Thursday, February 02, 2023

President Nikky Haley? - How Great Would That Be!

Former US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley (NPR)
Not that I’m all that surprised. But I’m glad that it actually happened – or is about to happen shortly. The media has been reporting that on February 15th  Nikki Haley will be formally announcing her candidacy for President of the United States in 2024. 

She is the first Republican to challenge her former boss, Donald Trump for the Republican nomination, who has already announced that he’s running. 

I assume that most political pundits would say that her chances of getting the nomination are slim at best, much less her chances of winning the general election. But I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Stranger things have happened. Nonetheless I suspect that her chances are indeed pretty slim for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is the sad reality that most of Trump’s MAGA fans have not abandoned him. At least not yet. 

Unfortunately polls indicate that as things stand now, Republicans will choose Trump as their nominee. I sure  hope that changes as more Republicans announce their candidacies. I would like to see just about any other Republican get the nomination. 

Despite the loyalty of Trump’s MAGA base - a Trump candidacy would be more toxic than ever to the majority of American voters. Should he somehow win the nomination anyway, he will surely lose the general election again. Probably by a greater margin than the last time. Thankfully. My hope is that even his MAGA supporters realize that at some point and find another candidate whose policies would be similar to Trump’s.

What I like about Haley is that she is the kind of conservative Republican that even many Democrats could vote for. 

Nikki Haley was a 2 term governor of South Carolina - who had the courage to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capital after the mass shooting of black worshippers in a church by Dylan Roof, a white supremacist. (She urged prosecutors to seek the death penalty against him). 

Haley is both a fiscal and social conservative who is business friendly, believes in lowering taxes, is pro life, and supports school choice.

She had the wisdom to appoint Tim Scott, a black Republican to replace a retiring south Carolina Senator.

Haley would be the first woman and Indian-American to become President of the United States. That would surely be appealing to ethnic and racial minorities; and to women.

For those of us that support Israel, I do not believe there is a better candidate for President than Haley. She showed her bona fides on this issue as the US representative to the UN. Unlike her predecessor, her full throated harsh condemnation of UN bias against Israel was on constant full display. Her support for the Jewish state involved more than mere words: 

As governor of South Carolina, she signed into law a bill to stop efforts of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. This legislation was the first of its kind on a statewide level.[94] Haley also stated that "nowhere has the UN's failure been more consistent and more outrageous than in its bias against our close ally Israel" 

As UN representative Haley also withdrew US support for the UN Human Rights Commission calling it a cesspool of political bias against Israel and a failure in holding human rights abusers accountable.

In short her support of the Jewish state in the UN was unprecedented.

The ‘cherry on top’ of this little piece of news is that my daughter’s fellow valedictorian in high school, Nachama Soloveichik, has been hired by Haley as a political consultant. Nechama is Rav Ahron Soloviechik’s granddaughter and R’ Meir Soloveichik’s sister. She was also at one time press secretary for Pennsylvania’s retiring Senator Pat Toomey. 

As an Orthodox Jew; as someone that leans politically conservative; and as a staunch supporter of Israel, I can’t think of a better choice for the Presidency. I cannot imagine the US being a better ally to Israel than under a Haley Presidency. If another Republican wins the nomination (other than Trump who probably now considers her to be disloyal) I think it would be a no-brainer to choose her as their running mate.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

The Tragic Trajectory of Heterodox Judaism

It appears I may have been wrong about a 70% intermarriage rate among non Orthodox Jews. According a JTA report it is apparently closer to 75%. 

When one factors in the  statistic that - of the under 2% of the American population is Jewish, 90% are not Orthodox, that makes the number of Jews in America’s future almost infinitesimally small. It is tragic when even one Jew is lost to Judaism. That makes the tragedy of what is happening to American Jewry exponentially more tragic by orders of magnitude.

There are some who might say that not all is lost. This is true. The growth of the 10% of American Jewry that are Orthodox projects a ray of sunshine onto a very dismal future landscape for American Jewry. But that is nothing for Orthodox Jews to gloat about. The loss of so many Jews to Judaism is something to deeply mourn. 

I realize that much of pre holocaust European Jewry were also in the throes of assimilating out of Judaism. But I don’t believe the percentages were anywhere near so high as they are here and now. I believe the current numbers are unprecedented.

The reasons for this are not that difficult to figure out. The more Jews are accepted into an enlightened society, the more they will assimilate into its culture. Although there are many parts of western culture that do not contradict Halacha or our values - in some cases even coinciding with them - there are many parts of western culture that do not. 

When one has no commitment to Halacha - mostly for lack of being Jewishly educated - there is little reason not to fully assimilate. A life free of any obligation is a huge draw to modern man. Freedom to do as one wishes as long as it does not hurt others is the hallmark of an enlightened democracy such as ours. And never before has there been one like ours. 

To a certain extent, this was the case in pre Holocaust Germany where if I understand correctly, the assimilation rate was highest among all European nations. German Jews were fully accepted into German society in all respects. But no where – and at no other time – have Jews been as accepted as we are in America. In my view the75% intermarriage rate in this country seems to bear this out. 

Ironically we are less likely to abandon our Judaism when we are persecuted. I don’t think that can be denied. Obviously, I am not recommending a return to being persecuted as a remedy. 

What about the rise in antisemitism? Shouldn’t that be an indication that we are not fully accepted? Not in my view. Antisemitism exists at the fringes of American society. The increase in open and sometime violent hostilities against us is by a very vocal and very active (lately) but minuscule portion of people in comparison to the overall population. And even though there may be some quiet antisemitism expressed by more of the population, it is more in the form of negative stereotyping than hatred. And even that is by a minority of the American people.

Why is this country different? There are a variety of reasons for that. Mostly having to do with America being created as a liberal democracy where the equality of all people is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and embedded into the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. That facilitates the melting pot assimilationist ethos of our country. 

This of course does not God Forbid mean that we should pray for a return the bad old days of government persecution that was the hallmark of nations like Poland in pre Holocaust Eastern Europe. But it something to think about and should give us pause.  

The question is, what can we do about it? I do not have any great answer to that question. That there are many fine outreach groups and organization does help keep some of that assimilation at bay. But it is a drop in the bucket when measured against the high rate of assimilation and intermarriage overall.

The one thing should not do is start accepting intermarried couples as members in good standing of the Jewish people. That would be a tragic and foolish way to try and keep Jews Jewish.  And certainly there should ordaining rabbis that are intermarried. That might sound like a no brainer. But that is exactly the new policy adopted by the non denominational Hebrew college:

Hebrew College will begin admitting and ordaining rabbinical students in interfaith relationships, according to new admissions standards revealed on Tuesday…

Hebrew College’s decision comes as rabbinical schools compete over a shrinking pool of applicants and after decades of rising rates of intermarriage among American Jews. 

The idea of a Jewish leader whose children will not be Jewish in abut half the cases is ridiculous. This new policy does not even speak about conversions - even according to their own standards. What are they thinking?!

Perhaps they have adopted the same policy of the Reform movement. Which is that having a Jewish mother is not  required in order to be considered a Jew. No formal conversion necessary. That is not in accordance with Halacha.

Also, one has to wonder what living like a Jew even means to a denomination where one can be a Jew in good standing without requiring the performance of a single ritual Mitzvah in the Torah.  

If all they need do is perform the non ritual ones that are common to all of mankind - there is nothing at that will distinguish a Reform Jew from a non Jew. Why even bother identifying as a Jew if there is no practical difference between them? Is it any wonder that Jews who are not at all observant assimilate out or get intermarried?  Why shouldn’t they? 

This ‘solution’ to their dilemma of shrinking enrollment in their rabbinic school would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. 

I have no idea if the Conservative movement will follow suit. But  If I recall correctly, there is already pressure by some of their more liberal clergy to do that. 

What makes this so dangerous is that if they are successful in increasing their numbers that way(as has Reform Judaism) then at some point in the not too distant future is that there may very well be more non Jews identifying as Jews than actual Jews. That would be a far bigger tragedy than simply assimilating out. I can’t think of a Jewish identity mess much bigger than that. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

What Do Satmar Chasidim Really Want?

Main Shul in Kiryas Joel (The Commentator)
There has been a bit of a buzz about a YU Commentator article by David Tanner, who describes himself as a clean-shaven, techeiles-sporting YU student. It involves his unplanned stay over Shabbos in the insular Satmar enclave of Kiryas Joel. The description of his experiences there matches their fine reputation as one of the most hospitable communities in all of Jewry.

Long story short – after missing his bus ride to a YU Shabbaton in Monticello, New York and with not enough time to make it back to his dorm in Washington Heights before Shabbos, he managed to make it to the closest religious community he could find on Google Maps. That was Kiryas Joel. He called the Chaverim chapter, in that city (a volunteer Chesed group), was picked up, and driven there before Shabbos began. He did not know what to expect. But it surely wasn’t what he ended up finding. Here are some selected excerpts describing his experience: 

I walked into shul earlier than everyone else, since I was makpid about davening before sunset while the practice of Chassidim is to daven long afterward... As soon as (davenig) was over, my host, Reb Shia Kornbli, came over to me and welcomed me. He then went around introducing me to others. (They responded with) “Good Shabbos” and “Shalom aleichem” and asked where I was from. 

Back at Reb Shia’s home… (as) the meal progressed... Reb Shia was very curious about YU, and I was curious about the chinuch system in Kiryas Joel. With regard to the elephant in the room, Reb Shia and I didn’t really talk about Zionism, though we did talk extensively about the Satmar Rebbe and his unyielding adherence to his beliefs... 

My Shabbos in Kiryas Joel gave me a completely different impression. Everyone I encountered was genuinely curious about and respectful toward YU. In fact, many people had never even heard of YU and were impressed when I described a typical YU student’s schedule of Torah learning and secular classes.

David has since revisited Kiryas Joel several times. On his last trip he had an interesting conversation with a young Chasid that was learning in a Satmar Kollel in Williamsburg…

David was asked whether he had studied the Hashkafic works of Rav Solovietchik. Specifically, Kol Dodi Dofek which deals with th Rav’s positive view of Zionism.  Recognizing the shocked look on David’s face he retorted,  ‘I bet you didn’t expect to hear that one.’

As noted, David’s experience with Satmar hospitality does not surprise me at all. But a Satmar Chasid who studies in one of their Kollels and yet is interested in the views of someone whose views are anathema to Satmar... that did surprise me. 

We are not, after all, talking about an expatriate Satmar Chasid that might be trying to undermine his former community. We are talking about someone who represents their best and brightest – a young Talmid Chacham studying full time in Kollel.

That got me to wondering about whether this Chasid was an outlier who secretly studies 'forbidden works' or whether there are a lot more like him. Not that necessarily study the works of the Rav. But whose interests extend far beyond Satmar's reach. Is he the exception or the rule? Are there other things they would like to explore outside of their own orbit that they might want to emulate? Like an educational system that includes a Limudei Chol curriculum?

I think that is the real ‘elephant in the room’ at this juncture. How many Satmar Chasidim are there really that would like to see their child better educated than they are now, but are afraid to say so in public for fear of the negative repercussions to them and their families? Especially now in the current climate of what they see as government and media hostility towards them? 

Those who defend Satmar’s right to deny their young a decent secular education keep saying that they have a right to educate their children as they see fit. But do they really see as fit  an educational paradigm bereft of core subjects like English, math and science? Or are they just too scared to say anything about it publicly? Was the interest expressed in YU's daily schedule a clue about what they really want? Or was it simple curiosity? Perhaps both?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. But I sure would like to find out if there is a critical mass (and perhaps even a majority) of Satmar Chasidim that would indeed like to see a change in how their children are educated. Problem is that as things stand now, we will never be able to find out. 

Monday, January 30, 2023

The Reasons Behind the Shidduch 'Crisis'

Image from Mishpacha for illustration purposes only
It’s not the age gap. At least that’s not the primary reason there are so many singles struggling to get married these days.

The problem exists primarily in the world of Lithuanian type Yeshiva world where young Charedim are educated. True - Modern Orthodox Jews have serious dating problems of their own. But they are categorically different from those of the Charedi Yeshiva world. The Chasidic world, on the other hand, does not seem to have any problems at all in this issue. Why that is the case is beyond the scope of this post. 

That the Charedi demographic is so much larger and growing so much faster than any other Orthodox demographic (except for Chasidim) makes what has come to be called the ‘Shidduch crises’ a very serious problem for Orthodox Jewry and that is why I am focusing on it.

It cannot be denied that there are a lot of singles out there that have trouble getting married. And a lot of those get left behind. A very depressing situation for them, to say the least. The question is, ‘Why?’

There have been two articles in Mishpacha Magazine recently that have dealt with this problem. In both cases they have dismissed the idea promoted by many Roshei Yeshiva that the main problem is the so called ‘age gap’. The theory being that the increased birth rate of each generation keeps increasing. And girls start dating at around age 19 whereas boys do not start dating until around age 22. That results in a lot more girls age 19 through 22 dating at the same time than there are boys dating at age 22. 

While there might be some truth to that, research has found another factor to be the primary reason. The following excerpts are from the most recent Mishpacha article by clinical psychologist and researcher Naomi Rosenbach: 

In 2017, I, together with a team of talented researchers initiated a study called “Data Analytics Addressing Shidduchim” (DAAS)… 

The survey, launched in 2019, solicited thousands of individuals for basic demographic information about themselves and family members, and also allowed participants to express their opinions on the subject. Close to 1,000 individuals anonymously shared their thoughts and experiences… 

 We published a paper on the themes that emerged in the Journal of Community Psychology titled “Struggles in the Orthodox Jewish Shidduch Dating System.” 

One of the biggest lessons we learned from poring over the responses is that problems in the shidduch system are multifaceted, diverse, and nuanced. Twenty-seven different themes emerged from the survey, the most common being the superficial and perfectionist criteria we use to assess compatibility between prospective partners… 

The second most common theme was the notion that there is a dearth of available men for women to marry. Daters, parents, shadchanim, and rabbanim all expressed the feeling that this imbalance makes the shidduch process much harder for women than for men, and has consequences that infiltrate cultural norms beyond dating. 

I think the two themes are related. Here’s why.

The cold hard fact is that it is easier for a young woman to be considered a ‘good catch’ than it is for a young man. When a culture values one attribute above all else in their men to the point of denigrating by inference any man that does not have it, you are going to have the disaterous situation that exists now. The attribute that is so highly valued in the Yeshiva world is dedication to Torah study to the exclusion of all else. 

This is probably the most important part of the ‘perfectionist’ expectation young Charedi women are indoctrinated to seek in their mate. They want to marry ‘the best boy in Lakewood’. Anything less will not do. While it is true they might seek other attributes ‘the best boy in Lakewood’ is at the top of their list by miles.  They seek to date only young men that are learning full time in a top Yeshiva and will continue to do so in a Kollel well into their marriage. 

Anyone less than that is below their standards and not considered. Teachers encourage these young women to become the primary bread winners for the families. Which many of them do.   

That leaves a young man who chooses to work and sets aside times for Torah study everyday out in the cold. No matter how smart. No matter how fine his character.  No matter what profession he chooses. It does not matter. Young Charedi woman are taught not to settle for a second class Jew that does not make Torah study a full time job.

On the other hand young Yeshiva men who spend their days in full time Torah study, seek  women that are willing to live that kind of lifestyle. Frankly it is a lot easier to be an ‘acceptable’ woman seeking a ‘learner’ than it is to be a ‘learner’ Thus making the pool of young women far greater than the pool o ‘acceptable’ young men. 

Research has also shown that there is a lot of superficiality involved in  what both young men and young women seek in a mate. These factors end up leaving a lot of men - and especially women out in the cold. Not because there are not enough good men  in Shiduchim. But because there are not enough good ‘learners’ in Shiduchim.

The solution to that lies in changing the educational system from one that so values full time Torah study that by default it devalues those who don’t do that. Educators must emphasize that a young man choosing a career while setting aside time for Torah study is a very high level Jew. And not to be dismissed as unacceptable for marriage.  

This idea of full time Torah study being the sine qua non for every Jew must end. Pushing every young man into full time Torah study is becoming more and more harmful to the fabric of our people. Espeicllay as it concerns Shidduchim. 

Not everyone is cut out to study Torah full time. And yet that is exactly what  young men are encouraged to pursue. And that is exactly what young women are encouraged to seek, No matter where a young man’s natural strengths lie they are all encouraged to redirect those strengths into full time Torah  study.

I do not believe that there has ever been a time in all of Jewish history where the entirety of our people were advised as an ideal that full time Torah study was to be sought by all men - to the exclusion of all else. And yet this is exactly what young Charedim are encouraged to do these days. While woman are taught to seek those kinds of men for marriage. 

Until this attitude is changed the Shidduch crises will persist  - and probably even get worse. This is not to say there aren’t other reasons impacting Shidduch problems. There surely are. But in my not so humble opinion, there would be a lot more young people getting married and ‘living happily ever after’ if the current Charedi paradigm was changed.

That said, I doubt there is even the remotest chance that anything will change. And that’s too bad.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Celebrating Mass Murder

Celebrating mass murder in Ramallah (I24)
They hate us anyway. This never rang as true for me as it does today. 

Not that it was the first time that Palestinians celebrated the mass murder of Jews. It happens almost every time a terrorist mass murder is successful. It’s just that this time it makes me realize more than ever that the hope  of ever making peace with Palestinians is a virtual impossibility. As long as Palestinians react this way to mass murdering 7 innocent Jews in a Shul in the city of Jerusalem on Shabbos - they are actually worse than the German people who did nothing while their government did the same. 

True - the scope of what Nazi Germany did was exponentially orders of magnitude. And the number of atrocities in pursuit of our genocide was exponentially greater too. There can be no comparison. But the reaction of the the Palestinian people is in fact worse than the reaction of German citizens who stood by and did nothing as their own government mass murdered us. Although that too is contemptible.

How can anyone even dream of making peace with people that hate you so much that they celebrate your death?! Impossible!

I am not going to go into too much detail as to why they hate us so much. It’s complicated. Suffice it so say that it is a function of 75 years of indoctrinating into the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people Sheer HATRED of us. In their homes; in their schools, in their mosques, and among their peers. They see us as usurpers of their land and torturers of their people. That attitude is constantly being reinforced by their leaders, their friends,  and their families.

With the exponential growth of their population since the founding of the state – so too did the number of their people willing to become martyrs in the cause of taking back ‘their’ land and liberating their people. The fact that Israel needs to protect themselves from that has indeed made life miserable for Palestinians. Thus exacerbating the hatred.

Some may be tempted to blame this massacre on an IDF invasion into Jenin, a hotbed of terrorism against Israel. They IDF succeeded in killing 9 Palestinians suspected of terrorism (or planning terrorism) in Jenin. 8 of whom were acknowledged by the PA as ‘militants’ (Their euphemism for terrorists.) As such the PA promised there would be consequences. To that end Hamas fired off a few rockets that were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome.

It’s hard to know whether the mass murder of 7 religious Jews praying in a Shul on Shabbos was part of that retaliation. Or had long been planned and executed shortly after the IDF raid in Jenin -and was a coincidence. I don’t know, But it doesn’t matter. It is well known by Israel’s security apparatus that the West Bank city of Jenin is the locus of terrorist activity against Israel. Israel has the right to defend itself. Preempting terror by taking out the terrorists before they act is the best way to do that.

Some will surely be tempted to blame Israel’s new government whose desire is to show the world how much more effective they are at combating terrorism than their predecessors. Thus proving their contention about how dangerous the new government is.

I am no expert. But I suspect that this IDF mission was not hastily planned. I’m sure there was months of surveillance and planning - long before the new government came into power. It is far more likely that the previous government green lighted this mission allowing the military to surveil terrorist activity in Jenin and  then plan and execute a response that would best serve the security of  their people with minimum causalities to innocent Palestinians. 

The truth is that when it comes it Israel’s security the previous left of center government is not much different than the right of center government that preceded them. The current government is clearly far more to the right than that. But it remains to be seen what measures they will take to assure security for their people. And therefore it is too early to judge them.

The question is, what in fact can any government in Israel do about it - whether far right, far left, or anything in-between? How can something like this be prevented in the future?

I have no clue. Those on the left might argue that making life easier for Palestinians on the West Bank might help. And that ultimately a 2 state solution is the best way to end hostilities. But the way Palestinians celebrate mass murdering us, I don't think giving them a state will help. If anything it will make it easier for Palestinians to celebrate even more mass murders like the one in Jerusalem last Shabbos. Giving Palestinians their own state cannot erase over 75 years of indoctrinating into them so much hatred of the Jewish people - that they celebrate our mass murder.

On the other hand if Israel leaves things as they are, increases settlement activity, and tightens security even more- making life for Palestinians even harder, that will surely not win any friends in the rest of the world. It will instead be condemned even by Israel’s closest ally, the US. That is something that is not in the best interests of Israel

This is why it seems to me to be an impossible situation.  It’s kind of a Damned if we do; and damned if we don’t situation.

Perhaps one thing Israel can do better is highlight exactly this problem. There is no happy medium here. Israel has to convince the world that since their is no possibility of eliminating the joy Palestinians have when we are mass murdered by one of their martyrs, that a two state solution is not in the cards. What the alternative might be, I don’t know but that ain’t it. 

If  Israel can enlighten the  civilized world to these facts than they will hopefully understand why Israel's harsh security measure\s are the very least they can do to protect its people - and that they take no pleasure in the increased  hardship this causes Palestinians on the West Bank.

Until such time where Palestinians see the mass murder of Jews as a tragedy instead of something to celebrate, Israel has no choice but to maintain the status quo and do whatever is takes to keep its people safe.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Yes, There is Prejudice Against Charedim

Alleged kidnapper being taken into custody by police (New York Post)
There were two disturbing stories in the media recently about Charedim.

How many people reading that sentence thought ‘Oh no… Here we go again’. ‘Two more cases of Charedi or Chasidic Jews making a huge Chilul HaShem.’ Frankly - although I genuinely try not to harbor any biases - I admit to a little bit of it myself. My thoughts about why that is the case - later.

What was disturbing about the above mentioned stories is that two innocent Jews - in both cases Chasidim - suffered gross indignities and embarrassment because of public perceptions about Chasidic behavior. The New York Post reported the following story a couple of days ago: 

A creep tried to abduct a 9-year-old boy from a Brooklyn synagogue Wednesday — but was thwarted when the kid’s mom showed up and saw him trying to carry her son away, police said… 

The mother spotted the creep carrying her son and jumped in — asking the boy if he knew the man from the synagogue, cops said.  When he told her no, she ripped her son from the man’s arms, police said… 

Yossi Mayer, 42, was taken into custody about an hour later and subsequently charged with kidnapping, endangering the welfare of a child, and harassment. 

You guessed it. The ‘creep’ in this story was a Charedi. The question many of us may ask upon reading this story is, ‘How many more stories like this have to happen before doing something about it?!’  

The problem is that nothing of the sort happened. A surveillance cameras recorded what really happened. VIN reports the following: 

(A) surveillance video of the incident which has been circulating on social media, (shows) the man stopping the boy as he passes by in the synagogue lobby, placing his hands on the boy’s shoulder and speaking with him for several seconds before the two walk off together.

Five seconds later, the footage shows a woman pulling the boy aside, while the man continues out the synagogue’s front door. 

This hardly sounds like the attempted violent kidnapping described in various news media. It isn’t any kind of kidnapping at all, violent or otherwise. This man did absolutely nothing wrong. 

Was Yossi Mayer the victim of antisemitism? I don’t think so. I don't think he is a necessarily Chasid. But he may have been a victim by inference of prejudice against Chasidim. The fact that Chasidim have generally defended accused sex offenders from their community while smearing the victims as liars with vendettas - makes such biased reactions  more likely. Jumping to a false conclusions is not so outrageous. Wrong though they may be. As broad brushstroke prejudices often are. Obviously the vast majority of Chasidim are not anywhere near being kidnappers. 

Another troubling  incident happened on a Delta flight before it departed. At the behest of a flight attendant, a Chasid was removed from his seat and escorted off the plane by an airline security agent.  . 

Here too my bias got the better of me. My immediate (admittedly knee jerk) reaction was to wonder what kind of Chilul HaShem did he do did that resulted in his removal. But as in the last example, this Chasid did absolutely nothing wrong. Which as reported by ABC News (Video below) was noted by passengers on the plane that witnessed the whole  thing. 

Apparently a flight attendant preceded to insult him by saying, You people always carry on too much luggage. Please remove your hatbox from the overhead bin and place it under your seat. 

Even though there was plenty of room left on the overhead bin even with the hatbox there, the Chasid immediately complied and put it under his seat. Shortly afterward the flight attendant grabbed his luggage off the overhead bin and proceeded to take it of the plane. That was immediately followed by his removal. There was no disobedience. No fight. There was no shouting match. There was no lack of compliance. There was just one unprovoked flight attendant that saw a Chasid sitting on her flight and she kicked him off of it.

Was this antisemitism? Not exactly. There were other identifiable Kipa wearing Jews on the flight who were not harassed at all. What it was, though, was - as in the first case - anti Chasid prejudice. I don’t think there is any other way to explain it. 

This of course does not make what the flight attendant did any less sickening. An innocent man was forced to delay his flight and suffered serious embarrassment for no other reason than looking the way he did.

In my view that flight attendant should be fired. And like the first case there are probably grounds for a lawsuit. This time against the airline. That wrong needs to be righted. A lot better than the $500 flight voucher he got from airline.

The question is, why is there such prejudice against Chasidim these days? Am I guilty of it too?

The quick answer to the second question is yes. I am. In no way should I judge an entire community by the bad behavior of a few of its members. Bad behavior  exists in all communities. Why are Chasidim picked on? 

Well for one thing they are easy targets because of the they look. It is human nature to look suspiciously at people that are so radically different than  you. That may in part be the reason the the mainstream media pays so much attention to them. 

If a Chasid does  something wrong, it stands out. They are going to be noticed far more than the typical citizen. It is therefore easier to generalize.

It's not that the negative stories are false. It’s just that Chasidim are not the only ones guilty of it. And yet they seem to be singled out the most. Probably because of prejudice based on generalization. Which should never play a part in how to react to accusations of bad behavior.  In no way can the actions of that flight attendant be defended. 

But it isn't only the way they look. That prejudice has a far more reasonable explanation which I base on my own experiences.  I have mentioned this story many times. The short version is as follows.  

On a flight I was on waiting for takeoff, a large Chasidic family boarded and began treating a flight attendant like she was their own personal servant. As a Kipa wearing Jew, I was embarrassed by what I saw and apologized to that flight attendant for the rude behavior of my coreligionists. She responded that she was used to being treated that way by families like that - and realized that not all Orthodox Jews behaved that way.

If this happens often to flight attendants I can’t really blame them for their negative impressions. Yes she was wrong to generalize. Treating an innocent Chasid the way the Delta flight attendant did was obscene. But it is not all that outrageous to suggest what might have been the trigger that set her off.

The simple truth is that the vast majority of Chasidim do not  behave the way I witnessed one family behave. They are just as kind and generous as anyone else. They do not ‘order the flight attendeants around like personal servants. But it does seem to happen more than occasionally as the flight attendant I Apologized to suggested.  

Now I certainly have my issues with the more extreme segments of the Chasidic community. I deal with them quite often. But that should not make me or any other fair minded person always assume the worst. And treat the accused as guilty until proven innocent. Something I have surely been guilty of doing myself on occasion. 

That being said, it might be worthwhile for this community to educate themselves about proper etiquette on an airplane. And to stop defending fellow Chasidim accused of abuse as victims and the victims as liars with a vendetta. If they do nothing and things remain as they are - it will surely perpetuate the prejudice. 

Just a few thoughts about the what and the why. 

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Openly Gay, Married to a Man, and Orthodox?

Rosenfeld /(center) on his podcast with Rabbi  Manis Friedman (right) - (JTA)
Is it possible for a Jewish man to be fully observant, gay, and married to a non Jewish man? One might not think so. But that is in fact the way comedian Mordechi (Modi) Rosenfeld sees himself. From JTA:

“Being gay, you can keep Shabbos, you can keep kosher, you can keep anything you want to do,” he said. “You can learn Talmud, you can learn Torah…

 For (Rosenfeld), being Jewish means praying with tefillin every day, eating kosher food and observing Shabbat — while also being married to his husband. 

He adds that he belongs to a Modern Orthodox Shul where other gay and trans people daven. And has on occasion been asked to be the cantor. (He actually trained for that at Yeshiva University’s Belz Cantorial School of Music.)

The sense I get from this article is that Rosenfeld is very happy with his life and is quite comfortable being ‘married’ to  Leo Veiga - a non Jewish gay man. They have been living ‘happily ever after’ as husband and husband. (8 years, so far)  

It should be noted that - having been educated by Chabad, Rosenfeld  is not new to observance nor is he ignorant of what the Torah says about gay sex. He is in fact inspired by the Lubavitcher Rebbe: 

“Moshiach energy,” as Rosenfeld puts it, is akin to the Jewish principle of loving your neighbor as yourself and then putting that energy into the universe in order to bring about the coming of the Messiah. The idea is inspired by the last leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch Orthodox movement, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson — a major source of inspiration for Rosenfeld, who studied at a Lubavitch yeshiva.

This is what makes the issue of being both gay and observant so perplexing. Is it possible to be gay, live with another gay man for 8 years, and not violate the Torah’ s serious prohibition against gay sex? 

I suppose it’s possible. But it would take an individual of superhuman willpower and spiritual strength to live with someone you are sexually attracted to for 8 years - and never satisfy your physical desires. It would seem to be highly unlikely for someone to remain as happy and upbeat as Rosenfeld seems to be without that.

If that is the case, I don’t see how he can say he is observant. At least not fully observant. And yet that is what he implies about himself.

What is so disturbing to me about this is not that his life as a gay man is so successful. I am happy for him that it is. But I am unhappy that with his implicit claim to be an observant Jew, the subtle message is that ‘gay sex’ is morally equivalent to ‘straight sex’. Which is absolutely not the case. The latter is a Mitzvah for a married couple and the former is considered by the Torah to be a capital offense (under the ‘right’ conditions).  

This does not mean that he should ever be subjected discrimination. He most certainly should not.  I’m also quite happy that he is observant of Shabbos and Kashrus, 2 of 3 the Mitzvos recognized as definitive of Orthodoxy. (The 3rd – Taharas HaMishpacha - which essentially involves the requirement of married women to use a Mikva - does not apply to him.)

I am, however, quite unhappy at the positive image he presents as an observant gay man married to another gay man. Knowing full well (because of his religious education) the forbidden nature of gay sex. You simply cannot portray yourself as observant when your lifestyle is conducive to serious violations of Halacha.  

It would be like a  Jew who puts on 2 pairs of Tefilin (Rashi and Rabbenu Tam) every morning; Davens with a Minyan 3 times a day; is meticulous in keeping Shabbos to the point of not using an Eruv; keeps Chalav Yisroel and Yoshon; learns  Daf Yomi; …and every once in a while happily eats a  cheeseburger in the privacy of his own home as though it was permitted. This cannot be called observance.

No matter how meticulous he might be in other areas of observance – a gay man being ‘married’ to another gay man and then living together for 8 years is the antitheses of observance. 

That said, I admire his public observance as a gay man. Knowing full well that many observant Jews would condemn him. It takes a lot of courage and commitment to do that and not become bitter to the point of chucking it al!. He should be praised and encouraged to continue in that commitment.  

But in no way can he serve as a role model for other Jewish gay people who want to be observant. Because no matter how meticulous one is about observing all the other Mitzvos, the public nature of Rosenfeld’s  gay marriage and lifestyle where intentional violation of Halacha is likely - makes that impossible. 

Which is why I have such mixed feelings about him. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Is Judaism Politically Conservative or Liberal?

A meeting of the Orthodox Jewish left (TOI)
I must admit being mildly amused at a new Orthodox Jewish movement in Israel calling itself  ‘Smol Emuni’ -  the left-wing faithful .  

As reported in the Times of Israel, this movement is a reaction to the rightward shift of most of mainstream Orthodox Jewry. Which is why Israel now has the most extreme right wing government in its history. By far! Obviously the left does not feel comfortable among Jews who do not share their progressive values.

The funny thing is, I get why they did this. And I even agree with some of their reasons. Among them them being upset at a more aggressive policy with respect to settling all of Eretz Yisroel… and no longer valuing the idea of land for peace. 

Land for peace is an idea embraced by leading rabbinic figures of the recent past. Like R’ Elazer Menachem Man Shach and R’ Ovadia Yosef.  This was point was driven home by Adina Bar-Shalom, R’ Ovadia Yosef’s daughter who addressed the over 600 left wing Orthodox Jews at Jerusalem’s Heichal Shlomo synagogue recently. Here is what she said: 

“Haredi society has changed its face. Nationalism and extremism have taken it over,” she said. She noted that her father, who’s still held in the highest regard among Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Israelis, supported “land for peace” initiatives with the Palestinians. “Today, you can’t mention peace,” she said. 

Indeed. Religious Zionism has gone from a position of moderation to one of extremism bereft of any  compromise.  

On the other hand, I am troubled by the Orthodox Jewish left’s embrace of values that are deeply controversial. Such as the embrace of an egalitarianism that rejects Torah based traditional values - replacing them with egalitarian values like ordaining women for the rabbinate.

As others of greater stature than I have noted in the past, Judaism should not have any modifying adjectives that risk placing it outside the orbit of Jewish values delineated in the Torah and interpreted by the sages. There ought not be Jewish feminists, Jewish Republicans or Jewish Democrats.  Our values do not align with the all the values of those or any movement that is not sourced in the Torah. 

That some of their values might align with Torah is a function of coincidence. In some - perhaps many cases their values are the opposite of the Torah. 

One may ask, if this is how I feel, why do I call myself a Centrist? I think the reason should be obvious. My values are  based on Torah values. Which  I interpret as  best as I can based on my education and life experiences -

This means that in some instances I align with political conservatives and in others I align with  political liberals. I embrace the feminist values that align with Torah values and reject those that do not. That usually places me in the center. Which is not some mathematical midpoint between the two extremes but is based on an analysis of whether an issue is in line with the Torah or not. Sometimes I end up on the right and sometimes on the left.

So as much as I am dismayed by an Orthodox movement that identifies as left wing, so too am I dismayed at an Orthodox movement that identifies as right wing. That is not what Judaism is about. But now that extremism on both ends of the political spectrum has become so popular, you would never know it. 

I think that this development is responsible for the widening chasm among observant Jewry. By our observance of the Mitzvos - we have far more that unites us than that which divides us. Instead we have right wing Orthodox organizations like CVJ calling fellow Orthodox Jews on the left a Chilul HaShem. It is why Orthodox Jews on the left embrace egalitarianism while so many Orthodox Jews on the right supported Trump. Neither of which are Jewish values.

The sad part of all this is I do not see anything changing. We apparently are so married to our left or right wing ideologies that common sense itself has disappeared. There seems to be an inability by either side to see the other side of an issue. Each claiming that the Torah is on their side. Both sides often managing to find sources in the Torah or Chazal to bolster their views. 

This is illustrated by the fact that Orthodox Jews on the right believe that the Torah forbids conceding one inch of biblical Israeli land to a non Jew. Once we have recaptured it - as in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) - we are forbidden by Jewish law to give it back under any circumstances. There are indeed Torah based sources that corroborate that view. 

On the other hand ,some of the greatest religious figures of  recent history believed that we are required us to concede land for peace if that were the way to achieve it. A position favored by the left.

Not only is this not going to change, I see it only getting worse as we drift further apart politically; away from the values of our forefathers; and continue inserting political values into scripture where they do not really exist. 

I hope I’m wrong. But I doubt it. Nevertheless I will end with the hopeful message issued at that gathering by Bar-Shalom: 

Arrogance and pride aren’t appropriate or acceptable. Friends, let’s be a bit modest. I believe in mankind, I believe in us, in the people of Israel, and in peace. Our job at this time is to put out the flames of hatred that are consuming us  

To that I say Amen.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Abortion: Politics Versus Religion

Maharat Rori Picker Neiss (center) at an abortion rights protest (JTA)
Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it. This is particularly true when it comes to religion and the politics of abortion rights.

Last week JTA reported that a group of 5 rabbis is suing the state of Missouri over abortion bans on religious freedom grounds. 4 of those rabbis are heterodox and one is Maharat Rori Picker Neiss.

The Coalition for Jewish Values (CJV) is a group of 2000 Orthodox rabbis that are mostly political conservatives. They have expressed outrage at what they called a group of ‘woke’ rabbis that claim that abortion to be a Jewish value. Saying it is a “desecration of God’s name that is simply beyond words.”  

The fact is that I do not believe there is much difference between these rabbis and Maharat Picker Neiss  who - as a Maharat considers herself a duly ordained Orthodox spiritual leader. So that by definition her actual views on what constitutes a Halachicly required abortion  are probably not all that different that those of the CJV. But you would never know that from the way one side is acting; and the other side reacting

That Maharat Picker Neiss has joined pro choice ‘abortion on demand’ forces makes it appear as though she views abortion on demand a Jewish value. But if she is true to her claim of being Orthodox I’m sure she does not. That is pretty much implied by the following:

The lawsuit cites multiple specific instances of religious language used by the bill’s sponsors and supporters. The bill’s lead sponsor, for example, is quoted in the lawsuit as having said, “As a Catholic I do believe life begins at conception and that is built into our legislative findings.”

Jewish tradition does not include the same belief, which is one reason that Jewish activists have been heavily involved in resisting abortion restrictions (said) Picker Neiss, who trained in an Orthodox setting...

I doubt she would say that abortion for purposes of personal convenience or lifestyle choice is a Jewish value. She probably just favors legalized abortion so that when Halacha demands it, it is available. 

What constitutes a serious health issue is subject to interpretation. But basically Halacha demands that abortion be performed when the mother’s health is at stake. Whether it is mental health or physical health. Halacha also states that during the first 40 days after conception a fetus is considered ordinary water.  

I doubt that any of those 2000 CJV rabbis or Maharat Picker Neiss would disagree with that. But you would never know it from the way each side expressed their views.

Therein lies the problem. If Maharat Picker Neiss were placed in a room together with CJV rabbis and they were asked what the Halacha is, they would probably say pretty much the same thing. But placed in the context of politics, you have one side accusing the other of promoting  a Chilul HaShem.

What these two disparate groups are really arguing therefore is politics. Not Halacha. Which is a great way to make enemies when there is actual agreement on the basic Halacha itself.

I therefore part company with both Maharat Picker Neiss and CJV. 

While I oppose any government restriction on abortion - that’s only because when a Jewish woman needs one for any legitimate Halachic reason she should not have to worry about whether or not her needs are in concert with a law that might restrict it in her case. It shouldn’t matter how rare a Halachic abortion is.

But at the same time, it needs to be made clear that abortion on demand for any reason other than health  is not a Jewish value. This is how both sides should express their views on abortion and not imply that the other side is anti Halalcha. Because that in and of itself is a Chilul HaShem.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Is Being Observant an Impediment to High Office?

Republican Nassau County legislator and Orthodox Jew, Mazi Melesa Pilip (JTA
The debate between the right and left about the political situation in Israel is about as heated as I’ve ever seen it. The left thinks that the new government is the end of democracy. The right thinks it is a return to democracy. The argument centers around the revamping off Israel’s Judicial system. 

The left sees the Supreme Court as a bulwark against government abuse of power. The right sees the court as a usurper of power.  To reiterate my view, the answer to both the right and the left ought to be a meeting of the minds whereby the judicial branch should no longer have full power over the legislative branch (the Knesset) nor should the legislative branch have full power over the judicial branch.  That would make Israel a country of checks and balances. 

Although this is a hot topic right now, I want to change the subject. Is being observant - an impediment to serving in high office in America? Or is it perhaps even an advantage? There are several recent examples  that might answer the question.

First is the fact that there were more observant Jews in the highest level of the Trump administration than in any other administration of the past. That is unarguable. 

But Democrats are just as happy to have Jews serving in government as Trump was.

A Jewish Democrat who is an identifiably observant Jew, Josh Shapiro, was elected governor of Pennsylvania and as noted in the Forward:

Shapiro, a practicing Conservative Jew who keeps kosher, said he will be posting mezuzahs and keep a kosher kitchen in the governor’s mansion that will be overseen by his wife Lori. Shapiro featured challahs baked by his wife in his campaign launch video and said he will continue the tradition of Friday night Shabbat dinner with his family, which includes his four children and his parents and in-laws, at his new residence. 

(It’s nice to know that there are still some Jews in heterodoxy that value observance of any kind. It’s just too bad that Shapiro represents a dying breed of observant heterodox Jew in America.) 

Then there is the sad case of George Santos. His campaign was filled with a breathtaking number of lies. There is no doubt that he is unfit to serve in the House of Representatives.  He should be expelled and replaced. Not sure whether that is an option for an elected member of congress even if his election was the result of those lies. 

But if it is an option, what is even more amazing is who is strongly being considered to replace Santos – should he somehow be forced out. Her name iMazi Melesa Pilip . Pilip is a Republican who is also an Orthodox Jewish black woman originally from Ethiopia and then Israel. She now resides in New York and was elected to represent her constituents in the Nassau County legislature.  (A nice description of her can be found here.)

And let us not forget former Senator Joe Liberman who is openly observant. When in 2000 he was chosen by Al Gore to be his running mate, Gore's polling numbers shot up by 10 points - equaling Bush's numbers

Point of all this being that a being an observant Jew does not diminish the chance or the ability to serve at the highest levels of the American government. Whether by election or by appointment.  The Jewish people are highly valued in this country by the people running it – our elected officials. Regardless of whether they are on the political right of left. 

Just thought I’d mention it.