Friday, November 26, 2021

Antisemitism? Clearly. But...

Image from Cross Currents
I am not blaming the victim. This will surely be how many will see what I am going to say about an antisemitic event that took place at a Planning Board public hearing in Rockland County. The issue at hand was discussed by Rabbi Avi Shfaran at Cross Currents:

 …a request for a variance to convert a single-family residence into a shul. The owners want to build an addition and second floor to the home and add 27 off-street parking spaces.

One fellow at that hearing that expressed opposition to this variance ended up making some pretty antisemitic comments about ‘those people’ ‘You know…’ ‘the Jews!’

The comments he made were so vile that even some of those who had themselves been accused of being antisemitic - thought they were antisemitic.  There was apparently some discussion about filing charges against that fellow.

There is no shortage of antisemsites in the world. Thankfully in this country there a very few that are like that. They do however exist as indicated by the scattered applause by some who attended the hearing. 

Why did they applaud? Sure. They are antisemites. But his comments were not made in a vacuum. Their antisemitic attitude may have been generated by what they saw happening to Monsey. The tiny little hamlet that was once their town has become the suburban version of Boro Park. 

What were once the quiet streets of a small community; filled with mostly single family homes widely spaced from each other; filled with shops geared to their secular culture; with a free flow of traffic and plenty of parking;  - has turned into a very Chasidic town where most of those shops have morphed into stores that cater to Orthodox Jews. Traffic has become so congested that it has become a nightmare. As has parking. Where there were once single family homes is now seeing the development of many multi unit homes.

Not that there is anything wrong with any of that. Free country. Chasidic Jews have the right to buy homes and live anywhere they choose. But to the average non Jewish suburbanite in those neighborhoods this kind of rapid growth of a people and culture that is unrecognizable from what they are used to is not a happy change for them.  

So when someone asks for a variance that adds to that, it should be understandable why they would oppose it. And applaud what that fellow said about a 'certain sect of people' that is responsible for it. Every attempt to make that community more Chasidic takes away from the culture in which that community once lived - thereby adding to the animus.  

It does not help if the Chasidic residents there completely ignore their non Jewish neighbors. Or - as I suspect - have  as much animosity against them as they do  against the Chasidic residents – if not more.

I think that Rabbi Shafran might actually sympathize with this based on the following comment: 

I like to call identifiably Orthodox Jews “walking Jewish billboards.” We project — intentionally or not — the image of Torah fealty to others who may well form their opinion of Jews based on how they perceive us.

And showing others that menschlichkeit is fundamental to Yiddishkeit is not hard. With the growth, baruch Hashem, of our communities and our expansion into new areas, opportunities to make good impressions are ubiquitous.

Things as simple as yielding to others in traffic or holding a door open for the person behind one can make all the difference. So can a simple smile and “good morning.”

This is not going to change how the non Jewish residents feel about what has happened – and still happening to their town. They are still not going to like it. But it might just change their perception of their Jewish neighbors from being selfish and uncaring about anyone other than themselves - to actually understanding, accepting and even respecting them as good neighbors. Caring neighbors. You never know. A little honey replacing some of the vinegar that  I believe is so common there can go a long way if enough people do it.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

A Better Thanksgiving than Last Year

Touro Synagogue - original symbol of religious freedom (flickr)
What a difference a year makes. Last year, getting together for Thanksgiving seemed like it would never happen again. This year we are practically back to;pre-pandemic levels of travel for purposes of getting together with friends and family.

Those of us that are fully vaccinated can feel relatively comfortable about being around others. And by fully vaccinated I mean getting a booster shot if our original ‘double shots’ took place more than six months ago. I am personally looking forward to getting together with friends in Detroit later today and over the holiday weekend. 

But it ain’t over. COVID is still with us. There is in fact currently a spike in COVID infections all over the country. As there is in hospitalizations and deaths. The good news is that for those of us that are fully vaccinated - the vast majority hospitalizations and death are among people that have not been vaccinated. Or have underlying health conditions if they are. It is also true that for those of us that have had the booster shots recently, the likelihood of testing positive at all is significantly reduced – although still possible. In the unlikely event that we do test positive most of us will be asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms.

So why is COVID still around? Why the spike? Because of the highly contagious nature the Delta variant. COVID is being spread quickly. Those of us that are vaccinated can still get the virus and be unaware of it. And then spread it to others. Those of us that are unvaccinated will spread it even more widely and in greater number. Some of whom may get very sick themselves.

The refusal to get vaccinated is what’s driving this pandemic. It allows a greater degree of spread and a greater number of serious illness and death.  The argument made by the vaccine refusers is that they have a right to treat their own bodies as they wish. But that argument falls flat when you consider the consquences to others. The fact that COVID can be asymptomatic means that it can be spread unknowingly. They think they are virus free. But they are not. If someone like that visits an elderly grandparent, for example, who may also have a serious underlying conditions, he may as well take a shotgun and shoot them during the visit. That would be a for more merciful death than dying from COVID.

If on the other hand they are fully vaccinated, the chances of infecting an elderly person with an underlying condition is significantly reduced making such a visit far less dangerous.

None of this is new. But as the pandemic refuses to go away, it is important to remind everyone how valuable getting vaccinated is.  And how selfish it is not to get vaccinated. 

It should also be noted that even for those of us that are fully vaccinated that we practice additional precautions when we can. In large indoor crowds, wearing a mask provides additional protection for both the wearer and the people around them. And perhaps more importantly one should to be as socially distant  as possible – which is an even better way to protect oneself and others from infection. The further away the better. 

But at least this year those of us that are fully vaccinated  can finally get together with loved ones in relative safety - which hasn’t been the case in over a year due to COVID.

It is with this in mind that I urge all of us to participate in this national holiday. There is no better occasion than Thanksgiving to express our Hakoras HaTov – our gratitude – to this great nation for the privilege living our lives freely as fully observant Jews without fear of retribution. A country that celebrates diversity which has – with few exceptions - welcomed us with open arms since its very founding. And continues to do so. As noted by George Washington in a famous letter to Hebrew Congregation (Touro) in 1790 - sixteen months after he became President:

For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support...
May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

 Thankfullly, as the recent Virginia and New Jersey elections have shown attempts by the extreme left to see American history only through the lens of slavery will not succeed. There is a lot more to US origins than that. Which deserves to be recognized and praised.

Those who think Thanksgiving is Chukas Hagoy – a Torah concept that forbids following non Jewish customs are wrong in my view. This concept does not apply to things which are not conducive to idol worship.

But they are free to not celebrate if they wish. Free country. They can ‘take a knee’. In my view for American Jews this is wrongheaded and lacks appreciation. You don’t have to eat turkey. But you should recognize what this great country is all about on this day.

I love this country. I really do. 

Thank You America - and Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Orthodoxy is Growing but All is Not Well

Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter (Jewish Link)
One of the sad realities I have discussed here (many times) is the gloomy future for the vast majority of American Jewry. As Pew Research has shown, 72% of non Orthodox American Jews are intermarried. And there is every indication that this trend will continue if not increase. The other 28% do not exactly have a brighter future either. Pew has shown that many non Orthodox Jews care little (if at all) about their Judaism – even if they do not intermarry. 

Although there are some non Orthodox Jews that may care and strongly identify as Jewish, they will not necessarily pass that down to their children.  This – despite the efforts of heterodoxy to instill some form of Jewish identity into their constituencies. They have simply not succeeded in doing that to any significant number… as Pew sadly demonstrates. 

The number of Jews identifying as Conservative is at an all time low in its over 100 year history. And even though Reform Judaism claims to be increasing their numbers, that is mostly because they have broadened the definition of who is a Jew is to the point of making it almost meaningless.

Judaism will not, however, die. Orthodox Jewry is growing. But as Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter notes in Jewish Action, all is not well. It’s true that we are growing. But at the same time we are losing members too. The net result may be an increase. But that comes largely as a result of a very high birth rate. While that is not inherently bad and is in fact praiseworthy, it ignores the relatively high rate of young people (and many cases older people) going OTD.  From the article, here are some telling statistics about Jews that consider themselves Orthodox: 

– 14 percent do not report that religion is very important in their lives;

– 5 percent do not report that being Jewish is at least somewhat important to them;

– 25 percent do not report that their religious faith provides them with a great deal of meaning and fulfillment;

– 17 percent do not report that observing Jewish law is essential to being Jewish;

– 31 percent do not report that being part of a Jewish community is essential to being Jewish;

– 23 percent do not report that they often mark Shabbat in a way that is meaningful to them;

– 9 percent do not report that it is very important to them that any potential grandchildren are Jewish;

– 17 percent report that they attend synagogue a few times a year or less. 

Rabbi Schacter admits that he’s not sure how to interpret these numbers. He wonders what it means to ‘consider oneself Orthodox’. It’s quite possible for example that one can identify that way without any tangible Orthodox practices – by merely being member of an Orthodox Shul.

The most disturbing statistic is the following: 

33 percent of Jews raised as Orthodox do not continue to identify with Orthodoxy as adults. 

Some of that can be attributed to Jewish families that are nominally Orthodox but not observant to any significant degree. But it is also a product of an increasing OTD problem that cuts across all Hashkafic lines.

I have no clue what the percentage of the 33% come from observant homes. But I do know it is not a small number. Even if it is a third of that percentage, it would mean that over 10% of children raised in observant homes go OTD. Orthodoxy is simultaneously growing while losing members. That the growth is greater that the loss should be of no comfort to us. 

The question is why? 

There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to that.  But if I had to pick one common feature that affects all segments of Orthodoxy it would be that as parents and teachers we are not inspiring our youth to love their Judaism. We are not making it meaningful to them. There is no sense of love of who we are and pride in how we live as observant Jews. We expect our youth to just follow suit in the family’s observant tradition. 

This may work for the majority of Orthodox families, but clearly not all.  Especilly those that fall through the cracks in our educational system. If a child does not do well in school, he will become bored very quickly. In many cases bored with observance itself. That can easily lead to finding things that do interest them - which have nothing to do with Judaism and in  some cases are anathema to it.  The ‘Fire and Brimstone’ approach will only go so far before a child will stop believing in it.

The question is, how do we inspire our youth to be observant? Rabbi Schacter makes reference to Kiruv organizations like NCSY, that have begun focusing some of their attention on young people in religious day schools. They have begun to realize that there is work to be done ‘at home’. Meaning among  disaffected youth from observant homes. 

It is a much harder task inspiring youth from observant homes on their way out than it is inspiring youth from non observant homes on their way in. Day school youth at risk think they already know what it means to be observant and they want out.  But even though it’s much harder it can be done. I witnessed one such case myself a few years ago. A disaffected youth from a very large Charedi family fell through the cracks of the school he attended. He was on his way out of observance having already abandoned much of Halachic observance 

It took some convincing but he was persuaded to give NCSY a try. There he found out that you don’t have to be Charedi to be fully observant. NCSY inspired him to return to this new (to him) form of observant Judaism. Today he is married and leading a fully observant life in Israel.

Let me hasten to add that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Charedim that go OTD do not necessarily have to become modern Orthodox. The main thing is to somehow inspire them - and then let them find their own niche. 

I agree with Rabbi Schacter.  We need to do more – a lot more to stop the flow of so many youth from observant homes out of Judaism. We may not be successful in all cases. But that should not stop us from trying. We will certainly be successful in some.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Spousal Abuse of Men?

Naama Zarbiv (Arutz Sheva)
The plague of women who are Agunos still exists. Although there has been some improvement in the form of Halachic prenuptial agreements  (which is beginning to take hold even in Charedi circles) there are still husbands that refuse to give their wives a Get (Halachic divorce). Leaving these women unable to  remarry because they are still technically married to their estranged husbands. 

Women that suffer from this type of abuse deserve our support. Solving this problem should be among the top agenda items in the Orthodox Jewish community. But abuse by men of their wives during divorce proceedings is by far not the only instance of abuse. Spousal abuse is a major problem in all of society, including Orthodox Jewish ones. There are plenty of woman whose husbands physically and sometimes brutally abuse them.

Women are clearly seen as the primary victims of spousal abuse. Although men can be abused by their wives, it is thought to be so rare, that it is hardly ever discussed. And because of legitimate Agunah concerns abuse of women is the focus of advocacy groups that deal with these issues.

I have always tended to see it this way. Logic – it would seem – dictates that women – who are usually physically weaker than men are most often the victims of abuse. But according to one such advocate, Naama Zarbiv, this may not be the case at all. Here is what she said: 

(We) requested statistics for grievous bodily harm (GBH), inflicted on men by women and the reverse. We especially wanted statistics for GBH because it’s something that can be proven with physical evidence, and also because a lot of people claim that while the phenomenon of spousal abuse against the husband exists, it refers to emotional abuse rather than physical.” 

“The figures simply stunned us,” she says. Police statistics for 2020 showed that while 177 cases had been opened relating to the male spouse inflicting violence on the female, a whopping 2,068 cases had been opened relating to violence inflicted by the female spouse on the male. 

This disparity shocked me. Although opening a case does not mean resolving it, it cannot be that in most of those over 2000 reported cases that their husbands lied. Nor can it be that in most cases the women were reacting to violence initiated against them by their husbands While some of that might be true, that over 11 times the number of men reported being abused by their wives over the reverse can all be explained away like that. 

Why is this statistic not more known? I believe it is partly because men are embarrassed to publicly admit they have been abused by their wives.  But perhaps mostly the reason for that might be found in the following incident described by Zarbiv:

 “When I tried to talk about the phenomenon at a Knesset panel discussion, and requested statistics from the police so that budgets could be allocated accordingly, Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) – who was then standing in as chair of the committee – cut me off and muted my microphone, ‘explaining’ that violent women do not exist.” 

‘Violent women do not exist.’ It is that kind of comment that perpetuates the false narrative that women are the only (or vast majority) of victims of spousal abuse. 

I tend to agree with Zabriv. As I have said many times. today’s version of feminism is a radical departure from its original and justifiable mission of  mutual respect between the sexes and equality in the workplace. Today’s feminism goes much further than that. To the point of denying inconvenient truths that don’t fit their agenda. 

Here is Zabriv’s explanation for the metamorphosis feminism has undergone since the days when I fully supported it:

“Once a revolution attains its goals, extremists enter the picture and use the same language as the revolutionaries in order to advance a radical position. This is what has happened with the feminist movement, which attained its goals a while back already. Those using feminist language today are radical feminists and ‘post-gender’ activists, and their aim is to dismantle traditional gender structure and identity – to dismantle the social structure entirely, in fact.”

Although there may be some feminists that would not go this far, I don’t think Zabriv is that far off. 

That being said, we must not lose sight of the fact that a lot of women are brutally abused by their husbands. Nor should we ignore the fact that the Agunah problem is unique to women.  But working to improve their lot in life does not preclude working to eliminate the apparently much greater incidence of spousal abuse by women against husbands. If that is true, this is a very real problem that has been swept under the rug for way too long.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Yes, We Can Walk and Chew Gum

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky (YUTorah)
Is it possible to be compassionate while at the same time staying loyal to our religious beliefs?  For Orthodox Jews the answer might seem obvious. Compassion is our ‘middle name’. It is a character trait we inherited from our Patriarch Abraham, whose life exemplified compassion. How can such a question even be asked?

Well that is the question asked rhetorically by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky. He asks it in the context of the values of contemporary society that treats serious sins in the Torah like virtues: Sexuality as currently defined should be value free. The way an individual expresses their sexuality is – not only nobody’s business - but to be celebrated. Especially if it is outside of traditional norms. Those that try and express biblical values on this subject are seen as bigots and anything but compassionate. 

Rabbi Pruzansky suggests that because of this new ‘political correctness’ we have ‘fallen off the wagon’ of promoting the values of the Torah.  Here is how he puts it: 

(The reluctance) to speak the hard truth without sounding insensitive…has caused many rabbis to color the truth, avoid certain topics altogether or, worst of all, try to revise the Torah, subtly or overtly. Thus, many embrace the new immorality “as the world we live in” without recognizing that their acquiescence is shaping and validating that “world.” And the effect on the laity, which is both a prime mover of these deviations as well as pressure points on the rabbinate, is devastating in terms of their fidelity to the Mesorah. Lacking forceful, unapologetic Torah guidance, their moral authorities have become Twitter or Facebook, the society at large, its loudest progressive voices, the secular culture and other anti-Torah outlets.  

Rabbi Pruzansky insists that we need to be clear about what is and is not permitted despite the cultural climate in which we live. Sins must unapologetically be labeled sins. Lest we mislead our own laity that we somehow condone it. While he agrees that we should have compassion, he rejects the broad acceptance of gay lifestyles implied by our reticence to speak the truth about serious nature of these Torah violations 

While he’s at it he rejects the current societal embrace of gender identity rather than biological identity. Although there too he says we need to have compassion, society has gone too far in that direction – creating a climate where questioning one’s gender at birth is seen as normal. That - he says - encourages some  young people to physically change their sex only to regret it later. His point being that people born male are male and always will be male regardless of how they see themselves. Same thing females. And that this truth needs to be asserted without the mistaken hesitation they feel because of changing societal attitudes. 

Here is the problem I have with this. Even though I agree with him on asserting Halacha clearly and unambiguously, I find his nod to compassion to be just that. A nod. Not real compassion. 

Telling someone with gender dysphoria that they are the gender they were born with - regardless of how they feel is anything but compassionate. Even if it’s true. To someone with gender dysphoria, their gender identity is real.  And to someone that is gay, they cannot help being attracted to the same sex. 

I agree that in a world where sinfulness is celebrated that we ought to be clear about our views. Sin should not be celebrated! But focusing only on that is anything but compassionate. We may as well be telling them they are going to burn in Hell for how they live. That is not compassion. That is cruelty. 

With truth must come compassion. Which means accepting them for who they are. Not for what they do. They need to be accepted as human beings. Not as pariahs. It is possible to be clear about Halacha and be compassionate at the same time. This is how Rabbi Efrem Goldberg approached it. It is the right approach and one that I much prefer.

This is why I always say hate the sin but love the sinner. Accept them for who they are while clearly rejecting any violation of Halacha that may result form that. Even if we assume they are violating Halacha, we need not focus on that anymore than we would focus on someone else’s violation of another Halacha. We need to accept every Jew for what he is. And not assume anything about what  he does.

Rabbi Pruzansky is well intentioned. I agree with him that societal celebration of sinful behavior needs to be firmly rejected. But compassion  must not be sacrificed or even minimized in its wake.  

The only exception to that is when violations of Halacha are promoted as positive values. If and when that happens it has to be publicly rejected in the strongest possible terms. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Rittenhouse Verdict - Why Both Sides Are Wrong

Protesting the Rittenhouse Verdict in New York last Friday (NPR)
It’s not a cause for celebration. The acquittal of 18 year old Kyle Rittenhouse on 5 counts of murder was a just verdict. But the killing of Joseph Rosenbaum, and Anthony Huber... and the wounding of Gaige Grosskreutz in Kenosha during a Black Lives Matter protest should have never happened. 

The verdict was just because videos of those events substantiated Rittenhouse’s claim of self defense. In fact Grosskreutz testified that his gun was drawn and pointed at Rittenhouse when he was shot by him. Once the jury saw those videos and heard Grosskreutz’s testimony, their ‘not guilty’ verdict was inevitable.

I was in fact surprised by those videos and Grosskreutz’s testimony. Like most people that rely on the mainstream media, I too thought Rittenhouse was some sort of white vigilante out ‘shoot him some anti-American leftist criminals’. His claims of self defense seemed ridiculous. Here is this guy carrying an AR-15 - a semi-automatic rifle that can easily be converted to an automatic rapid fire  assault weapon - running around in crowd of people that are protesting the way black people are treated by the police. His claims that he went there to protect property seemed like an excuse to use his AR-15. And that he couldn’t wait to do it.

But that was just the way the media portrayed him. Their message was: ‘He was guilty.’ ‘The trial was just a formality.’ ‘This white supremacist youth would surely be locked up for the rest of life for a killing spree resulting in the murder of 2 innocent people.’

But that is not what happened. Rittenhouse’s claims of self defense were true and he was acquitted. Which once again shows just how biased the mainstream media is. They were ready to lock up an innocent teenager for the rest of his life while ignoring – or refusing to believe his pleas of self defense. They saw this white kid as a racist murderer. 

Thank God that it wasn’t the media sitting in the jury box. When the truth doesn’t fit their narrative, (whether intentionally or not) they ignore it.

But as I said, his acquittal should not be celebrated. There is no way anyone -  let alone a teenager - should have ever been allowed to prance into that mob chaos with an assault weapon. Any law that allows that is a bad law. If there is anyone guilty of murder, it is a government whose laws allow the Kyle Rittenhouses of the world to carry a weapon like that into the middle of a a violent mob. 

Had a law against that been on the books, Rittenhouse might not have gone in knowing it was illegal and that he could be arrested. Or if he would have purposely violated that law he might have been arrested before encountering those gun toting protestors. 

That doesn’t mean I think what that protesting mob was doing was OK. The destruction of property and business by its violent members was clearly evil. It had nothing to do with advancing the cause of changing the injustices so many black people face when encountered by the police. If anything mob violence like that has the opposite effect. 

I am therefore not a fan of either the violent gun toting Rosenbaum, Huber, and Grosskreutz, or the AR-15 carrying Rittenhouse. What I am a fan of is gun control. On that issue I am a hard core liberal. If AR-15s were banned, no one would have been shot and killed in Kenosha that day. 

Those that are celebrating the victory are celebrating deaths that should have never happened. They are celebrating the right for teenagers to carry AR-15’s into a mob of armed, violent protestors. They should not be celebrating. They should be weeping. 

By the same token those protesting the verdict are just as wrong. If they think Rittenhouse was a white supremacist ‘out to shoot him some blacks or liberals’ they are being willfully blind to the facts. 

It is sad that the left-right polarization in this country has gotten so strident that it has replaced truth based common sense.

Friday, November 19, 2021

What About the Women?

Charedi women in the workplace (TOI)
My views about the Charedi way of life are well known to regular readers here. But for the sake of those that are not regular readers, let me briefly describe them.

I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand there is no question about the high value of Torah study. The Mishna in Peah (1:1) tells us: Talmud Torah K’neged Kulom – the Mitzvah of Torah study is comparable to all other Mitzvos. So that the idea of full time Torah study is not some pie in the sky  right wing aberration. It is pretty much based on the words of that Mishna along with some modern day embellishments.

On the other hand, I firmly believe that full time Torah study is not the ideal way for every single Jew to practice their Judaism. Even if they are capable of doing so. In my view the intent of this Mishna is that Torah study should be considered the primary activity in one’s life even if it is not the major part of their day. As I recently said, full time Torah study should be the daily activity of a special breed of Torah scholar with impeccable character - the Yechidei Segulah. The rest of us, should serve God with our unique individual talents. As long as we reserve a part of every day for Torah study, we have fulfilled  the mission implied by that Mishna.

As I also recently said, the Charedi world does not see it that way. Spending the bulk of one’s day in any other way than Torah study is seen as B’Dieved. Meaning that if one has no choice but to work to support themselves, they may do so but should see themselves as secondary to those who do study Torah full time. The idea of using one’s individual talents as a the best way to serve God is not part of their worldview. Their paradigm is to study Torah full time for as long as possible without any other distractions. This is the way the Charedi world works. 

People  that learn Torah full time are therefore aggrandized in furtherance of this ideal. Compared to them, people that work should see themselves as second class citizens that (Nebech) had to abandon the glorious walls of the Beis HaMedrash. 

That many – maybe even most Charedim might find themselves in the workplace does not grant them anything more than second class citizenship even if they set aside time daily for Torah study. 

Ladies and gentlemen - I give you Lakewood... the ‘City of Torah’ (as it is fondly referred to by the Charedi world). It is the prime example of the above-mentioned lifestyle.

This approach has produced young men that strive to stay in Kollel  - and are praised for doing so. Women are indoctrinated to seek these young men as marriage material. Which they consider the ultimate way of serving God. 

The results are that Charedi world has evolved into a system where women carry almost the entire burden of family life.  Which includes raising the children, doing all the household chores, like housekeeping, cooking, cleaning, and shopping... and adding many other chores traditionally reserved for men. (Like paying the bills). All while maintaining a full time job. They are indoctrinated to believe that God wants of women is to do whatever is necessary to support their husbands full time Torah study.

Facebook has a group that deals called Frum/OTD Dialogue. Therein is an insightful article that asks the rhetorically implies following question. Despite their indoctrination are the Charedi women that do this really all that happy about their lot in life?  Although it is a bit exaggerated, it nonetheless resonates with me. Consider this:

One of the most common topics of discussion in shalom bayis schmoozim and whatnot is how to impart the women with a chashivus hatorah - how do we get them inspired to respect and embrace their husband's mission and maintain good cheer in their supportive role. This discontent is especially pronounced when women end up taking the massive brunt of the workload while the husband enjoys a relatively stress-free and calm life. 

If this is indeed a common topic of discussion, it suggests that the answer to the question for many of these women is a resounding No! And how can anyone blame them? 

One might counter that they have never heard complaints from their wives or anyone else about this. But that doesn’t mean that all is well.  Because if it were, it would not be a common topic of discussion in these circles. 

To be clear, I do not believe that all women feel overwhelmed with the relatively new responsibilities thrust upon them by the Charedi world in the current era. I’m sure there are many – perhaps even most women that feel very fulfilled in their supportive roles. Believing that they are considered equals to their husbands in the eyes of God for it.  

But clearly this is not true for everyone. 

I don’t know if this will all blow up in their faces. I don’t know how many divorces living this way has caused. But I’ll bet a lot of are troubled and that this is a contributing factor. I wonder how many marriages would be saved if we got back to normal. Meaning that most men work and set aside time daily for Torah study. Those that are truly worthy would be the ones that engage in full time Torah study. This change in the Charedi paradigm would alleviate if not entirely end the heavy burden their wives now carry. As would sharing all the other things the Kollel life left for their wives to do. 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

On Being Holier Than Thou

Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld and Rav Avrohom Yitzchok HaKohen Kook
One of the many thing that trouble me is the ‘holier than thou’ attitude on the part of so many of my co-religionists.  I see it all the time.  People of one Hashkafa looking down at people of another Hashkafa.

This sad phenomenon is at its worst in the extremist pockets of Orthodox Jewry. Such as was the case a few years ago when extremists at Ramat Bet Shemesh Bet called a 7 year old little girl a whore. Even though there were ulterior motives, those people based those calls on the way she was dressed. Which was not in accordance with their own standards of dress – even for little children.

But these prejudices are not limited to extremists. We are all guilty of it to some extent, I think. Shamefully so. I see this kind of condescension here all the time. This point was brought home to me in an anonymous 2009 article republished a couple of days ago on Beyond BT – a website designed for the newly observant. 

The writer who calls herself ‘Anxious Ima’ is a Baalas Teshuva living in Israel. She talks about her own judgmental attitude in a ‘story’ she relates. Upon encountering another Orthodox Jew, a mother feeding her baby, she eyeballed her and thought the following:  

…I see, one of us, a frum young mother cradling a newborn baby in her arms. She’s cute—the mother I mean: one of those rare creatures who combines her Yiddishkeit with an inbred funk. I’ll bet that she has jazz on her CD player and pesto and sundried tomatoes in her fridge and davens where no one winces at the long curls tumbling out of her beret or the fact that her flary skirt stops just above her knees. 

She reminds me of a discarded earlier version of myself. I’ve since gotten stodgier, and frummer, taken on borer and bug checking, shatnez and tznius . But somehow in the course spiritual climb, I’ve gotten judgmental. It is almost as if someone managed to install a frumkeit checker in my brain which automatically monitors the madreiga of everyone I encounter.

Ooops , here comes the young mother’s reading —several notches below me ( I could have guessed that) , definitely not Bais Yaacov material, wouldn’t pass through the admissions board in Kiryat Sefer…. a joke, a pseudo-orthodox Jew….. right?

Although the writer admits she made up this story – she did so to make a point: 

So why the frumkeit checker?

A few reasons come up. It’s a kick, albeit an unhealthy one. Righteous indignation is a high. There is a perverse thrill in that irresistible “how dare she” feeling that comes from sneering at someone else’s (especially someone younger and cuter) deficiencies.

And the checker also deflects insecurity, by marginalizing anyone different and potentially threatening and it begs a little question that most of us don’t like to ask—what if she is right and I am wrong. Putting her down changes that subject.

I think the writer nails it. There is nothing noble or honorable about looking down at the religious standards of others. Who is anyone to say who is right and who is wrong?  And yet when it comes to the Charedi world, I find this judgmental attitude to be pervasive. 

There is the idea for example that full time Torah study to the exclusion of all other subjects reflects the highest ideals of religious observance. But that may very well not be the case. Who is to say that the TIDE (Torah Im Derech Eretz) philosophy of R’ Shamshon Raphael Hirsch isn’t the ideal form of Judaism?  The same can be asked about those who follow the philosophy of Torah U’Mada. Or Religious Zionism. We may all think we know what form of Judaism is best - justifying how we live, but who can really and objectively determine that?

The answer is that only God knows. All we can do is follow our instincts which are largely based on how we are raised and educated. But that does not mean we judge others as lesser Jews. The truth may very well be that we are the lesser Jew. Who is to say?

The concept of Elu V’Elu - these and those - seems to be lost on much of the Charedi world. But it should not be. As long as one’s philosophy is L’Shem Shomayim (for the sake of Heaven); does not contradict Halacha; or generations of long held tradition (Mesorah), none of us can claim superiority. And yet I hear some rabbinic leaders on the right making that claim all the time. Preaching that their way is the only way - or at least the ultimate way to live their Judaism. The corollary of which is that other ways are inherently inferior.

I believe that this attitude is instilled by many Charedi Mechanchim into their students. And that this is in large part responsible for the ‘holier than thou’ attitude I so often encounter.  

One of the prime demonstrations of this is when as a young student - TIDE adherent, R’ Shimon Schwab asked R’ Baruch Ber Liebovitz, an icon of the Charedi world in his time, what he thought of TIDE. R’ Baruch Ber answered  that R’ Hirsch meant it NOT as a L’Chatchila but as a B’Dieved… a way of life for his time where German Jews were being lured away from religious observance by the enlightenment spirit of the times.  R’ Hirsch, he said, never intended it as the best way of life for all Jews. To R’ Baruch Ber the way one should lead their lives was to be Charedi.

But the fact is that it well established that R’ Hirsch did not consider TIDE a B’Dieved. He considered it a L’Chatchila. He strongly believed that the best way a Jew could live was according to the TIDE philosophy. R’ Schwab was at first persuaded by R’ Baruch Ber but later retracted after realizing that R’ Hirsch meant it as a L’Chatchila after all.

But most people on the right heard only what to R’ Baruch Ber said and consider TIDE to be a Jewishly inferior way of life.

The same thing can be said about Religious Zionism. The right considers that Hashkafa to be near blasphemous. And looks down at  people that follow it - considering it religiously inferior. As they do its founder, R’Avrohom Yitzchok HaKohen Kook. (The original Satmar Rebbe used language about him the the bible uses about Haman – the Hitler of his time!)  

This is not the way Gedolim of R’Kook’s time thought of him. Rav Issar Zalman Meltzer whom many considered to be the greatst living Rav of his time (the Gadol HaDor) said about R’ Kook that he was greater than he (Rav Issar Zalman). It is also well known that Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld whom many consider to be the leader of the very Charedi Yishuv HaYashan and fierce ideological opponent of R’ Kook - respected him nonetheless.

This is where the problem lies. We now live in a world of unprecedented divisions (at least since my time on this earth) in almost all areas of life. It would be nice if the right wing acknowledged that they may not have cornered the market on Judaism; understood the principle of Elu V’Elu; and  treated all other observant Jews as equals. Even if they disagree with them which is their right.

Unfortunately I don’t see this happening any time soon. But the truth will not be denied if I can help it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

A Seat at the Table? Yes. Calling the Government Anti Religious? No.

Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett. Is he anti-religious? (JC)
As Israeli government reforms to undermine halachah are in full swing, delegates from around the world have come together with the Orthodox Eretz Hakodesh slate in the World Zionist

This is Gedalia Guttentag’s opening statement in his Mishpacha Magazine article about the newfound power of Orthodoxy in Israel. He continues: 

Since winning power in June, Naftali Bennett’s government has moved quickly on a series of religious reforms that undermine the role of halachah in public life. Finance minister Avigdor Lieberman has targeted working chareidi mothers with childcare subsidy cuts to strong-arm kollel students into the workforce. Co-prime minister Yair Lapid has vowed to give the Reform movement full access to the Kosel by January 

Once again I find myself conflicted. On the one hand I was glad to vote for the Eretz HaKodesh slate in the last WZO (World Zionist Organization) election. WZO is not Orthodox. It is a body that represents all Jews of the Diaspora – giving them a say in how WZO’s substantial funds are spent in Israel. They distribute their funds proportionally. The  greater the proportion of Orthodox Jews sitting at the WZO table - the greater the proportion of WZO funds go to them. I think this is only fair. 

Until the last election the only Orthodox Jews were religious Zionists. Now their representation is much greater.  According to Gedalia a lot has been accomplished for observant Jewry via this newfound Orthodox power.

What about the Charedi rejection of anything to do with heterodox movements? Their rabbinic leaders have always shunned joining any organization with heterodox representation for fear that their participation legitimizes them. Have things changed because of the substantial bottom line?

To be fair not every rabbinic leader agreed that Orthodox representatives should be sitting at the WZO table with heterodox representatives. But R’ Chaim Kanievsky and R’ Gershon Edlestein - 2 of their greatest rabbinic leaders gave their blessing. 

This is all well and good – and in my view long overdue. But I dont like how they seek to use their power. And strongly object to how they characterize the current government. Calling it anti religious is both unfair and wrong.

I get that they resent cutting government subsidies for child care to families where the father is learning fulltime. Government subsidies will go only to families where both parents are working full time.

But this is not an anti ‘Frum’ measure. It is a pro work measure. No one will be prevented from learning full time. They will just have to find other ways to finance child care. 

I have long ago maintained that the vast majority of Bnei Torah should prepare for the workforce while they are still in the Yeshiva – well before they are married. And that once they have studied in a Kollel for a year or 2 after marriage, they should get a job. And continue their Torah study  by being Kovieah Itim – setting aside time daily for Torah study. 

I do not believe that most of us should be encouraged to study Torah full time for as long as possible. For most of us indefinite Torah study is not the best way to serve God. We should instead use our own God given talents and abilities to serve God – each in our own unique way. Only the Yechidei Segula – the elite among us that are uniquely qualified for high level Torah study should be doing that. 

The daily requirement to study Torah can be fulfilled quite easily by simply reciting the Shema.  It does not require many years of spent in a Beis Hamedrash studying Gemara. That should be reserved for the Yechidei Segula. The rest – off to work!

There is nothing anti Torah about a government program that incentivizes that. My only quibble is that the Yechidei Segula should be supported by the community. Which includes the government. I would be willing to bet that if the majority of Charedim would agree to work soon after marriage that the government could be persuaded to support the Yechidei  Segula -  the most elite among us. 

As I  have said many times, one can quibble about the wisdom of expanding Kashrus supervision beyond the Chiff Rabbinate; or sharing the Kotel with heterodox movements. Nor do I agree with everything the government wants to do. But I continue to resent calling them anti religious. They are not. Being anti religious would mean they consider the current prime minister to be anti religious! He is clearly a religious Jew. He is just not Charedi. And frankly it makes me sick that they keep saying that. 

This is why I have mixed feelings about the new power and influence Orthodox Jews have in the WZO. On the one hand it’s about time. On the other hand calling a government led by an Orthodox Jew - anti-religious disgusts me. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Are You Part of the Problem? Or Part of the Solution

An Orthodox Jew getting vaccinated (CNBC)
Sometimes I wish America was ruled by fascism. Well… not really. I cherish the freedom this great American democracy grants me and all other citizens. But there is one area that I wish there was a fascist regime: COVID vaccinations. If I had the power I would require everyone in the US to get vaccinated or stay home until they do. With stiff fines for violators. Unless there is a valid medical reason for an exemption, I would brook no violations of this law.

One might ask why an individual should not have the right to choose not to vaccinate?  Is not the right to do with one’s body an inalienable American right? 

The answer is No. The reason for which is not rocket science. People are still dying from COVID. The vast majority of them are unvaccinated. But not all. A former member of my Daf Yomi – a gentle and kind soul - contracted the disease a few weeks ago and is now on a ventilator. This despite the fact that he received a 3rd booster shot. He has a underlying condition that weakened his immune system. The vaccine was not effective enough on him to give him the protection it gives the vast majority of us that are basically healthy.

Personal choice is not a right when it has a negative impact on others. COVID is still here doing irreparable damage to so many vulnerable people. That so many people refuse to get vaccinated is the reason why.  They are in essence currently responsible for the people that get sick from COVID and die. 

If there was ever a reason to mandate the vaccine and remove a little bit of freedom from the American system of democracy, this is it. How dare anyone assert their ‘right’ to freedom when the lives of others are at stake?! 

Although not an exact analogy, being anti vaccine is tantamount to causing a human stampede that can trample and kill people by yelling ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater. Why shouldn’t you be able to yell whatever you want wherever you want in a free country? Because your freedom stops at my door. In a just society personal freedom cannot come at the expense of someone else’s freedom. Especially in cases with dangerous results. Is there anything more dangerous worldwide than the COVID pandemic? How many more people have to die before everyone realizes it?

This is why I get upset at ‘geniuses’ like Green Bay quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. When a superstar athlete says he did not get vaccinated because he ‘did his research’ and found ‘scientific’ reasons not to vaccinate... and then says that it’s his body and his right... that is irresponsible to say the least! It encourages the anti-vaxxers to stand their ground.  

What is troubling to me is the reasons that are given by the anti-vaxxers in the Orthodox Jewish community. And by anti-vaxxers, I include not only the rabid antivaxxers but even those who are  reluctant to get it based on bad information. Even now when the evidence for its safety and effectiveness is greater than ever. And even if there was any truth to those claims (which there is not) these people are being selfish by prolonging the pandemic. They helping to prevent the herd immunity that would defeat this disease. Thereby endangering people like my friend who is now on a ventilator.  

This brings me to an article in the Jewish Press by Aryeh Werth. He listed some of the ‘reasons’ why some some Orthodox Jews are antivaxxers.

With so many Orthodox Jews looking at the Republican Party as their new ‘Daas Torah’ it doesn’t help matters that this is the party that seems to be placing personal freedom above public health. 

There is all the misinformation they rely upon as ‘truth’. Like vaccines  cause paralysis, cardiac arrest, or fertility problems. 

There is the misunderstanding about fast track approval compromising the data from clinical trials. What they fail to understand is that fast-tracking was enabled by cutting red tape. And the the data collected was as reliable as was data collected in past clinical trials that took much longer. Furthermore there is real life data by now that shows vaccines to be safe and effective for millions of people all over the world that have been vaccinated.  

There is the false belief that herd immunity already exists in the own community making the vaccines unnecessary. It eludes them that there do not live in a bubble and will inevitably come into contact with people outside of their community that do not have anywhere near herd immunity. 

Some of these anti-vaxxeers simply don’t trust the secular government at all  and ignore what public health officials say.

And finally there are some antivax rabbis they rely on.

All of these reasons are pure unadulterated nonsense. The fact is that the vast majority of rabbis of any stature from the widest spectrum of Orthodoxy are in favor of getting vaccinated. From  Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef to YU’s Rav Hershel Schachter.

The two most prominent Orthodox organizations, Agudah and the OU are also in favor of it.

Nevertheless, I am disappointed at Agudah’s refusal to express their ‘Daas Torah’ on this. This is what Agudah spokesman, Rabbi Avi Shafran said: 

We don’t take positions on medical issues, leaving that to medical authorities and people in consultation with their doctors. 

How sad. They will take positions on all manner of public interest to the Jewish community. But on health issues they leave it up to the individual?!  ...knowing the benefits to the the community at large?! 

They are in effect facilitating antivaxxers to extend the pandemic. Which may cause some people to actually die. If there was ever a time for ‘Daas Torah’ to come out with a proclamation - this is it. They should require everyone to get vaccinated no less than requiring computers and smartphones to be filtered. Public health should be a least as important as that.  In my view their reluctance to do this just contributes to the problem.

Of course those few Orhtodox Jews that are antivaxxers are not alone. The vast majority of antivaxxers are not even Jewish – let alone Orthodox. Even if every Orhtodx Jew in America would  get vaccinated, we still wouldn’t have herd immunity.

But that is no excuse. Every Jew has to do his part. Either you are part of the solution or part of the problem. If you are dumb enough to not get vaccinated, you part of the problem. And may be - at least in part - responsible for of innocent people dying from COVID. Maybe even be someone in your own family. 

Off my soapbox.