gaze at a photo of a woman to get pleasure from gazing, just as it is prohibited to gaze at any part of a woman for pleasure, regardless if she is dressed completely tzniyusdig. The prohibition is for simply getting any level of pleasure from gazing. So omitting photos of women is not because that is the halacha. The omission of photos is to remove the nisayon to gaze which IS against Halacha.  

Of course al pi halacha one may read a magazine with photos of women in it. Nonetheless, I’d rather not have the nisayon of there being a photo where I might spend an extra second staring when it’s an attractive photo.

Similarly, many decades ago there was mixed seating and there was no mechitza at weddings. Of course that is permitted al pi halacha. Yet, when it comes to tzinyus we always try to be more stringent because the passion to gaze is exceedingly powerful.

Just as when I go to a wedding I am glad there is a mechitza, so too I’m glad there are no pictures of women in my magazines and newspapers.

Once the policy is not to show women then there can’t be exceptions. I remember when some old Rebbetzin died and they didn’t publish her photo and people complained. Obviously you can’t say we’ll only publish photos which aren’t attractive, only the attractive ones we won’t publish. (And maybe the reason why they don’t have even a tiny photo above the name of the author of an article might be because once you’re not publishing photos of women, Chassidim can purchase the magazine and any photos of women will prevent them from purchasing.)

The two sides of the issue are simply: is omitting photos normal or not normal. We all agree you have to be normal. You must walk in the street even though there are many temptations to gaze. Saying you’re not going to walk down the street is not normal. Forcing a woman to wear a burka is not normal. (The argument that adding stringency after stringency regarding modesty will lead to forced burkas does not have merit in my opinion.)

I think that the reason some in the MO community misunderstand the reason why the chareidim omit photos is because some don’t believe that getting any pleasure from gazing is prohibited. So they have to say that the reason the chareidim omit photos is because some chareidim will do G-d knows what!

As I have stated, it’s simply a question of “is it normal or not normal” to omit photos of women. I prefer the omission but I could definitely hear the other side.

*Not his real name

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Jewish Angle

Feldman, Karlan & Gerhardt testifying before the House Judiciary Committee (JTA)
I have always been proud of the fact that so many of our people have succeeded in America. And I still am. ...yet another proof that the vast majority of Americans are - not only NOT antisemitic but that we are accorded equal status with all other Americans regardless of our differing religious beliefs. 

This is one reason so many Jews are in government - either by being elected or chosen by their superiors to serve in positions of power. I haven’t done the math - but I would bet my bottom dollar that the percentage of Jews in congress far surpasses their percentage of the population. Many times over. It is no coincidence however that almost all of them are liberal Democrats. Not only are they Democrats, but as noted many are in positions of high power selected by their peers or political leaders for their jobs.

(Which kind of refutes the argument that antisemitism has a home in the Democratic Party. Although it is true that there has been a few outspoken and possibly influential members of the House that might be seen as antisemites, they are still the exception rather than the rule. Either way, this post is not about that.)

Why are the Jews in congress Democrats? That’s an easy one. Most secular Jews in America are politically liberal.  They have a natural home in the Democratic Party.

And yet, the fact that so many Jews are involved in what is happening now in the House of Representatives gives me pause. Just to list the names I can think of off the top of my head:

Schiff, Nadler, Engel, Cohen, Raskin, Eisen, Goldman, Vindman, Sondland, Feldman, Karlan, and Gerhardt... all of them Jewish.

These are all people that are either members of congress, their attorneys, or witnesses testifying about what they believed to be improper behavior by the President. Behavior that they strongly suggested is worthy of impeachment.

Now if you are a liberal Democrat or a ‘Never Trumper’ Republican, whether you are Jewish or not, you are applauding all these people as championing the constitution by calling for the President’s impeachment. Which is about half the country right now. They do not see these people as Jews.  They see them as heroes fighting the good fight against a tyrant. If they do notice their Judaism – it is in a positive light.

Not so the other half of the country. The defenders of the President have mostly been non Jews. Whether appointed officials, elected officials, their attorneys, or just Republican voters.

Now I still believe that most people defending the President - see the impeachment as an opportunistic political conspiracy by Democrats the purpose of which is to remove the  President from office. And do NOT see it as a Jewish conspiracy.

However, that so many of the accusers and decision makers are Jewish gives the rabid antisemitic right wing fringe (e.g. White Supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK) food for their absurd claim that Jews are an evil Cabal whose goal is world domination. …that they are every bit as guilty of that as Henry Ford said in his infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Which reinforces the oft heard refrain by some of them that the United States is a Zionist Occupied Government – (ZOG).

Although that is ridiculous, the optics are there. That so many of the people trying to ‘overthrow the election’ are Jews makes it easier for them to say those kinds of things.  So that even though I have so much pride in the accomplishments of my people, these optics give me some pause.

It is also the height of irony that the vast majority of Orthodox Jews are on the Republican side of this issue. About 80% of Orthodox Jews voted for the President and could not be happier with the fact that he has surrounded himself with Jewish advisers - many of them observant; the unprecedented warm support his administration has for Israel; upending decades of refusal to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; moving the American embassy there; and ending the decades old policy that West Bank settlements are against international law. 

There is not a single Orthodox Jew I have spoken to here in Chicago that has not made the same arguments the Republicans have made with respect to the impeachment proceedings – attacking  Democrats as Leftists; and that what we are witnessing is nothing less than a naked attempt to overturn the last election by removing a sitting President they don’t like; and reverse the great policies he has implemented.  

It’s ironic that Orthodox Jews support the same President the antisemitic fringe does.

Where do I stand on all of this? I think he’s probably guilty of what he is being accused of. But I also do not believe that has or will be proven. And even if it is proven, I’m not sure it the impeachable offense Democrats are saying it so obviously is. The fact that every single Republican on either the Intelligence or Judiciary Committee feels that way and is vehemently opposed to impeachment  – and more to the point - the fact he will not be removed from office in the Senate trial - makes the many months congress was occupied with this little more than an attempt to influence swing voters in the upcoming 2020 election.

Why does this matter? It should not be lost on anyone that so many Jews have been involved in this process. And the fact that about half the country is angry at those involved is not a good thing. 

Just my thoughts.

Monday, December 09, 2019

A Two State Solution - If Only It Were Possible

Secular Palestinians enjoying a concert in Rawabi (screenshot)
I have long held the view that in the reality of Israel as it is today - the best we could all hope for is living in peace with Palestinians. That peace could in theory take many forms. But the most likely scenario would be that of a two state solution. 

That I oppose that now is simply a matter of another reality. Which is that that radical Islam is unrelenting in its goal to destroy the Jewish state in its entirety and replace it with an Islamic Republic.  

In pursuing that goal they have left no stone un-turned, including the killing of innocent civilians both Jewish and Muslim. Even using their own children as shields when Israel tries to defend itself against their attacks. So that they can claim Israelis are baby killers! All while feeding their propaganda campaign to the world painting Israel as an apartheid state that uses Nazi like tactics against Palestinians living in the territories.

So as much as I believe that a two state solution would be the best outcome for Israel living in peace with her Palestinian neighbors... it is an impossible goal to achieve as long as terrorists in Gaza (Hamas) and Lebanon (Hezbollah) control things - with the unbridled support of the Islamic Republic of Iran which is dedicated to wiping Israel off the map! Anyone advocating a two state solution under these conditions needs to have his head examined!

That being said, I still believe that Israel and Palestinians could in theory live together side by side in peace and with good relations along the line of Canada and the US.  What would a Palestinian state look like? That was demonstrated to me last night as I watched a 60 minutes report about Rawabi - a new settlement on the West Bank. Only this one is a Palestinian settlement. One where the standard of living rivals any upscale city in the US. It is described by it’s builder as a secular city. 

And indeed it is. There is hardly anything that could be identified as religious in nature in Rawabi. Just a bunch of people enjoying an upper middle class lifestyle in all its glory. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind living in a city like that. If this is what a future Palestinian state would look like, I would support it in a heartbeat. I doubt that any sane person wouldn’t.

This city was built under Israeli occupation with the help of the Israeli government. Which was absolutely necessary for it to get off the ground. According to the 60 Minutes report - that help was slow in coming, because it was opposed by the hard core religious settlers who do not believe that a single inch of our land should be ceded to any non Jew for any reason. They believe that it is imperative to settle every part of biblical Israel as promised to us by God. What they fail to understand is that this attitude has been responsible for a lot of bloodshed. Much of it Jewish.  

For them it is not about safety. If that were their intent, I would agree with - or at least understand them. They are opposed to any Palestinian State even under the most peaceful of conditions. So that when the builder of that  Palestinian city applied for permits for a variety of things  necessary in order for it to succeed, settlers that live in an Israeli settlement nearby opposed it. They want to see only Israeli settlements for their own narrow religious reasons.

What about that claim? Sure, when the time for God’s ultimate promise to be fulfilled arrives, then with God’s help - of course we will take our land back. But that time is not now regardless of how much they believe it to be. 

They insist that giving land to a Palestinian – let alone building an entire city is a Yehoreg V’al Ya’avor - that every Jew has an obligation to die before giving up any land. That is clearly not Halacha. The world’s greatest Poskim agreed that in pre-messianic times Pikuach Nefesh (endangering Jewish lives) supersedes that requirement. Even my own Rebbe agreed with that despite his unqualified support for all settlement activity in Israel. The reason he supported that is precisely the reason most Poskim did not. He felt that by not settling the land it would present a greater danger to Jewish lives than it would be by settling it. He told me this personally.

Because of their religious beliefs these people were successful in delaying the building of this city. But ultimately Israel granted the builder everything he needed for it to succeed. And succeed it did. In spades!

One of the purposes cited by the builder is that he wanted to show how Israelis and Palestinians could live together side by side in peace and harmony.

As I said, this would be a wonderful outcome for the two peoples. The problem is that under current conditions it will never happen. As noted above the Islamic fundamentalists that rule Gaza have about as much interest in building a secular Palestinian state as the Charedi parties have in making Israel a secular state. Their model is Iran. Not Rawabi. That is what this builder either does not understand or refuses to admit.

But still… seeing tens of thousands of people enjoying a secular concert at a huge stadium in a city that rivals the best of what America has to offer gave me a least a picture of what could be possible… IF! (….and that’s a big if) the Islamic fundamentalists would be eliminated from the picture. And our own religious Zionist extremist settlers would face reality and come to their senses. Imagine the possibilities…

Sunday, December 08, 2019

The Holocaust Conundrum

Beth Medrash Govoha - unprecedented numbers of Charedim studying Torah
I have lived with this conundrum for most of my adult life. The fact is that if not for the Holocaust, I would not exist. Nor would any of my four children. Nor would any of my 25 grandchildren have been born.

My father’s first wife was murdered as she tried to escape Nazi soldiers chasing her after they discovered the underground bunker she and my father were hiding in. She was caught. My father was not. After the war my father met my mother, married her, and about a year later I was born. Had my father’s first wife  not been killed by the Nazis, my father would have never married my mother.

These thoughts have haunted me ever since I became aware of them.  Not an easy thing to contemplate. And this is what I thought of when I read about Dr. Michal Shaul’s research and conclusions about the survival of the Charedi world in our day. She sees the Holocaust in a similar way - precipitating the strong revival of the Charedi world. From an article in YNet on the subject: 
According to Dr. Shaul, the world of Torah was in a process of disappearing until the Holocaust, and if it wasn’t for the dreadful disaster suffered by the Jewish people, it's possible that there would be no ultra-Orthodox world today.
"In the early 20th century, the world of Torah was in a deep crisis," she says. "Jewish Orthodoxy was nearly extinct. It was consumed by the Jewish Enlightenment movement, Zionism and Socialism, and there was a major shift towards those movements. According to estimates, there were only several thousand yeshiva students in Eastern Europe before the war."
It was the huge destruction which caused Holocaust survivors to take urgent action, she says. "They realized that it was 'to be or not to be,'" she explains. When the survivors saw that almost the entire world of Torah had gone up in flames after the war, and upon the establishment of the secular State of Israel, religious leaders and common people came to the conclusion that they to fight to restore the world of Torah.
"It's likely that without the Holocaust, the world of Torah would have become extinct," Dr. Shaul believes. 
I would not go as far as Dr. Shaul does. I do not believe that the Torah world would have become extinct. But I do think she has a point. I do believe that it was the Holocaust that catalyzed the world of Torah to dedicate itself to ‘rebuilding from the ashes’ - what was once the glorious world of  Torah that existed in pre-war Europe.

On the other hand, Dr. Shaul is right about the ‘why’ of that conclusion. The enlightenment as well as other socialist movements had taken hold in many Jewish homes. There were a lot of Jews from religious homes that had begun abandoning the ways of their forefathers in favor of a more enlightened way of life. 

It is no secret that some of the finest minds that attended some of the most elite of Yehsivas in Europe were swept away by the allure of enlightened thinking to reject traditional Jewish theology. The freedom Jews were finally given to attend universities added to that trend. Rabbi Aharon Rakaffet reported in his book on Yeshiva University's first President, Rabbi Dr. Dov Revel, that he flirted with the  socialism of that time sweeping the world before eventually abandoning it and later becoming the Yeshiva’s head.

There is no question in my mind that the Holocaust changed things. Had not Rav Aharon Kotler come to these shores and transplanted the European Yeshiva model to the US - there would very likely be no Charedi paradigm like it to follow. It is also true that the post Holocaust influx of European Chasidic immigrants to the US gave Charedi institutions gave that Yeshiva paradigm the population it needed to survive and eventually thrive to the extent it does today. The Modern Orthodox Jews of the day were hardly material for those schools.

It is possible that - had there been no Holocaust, there would like be no American Charedim. At least not in any numbers of consequence. The only question is whether things might have turned around somehow in Europe. Great ‘what if’question. And a difficult one to answer. But ultimately it doesn’t matter.

Trying to make predictions about the future based on a linear trajectory of history up to the present day is a fool’s errand. One never knows what factors might come into play that will change that trajectory. God controls the world.  

I for one am absolutely convinced that the Torah would never have been completely forgotten by the people of Israel, That is God’s promise to us. No matter how far across the globe we have been dispersed since the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem - God will remember us when we seek him with all of  our hearts and soul. That is what the words: U’Vikashtem MiSham (Devorim 4:29) mean. The children of Israel will find the eventual salvation promised to us by God Himself in the Torah.

That still leaves me perplexed about my own existence. But at the same time I have great confidence in the future salvation of our people.

Friday, December 06, 2019

The Worst Kind of Monster

Daniel Greer (The New Haven Register)
The worst kind of monster is the kind that might otherwise be considered a saint. When this happens, it becomes near inexplicable. That is the case with 79 year old Daniel Greer. Reading the list of his lifetime accomplishments - the charismatic Greer might seem like the closest thing to a saint.

That list is the stuff of legends. It brought him accolades from in his own New Haven, Connecticut neighborhood of Edgewood Park. From both Jew and non Jew alike. For which his neighbors dubbed him the ‘Mayor of Edgewood’.

It also brought him recognition from the wider Jewish community. Which one might expect from someone that did so much. Just to mention a few of his varied and highly successful contributions (as reported in The New Haven Register): 
(T)hrough his school and the properties he had bought and renovated for the public, had transformed the neighborhood from a den of drug dealers and prostitutes into “a vibrant, multicultural, affordable neighborhood.”  (Greer defense attorney) Grudberg said Greer “has benefitted hundreds, if not thousands of people in the city of New Haven.” 
…and from Wikipedia
After moving to New Haven the Greers established an orthodox day school because there was not a sufficiently religious one in New Haven. Greer continued to work as a lawyer for 14 years. Daniel Greer also served as a time as the New Haven City Police Commissioner. Over the years the Greers expanded their day school into a full Yeshiva (the Yeshiva of New Haven) with both an elementary school and boys and girls high schools…
(H)e also became affiliated with the Save Soviet Jewry movement and was one of the moving figures in getting the United States State Department to intervene in the Leonid Rigerman case. 
After (Yale University’s) change in policy in 1995 that required even students with families in New Haven to live on campus, (Greer) sought an exemption for his daughter Batsheva on the grounds that living in co-ed dorms that freely distributed condoms, had lectures on safe sex and co-ed bathrooms were incompatible with Orthodox Judaism. Yale refused to cooperate… In December 1997 Batsheba and three others brought a suit against Yale. The fifth of the Yale five had married three months earlier than planned to avoid having to follow Yale's rules.  
That is quite the resume, to say the least! And yet, Daniel Greer is better described as a psychopath than a saint. He is a sick man that satisfied his sexual deviancy by victimizing Eliyahu Mirlis - an innocent young high school student in his Yeshiva - over a period of 4 years.

There is no sin or crime in being sick. Sexual disorders are not all that uncommon. The crime and the sin is when you abuse others to satisfy the sexual urges that sickness generates. That is what Greer was found guilty of. For which he was just sentenced to 20 years in prison (of which he will serve 12). As hard working as he was in contributing so much to Jewish causes… and making a Kiddush HaShem in the process… that is all wiped away by committing a sin the Torah considers a capital offense and the permanent destruction he caused to a vulnerable young student under his charge… a Chilul HaShem that literally destroys a lifetime of good works that were seen as a Kiddush HaShem. 

I wish I could say I have pity on him… and cite all of his good works to justify that pity. But I can’t. His crimes are too horrendous.

He has caused permanent damage to his victim who to this day suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome. And will likely suffer from it the rest of his life. There is no amount of penance for doing that kind of permanent harm. The  prison term he was sentenced to will be of little solace to Eliyahu. Nor is the 21.7 million dollars he was awarded in his civil lawsuit against Greer - anywhere near compensation for what Greer did to him  As Eliyahu said: 
“No amount of money will compensate me for the pain and suffering inflicted on me by Daniel Greer. I will never recover from the emotional pain and suffering. I will suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome for the rest of my life.”
He also said he wishes he could “turn the clock back and relive my childhood.”
Mirlis, who testified during both trials, said, “Each time I had to face Daniel Greer, it was very difficult for me to face him and his attorneys in court. I’ve endured enough trauma in my life.” 
How is it possible for someone that dedicates his life to doing the kind of good works Greer did to be the monster he truly is? How sick must someone be - someone who was so accomplished and so talented - to sexually abuse a vulnerable young teenager under his charge for 4 years?! 

Was it all just a façade? Was he always just evil to the core? I don’t think so. I do not believe a truly evil person can have a lifetime of so much accomplishment as a façade - just so he can do his dirty work under cover of his reputation. I think he probably was dedicated to the causes he worked so diligently for - all his life. The kind of life that included a 48 year marriage to a still devoted wife. A life that included being a father who is beloved by his children. All of whom still believe in his innocence apparently.

And yet, he ended up being an unforgivable monster. All because of sickness he could not control. A crime for which he has never expressed any remorse nor an apology. A true Jekyll and Hyde.

What a sad but deserving ending to a life once well lived.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Is Simple Belief Irrational?

The 'Big Bang' of Creation
Discussion about matters of belief is a subject that makes me uncomfortable. Which is why I tend to avoid such discussions. Not because I fear being dissuaded about God’s existence and the legitimacy of Judaism in both belief and practice. But because I fear that hosting such discussions will inevitably cause people that question their faith to buy into arguments against it in such discussions. I have expressed this before – this is not the first time.

And yet, this is an important issue that will not go away. In our time the availability of material arguing against belief in God or the truth of the Torah is prolific. If one has questions about the beliefs they grew up with, it is all too easy to find the kind of answers that will satisfy them and cause them to lose their faith. Especially if they first sought answers from their educators and received responses that did not satisfy them. I see this phenomenon all the time. Most people like that are pretty smart. I therefore do not want to contribute to it in any way.

That said, I have in the past reluctantly dealt with this subject. And I will repeat here why I am a believer. But before I do that, I highly recommend the article written by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein on Cross Currents. He does a masterful job in not only dealing with these questions, but in dealing with people that ask them. The discussion which follows that article is just as enlightening.

For me the most important take away is in how - in our time - to view those with questions of faith that eventually found satisfying answers only among those that led them away from belief. Here is how Rabbi Adlerstein puts it: 
How should we view this new batch of troubled thinkers? Not by demonizing them. They may be wrong, but they are not otherwise possessed of evil traits more than lots of others we know. Some are very nice people. They should not be confused with apostates like Johannes Pfefferkorn and Pablo Christiani who turned against their G-d and their people. They were usually possessed of both great ego-centricity and bad character. Not so at all, the new heretics. Neither are they all victims of bad parenting, products of inadequate schooling, glory-seekers, or mired in their lusts and desires.
They are consequences of one of the greatest gifts Hashem gave us – the freedom to make moral choices. We should stand in awe at the power of bechirah that HKBH gives us! It means, among other things, that people have the ability to ponder and question anything. Furthermore, to maintain bechirah, plausible options need to be available (Note: plausible does not mean true or accurate) to keep the choices people make meaningful. While HKBH left us ample evidence of His existence and role in history, He also hides Himself enough sufficiently for some people to have to wrestle with a real choice. 
Could not agree more. This is the right way to deal with people that have lost faith in our day. It is the way I have always dealt with them. I respect the intellectual honesty that led them to their conclusions – even as I strongly reject those conclusions. They are indeed not evil people. And not to be treated like those that use their Kefira to turn others away from God.

The question remains however, how does one deal with the rational thinking itself?  For example the kind of arguments made by bible critics?  Rabbi Adlerstein deals with that in both the text of the article and in responses to those that had questions about it.

As for me, I have said it all in the past. Rational thinking is a powerful force in choosing what is and isn’t true. But that alone is limited as a form of finding it and is certainly not the only means by which to do so. Belief is by definition something that is not proven. However, even so it can be seen as a powerful Truth. There are a variety of ways one can seek that Truth – even as rational thinking alone might not.

For one thing (as Rabbi Adlerstein correctly notes) one cannot irrefutably prove that God does not exist. Just as one cannot irrefutably prove He does. If either of these two options were incontrovertibly provable we would all either know God exists or know that He doesn’t. We are therefore left with belief as a necessary component either way. 

Believing in God and His Torah ultimately means relying on belief after finding evidence that can lead you in two opposite directions.  Not blind belief. But what we might call Emunah Peshuta – simple belief. We can ‘know’ that God exists and that His Torah is true based on a variety of reasons. But ultimately it still requires that ‘leap of faith’ - the Emunah Peshuta that will  result in finding it. 

That said, there are some very smart people of fine character with great values that have concluded the opposite. And as I said, they are  not to be dismissed even though in my view they have relied too much on rational thinking alone in arriving at those conclusions. 

I have discussed my personal journey here before - the details of which are beyond the scope of this post. What I will briefly say, however, is the idea that the universe (matter and energy) itself is infinite… that our existence as thinking human beings came about randomly… and that how mankind behaves doesn’t matter to anyone but ourselves does not make as much sense as does the idea that there is an Infinite Creator – a Spiritual Being Who cares how His creations behave and that there are consequences to that behavior. One way or another.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Of Hedgehogs and Ideology

Image taken  from Lehrhaus
Rabbi Dr. Gil Perl has tried to accomplish the near impossible: Make the Modern Orthodox Jew passionate about his Hashkafa. Based on the writings of best selling business author, Jim Collins, he characterizes Modern Orthodoxy to be missing the hedgehog concept. By which he means taking something form a state of being good to something being great.

Why I believe it is near impossible will be addressed later.

Rabbi Perl correctly observes that if Modern
Orthodoxy is to survive it must have the kind of passion other segments of Orthodoxy have. Each of which has what Rabbi Perl calls ‘an authentic Torah value’ as their primary focus around which all other Torah values are secondary. As he notes: 
The Yeshiva world has talmud Torah. The Hasidic world has dveykus. The Dati Le-umi world had yishuv Eretz Yisra’el. Chabad has kiruv. Though each community advocates full-fledged adherence to all 613 mitzvot, a single value is elevated above the rest.  
Indeed. I don’t think this is arguable. This, says Rabbi Perl, is missing from Modern Orthodoxy. I agree with him about that. Modern Orthodox Jews tend to not focus on any of these or any other value that they exalt over all others.  Which leaves us without the kind of passion that could fire up the Modern Orthodox base. And that suggests that we are doomed to become marginalized by those whose passion about their Hashkafa defines them and thereby are better able to perpetuate their Hashkafa into the future via their children and their educators.

It is quite clear that this is the case. That is for example why there has been an unprecedented explosion in the growth of Torah study in the Yeshiva world. And who among us hasn’t noticed the explosion of Chabad’s Kiruv efforts into all four corners of the world? There is not a doubt in my mind that in both these cases, it was the passion about their particular Torah value – inspired by their rabbinic leaders that is responsible for that.

By contrast, Modern Orthodoxy has not singled out any Torah value to be passionate about. For most Modern Orthodox Jews it is all about following Torah law while living and participating in the modern world. It’s hard to be passionate about all 613 Mitzvos in the same way it is to be passionate when singling out one Mitzvah. One can rally around one Mitzvah using all the resources available about that Mitzvah in order to show why that Mitzvah is the most important one for then to rally around – and even live for.

Rabbi Perl suggests that Modern Orthodoxy does have one Mitzvah that they can and should rally around. It is a natural for them. The idea of being an Or LaGoyim –  a light unto the nations. It is the Modern Orthodox ideology that places its adherents in the best position to do so. They are the ones most involved in the outside world. They can set the example to their fellow man - a mission that should not be taken lightly. How the Modern Orthodox Jew behaves in public (and even in private) is no less the difference between making a Kiddush HaShem and making a Chilul Hashem. This is true for all Jews. But for those of us that are more involved in the general culture it is doubly so.

There are those who might say that being an Or LaGoyim has no real basis in Halacha. It is not in the Shulchan Aruch. It has no historic precedent and no one of any rabbinic stature, past or present, ever suggested this be our primary focus. Most such individuals would even say that this ideal has been adopted by heterodoxy in the form of ‘Tikun Olam’ and has nothing to do with what Judaism is all about.

Rabbi Perl does a good job of refuting that.  First there is Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch: 
(He) is one of the few Torah luminaries over the past two hundred years who was known to extol the virtue of Or Goyim seemingly over and above the Zionist ideal.  
Unfortunately Rav Hirsch’s ideology has been marginalized if not completely dismissed by most Charedi rabbinic leaders as a primary approach to Judaism. But as Rabbi Perl also notes - these same people might be surprised to know that Rav Hirsch was not alone. And that there were respected rabbinic leaders of the past who agreed with Rav Hirsch. Such as R’ Naftali Tzvi Yehuda of Berlin - the Netziv in his Sefer on Chumash, HaEmek Davar (Devorim 21:1). Rabbi Perl adds: 
The notion that Jews are called upon to share the Torah’s teachings with the world at large, and that doing so speaks to the very essence of a Jew’s mission in this world, was expressed not only in the Yeshiva world of Netziv and the Neo-Orthodox world of Rav Hirsch, but in 19th century Hasidic circles as well. Reb Nosson of Breslov, the great scribe and teacher of the Breslover community following the death of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, records the following in his Likkutei Halakhot: 
That said, I do not believe that Modern Orthodoxy should  make being an or LaGoyim its passion no matter how noble it is. In my view it should be defined the way it is traditionally defined as adhering to the ideology of Torah U’Madda (TuM).

Rabbi Perl rejects that. He references R’ Norman Lamm who – as he points out – literally wrote the book on that subject. Rabbi Lamm says that TuM is not an ideology but rather pedagogy – a means of ‘arriving at knowledge of the Creator through the avenues of science and the arts’.

In my view, that is a distinction without a difference. Aren’t all Orthodox Jewish ideologies ultimately about that?

Another objection Rabbi Perl has to defining Modern Orthodoxy that way is that pursuing God via TuM is reserved only for the most elite among us. Those capable of studying both disciplines at high levels – leaving those among us incapable of that to be passionate about.

I hear that. But that should not remove TuM as the ideological definition of Modern Orthodoxy. An ideal I believe is the best means by which to gain knowledge of the Creator. That is not something we should dismiss just because it is difficult for everyone to live up to and be passionate about. Not only that, but TuM need not be studied only by the elite anymore than Torah should. We each do the best we can with the capabilities God gave to us to do it. 

Full knowledge of God is in any case an impossible task for human beings as is evidenced by the Torah itself. When Moshe asked to see the face of God, God told him that no human being can see his face and live. Not even if that human being is Moshe Rabbenu - God’s most devoted servant bar none.

Does that leave Modern Orthodoxy bereft of the hedgehog concept? Perhaps. But in my view using a Mitzvah that does not really define what we are really about in order to excite passion in us will in my view - not work.

Problems with Disqus

I have been informed by several people who said they are  unable to comment for lack of seeing the comments section

I have been having these problems for quite some time. I've tried to fix them but have so far been unsuccessful.

It has something to do with the fact that 'blogger' which hosts my blog became a secure website while Disqus remains unsecured. When you click on an individual post, it will not include additions to that site like Disqus that are unsecured. Comments will not be visible.

At the present time the only way i know of to access comments is the following:

1.Log onto the Emes Ve-Emunah website. That will be in an unsecured state and show my most recent posts. Do not click on the title of the post. That will  NOT get you to the comments. Instead...

2. Scroll down to the bottom of whichever post you wish to comment on. Then you will see 'comments'. Click on that and that will enable you to comment.

I'm still working on ways to find compatibility between Discus and Blogger. I hope to eventually solve the problem.

Sorry for the inconvenience.