Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Future of Daas Torah

R' Yosef Shalom Elyashiv - often misquoted by activists with personal agendas
I am in awe. He nailed it. In one of the best analyses of the subject I have ever seen, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein describes the true meaning of Daas Torah, how it has become corrupted in our day, and what its future is. He does that in the context of an analysis of the recent elections results in Bet Shemesh. Therein he seems to be ringing the death-knell of its corruption as it pertains to Israel. Where that corruption is at its worst!

I hope he’s right. There are indications that he might be. But it remains to be seen just how accurate his prediction of how Daas Torah will be seen by Charedim in Israel going forward.

First let me reiterate what Daas Torah legitimately is and how it has been corrupted. Daas Torah is the wisdom of the Torah on any given subject. That is what we should all be guided by. The problem is, who defines what that is? And when should it be given?

The way it is commonly used today is not in my view the correct one. Which is that Daas Torah is the exclusive view of certain rabbinic leaders on matters of public policy. It is what they believe to be God’s will based on their tremendous degree of Torah knowledge. To the exclusion of any other rabbinic leaders.

This idea is most often heard at Agudah conventions in America and refers to the views expressed by the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, the rabbinic leaders of the Agudah.  Daas Torah is virtually Agudah’s motto. The idea being that whatever one thinks about any given issue facing Jews and Judaism, it is only the combined wisdom of the members of the Moetzes that matters. Whatever they say is virtually iron clad and negates whatever anyone else thinks. (Often referred to as being Mevatel Daas  - negating one’s own wisdom to that of their rabbinic leaders). Dissent is not acceptable.

But this definition is taken with a huge grain of salt by America Charedim. Rabbi Adlerstein notes that they often observe their Daas Torah says in the breach. They pay lip service to it and often privately say and do what they want even while otherwise living their lives completely by Charedi standards.

But when these same Charedim make Aliyah they are told that Israel has a different standard. A much stricter adherence is expected under a severe communal penalty if they don’t. Non compliance is seen as kind of a rebellion. Most American Charedim that live in Israel are thus bullied into doing things that do not come naturally to them.

In America despite Agudah’s treatment of Daas Torah as virtually infallible, most members of  the Moetzes are realistic.  They do not tell people how to live every aspect of their lives. For example they are not told who to vote for by any rabbinic leaders - even privately. (The Agudah is forbidden by law to endorse any political candidate under penalty of losing their tax exempt status if they do.)  Even if they favor any given candidate as being more beneficial for Orthodoxy, they do not impose their views on their public.

Charedim in America vote for whomever they choose. No sanctions for that here. In contrast, the lives of Charedim in Israel could be ruined by communal sanctions. They might be ostracized from the Charedi world or threatened about their children not getting married.  Imagine what a threat like that means to a parent. A child never getting married because you didn’t vote for a candidate? Too high a price to pay!

It should also be noted (as Rabbi Adlerstein points out) that in some cases Israeli rabbinic leaders are misquoted by Askanim - activists with their own agenda. But in too many cases it hasn’t stopped Charedim from believing they have been quoted accurately – thus resulting in uncalled-for and unfair sanctions.  But the bottom line is that there are serious expectations of Charedi compliance with what they are told is Daas Torah.

The last election seemed to be too much for American sensibilities. The iron-fisted hold that this kind of Daas Torah was supposed to have – had no effect on significant numbers of them. They voted in Israel the way they voted in America, despite being told who to vote for under those penalties. A lot of American Charedim in Israel simply ignored all of it.

Will there actually be those kinds of consequences since so many have proven that they will not be bullied into compliance? I tend to doubt it. Too many of them have bolted.

Rabbi Adlerstein believes that we have turned a corner. That the stranglehold of rabbinic authority as it has been implemented is over. That a the more realistic approach of American Charedim has finally arrived as a legitimate Charedi Approach. To put it the way Rabbi Adlerstein courageously does: 
(T)he Beit Shemesh election holds out hope for a future in which they can enjoy the intensity and commitment of a charedi lifestyle while freeing themselves of a stranglehold that is choking them.
I’m not sure sure we have arrived at that point. It remains to be seen just how far this ‘rebellion’ goes. Will there be a wider acceptance of sending children to day schools and yeshiva high schools that offer secular subjects? Will there be some Israeli Charedim that buy into that too? Or will there be a break between Israeli Charedim and American Charedim that have made Aliyah?

My guess is that there will be a break. Israeli Charedim are used to following their Daas Torah whether they like it or not. Americans may very well form their own Charedi community.

Or not. Because if past is prologue, most American Charedim that live in Israel have bit the bullet and conformed. Whether they like it or not. And they have gotten used to it. The question is whether enough of these younger and more recent Olim (immigrants to Israel) bolted to form their own community. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Islamic Fundamentalism is the Real Enemy

Bus hit by rockets fired from Gaza (The Telegraph)
Either Palestinians have the best PR machine in world history - or their representation by the mainstream media is biased. I’m pretty sure it is mostly the latter.

There is nothing new about media reportage in the Middle East. The narrative is always about the suffering Palestinians in Gaza are experiencing at the hands of the all powerful Israeli military.

Their overcrowded conditions, poor economy, lack of enough food and medical supplies is due to Israel’s blockade of supplies that would improve their lives. Gaza is fenced in on all sides. And that has brought desperate Gazans to attempt to overrun the blockade by any means necessary – for their very survival!

Again, this is nothing new. Rarely does the media even mention that all this has been brought about by the determination of Hamas Palestinians that rule Gaza. Whose sworn goal is the liberation of their holy land, Palestine, from the infidel Israelis. Even at the expense of martyrdom. They have been joined in that goal by virtually all of fundamentalist Islam. From Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Again – nothing new. Nor is it new that these facts are virtually ignored by mainstream media reporters in the region.

Which is why I haven’t been commenting on the current flareup there. Not that it doesn’t concern me. Of course it does. Every Jew hurt of killed simply because they are defending their country or worse - simply because they are a Jew living in the holy land pains me greatly. It’s just that none of this is new. If I were to comment on it as much as it deserves, I would be repeating myself. And I would be doing it at the expense of other important issues. Many of them as existential to Judaism as is the conflict there to Israel.

But I can’t watch what is going on yet again without comment. Scenes like the one depicted in the photograph above have moved me to comment yet again.

According to some estimates as many as 400 rockets have been fired indiscriminately into populated areas in Southern Israel. Including the city of Ashkelon. (See video below) Not that rocket attacks are new either. But rocket attacks continue in such great number that it makes me wonder just how they get those rockets. Why haven’t the boycotts and blockades against Gaza worked to keep them out?

I don’t have an answer to that question. But I do have an answer to where they are getting them: The high probability is that they are being supplied by Iran.

The mainstream media simply reports that violence has once again flared up between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza. As though both parties are to blame - but that the underlying problem is that Palestinians in Gaza are drawn to use violence as the only resort to get out from under Israel’s oppressive thumb.

I wish the mainstream media would have the integrity to report the facts. Yes, Gaza is suffering.  Why don’t they report the real reasons why? It might be because the media believes that if not for Israel - life would be better there. And then Gaza and Israel would behave like good neighbors.

But I doubt they are really that naive. Any serious journalist that ever took the time to see what is really going on there would know that the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza are not sourced in Israel’s legitimate security needs. I think the media knows that it isn’t as simple as that. But don’t have the integrity to say what the source of Palestinian suffering in Gaza really is. 

It is the Islamic fundamentalist goal of taking back all of Palestine from the hands of the infidel Jews and return it to their rightful owners, Islam. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind about that. To fundamentalists this is a religious imperative. There is no compromising on what they believe to be the will of God. 

That requires doing whatever it takes including martyrdom. And if lying about it serves that goal, it is a religious imperative to do so. If depriving their own citizens basic needs and blaming it on Israel serves that purpose, they will do it enthusiastically. They will put innocent children in harm’s way so that any defensive tactic taken by Israel in Gaza will virtually assure that children will be killed. All in the goal of driving world opinion of Jews as baby killers undeserving of heir own state. Jews that are responsible for all the suffering they currently endure.

But that real suffering that can only be blamed on the religious views of the fundamentalist Palestinians that rule Gaza in the form of Hamas.

Iran is of the same exact mindset and has been so since the overthrow of the Shah 40 years ago - and fundamentalism took over. Jews are considered evil interlopers into the holy Islamic land of Palestine and defile it by their mere presence. 

Like Hamas, Iran too believes that Palestine must be liberated for the sake of Islam. There is little difference between Islamic fundamentalist sects on that score. Fundamentalists of Shia and Sunni Islam may be mortal enemies. But on this they agree: The immortal Jew must be swept out of holy Islamic soil or be killed in the process. There are no innocent Jews - if they live in Israel. They are just evil infidels that need to be erased one way or another.

That Iran feels that way is not a secret. Their religious and political leaders shout it from their rooftops. It should not surprise anyone that the Iran, biggest supporter of terror in the world supplies Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon with those rockets. An unlimited supply that seems to be getting deadlier with each attack.

Which to me is the best reason to have canceled that terrible deal with Iran. Even if it did temporarily stop them from developing their own nuclear weapons, it did nothing to stop them from supplying their surrogates in Lebanon and Gaza with an unlimited supply of deadly weapons. I’m glad to see the pressure reinstated on Iran by the United States. 

Even if they do decide to reinstate their nuclear weapons program (an to the best of my knowledge they haven’t yet) they may not get the chance and very well end up with a new revolution by their own people now suffering at the hands of their Islamic leaders. That would be the best of all possible outcomes. If Islamic fundamentalism is destroyed and replaced with some sort of western style democracy. It would end their exportation of terror. 

It might even lead to the restoration of diplomatic relations between Israel and Iran. Which was the case before Islamic fundamentalism took over in 1979.  If I am right and Iran is the primary (if not exclusive) supplier of rockets to Gaza and Lebanon, that would end too. Without Iran backing them Gaza and Lebanon would have little in the way of weapons to use against Israel. 

Not that this would stop them completely. Where there is a will there is a way. Hamas has proven they can do a lot of damage by sheer innovation. Like terror tunnels and gasoline filled balloons set on fire and sent over the border into populated areas into Israel.

Unfortunately I do not believe there is a solution to the violence coming out of Gaza. As long as there is a religious imperative and fanatics willing to do whatever it takes to implement it - Israel will have no choice but to continue to defend itself. And that will continue to make life difficult for innocent Gaza citizens. Which will continue to cause them to blame Israel for their troubles. And on the surface, who can blame them? Certainly not the mainstream media who sympathize with their plight and imply - if not directly say - it is Israel’s fault.

I see no solution to fighting an ideal that is instilled into fundamentalist Muslims form birth and constantly reinforced by religious and political leaders as well as by their media, schools, and through various of their entertainment media.

But if we can at least get those rockets out of there, that will be progress.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Climate Change - Whose Fault is it, Anyway?

Paradise lost - Scene a few days ago in the Northern California town of Paradise
I cannot believe my eyes. For the past few days I have been watching with horror what seems to be the entire state of California going up in flames. It is almost as if I am witnessing Hell on earth.

I do not believe this can be understated. Entire cities have been consumed! Malibu, one of the most famous neighborhoods in the world has been evacuated. Celebrities have lost their homes. I do not recall anything like it. 

Yes, California has had major fires before. Many times. But nothing like this. It is shocking - to say the least.

I believe that climate change has been driving it. Just like it has in other catastrophic events across the globe. Like the devastating hurricanes and floods around the world that seem to increase with intensity each year.

I do not believe there can be any doubt about it. All one has to do is track the yearly increase in the melting of glaciers in the arctic regions of the world. It is impossible not to deduce that the world is heating up. And that has resulted in catastrophes.

It is climate change that fuels hurricanes making them more powerful and damaging. It increases flooding and dries up forests making them easily kindling. Strong winds are causing those fires in California to spread rapidly. Winds that very likely are due to climate change.

I do not think any of this is arguable.

The question is why? Why is the climate changing? Why is the world’s climate getting warmer? The answer to this is not so simple. Many scientists say that mankind is responsible for it. That carbon emissions have a greenhouse effect that warms up the planet. Chlorofluorocarbons causes holes or depletion in the ozone layer that surrounds the earth and prevents the sun from penetrating it more. 

Holes in the ozone layer are also believed to be one cause in the increase of skin cancer because the ultraviolet rays of the sun become more intense.

Carbon emissions are caused by a variety of factors including the use of fossil fuels. The world has been increasing the use of fossil fuels as the energy demands have increased due to the increased number of cars and because of advances in technology that require increased use of energy. 

I have no doubt that humans contribute to climate change. But are we the primary culprit? I am not so sure. There are a variety of ways in which carbon is emitted into the atmosphere and pierces the ozone layer. Not all of them are based on human activity. Large volcanic eruptions for example have been shown to have a substantial impact on the ozone layers. I have not heard much talk about natural phenomena as a contributing cause. All I ever hear is about the human cause. As if there were no other factors.

This is not to say that mankind is not responsible at all. It is only to say that it is unclear to me just how much of it is man made and how much is the direct result of nature - over which man has little control. And whether what we do will have a significant impact in light of what natural phenomena might contribute.

This is also not to say that we shouldn’t try to do what we can to reduce carbon emissions. Of course we should. It is to say that man is not alone in the world. There is a God who controls everything.

It is by bearing this in mind that I have problems with those scientists that predict that climate change will result in end of the world if we don’t do something drastic. And suggest only solutions that can be done by the hand of man. That God has nothing to do with it. If mankind doesn’t act, mankind will destroy itself. I hear that all the time! 

This is where I part company with much of those who blame climate change only on man. 

The world will not end. We believe that the world will survive into a future that will herald in Moshiach.  That is a fundamental Jewish belief. Yes we should conserve energy and reduce carbon emissions as much as we can. Hopefully that will mitigate climate change. But it will not solve the problem of nature’s contribution. 

This is where God comes in. At the end of the day it is a partnership. We have to do our part. That is called Hishtadlus. How far we have to go is a matter of debate. The one thing I would oppose is the kind of change that will drastically alter our lives - while contributing little to lessening our carbon footprint. At the end of the day it is all in God’s hands. God have mercy on us all.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Merit Over Gender

Dr. Aliza Bloch and Mayor Moshe Abutbul meet after the election (VIN)
I have to give Dr. Aliza Bloch credit. She is someone that people of all Hashkafos should admire. JTA has called her a reluctant Orthodox feminist. Dr. Bloch has placed her city’s welfare above gender politics. Something that is anathema to modern day feminists. Modern day feminists would be appalled that a woman would not place the advancement of women in society as the highest priority. But Aliza Bloch will not have any of that.

This is in large part what is wrong with modern day feminism. It is no longer about treating men and women equally. And not looking at gender when making any kind of decision. It should not matter whether a man or a woman is chosen to fill a job of any kind. It should only matter how qualified they are. The more qualified individual should get the job regardless of whether they are male of female.

Newly elected mayor of Bet Shemesh, Aliza Bloch, is that kind of individual. She is about doing the best job for her city she can. In that capacity she sees her gender as secondary to her job.

This is not in line with those calling for affirmative actions with respect to hiring more women for municipal positions in order to satisfy notions of equality of the sexes. That places gender over qualification. 

For the sake of the city, I hope that does not happen. The city needs competent people at municipal jobs that will be hired based on merit. Not based on gender. It shouldn’t be the 2nd best person for the job just because she is a woman. It should be the best person for the job, regardless of whether it is a man or a woman. That is the old time feminism of which I consider myself an adherent. And of which - it appears - Dr. Bloch is too. Affirmative action is just discrimination in reverse.

Unfortunately gender politics is what drives much of the left - along with their willing accomplices in the mainstream media.  This is what happened in the United States where we just had a midterm election. There is hardly a commentator in any of the mainstream media that failed to mention the ‘importance’  of the increase of women elected to public office in the last election. That is usually followed by ‘we have a long way to go before we get to full gender equality’.  As though it almost didn’t matter whether the more qualified individual won. It only mattered that it was a woman.

I have no problem with having an equal number of men and women serving in congress. I wouldn’t even care if the majority of congress were women, provided they were the most qualified for the job. But to look at gender as the most important feature puts equality ahead of quality. This is wrong headed and counterproductive. 

If this were - for example - applied to the medical field then we would end up with a number of individuals that are less than the best at their jobs. Do we really want any but the most qualified doctors involved in our individual or communal health care? Not me! The same should be true for any field of endeavor. Including choosing our political leaders.

I therefore salute Dr. Bloch for her courage to let her sense of right and wrong supersede her sense of feminism.  An example of her courage is in an issue about which I care very much. Read on.

I have been highly critical of the erasure of women from the public square that has become more prevalent in certain Orthodox circles. I believe it to be an unreasonable and extreme application of modesty laws that is unfair to women and does much harm in how women are seen (unseen?) in Orthodoxy. It is an outrage - and I could not protest more about this new ‘innovation’. I have been speaking out against that ever since I noticed it for the first time in mainstream Charedi publications that do not publish any pictures of women. 

And yet I give Dr.  Bloch a lot of credit for not posting any pictures of herself in Charedi neighborhoods during the campaign. Even though she probably feels at least as strongly about this as I do. Not only that - but by not doing that she placed herself at a disadvantage to her male opponent, incumbent Mayor Moshe Abutbul. He was able to freely post as many pictures as he wanted. 

But at the end of the day, that decision gave her something else: a demonstration of her respect to those who see pictures of women as some sort of Tznius violation. Respect begets respect. I think that helped her gain a critical number of Charedi votes.

Dr. Bloch is Dati (Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist) and has proven her respect for her Charedi citizens. At the same time, she will no doubt certainly serve ALL  the people whether they are Charedi, Dati, or secular. No one will be short changed if she can help it. Except perhaps modern day feminism itself. Something she has already spoken to via her decision to not post any pictures of herself in Charedi neighborhoods out of respect for the views of people she actually disagrees with. 

This is a win for all of Bet Shemesh. It is also a win for the kind of feminism that counts. Which is where merit takes precedence over gender. Dr. Bloch is off to a good start. And I for one take much satisfaction in the way she won.

(Updated - 11/12/18)

Friday, November 09, 2018

Religious Jews and Pornography

Rabbi Shmuel Maybruch
Pornography use is up. More people are in to it than ever. The reason why that is - should be obvious. The ease of access and the ability to hide it opens up far more opportunities than ever.

This was one of the early complaints by rabbinic leaders about internet use. Porn access had become so common and so destructive to marriages and families that back in its early days some rabbinic authorities tried to ban the internet entirely.

As time went on, the more realistic rabbis realized that this was not a  solution to the problem so they advocated filters be installed on all electronic devices that would automatically block any site that contained porn – or anything remotely resembling it.

That realistic approach seems to be the status quo position of most mainstream religious leaders today. The focus now by most religious leaders of all Hashkafos is on addiction to hand held devices like smart-phones. Porn seems to have gone on the back burner. But it has not gone away. Quite the contrary.

It would be nice is filters were the solution to porn addiction. But clearly filters are not the answer. People that want to view porn can easily bypass those filters – if they even have them.

Rabbi Shmuel Mayburch has sent me a post he wrote that should be a wake-up call to the religious community. Therein he blows up 3 common myths about the use of porn.

1) If We Had More Sex, We Would Have Less Porn.

2) Religious Couples Don’t Have Porn

3) Pornography Use Is a Spouse’s Private Business

It turns out that none of these assumptions are true. In fact  - as it applies to religious people, the opposite might be true. Here is the pertinent excerpt: 
In my practice, I see individuals both in relationships and not committed that are devoutly religious and struggle with pornography use.
This is borne out by an astounding study. A group of researchers analyzed Google search terms on a state by state basis. They found a clear trend. States that are generally identified as more religious and fundamentalist had a higher prevalence of pornographic search terms on Google.
Think about that: the more a state identified as religious, the greater amount of sexual terms were searched for. Another group of researchers was incredulous, so they independently replicated the same study – and found the same results.
The first researchers then found something else even more amazing. They anonymously surveyed citizens of the states that demonstrated high pornography use. Although the respondents were anonymous, most people replied that they did not use pornography. Imagine that! In the states that were clearly using porn, people did not admit it, even anonymously.
It seems to indicate that religious communities see two things with regards to online pornography: increased use and decreased honesty about it.
Clearly, increased religiosity does not indicated less pornography use. It appears to sometimes indicate the opposite.
There has always been an assumption that those of us that are God fearing Jews would be less likely to access porn. After all, sexual activity is severely regulated by Halacha. All kinds of fences are built into our way of life to preclude being enticed by porn. Including in some of the more extreme cases where pictures of women are excluded from any form of publication. Where women are told to dress in a ways that will least empathize their sex. Where Tznius in women’s clothing has become the highest priority. Where the separation of the sexes is a forgone conclusion in as many places as possible. And yet with all that built in protection designed to distance ourselves from our sexual desires, the exact opposite seems to be happening.

This is not to say that we should God forbid abandon Halacha. However, what it does say is that we do have a problem that needs to be addressed in other ways. Because clearly those protections do not work. At least not for everyone.

Rabbi Maybruch thought this information would be useful to the observant community and that it should be disseminated as widely as possible.  I agree. Denial is a river in Egypt. Knowledge is power. I urge everyone to read his post in full. It is located here.   If we are going to have any chance at solving a serious problem affecting more people than ever, we need to know as much about it as possible. 

Rabbi Shmuel Maybruch,MSis a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), dating and relationship coach, and experienced rabbi. He holds a B.A. in psychology from Yeshiva University and a Masters from the Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He was also formerly S’gan Mashgiach Ruchani in Yeshiva University and was the founding Rabbi of the Shenk Shul of Washington Heights. He studied in Yeshiva Shaar Hatorah and then in Yeshiva University’s Katz Kollel and advanced Wexner Kollel Elyon. He currently resies in Israel. (Updated 11/10/18)

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Miriam's Story

I hope she’s lying. But my instinct tells me that she’s probably telling the truth. It’s easy to accuse a disgruntled formerly religious Jew that has gone OTD of lying about her former community – smearing them is some sort of act of revenge. But I do not think that is the case here.

This is a story of how many Chasidim in Stamford Hill neighborhood are advised to to commit fraud against the government in order to supplement their income. All with the knowledge and blessings of a Chasidic Rebbe. And about the 'go to' individual in an organization called Agudah  (not affiliated  with Agudath Israel of America) with the expertise and experience to advise them on how to do it.

Until she abandoned observance, Miriam was a part of that community. She describes the process by which it was done. Having gotten married and her family was beginning to grow. She was advised by a Chasidic Rebbe she consulted to purchase a house. But to get someone else to buy it. 

Why? Because she would be unable to collect welfare if she had enough money to buy a house. She and her husband were also advised how to be paid off the books so as to report a lower income allowing them to still be eligible for welfare payments as ‘supplementary income.  That was all explained in detail by that 'go to' fellow in Agudah. He knew how to handle government red tape that would enable it.

What about the fact that they were stealing from the government?  According to Miriam, she was told by that Rebbe that it was OK to steal form Goyim! 

I wish I could say that this is a ridiculous canard that no responsible religious leader would ever say to anyone. But I know at least one rabbi that actually believes that and has said so privately. He also said he would deny he ever said it - if he was accused of it.

How does any moral and ethical community allow something like this? They justify it be citing ‘need’. The lifestyle of a Chasidic Jew is very expensive. That is no secret. As the BBC reported they have ‘private education, pricey Kosher food, and lavish weddings to pay for!’ They also have very large families to feed with few resources to do it.

This scheme is designed to be untraceable so it is hard to prove. So the BBC went undercover as Jews with that type of need to see for themselves. They were advised along the same lines as Miriam. 

Let me hasten to add that stealing from non Jews is the same sin as stealing from Jews. This is Jewish law as spelled out in the Shulchan Aruch – our Code of Jewish Law. It  takes some truly creative thinking to twist that into permitting Jews to steal from non Jews! 

Unfortunately that seems to be what is being done here. 

Fortunately it was made clear by other Orthodox organizations and rabbis contacted by the BBC that such behavior is a serious violation of Jewish law and is never condoned.    

It appears that there is nonetheless an entire community that considers it ethical to steal from the government because of the needs of a religious lifestyle. 

What about the Chilul HaShem? They see it never amounting to that because they don't think they will be caught. And in any case it would be hard to prove if exposed. When it is exposed as it was here - they vehemently deny it with claims that all their advice about how to gain the most benefit from government welfare is legal. Besides - based on a centuries of European antisemitism where their ancestors could survive only by doing this kind of thing -  and the belief that things haven't changed they feel justified in continuing that practice.

Like I said, I hope that Miriam was lying. But considering the need is so great; their prospects of earning a decent income so poor; and the fact that there have been so many other stories like this - this story has a ring of truth.  

It should be noted that the BBC has often been accused of antisemitism many times. Usually in its reportage about Israel. Combine that with the theory that this story was made up as an act of revenge by a former member that has gone OTD, and it’s easy to write this off as a big lie. But sadly, if you listen to the broadcast with an open mind (available here) you might come to another conclusion.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

The Importance of Policy Over Diversity

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar
"Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel." 
No - this is not Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khameini speaking. It is a American. And no - it is not someone on fringes of American society. This is Ilhan Omar, a Muslim of Somalian descent and the newly elected member of the House of Representatives from Minnesota.

First I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not anti Muslim. I am just strongly opposed to people that want to destroy the Jewish State

Omar is also a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) which is a thinly veiled attempt to destroy the Jewish State. BDS has declared Israel an Apartheid State that oppresses its indigenous Palestinians. It advocates boycotting companies that do businesses with Israel; divestment from Israel by companies that already do; and punishing Israel itself with sanctions.

The use of the term ‘Apartheid’ to describe Israel is so offensives that it ought to set off alarms about BDS’s real intentions. In my view, the moment that term is used - the conversation should end. Anyone that knows the slightest bit about what Apartheid in South Africa was really like ought to be outraged by that comparison. Even if they believe that Israel treats Palestinians on the West Bank unfairly, that comparison is odious in the extreme!

And yet this is how BDS and those that support that movement choose to characterize the Jewish State. In 2017 while serving as a member of the Minnesota legislature, Omar voted against a bill that would have banned state dealings with companies that participate in BDS. Thankfully the bill passed with overwhelming support despite her opposition to it. Minnesota joined 19 states that had passed similar legislation.

But Omar is not the only anti Israel Muslim to be elected to the House. So too was Rashida Tlaib, a Muslim of Palestinian descent. From WJD:
Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent, openly advocates Israel's destruction, saying she wants a "one-state solution" that would immediately turn Israel into an Arab state.
"It has to be one state. Separate but equal does not work. I’m only 42 years old but my teachers were of that generation that marched with Martin Luther King. This whole idea of a two-state solution, it doesn’t work," she said.
Earlier this year, Tlaib angrily accosted a Jewish reporter who was asking her uncomfortable questions. 
The Democratic Party and the mainstream media are celebrating their achievement as the first Muslim women to be elected to congress. Totally ignoring their foreign policy positions with respect to Israel. 

Now I have no clue what their views are on other issues. My guess is that they are probably pretty mainstream liberal views. But I don’t know how anyone can celebrate an elected official that seeks to destroy America’s closest ally in the Middle East. Unless they just don’t know what their views are on that subject. 

Both Omar and Tlaib while stridently anti Israel will in the same breath claim they are not antisemitic. But so too does Louis Farrakhan. I’m not saying that they are anything like him. (...or maybe they are?) Nevertheless their opposition to Israel is so strident - declarations against antisemitism like that are tepid at best.

It is not surprising that both Omar and Tlaib are Democrats. Nor is it surprising that their party is celebrating their victory. Diversity is apparently what the Democratic Party is all about these days. It is as though they care more about the diversity of their party membership than about the issues they support.

It is difficult for me to support a political party that seems to care more about diversity than it odes about what they support. It is almost like they have a quota system for membership that will result in their demographics proportionally matching the demographics of the total population in America.

Diversity is a fine goal. But shouldn’t values come first? Shouldn’t someone’s position on any given issue be more important than from which constituency they come? 

And it isn’t only the Democratic Party. It is the fawning mainstream media, too. All I have been hearing in the mainstream media (which is decidedly left wing) is praise for how diverse the Democratic Party has become. Which is why Omar and Tlaib’s victory is so widely celebrated by them as well as the Democratic Party itself.

For me, that is enough to run as far away from the Democratic Party as I can. And to not place much value on what the mainstream media thinks is important.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

A Minor Revolt?

R' Shalom Cohen, head of the Shas Moetzas Chachmei HaTorah (YWN)
“There’s something happening here.” “What it is ain’t exactly clear.” So goes the opening lines to For What it’s Worth, the Buffalo Springfield protest song from the Viet Nam War era.

I thought of these lines as I reflect on two events that happened in Israel last week. One is the election of Dr. Aliza Bloch, - a Dati (religious but not Charedi) woman - as the new mayor of Bet Shemesh. A win she achieved with the help of a significant number of Charedi voters. The other is perhaps even more surprising. From the New York Times
In Haifa, one of the leading Haredi parties, Degel HaTorah, or Flag of the Torah — representing the so-called Lithuanian wing of the non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox — broke with the others and endorsed a nonreligious woman, Einat Kalisch Rotem, 48, who rolled to victory over a longtime incumbent to become the first woman elected as mayor of Israel’s third-largest city. 
Now it is true that Haifa is perhaps the most a secular city in all of Israel Certainly of that size. I do not believe the incumbent was any more religious than the new mayor-elect. Which makes it a bit surprising that Degel HaTorah, The Yeshiva world’s political arm bothered to endorse anybody there. But they did. And - surprise! – it was a secular woman.  And they even congratulated the winner: 
Even more groundbreaking, Degel HaTorah leaders celebrated and even bragged about Ms. Rotem’s victory in public. One of the party’s elected lawmakers, Moshe Gafni, placed a fawning congratulatory call to her — “Now you can do everything you think should be done,” he said. “We are with you” — and then posted a videotape of the call online. And when the new mayor-elect showed up at one of the sect’s synagogues late that night, hundreds of young yeshiva students sang and danced around her as if she were a renowned Torah scholar. 
To say that I am shocked by all of this would be an understatement of immense magnitude. Yeshiva students singing and dancing around a secular woman?! Because she won an election?!

I have no clue about the politics behind this. But my guess is that her policies in some way benefit the Charedi wolrd. (Although it’s hard to see how the agenda of the secular mayor of Haifa could ever do that.)

What makes this interesting is the fact that – as the Times notes - women in the Charedi world are never endorsed for a leadership position of any kind. Much less as the mayor of a major city. In fact Charedi parties forbade women from even becoming members until a recent ruling by the courts that said it was  discriminatory to do so and therefore illegal. The parties removed that provision. But as of now there has been no attempt by a Charedi party to invite women into it. Much less to serve as a member of the Knesset.

To illustrate just how much opposition there is to women serving in any leadership capacity - there was an unsigned poster circulated in Bet Shemesh just before the election. It said in the strongest possible terms - something to the effect that it is against the Torah to vote for a woman and those who do will be put into virtual Cherem. Meaning that they would be completely ostracized from all communal activity such as being counter for a Minyan or being called to the Torah. In other words a public shunning would be in effect for those that voted for Dr. Bloch.

In the case of Dr. Bloch this warning fell on deaf ears in much of the Charedi community. They voted for Aliza Bloch anyway. And in the case of a woman, Einat Rotem an endorsement by Charedi politicians is tantamount to an endorsement by their rabbinic leaders (whom they refer to as ‘the Gedolim’ and consider their pronouncements to be  Daas Torah.) The same leaders that will probably never allow a woman to be seated in the Keneset as a party member. 

What seems to be happening in one Bet Shemesh whose Charedi citizens comprise a majority of its population is a minor revolution. The election of Dr. Bloch precipitated an angry reaction by a Sephardi rabbinic leader. From YWN
Rav (Sholom) Cohen addressed claims of disapproval against (current Charedi mayor, Moshe) Abutbul from within the Chareidi camp: “They say that Moshe Abutbul did not take care of garbage collection and cleaning the streets. Phoeey (slang) on you! [טפו עליכם!]”
“What about the Torah related things that he did? Is there more cleanliness in the world than that? In Olam Habaah, they [Chareidi voters for Bloch] will be put into clean bathrooms. There, they will have clean bathrooms…”
“How do Yerei Shomayim who put on Tefillin in the morning not know how to weigh between this one (candidate) or this one? It is an embarrassment and a disgrace”, added Rav Cohen. 
Is it possible that ‘Daas Torah’ as it has existed til now in Israel has lost its luster? ...that it is no longer the powerhouse it once was? 

I recall the last mayoral election in Bet Shemesh. There was the same kind of pressure from Daas Torah then as there was this time. Their rabbinic leaders said at the time that it was a Chilul HaShem not to vote for the religious (Charedi) candidate. Charedim were all in. They campaigned hard for him and disparaged those that supported the opposing candidate.

But this time was different. The loss of the current Charedi mayor, Moshe Abutbul seems to have been taken in stride even by those that supported him. One fellow I spoke to casually who in the last election was all fired up in support of Abutbul said ‘I guess people just don’t like being told who to vote for’.  

I believe that shows a break from their Daas Torah. Until now if Daas Torah told the Charedi community that they had to vote for someone, they did. Not doing so was considered not listening to the Gedolim who pronouncements based on their vast Torah knowledge was seen as the closest thing to what God wanted as was humanly possible. And thus their opinion on all matters outweighed anyone else’s.

I wonder how far this break will go. I have always hoped for a grass roots uprising that would change the way things work in this world. I don’t know if we are there yet. But maybe this is it. We may just be witnessing the beginning of the winds of change. Daas Torah will not be eliminated as a factor. Nor should it be. We need to know what the ‘wisdom of the Torah’ is on all matters. Religious leaders steeped in Torah are the best ones to give us that information. 

But they are human and subject to error. Perhaps this break by Charedi voters was a wake up call about whether the views of the past actually were the wisdom of the Torah. Maybe the Charedi leadership in Israel will now realize that some of their views of were in error. Maybe – just maybe they will now have a new perspective that will enable their people to live better lives while still  

Monday, November 05, 2018

It's the Economy, Stupid!

Will the Texas voters go left (Beto O'Roarke) or right (Ted Cruz)? (Express)
I have never commented on midterm elections. Not because they weren’t important. But because I didn’t think it mattered too much what I thought about them. Traditionally the opposition party usually makes gains and that ends up in congressional legislative gridlock. I am going to comment on it this time in an admittedly very partisan way.

This time things are different. The country has never been so divided. What’s worse is that we have never had a President that has been so responsible for those divisions. Not that they weren’t already there. But that the electorate has never been so angry about it.  I do not recall such vehemence coming from one party against the other. Not only by politicians of each party. But by voters.

The understandable animus against the President has trickled down into the actual ideals of each side. What was one respectful opposition to the ideals of their opponents has become angry and hateful. On both sides.

Even though I lean strongly conservative, I blame the President for this. His rhetoric and behavior has cast a shadow on many of my ideals. Ideals that he has forwarded. It’s kind of like guilt by association. I separate the man form his policies. But to the left, if Trump supports it, it must be evil. Anything the President supports must be opposed with unparalleled vehemence.

That is why this election is so important. It is in large part because conservative Republicans are the majority in both Houses of Congress that a lot of conservative legislation has been passed. It is also why the Supreme Court now has a conservative majority. Whose rulings will likely favor issues that are important to religious people. Of which observant Jews certainly qualify. Many core religious values are common to people of all faiths. Fixed values that are not relative to the evolving values of the times. Which is the province of the Left.

Then there is the issue of foreign policy. If you support Israel, the conservative Republicans have generally been far more supportive of Israel in recent years than have liberal Democrats. 

The mantra I keep hearing from the Left is that Democrats are upset by Israel’s current policies. If Israel wants bi-partisan support they have to toe the Democratic party line with respect to how they should govern with respect to Palestinians on the West Bank. It is because Israel does not do that that they are losing that support. 

Conservatives do not see it that way. They understand that Israel has to do what is in their best interests as determined by their current leadership. And that they have no business telling a democracy like Israel what to do. Conservative support is based on Israel’s strong democracy, on being a strategic ally, and on shared values.

One example of  this is the senate race in Texas between current Republican Senator Ted Cruz  and his Democratic opponent, the very charismatic Congressman Beto O’Rourke. O’Rourke was one of only 8 congressman that voted against funding Israel’s Iron Dome defense system - while Hamas was firing rockets from Gaza at Israel’s civilian population. The other 395 congressmen voted in favor of it. O’Rourke says that he has no regrets about that vote. 

O’Rourke was also one of the few Democrats in both houses of congress that boycotted Netanyahu when he was invited by then House Speaker John Boehner to address a joint session of congress about the Iran deal. 

On that score the President has - with support of a conservative congress - abandoned that horrible deal and - again with support of a conservative congress - has instead implemented the strongest US sanctions on Iran thus far. And they are feeling it. Iran’s radical Islamic regime is being brought to its knees.

If liberal Democrats had their way, they would have honored that deal which allowed Iran to continue their ballistic missile programs; given them no reason to stop being the biggest state sponsor and exporter of terror in the world; and permission to eventually resume building a nuclear bomb – all while threatening to wipe the only democracy in the Middle East off the map.

But even if one leaves all this out there is one thing that should sway anyone voting in this election. Even Democrats: The Economy

If we want prosperity to continue we need to support legislators that will support an agenda that has accelerated that prosperity. That policy has created the best economy we’ve had in decades. Lower taxes and deregulation has resulted in more jobs;  lower unemployment; and more disposable income. US retailers are predicting one of the most successful holiday seasons in years.

It would take a lot of spin to deny that the economy is thriving under a conservative agenda. And I fully expect to hear that spin. But in my view the fact is that under 2 years of conservative economic policies we are thriving. Even as one must give credit to the previous administration for turning a bad economy around. I do not think that is even unarguable. 

That is why we must ignore the President himself and instead support the conservative policies his Presidency has implemented by voting for conservative candidates. That will best assure that those polices will continue under the new congress.

I realize that the polls are saying the the House will turn Democrat. Which will certainly hamper the passage of any further conservative legislation - and may slow down the economy. But polls have been wrong before. What these polls should be telling conservatives though is how important it is to vote in this election if they have any chance at all to retain the House (The Senate looks pretty safe).

That the President has not been emphasizing his biggest accomplishment – the economy – is unfortunately not a surprise. Nothing about this President surprises me. What he is doing instead is feeding his base red meat. Like his immigration policy. (Some suggestions of which are terrible and/or stupid.) 

That’s too bad. I believe he should listen instead to what a previous President said to his staff during his own Presidential campaign: It’s the economy, stupid!

I therefore urge conservatives who might not be inclined to vote in an off year election to do so this time. And perhaps more importantly I urge fellow observant Jews to vote for conservatives too, Because for us, it is not only the economy that is at risk. At risk are the very values we believe in.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

2018 is not 1939!

Vigil held in a Milwaukee suburb a few days ago (Journal Sentinel)
Slovie Jungreis-Wolff is the daughter of one of my heroes, Rebbitzin Esther Jungreis of blessed memory.  But as much of a fan as I was of hers, I completely disagreed with her about the state of antisemitism in the world. Especially as it pertains to this country. She believed that we - the Jewish people - are reliving 1939 all over again. She made these comments as far back 2009. Basing them on a variety of factors that seemed to mimic conditions of pre Holocaust Germany. And now her daughter is saying the same thing. (And she is not the only one saying it!) I disagreed with her mother then. And I disagree with her now.

What generated Mrs. Jungreis-Wolff’s comments on Aish is the horrific attack by an antisemite who massacred 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue a week ago on Shabbos. She cites her mother’s warnings that we must not be complacent and wave off the warning signs the way all too many Jews did back in the 1930s Germany. We must instead learn from history and see the world for what it is: A hostile place for the Jewish people. A world that is out to ‘get us’! Even right here in America!

I can understand why a Jew who is a child of the Holocaust might think that way after what happened in Pittsburgh last week. Especially when her mother’s perspective as a survivor instilled that kind of thinking in her. But I too am a child of the Holocaust. And my reaction to the events of last week was virtually the exact opposite of hers.

Why? …one may ask? How can I not see what happened as a harbinger of what’s to come for the Jewish people in 2018 America, the way Kristallnacht should have been seen by Jews in Germany back then?

Because the situations could not be more different. Unlike 1930s Germany, whose antisemitism was both institutional and national; both overt and latent in its populace - America and the overwhelming majority of her citizens could not be more supportive. I do not recall anything like the outpouring of sympathy and even empathy I saw last week from my non Jewish fellow citizens - in all of my years here.

People of all faiths, ethnicity, and cultures all over this country in all walks of life have expressed solidarity with us.  Middle class America, Blacks, Muslims, Christians of all denominations, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives… have all been rallying to our side with expressions of sincere sorrow for what happened.

There were a variety of gatherings where sincere moments of silence sympathy, and even solidarity were expressed all across the nation. In every possible venue: public or private - religious or secular.  In halls of government (local and national), churches of all denominations, and even mosques.Even in sports stadiums.If there were a theme to all this it might be that in America when a Jew is attacked - we are all attacked. (Poignant photos of such an event can be seen here.)

These are not the exceptions that prove the rule (that Mrs. Jugriess-Wolff was suggesting is the case). Far from it. It is more than obvious to me that this is NOT what America is all about in 2018. 

A excellent example of what I am talking about is a short video (below) created by the Pittsburgh Penguins – Pittsburgh’s professional hockey team. I believe it is representative of what virtually all of America felt. Which is exactly the opposite of what Mrs. Jungreis-Wolff describes. This is not 1939. It is 2018.

This does not mean that antisemitism does not exist. Of course it does. Antisemitism is up by 57% according to the ADL. But it is all being perpetrated by a minuscule number of people on the fringe. And far from how mainstream America feels about its Jewish citizens.

Antisemitism is what motivated last week’s massacre. And we must be more vigilant now than ever.. Especially now when the rhetoric of fear and hate uttered by some of our political leaders has become so strident. That is very likely what motivated last weeks mass murderer to act - the way one of them did last week. And the way it motivated someone last year to shoot Republican Congressman, Steve Scalise

But again - it should be obvious is that is is indeed the fringe - NOT the mainstream. A fringe that is relatively minuscule compared to the rest of the population. What should also be more than painfully obvious to us by now is that all it takes is one! 

To suggest that in 2018 the America in which we live is rife with antisemitism is just plain wrong. It is based on a superficial and simplistic perception of the facts. I truly believe Mrs. Jungries-Wolff should take note of all this and reconsider her thinking on this subject.